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Chapter 2 Verse 13
fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the
tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and
the three former evidences of the spring, here are added two more.
I.“The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs.”
II.“The vines with the tender grape give a good smell.” As also,
III.The former call is repeated, “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.”
I.As a fourth evidence of the winter being over, and the spring being come, Christ tells his church, that the fig tree was putting forth her green figs; which is a full confirmation of its being come, nay, of its being pretty well advanced; for Christ, in Matthew 24:32. makes it a sign of the summer’s being at hand, when the fig-tree shoots out its tender branches, and puts forth its leaves: Theopompus331331Apud Athcn. ut supra, 1. 3. c. 4. P. 77. speaks of figs in the middle of the spring; and Plutarch, of the vernal leaves of the fig-tree332332Qrioiv earinoiv de Defectu Oracul. p. 410. R. Aben Ezra thinks, that the word translated, “putteth forth,” signifies the sweetening of the figs, and so points out the time when the green or unripe figs begin to grow sweet and eatable: so that as the flowery fields would be delightful to her eye, and the chirping birds affect her ear; there were also figs ripening apace to please her taste; as the vines with the tender grape in the following instance, would give a refreshing odor to her smell; all which would be very entertaining to her, and one would think enough to invite her to arise and go with him. By the fig-tree, both the Targum and R. Aben Ezra understand the congregation of Israel; who they say, is here compared unto it; as indeed Israel is to the first ripe fruit of this tree, Hosea 9:10 and the godly among the captive Jews are, in Jeremiah 24:2-5. and therefore by. it may be meant the saints, putting forth their grace in exercise on Christ; who may be compared to fig-trees for the following reasons.
1. The fig-tree is a tree full of large leaves, so large, that our first parents, after their fall, by sewing them together, made themselves aprons to cover their nakedness; which may be an emblem of a profession of religion, and of a conversation agreeable to it; which, though they ought to be found in us, yet are not sufficient to cover us; for we must also have Christ’s righteousness put upon us, and his grace wrought in us, otherwise we shall be like the fig-tree, to which Christ came (Matthew 21:19), “and found nothing thereon but leaves only,” And therefore, as the saints are like fig-trees that have the large ever-green and flourishing leaves of a Christian profession and gospel-conversation upon them; so, 2. They may be compared to them for their fruitfulness: the fig-tree is a tree that bears fruit as well as leaves, and that which is very wholesome, pleasant, and delightful; and if the Egyptian fig-tree is meant, that is said333333Solin. Polyhistor. c. 45. to bear fruit seven times a year, and as soon as you gather one fig, immediately there is another: it is true, there are barren fig-trees, that have no fruit upon them; such an one is mentioned in Luke 13:6, 7, as there are also barren professors; but such are not the saints, who are filled and laden with the fruits of righteousness, and graces of the spirit, which they receive from Christ Jesus, from whom all their fruit is found: now as this is to be found from none but him, so neither is it found in any but in them; for, “do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” it is impossible; this fruit appears upon no other tree but the fig-tree, and therefore by their fruits ye may know them. 3. It is a tree that puts forth its fruit before its leaves334334Pliny Nat. Hist.1. 16. c. 26. which shews us, that though we ought to have the leaves of profession upon us yet the fruit of grace ought to precede it; and therefore when persons take upon them a profession of religion, and submit to the ordinances of Christ, care should be taken that they, as John says (Matthew 3:7), both have and bring forth fruits meet for repentance: there must be faith in the heart, as well as a confession of it in the mouth; and the one ought to go before the other; and both these make souls to appear honorable believers and professors; and such Christ’s fig- trees are. 4. It may not be amiss to observe, that the Egyptian fig-tree, which is no other than the sycamore, into which Zaccheus climbed to see Christ, Luke 19:4 may be here intended, seeing that there was great plenty of them in Judea, as is manifest from 1 Kings 10:27 though it is true, another word is used here, than what is there. Now of this tree, Pliny says335335Lib. 13, c. 7. Vid. Solin. ib. that when it is cut down and cast into the water, it sinks, being dry; but when it is thorough wet, it will swim: so saints, when they first enter the waters of affliction, like Peter, they sink; but when they have been more used to them, they lift up their heads above the waters of tribulation; and as good soldiers, with courage and magnanimity of mind, endure hardness; and do not sink in their spirits under the weight of reproaches, persecutions, and afflictions, laid upon them, being supported and borne up by Christ and his grace, 5. The same author336336Pliny Ibid. says, that this kind of fig-tree will not ripen any other way than by scratching it with iron hooks: men do not begin to grow in grace, or become fruitful in good works, until their hearts are pricked with the goads and nails of God’s word, or till the fallow ground of their hearts is thrown up by the Spirit of God; nor will they grow afterwards to any purpose, unless Christ’s Father, who is the husbandman, takes his pruning-knife in his hand, and uses it: and indeed some saints never grow better than when they are attended with tribulations and afflictions, like the people of Israel, in Egypt, or like. Christ’s lilies among thorns.
