Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:16-20).
There are three general lessons we can gain from understanding fruits. The focus of this article is upon these lessons.
The prophet, Joseph Smith, pretty well sums up the first lesson or principle as follows:
“God has set many signs on the earth, as well as in the heavens; for instance, the oak of the forest, the fruit of the tree, the herb of the field—all bear a sign that seed hath been planted there; for it is a decree of the Lord that every tree, plant, and herb bearing seed should bring forth of its kind, and cannot come forth after any other law or principle.”
This concept applies and follows in exactness to things like the choices we make and their subsequent associated consequences. The choice is like unto the seed that is planted, and the fruit of that choice is the inevitable consequence. Consider how this principle is set forth by the Lord in these scriptures:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130:20).
I, the Lord, am abound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise (D&C 82:10).
We’ve all heard the correlating phrase to this concept: “You reap what you sow.” Other scriptures that come to mind that further demonstrate this truth:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:-16-23).
And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one.
For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey, and this according to the words of the spirit of prophecy; therefore let it be according to the truth (Alma 3:26-27).
These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.
Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.
And now behold, my son, do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin.
Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?
O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all (Alma 41:7-15).
To solidify this concept in your mind I say again: we reap the fruits of the kind of choices we make.
The second lesson that we can learn from fruits is that they not only represent cause and effect, or obedience to consequence, but through that same principle the end fruits themselves become a means for us to make judgements, or discern between other fruits, as well as between good or rotten ones. Remember Christ’s words in the primary scripture of this article: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Satan’s ultimate goal is to thwart God’s plan, or in other words, thwart us from being able to return to Father’s presence by leading us carefully astray. False doctrine, where the carnally attractive philosophies of men are mingled with truth, can be enough to slowly deviate us from the straight and narrow path, just as how a simple train switch can dramatically alter the end destination of a train, or how being even just a couple degrees off course can dramatically alter the destination of an aircraft. That is precisely why Jesus warned us against “false prophets” or false teachers previous to His teaching about the fruits:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).
As it is written in the scriptures, we were placed here on earth to act, not to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:13-16). This ultimately means and refers to our ability to reason, and make decisions based on our reasoning; to be agents unto ourselves. With this ability to choose, which we refer to as agency, we are thus required to perform a type of analysis and judgement between differing choices or ways. We have already established the fact that once we choose one way or another and act accordingly, the consequences of our choice inevitably follow. This process, to a large degree, is the purpose of mortality, and is the test therein.
Fortunately, God has not left us alone nor unequipped for this critical task. We have all been given a great gift to help us correctly discern between right and wrong, and to make right choices. This gift is our conscience, or the light of Christ that is inherently in us. The ancient prophet, Mormon, instructs us about this gift, and how we can effectively use it, in the Book of Mormon:
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ (Moroni 7:15-19).
Furthermore, when we choose to be baptized, as the Lord Himself has shown us that we must do, we gain an even greater gift: the gift of the Holy Ghost who gives us further light and knowledge of truth, and personal direction in our daily lives if we but listen to His gentle whispers. This leads me to the third lesson we can gain from understanding fruits.
My grandfather Donnell Hunter taught me this lesson in a short sermon that he wrote. I conclude by quoting it directly as follows:
Near the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount the Savior said, “By their fruits shall ye know them.”
Many people use this scripture to judge the Church by the bad examples of some of its members. For some reason they discount the good examples of other members. This is like finding a rotten apple on a weak branch of the tree and judging the whole tree to be bad. What about all those good apples? Do we cut down the whole tree for producing one rotten apple?
In that vein it’s interesting how the Lord deals with his olive tree in the parable taught by Zenos [Jacob 5 —Book of Mormon]. When the Lord discovers his olive tree is starting to perish he doesn’t destroy the whole tree. Instead he finds a way to help the tree produce good fruit again. He takes cuttings and grafts them throughout his vineyard to see if they will take root and produce good fruit. Then he grafts cuttings from wild trees into the main tree to preserve its roots.
Later he finds that the branches he grafted throughout the vineyard have produced good fruit. One of them has two branches—one with good fruit and one with bad fruit. Instead of destroying this tree he leaves it, but with time the bad branch chokes out the good branch and the tree becomes totally corrupt. The other trees also produce good fruit at first but later begin to go wild until all the trees have gone bad.
The mother tree once again produces good fruit through the strength of its roots. But it grows top heavy and is later encumbered by all kinds of fruit, none of it good.
In one last effort the Lord and his servants reverse the process. They cut out the worst branches of the mother tree and graft back in cuttings from the other trees that had descended from the original to see if that combination will once again produce good fruit. It does for a time, and the Lord harvests much good fruit until the end of the season, when the whole vineyard is finally destroyed.
So how does this relate to the Savior’s teaching that by their fruits shall you know them? He sees the possibilities in the whole vineyard. We see only a few twigs. Paul says, even then, we see through a glass, darkly. Mark Twain goes further and says we see through a glass eye, darkly. I think that’s what happens if we allow the failings of others to undermine our own testimonies of the truth and of the Gospel.
That’s also why we need to cultivate our own personal testimony, to see clearly and not rely on the borrowed light (or sometimes darkness) of others.