THE SECOND PRUNING
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All rights reserved.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
When the Word of God, which is Christ Himself, is planted in an honest and good heart, there are three levels of fruitbearing. There is the thirtyfold harvest, the sixtyfold harvest, and the hundredfold harvest. The fruit that is to come forth is the image of Christ, the image of God.
The concept of three platforms in the program of redemption appears in many places in the Scriptures. There is the fruit, more fruit, and much fruit, in John chapter 15. In the Old Testament, there is the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. There also is the Courtyard, the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle of the Congregation.
The expression “after three days” appears many times in the Scriptures. “After three days will He revive us, and the third day we shall live in His sight.” Again, in the New Testament, “On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.” When you read the Scriptures, be on the lookout for the expression “on the third day” or “after three days.”
The “honest and good heart” bears fruit thirty-, sixty-, and a hundredfold. How can we account for the differences in the fruit borne by believers in Jesus, the difference in the image of God brought forth in the individual?
By pruning. The difference comes as a result of the individual’s willingness to be pruned.
The first level of fruitbearing is that of the basic salvation stage. Someone hears the Gospel. The Seed, Christ, is planted in his or her heart. The individual rejoices in the knowledge of sins forgiven. He is at Calvary, at the Altar of Burnt Offering, to speak in a figure. He is “saved,” reconciled to God through the blood atonement. A sinner has come home. The prodigal returned to his father. The Shepherd is able to rescue the sheep who has wandered from the ninety and nine. The angels of God rejoice. He is “saved.” He has eternal life. He or she has entered the Kingdom of God.
But God, permitting this initial fruit to be borne for a season, sees there is a possibility that the believer will not turn away from God if he is pruned. So God moves on the believer by stripping away his original joy and confidence. The happy songs of the newly saved: “The Devil’s deserted since I’ve been converted” no longer have the same ability to bring joy.
Perhaps Mr. Jones has received additional truth from the Scripture, and his friends no longer care to listen to him or have fellowship with him.
If you have seen grape vines pruned until they are nothing but stumps sticking up from the ground, you might doubt they ever would bear grapes again.
God has decided to move Mr. Jones from the ranks of the called to the ranks of the chosen. If he really loves Christ, he will continue praying, reading the Bible, and attending church. He doesn’t feel his original joy any longer, but there is strength for the day.
Before too long, because God does not want to lose him, tiny signs of life appear. Perhaps he has left his Evangelical friends and has come into Pentecost. The love, joy, and peace of the Spirit of God take the place of his former enthusiasm. He might now have a ministry and gifts of the Spirit that will strengthen his fellow Christians. He would not go back to the former level of redemption for anything. He may have forgotten the years of wondering what happened to his salvation. He has stood true, trusting Christ, and now has been rewarded with a new level of the image of God.
He may have entered Christian service of some sort. His testimony of Christ is stronger than ever. He is regarded as a mature Christian. Perhaps he becomes a leader in a Christian organization, or a “burning, flaming evangelist.” People look up to him as a leader and a strong testimony of Christ.
This is the sixtyfold level of fruit bearing. He may enjoy this blessing for many years. At this time he is thirty-five years old.
But there is yet another level of testimony of fruit-bearing. God may look down and see this evangelist, this personal worker, this pillar in the local church, and wonders whether he will stay true if he is pruned once again. God may talk to His counselors who surround Him in Heaven and ask their opinion.
“Will this Mr. Jones stand true if I take all his fruit from him?”
You remember how God had a conversation with Satan concerning Job?
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” (Job 2:6)
God thought, “I love this person. I do not want him to turn from me and begin to distrust and hate me. What should I do? I can see a level of fruit-bearing that is far beyond anything he has known.”
“Should I or should I not risk losing him?”
Then God pictured this Mr. Jones as a giant warrior, working with Christ in installing the Kingdom of God on the earth. God saw the multitude of people who would be part of this person’s inheritance when he more completely was in the image of God. God thought to Himself, “If he falls through lack of trust, perhaps I can entice him back to his former level of discipleship.”
