Living Trees In the Death of Winter

Oak Tree .jpg

But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
(Isaiah 6:13 KJV)

Title:       Living Trees In the Death of Winter

 Text:       Isaiah 6:13

SubjectBeliever’s Compared to Leafless Trees

Date:      Sunday Evening – September 3, 1989


Have you ever noticed how frequently the Word of God refers to believers as trees?

Numbers 24:6 – We are described “As gardens by the riverside, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as the cedar trees beside the waters.”

Psalm 1:3 – The believer is compared to “a tree that is planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth fruit in his season,” whose leaf shall not wither.

Psalm 52:8 – David sings, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.”

Psalm 92:12 – “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.  They shall still bring forth fruit in old age: they shall be fat and flourishing.”

Isaiah 61:3 – Believers are “called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8 – “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.  For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

All of these passages of scripture tell us five things about every child of God in this world.  Find a believer anywhere in the world, and you will find one of whom these five things are true. 

Every believer is a tree planted by God himself in the garden of grace.

Every believer is a tree planted by God himself in the garden of grace.

  • Selected in Divine Election.
  • Planted in Effectual Redemption.
  • Raised to life in Regeneration.
  1. All of God’s trees are planted by the river of water.

That river of water is Christ, the water of life.  Our roots run to him and draw life from him.

  1. All of God’s trees are fruit bearing trees – (Gal. 5:22-23).
  2. God’s trees are all planted in groves.

God does not plant trees in isolation.  He plants his trees in his own courtyard.  And there he tends them.

  1. And all the trees of the Lord’s planting shall live forever.

Neither heat nor drought shall consume them.  The hotter the day and dryer the ground the more the trees of God’s planting spread their roots out to Christ, the water of life.

Yet, even the trees of God’s planting must endure the blasts of winter.  Turn to Isaiah 6:13 – My subject tonight is Living Trees In the Death of Winter.


Isaiah was sent to preach the gospel to a people who would not hear him, to proclaim grace to a nation that would not repent.  Because Israel would not harken to the voice of the Lord, their destruction was certain.  When Isaiah heard of the desolations of Israel, he cried, “Lord, how long?”  How long will my people refuse to hear?  How long will you pour out your wrath upon the nation?

God told the prophet that he would not cease from his anger until the nation was utterly wasted, desolate, and barren.  “But,” least Isaiah be overcome with despair, the Lord said, “yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten.”  Though Nebuchadnezzar carried away the nation of Israel, a very small remnant of poor, feeble men and women were allowed to return to tend the land.  As always, there was a remnant according to the election of grace.  However, even this small elect remnant, this tenth, was nearly destroyed, eaten up and consumed, by the trials it had to endure.

It became like “a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”  The teil tree is one of those trees that holds its green foilage all year long, except in very severe winters.  Then, even the teil looses its leaves.  And the oak, of course, looses its leaves every fall, as winter approaches.  In the death of winter, the trees stand naked and bare, even brittle.  There is not a sign of life upon them.  Yet, the substance of life is still in the tree.  That is the picture God gives us of his people in this world.

Proposition:  God’s people in this world do, in the death of their winters shed their leaves; but the substance of life remains in them.

Divisions:  I want to make three applications of our text to…

  1. The Nation of Israel.
  2. The Church of God.
  3. Every Individual Believer.
  1. First, our text is to be applied to THE NATION OF ISRAEL.

When God spoke these words to Isaiah, the immediate reference was to the physical seed of Abraham, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel.  When the Jews were carried away into Babylonian captivity, the Lord God reserved a remnant to himself.  It was a very small remnant.  But there was a remnant according to the election of grace.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego would not bow to the king’s idol, and Daniel would not cease to worship the Lord his God.  These men represented God’s remnant, the holy seed.  The substance of grace was in them.  And they were the substance of the nation.  For their sake Israel was not annihilated.  From that remnant God raised up the nation again.  And the Lord God still has a remnant according to the election of grace among the Jews.

The Jewish nation has been cast off.  The Jewish church has been destroyed.  I do not suggest for a moment that God will ever re-establish Judaism, temple worship, or a Jewish millennial kingdom.  But God does have an elect remnant among the Jews whom he will save, who shall be grafted into Christ by faith – (Rom. 11:5, 23, 25, 26).

  • They have been Chosen of God.
  • They have been Redeemed by Christ.
  • They shall be Called by the Spirit.

Though the nation as a whole is cast off and become desolate, because of their willful rejection of Christ and the gospel of his grace, the Jews have not been destroyed.  Why?  Because God will yet be merciful to his elect among the Jews.  That is the first application of our text.

  1. Without question, if the text applies to the nation of Israel, it certainly applies to THE CHURCH OF GOD, of which the Jewish church was but a shadow and type.


          The Church of Christ is the Israel of God, the seed of Abraham, the true circumcision, and the heirs of the covenant, promises, and blessings of God – (Phil. 3:6; Gal. 6:16; 3:7; Rom. 2:28-29).

The professed, visible church of God today is very much like the nation of Israel in Isaiah’s day.  Our history is written in blood.  We have had to endure the purging fires of bitter persecution.  Our forefathers were beaten, banished, imprisoned, tortured, sawn asunder, and burned at the stake, not for crimes they had committed, but for the gospel we believe!  The pope and the Church of Rome are as much covered with the blood of God’s saints as the Jews are with the blood of his dear Son.

