Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jacob 5: Grafting back in the mother tree versus starting a new tree

52 Wherefore, let us take of the branches of these

which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard,

and let us graft them into the tree from whence they came;

and let us pluck from the tree those branches whose fruit is most bitter,

and graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof.

53 And this will I do that the tree may not perish,

that, perhaps, I may preserve unto myself the roots thereof for mine own purpose.

54 And, behold, the roots of the natural branches of the tree

which I planted whithersoever I would are yet alive;

wherefore, that I may preserve them also for mine own purpose,

I will take of the branches of this tree,

and I will graft them in unto them.

Yea, I will graft in unto them the branches of their mother tree,

that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self,

that when they shall be sufficiently strong

perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me,

and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:52-54)

These verses have always puzzled me about the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5; when the Lord of the vineyard finds all his trees corrupted, he decides to graft the natural branches back into the natural roots. I read this in relation to my knowledge of the great apostasy and the restoration, and I wonder, “Why doesn’t the allegory represent the newness of the restored church as starting with a new tree? After all, there has been an apostasy, and there are all these other branches hanging on with bad fruit, and they are the remnants of an apostate Christianity!”

The important thing that I realized is that the ROOT is Christianity. It is not Christianity as other denominations today believe Christianity is (Nicene creed and all); it is Christianity as Christianity really is/was. The Lord of the vineyard says:

36 Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good,

and for mine own purpose I have preserved them;

and because of their much strength

they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.

37 But behold, the wild branches have grown

and have overrun the roots thereof;

and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof

it hath brought forth much evil fruit;

and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit

thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish;

and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire,

except we should do something for it to preserve it. (Jacob 5:36-37, emphasis added)

Then the servant says:

…Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—

have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good?

And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof,

behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots,

taking strength unto themselves. (Jacob 5:48, emphasis added)

Several different ideas are expressed here. One is that the branches have “overrun” the roots, as if the branches are seeking to represent themselves as if they are the roots. This would account for the layers of incorrect traditions and erring beliefs that have become associated with Christianity over time. These other Christian denominations believe they are the roots of Christianity, when they are only branches. Because they think they are the roots, they think that the only way others can be Christian too is by grafting on to them and believing the exact same doctrine. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a natural branch that is newly grafted into the ROOT of Christianity, not into any of the branches, and that is why those other branches are so mad.

Another idea expressed by these allegorical verses is that the branches had “overcome” the roots, evoking the sense of a battle the branches won over the roots, which would capture the sense of widespread apostasy graining ascendency over the faithful and driving them out. (Evil fruit is named as a direct result of overcoming the roots.) Additionally, there is the idea of “taking strength to themselves” and “loftiness,” which certainly must express the part that pride played in the vineyard’s corruption.

What does this mean for us?

We gain intelligence to answer the claims of those who say that religion is evil because of all the cruel things Christians have done over the centuries, such as the Inquisition, the cruelties in the Crusades, the massacres, etc. As the Lord of the vineyard says, the FRUITS of the wild corrupted branches were evil, but the ROOT is still good and still alive. The evils done by Christians were undeniably evil, but at bottom, Christianity (the gospel and works of Christ for our salvation, the pure doctrine and principles) itself was still good and still alive. The Lord of the vineyard is intent upon preserving the ROOTS.

Further, from this allegory, we gain guidance about what to say of Christians who commit terrible crimes. Rather than rhetorically chopping them from the Christian tree by declaring that person was never on it in the first place, as many others do by saying “That person wasn’t a real Christian,” we can reject the works without rejecting the person by saying, “That Christian brought forth evil fruit.”

Finally, these verses from the allegory give us a better picture of why we still have so many other Christian denominations around today. “Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter” (Jacob 5:57). This gives us a sense of the Lord’s great mercy. Rather than sweeping the wild branches wholesale from the earth, He is willing to let those that do not bear the bitterest fruits abide. And too, these Christian denominations with their vocal support for Christianity are a blessing to the natural branches, to the extent that they keep knowledge of Christ and moral principles alive in the earth.

The Lord is at work on all the branches of the Christianity tree.

65 And as they [the natural branches] begin to grow

ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit,

according to the strength of the good and the size thereof;

and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once,

lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft,

and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.

66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard;

wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow,

that the root and the top may be equal in strength,

until the good shall overcome the bad,

and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire,

that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard;

and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard. (Jacob 5:65-66)

It seems that the Lord will clear away the bad from the tree of Christianity while grafting in more natural branches. (And the natural branches need pruning too from time to time.) This way, Christianity will maintain strength, but more and more, that strength will come from the natural branches. The Lord of the vineyard designs that the good shall overcome the bad by clearing the bad away gradually as the good grows. He designs to keep the branches and the roots equal in strength, so all the branches (natural and otherwise) that stay on the tree will have to grow strong with the roots.


Becky Rose said...

I just finished reading Jacob. I skipped this chapter this time although I know there is MUCH to learn from these pages about many things. Thank you for this new insight. I will go back and read!