Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
21. Prayer for Fruits of Righteousness
"That Ye May Be Sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness." By the "day of Christ" we understand the time when He shall be revealed before an assembled universe as King of kings and Lord of lords, when He shall judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31), "taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel," and being "glorified in his saints" (2 Thess. 1:7-10). For the redeemed it will be a day of examination and adjudication (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10), not for the purpose of ascertaining their justification, but to attest their sanctification, to exhibit what grace had wrought in them, that the radical difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate, the blessed and the cursed, may be fully displayed, that Christ might be owned and magnified as the Author of all their godliness, and that they may be rewarded for their good works. It will then appear that the outstanding characteristic which distinguishes the children of God from the children of disobedience is that of personal holiness, holiness both of character and conduct, and since holiness has both a negative and positive side to it, the apostle has here designedly linked together "without offense" and "being filled with the fruits of righteousness."
This phrase "till the day of Christ" coming in between "without offense" and "being filled with the fruits of righteousness" belongs to each of them, both in grammatical sense and doctrinal purport. From its insertion there, we may gather at least three things. First, it is required that this negative and positive holiness be maintained without interruption until that day: or, in other words it enforces the necessity of the saints’ perseverance to the end of their course. Second, it intimates the special relation which holiness has to that "day" when "every man’s work shall be made manifest" (1 Cor. 3:13) and the Lord "both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (1 Cor. 4:5). Third, it sets before us a powerful incentive to live hourly with the judgment seat of Christ before us, that "we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (1 John 2:28). Christ warned His disciples against carnality, lest "that day come upon you unawares;" (Luke 21:34), and His apostle exhorted believers in view of that day to "cast off the works of darkness, and . . . put on the armor of light" (Rom. 13:12).
"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness." Of what righteousness? No doubt quite a number of our readers would answer, "The imputed righteousness of Christ." Yet they would be mistaken. It is important to recognize the threefold distinction the New Testament makes. There is a righteousness God communicates to His people in regeneration, there is a righteousness reckoned to their account at justification, and there is a righteousness wrought out by them in their sanctification. Those who confound those three things confuse themselves and imbibe error. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (Jam. 5:16) signifies more than one to whom the obedience of Christ has been imputed, namely, one whose heart is right and whose ways are pleasing to God. One who has been justified may be in a backslidden state; while that is the case, his prayers will avail nothing (Isa. 59:2; James 4:3)! If we would ask and receive of God, then we must "keep his commandments" (1 John 3:22). Righteousness is right doing, walking according to the divine rule, namely, the law of the Lord; and keeping His commandments is termed practical righteousness—righteousness wrought out in our practice. But since by nature "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10), a miracle of grace must first take place within us.
As the Lord Jesus declared, "Make the tree good, and his fruit good" (Matthew 12:33), for grapes are not borne by thorns nor figs by thistles. The heart must first be made right, before our conduct will become so. Only a righteous man will produce the fruits of righteousness: he must have a righteous root within from whence they come. At regeneration a principle of righteousness is imparted to the soul. In that miracle of grace the heart is made right with God. At the new birth a nature is received "which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). When the saints are there exhorted to "put on [as a uniform] the new man," they are enjoined to live and walk as new creatures in Christ. That principle of righteousness received from God at regeneration, that new and holy nature, is expressly said to be "his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10). That is the end for which He regenerates us, that our lives may glorify Him. The tree is made good that it may bear good fruit. "Created in Christ Jesus" means that at the new birth we are made vitally one with Him, and as faith in Christ (a cleaving to Him) is the first act of the spiritual babe, His righteousness is then imputed to him, so that he is legally as well as experimentally righteous before God.
"If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him" (1 John 2:29). That tells us one of the ways by which we may recognize the regenerate, and distinguish them from unregenerate professors, namely, by their conduct, for trees are known by their fruit. In sharp contrast with "the children of disobedience," the regenerate children of God walk in obedience to Him, treading "the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake" (Ps. 23:3), heeding His precepts and keeping His statutes. Like begets like: God is righteous and He makes His children so. Like father like children: if the reader will carefully ponder John 8:38-44, he will see how that truth is argued and proved—the Son being like the Father, the wicked bearing the features and performing the will of their father, the devil. The regenerate, then, are "trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified" (Isa. 61:3); and He is glorified by their bearing the fruits of righteousness. Only the doer of righteousness is really born of God; therefore one whose character and conduct are unrighteous cannot be a righteous person, and should not be regarded so by the saints.
