"Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is; for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit." -- JER.17:7, 8.
MY DEAR SISTER,
In my first letter I spoke of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as represented by our Lord under the similitude of a living spring. In my last I endeavored to show that the operation of the Spirit of God upon the heart is inseparably connected with the truth. My present object will be to show the effects produced by both these agents acting together. This is most beautifully described in the passages quoted above. Here the Christian is represented under the similitude of a tree planted by the rivers of water. The grace of God, or the Holy Spirit acting in unison with the word, to carry on the great work of regeneration and sanctification in the soul, is represented by the constant flowing of rivers of water. This shows the abundance of the provision. But a tree may stand so near a river as to be watered when it overflows its banks; and yet, if its roots only spread over the surface of the ground, and do not reach the bed of the river, it will wither in a time of drought. This aptly represents the professor of religion who appears engaged and in earnest only during remarkable outpourings of the Spirit. He is all alive and full of zeal when the river overflows, but when it returns to its ordinary channel, his leaf withers; and if a long season of spiritual drought follows, he becomes dry and barren, so that no appearance of spiritual life remains. But, mark how different the description of the true child of God. "He shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water." This figure appears to have been taken from the practice of cultivating trees. They are removed from the wild state in which they spring up, and their roots firmly fixed in a spot of ground cultivated and prepared, to facilitate their growth. This planting well represents the fixed state of the renewed soul, as it settles down in entire dependence upon the word and Spirit of God, for nourishment and growth in grace. But the figure is carried out still farther, -- "and spreadeth out her roots by the river." When the roots of the tree are spread out along the bed of the river, it will always be supplied with water, even when the river is low. This steadiness of Christian character is elsewhere spoken of under a similar figure. "The root of the righteous shall not be moved." "He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root." "Being rooted and grounded in love." Hence the prophet adds, that the heat and the drought shall not affect it; but its leaf shall be green, always growing; and it shall not cease to bring forth fruit. And throughout the Scriptures, the righteous are represented as bringing forth fruit. "And the remnant that is escaped out of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward." Here is first a taking deep root downward, or the sanctification of the faculties of the soul, by which new principles of action are adopted; and a bearing fruit upward, or the exercise of those principles, in holy affections and corresponding outward conduct. Again, "Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit." The bud and blossom represent, in a very striking manner, the first exercises of Christian experience. However, this may be easily counterfeited. Every tree bears a multitude of false blossoms, which, by the superficial observer, may not be distinguished from the true. They may for a time appear even more gay and beautiful. As it appears in full bloom, it would be impossible for the keenest eye to discover them. But as soon as the season arrives for the fruit to begin to grow, these fair blossoms are withered and gone, and nothing remains but a dry and wilted stem. But the real children of God shall not only bud and blossom, but they shall "fill the face of the world with fruit." In the Song of Solomon, the church is compared to "an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits." This is a beautiful figure. The pomegranate is a kind of apple. The tree is low, but spreads its branches, so that its breadth is greater than its height. So the true Christian is humble and lowly; while his good works spread all around him. The blossoms of this tree are large and beautiful, forming a cup like a bell. But when the flowers are double, no fruit follows. So the double-minded hypocrite brings forth no fruit. The pomegranate apple is exceedingly beautiful and delicious; and so the real fruits of Christianity are full of beauty and loveliness. Again, the church is said to lay up for Christ all manner of pleasant fruit, new and old. But, backsliding Israel is called an empty vine, bringing forth fruit unto himself. Here we may distinguish between the apparent good fruits of the hypocrite and those of the real Christian. The latter does everything for Christ. He really desires the glory of God, and the advancement of Christ's Kingdom; and this is his ruling motive in all his conduct. But the former, though he may do many things good in themselves, yet does them all with selfish motives. His ruling desire is to gratify himself, and to promote his own honor and interest, either in this world, or in that which is to come.
