First of all, why do we prune? While to one unaccustomed to fruit culture the principles upon which the pruner works may not be at once clear, it would be obvious that every cut of the knife was not wanton waste, but purposeful and good. Translating our thoughts into the sphere of spiritual things, we also are persuaded that every branch or shoot that the heavenly husbandman removes, is taken away for our good and for His glory. As we stood for a moment considering whether such and such branches should come off or stay on, the blessed comfort came to us to think how much more may we not believe that every cut we receive from the pruning of the Lord is the result of wisest choice and tenderest concern.
Why then do we prune? First, to produce the maximum amount of fruit-bearing wood; secondly, to give such fruit-bearing wood as much light and air as possible; and thirdly, that the resulting fruit shall be so placed as to be most easily gathered. These three reasons for pruning need no alteration of wording to speak to the believer of his own life and experience.
We are expected to produce fruit, and just as the pruner's knife cuts away much that may look pleasant to the eyes, so the Lord has to remove much that to the eye of the flesh seems attractive and necessary: the pruner knows, however, that unwise pruning instead of producing fruit-bearing wood, produces year by year branches of twiggy growth that rob the tree, and deprive it of air and sunshine. God looks at us, as we look at our trees. He sees that branch of mental activity, that development of worldly or social affairs, is a branch that will be unfruitful and will also spoil the remaining fruit, and so He prunes. The reader should think kindly of this when suffering the cutting off of some fancied good, some hoped-for success -- the Lord is pruning, He desires fruit. Air and sunlight are necessary not only for ripening the fruit when it has developed, but for ripening the wood upon which the fruit shall form. Remember, fellow-believer, fruit forms on ripened wood.
There are other minor considerations which are true in both the natural and spiritual spheres.
1. All trees are not alike. While with some varieties fruit sets all along the branches, in others, fruit is borne at the tips of the branches and is found practically all on the outside of the tree; to prune merely by rule of thumb would spell ruin. How thankful we should be if, hesitating and half afraid at times through inexperience, we remember in the spiritual sphere that the Lord has said, 'My Father is the husbandman'. This physical fact (namely, the differing fruit-bearing habits), should also deter us from hasty comparisons. We are apt to think that the experiences of one child of God should be modelled upon our own, and if they are not we are apt to pass uncharitable judgment. Let us leave one another in the hands of the heavenly husbandman, and let us not 'judge one another any more'.
2. Heal the wounds. When a fairly thick branch is to be taken out of a tree, the saw must be used. Living wood resents the saw, and if the stump be left unattended there is every possibility that the deadly canker may find an entrance. When the saw cut is made it must be smoothed over with a knife, and the edge bevelled to induce the formation of a cicatrix; how comforting is the thought that comes to one while thus carefully tending the wounded branch -- He Who wounds is He Who heals.
3. Seasons. Some trees will stand the pruner's knife at any period of the year -- others, particularly plums, must not be pruned until the quiet season, otherwise there is a danger of bleeding the tree, perhaps to death. Grateful indeed are we that the pruning of God's trees is in His hands. There are too many of the mind of Peter who say, 'And what shall this man do?', to whom the Lord must still answer, 'What is that to thee? Follow thou Me'.
And so the lessons could be multiplied. When we cease from the language of ungodly science and speak of 'Nature' as the 'Works of God', we shall find continual parallels and correspondences between His Word and His Works; the Scriptural teaching concerning fruitfulness unto God is a very blessed, albeit solemn one. Many other factors must come into the practice of fruit culture other than pruning, but pruning there must be if good fruit is to be produced.
The reader may be interested to note that the golden 'snuffers' used in the temple (1 Kings 7:50) are 'pruners', being a similar word to that translated 'pruning hooks' (see Isa. 2:4; 18:5).