Zion's Gates and Pleasant Fruits
WHAT these dudaim, or mandrakes, mentioned in this verse, are I know not; it should seem that women of that country had conceived a notion that there was a prolific virtue in them, as Rachel, in her state of barrenness, would give up Jacob for a night to the embraces of her sister Leah, for those which Reuben found in the field in wheat harvest. Fancy is often indulged before faith, and old wives' fables pass more current than a divine declaration, especially when carnal reason mounts the chair, and the conference is held with flesh and blood, instead of God by humble prayer. Rachel had first fallen foul upon Jacob, "Give me children, or I die;" and Jacob had referred her to God, who had withheld from her the fruit of the womb. But she chooses to try the efficacy of these unknown fruits; such I call them, for such they are to me, and such I believe they are to every man in Great Britain.
The words of this text are conceived by some to be the words of the church, and not the words of Christ; which is what I cannot consent to, for the following reasons: Christ is the everlasting Father of all the members of his mystical body; and, as the apostle speaks, "the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children," 2 Cor. xii. 14.
2. Nor doth it agree with other parts of holy writ, which express God's laying up for the church, and not the church for him. "O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men," Psalm xxxi. 19.
3. It is in Christ and not in ourselves that all our fruit's found; and, if she promises this store to Christ for his use, she seems to be too insensible of her own weakness, by promising that which (without his operations) she cannot perform. All our fruit is derived from the Saviour, and depends entirely upon sensible union with him, and upon the Father's purging the branch, that it may bring forth more fruit: but, as no believer can ensure this, so no believer can promise the other; Christ's visits, and all fruitful seasons resulting from them, must be resolved into his good pleasure, for they cannot depend upon the good will of the creature. I come now to treat,
I take the gates to be three, and they may be called our gates, because Christ and his people pass through one and the same entrance, and go in one and the same way. The first gate is Christ himself: he is the strait gate, and the narrow way; strait because of the burden of sin, sense of guilt, shame, fear, confusion of face, unbelief, misgivings of heart, stirrings of corruptions, buffettings of Satan, apprehension of wrath, legal terrors, and accusations of conscience, which attend the poor soul while pressing at the door of hope, or watching daily at wisdom's gate, and wilting at the posts of her doors, Prov. viii. 34.
Christ enters into his office, and into his church, and into heaven, by the appointment of God the Father, and by his own merit; to him the porter openeth, and he is the gate at which all our fruits are laid up; for all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the Spirit in all his fullness of gifts and grace, are in him, besides the benefits of his cross, and every lift-giving doctrine, and new covenant promise, is no where to be found but in Christ. And until the sinner gets in by this gate, he will remain barren and unfruitful to God, let him work and toil as much as he may: faith, exercising its confidence on Christ, gives us admittance here, and shuts death, guilt, and wrath, all out, which is the cause of barrenness, while the believer passes from death to life, and comes no more into condemnation; and here he receives the first fruits of the Spirit, and feels a union with Christ, and is indeed married unto him, that he may bring forth fruit unto God.
The next gate appears to me to be that of poor sinners' hearts: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be you lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may enter in." These may mean the gates of the temple at Jerusalem, for the King of glory entered there; and they include the hearts of sinners too, for he certainly does enter there, as he says to his apostles, "Believe that I am in you, and you in me." Hence we read of his opening the heart of Lydia, opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, standing at the door and knocking, saying, "Open to me, my sister, my spouse." When Christ revealed himself to Paul, and took possession of his heart, he spoke by him, diffused his light, displayed his power, spread the savour of his own name, and the mysteries of his cross by him; he manifested the power of his love, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom, by the instrumentality of his servant; and all the treasure that Paul had in his earthen vessel he brought forth, while the excellency and the power appeared to be of God and not of Paul. The hearts of Christ's ministers are one sort of gates, at which all the pleasant fruits, new and old, are laid up for the Lord's beloved, and to this sense the Saviour himself agrees; "Therefore I say unto you, that every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of God is like unto an householder who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old," which is the language of my text; but it may be objected, that sinners' hearts cannot be called everlasting doors to which I reply, that if Christ, by his powerful voice, did not command these gates and doors to open to him, carnal enmity and unbelief would bar them against him to all eternity, as is the case of all those who die in unbelief.
