You know that the figure of a tree is frequently used in scripture for the purpose of conveying moral and spiritual lessons. The one used in the first Psalm in reference to the "blessed" man is very suggestive. There is no doubt that the only person who ever answered with absolute exactness to the description there given is the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is certain that all which is excellent in a man was found in the fullest perfection in Him, though in no one else. And when we read, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night," we know this passage had a prophetical bearing and was to be pre-eminently true of God's coming Man.
Such words could be applied to the Lord Jesus each day and all the days. For He ever kept Himself separate from sinners, and He continually lived by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. Jehovah's law was His meditation day and night.
But then, in this pathway of perfect obedience and consequent blessedness, He left us an example that we should follow His steps. So that it is ours — mine and yours — to go after Him, shunning every evil way and association, and loving to learn the will of God from His word in order that we may do it.
Then in the Psalm we come to what is the subject of my letter; "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers [streams, R.V.] of water that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Here the godly man is compared to a tree. But it is to be observed that the comparison is not with any tree, wherever it may be situated. This tree was planted by the streams of water. And in Eastern countries such a situation was of all others particularly favourable for growth and fruit bearing, rain being so uncertain and infrequent.
You will find Ezekiel uses the figure of a cedar tree to illustrate the power and greatness of the Assyrian empire (Ezekiel 31:3-7). Clearly the cause of this cedar's magnificence was its proximity to the waters. They formed an unfailing source of nourishment and strength to its roots. So that in point of fact it was the waters that "made him great."
We may gather from this usage the force of the psalmist's comparison of the godly man with the tree planted by the rivers of waters. Like the tree he has a constant supply of life and strength. Underneath the ground the great tree sends out its main roots, each with its multitudinous tiny rootlets exploring in all directions for moisture. By and by they tap the ooze of the river-bed, when every little hair-like filament becomes a greedy mouth to obtain as much nourishment or food (for we may call water food in this case) as possible from the damp soil. Then from the tip of the tiniest root which may be farthest from the stem or trunk this food of the tree is conveyed to the tip of the loftiest leaf on the topmost bough. Cut off the supply of water, and the tree must wither and die. Stint it with an insufficient supply, and the fruit becomes poor and scanty, while the leaves turn from bright green to dull brown. But plant it by rivers of water, and it brings forth its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.
I am sure you all know the lesson underlying this simile. As believers in Christ you should bear fruit in your season. "A good tree bringeth forth good fruit." To do so you must have your own private and unseen communication with the rivers of water — Christ, as revealed in His word. Love Him, and live upon Him daily, and just as the tree grows and fructifies, quietly, and unconsciously, so will you bring forth fruit for the Husbandman (John 15). But do mark the necessity of secret communion for fruit-bearing.
Fruit is first, as to importance, then the unwithered leaf, which we may take to illustrate testimony. Fruit is for God; testimony is rendered to others who are about us. Such actions and words as commend Christ in the eyes of others are the green leaves of testimony. But if there is no water there will be no greenness. Be careful then, everyone of you, to keep up your prayers and Bible reading.
You may, perhaps, be reminded of the very solemn lesson which the Lord taught in one of His parables. I refer now to the parable of the sower, the seed, and the soils. You recollect that the seed which the sower scattered fell on four varieties of soil, viz., (1) by the wayside, (2) upon rocky ground, (3) among thorns, and (4) upon good ground. And it is the life history of the second class that illustrates by way of contrast what I have been writing to you about.
In this instance the seed sprang quickly into life, and was characterised by very rapid growth. But when the burning rays of the sun shone fiercely upon these luxuriant young plants they were so. scorched that they withered and died. There was a great deal of green stalk and leaf displayed, but there was no corresponding root development. At the crucial moment, therefore, when they needed it most they "lacked moisture" (Luke 8:6), and so they withered away. They had no subterranean communication with springs or streams of water, such as was the case with the tree of the first Psalm.
We are not left to conjecture the meaning of the parable. This second class represents such as hear the word of God and receive it very readily and gladly. But this condition only lasts for a while; for when "affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are stumbled" (Mark 4:17). There is no inward source of life, growth, sustenance, nor consequently of fruit-bearing — "no root in themselves." And hence there is the melancholy spectacle of the withering leaves.
Think over these things, my young friends, and be sure of this, unless your spirit is in living touch with the "waterbrooks of life" you will be barren and unfruitful, faded and sickly. But we hope and pray for better things.