“But if he would just hold steady and trust in me for his testimony, he could be one of the faithful who are ever with Christ in the war against evil.”
So God looks around at His counselors who are watching Him anxiously, and says, “I am going to do it. I am going to prune him once again. This time he will be brought down to total death to his own life, his own strength. He must learn that ‘as his days, so his strength shall be.’ That apart from Christ, he can do nothing. That he now is living by My Life. His pride will be broken. But this must be if he is going to learn to live by leaning on the everlasting arms. His life must be the Life of Christ, his thinking, speaking, acting, praying, seeing, hearing — all must be in Christ’s will if He is to be the fullness of My image.”
“He must not judge by the seeing of his eyes or the hearing of his ears. He is to be blind and deaf in this regard. He must wait until he hears from Me and sees what I am doing before he makes a judgment and does anything of significance.”
God then summons Satan. He names the man we call Mr. Jones, although that is not his true name, and says to Satan, “You have been wanting to harm him and prevent his testimony. Now I am putting him in your hands. Do not, however, kill him.”
Satan is immensely pleased at this turn of events. He hates Mr. Jones with a fierce hatred. Mr. Jones has caused many people to turn to Jesus.
Satan immediately sets out to ruin this man’s testimony. Satan inspired two little girls, five years old, to tell a story about Mr. Jones, to accuse him of touching them where he shouldn’t have. Although it never was proved that he had done such a thing, the rumor was enough.
The pastor was obligated legally to notify Social Services of the accusation. Social Services came and took the two little girls from their homes and began to question them. They interrogated them separately, about where and when the incidents took place. The children were not prepared for this and so their answers did not agree, and some of their answers did not make sense.
“He touched me when I was behind the pulpit.” “He touched me when I was walking with my friends to Sunday school.” Finally, one little girl said, “We made up a story because we do not like Mr. Jones.” Then she began to cry at the top of her voice.
The Social Services workers tried to get them to agree, but were not successful. Mr. Jenkins, the court-appointed attorney, asked for a dismissal of all charges. The judge granted the dismissal. Mr. Jones did not have enough ready money for a lawyer to represent him. Mr. Jones, knowing the charge was completely false, refused to take the matter seriously. He thought, “People know me well enough to understand I would not be guilty of such a thing. The whole uproar is ridiculous!”
He was mistaken.
The damage was done. Bible Fellowship was a small church, and the gossip ran through the congregation. One could have just as easily taken a meat bone from a starving dog as to prevent the congregation from rehearsing this juicy morsel. The pastor attempted to quell the gossip but was unsuccessful. It continued to be a hot item for about two months.
The little girls were glad to be home with their parents and were pleased with the attention they were getting. They soon were thinking about other things, not realizing the damage they had done.
All charges against Mr. Jones were dismissed by the Court. But his friends deserted him. Whereas before people valued his fellowship, this was true no longer. He was a pariah. He began to hate going to his home church. Finally he ceased attending.
A rash broke out on his face. A dermatologist was unable to help him and though the rash might be due to stress. He suggested a doctor who specialized in stress symptoms. Mr. Jones was too embarrassed to tell the stress specialist about the tension he was under, and so the doctor was unable to relieve the symptoms.
Mr. Jones cried out in prayer: “God, you know I am innocent. You promised to bring forth my righteousness as the noonday. Help me. My friends, who use to admire me and love me will have nothing to do with me. Even my wife has begun to think the rumors are true. My children in their Christian school are being mocked and made fun of: ‘Your Dad molests little children.’ I don’t think my children really believe this, but my wife is wondering! In time past I was Mr. Great Christian. Now I am on the ash heap, a broken man whom people despise. My ministry is gone. I do not feel like living any longer. God why, why, why are you letting this happen? You know I am innocent of this charge. I have served you with all my heart since I was saved. I don’t deserve this hatred and suspicion!”
“But Jesus, I have nowhere else to go. You are so much a part of my life that I cannot go back into the world. You have answered many prayers. You have been real to me. My wife says we should move from here and I should forget about serving God and take any kind of job I can get.”
