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A SERMON FOR THE NEW YEAR.

By the Rev. O. PRESCOTT HILLER.

LUKE XIII. 6-9. He spake also this parable :-"A certain man had a fig-tree
planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon and found none.
Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard: Behold, these three years I come
seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none; cut it down; why cumbereth it the
ground? And he, answering, said unto him: Lord, let it alone this year also,
till I shall dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not,
then after that thou shalt cut it down."

ANOTHER year has passed away! Time, ever moving, has brought us
another stage on our journey—our journey towards the eternal world.
Is it, or is it not, a journey towards heaven? That is the great ques-
tion. Have we, during the past year, made progress in goodness?
We may have grown richer, we may have grown wiser—that is, have
grown more knowing, increased our knowledge of truths,—we certainly
have grown older; but the question is, Have we grown better? For,
after all, that is the one question; that is the test to which all other
things about us will be brought, by which all else that concerns us will
be tried, namely, the state of our hearts, our will, our love. The will
is the man; the understanding is altogether a secondary principle, and
`bodily things are nothing. When our death-hour comes (and how soon
that may be we know not) we shall drop the body, and with it, riches,
houses, lands, business, and all earthly concerns, and rise up in the
bare spirit into the eternal world. Then, if we are not found rich in
truth and love, we shall be poor indeed.

Look back, then, on the past year. Let us examine ourselves; let everyone look into his own heart, and back on his own experience. Look first into the family circle-into the daily household life. Are we conscious of having made improvements in temper this year? Are we more amiable, more obliging? Have we made efforts to control our temper, to check the angry word coming to the lips, to restrain the evil passion rising in the heart, to control cross looks and words, and unkind acts, as they were bursting forth, and to compel ourselves to speak gently and mildly, looking up, at the same time, in inward prayer to the Lord, to remove the infernal spirits who were finding entrance into our hearts? If we have done this, we have done well—we have done much. For ill-temper is the fiend of the family circle, blasts domestic peace, makes home miserable, and, if long indulged, draws around us a cordon of infernals from whom it will be hard to escape. We have need to pray daily against ill-temper.

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Secondly, in regard to our business. Have we pursued it in an honest, upright, just manner; striving in all things to do unto others as we would they should do to us; taking no advantage, using no deceit, but seeking to be fair and truthful in all our dealings? If we have done this, we have done something, and, it may be said, a good deal. The man who, in this age of competition, and over-reaching, and fraud, is enabled to pursue a strictly honest course-never swerving from the path of right, however strong the temptation,-never forgetting his good principles in the midst of the world's evil practices-never allowing himself to do, in the smallest particular, otherwise than an enlightened conscience approves-has reason to be thankful to the Lord for the strength given him so to do, and to pray that he may continue to be upheld amid the world's slippery paths.

But honesty alone is not enough; kindness needs consideration, and patience and forbearance are quite as much needed. This is the case especially with employers. Even honest employers are sometimes harsh and hard upon their workmen,-let out their temper upon them; disregard their feelings; require of them sometimes what is unreasonable; do not make sufficient allowance for their difficulties and trials, their weakness of body or dullness of mind, and expect perfection of them, forgetting how far from perfect they themselves are. If our Divine Master were as tyrannical over us as many even upright and church-going, yea, spiritual-minded, masters are over those they employ-woe be to us! We should be ground to atoms. We need to remember those solemn words of the Lord-" If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses." We need to be watchful. For every idle word," says the Lord (much more for every angry word), "ye shall give account at the day of judgment."

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But, now, in the third place, we need to make a much more searching examination, than as regards either our temper in the household or our conduct in business. These are comparatively external things. We need to look into our hearts, and see how we stand in relation to the Lord our Maker and Saviour,-what is our prevailing tone of thought and feeling in regard to Him, His Word, and His Heaven,-whether we respect Him in all that we do, and think, and feel, in public and in private, whether we remember that His eye is upon us,-realise that His presence is with us,-need thus fear to do aught that is displeasing to Him. Each one has his own peculiar hereditary will, his own special tendencies to sin; and the business of each is to examine himself, to discern what those particular tendencies are, and then, when known,

to keep watch over them, and to struggle against them. This is the only way to make spiritual progress. You can plainly do nothing unless you know what is to be done; and you cannot know what is to be done, in regard to the improvement of the heart, without searching and examination. The truly spiritual, the truly religious man is always examining himself, always watching himself: no one knows so soon as he when he has spoken a wrong word or done an unkind or unjust act. And he notes not only his words and acts, but also his thoughts: he perceives the rising passion before anyone else perceives it,―he discerns the coming storm, and is inwardly terrified at it, and prays for help to restrain its outburst. He is accustomed to observe himself, and note the first thought of evil, and seeks to check it. So is his inner man kept pure in the Lord's sight; and he is more anxious about this than about his appearance before the world. In his morning prayer, he looks up to the Lord for strength to perform the duties and fight the battles of the day; for he knows that this life is a warfare, and he goes constantly armed for the combat. His weapons are the truths of God's Word; and that these may be kept furbished and bright, he never fails to go each morning afresh to that Word, and by poring over it for a time, bring his soul into conjunction with Heaven, and nerve it for the work of the day.

