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A Time to Cast Away Stones and a Time to Gather Stones
I enjoy gardens!
When I had a pastorate in London, England, I never tired of walking through the botanical gardens at Kew in Surrey.
This was only a few minutes walk from our home.
The variety of trees and plants, the gorgeous display of flowers, and the peacefulness of the surroundings were a benediction to my soul.
Time and time again I was "lost in wonder, love, and praise."
I can understand why the healthy Christian life is likened to a garden.
Isaiah the prophet speaks of the child of God as "a watered garden, ... a spring of water, whose waters do not fail" (Isa 58:11).
Do you identify with those words, or is your life cluttered up with stones and rubbish?
A careful study of our text in the light of related passages makes evident that the writer has in mind the operation of clearing a vineyard of stones and of collecting materials for making fences, winepresses, and towers.
Isaiah has the same idea when, in the parable of Jehovah's vineyard, he writes: "My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst, and also made a winepress in it; so He expected it to bring forth good grapes, but it brought forth wild grapes" (Isa 5:1-2).
Three times in the history of the world God has made a vineyard for Himself, with the expectation of receiving fruit for His glory.
The first was the vineyard of a human paradise.
Man was put in the Garden of Eden with the mandate to "tend and keep it" (Gen.
But we all know the story of his failure to produce the fruit that God expected.
Through disobedience, sin not only affected every area of his own life, but also cursed the whole human race.
The second was the vineyard of the Hebrew people.
Isaiah tells us about this in the passage that we have already quoted.
God did everything to ensure that this vineyard would produce the best of fruit for His honor—but, instead, "it brought forth wild grapes" (Isa 5:2).
The third is the vineyard of the Christian church.
Jesus Himself came to plant this garden and declared: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2).
Once again, the church has, in generation after generation, failed to fulfill the ultimate purpose of God.
But such is the sovereignty and persistence of our loving God that He will not let us go.
And so he continues to speak to us, and strive with us, until the day when the church will be presented "before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).
This, then, is the message of our text.
It is the picture of a neglected and fruitless vineyard.
In such a situation two major operations are called for, the first of which is:
!! The Cultivation of the Vineyard of Our Lives
In olden times it was not an uncommon thing to find a vineyard that had suffered through enemy attack or through willful neglect.
And without doubt, Solomon had this in mind as he surveys a promising piece of land, strewn with stones and debris.
In circumstances like this, there comes "a time to cast away stones" (Eccl.
What is true in this physical sense is even more relevant when we think of the vineyard of our lives.
/We must admit the presence of stones in our lives./
In this connection, there is a revealing passage in Proverbs 24:30-34, which reads:
I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down.
When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.
Stones, in and of themselves, constitute valuable material, as we shall see later.
But stones scattered in this fashion represent thoughtlessness, carelessness, and laziness.
There is first of all /thoughtlessness./
Solomon tells us that a yard in this state belongs, of necessity, to "the man devoid of understanding" (Prov.
A life that is not fulfilling the purpose of God is the life of a person who has ceased to use his intelligence.
There is nothing clever or commendable about young people, or older ones, who through recklessness and rash decisions have allowed their lives to go to pieces.
God gave us minds to think His thoughts after Him, and everything He has designed for us is summed up in the Supreme Thought, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is why the Lord Jesus was forever inviting people to come to Him, learn of Him, and follow Him.
Also, there is /carelessness/—"And there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down" (Prov.
What a graphic picture this is of willful neglect.
Think of the thorns, the nettles, and the stone wall broken down.
Does this represent our hearts, our lives, our vineyards?
Thorns and nettles are symbols of the curse, while the broken wall is the evidence of capitulation to enemy attack.
"He who digs a pit will fall into it, and whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent" (Eccl.
When we allow the wall of our lives to be penetrated by the "subtle serpent," the inevitable results follow: thorns, nettles, and scattered stones.
Then, there is /laziness/—"When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man" (Prov.
It was D. L. Moody who used to say that no regenerate man should have a drop of lazy blood in his veins.
Laziness is the result of the curse, and there is plenty of evidence of that curse in our modern life!
This is why homes are divided, businesses are corrupted, and the world is in such a mess.
People want their own easy way of self-seeking and sinfulness, and so the vineyard of the Lord is reduced to thorns, nettles, and rubble.
The only way to reverse the situation is to admit the presence of these stones in our lives.
Are we guilty of thoughtlessness, carelessness, and laziness?
We must remember that this is nothing less than sin, and sin must be dealt with at the cross of Calvary.
Is that garden life of yours a mess?
Is it full of rubble and debris?
Is it less than what God intended?
Thank God, the stones can be cleared away—"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
But it is not sufficient to admit the presence of stones in our lives; /we must permit the clearance of stones in our lives./
When the condition of our lives is revealed to us through the preaching of the Word of God and the searching of the Spirit of God, we must be willing for these stones to be removed.
This will call for humbleness, prayerfulness, and steadfastness.
No one can pick up stones without bending down, and this is the only place where God meets us: at the cross of His blessed Son.
This is /humbleness./
Then it is evident that no one can pick up stones without securely holding them in their hands, and the very action of lifting these stones is the posture of /prayerfulness./
We must ask God to deal with our sins, to cleanse our lives, and to renew our spirits.
And then it goes without saying that picking up stones is an arduous task; it is heavy work.
It calls for /steadfastness./
You have to be willing to drop on your knees, pick up those stones, present them, and say, "Here they are Lord.
These are the sins that are spoiling my garden life."
Then as you hold them before Him, confess those sins.
As we have already remarked, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Then follows steadfastness, for it is hard work.
In presenting the gospel, our Lord Jesus and His apostles always insisted on this characteristic of obedience and steadfast continuance.
Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and /take up his cross daily, and follow Me/" (Luke 9:23).
The apostles exhorted their converts "that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord" (Acts 11:23).
And it is recorded that the early disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).
God will never take us seriously until we take Him seriously.
This, then, constitutes the cultivation of the vineyard of our lives.
We must admit the presence of the stones, and then permit the clearance of those stones.
Only thus will our lives become the fruitful land for God to work, by the power of His Spirit.
What He is looking for in our lives is /fruitfulness./
Over fifty times in the New Testament the subject of fruitfulness is mentioned.
And the Lord Jesus reminded His disciples before He went to heaven that "by this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:8).
Not just fruit, but "much fruit."
It is the "much fruit" that glorifies our Father which is in heaven.
Remember that "man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism).
There is no other purpose for your creation, preservation, and redemption than that you should glorify the Father.
A missionary was visited by a Korean convert who had walked 100 miles to learn more about Jesus.
After giving his testimony, the young man recited the entire Sermon on the Mount without making a mistake.
The missionary was delighted, but felt he ought to warn him that memorizing the Bible is not enough.
Its precepts must be put into practice.
When he made this suggestion, the Korean's face lit up with a happy smile.
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