Address 49 The True Vine

John 15:1-8

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. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 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: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

It has been suggested, and probably with good reason, that our blessed Lord uttered these words as He and His disciples were passing through the city of Jerusalem, having left the Upper Room to go out to Gethsemane. As they went by the temple they noticed a beautiful golden vine sculptured upon one of the temple gates, and the Lord Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “I am the true vine” (v. 1). The emphasis would be on the word true. Israel was Jehovah’s vine. In the Eightieth Psalm we read, “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt” (v. 8). That picture of the vine is used frequently in the Psalms and in the Prophets to represent the people of Israel. In separating Israel from the Gentile world it was the will of God that they should be His testimony in the earth, to bear fruit for Himself.

A vine is of very little use other than as a fruit bearer. You cannot build houses with the wood of a vine. You cannot make furniture from it. It is of very little use even as fuel, for when cast into the fire it flames up a moment or two, and then it is gone. A vine was intended to bear fruit. God intended Israel to bear fruit for Him to glorify His name before all the nations of the world. But He says sadly, through the prophet Hosea, “Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself” (10:1). That is, he had gone all to wood and leaves, but there was no real fruit for God. Isaiah pictures the vine in chapter 5, and Jehovah says, “I looked that it should bring forth grapes, [and] brought it forth wild grapes” (v. 4).

And so God rejected that earthly vine. It is no longer His specific testimony to the world. It is perfectly true that through all the centuries, in spite of their sufferings since Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of Israel have been scattered among the Gentiles, they have borne testimony to the unity of the Godhead. They have acknowledged the one true and living God, and that in spite of the sufferings that idolatrous nations have heaped upon them. But as to being Jehovah’s witnesses to the truth of the Messiah, the Savior that He had sent into the world, they have had no testimony. They have borne fruit unto themselves.

The Lord Jesus, foreseeing all this, says, “I am the true vine.” All else had failed, but He was to be the witness for God in the world. He was to bear fruit for Him. But He was going away. He was on His way already to the garden of sorrow, and then to the judgment hall, the cross, and then back to the glory. How should He take Israel’s place in testimony and bear fruit in the world?

Well, He says, “All my own are branches in the Vine, and will bear fruit for God here in the world.” So He pictures Himself as the Vine proper, and then all those redeemed to God by His precious blood who have found in Him their Savior and Lord as the branches in that living Vine here in the world to bear fruit for the Father.

Now mark, the great theme of these eight verses is fruit bearing, which is conditioned upon communion or fellowship with the Lord. It is a common thing for people who have certain doctrinal views in their minds to try to read those doctrines into every part of Scripture. For instance, the hyper-Calvinists, the extreme Calvinists, take it for granted that almost everywhere Scripture is treating of their five points. Recently I heard the fifteenth of Luke turned from its proper meaning, and the parable of the Prodigal Son made to represent the recovery of a backslider. They said the son was always a son, and no matter how far down he got among the swine he remained a son still, until eventually he repented and returned to his Father.

The Lord Jesus was not talking about the doctrine of eternal security in Luke 15. Personally I have no question of the scripturalness of that doctrine, but in Luke 15 we read that the scribes and Pharisees murmured and said, “This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (v. 2). He showed it is His glory to do that, for He came to seek sinners and to save them. He then gave the threefold parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd going out after it, the lost coin and the woman seeking it, and the lost son and the father’s welcome when he returned. All these were meant to indicate heaven’s interest in sinners repenting. What does it say? “[There is] joy… in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (v. 7). He was not talking about the recovery of the backslider, but of the salvation of the sinner.

Well, the hyper-Calvinist’s mind was so occupied with the one side of the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer that he could think that even in Luke 15 Christ was dealing with that question.

Our dear Arminian friends, who take the other extreme, are afraid, that once being saved, if they are not careful, something might come up to destroy their relationship with God. So they say, “Don’t you see, if the branch doesn’t bear fruit it is cut off from the vine,” and so they picture the Christian as lost forever if he does not bear fruit. In one case the Lord was showing the grace of God to sinners, and in this case He was telling of the importance of fellowship on the part of the saints and fruit bearing as the result of fellowship. So the Lord Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” The Vine is up yonder, but we are linked with Him who is in heaven.

He says, “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” (John 15:2). “Fruit,” and “more fruit.” If we are branches in the living Vine, if we have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, then the one great thing for which we are left in this world is to bear fruit to the glory of God. But someone says, “What do you mean by fruit?” We may think of it in a number of different ways. In Galatians 5:22-23 we see the fruit of Christian character that the Spirit of God produces in the life of the believer: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance [self-control].” All of these constitute fruit for the glory of the Father.

