By Pastor Glenn Pease
Two young brothers, Nathaniel and John Chapman, entered the Black Bear Tavern, the largest building in Pittsburgh back in 1788. They were looking for a place to sleep in this little village on the Western Frontier. All of the rooms were filled, so they had to sleep on the floor in the corner of the bar. Little did the bar keeper realize that one day one of these brothers, John, would become one of the most famous characters West of the Allegheny Mountains. John had been to Harvard, and had also been a missionary preaching the doctrines of the Swedish mystic Swedenborg. He came to Pittsburgh because it was the point from which people departed for settlements in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
John and his brother went up the Allegheny River to visit an uncle. When they found his cabin enemy they decided to settle there for awhile. John noted that there was an absence of fruit trees in the area, and he decided to do something about it. He found an neglected orchard and set out hundreds of apple tree shoots. Clarence Macartney in his book of historical studies called Right Here In Pittsburgh says, "This was probably the first nursery in the West." John became so concerned about orchards and the providing of fruit for the people moving West that he made it his life work to plant apple trees.
He said, "Fruit is next to religion. I use to be a Bible missionary down in Virginia, but now I believe I'll be an apple missionary. He chose a very fruitful profession, and he was a marvelous success at it. He became known all over the country as Johnny Appleseed. Everywhere he went he carried his bag of apple seed and he planted them. He said, "I am going to sow the West with apple seeds, making the wilderness to blossom with their beauty, and the people happy with their fruit."
On horseback, in canoe, and on foot he roamed the wilds of Western Pennsylvania, Southern New York, and Ohio. He kept a cabin near Pittsburgh. He dressed with ragged, ill fitting, faded garments. He went barefoot and had long black hair that fell over his shoulders. He made friends wherever he went as he sowed his seeds and preached from the Bible. When the Indian wars raged through Ohio, he was the only white man who could go on roaming the woods and not be killed, for the Indians also loved him. For 50 years he lived a vagabond life risking every danger to sow his seeds. More than once he was brought down by malaria. Robert Luccock in The Last Gospel tells of how on one occasion he was found by a pioneer in an Ohio River settlement dying with an intense fever. He did not know who he was, but he called for a doctor. The doctor came and seeing him clutching a bag of seed with the initials JC burned into the leather said, "It's Jonathan Chapman that good Samaritan of Pittsburgh come to settle among us. Praise God from who all blessing flow."
At the age of 79 Johnny Appleseed died at Fort Wayne, Indiana where he is buried. Monuments have been created in his memory, and many legends have surrounded his career. In the U. S. Senate, General Sam Houston of Texas paid this eulogy to Johnny Appleseed: "This old man was one of the most useful citizens of the world in his humble way. He has made a greater contribution to our civilization than we realize. He has left a place that can never be filled. Farewell, dear old eccentric heart. You labor has been a labor of love..." We are interested in this life, because his life of love and fruit illustrates the ideal of the New Testament for the Christian. Our goal is not apples, but our goal is fruit. As Peter indicates here, and as the whole Bible makes clear, the purpose of all virtues, including love, is that they might lead us to fruitful living.
Johnny Appleseed dressed like a bum, had his hair like a hippie, had habits as strange as John the Baptist, and was just a very unusual man, but he became a great success because fruit was his aim, and he fulfilled that aim. Without fruit he would have been considered an eccentric old fool and a mad man. Fruit made the difference, and fruit will make the difference for all of us between failure and success.
Fruit is one of the key themes of the Bible. God is a God of fruit, and all that is in harmony with His will is fruitful. Paradise was paradise because of the fruitfulness of nature. To be put out of paradise was to have to labor for food, for the earth was less fruitful outside of paradise. When paradise is regained, Rev. 22:2 describes it as possessing fruitfulness beyond anything we, or Johnny Appleseed, could ever imagine. A tree bearing 12 kinds of fruit and yielding its fruit every month.
The Godly in the Bible are often likened to a tree, and the effects of their godliness to fruit. In Psa. 1 he who delights in the law of God, "..Shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers." Success and fruit go together. Paul was a Johnny Gospel seed going everywhere sowing the seeds of life in Christ. He says, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. The whole ministry of the church is symbolized in fruit bearing. Jesus sent forth His disciples that they might bear fruit.
It was no accident that the Holy Spirit came upon the church at Pentecost. This was the great feast of harvest when the fruits were gathered in. What delight God has in harmony and beauty of symbolism. The coming of the Spirit was the beginning of the harvest of the church. Three thousand souls were saved that day, and the church immediately began to bear fruit. The dry bones of Israel were clothed with living flesh. The desert of Israel began to bloom like a rose, and began to produce the fruits necessary to refresh the world and bring new life to all.
