Matthew 21:17

Children are always delighted with a little public excitement, and readily catch up the common enthusiasm; but we do not look to children for calm and intelligent judgments on great issues. To our Lord children always represented simple, guileless, unprejudiced souls, who put up no barriers against his teachings, or against the gracious influences which he strove to exert. These children would be lads from twelve years old upward. They caught up the words of the excited disciples, and kept up the excitement by shouting, even in the temple courts, "Hosanna to the Son of David!"

I. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY DID. It was a bit of simple, honest, unrestrained enthusiasm. The young souls were carried away by the joyous excitement of the day. It comforted Jesus to hear some people speaking of him who were unquestionably sincere; who just uttered their hearts; who were glad, and said so. For it must have been a heavy burden to our Lord that, even to the last, his disciples were so guileful; they seemed as if they could never rise above the idea that they were about to "get something good" by clinging to the Lord Jesus. "Hosanna!" from the lads who wanted nothing from him must have been very comforting to our Lord, That is always one of the chief elements of pleasure in children's worship; it is guileless, genuine, the free unrestrained utterance of the passing mood. It is not the highest thing. That is the worship of the finally redeemed, who have won innocence through experience of sin; but it is the earth-suggestion of it. Children's praise is still the joy of Christian hearts.

II. THE CHILDREN COMFORTED JESUS BY WHAT THEY REPRESENTED. For to him the children were types. "Babes and sucklings" are types of simple, loving, trustful souls, and to such God's revelations come. Now, there are two kinds of trustful, humble, gentle souls.

1. Those who are trustful without ever having struggled. Some are naturally trustful, believing, receptive, and in all spheres of life they are loved and loving souls.

2. Those who are trustful as the victory out of struggle. These are the noblest ones, the true child souls, the true virgin souls; these walk the earth in white, and it is white that will never take a soil. In their praise Christ finds his supreme joy. - R.T.

And when he saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found. nothing thereon.
I. THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS TREE WAS NOT AN ACT OF INJUSTICE. People find it difficult to understand the propriety of punishing an inanimate object for defects which are only possible in higher existences. They argue that, since the fig-tree did not possess freewill, but was simply obeying the law of its kind, our Lord's act was capricious. But observe —

1. The supposed force of this objection is due to our treating a metaphorical expression as if it were the language of reality. We speak of "doing justice" to a picture, when we mean justice to the artist who painted it. The picture itself cannot possibly be treated justly or unjustly, although we may form a true or a false estimate of its merits. Justice and injustice pre-suppose rights to be respected or violated; and rights belong only to a person. In the vegetable world there is no such thing as personality: and no such thing as "rights." To talk, therefore, of "injustice" in blasting or cutting down a tree, is good English if we are in the realms of poetry, but nonsense if in those of moral truth. The tree is there to be made the most of by man. .No one has yet maintained that in using it to furnish our houses, or-brighten our hearths, we sin against any law of natural justice. Surely, then, if by its sudden destruction the tree can do more, much more, than minister to our bodily comfort — if in its way it can be made to teach us a moral lesson of the first importance — there is no room for any question of injustice. What is merely material must always be subordinated to the moral and spiritual; and if a tree can be made, by its destruction, to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth, a high honour is put upon it, a noble work given it to do.

II. THERE WAS NO UNUSUAL SEVERITY IN THIS ACT. The truest mercy always sacrifices the lower to the higher. It is not more cruel to destroy a plant in order to teach a great moral truth, than to destroy a plant in order to eat it. If by its destruction the plant does our soul a service there is quite as good a reason for putting it to some sort of distress, in the process of destroying it, as there is if it is wanted to support our bodies.

(Canon Liddon.)

This incident is, from first to last, an acted parable. It would, perhaps, be truer to say, that it is an acted prophecy. In the East action was, and still is, often a more vivid and effective way of communicating truth than language. When a prophet of Israel sat in sackcloth, with dust on his head, by the side of the road along which the royal chariot would pass, his action was a much more powerful rebuke to the monarch for neglect of duty than a sermon would have been — even though it had an introduction, three arguments, and a conclusion. The East. as I have said, is traditionally the home of eloquent action; but in all countries and ages-human action is a kind of human language, and it is often much more impressive than words which fall upon the ear. In our intercourse with each other, and in our worship of God, action expresses thought and feeling in a condensed way which often could only be put into very cumbrous and awkward language; and our Lord on this occasion was teaching — teaching in the main by action. He was acting a parable, and no objection can be urged against His action to which teaching by parable — that is to say, by putting forward an imaginary story as if it were literally true — is not always open. What, then, was the lesson which on this occasion He desired to teach? Was it simply the shame and guilt in every responsible creature of God's hand, of moral unfruitfulness? Did He cause the tree to wither because it was the symbol of nations and of men who do nothing for His glory and nothing for their fellows? That He does punish such unfruitfulness is certain: but this is not the lesson He would teach us here. The time of figs was not yet. To use figurative language, the tree did net sin by not producing figs at a time of the year when they could only have been produced in the open air by what we call a freak of nature, or, rather, in despite of her ordinary rules. The tree was a symbol of that which, in man, is worse sin than a merely fruitless life. It had leaves, you will observe, though it had no fruit. That was the distinction of this particular tree among its fellows ranged along the road, with their bare, leafless, unpromising branches. They held out hopes of nothing beyond what met the eye. This tree, with its abundant leaves, gave promise of fruit that might be well-nigh ripe; and thus it was a symbol of moral or of religious pretentiousness. Not simply as unfruitful, but because, being unfruitful, it was covered with leaves, it was a fitting symbol of that want of correspondence between profession and practice — between claims and reality — between the surface appearances of life and its real direction and purpose — which our Lord condemned so often and so sternly in the men of His time. And, as representing this, it was condemned too.

