"Yet gleaning grapes shall be left in it, as the shaking of an olive tree, two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches thereof, saith the Lord God of Israel" Isaiah 17:6.
Here is a difference indicating a distinction. The uppermost bough is the highest growth of the tree, and to obtain berries from it we must look above and reach up. The outmost branches are those which grow farthest from the trunk but nearest the earth, to obtain fruit from which we must look and reach down.
The "two or three" berries on the topmost bough are, therefore, figurative of the outward consolations and confirmations which are obtained from the Word and its faithful ministry.
Many, in days that are passed, were much indulged in this way. They could hardly open their Bibles or hear a sermon without receiving blessing - but it is different now. Once they could walk through the corn and with ease pluck the ears and eat (Matt. 12:1). Now what they desire seems at an unattainable height, "two or three on the uppermost bough."
Yet it is imperative that we should obtain them. Experienced Christians cannot be happy unless from time to time select portions of the Divine Word are not only opened up to their understandings but also laid on their hearts with sweet and unctuous power. How to obtain such "tokens for good" is, however, with many the painful and pressing problem of their spiritual existence, how to reach the berries from the topmost bough.
"Stand on tiptoe and get them," says the "Reverend" Duty-Faith from a certain college. "Only believe, and they are yours."
"Never trouble about these matters." So urges Mr. Letterman Smooth-it-away, the burden of whose ministry is derision of those who sigh and cry for a realization of the power of godliness within their souls. "The whole Bible is yours," says he. "Live up to your privileges;" and he bolsters up his lying testimony with the solitary line of Hart's Hymns he knows - "Only take Him at His word" - which he perverts and misapplies. O vain and wicked men, thus to delude and distress God's fearful yet living people!
Still the "two or three" berries are there. They are "gleanings," that is to say, they were left for the benefit of the poor and the destitute; and such are we. Come, O Holy Ghost, blow on that uppermost bough, that as at "the shaking of an olive tree," the rich, ripe fruit of promise and consolation may fall within our reach. Then shall faith's hand "gather what Thou givest" and the Word rejoice our weary and hungry hearts.
"The fruit on the outmost lower branches" may refer to the secret and indescribable signs of grace in the heart. These are most precious and important to a true Christian; for if we are not solicitous about what goes on within us in relation to God, we are not saved sinners. Yet this may be the source of our keenest soul trouble. Once we could see our inner signs, as we thought, clearly. Then the spirit of prayer seemed to abide within us. Our conscience was sensitive and tender, and quivered at the thought of sin. Hope looked eagerly for brighter days. Faith as strong, simple and confident. Love glowed with holy fervor. Now, however, the imprints of the Saviour's fingers are hard to perceive; and coldness, callousness, sterility, and the most deplorable apathy concerning spiritual things are all that Heaven's light reveals.
Is this, however, the total of our inward grace? Let us look again for the "two or three" signs which are spared to us. Sweet memories of the past; some godly fear; "a little" occasional "reviving in our bondage." An involuntary sigh, a living groan, a gasping, a panting and a crying after spiritual manifestations and mercies - these all are doubtless small and feeble matters, but they confirm the comforting truth that
"He will never, never leave us,
Nor will let us quite leave Him."
Here again, we should beware of the Flatterer and the false comforter. The "Brother" from Plymouth (a reference to Mr. Darby and his followers, no doubt) "with the Scriptures at his fingers' ends" will warn the sorrowing saint against making "a saviour of his frames and feelings" and bid him refrain from "morbid introspection," or looking within instead of "looking unto Jesus." Liars all are these, and the more dangerous because their falsehoods embody so many dashes and suggestions of the truth.
Reader, is there in your heart any of the fruit of the Spirit, though "on the outmost branches," that really warrants your claim to be considered and called a child of the living God? If so, be grateful that something is spared to you in these trying days, though your signs are but "four or five" when all is told!
"A Brother and Companion in Tribulation,"
The Earthen Vessel - 1904