Jesus cursed the fig tree because it had no fruit. It was a symbol of Israel. Israel was cut off because she was barren and unfruitful, and a new branch was grafted in, which was the Gentiles. God just will not tolerate perpetual unfruitfulness. Jesus tells us clearly why Israel was replaced by the church to represent the kingdom of God on earth. In Matt. 21:43 he said to the Jewish leaders, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruit of it." Even the kingdom of God is of no value if it produces no fruit. Every gift of God and every virtue is of no value if they do not produce fruit.
Jesus was very fruit conscience. In the Parable of the Sower He taught that much seed is choked out before it bears fruit, and so is of no value. But some seed goes on to bear fruit, and some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty. Not all seed is equally fruitful, but any fruit is some measure of success. John the Baptist required fruit as evidence of repentance. Jesus said that by their fruits you shall know them. Fruit is the test of all truth. That is why Paul warns Christians not to partake of the unfruitful works of darkness. The Christian should be so fruit conscience that he does not waste his life on what is unprofitable. This is even so in spiritual experiences. We are urged to aim for the best and most fruitful gifts.
In I Cor. 14:14 Paul says, "..if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful." The good can be the enemy of the best and rob us of fruit. All we do needs to be evaluated according to its fruitfulness. We can get caught up into the 7th heaven in emotion but if we do not turn this spiritual experience into some sort of fruitfulness, it is all in vain. Fruit is what counts, and fruit alone is success. Even the death of Christ is a fruit issue. In John 12:24 He says, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain a wheat falls into the earth and dies, it abides alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit." A seed that does not die and thereby bear fruit is of no value. It is as worthless as a dead rock. Success for a seed is in bearing fruit, and if it cannot bear fruit without dying, then dying is the only way to success. So it is with the seed of David-the Lord Jesus Christ, and so it is for all who follow Him. Whatever the cost we must pay the price to bear fruit, for fruit is success.
In the light of all this, which does not begin to cover all the stress of Scripture on fruit, we can see why Peter makes the goal of all these virtues the escaping of an unfruitful life. This is the worst possible fate for a Christian to be a dead an barren branch. The world desperately needs a army of Johnny Gospel seeds planting the trees of life in the wilderness of the world.
When Julian the Apostate was Emperor of the Roman Empire, this is what he wrote to a pagan priest: "Let us consider that nothing has contributed so much to the progress of the superstition of the Christians, as their charity to strangers. I think we ought to discharge this obligation ourselves. Establish hospitals in every place, for it would be a shame in us to abandon our poor, while the Jews have none, and the impious Galileans (thus he calls the Christians) provide not only for their own poor, but also for ours." Here is pagan testimony to the fruit bearing power of agape love. The love of Christians even gets their enemies to do good works just to try and keep the church from getting all the credit. God alone knows all the good evil men have done in order to keep others from turning to Christ. Government programs of welfare do much good, but they rob the church of her fruits. People now look to the government when they use to look to Christians motivated by the love of Christ to meet their needs.
We seldom stop to realize that even good works divorce from the Gospel are the means by which the powers of darkness can keep people from turning to the light. If Satan can meet all a man's needs on the physical level, why should he turn to the church or to Christ? This means the government programs compete with the church for the allegiance of men, The church must be actively engaged in demonstrating love on every level, and do it in the name of Christ, for only as men see that we are motivated by His love will they turn to Him.
Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the gifted Negro poet, felt deep bitterness over the injustice to his people. He was a cynic and his poetry reflected this.
A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute to smile and an hour to weep in,
A pint of joy to a peck of trouble,
An never a laugh but the moans came double,
And that is life!
Before he died at the age of 33 he experienced the love of Christ in his own life, and he was transformed. Instead of the soar and bitter fruit of despair, he bore the sweet attractive fruit of the Spirit, and he wrote,
A crust and a corner that love makes precious,
With a smile to warm and the tears to refresh us,
And joy seem sweeter when cares come afar,
And a moan is the finest foil for laughter,
And that is life!
Paul Dunbar became a success before he died because he boar the fruit of the Spirit, and fruit is success. This is the goal for every Christian. We must produce that fruit which attracts the hungry soul to Christ. If the church is ineffective today, it is because they are like neglected orchards. The fruit is small an unappealing. Hungry minds and hearts are looking elsewhere for satisfaction. We must each strive to produce fruit according to our gifts. God does not expect a grapevine to produce watermelons, nor does he expect an apple tree to produce corn. Each is to produce according to its gifts. You are not to compare yourself with anyone else, but to measure how effective you are in the use of your own gifts. If you have the gift of helping others and no one is thanking you for your help, you are not using your gift, and are not producing fruit. Evaluate your gifts in the light of whether they are producing fruit.
Fruit is what we give back to God for the gift of salvation. Salvation is what we accept from God, but fruit is what we achieve for God. Salvation is a gift from God, but fruit is a goal we reach for God. Salvation comes as free grace, but fruit comes by fertile growth. Salvation is God's investment in us, but fruit is the interest we return to God on His investment. May God help us to be successful in our service for Him by striving to bear fruit, for fruit is success.