THE TRUE VINE
Reading: John ch. 15
As Jesus traversed the cities and villages of Palestine one familiar sight met his gaze—the vineyards with their profusion of fruit. On the terraced hillsides, vineyards covered the landscape, and the beautiful luscious grapes bespoke the fertility of the soil. The incident of the spies bearing the bunch of grapes back to Moses bears adequate testimony to that. And it was from these natural surroundings and everyday scenes that Jesus drew important lessons for the spiritual life of his followers. This morning in John 15 we have read the words:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. . .1 am the vine, ye are the branches.”
God is responsible for all nature and life in every form, and in like manner He is responsible for the spiritual life and existence of ourselves. Without God, natural life would not be, neither would it continue to be; and without God, spiritual life would not be. And so, without a vinedresser and a husbandman there would be no vineyard and hence no fruit. The object of the vineyard was the production of fruit to bear testimony to the work of the husbandman, and Jesus says in v. 8: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” I think we shall all agree that is the object of vineyards; otherwise there is no use for them. They are for the production of fruit; and so Paul says in writing to the Corinthians:
“Ye are God’s husbandry”; and as the vinedresser Paul says, “God worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure”; and the pleasure of the Lord will prosper in Christ who is the vine.
Now God’s work is well illustrated in the case of Israel, and His methods of working with them in the production of a people well pleasing to Him are also the principles upon which He works with us. God chose Israel to be a people unto Himself to show forth His praise, to attest His care and attention and provision which He made in order that they might produce results. Through Moses, in Deuteronomy, He said because He loved their fathers He chose their seed after them, and brought them out in His sight with His mighty power out of Egypt; He drove out the nations before them, to bring them in, to give them the land for an inheritance. So Israel were planted in the garden of God, the land He chose for Himself; and as a vine, they were prepared, planted, tended, in anticipation of fruit. Isaiah takes up the matter in chap. 5: “My beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill; and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein.” And what was the object? “He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and.it.brought forth wild grapes.” God chose the whole hill of Zion, He chose Israel as His own holy people; He drove out the nations before them, He hedged them in by His law, He fed them with His statutes and judgments and commandments for their good. He took every wise measure for the production of fruit unto holiness; in fact He says in Isaiah 5: “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” There was only one answer to that; God had done everything that was possible. He had made every provision and preparation for them. He says through Jeremiah 2,21: “I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” Human nature of itself reverts to degeneration; even with much care and attention spent on it, far from thriving, it goes back and produces wood instead offruit. Of Israel God says through Moses: “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter.” What more disgusting and disappointing and repulsive than to taste the bitterness of gall. The grapes of Sodom, we understand, were very nice to look at, but when picked they were found to be full of dust. How repugnant that was—to anticipate good fruit and then find nothing but dust inside them. Although the appearance was good, they were useless as fruit, corrupt, putrifying, offensive; some disease had infected the vine and made the fruit obnoxious. So with Israel; with their evil practices, their copying of the ways of the nations and refusal of God’s overtures, they were corrupters, the seed of evildoers. There was plenty of empty profession, as with the grapes of Sodom, plenty of outward show, but no real genuine sincerity of purpose.
Now Jesus declares the true principle; “By their fruits ye shall know them.” We have said that a vine must either produce fruit or else it is useless, it is fit for nothing else. Isaiah describes Israel in this position in chap. I: “Ab, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters”; and again the principle holds true in Christ’s words when he says: “Men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles; either make the tree good and the fruit good, or make the tree corrupt and the fruit corrupt.” Now in these features there are lessons for us who are spiritual Israel, who have been grafted into the good olive tree contrary to nature. We would naturally bear fruit of the wild type, manifest of course in the works of the flesh, which fill us with moral corruption. It is only when we are taken in hand and grafted on to the Christ vine that there is a possibility for us to produce fruit which is well pleasing to the husbandinan. As in the case of Israel, God provides everything that is necessary. He has expended much care and attention on us in order that we may bring forth much fruit. How are we responding to the labours of the Husbandman? We have seen the result concerning Israel; it culminated in the hedge being taken away and trodden down, the vineyard being laid waste, and it became a prey to the wild beasts—the wild beasts of the nations, as Joel says; the Assyrian, the Babylonian, “hath laid my vine waste and barked my figtree.” Now God deals with us as with Israel. In mercy and love He has grafted us into the eternal promises as centred in Christ. God draws us by the power of the gospel, a power which not only unites us to Christ but binds us to him with everlasting cords of grace and favour; hence Christ says: “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” It is a life-long active association with Christ; with him we become one, for as he says, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Jesus himself was a tender plant; Isaiah describes him as a root out of a dry ground, cultured by God, pruned, so that he produced fruit unto perfection. He learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and hence the Christ-body is considered as a vine with its branches to bring forth fruits of obedience unto God in the same way.
