HOLINESS, The Fruit and Flower of Spiritual Life
"Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." Phil.2:1
The great end of God (His own glory being the greatest of all) in imparting spiritual life to the soul, is its ultimate and complete restoration to the Divine Holiness. Sin had effaced His image and destroyed His work in man. The vessel- when scarcely had it passed from the hands of the Divine Artificer, a beauteous and perfect reflection of His moral and intellectual Being, was broken- shivered as into a thousand atoms- by the Fall. But, "known unto God are all His works from the beginning." Foreseeing the catastrophe, and from eternity anticipating its result, God revealed to the fallen creature man- pending his expulsion from Paradise- His purpose and mode of restoration to the nature and the image he had lost.
To the arch-destroyer of His work God thus announced it: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." How worthy of, and how like God, was this- how worthy of His love, and how like His holiness! "The vessel that He made of clay was marred in the hand of the Potter: so He made it again another vessel, as it seemed good to the Potter to make it." It is to this restoration of the Divine holiness we devote our present meditation.
The spiritual life of the regenerate is a holy and a fruit-bearing life. Sown with "the incorruptible seed of the word," and embodying the germ of the Divine nature, the fruit it bears is, "fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." Thus the passage- of which this chapter is a brief exposition- applies in a greater or less degree to every regenerate soul- "Filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." The Fruit- the source of the fruit- and the end thereof- are the points which these remarkable words suggest for our meditation.
It is, "the fruit of righteousness." The soul of man is a fruitful tree, and there are two species of fruit which it bears- the fruit of unrighteousness, and the fruit of righteousness. In its natural, or unregenerate condition, the fruit it bears is, the fruit of sin. It must in the nature of things be so. Every seed has its own body, and the fruit it yields corresponds with its nature. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." It is a fixed law of nature that, like produces like. And if men would but bring the common sense to bear upon things spiritual, that they bring to bear upon things natural, no truth would be more self-evident to the mind than that, the consequences of the life they live must be in harmony with the character of that life.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." Solemn words! Oh that they may sink deep into the inmost recess of the soul of each sin-loving, sin-living reader of this page! You, O man! you, O woman! are sowing for eternity! If to the flesh, then of the flesh will be the harvest- a harvest of woe-blighted and blasted-fit fuel for the fire that knows no quenching. "He will gather the wheat into His garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Oh, with a destiny so appalling; with a Hell so awful and so endless as the certain result of your present life of self and sin, of worldliness and folly, of irreligion and atheism, staring you in the face, how can you remain so careless and insensible? "What do you mean, O sleeper? Arise and call upon your God!" Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for, as you sow in the life that now is, so shall you reap eternally in the life that is to come. But, it is with the "fruits of righteousness" we have, at present, more especially to do. And what are they? A few only can we name.
What a holy fruit is repentance for sin! It is the first-fruit which the trees of righteousness bear- "Repentance toward God." If, as we approach the tree, we discern the feeble, gentle putting forth of the bud of godly sorrow for sin- the conviction which the Holy Spirit imparts, the contrition which He alone inspires- then are we assured that life-divine, spiritual life- has begun in that soul; and this is its first and holiest fruit. Oh, what an guaranty- the first-fruits- of a golden harvest is that tender conviction of sin, that falling tear, that self-abasement, that broken and contrite heart! "To this man will I look," says God "even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembles at my word." If God "has made your heart soft" -if the Holy Spirit has made you 'sorry for your sin'- oh, despise not this first sheaf of the harvest! No sinner will ever repair to the sinner's Friend- no soul will ever betake itself to the Divine Physician- but he who, by the Spirit, is convinced of sin and its fatal disease. The first step to Jesus is measured by the first tear of godly sorrow for sin. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."
And what a precious "fruit of righteousness" is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This fruit may well be termed by the apostles- 'Precious faith." Faith is the moral alchemy that transmutes everything into gold. Where FAITH is, there is every divine blessing; it is the root and foundation of all holiness. It turns the curse into a blessing- trials into mercies- the water of affliction into the wine of joy- poverty into wealth- weakness into might- and from the eater brings forth food. It is the true philosopher's stone, that transmutes the basest metal into the most precious; builds with the tears of penitence a lovely bow of hope- resplendent and unfading-springing from the lowest base on earth to the highest arch of heaven.
