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Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21Jesus answered them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. 22Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

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18. And returning in the morning. Between that solemn entrance of Christ, of which we have spoken, and the day of the Passover, he had passed the night in Bethany; and during the day he appeared in the temple for the purpose of teaching. Matthew and Mark relate what happened during that interval, that Christ, when coming into the city, was hungry, approached a fig-tree, and, having found nothing on it but leaves, cursed it; and that the tree, which had been cursed by his voice, immediately withered. I take for granted that Christ did not pretend hunger, but was actually hungry; for we know that he voluntarily became subject to the infirmities of the flesh, though by nature he was free and exempt from them.

But here lies the difficulty. How was he mistaken in seeking fruit on a tree that had none; more especially, when the season of fruit had not yet arrived? And again, Why was he so fiercely enraged against a harmless tree? But there would be no absurdity in saying, that as man, he did not know 2121     “Il n’a pas cognu de loin;” — “he did not know at a distance.” the kind of tree; though it is possible that he approached it on purpose, with full knowledge of the result. Certainly it was not the fury of passion that led him to curse the tree, (for that would not only have been an unjust, but even a childish and ridiculous revenge;) but as hunger was troublesome to him according to the feeling of the flesh, he determined to overcome it by an opposite affection; that is, by a desire to promote the glory of the Father, as he elsewhere says,

My meat is to do the will of my Father, (John 4:34;)

for at that time he was contending both with fatigue and with hunger. I am the more inclined to this conjecture, because hunger gave him an opportunity of performing a miracle and of teaching his disciples. So when he was pressed by hunger, and there was no food at hand, he finds a repast in another way; that is, by promoting the glory of God. He intended, however, to present in this tree an outward sign of the end which awaits hypocrites, and at the same time to expose the emptiness and folly of their ostentation.

19 Let no fruit grow on thee henceforth. Let us learn from this what is the meaning of the word curse, namely, that the tree should be condemned to barrenness; as, on the other hand, God blesses, when by his voice he bestows fertility. It appears more clearly from Mark, that the fig-tree did not instantly wither, or, at least, that it was not observed by his disciples, until they saw it next day stripped of leaves. Mark, too, attributes to Peter what Matthew attributes equally to all the disciples; but as Christ replies in the plural number, it may naturally be inferred that one put the question in the name of all.

21 And Jesus answering. The use of the miracle is still farther extended by Christ, in order to excite his disciples to faith and confidence. By Mark, the general exhortation is placed first, to have faith in God; and then follows the promise, that they would obtain by faith whatever they asked from God. To have faith in God means, to expect, and to be fully assured of obtaining, from God whatever we need. But as faith, if we have any, breaks out immediately into prayer, and penetrates into the treasures of the grace of God, which are held out to us in the word, in order to enjoy them, so Christ adds prayer to faith; for if he had only said that we shall have whatever we wish, some would have thought that faith was presumptuous or too careless. And therefore Christ shows that those only are believers who, relying on his goodness and promises, betake themselves to him with humility.

This passage is exceedingly adapted to point out the power and nature of faith; that it is a certainty, relying on the goodness of God, which does not admit of doubt. For Christ does not acknowledge as believers any but those who are fully convinced that God is reconciled to them, and do not doubt that he will give what they ask. Hence we perceive by what a diabolical contrivance the Papists are bewitched, who mingle faith with doubt, and even charge us with foolish presumption, if we venture to appear before God under the conviction of His fatherly regard toward us. But this benefit derived from Christ is that on which Paul chiefly dwells, when he says that

by the faith of him we have boldness
to approach to God with confidence (Ephesians 3:12).

This passage shows also that the true test of faith lies in prayer. If it be objected, that those prayers are never heard, that mountains should be thrown into the sea, the answer is easy. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; 2222     “Veu qu’il met les prieres apres la regle de foy, et veut qu’elles soyent conduites par icelle;” — “since he places prayers after the rule of faith, and wishes that they should be regulated by it.” for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience. Christ demands a firm and undoubting confidence of obtaining an answer; and whence does the human mind obtain that confidence but from the word of God? We now see then that Christ promises nothing to his disciples, unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.