We say that God provides everything for our spiritual growth and for the production of fruit-bearing qualities. As in the natural nourishment is derived from the sun and air and soil and moisture, so God has given us His Word which contains all things necessary for salvation. We draw from the vine-stem unto ourselves Christ’s teaching, his life and his noble actions in order that we may develop the fruits of the Spirit acceptable to God. Jesus recognised that he lived by the Father, and we live by Jesus, as he said, and we live by God also. So we draw from the vine unto ourselves all that Jesus did; “Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you.” Now it is true that by examining plants, even now at this time of the year, you can tell whether there is going to be any fruit next year; you can tell the possibilities of the fruit crop which is to come. In fact there are some plants, even now, which have the buds of the flower which you know will come out, say, some time next May. Here then is the point; no flower buds, no fruit. Now our induction into the vine by baptism makes us pan of the vine. We must therefore partake of the goodness and fatness of the vine in order to produce these fruit-bearing buds. In the natural, the grafting takes place, and the bark gradually creeps round the little shoot that is grafted on to the parent stem, and finally it is completely knit together with the stem itself. We, similarly, have been grafted in and been bound together by the love and care and protection of God, and the life-giving word of truth works in us and through us and fosters growth. As with Israel, God has provided all the meat necessary for our spiritual growth and the production of fruit unto holiness. He has grafted us into the noble vine, wholly the right seed; He has hedged us in for our good, He has tended us, He has provided the water of life, He has provided the warmth of the Sun of righteousness, and He looks for some good wholesome fruit. Jesus again says in John 15.4: “Abide in me, and I in you, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches; He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Here are the principles, therefore, of growth and production of fruit. We know of ourselves we can do nothing; if we are cut off from Christ there is no fruit whatsoever; it is necessary that we abide in him. To be in Christ therefore means that our lives, our ways and our actions exhibit the same characteristics as those manifested in Christ. You will remember how Paul puts it in Romans 6: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Let our ways therefore be in keeping with our profession so that whatsoever we do, we do all to the glory of God, that He in all things might be glorified.
We therefore profit by the lesson which we learn from Israel. We shall not lean the way of the nations; we shall not copy their corrupt practices; we shall not seek their pleasures or their lives; such will lead to empty profession, like the grapes of Sodom. Let us render rather that loving obedience which accompanies sincerity of heart and mind. Bro. Roberts says it is morally impossible for one believing and loving the Truth to live in rebellion against its commands. That agrees with Christ’s words, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Now in order to produce more fruit it is necessary to prune the vine. That is an essential feature in the growth of fruit. It is not outward show and appearance which commends us to God; it is rather those fruit-bearing qualities and possibilities. Too much wood, a superabundance of leaves, means little fruit and poor quality at that; hut the pruning process removes all that is unnecessary and allows growth of the fruit buds and the luscious fruit which is so well pleasing to sight and taste. Now God is the Husbandman, and when He prunes He cuts away from us all that is useless. He takes away from us our natural tastes and desires, all the pleasures of sin, all pride and stubbornness, that we may develop the fruits of the Spirit. We know what they are; Peter tells us—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, meekness, temperance. We also know what the works of the flesh are, and there is no need to enumerate those. The things that are pleasing to the flesh are mere wood and leaves; let us not be deceived by them. They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. They have mortified them, they are killed, cut off, and they die. Peter therefore says, let us humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. Let us submit to His pruning process, to which God subjects us for our profit. The chastening hand of God, cutting away from us all that hinders us from spiritual growth, does not appear to be joyous at the time. The inexperienced gardener is inclined to leave very much on his plant for the mere sake of the look of it. I remember reading in a gardening book concerning some bushes—”cut out all the old wood, be drastic with your secateurs.” Well, God knows exactly what to cut away from us and He is drastic at times, The plant perhaps receives a check just for the time being, and all who have passed through hard experiences know exactly what that means; but if we are right minded,we realise it is for our profit; and so Paul taking up the matter says: “No chastening for the present seemeth to bejoyous but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” How true. Some branches are pruned and they die back, they become useless, they are sickly and reversion takes place. Others which are pruned suffer a check for a time and then they grow and produce fruit in abundance, as Christ says. Some are like the seed sown on stony ground and very soon wither, bearing no fruit; others are choked by the bindweed and other creepers, and produce no fruit.
However, being in love with the Truth we shall bring forth fruit, though it may be in varying degrees. Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth fruit, my Father purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” So, if we have good fruit, then we realise that the pruning process is necessary that we may bring forth more fruit and better fruit. While working on the land forty years ago, I lived in a cottage where there was a vine growing by the side of the house and round the window, and it spread right across the cottage. In the summer, grapes grew and there was quite an abundance of clusters of grapes, but they were small, and the branches were small. I thought of the grapes that were brought from the Holy Land, the spies bearing a branch between two of them. What a difference,! thought, between the small grapes that we had and the luscious fruit that came from Palestine. The vine we had was well established and had been there for a number of years, and it produced fruit. So far, so good, but here you see the difference, in the clusters of grapes. I suppose if choice came to us, we should choose the better; so does God, upon the greater moral principle, of course. The shopkeeper knows what comparative prices he can obtain for choice fruit. So it is that God purges us that we may bring forth fruit, and it is our endeavour that we may do so to the praise and glory of His Name. The quality may vary, but the object is to bring forth, as near as possible, fruit unto perfection. So it is written in Psalm 92: “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.” That obtains now; we are in the courts of God now, but there is a greater sense in which those words are used—in the future time, because it is written in Isaiah 60:
“Thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.” And in chap. 61: “That they might be called trees of righteousness.”
So as we eat and drink of the sacrifice of Christ, let us also draw from him those life-giving truths and qualities by which we shall live and bring forth fruit unto holiness, and in the end, everlasting life:—F. H. Jakeman