« PreviousContinue »
WICKED MEN USEFUL IN THEIR DESTRUCTION
EZEK. Xy. 2-4.
Son of man, What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than
a branch which is among the trees of the forest .Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work.? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon ? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burnt: is it meet for any work?
The visible church of God is here compared to the vinetree, as is evident by God's own explanation of the allegory, in ver. 6, 7, and 8. “ Therefore thus saith the Lord God, As the vine-tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” &c. 'And it may be understood of mankind in general. So Deut. xxxii. 32. - Their yine is the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall.” And especially his professing people, Psalm Ixxx. 8. “ Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt;" ver. 14. " Look down from heaven, behold, and visit this vine.” And Cant. ii. 15. - The foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.” Isa. v. “ My well-beloved hath a vineyard, and he planted it with the choicest vine." Jer. ii. 21. “ I had planted thee a noble vine.” Hos. x. 1. - Israel is an empty vine.” So in chap. xv. of John, visible christians are compared to the branches of a vine.
Man is very fitly represented by the vine. The weakness and dependence of the vine on other things which support it, well represents to us what a poor, feeble, dependent creature man is, and how, if left to himself, he falls into mischief, and cannot help himself. The visible people of God are fitly compared to a vine, because of the care and cultivation of the busbandman, or vine-dresser. The business of husbandmen in the land of Israel was very much about vines; and the care they exercised to feuce them, to defend them, to prune them, to prop them up, and to cultivate them, well represented that merciful care which God exercises towards his visible people.
* Dated July, 1744.
In the words now read is represented, bow wholly useless and unprofitable, even beyond other trees, a vine is, in case of unfruitfulness : “ What is a vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest ?” i. e. if it do not bear fruit. Men make much more of a vine than of other trees; they take great care of it, to wall it in, to dig about it, to prune it, and the like. It is much more highly esteemed than one of the trees of the forest ; they are despised in comparison with it. And if it bear fruit, it is indeed much preferable to other trees; for the fruit of it yields a noble liquor; as it is said in Jotham's parable, Judg. ix. 13. “ And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, wbich cheereth God and man?"-But if it bear no fruit, it is more unprofitable than the trees of the forest : for the wood of them is good for timber, but the wood of the vine is fit for no work; as in the text, “ Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?"- The only thing for which a vine is useful, in case of barrenness, is for fuel: “ Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel.” It is wholly consumed; no part of it is worth a saving, to make any instrument of it, for any work.
DOCTRINE. If men bring forth no fruit to God, they are wholly useless, unless in their destruction.
For the proof of this doctrine, I shall shew,
1. That there can be but two ways in which man can be useful, viz. either in acting, or in being acted upon.
2. That man can no otherwise be useful actively than by bringing forth fruit to God.
3. That if he bring not forth fruit to God, there is no other way in which he can be passively useful, but in being destroyed.
4. In that way he may be useful without bearing fruit.
1. There are but two ways in which man can be use, ful, viz. either in acting or being acted upon.
If man be useful, he must be so either actively or passively; there is no mediuin. What can be more plain, than that if a man do nothing himself, and nothing be done with him or upon him by any other, he cannot be any way at all useful ? - If man do nothing himself to promote the end of his existence, and no other being do any thing with him to promote this end; then nothing will be done to promote this end; and so man must be wholly useless. So that there are but two ways in which man can be useful to any purpose, viz. either actively or passively, either in doing something himself, or in being the subject of something done to him,
II. Man cannot be useful actively, any otherwise than in bringing forth fruit to God; serving God and living to his glory. This is the only way wherein he can be useful in doing; and that for this reason, that the glory of God is the very thing for which man was made, and to which all other ends are subordinate. Man is not an independent being, but he derives his being from another; and therefore hath his end assigned him by that other : and he who gave him his being 'made him for the end now mentioned. This was the very design and aim of the Author of man, this was the work for which he made him, viz. to serve and glorify his Maker. Other creatures, that are inferior, were made for inferior purposes. But nan is the highest, and nearest to God, of any in this lower world; and therefore his business is with God, although other creatures are made for lower ends. There may be observed a kind of gradual ascent in the order of different creatures, from the meanest clod of earth to man, who hath a rational and immortal soul. A plant, an herb, or tree, is superior in nature to a stone or clod, because it hath a vegetable life. The brute creatures are a degree higher still; for they have sensitive life. But man, having a rational soul, is the highest of this lower creation, and is next to God; there. fore his business is with God.
Things without life, as earth, water, &c. are subservient to things above them, as the grass, herbs, and trees. These vegetables are subservient to that order of creatures which is next above them, the brute creation; they are for food to them. Brute-creatures, again, are made for the use and service of the order above them : they are made for the service of mankind. But man being the highest of this lower creation, the next step from him is to God. He therefore is made for the service and glory of God. This is the whole work and business of man; it is his highest end, to which all other ends are'subordinate.
