The Olive, The Vine and The Fig Tree


I trust, dear brethren, that our souls may be directed to the importance of speaking as before the Lord. What we are speaking of is not merely like man’s thoughts and circumstances, but the things of the Lord. May we all keep this in mind.

I would take up in connection with Romans n the wild olive-tree. It is the expression of the character of the Gentiles, who are told, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, to remember that they were “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” It is of great importance to understand the exceeding wideness of that expression, “Gentiles in the flesh” — “the wild olive tree.” What we want is “to have no confidence in the flesh.” We see what the flesh is in Philippians 3. “We are the circumcision,” says the apostle, “who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” All the character which he gives to the flesh is the “concision,” strictness of ordinances, legitimacy of descent, works of our own: these three things are marked as repudiated flesh, though of a religious claim. They are also of great importance as marking the character of the flesh under all circumstances. The resurrection cuts off all boasting in natural descent. My descent is that I am born of GodJohn 1:13. We are “sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.” When we come to look at the fairest character of the flesh in the world, what is it when compared with being sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty? If there were any title to anything in the flesh, the Jew had it; for the Gentile to talk of ordinances, descent, etc., is indeed folly.

When God has settled anything, it is settled. In the flesh we are Gentiles; in the new man we are born of God. If I get out of this, I get out of the Spirit into the flesh. In the third of Philippians we have very severe names—dogs, evil workers, the concision. It is too bad for the Gentiles to come in and attempt to bring in that which has been set aside in the Jew by our Lord. Judaism had proper glory in the fleshas concerning the flesh, Christ was a Jew. Here would have been the crowning of the flesh, if there had been anything good in flesh. But He was rejected. There was no good thing in man, and therefore death intervenes.

We have the two principles of descent and works brought before us in this chapter. Works never satisfy the conscience, for it appeals to something that is not in itself. This is all set aside, and therefore the apostle says, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.” The character of the flesh is that it is “without God in the world.” This leads us to see the character of the “wild olive tree” —the Gentiles. When the commonwealth of Israel is spoken of, it is not that they are strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope, but the contrary. (See Rom. 9:4-6.)

The point of distinction between the wild olive tree, and the good one, is this: the last was an election of grace and promise; the first, the nation itself which failed. From the days of the fall there has been a remnant according to the election of grace. Abel, in this sense, was a remnant and a suffering one; but there was no interfering in judgment till the flood; then the world refused the Lord, and the remnant was preserved.

Here was interference in judgment, God’s acting in the world; thereon Satan came in, and pretended to be the agent in the good and evil that was going on in the world. Then came in idolatry. Satan, having reduced man to misery, set himself up as God over him. Next Abram was specially called out as the remnant, as one connected with God. The church comes in on the accomplishment of redemption, though its glory is still held in hope, a remnant according to the election of grace, made the deposit of promise. All this is the olive-tree. It is true that it becomes afterwards Israel nationally, and “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” God never repents of His calling, either of Abraham, or of Israel. All our hopes would be shaken if that purpose were not infallible, but (before this) faith is spoken of as accounted for righteousness.

Faith is never spoken of in the scriptures as brought out before the time of Abraham. Abraham believed in Him who was to raise up Jesus from the dead. The character of his faith was, that it was faith in the resurrection. Resurrection alone takes man ruined in sin and brings in something beyond the reach of evil in a new scene—the risen man. We get the promises made to Abram (that are alluded to in the Galatians) in Genesis 12, when he is first called out. There was the first breaking of the whole link of flesh as regarded Abram, and then the promise was confirmed to his seed after being risen from the dead;Gen. 22. The promise was given to Abram, as the remnant called out, then confirmed to Isaac consequently on the resurrection (in figure). The reasoning out of this we have in the Epistle to the Romans. The apostle there shews that the ground on which the promise comes is justification by faith.

The Jews chose to take the promises, not on the ground of the faith of Abraham, but on that of their own obedience conditionally; and the moment they got on this ground they failed. They tried to do some good thing, like the young man in the Gospels, who, wrong in principle, knew not that “none is good, save one, that is, God.” Israel took the law, not on the ground of promise, but of law. The law rests on the stability of another party; the promise rests on the stability of the Promiser. The prophets always take Israel off the ground of law on that of promise. In taking the law they must rest on descent and ordinances; and this is what the apostle combats in Romans 3 and 4. Up to chapter 3 he proves the universality of the guilt of the world, and the necessity of the blood of Christ to cleanse from sin. In chapter 4 we have the principle of the resurrection. He leads us out of natural life, out of the law, into the Spirit of life that is in Christ Jesus. Chapter 8 plants the Christian in his own proper place in the grace of God.

Then the apostle turns to the question of what becomes of the Jew. Has God cast them off? No; their bringing in again rests on the promise of God in resurrection, as we read in the Acts, “And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he saith on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.” The apostle’s argument in chapter 9 is just this: he asserts God’s title (the election of the nation of the Jews still subsisting) to elect whom He pleases. How come believers to have all these privileges mentioned in chapter 8? Because they are God’s election; the principle is in God, not in the circumstance only of the election of Israel. Christ, while necessarily the root of blessing, is also the object of the promises.

Then there is another principle brought in, God’s enduring with great long-suffering the vessels of wrath. God’s dealings are suited to the bountifulness of His grace. The Lord brings out the remnant associated with Himself in an entirely new character; as we read, “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent taketh it by force.” “If by any means,” says the apostle, “I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead,” and it cost him a great deal of suffering. This is the character which the Lord attaches to His ministry. He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel till John 9 and 10. Then He puts forth His own sheep, taking them out of the fold, to be one flock, one Shepherd.

What the church has to do now is to pitch its tabernacle outside the camp. We read inExodus 33 that every one which sought Jehovah went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation that was without the camp. Israel had failed, and then there was this seeking Jehovah, and Moses talking to Jehovah face to face. Christ’s character is that He went without the camp, and in Hebrews 13 we are told to go forth also unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. Israel’s camp was not properly the world. If you look at it in its moral character, it was the worldbut still it was called the holy city. But the believer is now called to go without the camp.

The children of the flesh, or Israel (the apostle shews in Romans 11:7), reckon on what the flesh could reckon on, and are cut off; and if the Gentile branch continue (or have faith) in God’s goodness, well. If I am bringing in anything between me and God’s goodness, I am not continuing in God’s goodness, though this may be only failure for a moment. He who has the Spirit, seeing what the apostasy of the flesh in him may lead to, watches against that power of the flesh that would separate him from God; and this is the right use to make of the lists of the evils of the flesh that we have in the word of God. Continuance is not of the flesh; it does not depend on ordinances, but on living faith: “otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.”