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bewail to all eternity! Let us then watch and pray that we enter not into temptation: and, however ärm we may imagine our title to heaven, let us beware lest our subtile adversary deprive us of it: Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into the heavenly rest, any of us should seem to come short of it."]
m Heb. iv. I.
CXXI. THE TREE OF LIFE.
Rev. xxii. 2. In the midst of the street of it, and on either
side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
THE scripture represents divine truth to us in terms accommodated to our low and carnal apprehensions. We know nothing on earth so attractive to the eye as pompous palaces, fraught with exquisite workmanship of every kind, and especially of rare and precious stones, and enlivened with the gayest scenes which art and nature can produce. On this account St. John adopts these images to convey to our minds an idea of all that is great and glorious in heaven; having described which as a city unparalleled for beauty, he proceeds to tell us of a river, clear as crystal, that waters it; and of a tree of most wonderful qualities that adorns it.
It is our intention to shew 1. What we are to understand by the tree of life
It should seem that the tree mentioned in the text alludes to the tree of life which was created by God in Paradise
[Some have thought that St. John alludes to the trees which are mentioned in Ezekiel's vision:a and it must be confessed that there is a striking coincidence of expression in the two passages: but the river of which Ezekiel speaks, and the
a Ezek. xlvii. 12. Dr. Kennicott's Dissertation on this subject is extremely ingenious; but one of his strongest objections to the author's view of it seems whoily obviated by the explanation of Gen. iii. 22—24. given below. The author does not judge it necessary to assign all his reasons for differing from such great authority, though he did not think it expedient wholly to omit them.
trees growing on either side of it, represent the Gospel, produeing life and fruitfulness wherever it flows: whereas the tree, mentioned in the text, is expressly called “ the tree of life;" and is spoken of as growing in the midst of Paradise. Now this is the exact description given us of the tree of life which was formed in Eden:b to that therefore we rather suppose the reference to be made; and this idea is confirmed by various other passages, which we shall have occasion to notice.]
In this view Christ himself is intended under this figurative representation
[The tree of life in Paradise may be considered as typical of Christ. It was a pledge to Adam, that, if he continued obedient to the end of the time appointed for his probation, he should live for ever. And the reason of his being driven afterwards from that tree by Cherubims with fiery swords, was, that he might be compelled to seek those other means of acceptance which God had ordained, and which were shadowed forth by the tree of life.c As God in later ages destroyed Jerusalem, that his people might not be able to offer their former sacrifices, and might thereby be shut up, as it were, to that great sacrifice which the others typified; so God dealt with our first parents in the instance alluded to. Christ is to fallen man, what the tree of life was toʻman in innocence; he is, under the Covenant of Grace, what that was under the Covenant of Works; that ensured life to obedience, and Christ secures it to faith in his name. He is God's pledge to us, that, if we believe on him, we shall be saved:0 yea, even to those that are in heaven he must be considered as the pledge of their everlasting stability, since it is of his fruit that they eat, and their life is altogether bound up in him.'
That all may be persuaded to pluck the fruits of this tree, we proceed to shew II. Its transcendent excellence
It is not in beauty only that this tree excels, but in usefulness. It surpasses all others 1. In its fruits
[So abundant are its fruits, that all in heaven, and all on earth, may eat of them; yea, if there were as many worlds as there have been, or ever shall be, individuals in the world, there would be sufficient for them all. But its fruits are also various: other trees, however fruitful, bear but one kind of fruit; but this bears “twelve manner of fruits:" whatever is suited to our different appetites, is to be derived from him: pardon, peace, love, joy, holiness, and whatever else a devout soul longeth after, it is all to be found in him, and to be enjoyed through him. Besides, it has this surprising quality, that its fruitfulness is continual: “ In every mouth”, we may behold him laden with fruit, as well in the depth of winter, as in the midst of summer; in seasons of the deepest adversity, as well as under the sunshine of prosperity: there never is a moment wherein we shall meet with such a disappointment as Christ experienced:6 we may all times go and sit under his shadow, and find his fruit sweet unto our taste.”] 2. In its leaves
B Gen. ii. 9. e Rev. ii. 7.
John xi. 24, 25.
c Gen. iii. 22-24.
[The leaves of other fruit-trees are, for the most part, worthless: but those of this tree are medicinal, and of most astonishing virtue; they are designed on purpose “ for the healing of the nations." There is no wound, however deadly, but the application of a leaf from this tree will heal it instantly. As a sight of the brazen serpent cured the wounded Israelites, and a touch of our Lord's garment the diseased woman, so will the efficacy of these leaves be made apparent, whensoever they are applied. Nor is it one single wound that they will cure, but the whole soul, however infected in every part: as the tree, cast into the waters of Marah, healed the fountain itself, and rendered all its streams salubrious, so will a single leaf of this tree restore the most diseased soul to purity and peace. To every believer God will surely make known himself by that name which he has assumed for our encouragement, “ I am the Lord that healeth thee.””]