(Canon Liddon.)

I. The fig-tree represented immediately, we cannot doubt, in our Lord's intention. THE ACTUAL STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. The heathen nations, judged from a Divine point of view, were barren enough. Israel was barren also, but then Israel was also pretentious and false. Israel was covered with leaves. The letter of the law — the memories, the sepulchres of the prophets — the ancient sacrifices — the accredited teachers — all were in high consideration. Israel was, to all appearance, profoundly religious. But the searching eye of our Lord found no fruit upon this tree beneath the leaves — no true soul-controlling belief even in the promises of the Messiah, of which they made so much — no true sense of their obligation and of their incapacity to please God. The tree by the roadside was a visible symbol of the moral condition of Israel as it presented 'itself to the eye of Christ, and there was no longer any reason for suspending the judgment which had been foretold in the Saviour's parable: "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." If humanity needed light, strength, peace, consolations, Israel could no longer give them. Israel was hereafter to be a blasted and withered tree on the wayside of history.

II. The parable applies with equal force TO NATIONS OR TO CHURCHES IN CHRISTENDOM WHICH MAKE GREAT PRETENSIONS AND DO LITTLE OR NOTHING OF REAL VALUE TO MANKIND. For a time the tree waves its leaves in the wind. It lives on, sustained by the traditional habits and reverence of ages. Men admire the symbol of so many blessings — of so much activity and life. There is nothing to raise a question as to the true state of the case. But, at His own time, Christ passes along the highway — passes to inquire and to judge: some unforeseen calamity, some public anxiety, some shock to general confidence, lifts the leaves of that tree and discovers its real fruitlessnes.

III. To EVERY INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN THIS PARABLE IS FULL OF WARNING. The religious activity of the human soul may be divided, roughly, into leaves and fruit — showy forms of religious activity and interest on the one side, and the direct produce of religious conviction on the other. It is much easier to grow leaves than to grow fruit; and many a man's life veils the absence of fruit by the abundance of leaves. To take an interest in religious questions and discussions is better than to be totally indifferent to them; but mere acquaintance with, and interest in, such proves nothing as to the condition of the conscience — the real tenor of the heart — the deepest movements of the inmost life — the soul's state before God and its prospects for eternity. An anxious question for all is, whether the foliage of our Christian life is the covering of fruit beneath that is ripening for heaven, or only a thing of precocious and unnatural growth which has drained away the tree's best sap before its time, and made good fruit almost impossible. No show of leaves, no fervour of language, no glow of feeling, no splendour of outward achievements for Christ's cause and kingdom, will compensate, in His sight, for the absence of the fruits of the spirit.

(Canon Liddon.)

This parable from history teaches us the worthlessness of religious promises that are never fulfilled, and the guilt of appearing to be fruit-bearers when the eye of God sees nothing but leaves. There is no sin in promises. Cherry-trees must issue their white and fragrant " promissory-notes" in May, or there would be no payment in delicious fruit at the end of the allotted sixty days. God makes precious promises to us; and a converted heart is only in the line of duty when it makes a solemn promise or covenant to the church and its head, Christ Jesus. There is no sin in a church-covenant honestly made. The sin is in breaking it. How full of leaves was the plausible fig-tree on the way to Bethany! How profuse of promises is many a young professor as he stands up laden with the foliage on which the dew-drops of hope are glistening! How much his pastor expects from him. He makes no reserve when he covenants to consecrate himself, all that he is, and all that he has, to the service of his Redeemer. For a time the glossy leaves of profession make a fair show. But when the novelty of the new position has worn off, and the times of reaction come, then the yoke begins to gall the conscience, and every religious duty becomes an irksome drudgery. The cross loses its charm; prayer loses its power; the Word of God ceases to attract; the very name of Jesus no longer possesses a charm; and church-membership has become a hateful mask, which its owner is ashamed to wear, and yet afraid to fling away. Before the world the fig-tree still bears leaves; but beneath them is utter barrenness.