This is the way of the spiritual man-of the man who reflects that he is living for heaven and for eternity, and not for this world only. Have we done thus? Let us look back over the past year, and ask ourselves-Have we looked up daily in prayer to the Lord? Have we asked Him continually for strength to do our duties and overcome temptations? Or, have we, forgetting Him, gone forth in the morning in our own strength, taking our chance of standing or falling, yet fancying that we were secure, and not expecting a fall until we found ourselves down, the poor victims of temptation yielded to, the miserable slaves of the infernals? No man who goes forth prayerless to his work has a right to expect any other result. Prayer is the safe-guard of the soul.

So, likewise, in regard to the Scriptures;-have we, without fail, read a portion of the Lord's Word each day? Have you taught your chil dren to read it? Have you gathered them, at least once each day, round the table, and either read to them yourself or allowed them in turn to read aloud that sacred book which connects the spirit with Heaven, thus bringing angels around their young hearts, and teaching them in the days of their childhood to " draw near to their Creator, and early learn the path to eternal life"? Have you, one and all, done

this? If you have not, then you have not done your duty to those tender spirits whom the Lord has committed to your care. You have not kept the divine command, to "teach His Word dilligently unto thy children, talking of them when thou sittest in the house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."* And you will need to turn over a new leaf, in this particular, in the year which is coming.

Having made these general remarks, let us now turn to a consideration of the text:- -“A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard." By a vineyard, in a general sense, is signified the church; but individually, it signifies man's spiritual mind. The reason is, because the vine corresponds to spiritual truth: here the Lord says, "I am the vine," meaning that He is truth itself; and, for the same reason, the wine used in the Holy Supper signifies spiritual truth. A fig-tree signifies the natural mind, that is, the external mind, from which man speaks and acts before the world. It is said, "a fig-tree planted in the vineyard," to represent that the natural mind should be rooted in the spiritual— that the words and deeds of the external man should be derived from good and truth in the internal.

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And he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none." By the fruit of the fig-tree is signified good in act, the good of life and conduct. There was a vineyard; there was an abundance of knowledge of spiritual truth, but there was no corresponding goodness of life. How many a man is pictured here! How many possess the knowledge of what is right, but do not do it, do not act according to it! How many, for instance, know that it is a sin to speak ill of their neighbour, but yet, when the temptation comes, they cannot restrain their tongues, but allow themselves to tattle, tattle about him, till, like the serpent with his prey, they slime his character all over with the poison of their lips! Hateful is this sin in the Lord's sight; angels revolt from it. It is utterly contrary to that charity which "thinketh no evil." I select this sin for illustration, because it is one of the most common sins in society. Every spiritual-minded person will be on his guard against it.

"Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down. Why cumbereth it the ground?" In a special sense, by the fig-tree in this passage, the Lord had reference to the Jewish church. By three years is signified their whole history-all their states (for the number three signifies all), that they had always been a perverse and stiff-necked people, and had perpetually disobeyed the Divine commandments, and Deut. vi. 6, 7.

lived evil lives. The same nation and church was typified by the figtree, mentioned in another place, which the Lord cursed, and it withered away, representing that the Jewish church was incapable of being mended, and that it would perish. But, in a general sense, every sinner is here referred to, every man of the church who knows what is right, and yet persists in wrong,-every one who knows truth, but does not practise good. The warning is, that if that man does not repent and change his course, he will soon be cut off; or, whether be it sooner or later, if he does not turn from courses which he knows to be evil, he will inevitably perish in his sins and go amongst the lost. "And now," said the Lord, "the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire."*

The parable proceeds" And he, answering, said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." The vine-dresser who thus interceded, may be regarded as representing the Lord in the Humanity, the tender Saviour, who is ever interceding for His church, that is, who is ever seeking to bring men into a state to receive the Divine Word and Truth, and so be saved, and who took upon him that humanity in order that there might be a medium through which the Divine might reach man in his low and fallen state. For this is the meaning of intercession and mediation, in the true and spiritual sense, namely, the operation of the Lord's humanity as a medium through which the Divine influences might reach man, and through which also man might have access to the Divine. The Lord, in His divine humanity, is that true dresser of the vineyard; He is ever watching over the members of His church, chastening and checking here, urging and stimulating there, just as the careful vine-dresser prunes some vines and props up others.

"Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it." The Lord, in His mercy, grants us another year of probation. He will use renewed exertions to induce us to bring forth the fruits of a good life; to do what is right and refrain from what is wrong and sinful. He will seek, by a thousand methods, to withdraw us from evil courses, to help us to break up bad habits, to enable us to overcome our evil passions, to assist us to root out that particular form of sin to which each of us is specially liable; for "every man," saith the Scripture, "knoweth the plague of his own heart." He will strive with us; He will bring good angels about us; He will remove evil spirits from us as far as it is possible, as far as we will permit Him. But yet He will Matt. iii. 10.

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