The Tree That Is Dead at the Top
How strangely some things strike you that you have been accustomed to all your life! Yet under some conditions the thing will strike you in a new place, and you will be surprised and will wonder that you never saw it before.
To illustrate: One morning while walking through an apple orchard in the beautiful Boise valley in southern Idaho, I walked up to a large apple tree and, behold, all the top of it was dead, and ready to tumble down. The lower limbs, however, were alive and hanging full of beautiful Roman Beauties. And it struck me with such force that I stood and looked on with wonder and amazement. Of course I have seen many trees that were dead at the top, while there was life in the lower limbs, but on this occasion I stood bewildered and wondered at what I beheld. Here was one part of the tree dead and lifeless, and the other part alive and bearing fruit. The lower limbs were so full of the beautiful apples that they seemed to hang nearly to the ground, and no life or fruit at the top of the tree.
Well, I said to myself, here before me stands the nominal church, just as I have seen it in my travels. The great leaders of the church, who are the top of the institution, are not soul winners. They have gone out of the soul-saving business; many of them don’t believe in conversion any more. They have not made an altar call in many years. They are too important to get down at a mourners’ bench with a penitent sinner and help pray him through, and in that case they are like the apple tree. The thing is dead at the top. Many more of the great leaders of our leading denominations are woefully tainted with higher criticism, and worse still, even with destructive criticism. They are wonderfully mixed up with Unitarianism, and have stubbornly rejected the atoning blood of a crucified Saviour. Others are tainted with Universalism, while sadder still, many others seem to have a warm side for Christian Science. And strange to say, even Jehovah’s Witnesses have found a place in the top of this tree. We must admit that the only lifesaving crew in the church are the lower order of the ministers, or the laity, which the reader will see are the lower limbs on this tree.
But then another thought came into my mind that made me sad. It was this: I said, Now, if the top of the tree is dead, is the fruit on the lower limbs as sound and as nutritious as it would be if the top of the tree was full of life? Then I wondered if the decay from the dying top would eventually work down the tree until it would finally destroy the life that was in the lower limbs, and in my mind I saw it going on. I saw the tree die below the lower limbs and, behold, there stood before me a dead tree and no fruit on it at all. Yet there the tree was occupying the same ground it had occupied when alive and full of fruit.
I began to wonder: I said, How long will a man have to irrigate that tree and fertilize that soil to put life back into that tree ? And at that time I remembered hearing a young man say, who was full of life and fire, “We are going to swing our church back to holiness; we are going to bring her back to life. We are laying plans now to irrigate that dead tree and fertilize her and prune her and spray her, and put her to bearing fruit again.” And yet I have looked on with wonder, and the more the soil was cultivated and the better it was fertilized, the deader that tree became, until finally the lower limbs themselves had dropped off one at a time, and there stood before me a large trunk of a dead tree and, behold, the birds came and built their nests under the bark and in its rotten wood, and the bugs and lizards and even the screech owls got into that rotten tree and made it their nest.
And in my mind I saw the large serpent coiled there, and I said, “How strange! That used to be a fruit-bearing tree. But, behold, death and decay got into the top of it and was allowed to remain until it destroyed the whole tree.” A week later a layman in the church said to me, “I don’t accept the doctrine and experience of holiness because our leaders reject it.” And I said, “There is the tree that I saw in my vision. Death struck her in the top and was working toward the ground, and as surely and truly as the tree died at the top, it will not be a generation until every limb on that tree is dead and dropping off.”
We might wind up by saying that unbelief in the pulpit will put unbelief in the pew; worldliness in the pulpit will put formalism in the pew; and if you discover a polar bear in the pulpit, you may look for icebergs in the pew. The polar bear must have ice. And how many times have I seen a church that was warm and on fire for God receive a learned doctor in their pulpit! He was as spiritually dead as the tree was literally dead, and it wouldn’t be twelve months until he had cooled off and choked out and starved out the spiritual life of his entire flock, and now they are as dead and as worldly as he himself. This is one of the kind of the twentieth century.
Think of it, here is a congregation paying their preacher their hard-earned money to help them to live right, and get to heaven, and, behold he is undermining their faith in the deity of Jesus and the inspiration of the Scriptures, and he will finally rob them of their living faith, and rob them of heaven and populate hell with them.
Now let the reader look back and see if he can see anything in that tree that resembles the nominal church. And, beloved reader, if you have any spiritual life, this picture that we have just shown you will just about scare you to death. And, beloved, you had better rise up in your God-given power, and by the grace of God, and the blood of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, shake off all doubt and fear and flee to the outstretched arms of a loving, gentle, tender, sympathizing Jesus, “who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).