"My Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill." -- Isaiah v. 1.
We recognize at once that Jesus is here. Who but He can be meant by "My Well-beloved"? Here is a word of possession and a word of affection, -- He is mine, and my Well-beloved. He is loveliness itself, the most loving and lovable of beings; and we personally love Him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength: He is ours, our Beloved, our Well-beloved, we can say no less.
The delightful relationship of our Lord to us is accompanied by words which remind us of our relationship to Him, "My Well-beloved hath a vineyard," and what vineyard is that but our heart, our nature, our life? We are His: and we are His for the same reason that any other vineyard belongs to its owner. He made us a vineyard. Thorns and briars were all our growth naturally, but He bought us with a price, He hedged us about, and set us apart for Himself, and then He planted and cultivated us. All within us that can bring forth good fruit is of His creating, His tending, and His preserving; so that if we be vineyards at all we must be His vineyards. We gladly agree that it shall be so. I pray that I may not have a hair on my head that does not belong to Christ, and you all pray that your every pulse and breath may be the Lord's.
This happy afternoon I want you to note that this vineyard is said to be upon "a very fruitful hill." I have been thinking of the advantages of my own position towards the Lord, and lamenting with great shamefacedness that I am not bringing forth such fruit to Him as my position demands. Considering our privileges, advantages, and opportunities, I fear that many of us have need to feel great searchings of heart. Perhaps to such the text may be helpful, and it will not be without profit to any one of us, if the Lord will bless our meditation upon it.
I. Our first thought, in considering these words, is that our position as the Lord's vineyard is a very favourable one: "My Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill." No people could be better placed for serving Christ than we are. I hardly think that any man is better situated for glorifying God than I am. I do not think that any women could be in better positions for serving Christ than some of you, dear sisters, now occupy. Our heavenly Father has placed us just where He can do the most for us, and where we can do the most for Him. Infinite wisdom has occupied itself with carefully selecting the soil, and site, and aspect of every tree in the vineyard. We differ greatly, and need differing situations in order to fruitfulness: the place which would suit one might be too trying for another. Friend, the Lord has planted you in the right spot: your station may not be the best in itself, but it is the best for you. We are in the best possible position for some present service at this moment; the providence of God has put us on a vantage ground for our immediate duty: "My Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill."
Let us think of the times in which we live as calling upon us to be very fruitful when we compare them with the years gone by. Time was when we could not have met thus happily in our own room: if we had been taken in the act of breaking bread, or reading God's Word, we should have been haled off to prison, and perhaps put to death. Our forefathers scarcely dared to lift up their voices in a psalm of praise, lest the enemy should be upon them. Truly, the lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage, in a very fruitful hill.
We do not even live in times when error is so rampant as to be paramount. There is too much of it abroad; but taking a broad view of things, I venture to say that there never was a time when the truth had a wider sway than it has now, or when the gospel was more fully preached, or when there was more spiritual activity. Black clouds of error hover over us; but at the same time we rejoice that, from John o' Groat's House to the Land's End, Christ is preached by ten thousand voices, and even in the dark parts of the earth the name of Jesus is shining like a candle in the house. If we had the pick of the ages in which to live, we could not have selected a better time for fruitbearing than that which is now occurrent: this age is "a very fruitful hill."
That this is the case some of us know positively, because we have been fruitful. Look back, brothers and sisters, upon times when your hearts were warm, and your zeal was fervent, and you served the Lord with gladness. I join with you in those happy memories. Then we could run with the swiftest, we could fight with the bravest, we could work with the strongest, we could suffer with the most patient. The grace of God has been upon certain of us in such an unmistakable manner that we have brought forth all the fruits of the Spirit. Perhaps to-day we look back with deep regret because we are not so fruitful as we once were: if it be so, it is well that our regrets should multiply, but we must change each one of them into a hopeful prayer. Remember, the vine may have changed, but the soil is the same. We have still the same motives for being fruitful, and even more than we used to have. Why are we not more useful? Has some spiritual phylloxera taken possession of the vines, or have we become frost-bitten, or sunburnt? What is it that withholds the vintage? Certainly, if we were fruitful once, we ought to be more fruitful now. The fruitful hill is not exhausted; what aileth us that our grapes are so few?
We are planted on a fruitful hill, for we are called to work which of all others is the most fruitful. Blessed and happy is the man who is called to the Christian ministry; for this service has brought more glory to Christ than any other. You, beloved friends, are not called to be rulers of nations, nor inventors of engines, nor teachers of sciences, nor slayers of men; but we are soul-winners, our work is to lead men to Jesus. Ours is, of all the employments in the world, the most fruitful in benefits to men and glory to God. If we are not serving God in the gospel of His Son with all our might and ability, then we have a heavy responsibility resting upon us. "Our Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:" there is not a richer bit of soil outside Immanuel's land than the holy ministry for souls. Certain of us are teachers, and gather the young about us while we speak of Jesus. This also is choice soil. Many teachers have gathered a grand vintage from among the little ones, and have not been a whit behind pastors and evangelists in the glory of soul-winning. Dear teachers, your vines are planted in a very fruitful hill. But I do not confine myself to preachers and teachers; for all of us, as we have opportunities of speaking for the Lord Jesus Christ, and privately talking to individuals, have also a fertile soil to grow in. If we do not glorify God by soul-winning, we shall be greatly blamable, since of all forms of service it is most prolific in praise of God.