"Filled with the Fruits of Righteousness"
Now the "fruits of righteousness" brought forth by a righteous person are those acts which are agreeable to the law of God and which have the Word of God for their rule. Righteousness is right doing, and only that can be right which accords with the revealed will of God. Unless He has appointed a certain line of conduct for us to engage in, our actions would either be men-pleasing or self-seeking. A succinct summary of God’s will is made known to us in the Ten Commandments, the moral law being the rule for us to walk by. The gospel precepts or exhortations found in the Epistles are but so many explications of those commandments, applied to the varied relations and details of our lives. As "sin is the transgression of the law" so righteousness is conformity to it (1 John 3:4-7). The fruits of righteousness, therefore, are those works which the Christian performs according to that which the Word of God warrants and requires: in other words, they are acts of obedience to the Lord. "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Rom. 6:13).
"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness": this was the God-honoring standard of excellence which the apostle longed that the saints should attain to. Here again we are struck with the vast difference between his large-heartedness and the parsimony of those whose supplications are so cramped in spirit and limited in scope. It is false humility which restricts our requests within narrow bounds. It is nothing but unbelief which limits the bounty of God to the bestowing of trifling favors. Nor is the plea of our unworthiness any valid reason to justify the poverty of our asking. No saint has ever presumed to approach God and seek blessings from Him on the basis of his own worthiness. The most spiritual and pious Christian who ever lived was heavily in debt to God, and therefore could only supplicate for mercy on the ground of His infinite grace. Paul, then, was not content to see these Philippians bearing some fruit, but prayed that they might be "filled with the fruits of righteousness." He did not base that request on anything which they had to their credit, but he eyed the munificence of God and asked accordingly. Let none of us ever be satisfied with a small measure of grace.
The Believer to Bear "Much Fruit"
Bringing forth the fruits of righteousness abundantly should be the deep and daily concern of every child of God, for His honor is never more promoted than when we are so engaged. Said the Lord Jesus, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:8). In this manner the truly regenerate can make evident the real and radical difference between themselves and hypocrites. The Father is not glorified by our lip service, but by the tenor and texture of our daily lives, by having all our steps and actions ordered by His Word. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven"
(Matthew 5:16). Those "good works" are the same as these "fruits of righteousness," and we should be wholly taken up with performing them. We believe that in His "so shine" Christ gave warning of a danger: we need to beware of aiming at our own glory in such fruit-bearing. God has not given us His spirit for the purpose of serving and magnifying ourselves. He who aims to gain a reputation for eminent piety before his fellows, has yielded to the spirit of Pharisaism. Divine grace is not bestowed on the Christian to advance his honor but to glorify its Giver.
"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness" has a threefold force. First, the Christian’s whole life should bear these fruits. As the heart of man is the bulk and body of this tree, so every power of the soul, each member of the body, is a branch. Before conversion were not all our inward faculties and external organs used in the service of unrighteousness? If not designedly so, yet actually, for they were not employed in serving God. What were our affections set upon? What chiefly engaged our minds? How were our eyes and ears, lips and hands, occupied? As we formerly yielded our members to iniquity, now we are to yield our members as servants to righteousness—all of them—so that we may be filled with such fruits. The godly man is likened to a flourishing tree in Psalm 1, and one of the fruits there mentioned is the budding of holy thoughts: "In God’s law doth he meditate day and night." He stores his mind with its precepts and promises, he studies how best he can please God.
Second, a Christian is filled with fruit when good works of all sorts are produced in his life. "Being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). If the believer is to be "filled with the fruits of righteousness," every grace must be active. "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love" (2 Pet. 1:5-7). The Christian differs from all other trees, for though a natural tree may be heavily laden, it bears only one kind of fruit. But "the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (Eph. 5:9). Said the apostle, "Therefore as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also" (2 Cor. 8:7), i.e., contributing to the needs of the poor of the flock. He wanted them to be lacking in nothing. If we are to be filled with fruits, then we must have respect to all the divine commandments (Ps. 119:6), being remiss in no duty and failing in no practice of godliness, withholding nothing that is due the Lord.
Third, to be filled with the fruits of righteousness is to be filled with them at all times. All our time is to be filled with some good work or other: our vocation, recreation, holy duties. A man brings forth fruit in recreation as well as in holy duties, if his purpose is to have greater vigor, health, and enthusiasm in order to perform holy duties. But if a man wisely and conscientiously proportions his time, according to his conditions, and with holy purpose, he will be filled with the fruits of righteousness.