Besides, as the gates of the tabernacle and temple were commanded to lift up their heads to receive the King of glory, why not the hearts of sinners also? seeing that sanctified souls are the tabernacles of the Lord, and their bodies "temples of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them."
2. Again, the hearts of private believers may be intended by these gates at which all manner of pleasant fruits are laid up: for they often administer relief and comfort to one another, when under spiritual desertions, or in fits of love sickness. "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love:" these words were spoken to the daughters of Jerusalem.
3. The third sort of gates seem to intend the gates of heaven. "Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in," Isa. xxvi. 2. Heaven hath got its gates to shut dogs out; and the wedding chamber hath got its doors to receive the wise virgins in, and to exclude the foolish. Christ opened these gates and doors himself, and left them displayed to all his followers: and at all these gates there are fruits laid up for all Christ's beloved ones.
4. Now for the fruits. When faith first breaks forth at the strait gate, and lays hold upon Christ, love attending faith, cordially and eagerly embraces him, as the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely: this is union, and this union brings virtue from his fullness to heal us, and precious fruits flow in to feed us. The fruit of the tree of life is for food, and the leaves for medicine; under his overpowering shadow we sit down with great delight, and his fruit is sweet to our taste. Faith receives all his saving benefits; dying love operates and melts the stony heart; the atonement flows in and silences all the clamours of law and conscience; righteousness and peace, comfort and joy, humility and meekness, wonder and astonishment, together with the mysteries of the kingdom, the doctrines of Christ, and the promises of grace, pleasing prospects and pregnant hopes, enlivening beams and living roots, heavenly bliss and endless life, are the pleasant fruits laid up for us at this gate.
At the gates of minister's hearts: and the hearts of private believers, are fruits laid up; the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, meekness, patience, &c., are to be found here, and are often brought forth to feed and comfort the hearts of others. If we are comforted, it is that we may comfort others, with the same comfort "wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." And again, "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace." What flows out of one believing heart will flow into the heart of another believer: not only will grace be communicated to the hearers, but the fruits of the Spirit, and the doctrines of Christ, which will bring forth fruit in the hearts of others, yea, from the day that they hear it, if they are brought to know the grace of God in truth. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit;" which fruit are threefold good doctrines; "the good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil man, evil things." 2d, The fruits of the Spirit, as before observed; and 3d, The fruits of righteousness--an upright and righteous life, answerable to an upright and justified state, which is fruit unto holiness, and the end of this fruitfullness is everlasting life. And such souls as these, who receive these fruits under the word, are the genuine fruits of a gospel minister; such was "Epenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ." And, as all that labour in Christ's vineyard must first be partakers of the fruits, so all who are profited by the ministry must be partakers of the same; for at these gates are fruits laid up for the Lord's beloved; "whether Paul or Apollos, all are ours."
At the gates of heaven also are fruits laid up: we have in this life the first fruits of the Spirit, but then the first fruits imply, that there is a second crop: hence the encouragement, "to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." And the lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and that to the full; "for they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more," nor shall those blessed inhabitants any more say," I am sick." Fruits of grace we now feed upon; but the fruits of glory are yet to come, which will be a repast for the body as well as the soul; both shall be satisfied with immortality and eternal life when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and our natural bodies shall be changed into spiritual bodies.
Then these fruits will be pleasant indeed; I never heard of one that disrelished them, who ever fed upon them; nor did I ever hear of one saint that was cloyed with them. No plague nor pestilence, sickness or death, ruin or destruction, ever followed, as effects or consequences of living on these pleasant and precious fruits: they are esteemed better than life itself, and afford inward pleasure under the worst of trials. Old or young, poor or rich, sick or well, in the cradle or on the death-bed, all who taste them, when every thing else is cloying and unsavory, the fruits are pleasant and go down sweetly, and they are both new and old.
