<< THE WASTED VINEYARD. >>
My well-beloved hath a vineyard, in a horn, the son of oil. And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof; and planted it with the choicest vine; and built a tower in the midst of it; and also made a wine-press therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, 0 inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, 'I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now, go to: I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof; and it shall be eaten up ; and 'break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briars and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of Jehovah of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant: and He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. ISAIAH v. 1-7.
THE CORRUPTED CHURCH.
THE church, planted by the Lord, is corrupted by men. The Divine Love created men with capacity to receive, and to enjoy, spiritual life. The Divine Wisdom supplied to men all necessary truth, that they might know and understand their own origin, organization, and destiny. And the Divine Power communicated to men all necessary ability to walk in the way of spiritual life. All that Divine Love, Wisdom, and Power could do for men, they have done, and are still doing. And yet men have perverted and corrupted the life which the Lord gave them. And such perversion and corruption have resulted in human misery. The parable of the text is a representative picture of the Lord's dealings with His church, and of the corruption of the church, in the lives of its people. In the literal sense of the text, the reference is to the perverseness of the Israelitish dispensation. But, in the inward spiritual meaning, the reference is to the fallen state of the human mind, itself. And the particular references to the declining states of the First Christian Church.
The" Beloved," or the" Well-beloved," who had the vineyard, is the Lord, Jesus Christ, in His Divine Humanity. As relating to the Lord, the text represents the conjunction of the celestial and the spiritual heavens, by the Lord; and the conjunction, in the Divine humanity, of the good of faith, which is spiritual, WIth the good of love, which is celestial. For whatever stages of progress are passed through, In the mind of a man, or in the human race as a whole, were also experienced In the Humanity of the Lord, between the birth and the glorification of Jesus Christ. He passed through all forms and phases of human good; and by means of the hereditary tendencies to evil in the natural, assumed humanity, He met and overcame all forms of human evil.
The vineyard of the Lord is the Spiritlual Church, in which love to the neighbor is the ruling principle. Grapes represent the goods of charity, that is, the practical good works which are done in the spirit of charity, or love to the neighbor; for our works are the outworking of our actual principles of life.
"My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill," or, literally, "in a horn, the son of oil." A horn was a common Oriental term to express a high, pointed piece of land, a knoll projecting upward, like a horn. Such a piece of land, catching a large amount of sunlight and heat, "vas very productive. Oil, from its warmth and smoothness, represents the principle of love. A son of love is something derived from love, as an outbirth of love. In the Spiritual Church, represented by Israel, a son represented the intellectual side of the mind, devoted to truth, as distinguished from daughters, or affections. A" son of oil" is a truth derived from love, such truth as we comprehend and adopt because we love what is good and true. That the Lord had " a vineyard in a horn, the son of oil," representatively means that the Lord planted His Spiritual Church in the human mind, in the understanding, or intellect, where it can be comprehended by every man who will love what is good and true, and who will live by the truth. The Lord established a church, full of good and true principles, communicated to men by means of the holy Word.
WHAT THE LORD DID.
And, in establishing such a church, the Lord, in His Divine Providence, did all that could be done, to bring the church, as a vineyard, into a prosperous and fruitful condition. "He fenced" it, with the plain truths of the Decalogue, commandments for daily life, which, as a fence, or wall, can protect the church from evil influences. The letter of the Divine Word, speaking to man's natural senses, is a fence, or wall, of protection to the spiritual truths of the inward sense. As the shell of the nut protects the kernel; as the walls of the human chest protect the heart and lungs; as the walls of the skull protect the brain; so the letter of the Scriptures is a wall of protection to the higher and spiritual truths of the internal sense.
And, in the same way, the teachings of the literal sense of the Bible, and especially the Ten Commandments, stand as a fence, or wall, to protect man's spirit from the assaults of evil. No matter how simple-minded a man may be, or how uneducated as to books, if he keeps the Lord's commandments, as he understands them, he will find practical protection. against the harmful fallacies of the senses, and against the subtle sophistries of infidels and of evil spirits.
In establishing His church, the Lord has fenced it about with the Ten Comnlandlnents. (Or, if the word here used is rendered "digged," instead of "fenced," as in the Revised Version of the Bible, the digging into the earth means opening up the natural mind, and examining and investigating its conditions.)
