Christ's Object Lessons
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 17: "Spare it this Year Also"
Based on Luke 13:1-9
What would you do with a tree that is not producing fruit?
Christ in His teaching linked with the warning of
judgment the invitation of mercy. "The Son of man
is not come," He said, "to destroy men's lives, but to save
them." Luke 9:56. "God sent not His Son into the world to
condemn the world; but that the world through Him might
be saved." John 3:17. His mission of mercy in its relation
to God's justice and judgment is illustrated in the parable
of the barren fig tree.
Christ had been warning the people of the coming of the
kingdom of God, and He had sharply rebuked their ignorance
and indifference. The signs in the sky, which foretold
the weather, they were quick to read; but the signs of
the times, which so clearly pointed to His mission, were not
But men were as ready then as men are now to conclude
that they themselves are the favorites of heaven, and that
the message of reproof is meant for another. The hearers
told Jesus of an event which had just caused great
excitement. Some of the measures of Pontius Pilate, the
governor of Judea, had given offense to the people. There had [p. 213] been a popular tumult in Jerusalem, and Pilate had
attempted to quell this by violence. On one occasion his
soldiers had even invaded the precincts of the temple, and
had cut down some Galilean pilgrims in the very act of
slaying their sacrifices. The Jews regarded calamity as a
judgment on account of the sufferer's sin, and those who
told of this act of violence did so with secret satisfaction.
In their view their own good fortune proved them to be
much better, and therefore more favored by God, than were
these Galileans. They expected to hear from Jesus words
of condemnation for these men, who, they doubted not,
richly deserved their punishment.
The disciples of Christ did not venture to express their
ideas until they had heard the opinion of their Master. He
had given them pointed lessons in reference to judging
other men's characters, and measuring retribution according
to their finite judgment. Yet they looked for Christ to
denounce these men as sinners above others. Great was
their surprise at His answer.
Turning to the multitude, the Saviour said, "Suppose ye
that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans,
because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but,
except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." These
startling calamities were designed to lead them to humble
their hearts, and to repent of their sins. The storm of
vengeance was gathering, which was soon to burst upon all
who had not found a refuge in Christ.
As Jesus talked with the disciples and the multitude, He
looked forward with prophetic glance and saw Jerusalem
besieged with armies. He heard the tramp of the aliens
marching against the chosen city and saw the thousands
upon thousands perishing in the siege. Many of the Jews
were, like those Galileans, slain in the temple courts, in the
very act of offering sacrifice. The calamities that had fallen [p. 214] upon individuals were warnings from God to a nation
equally guilty. "Except ye repent," said Jesus,"ye shall
all likewise perish." For a little time the day of probation
lingered for them. There was still time for them to know
the things that belonged to their peace.
"A certain man," He continued, "had a fig-tree planted
in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon,
and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his
vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on
this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth
it the ground?"
Christ's hearers could not misunderstand the application
of His words. David had sung of Israel as the vine brought
out of Egypt. Isaiah had written, "The vineyard of the
Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah
His pleasant plant." Isa. 5:7. The generation to whom the
Saviour had come were represented by the fig tree in the
Lord's vineyard—within the circle of His special care and
God's purpose toward His people, and the glorious
possibilities before them, had been set forth in the beautiful
words, "That they might be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified," Isa.
61:3. The dying Jacob, under the Spirit of inspiration, had
said of his best-loved son, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even
a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the
wall." And he said, "The God of thy Father" "shall help
thee," the Almighty "shall bless thee with blessings of
heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under." Gen.
49:22, 25. So God had planted Israel as a goodly vine by
the wells of life. He had made His vineyard "in a very
fruitful hill." He had "fenced it, and gathered out the
stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine." Isa.
5:1, 2. [p. 215]
"And He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and
it brought forth wild grapes." Isa. 5:2. The people of
Christ's day made a greater show of piety than did the Jews
of earlier ages, but they were even more destitute of the
sweet graces of the Spirit of God. The precious fruits of
character that made the life of Joseph so fragrant and
beautiful, were not manifest in the Jewish nation.