Mr. Jones was a milling machine operator by trade.
“But I have no heart to move. I don’t want to go back to church. I will just make some kind of life for myself and my family if they will stay with me. I am not going to commit suicide. I am not going to deny Christ. That is all there is to that!”
He found comfort in the Book of Job and Lamentations. God spoke out of the darkness: “My Son also was falsely accused.” The fellowship of His sufferings!
So Mr. Jones kept on with his job as a milling machine operator and his family remained with him. They lived in a large city so there was no talk outside the church or at his workplace. He kept on praying and reading his Bible, but not where his family could see him. He was too ashamed and embarrassed.
His three children in the small church-run Christian school, two girls and a boy, began to rebel against going to school. Previously they had done very well in school. The boy, now in the third grade, had to be sent home about once a week. The teacher complained that he would not follow her directions. It was discovered a year later that he was almost deaf because of an accumulation of wax in his ears.
Twenty years went by like this. The two girls whom he was supposed to have molested grew up and told some of their friends in the church that they said those things about Mr. Jones because they did not like him. He was too strict and wasn’t any fun to be around.
One of the girls in whom they had confided told her parents what the two girls had told her. It made no difference with the church people. They thought where there was smoke and there must have been fire. So they figured leave well enough alone and go on with their business. By this time Mr. Jones was only a memory growing fainter with each passing year.
God, to whom the twenty years was but a moment, yet realizing how long it was for Mr. Jones, looked around at His angels and His counselors. “Well, what do you think?” All the time, Heaven had been sympathetic with his plight, so they chorused, “Yes, he has been proven faithful.” God said, “I agree. He has passed from the ranks of the chosen to the ranks of the faithful. I now will turn his captivity.” At this the angels of God cheered vociferously!
The next morning, as he shaved, Mr. Jones noticed the rash seemed to have grown fainter. At noon he looked in the mirror while at work. Not a trace of the rash could be seen.
The two young ladies who had been the accusers, now in their twenties, met together. They agreed between themselves that they had done a terrible wrong to someone who, as they realized now, had always been kind to them. They asked permission of the pastor if they might speak to the congregation. This was a new pastor, Reverend Wilkes. The former pastor had left the church a year or so after the accusation of molestation, because the endless gossiping had ruined the spirit of the church. The new pastor, Reverend Wilkes, with many misgivings, gave his permission. So the two girls, on the next Sunday morning, stood in front of the congregation just before the preaching of the Word.
They began to cry. The congregation wondered what was going on. One of the two, a beautiful girl, was sobbing. She said, “When we were little, we all agreed to make up a story about Mr. Jones to get him in trouble. We said he had molested us, but it was not true. We got the idea from a television story we had seen.” Now they began to wail and weep.
There were new people in the church who did not know of the incident. But there were enough of the older people who still remembered what had taken place.
Pastor Wilkes said, for the benefit of the new people, “Mr. Jones and his family were strong Christians and supporters of Christ and of our church. However, people believed the two little girls, even though the court dismissed all charges against Mr. Jones for lack of evidence, and he finally left the church because of the attitude of some of the people.” The pastor said, “Let us all stand. A great wrong has been done to Brother Jones. What shall be do?”
The head elder, who was standing at the back of the church, said, “We should have a special banquet in which Mr. Jones is honored. Then all who believed the girls’ story should go to Mr. Jones and tell him we now know the truth, and that we love him and want him and his family back with us as an honored member of the church.”
All agreed to this, and so a committee was set up to plan the celebration and send out invitations. A delegation of people went to the Jones’ residence to tell him of what had taken place and to invite him and his wife and children to the banquet. They brought a large bouquet for Mrs. Jones. She began to cry.
At first Mr. Jones was brusque with them and told them he did not want to go to their banquet. They had believed the worst about him on the testimony of two little girls, and they did not need him now. A thought went through his mind about what they could do with their banquet. He dismissed it, because it was not a proper thing for a Christian to say. Also, his wife and children were present. But his wife and his grown children, who were overjoyed, pleaded with their Dad to accept the invitation. So he agreed and thanked the delegation.