Thank God, those days of cruelty and physical persecution are, for the time being, behind us.  But a far more dangerous trial is now working havoc in the visible, professed church of God.  Like Israel of old, the church today has almost universally accepted the gods of the world, mixing the religion of antichrist with the gospel of Christ.  These are days of darkness.  Apostacy abounds.  You cannot drive a half mile in any city in this country without seeing a church building, erected in the name of Christ.  But where can you find a place where Christ is honored and the gospel of his grace is preached?  In most places, if they should happen to have any preaching at all it is all free-will, works, morality, and patriotism.  The prophecy of Amos has come to pass (Amos 8:9, 11-12).

Yet, there is a remnant, perhaps no more than one in ten, but a remnant nonetheless who have not bowed to Baal.  They may seem to be lost in the crowd.  Their voices may not be heard.  But these are the trees of the Lord’s planting.  These are the church within the church.  The substance of grace is in them.  And they are the substance of the church.

Things are bad.  But there is no cause for despair, or alarm.  The kingdom of God is safe.

  • Abounding heresies will not destroy God’s elect, but only prove them (I Cor. 11:19).
  • God will cause the trees of his planting to flourish in the season he has appointed (Rev. 11:3, 4, 11, 12).

As the Lord God has an elect remnant among the Jews, he also has an elect remnant in the apostate church of the twentieth century.  And in his time the trees of the Lord shall spread their branches.

III. In the third place, I want to show you how this text applies to EVERY INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER.


God’s people in this world do not always live on the mountain top.  We spend a good bit of time in the valley, or climbing up a hill.  It is not summer all the year round for us.  We do have our spring times and our harvests.  But we also have our summer droughts and winter freezes.  And in the death of winter, it is very difficult to tell dead trees from living ones, because in the winter time even the livings trees lose their leaves.

  1. In the winter time, I mean the soul’s winter, spiritual winter, God’s children often lose their comforts, evidences, and assurance.


The young and weak believer often places too much emphasis upon his experiences and evidences of grace.  He places too much weight upon himself. When he has good experiences of love, joy, faith, and worship, he is full of comfort.  When he has great evidences of grace, he has great assurance – we must learn to trace all things regarding spiritual life to its original source, Christ.  Therefore, our God wisely and graciously sends the drought of summer and the blasts of winter.  These things strip away our leaves.  But they cause the roots of life to stretch out to Christ, the hidden river of water, and become stronger.  In such times, the Lord is teaching us to live by faith.

“If today, He deigns to bless us

With a sense of pardoned sin,

He tomorrow may distress us,

Make us feel the plague within;

All to make us sick of self and fond of him.”

John Kent

  1. Often believers lose their leaves and go through a lone, hard, barren winter by reason of personal sin.


          This is a subject that must be handled with care.  But it must be faced.  Some who once stood in the garden of the Lord full of beautiful foliage, abounding with fruit, have lost their foliage and become barren, by reason of personal sin, the love of the world, the neglect of Christ, or some other evil.  Perhaps some of you are like that.  Now hear me – I would do nothing to encourage these evils or to encourage anyone in them.  But, if they are trees of the Lord’s planting, though they may appear dead and barren, if they are of the Lord’s planting, they are still trees in his garden.  He will prune them with his sharp pruning knife.  But he will never cut them down.

  1. You see, though the trees cast their leaves in the winter, the substance of life is still in them – (Read the text again).


          No man can tell, by outward appearance, or by inspecting the fruit, whether a tree is dead.  In the death of winter, they all look dead.  The only way to tell whether it is alive or dead is to look inside.  That is where the substance of life is.  And no one can see the substance of life but God himself.

This is what I am saying.  You and I do not have any way of knowing who is saved and who is lost.  We cannot tell the difference between wheat and tares, sheep and goats, living trees and dead trees.

Illustration:  A little patience – (Luke 13:6-9).

  1. Lot had a long and barren winter, but the Substance of life was in him.
  2. David had a long and barren winter, but the Substance of life was in him.
  3. Peter had a horrible time of barrenness, but the Substance of life was in him.

The Substance of life is Christ himself (Col. 1:27).

  • Faith in Christ.
  • Love for Christ.

Thomas Brooks was right when he said, “He that believeth  and is baptized shall be saved, be his sins never so many; but he that believeth not shall be dammed, be his sins never so few.”

  1. The winter time is necessary for the usefulness of fruit bearing trees.


          Trees in the tropics, apple trees, produce apples.  But they are mushy and tasteless.   To get good apples, you have to go to a climate where the seasons are distinct.  I do not know the biological reasons for that.  But I know that those trees of the Lord’s planting in this earth must have their winters to bear fruit – (Rom. 5:3-5).

That child of God who has come through great trial is better off for it.  And that believer who has been restored from some fall grows, even by the fall.



  1. Salvation is entirely the work of God’s grace.
  2. God’s work of grace is inward, not outward.
  3. The grace of God is everlasting.
  4. Is the Substance of Life in you? Do you, or do you not trust Christ?  That is the issue you must settle.

Don Fortner

Don Fortner website

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