The Tree Planted by the Waters
George Everard, 1884
The servant of God is often described in Scripture under the image of a tree bearing good fruit. And under this figure we have his verdure and fruitfulness connected with the River of God's grace. We find it both in Psalm 1, and also in Jeremiah 17.
Before dwelling upon this description, let us take something of a contrast. Hugh Macmillan tells of a remarkable plant that grows in the South American forests. It is a sort of club moss, and in dry seasons becomes somewhat of a traveler. When every particle of moisture is extracted from the soil, it will detach itself from the earth where it has been growing, and curl itself up into a ball. It is then carried away for miles by any strong wind, and remains coiled up until it reaches some marshy land or pool of water. It will then begin slowly to unfold itself, taking root and assuming its former appearance. It may grow long enough to cast its seed on the air, and when its new home becomes dry, as the previous one — it will take to its former unsettled habits, and like a pilgrim go forth to seek the water that it loves.
Truly does the author, who gives this account, compare this plant to a child of the world. Such a one has no fixedness or stability. He goes from scene to scene, from one object to another, seeking for a little passing gratification. Unsettled in spirit, tossed hither and thither by temptation, by the world's allurements, or by every breath changing opinion — finding no permanent spring of hope or consolation, at length he passes away without having ever discovered the secret of true peace and satisfaction.
The prophet Jeremiah uses somewhat of a different image. "This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives." Jeremiah 17:5-6
But not so is it with the godly man. He leans on a Divine arm. His heart draws near to a Father in Heaven. His spirit cleaves steadfastly unto God. The name of Jesus is his stay and resting-place. In the darkest night of trouble he makes the Lord his hope, and encourages himself in His faithful care. And how rich is the blessing he inherits! There is no curse for him. He is not like the heath in the desert, or the rolling plant of the forest. He inhabits no parched places or desolate wilds. The very reverse of all this is his portion. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." Jeremiah 17:7-8
What a variety of blessedness is promised here! All around may be parched and dry. Sin and worldliness and unbelief may wither up all true joy — but he still retains his comfort in God, and grace to confess the Name he loves. He casts his roots deeper and deeper, in stronger faith, in more frequent meditation — and thus drinks in perpetually from the ever-flowing streams of living water. He flourishes as the cedar in Lebanon. He grows rapidly like the palm-tree. His bough is laden with precious fruit. Even in the year of drought — in times of deepest trouble or distress — he is freed from perplexing carefulness, and still honors God by his joyful patience and holy submission to the will of God.
In the life of the patriarch Joseph, we have a forcible illustration of the promise here given. He was ever a man of faith, deriving all his strength from nearness to God. He was "a fruitful bough by a well" (Genesis 49:22). Like a well-rooted tree, he was ever steadfast, rejecting with abhorrence the sin proposed to him, and manfully performing his duty and bearing the fruits of righteousness . . .
in the house of Potiphar,
in the prison, and
in his high position in Egypt.
"His branches ran over the wall." He was a blessing wherever he went. He brought down a blessing on his heathen master, then on Egypt, and then on all his father's house. Never, never did his leaf fade, nor were his branches found without their appropriate fruit.
But how may this blessing be yours? How may you, too, be a tree of righteousness, ever growing, ever bearing fruit through the power of divine grace?
Be sure, the River of Life is near at hand, the waters are flowing on in rich abundance, and if you will follow the directions which the Master gives, you cannot fail of the promised blessing.
Come near, and keep near, to the secret source of all life and fruitfulness.
From first to last, it is a matter of humble trustfulness. The heart of the ungodly man departs from the Lord — the heart of the godly man flees to Him. He runs, he walks, or he creeps, which ever it is — at least, he comes and draws near. Thus must you do. Set your face toward God. Remember His promises and rely upon them. Remember the precious name of
Jesus, and let this give you sure confidence. Remember God's exceeding loving-kindness. Remember His faithfulness and truth. Remembering all this, trust the Lord continually. Trust Him for all that concerns this life. Put every care and sorrow and burden into His hand. Leave all with Him, however gloomy, or painful, or threatening, the prospect may be. Trust Him with all that concerns your spiritual welfare. Trust Him when the heart feels cold and dead, that He will revive and quicken you. Trust Him when you can scarcely utter a word of prayer, believing that His Spirit will again stir up your heart in this as in every other grace. Trust Him always and trust Him forever. So will you keep close to the River, and your soul will be refreshed and comforted.
