Jesus Christ, in the few sentences quoted, indicates the true secret or principle of holy living. They show that holy living works from the heart of things -- beginning within -- to the outside.
Many judge their religion the other way about. They take up religious duties, attend religious Meetings, sing hymns, say prayers, put on what may be called the outward things of religion. Perhaps they adopt a dress, make a profession, or assume a religious manner, and hope to grow good in the process. But really it does not work out that way. I do not say that the things are not good. Far from that; but what I want to make plain is this: in none of these things does the secret of true religion lie, and you will be a failure if you rely upon the outward form.
You have the secret, the principle of religion, in the words of Jesus: 'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh'. You see, that which is in will come out, and you cannot bring out that which is not in.
In these words Jesus tries to enforce a great truth in human life, by showing how the principle works out in the action of a tree. Nature cannot teach us everything about God, nor everything about religion; but Nature does supply us with a great many beautiful illustrations. Jesus makes use of one when He says, 'Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. Every tree is known by his own fruit.' You see, not only is the fruit according to the tree, but the quality of the tree is to be judged according to its fruits.
That is the way by which ordinary people identify a tree. There are some who are highly skilled in forestry, who can tell you all about a tree by looking at the bark or the leaves or the blossoms, or even by its general appearance. But we cannot all do that. I have sometimes stood in a company, and listened to an argument as to what kind a particular tree really was. But no arguments are required when the fruit hangs on the branches. Everybody can tell the apple tree then, and knows what a pear or a plum tree is when they see the fruit hanging upon it. You can see the bearing of this upon personal religion and character. By our fruit, then, we shall be known and judged.
In the fifth chapter of Galatians you will find a commentary upon this natural law. Shall we read it? 'Now the works of the flesh' -- the fruit of the flesh, if you like to put it that way -- 'are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance', or self-control. The two sets of verses taken together not only show in detail a cluster of virtues which are like luscious fruit in a beautiful garden, but also a cluster of evils, which are like poisoned berries upon the roadside bushes.
The contrast between the two clusters indicates how great is the difference when one is changed from being a proud, fleshly, corrupt man into a clean, holy, spiritual person; but the contrast also marks the grace of God as the transforming power. No matter what change was wrought in you at conversion, you cannot properly call yourselves fully sanctified until the transformation is complete; that is, until you are delivered from the works or fruit of the flesh, and produce the fruit of the Spirit, and by your fruits you shall be known. Profession of Holiness without appropriate fruit is no good. That would be just like the tree to which the Saviour turned on one occasion when He found nothing but leaves.
Let me put the matter very simply, but very definitely. Here is a man, we will suppose, who says, 'I am saved'. That is good. I like to hear men who are able to stand up and say, 'I am saved'. But if in that man's dealings with those around him he tells lies -- black ones or white ones -- well, then it is obvious that the man still needs Salvation.
Here is another who stands up and says, 'I have a clean heart'. That is a testimony in which I glory. But if you see that man's bodily appetites master him, or see him fall into uncleanness of speech or of act, you know very well what even those who want to be charitable will say, 'Either that man fails to understand the meaning of the words he uses, or his profession of Holiness is a false one'.
Another person says, 'I love God with all my heart' -- or as many do say, 'There is nothing between my soul and God'. But if you see the same person running after those things which he knows God is against, however charitable you may feel, you cannot help judging by what he does rather than by what he says.
One may stand up and speak about being sanctified; but if his actions indicate in some form or another that he is jealous, or ill-tempered, or selfish, everybody will say, 'No matter what that person may say about himself, testimony or no testimony, profession or no profession, he still needs the blessing of Full Salvation!'
Let me, by an illustration or two, help you to see what I mean -- the fruits of the sanctified heart.
A university professor was afflicted with an ungovernable temper. One day he went to the house of a relative with a view to adjusting some property matters in dispute. Now, the man to whom he went not only made unjust claims, but put forth these claims in a way to provoke his Christian relative to anger. He did it on purpose; he was determined to show that this man's religion made him no different from the people round about him. As a consequence, high words arose, and the professor left the house in a rage, slamming the door behind him.
When he got into the street calm reflection came, and in the place of anger and bitterness a sense of humiliation and shame and defeat. He went straight home, up to his room, fastened the door, got down on his knees, and spent the night pleading that God would not only forgive him for his display of temper, but would deliver him from those angry passions which made him such a discredit to his profession of religion. As morning dawned, peace came to his soul, the power of the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and a sense of deliverance pervaded his whole being.
He went to the house of his relative, and found him at breakfast. With deep humility, and in the presence of the family, he confessed his sin, said not a word about provocation, and only pleaded that they would forgive him for his display of anger. Thirty years subsequent to this that professor, who became famous as a man of God, stated that no temptation or provocation received had ever stirred the emotion of evil temper within him since that memorable night. He had been delivered. Instead of the fruit of the flesh, there grew the fruit of the Spirit.
Take the case of a certain mother with several unconverted children. She was a fretting, chafing woman, and by her impatience, fault-finding, and nagging she fretted and vexed the whole family. When she got the blessing she became so even in her disposition that she was kept in such 'perfect peace' that, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the domestic circle became like a little heaven below.
Resentful and revengeful persons are so changed that the spirit of forgiveness and forbearance which they exhibit in their lives is the admiration of all who know them. Self-seeking Christians are made into self-sacrificing, cross-bearing saints and soldiers, where formerly they would only be content if they were having their own way.
Now, what does this mean? This: that such open professors of religion as we are must justify our profession by bringing forth fruit unto Holiness. If the condition of your mind and heart, if the state of your disposition (I will put it that way) is not such as brings forth this fruit, you must earnestly and sincerely ask the Lord to cleanse and sanctify and anoint you with the Holy Ghost, so that instead of bringing forth the fruit of the flesh, everybody shall see displayed and exhibited by you the fruit of the Spirit.
Do not say the standard is too high, for it is simply a case of your experience being too low. We want the whole thing not 'levelled down', but 'levelled up'. Let God take full possession of you; let the Divine power be exerted upon your particular difficulty; and seek to be wholly anointed with that Holy Spirit who can not only cleanse, but keep you, making you fruitful in every good word and work.