From hence we may LEARN
[We cannot but feel, if we be not altogether“ past feeling," that we stand in need of a Saviour. And behold, what a glorious salvation God has raised up for us! Should we not then apply to this Saviour? Has the Sun of Righteousness arisen with healing in his beams, and shall we not go forth to his light? Is there balm in Gilead, is an almighty Physician there,m and shall we not seek the healing of our wounds? Shall the tree of life be accessible to us at all times, yea, shall the flaming sword be driving us to it instead of from it, and we not go to apply its leaves and eat of its fruits? Let us, whether dying of the wounds of sin, or agonizing through the fiery darts of temptation, go to Christ without delay; for surely virtue shall come forth from him, and heal ús all. If he submitted to suffer for us that he might “ heal us by his stripes,” and reconcile us to God by his death,“ much more,
& Matt. xxi. 19. * Exod. xv. 25. n Jer. viii. 22.
h Numb. xxi. 8, 9. and Matt. ix. 20-22. k Ib. 26.
I Mal. iy. 2. > Luke vi. 19.
• Isai. liii. 5.
being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”p We may
[The words immediately following the text further confirm the sense given to the text itself. Sin entered into Paradise, and a tremendous curse followed it: but into heaven no sin, and therefore “no curse shall ever come:” nothing shall invade the peace, nothing disturb the security of those, who inhabit that glorious city: while the tree of life continues there, all, that eat of its fruits, are kept from a possibility of falling. O blessed state! All feasting upon the glories of Jesus; and eternity the duration of their bliss! May we all arrive at that Paradise of God, and unite with all the choir of heaven in singing “ Salvation to God and to the Lamb for ever and ever.”]
CXXII. THE NATURE AND EXCELLENCE OF TRUE
Rom. ii. 28, 29. He is not a few which is one outwardly;
neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a few which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
IF we were to estimate men's religion by the degree of confidence which they expressed, we should be ready to think that the glory of the latter day were already arrived, so universal are men's claims to Christian knowledge and experience. But it is often found, that, where there is the strongest confidence, there is the least ground for it. I None could ever be more firmly persuaded of their acdiceptance with God than the carnal Jews; yet were they fatally mistaken: for though they enjoyed many privileges, and abounded in outward observances, they were destitute of that vital principle, without which their religion was a vain ceremony, an empty form.
In the preceding context the apostle is proving to the Jews that they stood in need of a Saviour no less than the idolatrous Gentiles: and, knowing what a stress they laid
upon their outward privileges, he tells them, that it was
His words naturally lead us to shew
[There is nothing in mere forms, which does not gratify, rather than counteract, our natural tendency to self-righteous. ness, and self-applause. Hence arises that universal readiness to substitute something, that is of an external nature, in the place of vital godliness. The Jews valued themselves on their descent from Abraham, and on their admission into covenant with God by the rite of circumcision: they also boasted of the law in which they were instructed, and of the ordinances wherein they drew nigh to God: and such was there dependence on these things, that they would not suffer themselves to doubt, one moment their title to heaven. Precisely such also are the grounds, on which the generality of Christians hope to obtain eternal happiness: they have been born of Christian parents, devoted to God in baptism, instructed in the truths of the Gospel, and brought up in a constant attendance, if not on the Lord's Supper, at least on the other ordinances of religion. If they can boast thus far, they will conclude that all is well with them, and that their salvation is quite secure.]
But the form of godliness without its power is of no avail
[Testimonies to this effect are exceeding numerous and strong. John the Baptist particularly cautioned the Jews against trusting in their descent from Abraham:a our Lord also warned his hearers, that though they were Abraham's children after the flesh, they could not be considered as the seed to whom the promises were made, because they did not the works of Abraham. St. Paul also, having enumerated the great and glorious privileges to which the Jews were entitled, yet declares that “all were not Israel who were of Israel," and that the spiritual seed alone should be partakers of the promises.
However therefore our knowledge of divine truth be enlarged, or our outward services be multiplied, we can never be admitted into God's sanctuary, unless we have a better righteousness than the Scribes and Pharisees attained:d we may indeed, “ have a name to live; but we are really dead."e]
c Rom. ix. 4-8.
a Matt. iii. 9.
b John viii. 39.