The fruit which his people bring forth is that on which Christ chiefly insists, as a test of Christian character. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." He compares himself to a vine, and his followers to branches; and informs them that every branch which beareth not fruit shall be taken away. In the passage quoted from the first Psalm, the righteous is said to bring forth fruit in his season. And in the 92d Psalm and 14th verse, it is said, "They shall still bring forth fruit in their old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;" thus exhibiting a constancy of fruit-bearing, and an uninterrupted growth, even down to old age.
But, it becomes a matter of serious inquiry to know what is meant by bringing forth fruit in his season. The apostle Paul says, "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." Hence, we conclude, that bringing forth fruit in season must be carrying out the principles of the gospel into every part of our conduct. In another place, the same apostle informs us more particularly what are the fruits of the Spirit: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Let us, then, carry out these principles, and see what influence they will have upon the Christian character. Love is something that can be felt. It is an outgoing of heart towards the object loved, and a feeling of union with it. When we have a strong affection for a friend, it is because we see in him something that is lovely. We love his society, and delight to think of him when he is absent. Our minds are continually upon the lovely traits of his character. So ought we to love God. The ground of this love should be the infinite purity, excellence, and beauty of his moral perfections, independent of our relations to him. He is infinite loveliness in himself. There is such a thing as feeling this love in exercise. In the Song of Solomon, love is said to be "strong as death." Surely, this is no faint imagery. Is it possible for a person to exercise a feeling "as strong as death," and yet not be sensible of it? Love takes hold of every faculty of soul and body. It must, then, be no very dull feeling. Again; the warmth and the settled and abiding nature of love are represented by such strong language as this: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Surely this can be no fitful feeling, which comes and goes at extraordinary seasons. It must be a settled and abiding principle of the soul; though it may not always be accompanied with strong emotions. We may sometimes be destitute of emotion towards the friends we love most. But, the settled principle of esteem and preference is abiding; and our attention needs only to be called to the lovely traits in our friend's character, to call forth emotion.
David, under the influence of this feeling, breaks forth in such expressions as these: "My soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee:" "As the hart panteth for the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God: My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:" "My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God:" "My soul breaketh for the longing it hath unto thy judgments at all times." Surely there is no dulness, no coldness, in such feelings as these. They accord with the spirit of the command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." And this was not, with the Psalmist, an occasional lively frame. This soul-breaking longing was the habitual feeling of his heart; for he exercised it "at all times" And what was it that called forth these ardent longings? Was it the personal benefits which he had received or expected to receive from God? By no means. After expressing an earnest desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of his life, he tells us why he wished to be there: "to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." The object of his love was "the beauty of the Lord;" doubtless meaning his moral perfections. Intimately connected with this was his desire to know the will of the Lord. For this he wished to "inquire in his temple." And whenever the love of God is genuine, it will call forth the same desire. The apostle John, whose very breath is love, says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." The child that loves his parents will delight in doing everything he can to please them. But the child that cares for his parents only as he expects to be benefited by them, will always do as little as possible for them, and that little unwillingly. So, in our relations with God. The hypocrite may have a kind of love to him, because he thinks himself a peculiar object of divine favor, and because he still expects greater blessings. But this does not lead him to delight in the commands of God. He rather esteems them as a task. His heart is not in the doing of them; and he is willing to make them as light as possible. But, the real Christian delights in the law of God; and the chief source of his grief is, that he falls so far short of keeping it.
Again, if we love God, we shall love the image of God, wherever we find it. "Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him." Our love to Christians, if genuine, must arise from the resemblance which they bear to Christ; and not from the comfort which we enjoy in their society, nor because they appear friendly to us. This hypocrites also feel. If we really exercise that love, we shall be willing to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of our Christian brethren. We are directed to love one another as Christ loved us. And how did Christ love us? So strong was his love that he laid down his life for us? And the apostle John says, we ought, in imitation of him, "to lay down our lives for the brethren;" that is, if occasion require it. Such is the strength of that love which we are required to exercise for our Christian brethren. But, how can this exist in the heart, when we feel unwilling to make the least sacrifice of our own feelings or interests for their benefit?
