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The Barren Fig-Tree Cursed

Matt. 21:18 to 21

Now in the morning as He returned into the city, he hungered. And when He saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said to it, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away, etc.

Q. WHAT do you here understand by the morning, by returning into the city, and by hungering?

A. By the morning, according to the spiritual idea, is to be understood the lord's advent, since as the natural sun rises in the natural morning, to dispense his blessings of heat and light to the natural world, which, if deprived of those blessings, must perish, in like manner in the spiritual morning, the spiritual sun, which is the Sun of righteousness, rises, to dispense also His blessings of spiritual heat and light to the inhabitants of that world, who must otherwise perish in spiritual cold and darkness. It is therefore said, as He returned into the city, because by He is meant the blessed Jesus, by the city the church, and by returning into the city, His advent to the church, for the purpose of instructing, of reforming, of purifying, and of saving it. It is therefore added, He hungered, because by hunger, on this occasion, is not to be understood natural hunger only, but spiritual hunger, which, when predicated of the blessed Jesus, denotes His ardent and divine desire that His church, or people, may become receptive of all the good and blessing of His divine mercy and love.

Q. And what do you understand further by the fig-tree which He saw in the way, and by His coming to it, and finding nothing thereon but leaves?

A. According to the letter of the history, these words are to be understood literally, because they were literally true; but according to the spiritual sense which is involved in this, and in all other parts of the gospel history, they are to be understood spiritually; and according to their spiritual interpretation, they add a weight of importance and of instruction to a circumstance, which must otherwise appear too trifling to be recorded in the pages of the eternal truth.

Q. And in what do you conceive does the importance and instruction of the above circumstance, according to its spiritual interpretation, consist?

A. This question can only be answered by the consideration of what is properly signified by a fig-tree in the language of Revelation, and by the discovery that, like all other trees, it denotes some spiritual principle belonging to the church, and specifically the principle of natural good, by which good is not to be understood the good into which man is born, or which he receives hereditarily from his parents, but the good received in the natural principle from a spiritual origin. Accordingly we find frequent mention made in the sacred Scriptures of the fig-tree, both singly, and in connection with other trees, in all which cases, agreeable to its spiritual interpretation, it figures and represents the good above referred to. Thus it is written concerning the perverse church, "I will surely consume them, says the lord: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree, and the leaf shall fade, (Jer. 8:13); again, I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first-ripe in the fig-tree, at her first time, (Hosea 9:10); again, Fear not, O land; be not afraid, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree bears her fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength, (Joel 2:21, 22); again, They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid, (Micah 4:4); in all which passages, and in many more which might be mentioned, by fig-tree, is not signified fig-tree, but the natural good above spoken of, which it figures and represents. Hence then the fig-tree in the present instance, as being without fruit, is representative of the Jewish church at that period, as being destitute of natural good; and therefore by Jesus seeing it is spiritually signified divine inspection into the state of the Jewish church as to that good; and by His coming to it, and finding nothing thereon but leaves only, is further denoted divine discovery that all truth was falsified in that church, for the leaves of a barren fig-tree are significative of such falsified truth.

Q. But it is written that Jesus said to it, Let no fruit henceforward grow on you for ever how do you understand these words?

A. By Jesus saying to it is to be understood divine judication concerning the church in which was no natural good, and nothing but truth falsified; and by His saying, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever, is further to be understood that the Jewish nation, which is here described by the fig-tree, as being destitute of natural good, would always remain so, and therefore would for ever continue in the same disposition to falsify truth, which prevailed in them at that time,

Q. And what do you conceive to be meant by the concluding words, where it is written, And presently the fig-tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig-tree withered away?

A. According to the letter, or literal sense of the history, by the fig-tree withering away, is to be understood its being deprived of life, and consequently of all power of growth and fruitfulness; but according to the spiritual sense, by the fig-tree withering away is representatively described the future state of the Jewish nation, as being deprived for ever of spiritual life, or of the power of spiritual growth and fruitfulness; and by the disciples marvelling on this occasion, is further to be understood their astonishment at the thought that any nation could be so extremely wicked and foolish, as to deprive themselves of the capacity of receiving and bringing forth the fruit of the eternal truth, and of thus connecting themselves with the supreme good, and with all the happiness of His everlasting kingdom. The same thing is equally marvelous at this day, and must therefore excite the astonishment of all true disciples; and yet it cannot be denied that if selfish and worldly love are suffered to take possession of men's minds, and thus to prevent the insemination and growth of revealed truth, they then become like the Jewish nation of old, and are awfully figured by the barren jig-tree in the above history, which withered away under divine inspection and judication.

Q. But it is written in the gospel according to St. Mark, (Mark. 11:13), in recording this miracle, that the time of figs was not yet was it not then unreasonable to expect to find fruit on a tree before the season was arrived for bearing fruit?

A. According to the literal sense of this history, there is such an appearance of unreasonableness as you hint at, and this is a proof how necessary it is, in many cases, to reconcile the sense of the letter by the spiritual sense which is involved in it, and for the sake of which the letter was given. For all this appearance of unreasonableness vanishes, as soon as ever the history is interpreted according to its internal spiritual signification, by viewing it not as the history merely of a fig-tree which was without fruit, but as the history of a people destitute of spiritual life. For if it be regarded merely as the history of a fig-tree, all that Jesus Christ said and did on the occasion will appear as the result of bodily hunger only, and of indignation at not being able to gratify it, and thus when He cursed the tree, it will be difficult to acquit Him of the charge of something worse than unreasonableness, especially when it is considered that the season of the year, rather than any fault in the fig-tree, rendered His expectations vain. But if the history be regarded as a figurative history, describing, under the emblem of a barren tree, a lifeless people dead in trespasses and sins, the whole then will be found reconcileable to every idea both of justice and of reason, and even the declaration that the time of figs was not yet, will then no longer be urged as an objection to the credibility of the history. For when it is said, that the time of figs was not yet, the words are to be interpreted according to their spiritual meaning, like those of the other parts of the history, and agreeable to such interpretation, they mean only that the church was not yet commenced, the fig-tree being a figure of such commencement, according to what is said in the parable of the fig-tree, (Matt. 24:32, 33). Thus it is evident how necessary it is to explore the internal spiritual sense of the lord's words, in order to reconcile the apparent inconsistencies and contradictions of the letter.

Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from this miracle of the barren fig-tree?

A. I learn, from the letter of this miracle, to adore that divine power and operation, which communicates life even to vegetable nature, and suspends and removes that life at pleasure. And from the spiritual sense of this history, I learn a further lesson of edifying wisdom, by which I am taught that Jesus Christ, under external figures, both of animals and of plants, describes spiritual principles relating to Himself, His church and kingdom. I am instructed yet further, by the above interesting history, to reflect on the awful situation of a people destitute of all natural good, and having no show of religion but the mere leaves of speculative opinions and doctrinal tenets, whilst they are totally withered away as to all the life and fruit of heavenly love and charity. I am resolved, therefore, to profit by this awful example, and for this purpose to take heed to myself, that when my lord comes and seeks fruit, He may find in me something more than leaves. Thus may I hope never to have the terrible sentence pronounced against me, Let no fruit grow on you henceforward for ever, but rather to hear the blessed promise, He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, which brings forth his fruit in due season. amen.

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