You profess that you have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus? Is the fruit of the Spirit seen in your life? It will be if you are living in fellowship with Christ. If the contrary to these is manifest, then you may be sure of this, that even though you may have trusted Christ for salvation you are not living in fellowship with God. If instead of love there is bitterness, malice, unkindness; if instead of joy there is gloom; if instead of peace there is unrest; if instead of longsuffering there is impatience; if instead of gentleness there is harshness; if instead of goodness there is moral evil beginning to be manifested; if instead of faith, worry and lack of confidence; if instead of meekness, pride and haughtiness; if instead of temperance or self-control you are subject to the lusts of the flesh— then that tells the story that no matter what you profess, you are not living in fellowship with God. Because as we live in fellowship with Him and walk in the power of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit is manifest in the life.

But then, fruit is also seen as the result of service. Sometimes we have heard it said we must distinguish between fruit and service. That is perfectly true in one sense of the word, but you remember the apostle Paul in writing to the Romans said, “ [I want to visit you], that I might have some fruit among you also” (1:13). He is thinking of the winning of precious souls and building up of the believers, and so this, too, is fruit for the glory of God. Surely if we have been saved ourselves we ought to be very much concerned about this aspect of fruit. We ought to be seeking so to honor God that we will have the joy of winning others to the Lord Jesus Christ. Service is one thing and fruit is another, but the results of faithful service will be precious fruit that will abide the coming day when we shall stand at the judgment seat of Christ. As branches in the Vine we are responsible to bear fruit. We ought to be exercised as to our true state or condition. We ought to be careful about the profession we make if our lives are not backing that profession. If people hear us talking about being saved by grace, and there is no evidence of it, men will indeed cast us into the fire and we will be burned, so far as our testimony is concerned.

Somebody says, “I do hope through grace I have been bearing a little fruit for God, but it seems so little.” Yes, the humbler we are, and the more we realize it, the more we will feel there has been very little fruit indeed compared with what there might have been. Let us take heart from this: “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” The Father is the Husbandman, and He is constantly looking after the branches of the living Vine, and if He sees a little fruit He says, as it were, “So far, so good, but I want a little more fruit.” So He prunes and purges with the spray of affliction and deep sorrow and grief in order to draw our hearts to Himself so that there may be increased fruit to His glory.

I suppose if a branch were a conscious thing, as it is a living thing, and the husbandman drew near with the big shears to clip and cut, and then to spray with some poisonous solution in order that all kinds of evil insect life might be destroyed, it might say, “Oh, dear, it’s all up with me now. What suffering I have to endure. What sorrow I have to go through. What pain is caused by the pruning, and then in what danger am I myself because of the spray!” But the branch would learn in due time that it was for increased blessing and for better fruit.

So it is in all God’s dealings with us. We should not be discouraged if we are called upon to pass through some very severe trials. You said you wanted to walk with God, you wanted to live for Him, you wanted Christ to be magnified in your experiences, whether by life or by death. God may give you some very strange and bitter and peculiar experiences in order that this wish of yours might be fulfilled.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In life and faith and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face.
’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

We hear the voice of the Spirit of God saying “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 4:12-13). It is a very interesting thing, a remarkable thing, that in this world God sometimes seems to treat His best friends worst, and He treated His own Son worst of all. And so when we have to pass through great trials, deep waters and many sorrows, it is not an evidence that He does not love us, that He does not care for us. He loved His own Son—shall I say?—if it were possible, more than He had ever loved Him when Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). But, oh, the precious fruit of

His death of pain and sorrow,
So like unto His birth,
Which would no glory borrow,
No majesty from earth.

And so the Father prunes and purges the branches of the living Vine that we may bring forth more fruit. Jesus said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). He was addressing His disciples. They were clean through the washing of water by the Word, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. They were clean, and now they were to abide in Him, cleansed by the Word, made conscious of the importance of fellowship. “Abide in me, and I in you” (v. 4a). Abiding speaks of “communion.” “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (v. 4b).

How forgetful we are of that! The preacher goes out to face his audience to whom he has preached so frequently through the years, perhaps often from the very same passage of Scripture. He goes out with self-confidence, forgetting the need of prayer, of being before God for a time of heart-searching lest anything, any root of bitterness, might have come up which might hinder the work of the Spirit of God. He rushes to the platform and delivers his sermon—but nothing happens. Nothing happens because he was not consciously abiding in the living Vine.