All Is of God
"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by [or ‘through’] Jesus Christ." How jealous was the apostle for the glory of his Master, giving honor to whom honor was due! Though these fruits are borne by the saints (and without them they would not be saints), yet they do not originate from them, and therefore they have no ground for boasting. "From me is thy fruit found" (Hos. 14:8). He is the vitalizing Vine of which we are the branches. Yet our verse is far from teaching that Christians are entirely passive in their fruit-bearing, or that they may excuse comparative fruitlessness by attributing the same to the sovereignty of the Lord—rationalizing that it was not His good pleasure that they should be more productive. Such an idea is a wicked perversion of a blessed truth. Christ Himself declared, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8). If we are not consistently bearing fruit, the blame rests wholly upon ourselves, and it is a horrible and satanic slander to attribute it to anything in God. The teaching of the Puritans was very different from such Antinomianism.
These fruits "are by Jesus Christ." They are created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). They issue from our being made vitally one with Him at regeneration. These fruits arise from the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwelling in the heart. Christ is the root; the new nature is the branch springing forth from Him; the Holy Spirit is the energizer and fructifier. Fruits of righteousness result from a man’s laying hold of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ for his righteousness. These fruits develop by motives drawn from Christ. When the love of Christ constrains us to obedience, when His grace teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, when we realize He redeemed us to be a peculiar people zealous of good works, our resultant holy actions are the fruits of righteousness.
The fruits of righteousness flow from our growth in Christ. The apostle speaks of our growing up into Christ in all things (Eph. 4:15). As a man grows up in Christ, in nearer union and communion with Him, he grows more holy. The example of Christ moves me to bear the fruits of righteousness. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:6). He is to be our Model and Pattern in all things. We are to be conformed to His holy image, and just so far as we follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21) do we bear the fruits of righteousness which are by Him. Our actions are fruits of righteousness when we look for all the acceptance of our fruits in Jesus Christ, or when we expect that they shall all be accepted of God in and through Jesus Christ, and not as they come from us. Thus our services are "sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). Our best performances are faulty, and are only pleasing to God as they are presented in the name of Christ and perfumed with His merits.
Fruits of righteousness are by Jesus Christ as we wear His yoke. The key passage on fruit-bearing is John 15, and there, as all through Scripture, is a perfect blending of the divine and human sides. If on the one hand we learn that Christ is the true Vine and His Father the Husbandman, who purges every branch that it may bring forth more fruit, on the other hand Christ there exhorts us, "abide in me, and I in you" (which enforces our responsibility), and then adds, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4). To "abide" in Christ is to be yoked to Him, to walk with Him, to commune with Him, to draw from Him; it is the opposite of wandering from Him, of allowing something to come between our heart and Himself. "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without [severed from] me ye can do nothing." The marginal rendering is preferred, as it sustains the figure used in the context. Christ was not there emphasizing the impotence of the believer, but was enforcing the impossibility of his bearing fruit if fellowship with Himself was broken—stressing the imperative need of our "abiding" in, or walking with, Him.
All to Be Done to "the Glory of God"
"Unto the glory and praise of God." This clause also qualifies the first one. The "fruits of righteousness" are those alone which are produced with this specific aim and design. All our actions should be directed to this grand end: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). Neither the pleasing of self nor the approbation of our fellows must be our motive. No matter what we may be employed in, whether it be our daily work or recreation, the honoring and pleasing of God must be kept as definitely in mind as when we are exercised in holy duties. When speaking of the giving of alms—which is one fruit of righteousness—the apostle said, "If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 4:11). That was what always regulated and marked our blessed Redeemer. He never sought honor for Himself, but constantly had the glory of His Father in view; and if we have received His Spirit and abide in Him, that action will characterize us. When our hearts are imbued with God’s glory, when we aim at and refer all to the same, then our works are "unto the glory and praise of God," and then they are "the fruits of righteousness . . . by Jesus Christ."
We will reserve our remarks on being "without offense till the day of Jesus Christ" until we come to 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 and 5:23-24; but we will offer a few words on "being filled with the fruits of righteousness" in reference to that day. As stated before, "the day of Jesus Christ" was here mentioned by Paul because our holiness bears a special relation to that time. Natural trees that have long borne fruit eventually cease bearing. But man shall appear at the latter day with all the fruit that he has borne throughout his whole life. Wicked men shall appear with all their bad works, and godly men shall appear with all their good works. Thus the end of the world is called a harvest (Matthew 13:39) and a reaping (Gal. 6:4-9). The apostle prayed in behalf of these Philippians that at that day they might appear "filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ." What an incentive to holiness to keep that before us! Those fruits will be to the honor of Christ and to the glory of God, and we shall be richly rewarded.