Be careful about the little things in a Christian life. No one can tell the immense difference that will be made by the use or the neglect of little opportunities — or in the matter of little duties. Remember it is the little fibers of the roots of a tree which drink in the moisture and receive nourishment from the soil, and thus promote its growth and fruitfulness.
Be very careful about these little fibers. Watch over your thoughts. Let them ever cleave to Jesus. Let them be sanctified by the remembrance of all that He is, and of all that He does for His people. Let them be filled with the sweet promises and precepts of Holy Scripture. Ever cherish heavenly aspirations, longing desires, and frequent upliftings of the heart in prayer and praise. Your highest attainments in grace and holiness will be closely connected with every secret prayer which arises to God. Just as the topmost branches of the tree are dependent upon the thin, hair-like roots that the eye can scarcely discern — so all spiritual advancement will depend on the secret walk before our Father in Heaven.
The figure of the tree shows also the importance of firmness and steadfastness in the Christian life. You must seek to be rooted and grounded in the faith, and so established that nothing can move you. Hold fast the faithful Word. Beware of new views and new opinions which are perpetually springing up around you. Stand firm and strong when persecution or reproach comes to try you. Rather suffer loss or exile or death — than dishonor or forsake your Savior.
Only lately I heard of an example of this steadfast spirit which it will be well for us to follow.
The son of a very rich man in Calcutta came to England to educate and qualify himself to practice at the bar in India. Brought up as a strict Hindu, he had no thought of becoming a Christian, though he had some knowledge of the truths of the Gospel. On his way to England a storm arose, and for three days the ship was in imminent danger. During the storm he felt how insecure was his own position; he thought of Christ, and sought Him in earnest prayer. He found spiritual peace and hope; and during his stay in London his convictions were deepened, and he was baptized.
As soon as his father heard of his baptism, he cut off his supplies — and the young man would have been utterly destitute but for a few Christian friends whom God raised up to help him.
After finishing his course he went back to Calcutta, and to his surprise his father received him with open arms. He received from his father every possible kindness, and for a time he thought his father had forgiven him. But it was only a device to draw him back to Hinduism. After about a week his father spoke to him on the subject. He told him that if he would give up Christianity, he would at once make over to him all his property. He need not practice at the bar, but might live in every possible comfort and luxury.
But the young man was not to be moved. Neither persuasions nor promises could turn him from his purpose. So he said to his father, "Not for all you have done for me, or for all you have now promised me, nor for your love, which I value most of all — dare I deny the Savior who has loved me."
Then said the father, "If this be so, you are no longer my son, nor am I your father. Begone! and never let me see your face again!"
So, without a shilling of his own, he had to go to another city and seek his living, having given up all for Christ's sake.
Another word of guidance I would give you: Endeavor to make progress. Cultivate growth in every direction. Aim at increase in every Christian virtue.
In dependence on God's grace, let there be the downward growth — the roots going deeper into the soil. Be clothed with humility. Follow Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Keep near the Savior's footstool. Strive to grow in the knowledge of your sin and unworthiness. The sense of sin ever deepens with growth in holiness, because God's light shines in more brightly, and thus discovers the evil that is in us.
Then also grow in steadfastness. As the roots of a tree go deeper into the soil, it becomes more firmly fixed, so that the winds and storms can the less move it. Thus be firm and immovable, rooted and grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus. Do not be swayed by the current of human opinion. Do not take your views from the Newspaper, or the last Magazine. Rather, hold fast by the faithful Word, being assured that not one thing has failed or will fail of all that the Lord has spoken.
Let there also be the upward growth. Like the tree shooting higher and higher, ever tending upward, so let it be with your heart. Set your affection on things above. Get nearer and closer in true fellowship with the Father and the Son. Tend evermore in true holiness toward the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Let your whole life be filled with joy and praise and thankfulness to Him.
Let there also be growth in the breadth and circumference of the tree. I mean, let the Christian grow in largeness of heart, in wide-spreading sympathies, in holy charity, in efforts to spread everywhere the savor of Christ's name. Wherever God opens to you a door of usefulness, by which you can enter without neglect of other duties — don't hold back. By intercessory prayer, by free-handed gifts, by a book given to someone going into a foreign land — your influence for good may spread far and wide, and perhaps hereafter the most precious jewels in your crown will have been won in lands you have never seen.
Above all, let your growth and fruitfulness never cease. Cleave to the Lord, and He will never fail you. He will give "more grace," and thus you shall bear more fruit. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Psalm 1:3
Oh fill me with Your fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart overflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Your love to tell, Your praise to show.
Oh use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as You will, and when and where,
Until Your blessed face I see,
Your rest, Your joy, Your glory share.