And He has gathered out the stones that would interfere with the grape-vines; i.e., the false principles of the senses, which would stand in the way of spiritual growth. In a good sense, a stone represents a natural truth. But, when a natural truth lies in the mind, like a stone in the vineyard, in such way as to interfere with the growth of the vine of spiritual truth, that truth must be in a perverted form, and practically turned into a falsity.
The Lord planted in His vineyard "a noble vine," a principle of pure spiritual truth, the principle of love to the neighbor, as a ruling motive, Such a principle, growing in the thought, is represented by a grape-vine, growing in the vineyard. And its practical fruits, when carried into the affections, and into the daily life, are the good grapes, the good works of practical love to the neighbor, which is spiritual charity.
In the midst of the church, as a vineyard, the Lord built a tower. A tower, reaching above the surface of the earth, and affording a higher standpoint, and a more extended view, represents interior truth, seen from a higher or more inward standpoint. This tower was in the midst, or centre, that is, in the inward thought. Thus the Lord gives to men an inward capacity to see truth in its higher and more interior forms and aspects. He gives men rationality, the capacity to see truth in its own spiritual light, and to comprehend it.
And the Lord made, or dug, a "wine-press," or wine-vat, in the vineyard. A wine-press, by which the grapes are pressed, and the juice is extracted for making wine, represents the rational faculty, by and in which, during temptation, the spiritual wine of truth is drawn from the good works of practical life. The vine, itself, represents the truth, operating in man's mind, and producing good fruits. But those good fruits, or good works, may be made to yield a still higher form of truth, represented by wine. For instance; the Lord plants a vine in your mind, when, through His Word, He teaches you that you should act towards others from the principle of love to your neighbor. You hold that truth as a doctrine, at first. If you hold it as a living vine, a growing principle, you will act from it. Then, the good works which you do, from that principle, are spiritual grapes. But you may go further. You may get the very spirit and life of that true principle, in a more confirmed form. Temptations arise, and try your faith in the principle. The pressure of rational thought reveals the spirit of the truth, the natural juice of the grape. But that juice must go through trials, before it can become pure wine. There are some things in it which cannot endure forever. These impurities must be cast down, and put away, in the fermentation, So, in your mind, though you have acted from love to the neighbor, yet in that action, there will be some impurities, something of self, to put away. Temptations will come ; and your fidelity to the principle will be tried. If you endure the trial, and stand steadfast, the natural juice of the mental grape will be purified; and the impurities, like dregs, being cast down, the truth, in you, will be the pure wine of spiritual truth, confirmed in the life, through mental fermentations.
In establishing His church, the Lord gave to men the faculty of rationality, the capacity to see truth as truth. By means of this faculty, a rnan may progress from natural truth to spiritual truth. In the mind of such a man the Lord turns water into wine. Now, when the Lord had done all these things for men; when He had endowed men with all the necessary mental capacities, and had supplied them with all necessary spiritual food and help; He looked for them to bring forth the proper fruits of what He had done for them : He looked for grapes, the good works of charity.
But, alas, men brought forth wild grapes, sour, unpalatable grapes, the mere forms of good works, without their sweet and heavenly spirit. There might be the forms of charity, in outward civility and pretended kindness, yet resulting from policy and self-love. But why should such miserable wild grapes grow in the Lord's' church? "And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" The" inhabitants of Jerusalem" are the good principles that are in truths; and the" men of Judah" are the truths that are in every good. These are what should be in the minds of the men of the church. But the Lord declares that the men of the church have not been good and true men, but perverters and corrupters of good and true principles. And yet the Lord had done all that even the Divine Love could do, to lead and teach men in the way to spirituality, and to goodness. The evils of men are not due to any failure in the Lord's provision for men,
From the creation, down through the ages, in the different churches succeeding each other on the earth, the Lord has always done all that could have been done for men. And His coming upon the earth, in the Divine Humanity, was the grand climax of His beneficent work for men. What could have been done for men, that the Lord did not do? And now, in these later days, we have the Second Coming of the Lord, a spiritual coming, in a fuller outpouring of life and light to the sons of men. Surely, we have all the necessary means of becorning regenerated. "No good will He withhold from them that walk uprightly." Very often, our Lord does not do, for us, that which, in our folly, we would like to have Him do; but He has put us in the way of receiving all that is spiritually best for us now to have. He has always been ready to give us all that we ought to desire. But men have not been willing to receive the spiritual blessings which the Lord has sought to give to them.