Moreover the green figs, which the fig-tree is said to put forth may intend, (1.) The beginnings of grace in the soul, which are like the young, green and unripe figs: that the fig, tree first puts forth; such as stirrings of affection to Christ, desires after a saving knowledge of him, and interest in him, pantings and breathings after the ordinances of Christ, and love to his people: all which appear very soon in the soul, and discover the work of grace begun, though as yet it is but very imperfect. For, (2.) These green and unripe figs shew the imperfection of grace in the saints; grace in the best is very imperfect in this state of life, much more must it be when it is first put forth; the work of grace in us, though it will be performed, yet at present is but a begun one, and not a finished one: saints are not arrived to the perfection they shall; they are but like green figs, and especially young converts. (3.) These beginnings of grace in the soul, being compared to green figs, shew, that grace is liable to be lost, and would be so, was it not for the almighty power which preserves it and increases it; for of all fruit, none is more easily shaken off by the wind and lost, than green and unripe figs are; see Nahum 3:12. it is no less than a miracle of grace, that those first impressions are not wholly erased by the impetuous force of corruptions within; or that these precious blossoms are not entirely blown off by the blustering winds of Satan’s temptations; or that our naughty hearts do not of themselves, as the fig-tree, cast off this unripe fruit: this is all owing to mighty, powerful, and efficacious grace. (4.) It may also be observed, that grace, though imperfect, is taken notice of by Christ; yea, in the very infancy of it, as soon as ever it begins to appear, even when in its bud and blossom: so far is he from despising the day of small things; where there is but little grace and little strength, as in the church of Philadelphia, he observes it, and does not crush it, but increases it; for “a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench,” Isaiah 42:3. (5.) It may be remarked from hence, that grace being in exercise in others, though weak, should be an argument and motive to excite and stir up ours; and indeed it is disgraceful and dishonorable to old professors, for young converts to be more active and lively in the exercise of grace than they. Christ seems to press this argument here upon the church.
Again, the putting forth these green figs, signifies the exercise of grace on Christ, which saints put forth unto him, not by virtue of a power of their own, hut by virtue of his grace, which enables them to do it; for the putting forth of these green figs, is owing to the warming and quickening influences of the Sun of righteousness: the beginning, increase, and perfection of grace, are all from Christ; the implantation of it in the soul, and the exercise of it, depend upon him. But,
II.As a fifth and last evidence of the spring’s being come and which puts it beyond all doubt, is, the flourishing of the vines, “the vines, with the tender grape, give a good smell.” Fig-trees and vines are frequently mentioned together in scripture, as in Psalm 105:33. Micah 4:4 and in many other places; and one reason is, because they grew together; for fig-trees were planted in vineyards, as is manifest from Luke 13:6. nay, it is judged by naturalists,337337Vid. Pliny 1. 17. c. 23. to be very proper they should grow together: one sort of figs, the black fig, is called the sister of the vine.338338Hipponax apud Athcn. Deipnosophist. 1. 3. c, 4. p. 78.
By vines may be meant, the several distinct congregated churches of Christ, or else particular believers (see Ps. 80:14, 15; Isa. 5:7, 27:3), who may be called so, 1. Because of their fruitfulness: the vine is a fruit-bearing tree, it produces very fine and excellent fruit; especially the vines in the land of Canaan did, of which there is a famous instance in Numbers 13:23 saints being engrafted in Christ Jesus, the true vine, and receiving life and nourishment from him, do, by abiding in him, bring forth much fruit, and such as is not to be found in others; not wild and sour grapes, such as Christ’s Father takes no delight in, but such as he is pleased with, and glorified by. 2. Because of their dependence on Christ: the vine-tree does not grow up erect of itself; for if it is not fixed to a wall with nails339339Vites claviculis adminicula tanquam manibus apprehendunt, atque ita se erigunt ut anirnantes, Cicero de Natura Deorum, 1. 2. c. 47. or supported by something else which it lays hold on, it creeps along the ground: saints do not grow up erect of themselves, but lean upon Christ, are supported by him, and so grow up in him. 3. For their tallness in Christ: vines being propped, will run up a great height; saints being engrafted in, and upheld by Christ, who is himself higher than the heavens, grow up from shrubs to taller trees; from babes in Christ, to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” and, by virtue of grace and strength, received from him, arise from a low and mean state and condition unto a much higher one, until at length they arrive unto the full possession of the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” 4. For their weakness and unusefulness in themselves; the vine is a weak tree, and, as has been observed, cannot bear up itself: saints, they are weak in themselves, though strong in Christ; they can do nothing of themselves; neither perform duties, subdue corruptions, nor withstand temptations; but they” can do all things through Christ strengthening them.” The wood of the vine is of very little worth or use, as appears from Ezekiel 15:2, 3 and is obvious enough to every one’s observation: saints are but poor, worthless, and unprofitable creatures of themselves; their best works and most excellent performances, are neither profitable to God, nor can they procure salvation to themselves; but are all as an unclean thing, and as filthy rags; they are unworthy of the least mercy they enjoy, and therefore it is a wonder of grace that God should in any respect be mindful of them. 5. For their durableness: though the wood of the vine is but weak and worthless, yet it is said to be very lasting and durable; Pliny ascribes eternity to it, and says of it340340Pliny1. 14. c. 1, nec est ligno ulli aternior natura, no wood is of a more eternal or durable nature than this is: saints, however weak and worthless in themselves, yet shall continue and abide for ever in Christ; they are born of an incorruptible seed; they are built upon a rock, and secured by almighty power, so as they shall never perish, but shall for ever enjoy the incorruptible inheritance that is reserved for them.