God in His Son had been seeking fruit, and had found
none. Israel was a cumberer of the ground. Its very
existence was a curse; for it filled the place in the vineyard
that a fruitful tree might fill. It robbed the world of the
blessings that God designed to give. The Israelites had
misrepresented God among the nations. They were not
merely useless, but a decided hindrance. To a great degree
their religion was misleading, and wrought ruin instead of
In the parable the dresser of the vineyard does not
question the sentence that the tree, if it remained fruitless,
should be cut down; but he knows and shares the owner's
interest in that barren tree. Nothing could give him
greater joy than to see its growth and fruitfulness. He
responds to the desire of the owner, saying, "Let it alone
this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it; and if it
bear fruit, well."
The gardener does not refuse to minister to so unpromising
a plant. He stands ready to give it still greater care. [p. 216] He will make its surroundings most favorable, and will
lavish upon it every attention.
The owner and the dresser of the vineyard are one in
their interest in the fig tree. So the Father and the Son
were one in their love for the chosen people. Christ was
saying to His hearers that increased opportunities would be
given them. Every means that the love of God could devise
would be put in operation that they might become trees of
righteousness, bringing forth fruit for the blessing of the
Jesus did not in the parable tell the result of the
gardener's work. At that point His story was cut short.
Its conclusion rested with the generation that heard His
words. To them the solemn warning was given. "If not,
then after that thou shalt cut it down." Upon them it
depended whether the irrevocable words should be spoken.
The day of wrath was near. In the calamities that had
already befallen Israel, the owner of the vineyard was
mercifully forewarning them of the destruction of the
The warning sounds down along the line to us in this
generation. Are you, O careless heart, a fruitless tree in
the Lord's vineyard? Shall the words of doom erelong be
spoken of you? How long have you received His gifts?
How long has He watched and waited for a return of love?
Planted in His vineyard, under the watchful care of the
gardener, what privileges are yours! How often has the
tender gospel message thrilled your heart! You have taken
the name of Christ, you are outwardly a member of the
church which is His body, and yet you are conscious of no
living connection with the great heart of love. The tide of
His life does not flow through you. The sweet graces of
His character, "the fruits of the Spirit," are not seen in
your life. [p. 217]
The barren tree receives the rain and the sunshine and
the gardener's care. It draws nourishment from the soil.
But its unproductive boughs only darken the ground, so
that fruit-bearing plants cannot flourish in its shadow. So
God's gifts, lavished on you, convey no blessing to the
world. You are robbing others of privileges that, but
for you, might be theirs.
You realize, though it may be but dimly, that you are a
cumberer of the ground. Yet in His great mercy God has
not cut you down. He does not look coldly upon you.
He does not turn away with indifference, or leave you to
destruction. Looking upon you He cries, as He cried so [p. 218] many centuries ago concerning Israel, "How shall I give
thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? . . .
I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger. I will
not return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not
man." Hosea 11:8, 9. The pitying Saviour is saying
concerning you, Spare it this year also, till I shall dig
about it and dress it.
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With what unwearied love did Christ minister to Israel
during the period of added probation. Upon the cross He
prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what
they do." Luke 23:24. After His ascension the gospel was
preached first at Jerusalem. There the Holy Spirit was
poured out. There the first gospel church revealed the
power of the risen Saviour. There Stephen—"his face as
it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15)—bore his
testimony and laid down his life. All that heaven itself could
give was bestowed. "What could have been done more to
My vineyard," Christ said, "that I have not done in it?"
Isa. 5:4. So His care and labor for you are not lessened,
but increased. Still He says, "I the Lord do keep it; I
will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it
night and day." Isa. 27:3.
"If it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that"—
The heart that does not respond to divine agencies
becomes hardened until it is no longer susceptible to the
influence of the Holy Spirit. Then it is that the word is
spoken, "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
Today He invites you: "O Israel, return unto the
Lord thy God. . . . I will heal their backsliding, I will
love them freely. . . . I will be as the dew unto Israel;
he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as
Lebanon. . . . They that dwell under his shadow shall return;
they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine.
. . . From Me is thy fruit found." Hosea 14:1-8.
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"Go into the Highways and Hedges"