And what is more, the very circumstances with which we are surrounded all tend to make our position exceedingly favourable for fruit-bearing. In this little company we have not one friend who is extremely poor; but if such were among us, I should say the same thing. Christ has gathered some of His choicest clusters from the valley of poverty. Many eminent saints have never owned a foot of land, but lived upon their weekly wage, and found scant fare at that. Yes, by the grace of God, the vale of poverty has blossomed as the rose. It so happens, however, that the most of us here have a competence, we have all that we need, and something over to give to the poor and to the cause of God. Surely we ought to be fruitful in almsgiving, in caring for the sick, and in all manner of sweet and flagrant influences. "Give me neither poverty nor riches," is a prayer that has been answered for most of us; and if we do not now give honour unto God, what excuse can we make for our barrenness? I am speaking to some who are singularly healthy, who are never hindered by aches and pains; and to others who have been prospered in business for twenty years at a stretch: yours is great indebtedness to your Lord: in your case, "My Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill." Give God your strength and your wealth, my brother, while they last: see that all His care of thee is not thrown away. Others of us seldom know many months together of health, but have often had to suffer sorely in body; this ought to make us fruitful, for there is much increase from the tillage of affliction. Has not the Master obtained the richest of all fruit from bleeding vines? Do not His heaviest bunches come from vines which have been sharply cut and pruned down to the ground? Choice flavours, dainty juices, and delicious aromas come mostly from the use of the keen-edged knife of trial. Some of us are at our best for fruitbearing when in other respects we are at our worst. Thus I might truly say that, whatever our circumstances may be, whether we are poor or rich, in health or in affliction, each one of our cases has its advantages, and we are planted "in a very fruitful hill."
Furthermore, when I look at our spiritual condition, I must say for myself, and I think for you also, "My Well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill." For what has God done for us? To change the question, -- what has God not done for us? What more could He say than to us He hath said? What more could He do than to us He hath done? He hath dealt with us like a God. He has loved us up from the pit, He has loved us up to the cross, and up to the gates of heaven; He has quickened us, forgiven us, and renewed us; He dwells in us, comforts us, instructs us, upholds us, preserves us, guides us, leads us, and He will surely perfect us. If we are not fruitful, to His praise, how shall we excuse ourselves? Where shall we hide our guilty heads? Shall yonder sea suffice to lend us briny tears wherewith to weep over our ingratitude?
II. I go a step further, by your leave, and say that our position, as the Lord's vineyard, is favourable to the production of the fruit which He loves best. I believe that my own position is the most favourable for the production of the fruit that the Lord loves best in me, and that your position is the same. What is this fruit?
First, it is faith. Our Lord is very delighted to see faith in His people. The trust which clings to Him with childlike confidence is pleasant to His loving heart. Our position is such that faith ought to be the easiest thing in the world to us. Look at the promises He has given us in His Word: can we not believe them? Look at what the Father has done for us in the gift of His dear Son: can we not trust Him after that? Our daily experience all goes to strengthen our confidence in God. Every mercy asks, "Will you not trust Him?" Every want that is supplied cries, "Can you not trust Him?" Every sorrow sent by the great Father tests our faith, and drives us to Him on whom we repose, and so strengthens and confirms our confidence in God. Mercies and miseries alike operate for the growth of faith. Some of us have been called upon to trust God on a large scale, and that necessity has been a great help towards fruit-bearing. The more troubles we have, the more is our vine digged about, and the more nourishment is laid to its roots. If faith does not ripen under trial, when will it ripen? Our afflictions fertilize the soil wherein faith may grow.
Another choice fruit is love. Jesus delights in love. His tender heart delights to see its love returned. Am I not of all men most bound to love the Lord? I speak for each brother and sister here, is not that your language? Do you not all say, "Lives there a person beneath yon blue sky who ought to love Jesus more than I should do?" Each sister soliloquizes, "Sat there ever a woman in her chamber who had more reason for loving God than I have?" No, the sin which has been forgiven us should make us love our Saviour exceeding much. The sin which has been prevented in other cases should make us love our Preserver much. The help which God has sent us in hours of need, the guidance which He has given in times of difficulty, the joy which He has poured into us in days of fellowship, and the quiet He has breathed upon us in seasons of trial, -- all ought to make us love Him. Along our life-road, reasons for loving God are more numerous than the leaves upon the olives. He has hedged us about with His goodness, even as the mountains and the sea are round our present resting-place. Look backward as far as time endures, and then look far beyond that, into the eternity which has been, and you will see the Lord's great love set upon us: all through time and eternity reasons have been accumulating which constrain us to love our Lord. Now turn sharply round, and gaze before you, and all along the future faith can see reasons for loving God, golden milestones on the way that is yet to be traversed, all calling for our loving delight in God.