Also these vines are said to have the tender grape upon them. The word translated the tender grape, is only used in this song, and that but in two other places besides this, viz. verse 15. of this chapter, and chapter 7:12 but is used both in the Targum341341In Isaiah 18:5. and Misnah342342Tract. Orlah, ch. 1. § 7. in the same sense. Most of the Jewish writers343343R. Aben Ezra, R. Sol. Jarchi, and R. Sol. Ben Melech in loc. R. David Kimchi in lib. shorash, rad. rdms David de Pomis in Lexic. p. 111 col. 3. and Ez. Chayim in Tract. Orlah, 1. 7. Misnah, Gittin, c. 3. § 8. T. Hieros. Nazir, fol. 55. 1. T. Bab Kiddushin fol. 51. 2. think, that by it is meant the small and tender grape, which appears as soon as ever the flower is fallen off, when the vines begin to knot, and one grape can be known, and may be distinguished from another; which sense our version expresses. But I am rather inclined to think that it means the flower itself; for in the Targum on Isaiah 18:5 this word rdms smadar, is used to express the Hebrew word hxn nitzab, which signifies a flower; and not only Pliny344344Lib. 16. c. 25 and 17. 22. Sibene floruerit vinca, etc. Ovid. Fasti. 1. 5. so Horat. Epod. ode 16. 5:44. and others, but the scriptures also testify, that vines do blossom and flower, as in the afore-mentioned place, Isaiah 18:5 and in Genesis 40:10 and the good smell which these vines are said to give, seems best to be understood of their time of flowering, than of any other time; for it is reported of some vines345345Danaeusin Hosea 14:7. Levin. Lemnii Herb. Bibl. Explic. c 2. and perhaps may be true of the vines which grew in Judea, seeing that the wine of Lebanon is commended for its agreeable odor, Hosea 14:7. I say, It is reported of some vines, that in the time of their flowering they send forth so sweet a smell, that not only the vineyards themselves, but the country round about is refreshed with the sweet savor thereof; so that walking or sitting among them is both wholesome and delightful; nay, that the smell of them is so great, that serpents and other venomous creatures are driven away by it. So then the words may be rendered thus, “the vines, being in flower, give a good smell.”346346rdms oinanqh, Symmachus; in slore constitutae: vites, Mercerus, Michaelis; vitis pars florens, Munster; vineae florentes, Tigurine version: nihil gratius floreneis odoevitis, Ambros. Hexaemeron, 1. 3. c. 12. How by these tender grapes, flowers, or blossoms of the vines, may be meant, either the graces of the Spirit in their first appearance, as before; or else, young converts, to which I rather incline, who are the fruit of Christ’s vine, the church; and though very weak and tender, yet are very dear unto, and are much regarded by Christ; and when there is a large appearance, of them, it is a great encouragement to the church, and promises a glorious vintage: so the Targum interprets it of young men and babes praising the Lord at the Red Sea, for their deliverance out of the hands of the Egyptians: and R. Sol. Jarchi says, it is explained of repenting sinners, in an ancient book of theirs, called Pesikta; and so I find it is also in another book of theirs, called Raya Mehimna.347347In Zohar in Exodus fol. 50. 1,
Moreover, these vines having their tender grapes upon them, or being in flower, are said to give a good smell; which must be understood of the fragrancy of the persons of believers, being clothed with the sweet-smelling garments of Christ’s righteousness, and the delightful odor, of their graces being exercised on his person; as well as of their sweet savor, Which their pious and godly conversations send forth to all that know them, or are about them.
III.Christ having given such full demonstrations of the spring being come, renews his call to the church, and says again, “Arise, my love; my fair one, and come away;” which repetition shews, 1. Our backwardness and sluggishness: we need one call after another, one exhortation upon another, and all will not do, unless the power of divine grace is exerted; for alter repeated calls, we shall sleep on and take no notice, as the disciples did, being overborne with a body of sin and death. 2. It manifests the exceeding greatness of his love to us, and care of us; that though we have backslidden from him, yet he calls us back again; and though backward to his calls, yet he persists in them, and all along uses the most endearing and tender language to work upon us: he gives no other words but such as these, “my love, and my fair one.” 3. It is a plain indication that he is unwilling that we should be without him, or he without us; and therefore having taken the most winning methods, and used the most prevailing arguments, he repeats the call. 4. It shews his importunity, and that he will have no denial;348348Odit verus amor, nec patitur moras, Senecae Hercul. Fur. 5:587. and indeed one would think there could be none given, when both our pleasure and profit are so much concerned in it; and what he calls us to, tends so much to advance both; and there will be none, and can be none, when he exerts the mighty power of his grace.
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