Again; there is another kind of love required of us. This is the love of compassion, which may be exercised even towards wicked men. And what must be the extent of this love? There can be but one standard. We have the example of our Lord before us. So intense was his love, that it led him to make every personal sacrifice of ease, comfort, and worldly good, for the benefit of the bodies and souls of men; yea, he laid down his life for them. This is the kind of love which is required of us, and which was exercised by the apostles and early Christians.
Another fruit of the Spirit is JOY. We are commanded to rejoice in the Lord at all times. If we have a proper sense of the holiness of God's moral character; of the majesty and glory of his power; of the infinite wisdom which shines through all his works; the infinite rectitude of his moral government; and especially of that amazing display of his love, in the work of redemption -- it will fill our hearts with "JOY UNSPEAKABLE AND FULL OF GLORY." Nor is rejoicing in God at all inconsistent with mourning for sin. On the contrary, the more we see of the divine character, the more deeply shall we be abased and humbled before him. Says Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." It was a sight of God which brought this holy man so low before him.
Another fruit of the Spirit is PEACE. This is of two kinds; peace with God, and peace with man. The impenitent are at war with God; there is therefore no peace for them. God is angry with them, and they are contending with him. But the Christian becomes reconciled to God through Christ. He finds peace in believing in him. The Lord is no longer a God of terror to him, but a "God of peace." Hence the gospel is called the "way of peace;" and Christ the "Prince of Peace." Jesus, in his parting interview with his beloved disciples, says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." Righteousness, or justice and peace, are said to have met together and kissed each other. "We have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." The Bible is full of this subject, but I cannot dwell upon it. I wish you to look out the following passages; read and compare them diligently, and meditate upon the blessed truth which they contain Ps.37:37; 85:8; 119:165. Prov.16:7. Isa.20:3; 57:19. Lu.2:14. John 16:33. Rom.8:6; 14:17.1 Cor.7:15. Eph.2:11, 15. Phil.4:7. Col.3:15.
I know not how to speak of this exercise of the mind. It is better felt than described. It is a calm and holy reconciliation with God and his government; a settled feeling of complacency towards everything but sin. It begets a serene and peaceful temper and disposition of the heart. But this gracious work of the Holy Spirit does not stop with these exercises of the mind. However we may seem to feel, in our moments of retirement and meditation, if this peaceful disposition is not carried out in our intercourse with others, and our feelings towards them, we have reason to suspect ourselves of hypocrisy. Whatever is in our hearts will manifest itself in our conduct. If we exercise a morose, sour, and jealous disposition towards others; if we indulge a censorious spirit, not easily overlooking their faults; if we are easily provoked, and irritated with the slightest offence; if we indulge in petty strifes and backbiting -- surely the peace of God does not rule in our hearts. So much does Christ esteem this peaceful spirit, that he says peacemakers shall be called the children of God. Again, he tells his disciples to "have peace one with another." The apostle Paul, also, gives frequent exhortations to the exercise of this grace. "Be at peace among yourselves." "Follow peace with all men." "If it be possible, live peaceably with all men." "That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life."
MEEKNESS is a twin-sister of Peace. It is a temper of mind not easily provoked to resentment. The word used in the original signifies easiness of mind. The cultivation of this grace resembles the taming of wild animals. It is the bringing of all our wild and ungovernable passions under control. It is an eminent work of the Spirit; and we may judge of our spiritual attainments by the degree of it which we possess. The Scriptures abound with exhortations to the cultivation of it. It is preeminently lovely in the female character. Hence, the apostle Peter exhorts women to adorn themselves with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is, in the sight of God, of great price.