A fruit, then, so marvellous and precious, must be a "fruit of righteousness." Faith is a holy and sanctifying grace. "Purifying their hearts by faith." It travels with sin to the Savior- with guilt to the blood- with emptiness to the fulness- and in all its conscious, clinging weakness, leans upon the Almightiness of the Almighty God. In view of a grace of the Spirit so mighty- of a "fruit of righteousness" so precious- we marvel not that the Apostles should pray- "Lord, increase our faith." That prayer- the holiest breathing, as the most lovely flower and precious fruit of spiritual life- shall be answered, that blessing shall be given, by whomsoever offered, by whomsoever asked.
Sorrow-laden, guilt-burdened soul, only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your burden shall fall, and your guilt shall vanish! Simple, unquestioning faith in Jesus saves- saves now, saves to the uttermost, and saves forever- the very chief of sinners. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved."
The very trial, too, of faith is precious. There is, perhaps, no grace of the Spirit which its Divine Author and Finisher more frequently or more surely subjects to the process of trial than the grace of faith. The more real and valuable the ore, the more the smelter subjects it to the crucible. Untried, untempted faith, is uncertain and unsifted faith. And, oh, how imperfectly are we aware of the small degree of our faith until God tests it, and tests it, perhaps, as by fire.
When the stream upon whose bosom we softly glide is undimmed by a shadow and unruffled by a wavelet, we can speak fluently, and preach eloquently, and write forcibly of the nature and properties of faith- its strifes and its trophies- but, when God gauges it by some heavy trial, fathoms it by some deep line of sorrow, then we discover the littleness and shallowness of the principle which we thought so strong and so profound. How then do we shrink from the excision of the knife that prunes it- from the flame of the furnace that tries it- from the roughness of the sieve that winnows it!
We asked the Lord to let us come to Him upon the waters, and we came but when the winds arose, and the waves surged and foamed around us, our faith trembled, our courage failed, and beginning to sink, we cried, "Lord, save, I perish!" Still, the trial is more precious than gold, though it be as by fire. 'The sin that does most easily beset us' is unbelief- "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." And to eliminate this dross from the gold- to purge this leaven from the wheat- is the great and holy end of our Father in every circumstance that tries, in every temptation that assails, in every cup His own hand presses to our lips. Oh precious, God-glorifying faith, that hangs upon God- that places all its affairs into His hands- that trusts His veracity, and that takes Him at His word!
And what a lovely flower of spiritual life is love! This is, perhaps, the most divinely-assimilating grace of the Spirit "God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him." Filled with the fruit of love- love to God- love to Christ- and love to man, we grow God-like. We dwell in the Infinite Ocean of love and the Infinite Ocean of love condescends, in measure, to dwell in us. And just as, sometimes, we read a volume in a word, even so we experience an ocean in a drop! The spiritual life blooms with no fairer flower, and yields no sweeter fruit than this.
The religion of Christ is the religion of love. The "glorious gospel of the blessed God" is the proclamation of love; and the most astounding and most precious announcement floating upon its standard is the declaration- "God SO LOVED the world that He gave his only begotten Son." It is by love God seeks to overcome the evil of our nature, to dislodge the enmity of our mind; and thus He "overcomes evil with good." "The love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which He has given us," is the great constraining principle of the gospel, the motive-power of the soul. "The love of Christ constrains us;" that is, bears us onward upon its resistless current, to do and to endure, to obey and to suffer, just as He appoints. Oh to be filled with this divine-like fruit of righteousness!
The great need of the Church is LOVE- LOVE to the Lord, and LOVE to the disciple; LOVE to the Master, and LOVE to the servant; LOVE to Christ, impelling us to an unreserved obedience to His commands- willing and ready to be where, and to be what, pleases Him best and glorifies Him most; and LOVE to His people, constraining us to 'wash the feet of the saints,' if so be we might serve them and glorify Him.
But the "trees of righteousness"- like the "Tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God" bear "all manner of fruit." "The fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." What a lovely fruit is Christian sympathy and benevolence! How distinctly and touchingly our Lord has defined it, while He foreshadowed its final reward! "Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom of heaven prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came unto me." What a rich cluster is here! Who, as he views it, is not self-abased that his religion has been so barren of fruit so precious? Have we, in any measure, been thus fruitful?
