Luk 13:6-7 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. (7) And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’
John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress author) wrote a treatise titled “The Barren Fig Tree, or, The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor.” By “professor” he means a person who professes to be a Christian but who, in this case, is a counterfeit as shown by the absence of the fruit of the Spirit which always accompanies genuine faith.
In the following quote from that treatise, Bunyan uses the word “cumber-ground.” By this, he means a tree planted in the Lord’s vineyard but which, by means of its fruitlessness, merely encumbers the ground. Takes up space. Is worthless and good only to be cut down and thrown into the fire. The “cumber-ground” is in our churches, among God’s people. In some (even many in our day) cases, there are many such trees and to these Bunyan addresses the following. I think you can understand the old English phrases, so I leave them as Bunyan wrote them:
Cumber-ground, how many hopeful, inclinable, forward people, have you, by thy fruitless and unprofitable life, kept out of the vineyard of God? For thy sake have the people stumbled at religion; by thy life have they been kept from the love of their own salvation. Thou hast been also a means of hardening others, and of quenching and killing weak beginnings.
Well, barren fig-tree, look to thyself, thou wilt not go to heaven thyself, and them that would, thou hinderest; thou must not always cumber the ground, nor always hinder the salvation of others. Thou shalt be cut down, and another shall be planted in thy room.
The cumber-ground is a sucker; he draws away the heart and nourishment from the other trees. Were the cumber ground cut down, the others would be more fruitful; he draws away that fatness of the ground to himself, that would make the others more hearty and fruitful. ‘One sinner destroyeth much good’ (Eccl 9:18). The cumber-ground is a very drone in the hive, that eats up the honey that should feed the labouring bee; he is a thief in the candle, that wasteth the tallow, but giveth no light; he is the unsavoury salt, that is fit for nought but the dunghill. Look to it, barren fig-tree!
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It’s true, is it not? These barren fig trees, these cumber-grounds who creep in among Christ’s true people, hinder the gospel. They hinder the steps of the lost toward Christ. They are stumbling blocks to those who genuinely desire to follow the Lord. They really do quench the Spirit of God. Their presence is odious to the Lord.
Bunyan, in this same article, notes that God cuts down the barren fig tree in a number of ways. He might destroy such a tree directly by taking his life – as he did Korah, Ananias and Sapphira, and others. Or He might choose to hand that tree over to delusion, to believe what is a false gospel, to pursue the religion of antichrist and thus remove it from His true church.
1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
In the third place, the Lord might work through the means of His church so that the counterfeit is put out of the church, as Paul commanded the Corinthians to do (1 Cor 5).
The barren fig tree is an imitator, an actor playing a role. It identifies as a fig tree, but since it is only a plastic mimic, the only fruit on its branches are plastic. Because its root is bad, so its fruit must be. Good for nothing except to be thrown into the fire. Where the Lord’s true faith, given to each one of His people as a gift, where that faith is – there is always fruit. Some bear twenty fold, some forty, and others sixty or a hundred – but faith always bears fruit. Any “faith” that does not is that dead faith James spoke of, which cannot save.
How many false, fruitless fig trees are encumbering the ground of the Lord in His church? How many are standing in the way, being an offense and stumbling block to those whom the Lord is calling to Himself?
Mat 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
Bunyan soberly warns the barren fig tree that the Lord will not tolerate it indefinitely. He may choose, by mere grace, to wait one more season to see if fruit appears on the branches, but He will not wait forever. His patience is great, but it is not infinite.
May the Lord remove barren fig trees from among us so that the gospel is adorned by the fruit of the Spirit and all stumbling blocks be removed.