The Barren Fig-Tree, or The Doom And Downfall Of The Fruitless Professor, by John Bunyan
I must say that the more I read from the writings of John Bunyan , the more I appreciated his spirited defense of godliness and the fierceness of his rhetoric about the complacency of the religious world he found at the time. I first became familiar with Bunyan as the author of Christianity’s most famous allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, then with another of his allegories that demonstrated he was not a “one-hit wonder” as a writer, and then with his excellent poetry. This book, though, is one of Bunyan’s several excellent published treatises on matters of Christian living that demonstrate his excellence of thought that led him to be an excellent writer in other genres where he is more famous. This short book of 36 pages is an exceedingly obscure one, but without a doubt it is a most excellent work that is relevant now and that contains a great deal of worthwhile discussion about the Gospels and the biblical viewpoint of fruits and how they are to be demonstrated by believers. There is a lot in this little booklet that would be triggering to many contemporary readers.
The contents of this treatise are pretty straightforward and definitely worthwhile. The book begins with a note by the editor concerning the delay in publication of the book and then a preface from the author as well, both of which take up a few pages before Bunyan begins in earnest. And once Bunyan begins in earnest this is a deeply powerful and pointed discussion of the lack of fruitfulness of many who profess a faith in Christianity, the biblical view of fig trees and a detailed exegesis of Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree. Although this treatise is a short one it is certainly detailed and full of intriguing commentary on fig trees and related matters, including the economic value of fig trees and the remarkable patience of Jesus Christ concerning the fruits shown (or not shown) by professors, which is the author’s sly way of referring to those who profess a faith in Christianity but are not necessarily genuine believers, all the more sly given that Bunyan was himself a blue-collar worker and not as well educated as most prolific writers about Christianity then or now. The last third or so of the treatise contains a vivid and picturesque discussion of the fate of those who fail to become fruitful before it is time for judgment.
The fact that this book is so politically incorrect with regards to Christianity is a positive rather than a negative aspect of its overall quality. Bunyan spent years in prison for preaching without a license, and his statements about the lack of Christian vigor in his country were true then and are even more true now. Any criticism Bunyan makes about the apathy and general lack of spiritual fruit for the English church of the seventeenth century can be stated at least ten or a hundredfold about the contemporary English speaking Church in the UK, US, and various dominions. I am quite pleased to have been able to find this little work, even though it is certainly a pointed one, and one can be grateful to God and to Jesus Christ that they act with such considerable mercy and longsuffering and forbearance towards people and do not quickly judge and condemn where they certainly could do so entirely justly regarding our own fallen and corrupt contemporary culture. This book is a worthwhile one that we who profess a belief in Christ had better show fruit resulting from repentance and from the indwelling presence of God’s spirit within us, or else the consequences will eventually be dire indeed.
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