Christ is also very pleased with the fruit of hope, and we are so circumstanced that we ought to produce much of it. The aged ought to look forward, for they cannot expect to see much more on earth. Time is short, and eternity is near; how precious is a good hope through grace! We who are not yet old ought to be exceedingly hopeful; and the younger folk, who are just beginning the spiritual life, should abound in hope most fresh and bright. If any man has expectations greater than I have, I should like to see him. We have the greatest of expectations. Have you never felt like Mercy in her dream, when she laughed and when Christiana asked her what made her laugh, she said that she had had a vision of things yet to be revealed?
Select any fruit of the Spirit you choose, and I maintain that we are favourably circumstanced for producing it; we are planted upon a very fruitful hill. What a fruitful hill we are living in as regards labour for Christ! Each one of us may find work for the Master; there are capital opportunities around us. There never was an age in which a man, consecrated to God, might do so much as he can at this time. There is nothing to restrain the most ardent zeal. We live in such happy times that, if we plunge into a sea of work, we may swim, and none can hinder us. Then, too, our labour is made, by God's grace, to be so pleasant to us. No true servant of Christ is weary of the work, though he may be weary in the work: it is not the work that he ever wearies of, for he wishes that he could do ten times more. Then our Lord makes our work to be successful. We bring one soul to Jesus, and that one brings a hundred. Sometimes, when we are fishing for Jesus, there may be few fish, but, blessed be His name, most of them enter the net; and we have to live praising and blessing God for all the favour with which He regards our labour of love. I do think I am right in saying that, for the bearing of the fruit which Jesus loves best, our position is exceedingly favourable.
III. And now, this afternoon, at this table, our position here is favourable even now to our producing immediately, and upon the spot, the richest, ripest, rarest fruit for our Well-beloved. Here, at the communion-table, we are at the centre of the truth, and at the well-head of consolation. Now we enter the holy of holies, and come to the most sacred meeting-place between our souls and God.
Viewed from this table, the vineyard slopes to the south, for everything looks towards Christ, our Sun. This bread, this wine, all set our souls aslope towards Jesus Christ, and He shines full upon our hearts, and minds, and souls, to make us bring forth much fruit. Are we not planted on a very fruitful hill?
As we think of His passion for our sake, we feel that a wall is set about us to the north, to keep back every sharp blast that might destroy the tender grapes. No wrath is dreaded now, for Jesus has borne it for us; behold the tokens of His all-sufficient sacrifice! No anger of the Lord shall come to our restful spirits, for the Lord saith, "I have sworn that I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee." Here, on this table, are the pledges of His love unspeakable, and these, like a high wall, keep out the rough winds. Surely, we are planted on a very fruitful hill.
Moreover, the Well-beloved Himself is among us. He has not let us out to husbandmen, but He Himself doth undertake to care for us; and that He is here we are sure, for here is His flesh, and here is His blood. You see the outward tokens, may you feel the unseen reality; for we believe in His real presence, though not in the gross corporeal sense with which worldly spirits blind themselves. The King has come into His garden: let us entertain Him with our fruits. He who for this vineyard poured out a bloody sweat, is now surveying the vines; shall they not at this instant give forth a goodly smell? The presence of our Lord makes this assembly a very fruitful hill: where He sets His feet, all good things flourish.
Around this table, we are in a place where others have fruited well. Our literature contains no words more precious than those which have been spoken at the time of communion. Perhaps you know and appreciate the discourses of Willison, delivered on sacramental occasions. Rutherford's communion sermons have a sacred unction upon them. The poems of George Herbert, I should think, were most of them inspired by the sight of Christ in this ordinance. Think of the canticles of holy Bernard, how they flame with devotion. Saints and martyrs have been nourished at this table of blessing. This hollowed ordinance, I am sure, is a spot where hopes grow bright, and hearts grow warm, resolves become firm, and lives become fruitful, and all the clusters of our soul's fruit ripen for the Lord.
Blessed be God, we are where we have ourselves often grown. We have enjoyed our best times when celebrating this sacred Eucharist. God grant it may be so again! Let us, in calm meditation and inward thought, now produce from our hearts sweet fruits of love, and zeal, and hope, and patience; let us yield great clusters like those of Eshcol, all for Jesus, and for Jesus only. Even now, let us give ourselves up to meditation, gratitude, adoration, communion, rapture; and let us spend the rest of our lives in glorifying and magnifying the ever-blessed name of our Well-beloved whose vineyard we are.
"While such a scene of sacred joys Our raptured eyes and souls employs, Here we could sit, and gaze away A long, an everlasting day. "Well, we shall quickly pass the night, To the fair coasts of perfect light; Then shall our joyful senses rove O'er the dear object of our love. "There shall we drink full draughts of bliss, And pluck new life from heavenly trees. Yet now and then, dear Lord, bestow A drop of heaven on worms below."
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