The following Sunday morning was a gala occasion. Hundreds of people were in attendance. The Jones family was present, coming in late so as not to be swamped with people. They sat in the back, surrounded by smiling people who kept looking at them.
The pastor preached about the harm done by gossiping, and reminded the congregation how Romans chapter one said those who gossiped were worthy of death. This thought produced a momentary quietness.
After the sermon, everyone trooped into the Sunday school annex. This room had been enlarged over the past twenty years. The dividers had been removed and the chairs put back against the wall. Several tables had been set up. Even so, many people had to sit in the chairs back against the wall and hold their plates in their laps. Pastor Wilkes and his family were seated at the head table, which was festooned lavishly with different kinds of flowers. One of the members of the congregation was a florist.
Before they began eating, Pastor Wilkes asked Mr. Jones, who also was seated with his family at the head table, if he would say the blessing over the meal. Mr. Jones agreed and stood up from his chair. All the people, being carried away by the emotion of the moment, also stood to their feet. He began to weep. Other people joined him. Soon all the people were crying and all the children. It was an uproar for a few moments. Finally Mr. Jones recovered himself and asked Jesus to bless the food and the hands that had prepared it.
People were anxious to hug Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their three children and tell them they never had believed it. Then they all sat down to roast turkey, since it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day.
The two young ladies came up to where Mr. Jones was seated and apologized with much anguished weeping. Other people came up to him and said they never had believed the rumor. They were lying, but that is how people, even church people, behave. Mr. Jones took all this in stride. He had been away far too long to be completely at ease.
Pastor Wilkes was beaming at everyone while his wife was getting acquainted with Mrs. Jones. He was thinking to himself, “This is going to work out fine.”
The three Jones children, all young adults now, began to get reacquainted with other young adults they had played with as children twenty years ago. Their former friends told them about some of the children who had moved away. There now were new young people who wanted to meet the Jones family.
Two weeks after the banquet, a publisher, who was a friend of one of the members of the congregation, heard the story. He came to Mr. Jones. The publisher knew he had a winner on his hands. So he offered Mr. Jones ten thousand dollars if he would sign a contract. Mr. Jones, thinking it might help some other Christians in similar situations, agreed. The money did not mean much to him after his excruciating ordeal, but his family was excited. Mr. Jones stipulated that the Word God had spoken, “My Son also was falsely accused,” be included. This was included in the contract.
The publisher sent an experienced author to take down the story. She was expert in gaining from Mr. Jones the compelling details and arranged them dramatically. The writer was not a Christian but she recognized the authenticity of the account. She skillfully emphasized the years of mental pain, the raging over the injustice, the continual embarrassment in front of his friends and family, the confusion over why God had deserted him.
The book turned out to be a runaway best seller. It was translated into many foreign languages. Numerous people around the world had had the experience of being accused falsely. They were greatly helped by the book. They understood the pain Mr. Jones had suffered.
Some who were helped the most were of other religions, or no religion at all. There were people in prison who always had protested their innocence, who hoped a miracle would happen for them. The fruitfulness Mr. Jones began to experience was vastly greater than was true before the second pruning. He somehow had touched a nerve that was common to people everywhere. God was able to use the story to remind people of His faithfulness and the sufferings of Christ.
Mr. Jones had asked Mrs. Pendergast, the writer, to be sure to include in the story that God had spoken to him, reminding him of the fact that Christ was accused unjustly. This she did, realizing the role the statement had played in helping Mr. Jones survive.
Before long, the royalties were such that Mr. Jones no longer needed to work. Speaking offers came in from every side. The story touched people. They wept when they heard his testimony. They were inspired to be faithful to God when they went through their own “dark night of the soul.”
So what had once been a weary life suddenly turned into one bright testimony that brought honor to the Lord Jesus.
