If we want to preach, it will be wise for us to study the examples of preaching given in the Bible. John was filled with the Holy Ghost, and therefore taught of God: and it is easy to see that the man's nature was allowed full play. The Holy Ghost does not destroy character, but uses it, and these words of the Baptist are natural to him. Rugged strength is in every figure of the speech he uses. But I am not preaching to preachers, but to sinners, as John was, and in using the great Baptist's words, I would have you to visit
THE DEVIL'S ORCHARD.
This is not the only time in the Bible when wicked men are compared to trees. There is a notable example in Nebuchadnezzar, who, in his dream, saw a tree great and high, and saw an angel come down from heaven, look at it and then cry out --
"HEW DOWN THE TREE!"
But in his case it was not said, "Cast it into the fire," but leave the stump with a band of iron and brass. You will remember this dream was fulfilled, and the king of Babylon lost his reason, and became like a beast, but the tree was allowed to grow again. Not so with these: John is speaking about the trees to be burned.
But we may be asked -- What are the trees in the devil's orchard? They are men and women whose lives are wrong. You may see what Paul says in the letter he wrote to the Christians in Galatia -- Adultery, Fornication, Uncleanness, Lasciviousness, Idolatry, Witchcraft, Hatred, Variance, Wrath, Strife, Seditions, Heresies, Envying, Murders, Drunkenness, Revellings, and such like.
NOW, DOES THIS LIST INCLUDE YOU?
Well, you say, I am not a murderer. But are you envious? Do you grieve because someone more worthy than you is enjoying something you would like? Do you not see that is like what the devil felt when he saw Adam in Paradise? You can, by envy, soon become a destroyer. You say you are not an Adulterer, but are you lascivious? Do you like to think of unclean things? Do you delight in filthy pictures or "bawdy" songs? If so, you are fitting yourself for the fire where the Sodomites are. You say you are not as bad as some; perhaps you have not been growing as long as they have. Hatred and Variance are the trees on which the devil grafts Murders. Do you notice the last words in that sentence of Paul's --
"AND SUCH LIKE."
If not a Drunkard or a Reveller, yet going in that direction; having a liking for evil companions and Sunday pleasuring. Am I looking on some of the saplings which Satan means to graft before next year? Christmas and New Year will soon be here. The dance and the ball-room are the places where
REVELLERS BECOME FORNICATORS AND ADULTERERS!
Are you a tree in the devil's orchard? If so, you may see your future in the words "Cast into the fire!"
In the crowds of people who listened to John, there were numbers of religious folk. Some of them were teachers. All the devil's trees don't grow on his estate, therefore I want you now to look at
THE DEVIL'S TREES WHICH GROW IN GOD'S ORCHARD.
JUDAS was one. He had the advantage of Christ's friendship, and might have become one of the first missionaries, but he was covetous. DEMAS was the companion of PAUL, and might have been another SILAS, but he "loved this present world." ANANIAS and SAPPHIRA were growing side by side among the beautiful trees in the early church, but they were selfish and deceitful, and after telling a lie, they were both cut down and cast into the fire. You notice it does not say every tree in the devil's orchard shall be cut down, but "every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit." How is it with you? Judgment has begun at the house of God. What are you? What is the product of your life? Is your influence beneficial? Does the result of your life shew that you are born of God?
A HOLY LIFE IS THE ONLY WAY TO ESCAPE
Do not say you do no harm; that is not enough, you are to bear fruit unto holiness. Your life must be profitable to God, or you cannot escape the axe. A man does not plant apple trees to look at, but to gather fruit from. Have you paid God for all He has expended on you? Remember you are British, you live where there are Bibles, Ministers, Sunday Schools. Public opinion is on the side of right. It is easier to be good here than anywhere else in the world. The husbandman will not be satisfied with leaves or blossoms, there must be
FRUIT OR FIRE!
"The axe is laid to the root of the trees."
Yes, you will do well to consider that there is a power of destruction which may be called into action any moment.
Look, then, at
It is his duty to remove the trees when the time comes. Mark you, he does not cut all down. The trees which bear good fruit he transplants to grow for ever in THE PARADISE OF GOD. Yes, death differs in his action, and those of us who live a holy life need not to dread him. He is rough, but he means well by us, and though we may feel it when he pulls us up by the roots, it is to grow in better soil, and under fairer skies.
You, though, who bear evil fruit, YOU DO WELL TO FEAR DEATH. Keep good friends with the doctor, so that you may have no difficulty in getting him day or night, but remember that he is useless when the woodman aims a blow at the root.
THE WISEST AND MOST SKILFUL OF MEDICAL MEN
There will be no escape when the woodman gets his orders. Mark you, the axe is at the root this time. He has lopped off some of the branches. I see in the graveyard, headstones with names of infants low down, and space left for the father's and mother's names. Yes, he will come for you next. What will you do then? THE TREE IS HELPLESS, IT CANNOT GET AWAY FROM THE AXE! Blow upon blow descends, there is no help for it, and so it will be with you. What is it that your heart says, -- "I will send for praying people?" Yes, and if they come, what then? Perhaps God will hear, and say to the woodman, "Put up thy axe for another year or two. Let us see if he will keep his word and bear fruit." One wonders at the forbearance of God! There are some in this place, who, when in affliction, sent for the godly, and promised if only they were spared, they would bear good fruit. But alas! they are worse than ever now. Let such hardened sinners remember where the axe lies. The woodman can pick it up any moment, and it will be useless to pray then. Can you not hear the step of the feller of trees? He is on his way with orders which brook no delay, thy hour is at hand, and thou shalt fall, to be cast into the fire!
I look around, and ask the question --
"WHO AMONG US SHALL DWELL WITH THE DEVOURING
Dare you look at the fire? Come, be a man, and see thy future. The tree is in the blazing pit. It cannot get out of the fire, any more than it could escape the axe. Did you ever think of the illustration of the text --
WOOD TO FIRE.
What more natural? It is true, it might have been somewhere else, but it will burn as though it were made for the fire. Mark you, it is unquenchable! Who can extinguish that which God lights? You hear men say, "God is too good to burn men in hell." That is not the way to put it. The fire will go out when there is no fuel.
MEN WHO SIN, BURN THEMSELVES.
That drunkard, for instance. They say of him, "He has a spark in his inside." What the poor wretch suffers when he cannot get strong drink! How he begs and prays for a penny to get a gill of beer. Now don't blame God for that! It is his own doing. Suppose now, God lets that man have his own way, and die a drunkard, and he wakes up in hell with that thirst, and no drink, not a drop, and never will be! And is the drunkard the worst of men? Is he worse than the man who grows rich on the other man's poverty? I would as soon have the drunkard's hell, as the eternity of those who took his money, and sold him that which is burning away his life and chances of salvation. Do you see that wicked seducer, and those who dishonour their parents; and those who keep back that which they have in plenty, when they might feed the hungry and clothe the naked? "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." Now what are you going to do? It is not the axe which is touching you now. It is the hand of Jesus, the hand which has been scorched with the fire of God's anger to save us. Christ suffered (the just for the unjust) to bring us to God. Do not tire Him out, for if he calls for the axe, there is no hope. Justice may call, and when the woodman answers and takes up his axe, prayer may cause the axe to fall from his hand; but when Mercy says, "Cut it down," all the men in the world may cry, but nothing can save him from the fire.
NONE CAN STAND BEFORE THE WRATH OF THE LAMB?
WHEN FILIAL LOVE PICKS