A Christian poet, long gone to his reward- but who, though dead, still speaks, has left so expressive and beautiful a versification of these words of our Lord, that, though lengthy, we are tempted to transfer it to these pages, as presenting, perhaps, the most true and touching illustration of Christ's meaning to be found; and which will, doubtless, be as new, as acceptable, to many of the readers of this volume.
"A poor wayfaring Man of grief
Has often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief,
That I could never answer Nay.
I had not power to ask his name,
Where He went, or where He came;
Yet there was something in His eye
That won my love, I knew not why.
"Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered: not a word He spoke.
just perishing for lack of bread,
I gave Him all. He blessed it, broke,
And ate; but gave me part again:
Mine was an angel's portion then;
For, while I fed with eager haste,
That crust was manna to my taste.
"I spied Him, where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock: His strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked His thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran to raise the Sufferer up:
Thrice from the stream He drained my cup,
Dipped, and returned it running over:
I drank, and never thirsted more.
"Twas night the floods were out; it blew
A winter hurricane aloof.
I heard His voice abroad, and flew
To bid Him welcome to my roof
I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest,
Laid Him on my own couch to rest;
Then made the hearth my bed, and seemed
In Eden's garden while I dreamed.
"Stripped, wounded, beaten, near to death,
I found Him by the highway-side;
I roused His pulse, brought back His breath,
Revived His spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment: He was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.
"In prison I saw Him next, condemned
To meet a traitor's death at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored Him midst shame and scorn.
My friendship's utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for Him would die;
The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,
But the free spirit cried, 'I will!'
"Then in a moment to my view
The Stranger darted from disguise;
The tokens in His hands I knew
My Savior stood before my eyes!
He spoke, and my poor name He named:
'Of Me you have not been ashamed;
These deeds shall your memorial be:
Fear not! you did them unto Me.'
And what holy fruit is the mortification of indwelling sin- the conquest of the world- the successful resistance of Satan- the sanctification of your intellectual powers- the consecration of your worldly substance- and the dedication of your influence, time, and service to Christ- in the vindication of His truth and the promotion of His kingdom: thus "walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."
But, we now reach an important enquiry- From where does the believer's fruitfulness come? The passage we are expounding supplies the answer- "Fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ." "From me is your fruit found. " In these wonderful words the secret of all holy fruitfulness is revealed. Our blessed Lord, as it were, reproduces them- "I am the Vine, you are the branches: he that abides in me, and I in Him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing." Thus we are taught the most vital lesson of spiritual life- that, from Christ all our real holiness is derived.
How are we to understand this? We answer: We are fruitful of righteousness, in consequence of the atoning work of Christ. His obedience and death laid the foundation of our spiritual life, and from that spiritual life all holiness springs. We live, because Christ died. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." Our Lord, by this expressive simile, illustrates the precious truth. He was that "grain of wheat" that died. The process is a remarkable unfolding of the wisdom and goodness and power of God in creation. The substance of the grain dies, leaving the life of the germ untouched; and the substance which thus dies, forms the first nourishment of the tender germ by whose nutriment it germinates until it reaches sufficient vigor to extract its support entirely from the earth.
Thus the Lord Jesus taught that, though His body died, His essential life- the vital germ- remained; and, in process of time, He arose from the grave, "the first-fruits" of a rich and glorious harvest of countless souls saved, and eternity replenished with His praise and glory. Now, it is in virtue of this "grain of wheat," this dying and this living, that the divine nature becomes, as it were, engrafted upon our fallen nature; and thus we are "filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ."
In virtue, too, of our spiritual and personal union with Christ, we became fruitful. Apart from this engrafting into Christ, there can be no true evangelical holiness. Spiritual life derives its fruit, as its existence, solely from Christ. He Himself has taught us this truth in that beautiful simile of the Vine and the branch just quoted. As the scion is grafted into the stock and partakes of the vitality of the tree, and so yields fruit according to the nature of the stock, so the believer, engrafted into Christ, the living and true Vine, brings forth fruit corresponding with the nature, doctrine, and example of Christ, to whom he is thus united.