The text declares that the Lord will let His vineyard go to destruction; and that He will not save it. This literal sense is not intended to state facts of practical life, but figures of speech, as a prophecy of what the First Christian Church would become by its false teachings, and the evil lives of its members.
To the thought of the senses, it seems that the Lord brings about these changes in the churches, as punishrnents to the people. But the Lord, as life itself, is always seeking to give life to men. "Evil shall slay the wicked": the Lord does not destroy men ; " He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil."
But the hedge of the Lord's vineyard is removed, and its walls broken down, and it is devoured and trodden down by enemies, when men no longer keep the truths of the Divine Word as a protection to their daily lives; and when, as a consequence, all sorts of evils and falsities rush in, and destroy the goodness and truth that are in the mind. The Lord's vineyard is not pruned or digged, when men do not rationally examine their thoughts and feelings, to put away what is evil and false. And then the thorns and briars of evil and falsity are left in freedom to spring up in abundance. No rain comes from the clouds, upon the vineyard, when no refreshing truth comes to the mind, out of the letter of the Scriptures. Then there is no longer any reception of truth from heaven, through the Word of the Lord. Men then shut their interior minds, which should be open to spiritual truths.
The Lord "looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry;" i.e., the Lord provided for men, intelligence and goodness, but they rejected these, and preferred the darkness of falsity and the coldness of evil, crying out against the Lord.
THE LORD'S WAYS.
Yet the Lord's ways are equal and just, and full of love and mercy. Do you say that a man does not make himself? And that he comes into the world with the disadvantage of hereditary inclinations to evil ? Yes; but a man is not responsible for his hereditary inclinations, but for his life, only. And he can change his inclinations, if he wills to do so. Goodness is a matter of willing to do good, and to resist evil. And even our beliefs are within our control, because every man believes according to his character; meaning, of course, his actual principles, and not merely his doctrinal notions.
Every man can finally become that which he really desires to be, as to spiritual character. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." They can change the quality of their character, with the Lord's help. All the heavens are open to us, because all heavenly states of character are open to us. We may become as good as we are willing to be. Nothing keeps us out of heaven, but our own evils. And the measure of our goodness is the measure in which we shun evils. A man is judged by the standard of his opportunities, i.e., of what he might have been, if he would. The servant who knew his master's will, and disobeyed it, was beaten with many stripes, while the ignorant servant was given much lighter punishment. In the judgment, every man receives that into which he has lived himself. "Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty: just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. (Revelation xv. 3.)
CARE OF THE VINEYARD.
A grape-vine, after planting, needs constant care. The earth is to be kept dug up; stones are to be taken away; weeds are to be removed; branches are to be lifted up, to be aired and sunned; good branches are to be pruned, and dead ones cut off. So the human mind needs constant care, in its spiritual culture. It needs to be trained, pruned, and kept free from stones, weeds, etc. Hereditary tendencies, like the seeds of vile weeds in the ground, are always seeking to come up among the vines. "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth morefruit." (John xv. 2.)
Imagine what any vineyard would become, if every weed that sprouts were allowed to grow, and to bear seed. And then think of all your inherited tendencies to evil, and imagine what you would become, if every one of your wrong feelings and thoughts were allowed to come out into actual deeds of life; and then you will see what the Lord does for you, in teaching you, and in leading you, in the way of taking care of your mental vineyard. What more could He do? And if you bring forth wild grapes, why is it so? The same God of love does as much for you as He does for the highest angel. You have the same human nature, the same Divine Word, and the same loving Savior. You admire the character of an angel. Well, that character is open to you. You can go forward, and take it, and keep it as your own. At all times, the Lord gives "His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways," as far as thou art willing to be led.
We have the precious revelations concerning the New Jerusalem. The Lord has done all that can be done, for us. But, have we done all that we could have done, for the growth of our mental vineyard? And are we now doing all that we can do? "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." And we must begin, as the owner of the vineyard begins, by clearing the ground of all useless and injurious things. The Lord's vines cannot flourish amid the weeds and stones of our sensuous life. Therefore, it is for us to see that we do not allow our minds to be occupied by things that do not belong in the Lord's vineyard. "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not?" "Wash you; make you clean: put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes: cease to do evil; learn to do well ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." (Isaiah i. 16, 17, 19·)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903