DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: – A sister has requested my views on the parable of the barren fig tree, and another sister has by letter requested my views on Zech. 1:8, through the SIGNS, and as I have not much to say on either, I will include my views of both in one communication.
1st. The parable, Luke 13:6-9. “He spake also this parable, A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard,” &c. Christ had in the preceding verses, informed those who talked with him that those Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices were not sinners above the other Galileans, and that those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell, were not sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem, and that excepting they repented they should all likewise perish. He then spake this parable, as I understand it, as illustrating those remarks. Hence I consider the parable as having a special reference to the Jews both of Galilee and Judea.
“Had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.” Israel is often, in the Scriptures, represented as a vineyard, a fruitful field, &c., in distinction from the other nations, who were left uncared for, like a wilderness; whilst Israel was fenced in by the provisions of their law and by the providence of God, and cultivated by the teachings of the law and the prophets. Judah or the Jews are represented as a fig tree planted in this vineyard.
“And he came and sought fruit thereon and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none; cut it down,” &c. Said the Lord unto Moses, “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put my words into his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” Deut. 13:18,19. Jesus was that prophet. Christ had sent, his messenger, John, to prepare his way before him with the message, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He afterwards sent forth his disciples, two and two, to the Jews only, with the same message. This then was the fruit he had been seeking for about three years from the commencement of John’s ministry. Hence John said unto the Jews, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.” Luke 3:8.
Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground. From that time our Lord began to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem.
And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. This denoted that his ministry and that of his apostles was to be continued among them for another year, and if they repented of their self-righteousness and received the kingdom of heaven, well, if not, then their city and nation was left to destruction.
However much Satan, may throw this text at the children of God to worry them, and through his ministers, in their not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God, may apply this parable to the saints, it evidently does not belong to them. As when a fig tree is properly planted and cultivated it is expected that from the resources it has it will produce fruit, so the Jewish nation were required to bring forth the fruit of obedience to the letter of the law, and therefore to receive that prophet or the Messiah when he came as a condition of their continuing to enjoy the good land which God had given to their fathers. Not so with the children of God; they are not under a conditional covenant. The Lord does not come requiring fruit of them to compensate him for their planting, but he comes to supply all their needs from his own abundant fulness. Hence it is said concerning Ephraim, “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him and observed him; I am like a green fir-tree. From me is thy fruit found.” Hosea 14:8. So in reference to the fruit of repentance; Christ is exalted as a Prince and a Savior to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Again, Israel is represented as saying, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thy hand.” Isaiah 64:8. Instead then of repining because we have nothing of our own, no fruit of the ground which we can bring as an offering to the Lord, let us be thankful and rejoice that we may come and receive of his fulness and trust in his righteousness.
Zech.1:8 – “I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled and white.” I have to inform sister Ball that I have no special light on this text; I will give her, if they will be of any use to her such general views as I have of it.
1st. Zechariah prophesied after the return of some of the Jews from Babylon and during the building of the second temple. The principal burden of his prophesying seems to have been to encourage the Jews under their difficulties. For this end he referred pretty fully through the types to the building of the antitype of that temple, the Gospel church, by “the man whose name is the Branch” – the antitype of Zerubbabel and Joshua – the Lord Jesus Christ, who is truly a priest upon his throne. And here, permit me to add, is the counsel of peace between them both; that is, in his having all power in connection with all prevalency of intercession founded upon the sacrifice of himself. Zechariah includes in his prophecy events connected with the type and antitype. Such I think is the prophecy in the text under consideration. By the red horse and his rider I conclude, from what is said in Rev. 6:4 of a similar representation, that war is intended. As a white horse and its rider is used to denote the conquests of the gospel of peace, (Rev.19:11 & 6:2,) I conclude that the red horses, speckled and white, or as it reads in the margin bay and white, intimated that there would be war, and after that unsettled times among or with the Jews, or as Daniel calls it, troublous times, (Dan.9:25,) yet that the temple and wall of the city should be built. My recollection of the history of the times will not admit of my attempting to designate what particular was intended by the red horse, and its rider. Yet, from what is said in Ezra and Nehemiah, we may learn that though all the earth (verse 11,) or the Persian empire, was then still and at rest, yet the Jews experienced troublesome times in their building the temple and walls of Jerusalem from the opposition of those nations occupying the country formerly inhabited by the ten tribes. History also, as well as some of the prophesies of Daniel, inform us that after the time of Nehemiah, under the reign of the Antiochuses or the Grecian empire, the Jews experienced much trouble before they became again established in the enjoyment of their national and religious rights. We learn from the context (verse 10,) that the war as well as peace horses were sent forth of the Lord. So in chapter 11, we are informed of four chariots, having in one bay horses, in the second white, in the third black, in the fourth grizzled and bay horses, coming out from between two mountains of brass. These mountains may denote God’s purpose and grace; or, in other words, his predestination of all things in the government of the world and his special predestination to salvation. These are as immutable as mountains of brass. Here then is war, gospel, famine, (see Rev. 6:5 & 6,) and probably pesthence, called the spirits of the heavens, going forth from the Lord. We learn also from verse 16 and 17 of the context, that the Jews were ultimately prosperous and spread abroad.