LONG-SUFFERING and GENTLENESS are twin-daughters of Meekness. The latter is the disposition of the heart. The former are the actions which flow out from that disposition, in our intercourse with others. Long-suffering is godlike. It is an imitation of the forbearance of God towards his rebellious creatures. He is long-suffering, and slow to anger. He does not let his anger burn hot against sinners, till all means of bringing them to repentance have failed. O, how should this shame us, who cannot bear the least appearance of insult or injury from our fellow-sinners, without resentment! But, if we would be the children of our Father in heaven, we must learn to bear ill treatment with a meek and quiet and forgiving temper. Gentleness is one of the most lovely of all the graces of the Spirit. It is a "softness or mildness of disposition and behavior, and stands opposed to harshness and severity, pride and arrogance." "It corrects whatever is offensive in our manner, and, by a constant train of humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery;" the constant exercise of this spirit is of the greatest importance to the Christian who would glorify God in his life, and do good to his fellow-creatures.
GOODNESS is another fruit of the Spirit. I suppose the apostle here means the same that he expresses in another place by "bowels of mercies and kindness." It is doing good both to the bodies and souls of others, as we have opportunity. "Be kindly affectioned one to another." "Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted." This is a distinguishing trait in the Christian character. It shone forth in all its loveliness in our divine Redeemer. He went about doing good. So ought we to imitate his example. It should be our chief aim and study to make ourselves useful to others; for we thereby glorify God. If we have the Spirit of Christ, this will be the great business of our lives.
Another fruit of the Spirit is FAITH. Although this is mentioned last but two in the catalogue, yet it is by no means the least important. Indeed, it may be called the father of all the rest. The proper definition of faith is, a belief of the truth. Faith is a very common principle of action, by which is transacted all the business of this life. People universally act according to their faith. If a person is fully convinced that his house is on fire, he will make haste to escape. If a man really believes a bank-note is good, he will receive it for its professed value. If the merchant believes that his customer is able to pay for them, he will give him goods upon credit. If a child really believes his parent will punish him for doing mischief, he will keep out of it. And so, in everything else, we act according to our belief. No person ever fully believes a truth which concerns himself, without acting accordingly. That faith which is the fruit of the Spirit is a hearty belief of all the truths of God's word. And in proportion as we believe these truths, in their application to ourselves, we shall act according to them. The reason why the sinner does not repent and turn to God, is that he does not fully believe the word of God, as it applies to himself. He may believe some of the abstract truths of the Scriptures, but he does not really believe himself to be in the dreadful danger which they represent him. The reason why Christians live so far from the standard of God's word is that their belief in the truths contained in it is so weak and faint. We all profess to believe that God is everywhere present. Yet, Christians often complain that they have no lively sense of his presence. The reason is, that they do not fully and heartily believe this truth. So strong and vivid is the impression when this solemn truth takes full possession of the soul, that the apostle compares it to "seeing him that is invisible." Now, but for our unbelief, we should always have such a view of the divine presence. O, with what holy awe and reverence would this inspire us! On examination, we shall find that all the graces of the Spirit arise from faith, and all our sins and short-comings from unbelief. It is a belief of the moral excellence of God's character which inspires love. It is a belief of our own depravity, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, which creates godly sorrow. It is a strong and particular belief of all the overwhelming truths of the Bible, which overcomes the world. "This is the victory; even our faith." It is a firm and unshaken belief in these truths, presenting the glories of heaven just in view, which supports the Christian in the dark and trying hour of death. It is the same belief which makes him "as bold as a lion" in the performance of his duty. This is what supported the martyrs, and enabled them cheerfully to lay down their lives for Christ's sake. It is this which must support you in the Christian warfare. And in proportion to your faith will be your progress. I would be glad to say more on this subject. It is large enough to fill a volume.
TEMPERANCE is another fruit of the Spirit. This consists in the proper control of all our desires, appetites, and passions. The exercise of this grace is of vital importance, not only as it concerns the glory of God, but our own health and happiness.
I have felt much straitened in giving a description of the fruits of the Spirit in a single letter. I have not pretended to do justice to the subject. My principal object has been to show the beautiful symmetry of the Christian character, as it extends from the heart to all our actions, in every relation of life. And this will serve as an introduction to the more particular consideration of the various Christian duties.
Your affectionate Brother.