Mr. Jones now had passed from the ranks of the called to the ranks of the chosen to the ranks of the faithful. He had endured the second pruning. He was bearing much fruit.
One day a verse he had learned in Sunday School came back to him. “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” He thought how true that is. He could remember mentally the years of his “dark night,” but the emotional pain was gone.
Mr. Jones continued to prosper. He now was sixty years old, and highly regarded in his church. He loved the two girls who had accused him as though they were his own daughters. He understood the pain they had undergone as they owned up to what they had done. He would hug Darlene and Shirley and tell them how much his experience had caused him to grow in the Lord and how his testimony had helped thousands of people. “All things work for good to those who love God,” he would tell them.
Even though Mr. Jones had forgiven them totally, Darlene and Shirley had to move to another city. People could not forget the harm they had done to a decent person, even though they had been preschoolers. To the end of their lives, Darlene and Shirley remembered the incident with pain.
Pastor Wilkes secretly was pleased that Darlene and Shirley had moved away. The memory of the event seemed to hover over the assembly, especially as Mr. Jones became more prominent in the work of the Gospel.
His own three children were in college, thanks to the money from the sale of the book, and doing very well. The boy Howard Junior, who had had trouble because of the wax in his ears, had learned to go to the clinic each fall and have his ears cleaned. Howard Junior was studying for the ministry.
So all was well now, and the Jones family lived happily ever after, except for the tribulations we all experience in the present world. When he died, there were about a thousand people at his funeral. He was regarded as a saint. He died at the age of ninety-five. Mrs. Jones had passed away five years previously.
His son, Howard Junior, an ordained minister, conducted the funeral. He was in his sixties. He stood straight and tall, giving the appearance of physical strength. He obviously was proud of his Dad. As they all stood around the grave site, Howard said into a microphone: “We have received condolences from around the world. It will take us a while to read the cards and emails. They all spoke of how much Dad’s testimony, Falsely Accused, had helped them to survive their ordeal. Even people who do not know our Lord found renewed faith in God.
“When Dad came home and said that the judge had dismissed the case for lack of evidence, he was jubilant. We kids were so happy! But some people were not persuaded the judge had made the right decision. “For the next twenty years Dad suffered in silence. But he always was kind and gentle with Mom and us kids. Sometimes at night we could hear him sitting in his favorite chair in the front room, praying and weeping. But he never lost his faith in his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He spoke often of Heaven and how wonderful it would be for us if we remained true to the Lord.”
“When it was brought out that he was innocent of the crime, he began to influence many people with his testimony of how God had vindicated him. Soon it became obvious that he would be one of those who bear fruit for the Lord to a hundredfold extent. Our understanding of the image of God was enhanced greatly because of Dad’s life and testimony. Now he is with Jesus, who also was falsely accused and has been vindicated, just like Dad. So we can feel confident, I believe, that Dad has received a warm welcome in Heaven, which he always had made real to us.”
“Let us pray.”
People who had heard Mr. Jones speak in his later years realized there was something different about him. They could tell he knew God. He did not speak just as a teacher, but with the authority that comes only after the second pruning. Like a hero of faith of the Bible, he often would say: “I have seen Him. I know Him. He is faithful and true and remembers the low estate of His servants!”
The lesson we learn from this story is that we must never give up on God. If He deems us strong enough in faith, He may reward us with a second pruning, the pruning that cuts away all that is not of Christ.
Do not imagine for one moment that God is not fully aware of what you are experiencing! “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” He has promised.
You can talk about the second pruning before and after you experience it. This test examines every aspect of your personality until all has been crucified and all is of Christ. But while you are experiencing the second pruning, you may cry out, as Jesus did, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”
If you will stay true to God, trusting His written Word and also the Word He has spoken to you personally, the day will come when the “dark night” is over; the second pruning has been completed; and now you are on your way to an inheritance you had not envisioned in your most hopeful dreams.
“They who trust in the Lord shall never be ashamed.”
All God’s people said, “Amen.”
“They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings — and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14)
(“The Second Pruning”, 3162-1, proofed 20211024)