The first account we have of these new and old fruits is dropped by Moses. God orders the seventh year, a year of release; and, as it might furnish Israel with a question, What shall we eat, seeing we are not to sow or reap until the eighth year? God promises his blessing on the sixth year, which shall be sufficient to carry them on beyond the harvest of the eighth, even unto the ninth year. "And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of the old fruit, until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store," Lev. xxv. 22. "And ye shall eat old store, and bring forth old because of the new," Lev. xxvi. 10, That is, you shall bring forth the old store and eat that first, because you will want the storehouses to hold the new fruits. All this store is promised to precede and succeed the jubilee year. On the sixth year the blessing was to be poured out, to supply during the seventh year; and so the elect soul hath many blessings before his release is proclaimed. "Blessed is the man whom God chasteneth and teacheth him out of the law: blessed is the man that endureth temptations: blessed is the man that heareth me, waiting daily at the posts of my doors." But when the trumpet sounds, and the joyful sound is heard; when the release is proclaimed; when the bond-slave, the devil's drudge, and the insolvent debtor, goes free, and returns to the inheritance prepared for him from everlasting, a heavenly crop springs up within, like the spontaneous crop on the jubilee year in the land of Canaan; and we live deliciously, not by the sweat of our brow, but by the bounty of our God: and this heavenly banqueting lasts sometimes a full year; and, though on the eighth and ninth year the fruits may not be so abundant, yet there is some of the old store as well as the new. In the jubilee year the chiefest parts of the feast are love, comfort, and joy; this is milk, honey, and new wine; but after a while they are a little withheld, that we may be fed "with knowledge and understanding." Strong meat are for men of full age, as milk is for babes.
The fruits are new and old; new in time, old because prepared from everlasting; new to every young believer; old, because Adam, Eve, and Abel, the first saints that ever appeared in the world, were fed with them: they are new testament blessings, held forth in the old testament prophecies and promises; new testament truths of old testament types. So we often get new views, discoveries, and comforts, and yet reflect often with pleasure on the old ones; and thus it will be at the gates of heaven, new glories, and yet resembling the old earnests: the half was not told us, and yet something of it was known and fed upon of old, even in this world, while all the rest is new in eternity. These are laid up for thee, O my beloved.
We were the beloved of Christ before he was the beloved of us, for he loved us from everlasting; and we were preserved in him throughout our whole state of unregeneracy, which is a fruit and an effect of his love. When the time to favour us comes on, he takes the rod in hand, and lays that on, saying, "As many as l love I rebuke and chasten, be zealous therefore and repent." In the next place, he draws us to him by distant views, and dim discoveries of his suitablehess and worth, by the savour of his name, by the alluring invitations and promises of his word, by the operations or his power, and by a deep sense of the need of him: "And I, if I am lifted up, will draw all men unto me." Moreover, when he hath mixed the waters of Marah with all our sensual and carnal delights, he gives us some sweet discoveries of his love to us, and some pleasing sensations under the operations and influences of it; this makes us sick of love, and faint for the full enjoyment of it; then his language is, "I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me." The next discovery casts out fear and torment, and then the knot is tied; "we love him because he first loved us." Now charity believeth all things that he says, hopeth for all things that he promiseth, beareth all the crosses and burdens that he puts on, and endureth all things for his sake, and is as strong as death; for, as death overcomes and conquers all, so love to him overcomes every enemy and rival that the Saviour hath in our hearts. Such souls are the beloved of Christ, and he hath given ample proof of it, by his undertaking and going forth in our behalf from everlasting, by his sufferings for us in time, by preserving us when children of wrath, by manifesting himself to us when we were enemies, in suffering our manners so long in this wilderness, in pardoning of us from first to last, in delivering us out of troubles, in healing our backslidings, which have been many, in chiding us for what is amiss, and receiving us again when humbled, in destroying many that have hated us, in answering our prayers, in meeting us in his worship, in making us welcome at his table, in supplying all our wants, in favouring us with his presence, in revealing to us his mysteries, and giving us a good hope, through grace, of endless glory.