If we turn to the antitype, the building of the gospel church, we shall find the same ideas holding good; wars and the spreading of the gospel have been connected in all ages. The Roman conquests by war of all the nations around, by which all the earth was brought to sit still and be at rest, at the time of our Savior’s being manifested in the flesh, by bringing all those nations under one government, made those nations far more easy of access to the apostles, and therefore favored the spread of the gospel. The succeeding wars of the Romans, by forcing many of the christians into their armies, shielded those thus employed, from the persecutions raging among those remaining at home, and gave them an opportunity they would not otherwise have had, of bearing their testimony to the truth of the gospel of the grace of God, among their fellow-soldiers and among the nations whither they were sent. And their testimonies, no doubt, were blessed of God to the accomplishment of good. Hence, no wonder that when Constantine came to the throne, he found the armies filled with christians. The conquest of the Romans by the Goths, &c., served to shield the true church in some measure from the persecutions of the Catholic church, and to favor their retreat to the wilderness or valleys of Piedmont. As the after war upon the Waldenses and driving them from those valleys scattered them, and therefore led them to disseminate their testimony among the several nations of Europe, our revolutionary war was the instrument by which the religious establishments, existing in several of the provinces, were broken down, and the way prepared for our free enjoyment of that religious liberty, which has since existed among us. The wars among the various kingdoms in Africa, and the selling of their captives into slavery, were the leading instruments of bringing many of the Africans among us, where thousands of them have been made to hear and rejoice in the gospel of Christ. Other instances might be mentioned, but these are sufficient to show how God has caused the red horse of war to lead the way for the going forth of the white horse of the gospel, and that the white horse has followed, and though it has been often speckled with opposition and divisions, yet it has held on its way. The gospel, where God has sent it, has had free course and been glorified. In Revelation, the 6th chapter, the white horse, is put forward, to show that the spread of the gospel or the cause of Christ was the first object in view, in God’s predestination, and that many of the wars which should follow would be on religious accounts. We are not, my sister, to infer from these prophesies that the spirit of war and the spirit of the gospel in themselves harmonize. They are as opposite as are earth and heaven. The spirit of the gospel is love and peace. The spirit of the world is war and contention. This spirit can no more be conquered by the wisdom and devices of men, than the Ethiopian can change his skin. It may be curbed for a time, but on the first occasion it will again break forth in all its rage. In Zech., the 6th chapter, these emblems of war, of famine, of the gospel of peace, and of pesthence, are all alike called the spirit of the heavens, not to show that they are alike heavenly any more than the evil spirit of the Lord which troubled Saul was the same as the spirit of the Lord. I Sam.16:14. But to show that they are all alike sent forth from the Lord, and are under the entire control of his predestinating purpose without the earth’s having any share in limiting or enlarging their movements. Says God by Isaiah, “I make peace and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isaiah 45:7. This is the reason why we Old School Baptists love the doctrine of God’s absolute predestination of all things, because that according to this doctrine, instead of being left to the gloomy consideration that the evils which are in the world, any of them, come by chance, or are in anywise controlled by men or Satan, we believe that they are all confined by the predestinating purpose of God as between two mountains of brass, and can go forth only where God sends them, and only to accomplish his wise and good purpose; and that wherever they go, the white horse of the gospel, or, in other words, some gracious purpose of God concerning salvation, follows in this train. And this also is the reason why we have no confidence in the missionary operations, believing God will send his gospel just where he has a purpose for it, and that it will accomplish that whereunto he sends it; and that his gospel can go no where but as he sends it; and any spurious gospel which may be sent by men will accomplish no real good.
My sister, without noticing all the particulars in the text, I have written down such views as have been presented to my mind on the general subject. My reflections have, perhaps, been led in a different channel from what you anticipated; I certainly have extended them much beyond what I expected when I commenced; otherwise I should not have included the two texts in the one communication. What I have written, I have written; and I desire it may afford as much satisfaction to you and others in reading, as the contemplation of the subject has afforded pleasure to me. One remark more. When we feel that this predestinating, this God-governing – God of all events, is our Father, the sound of thunder and of the raging tempest, however terrific otherwise, is as music, and the lightning’s flash is both grand and beautiful.
Yours, with christian regards,
Fairfax C. H. Va., Aug. 20, 1856.
Signs of the Times
Volume 24, No. 18.
September 15, 1856