It is in virtue, too, of the grace that Christ, imparts, and of the strength that He gives, that the soul is filled with the fruits of righteousness; for, without Him we can do nothing- nothing! All our resources are in, and all our supplies are from, Him. "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell;" "of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace"- grace following grace, as wave follows wave. "The life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God."
Behold, my reader, the source of your holiness! You can do nothing without Christ; but with Christ strengthening you, you can do all things. There is no daily cross you may not cheerfully carry- no deep-rooted sin you may not effectually vanquish- no fiery temptation you may not successfully resist- no self-denying service for God you may not willingly do- no fond idol you may not immediately surrender- no cup of sorrow you may not submissively drink- with Christ strengthening, succouring, helping you. "My grace is sufficient for you." Oh, live daily, hourly upon Christ! Make large drafts upon His immeasurable, unfathomable fulness. The 'Well is deep.' Your resources in God your supplies from Christ-are as immeasurable as infinity, as inexhaustible as Deity.
Thus you will be "filled with the fruits of righteousness." Do not despond and despair that your soul is so barren, your spiritual life so sterile. Take your emptiness, take your unfruitfulness to Christ in confession, prayer, and faith; and in the very act of so traveling to Him- telling Him all, and asking all- the withered branch will bud, the drooping plant will revive, the faded flower will bloom; and sweet will be your invitation to the Lord- "Let my Beloved come into His garden, and eat His pleasant fruits." Quick and loving will be His response- "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey." Oh how rich now the fruit, and how fragrant now the flowers, of spiritual life! Not Eden in its pristine loveliness bore fruit so golden, or bloomed with flowers so sweet. Let your invocation be urged, until Heaven responds to your prayer- "Awake, O north wind; and come, you south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my Beloved come into His garden, and eat His pleasant fruits."
The great and holy end is, "the glory and praise of God." God does nothing and permits nothing that shall not terminate in the manifestation of His glory. He will be glorified in the eternal condemnation of the condemned, as He will be yet more glorified in the eternal salvation of the saved. "God has made all things for Himself. yes, even the wicked for the day of evil." "I have created him for my glory." Heaven and hell will both yield their tribute to His great Name! Not a sinner lost but will glorify forever His Justice and Holiness, His Truth and Power! Not a sinner saved but will yield Him a richer and more lasting revenue of glory, honor, and praise than the creation of countless worlds greater far than this.
Oh, let this thought animate us in our moral struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil- that, every infirmity we conquer, every sin we avoid, and every temptation we foil- every fruit of righteousness we bear- and every flower of holiness we cultivate- enriching and adorning our spiritual life- yields to God more glory and praise and honor than the creation of the universe. "Herein in My Father Glorified, That You Bear Much Fruit; So Shall You Be My Disciples."
Accept the afflictive discipline of God as graciously and wisely designed but to increase the fruit and flower of your spiritual life. "He prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit." Nothing will He remove but what has impeded your spirituality and usefulness; nothing will He send but what shall promote them. The vine-dresser, as he examines his vinery, may descry here and there a branch or a twig that appears thrifty and ornamental, but which itself bears no fruit, and excludes the sun from those that do. These he is compelled to remove. "Every branch in me that bears not fruit, He takes away."
And thus God removes our idols- and withers our gourds- and dries our springs- and lops off our branches, only that our spiritual life might be quickened, our heavenly mindedness increased, our usefulness promoted, and His great Name glorified. Oh, Divine Husbandman! prune and refine and sift me as seems best to Your godly wisdom, may I but bear more fruit of grace on earth, and in Heaven bloom with fruit immortal, to Your endless glory!
Not to wound you, lovely vine,
But your strength to foster,
That on these fair boughs of thine,
Richer fruits may cluster.
Skillful hands must prune and train,
Guiding hands must lift thee;
Soon will you reward my pains,
Beautiful and thrifty.
Not to grieve you, heart of mine,
Does your dear Lord chasten;
But His wayward, trailing vine
To His strength would fasten.
Not a leaflet would He crush,
Not a tendril sever
Only teach you how to grow
Fair and good for ever.
Do not droop, my gentle vine,
At my rugged dealing;
Soon will summer's breath of balm
Bring you growth and healing.
Murmur not, O stricken heart,
At your loving Master;
You shall know His purpose wise
In the bright hereafter.