You have possibly heard the story of a young minister who had been called to be pastor of his first church. He was just out of seminary and had much confidence in his own ability. He had graduated with honors, and everybody felt sure that he was going to be a second Henry Ward Beecher. The people were watching him as he entered the pulpit with an air of self-importance. He read his text, and then his whole sermon went from him. The whole thing was gone. He read the text again, and still he could not recall the sermon he intended to preach. He tried the third time and said, “I want to read my text again,” hoping the sermon would come back to mind. But all was a blank so far as the sermon was concerned, and looking at his audience he said, “I am sorry, but I can’t speak to you this morning.” Down the stairs he went with bowed head and broken step. At the close an old church officer came to him and said, “Laddie, if you had gone up the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up!”

You see, it is so easy to be self-confident and to believe that because we have done it before, of course we can do it again. So we forget the need of constantly abiding, of ever being before Him in communion. And it is the same in every detail of Christian life. We have had a great blessing and a wonderful day of victory, and in the power of that we try to live the next day, forgetting in the rush of things the necessity of being before God, of having a quiet time before Him. Then comes a crash and a failure, and we are heartbroken and wonder what is the matter. Jesus gives the answer, “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” (vv. 4-5).

Now notice the order in verse 2: “Every branch… that beareth fruit,” and then in the next clause: “He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” See verse 5: “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” It is “fruit,” “more fruit,” “much fruit.”

How often we have known those who walked with God in early days, lived in a sense in dependence upon the Lord, enjoyed communion and fellowship with Him in a wonderful way, manifested the fruit of the spiritual life, were used of God, won souls for Christ, and so had the fruit of a life that glorified the Father. Then something happened. No one else, perhaps, knew what it was. Outwardly the life was just as correct, the sermons were just as clear, but there was no longer that savor of Christ about them, no longer that evidence of walking in fellowship with Him—no power, no blessing. Why, it is the will of God that as the years go on there should be increased fruit, not less. Of the aged saints who walked with God through the years it says in the Psalms, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.” But this will only be as we continue to walk humbly before God.

What a lovely thing it is to see a saint of God, a man or woman, grow old gracefully. There are some who, as they grow old, seem to take age and its infirmities as an excuse for short tempers and unkind criticism, and all those things that make it so hard to get along with them. But what a lovely thing to see people going down the valley looking beyond the river to the Celestial City with the glory of heaven shining in their faces, the faith of God possessing their hearts, and the grace of Christ manifested in their lives! Bearing fruit in old age. “Fruit,” “more fruit,” “much fruit.”

Now if one fails here, if there is no communion, if fellowship is not maintained, if the spirit of prayer is lacking, if the Word of God is neglected, then the testimony soon counts for nothing. “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch [keep that in mind, for a branch should bear fruit], and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (v. 6). Men utterly ignore the testimony of those who profess to be Christ’s, but do not live in fellowship with God, do not manifest the Spirit of Christ. Their testimony counts for nothing.

I was trying to talk with a dear lad who had been brought up in what I supposed was a Christian home, and I said, “Isn’t your father a Christian?” He answered with a sarcastic twist of his lip, “Well, he says he is, but he ain’t working at it.” It was evident that that father’s testimony had no weight whatever with his boy. How often people try to say something for Christ, urged by the desire to help a needy soul, they want to say the right word, but if the life is not in harmony, it is as Emerson said once, “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say.”

A life lived in fellowship with God gives power to the message. But “if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch,” and men spurn such profession and refuse his testimony.

On the other hand, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you”—that’s the secret—”my words abide in you.” Where do we get those words? Right here in God’s blessed Book. And so the believer who is abiding in Christ is the one who is feeding upon the Word and does not have just a head full of truth. Some people, if they were cut off at the neck, would lose all the truth of God, but take off the heads of others and the truth would still be in the heart!

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (v. 7). Here, then, is the secret of answered prayer. Why is it we ask God for so many things that we never receive? Why is it that so many of our prayers never seem to reach heaven? Well, it is because we are not abiding in Christ. God has never promised to answer the prayers of those who are out of communion.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (v. 8). Shall we not challenge our own hearts, “Am I really abiding in Christ? Am I conscious of anything that is hindering communion, anything that comes up when I kneel in prayer that makes it hard to pray, that makes it seem as though the heavens are brass?” If so, then may God give us grace to judge it, and no matter if it is as near or dear as the right eye or the right hand, to pluck it out, that nothing may be allowed in the life that will in any way hinder fellowship with Christ, that thus we may bear much fruit to the glory of the Father.