(Photo courtesy of wallboat)
He next comes to a peculiarly encouraging aspect of Christ’s Garden.
The church desires Christ to come into his garden, ‘to eat his pleasant fruits,’ where we see, the church gives all to Christ. The garden is his, the fruit his, the pleasantness and preciousness of the fruit is his. And as the fruits please him, so the humble acknowledgment that they come from him doth exceedingly please him. It is enough for us to have the comfort, let him have the glory.
This discussion of Christ’s Garden and Christ’s produce raises a number of biblical allusions to the Garden. Adam was created and placed into a Garden. Jesus was buried in a Garden — and Mary Magdalene found Jesus in the Garden, “supposing he was the gardener” —a second Adam. God compares Israel to a vineyard. Isaiah 14. Jesus picks up on that image in the parable of the wicked tenants. The New Heavens and New Earth are a garden. Solomon sought to re-create Eden as a man-built Garden (Ecclesiastes 2).
But the most on point use of this imagery is found in John 15:
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 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 more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
John 15:1–8 (AV).
Think of this imagery: there is fruit brought forth through us — but it is not from us. We produce, but in a state of dependency. We do not bring forth our own; it is Christ’s work.
Sibbes helps here, because he underscores an implication of this fact: Since the fruit does not come from us, it is not about us. Thus, our imperfections do not detract from Christ’s pleasure in his own work. We are only to give glory to him for his work in us — despite our weakness:
It came from a good spirit in David when he said, ‘Of thine own, Lord, I give thee,’ &c., 1 Chron. 29:14. God accounts the works and fruits that come from us to be ours, because the judgment and resolution of will, whereby we do them, is ours. This he doth to encourage us; but because the grace whereby we judge and will aright, comes from God, it is our duty to ascribe whatsoever is good in us, or comes from us, unto him; so God shall lose no praise, and we lose no encouragement. The imperfections in well-doing are only ours, and those Christ will pardon, as knowing how to bear with the infirmities of his spouse, being ‘the weaker vessel,’ 1 Pet. 3:7.
A thought on “weaker vessel”: our marriage is merely a metaphor for the true marriage between God and his people. We, however, try to work the metaphor backwards. We try to read our marriage in terms of Christ’s. Thus, when we come to “weaker vessel” (for instance) we are concerned with the concrete in our own life rather than Christ’s kindness and condescension toward us.
Here then is encouragement:
Use. This therefore should cheer up our spirits in the wants and blemishes of our performances. They are notwithstanding precious fruits in Christ’s acceptance, so that we desire to please him above all things, and to have nearer communion with him. Fruitfulness unto pleasingness may stand with imperfections, so that we be sensible of them, and ashamed for them. Although the fruit be little, yet it is precious, there is a blessing in it. Imperfections help us against temptations to pride, not to be matter of discouragement, which Satan aims at.
Our imperfections are for our good: God uses our weakness to demonstrate his strength. Our fault comes from falsely thinking ourselves strong. Gladly let us admit our weakness and our reliance upon Christ’s strength & grace.
It is the devil’s work to make us think of ourselves; rather let us think on our Savior:
And as Christ commands the north and south wind to blow for cherishing, so Satan labours to stir up an east pinching wind, to take either from endeavour, or to make us heartless in endeavour. Why should we think basely of that which Christ thinks precious? Why should we think that offensive which he counts as incense? We must not give false witness of the work of grace in our hearts, but bless God that he will work anything in such polluted hearts as ours. What though, as they come from us, they have a relish of the old man, seeing he takes them from us, ‘perfumes them with his own sweet odours,’ Rev. 8:3, and so presents them unto God. He is our High Priest which makes all acceptable, both persons, prayers, and performances, sprinkling them all with his blood, Heb. 9:14.
And our consolation:
To conclude this point, let it be our study to be in such a condition wherein we may please Christ; and whereas we are daily prone to offend him, let us daily renew our covenant with him, and in him: and fetch encouragements of well-doing from this, that what we do is not only well-pleasing unto him, but rewarded of him. And to this end desire him, that he would give command to north and south, to all sort of means, to be effectual for making us more fruitful, that he may delight in us as his pleasant gardens. And then what is in the world that we need much care for or fear?