If it had not been for this end, there never would have been
any such creature; there would have been no occasion for it. Other inferior ends may be answered as well, without any such creature as man. There would have been no sort
of occasion for making so noble a creature, and enduing him with such faculties, only to enjoy earthly good, to eat, and to drink, and to enjoy sensual things. Brute-creatures, without reason, are capable of these things, as well as man: yea, if no higher end be aimed at than to enjoy sensitive good, reason is rather a hindrance than a help. It doth but render man the more capable of afflicting himself, with care, fears of death, and other future evils; and of vexing himself with many anxieties, from which brute-creatures are wholly free, and therefore can gratify their senses with less molestation. Besides, reason doth but make men more capable of molesting and impeding one another in the gratification of their senses. If man have no other end to seek but to gratify his senses, reason is nothing but an impediment.
Therefore if man be not made to serve and glorify his Creator, it is wholly to no purpose that such a creature is made. Doubtless then, the all-wise God, who doth all things in infinite wisdom, hath made man for this end. And this is agreeable to what he hath taugbt us in many places in the scriptures. This is the great end for which man was made, and for which he was made such a creature, having bodily senses and rational powers. For this is be placed in such circumstances, and the earth is given him for a possession. For this he hath doniinion given bim over the rest of the terrestrial creatures. For this the sun shines and the rain falls on him, and the moon and stars are for signs and seasons to bim, and the earth yields him her increase. All other ends of man are subordinate to this. There are indeed inferior ends for which man was made. Men were made for one another; for their friends and neighbours, and for the good of the public. But all these inferior ends are designed to be subordinate to the higher end of glorifying God; and therefore man cannot be actively useful otherwise than by actively bringing forth fruit to God. Because, that is not actively useful which doth not actively answer its end : that which doth not answer its end is in vain ; for that is the meaning of the proposition, that any thing is in vain. So that which doth not actively answer its end, is as to its own activity in vain,
That, as to its own activity, is altogether useless, wbich actively answers only subordinate ends, without answering the ultimate end; because the latter is the end of subordinate ones. Subordinate ends are to no purpose, only as they stand related to the highest end, Therefore these inferior ends are good for nothing, though they be obtained, unless they also obtain their end. Inferior ends are not aimed at for their own sake, but only for the sake of that which is ultimate. Therefore he that fails of this, is as much to no pur. pose, as if he did not obtain șis subordinate end.
I will illustrate this by two or three examples. The subordinate end of the underpinning of a house, is to support it, and the subordinate end of the windows, is to let in the light. But the ultimate end of the whole, is the benefit of the inhabitants. Therefore, if the house be never inhabited, the whole is in vain. The underpinning is in vain, though it be ever so strong, and support the building ever so well. The windows also are wholly in vain, though they be ever so large and clear, and though they obtain the subordinate end of letting in the light; they are as much in vain, as if they let in no light.
So the subordinate end of the husbandman in ploughing and sowing, and well manuring his field is, that it may bring forth a crop. But his morę, ultimate end is, that food
be provided for him and his family. Therefore, though his inferior end be obtained, and his field bring forth ever so good a crop, yet if after all it be consumed by fire, or otherwise destroyed, he ploughed and sowed his field as much in vain, as if the seed had never sprung up. So if man obtain his subordinate ends ever so fully; yet if he altogether fail of his ultimate end, he is wholly an useless creature.
Thus if men be very useful in temporal things to their families, or greatly promote the temporal interest of the neighbourhood, or of the public; yet if no glory be brought to God by it, they are altogether useless. If men actively bring no glory to God, they are as to their own activity, altogether useless, how much soever they may promote the benefit of one another. · How much soever one part of mankind may subserve another; yet if the end of the whole be not answered, every part is useless.
Thus if the parts of a clock subserve ever so well one another, mutually to assist each other in their motions; one wheel moving another ever so regularly; yet if the motion never reach the band or the hammer, it is altogether in vain, as much as if it stood still. So one man was made to be useful to another, and one part of mankind to another; but the use of the whole is to bring glory to God the maker, or else all is in vain.
Although a wicked man may, by being serviceable to good men, do what will be an advantage to them to their bringing forth fruit to God; yet that serviceableness is not what he aims at; he doth not look so far for an ultimate end. And however this be obtained, no thanks are due to him ; he is only the occasion, and not the designing cause of it.
The usefulness of such a inan, being not designed, is not to be attributed to him, as though it were his fruit. He is not useful as a man, or as a rational creature, because he is not so designedly. He is useful as things without life may be.