(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

I. The doom of things which do not meet the wants of the time.

II. The terrific prospect of meeting a disappointed Christ.

III. The perfect dominion of the spiritual over the material.

IV. The vast possibilities of undoubting prayer.

(J. Parker, D. D.)


1. Its nature, not a common thistle, from which men do not think to gather figs (Matthew 7:16). But a fruit-bearing tree.

2. Its situation. By the wayside, provoking attention, and inviting inspection. Such human trees are often more anxious to be noticed than the really fruitful.

3. Its appearance. Covered with leaves. Therefore (ver. 19) fruit might be reasonably expected. It made a fair show and a bold promise. Do we in any wise resemble this tree?


1. The Lord was hungry — He needed fruit. He needs our fruitfulness.

2. It was seasonable as respects the tree. It outrivalled and surpassed the rest in forwardness — ITS time of figs had come.

3. It was carefully conducted; not a casual and distant glance. He knew without going, but went to show His care and awaken thought.


1. Its leaves did not save it. Profession without reality there may be; but there will not long be reality without profession.

2. The Lord cursed it to show how hypocrisy deserves to be treated. By such the world is apt to be deceived, touching the nature of religion. Many have the form of godliness who deny the power. Their end is nigh.

3. Those who persevere in hypocrisy may be bereft of the power of producing fruit. Hypocritical and perfunctory habits destroy this power. Thus spiritual life withers away.Learn: —

1. To be thankful that we are fruit-trees, not thistles.

2. To be anxious to be fruitful fruit-trees (Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 5:9).

3. It is time for fruit directly the leaves begin to spring. With us NOW.

(J. C. Gray.)

Our Lord's work lay chiefly in the city; thither, therefore, He repairs betimes, and forgot, for haste, to take His breakfast, as it may seem, for ere He came to the city He was hungry, though it was but a step thither. A good man's heart is where his calling is: such an one. when he, is visiting friends or so, is like a fish in the air; whereunto if it leap for recreation or necessity, yet it soon returns to its own element.

(John Trapp.)

It is said of Rev. Dr. Franklin that he had a passion for fruitfulness. His signet-ring had, for a device, a fruit-bearing tree, with the motto from Psalm 1:3. And when near his end, being asked by his son and pastoral successor for some word of condensed wisdom to be treasured up as a remembrance and a prompter, he breathed into his ear the word, "Fruitful."

Thou, that givest food to all things living, art Thyself hungry. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, kept not so poor a house but that Thou mightest have eaten something at Bethany. Whether Thy haste outran Thine appetite, or whether on purpose Thou forbearest repast, to give opportunity to Thine ensuing miracle, I neither ask nor resolve. This was not the first time that Thou wast hungry. As Thou wouldst be a man, so Thou wouldst suffer those infirmities that belong to humanity. Thou earnest to be our High Priest; it was Thy act and intention, not only to intercede for Thy people, but to transfer unto Thyself, as their sins, so their weaknesses and complaints. But what shall we say to this Thine early hunger? The morning, as it is privileged from excess, so from need; the stomach is not wont to rise with the body. Surely, as Thy occasions were, no season was exempted from Thy want. Thou hadst spent the day before in the holy labour of Thy reformation: after a supperless departure, Thou spentest the night in prayer: no meal refreshed Thy toil. What do we think much, to forbear a morsel, or to break a sleep for Thee, who didst thus neglect Thyself for us?

(Bishop Hall.)

Expository Outlines.

1. The Saviour's hunger.

2. The disappointment He met with.

3. The doom He pronounced.

II. THE COMMENT MADE UPON IT BY THE DISCIPLES. "How soon is the fig-tree withered away," etc.

1. When this exclamation was uttered.

2. The feeling with which it was uttered.


1. A wonderful assertion. "If ye have faith," etc.

2. An encouraging promise. "And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer," etc.

(Expository Outlines.)

It is no good sign when all the sap goes up the leaves, and is spent that way; nor in a Christian, when all his grace shoots up into woods, a verbal goodness; no reality at all.


When the Interpreter had done, he takes them out into his garden again, and led them to a tree, whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, "What means this? This tree," said he, "whose outside is fair, and whose inside is rotten, is it to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder to the devil's tinder-box.


Our profession without practice is but hypocritical, making us resemble the stony ground which brought forth a green blade, but no fruit to due maturity; like the fig-tree, which, having leaves but no figs, was accursed; like the tree in the garden, which. cumbering the ground with its fruitless presence, was threatened to be cut down; like glow-worms, which have some lustre but no heat — seeing such professors shine with some light of knowledge, but without all warmth of Christian charity.


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