Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 4, 1951

Nothing But Leaves

W. L. Wharton, Jr., Houston, Texas

"Nothing but leaves." — Mark 11:13 These words seem to suggest the whole gist of the passage from which they are taken. The incident connected with their mention relates to Christ having seen a tree on whose branches there was "nothing but leaves;" when he came closer he still saw "nothing but leaves;" and when he searched among the boughs for fruit he found "nothing but leaves." He caused it to wither not only because it grew "nothing but leaves" but because the presence of leaves on the fig normally followed the production of fruit and indicated its presence. This tree by having "nothing but leaves" was a living lie; a base hypocrite, exciting false hope and making false promise. His action against the tree he made to symbolize the condition and doom of those characters of whom it is a true description—they have "nothing but leaves." This tree is an emblem of characters

(1) THAT WILL NOT BEAR EXAMINATION. He who endured weariness that we might have rest; thirst, that we might have "the waters of life freely;" hunger that we might have the "bread from heaven; hungered as he walked. In the distance he saw this fig tree whose spreading branches shaded the earth, and whose profusion of foliage made it appear a fruitful tree. How disappointing this tree was! It appeared its best from a distance. It was a tree that could not bear inspection.

There are many characters of which this tree is a fit emblem. The intellectually flourishing, but morally and spiritually barren man. He who is seen from afar and admired for his brilliance of mental power and wit, is often discovered on closer inspection to be reckless, profligate, selfish and hard. There are the outwardly agreeable but spiritually pitiable man. A man may be industrious, amiable, generous-mannered in business or in society, who when more intimately known is found to lack earnest conviction, devotion, faith, self-denial.

Remember who it was that searched this tree, and who it is that searches and tries us. This tree is an emblem of characters

(2) THAT EXCITE FALSE EXPECTATION. Because this tree was so profusely covered with leaves, Jesus journeyed towards it to find the fruit which that foliage promised. Had it been a bare, brown tree, with its naked branches outstretched in the breeze, no one would have expected fruit there; but because it was covered with leaves, He who was hungry hastened towards it to satisfy His hunger. Christ makes this tree primarily the emblem of the Jewish nation. They were eminently religious as far as profession was concerned. Their gorgeous ceremonial services, their exacting observance of religious ordinances and traditions—all were as profuse foliage, densest covering of leaves, on the tree of their religion; but all expectations of godliness that such profession excited was doomed to disappointment. The great masses of -the Jews were carnal, utterly irreligious; their leaders were formalists and hypocritical. No words would better describe the condition of the Jews as it was then, than "nothing but leaves." So now here are many professors of religion whose prominences in Christian work, in benevolent activities, in holy worship and sacred song, excite the hope of finding in them "the pure and peaceable fruits of righteousness," but whose characters are miserably disappointing. Ungodly men come to such trees for fruits of charity and comfort, Christian men come for sympathy and assistance; but all find "nothing but leaves." Surely, too, the eye of Jesus looks with grief on such characters, with far more grief than when he said of the barren fig tree, in melancholy sternness, "No man eat fruit of thee henceforth for ever." This tree is an emblem of characters —

(3) THAT FAIL TO ANSWER THE END OF THEIR EXISTENCE. There was many a tree in the Judean landscape, as there are many in ours, designed not for fruit bearing, but to lend by their foliage rich and varied hues to the landscape, or deep cool shade from the summer's sun. Of such it would be no disparagement whatever to say, there was on them "nothing but leaves." Not so, however, this tree. As a fig tree it was worthless --worthless as "a light under a bushel," as "salt that has lost its savour." This tree, then, is the emblem of all men who, living worldly, material; ungodly lives, are not answering the end and aim of their existence. The same is true of congregations of Christians who are not living up to the high and holy purpose to which they have been called in Christ. The life of transient self-indulgence, that is well enough for a brute, is altogether a disgrace to a man; how much more to a Christian man? That man or congregation whose all consists in mere physical strength, or temporal goods, or intellectual acquirements, or exercise without end or view, is a tree on which there is "nothing but leaves:"