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Fruitful in Every Good Work

by Rev. William Arnot

William Arnot (1808-1875) was a Free Church minister, and the author of several books which may be obtained today, including a work on the Book of Proverbs, "Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth," and an exposition entitled "The Parables of Our Lord." The following is part of a sermon based upon Colossians 1:10: "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Arnot, once an apprentice gardener, explains in his introduction that this verse in particular, as well as Paul's prayer in general, points to those who are already Christians. "It speaks not of birth, but of growth. We have to do here not with the raising of the dead, but with the advance of the living." The sermon is from the volume "The Anchor of the Soul and other Sermons;" most of these were unrevised for publication. Although perhaps not a "high" Calvinist, there is good matter in Arnot to stir us from our lethargy, that we may indeed love our neighbour as ourselves.

Published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 7, July-September 1997.

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God"
– Col. 1:10.

(1.) "Work."

The Christian life is essentially a life of labour. They who find Christ do, indeed, often speak of having found rest to their souls; but that rest does not imply exemption from work: on the contrary, this "peace in believing" only supplies a firm foot-hold whereon the labourer may stand more steadily, and so labour with more effect. The rest which a troubled soul finds in Christ is like the rest which the Pilgrim Fathers found on the American continent. When they stepped upon the shore free, feeling God's earth firm under their feet, and seeing God's sunlight bright above their heads, they said and sung, "This is our rest." But they meant not idleness. Each family reared a cabin in the bush, and forthwith waged war against the desert, until they had subdued it, and turned it into a fruitful field. Their resting-place was their working-place; and none the worse in their esteem was the rest because of the labour that accompanied it. Beyond the reach of the tyrant, and past the dangers of the sea, the rest they sought and found was a place to work on, and useful labour close at hand.

Such is a Christian's rest when the Son has made him free, as long as he remains in the body. Liberty to labour is all the rest he obtains or desires. Trusting in Christ's merits, he also walks in Christ's steps: he goeth about doing good.

(2.) "Good work."

Not energy of action merely: the work must be good. The master is God; the motive, love; the immediate aim, the good of the world; and the standard of measurement, "the law and the testimony."

(3.) "Every good work."

True Christian beneficence is characterised by a grand and god-like universality. This does not mean that one man should go round the world and meddle with everything in it: it rather means that he should neglect no opportunity that comes in his way. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" but do not waste time and effort in trying to do all at once. The rule is not to overtake all, but to refuse none that overtake you. Have you seen those large, lovely, transparent globes that float in sheltered bays a little beneath the surface of the sea? They are living creatures. They cannot cut quickly through the water in chase of prey, but they lie wondrously open and watchful to seize the prey that comes within their reach. They lie open on all sides, and stretch out arms on all sides; and though they cannot go to a distance for what they need, they intercept and use whatever, in the miscellaneous movements of the waves, may be passing by. Thus, though nearly stationary, they are abundantly fed. Such is the activity of a Christian man. His meat is to do the Father's will; but he is almost fixed to the spot, and cannot roam over the world for his spirit's congenial food. He feeds abundantly notwithstanding. Let him only lie open, and spread out, and be ready with an active arm and an eager appetite: the sort of food that will please his taste and strengthen his soul is floating past continually in the tide of time. No Christian is ever idle for want of something to do. But it is of the last importance that we should cultivate a universal willingness. Bought servants must not choose their tasks: they must labour at the task which their Master assigns to them. The tendency of every one of us is to do duty by halves. One is great in gentleness, and fails in courage; another is great in courage, and fails in gentleness. Brethren, it is not this one, or that other work for which you have a natural aptitude, but "every good work." The acting of a virtue that is not in your nature will be a more impressive evidence that grace is reigning. When an elephant picks up a pin from the dust with his huge trunk, men wonder more than when they see him break a tree. So when a man of might – some intellectual and moral hero, who dares every danger, and delights in having danger to dare condescends to bear with the infirmities of the weakest, and like the good shepherd, tenderly lifts a weary lamb in his arms, the testimony of the fact is resistless, and observers confess that the grace of God is there. To the same extent, on the opposite side, the display of martyr courage in a good cause by one who is constitutionally sensitive and timid, tells more effectually than the exercise of the natural bent. When the plaintive and bashful Jeremiah, who said he could not speak because he was a child, stands forth for God and righteousness, setting his face like a flint before all his enemies, and denouncing unjust tyrants to their face, the rebuke is powerful in exact proportion to the natural feebleness of the reprover.

"Every good work," Christian. You must not pick and choose. Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it; for God has put it in your way. Direct effort to convince a sinner and lead him to Christ is one good work; to set an untrained mother on the way of cleaning her house and cooking her husband's food is another. "Every good work." Here it may be to open a church, and there to dig a well; here to support a missionary, and there to widen a street. Everything that would benefit the world, God's creation, or man, God's child, is congenial occupation for the disciple of Jesus. Universality is the characteristic most needed in our Christian benevolence. Without partiality and without hypocrisy was the Master; without partiality and without hypocrisy should the servant be.

(4.) "Fruitful in every good work."

The comparison of Christian beneficence to fruit indicates its spontaneous nature, its useful effect, and its great abundance. The good works grow as fruit grows on a fruit-tree. The tree has first been made good, and then the fruit grows and ripens spontaneously. You cannot gather grapes of thorns; but neither can you find thorn fruit growing on a true vine. Every creature after its kind. He who in the regeneration has been made a partaker of Christ, gives forth in his life Christ-like actions. There is a good deal of artificial charity agoing. People can tie oranges to the sprigs of a fir-tree in a parlour, and the show will gratify children on a winter evening. But true Christian beneficence is a fruit that grows, and is not tied on. It swells up from sap which the tree of righteousness draws out of that infinite love in which it is rooted. He who is in Christ cannot stand still, any more than the water in those iron tubes which traverse our streets in connection with the great reservoir: on it must flow, wherever there is an opening, by reason of the pressure from above. Hear the exclamation of that ancient Christian in explanation of his wonderful self-sacrifice and energetic labour for the good of men: "The love of Christ constraineth me." Efforts burst impetuous from his bosom whenever an opening was made, because he was in union with the Fountainhead on high.

As fruit is sweet and profitable, so are the efforts of Christians for the good of the world. And like the abundance with which good trees bear, is the abundance of a true disciple's labours. The fecundity of Nature is a standing wonder with all who possess sufficient intelligence to observe it. The faculty of production in the vegetable creation is, beyond all calculation or expression, great. Through adverse seasons and other causes, the actual quantity of fruit brought to perfection is greatly limited; but the tendency and willingness and capability of plants to produce their fruit in inconceivable quantities may be seen everywhere in the teeming, flowering spring. Such is the tendency of a renewed heart. Few, few of his aspirations does a Christian ever actually reach; but they swell in his bosom numerous as the embryo seeds that hide beneath the flowers of spring. He who numbers the hairs of our head knows and feels every loving thought that trembles in a broken heart. With such sacrifices God is well pleased. He recognises the breathings of his own Spirit in the desires; and he will remove in good time these trees of righteousness from the wilderness here to another garden, where all their flowers will become fruits, and all their fruits will ripen fully under the light of love.