III. MORE FRUIT
"Every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."—John xv. 2.
How clear that the heart of the Father, the Divine Husbandman, is set on Fruit! In the whole parable Christ does not speak of anything that the Husbandman seeks or does, but this one thing—He seeks more fruit, and directs His pruning or cleansing to this one end. As surely as His judgment takes away entirely the branch that bears no fruit, his judgment takes away whatever hinders the fruitbearing. He prunes and cuts the branch that bears fruit, that it may bring forth more fruit. The Husbandman who made us branches of the Vine, and on whom we are entirely dependent for our fruit—let us seek to get into His mind and will. Not till fruit has exactly the same place in our heart. as in His, not till we long for More Fruit as much as He does, not till we seek the cleansing as earnestly as He does, can we fully please Him, or taste the blessedness of the life He calls us to.
I am deeply persuaded that our Christian life, that the welfare of the Church and its power to bless, depend far more upon our taking God's view of the supreme importance of fruit-bearing than we think. Nothing is more needful than that the Church should learn, in all her preaching of redemption, to teach all to give fruit the place in their heart that it has in God's. I cannot repeat too often, and cannot beg too earnestly that all would lay it to heart, what the parable of the Branch is meant to teach. As entirely as the vine, so the branch too exists only for fruit. As entirely as the natural branch, the believer as branch in the Heavenly Vine, has his place only to bear fruit for the salvation of sinners. Yea, more, as entirely and exclusively as Christ Himself was made a Vine, are we made branches, that we may carry God's Life and Love to men. God ever seeks one thing—" Fruit," "More Fruit."
This is not the ordinary view of the Christian's calling. According to that, our salvation is the chief thing. Fruit is a secondary matter — most desirable and needful as an evidence of being saved, as a proof of our gratitude, a mark of our meetness for heaven. But it is not regarded as the one thing for which we were made branches in Christ, the one sole aim and glory of the Christian life. The consequences of this mistake are terrible. The Church finds it impossible to wake up the majority of her members to take any real part in making Christ known to the heathen. The failure of our prayer and effort to secure the joy and strength of the life of faith is simply owing to this root-evil—we want it, in the first place, for ourselves more than for others.
A Selfish Religion makes Selfish Men,
and the fruits of self and the flesh flourish everywhere. Even Christians who do work for God suffer greatly from not being possessed of God's thought, and do not live in the glad assurance that if fruit, God-given fruit, be the one object the Husbandman has, we can confidently expect to bear all the fruit He asks of us. The law of self-sacrifice, the branch spending and being spent for the sake of its fruit, the fellowship with Christ in His crucifixion spirit, is not known in its power. Fruit is to be borne in subordination to our will and care and pleasure. "Fruit," "More Fruit," is not the Divine inspiration, the passion of our lives.
"Every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth, that it may bring forth more fruit."
Oh our Father! open our ears and hearts to hearken to Thy Beloved Son, as He speaks of Thy desire for more fruit.
God desires more fruit. That may mean very different things to different people. To some it speaks of external work. The proportion of time and interest and money you give to God and His work in the world is so small, that the Father is not satisfied. You do as much work as you think your duty, as satisfies your conscience, as is conformable with your enjoyment of the world and pleasing self; you never dreamt of thinking, perhaps you never heard it preached, that, as a branch, all your energy, all your heart, all your love and delight ought to be the service of Christ, the bearing fruit for the life of men. God is calling for more fruit.
With others there is no lack of work. Some have given their life to it. Some are overworking and exhausting themselves, more than the Father loves to see. And yet He says "More Fruit 1" He looks at the disposition and temper, and sees the fruits of the Spirit, love, and joy, and meekness, and humility sadly lacking. The personal fellowship with Christ, the obedience and surrender of the whole being to Him, the life entirely given up for men, these have not their fruit unto holiness, and He calls: "My child! less work, more fruit 1"
"With others, again, the message, "More Fruit" points to wider circles of interest for which -He would win their heart. It is possible to be very earnest about our little church, or some local interest of real importance, in which selfishness is in danger of being secretly fostered. God calls us in love and prayer and help to remember that the whole world is given to Christ, and has a right to know of Him, and has been entrusted to His Church. Every member of the body, while fulfilling its special duties, has time and strength, and will find a rich blessing in enlarging its heart to love and take in all Christ loves and seeks to save. "More Fruit" is God's call to many a selfish church to live for missions.
There are others to whom the word may have still deeper meaning. In external work, in personal disposition and character, in large-hearted sympathy with all Christ's interests, these may appear to be all that can be looked for, while something else is lacking—the fruit which God is willing to give when His Spirit and Power are truly waited for and received. The "More Fruit " means indeed more of saving power in our ministry of love, more intense and abiding influence on those around us. It is not the word of a taskmaster who asks what we cannot give. It is the purpose of a Father, who in it holds out to us the higher blessing He is waiting to bestow.
God prepares for more fruit. "Every branch that beareth fruit He cleanseth it, that it may bring forth more fruit."* There is not a plant which so soon runs into wild wood, and needs such merciless and unceasing pruning, as the vine. The pruning or cleansing is not the removal of any extraneous evil hindering the growth. It is the keeping down of excessive growth, the cutting off of the long shoots of the previous year, the removal of something that has been produced by the life of the vine itself, The cleansing takes away what is the proof of a vigorous growth, the honest, healthy wood of the vine. And why? Because it would consume too much of the sap of the vine on itself, and draw it away from its main object, the bringing forth of fruit. The branches, sometimes eight and ten feet •See The Mystery of the True Vine, p. 40.
long, are cut down to the least possible size, one or two inches, that the sap may be concentrated and the fruit be rich and large.
"Every branch that beareth fruit, the husbandman cleanseth, that it may bring forth more fruit."
The Great Hindrance In the Vine to FruitBearing is Wood-Bearing;
the unrestrained activity of the branch asserting itself, and seeking to grow large. The only means for securing much fruit is keeping it small, by cutting away all the growth of its own self-will. The great hindrance in the life of the Christian worker is self-will and self-assertion. It is in the very desire to serve God, in the midst of diligence and activity in His work, that our own will gets strengthened, and we trust in what we are and do. No watchfulness or effort on our part can save us from this: it is God who must cleanse the branches. He alone can reveal to us how much there is of self-will and self-confidence, and how terribly it hinders our bearing fruit. He alone can deliver from it, in humbling us under a sense of the impotence and sinfulness of the self-life, in leading us to consent to our weakness, and to enter into the death of Christ, as the only way to live unto God.
God asks for more fruit. He not only desires it, and provides for it, He speaks to us of it and claims our intelligent, hearty consent and co-operation. The life of God in grace does not act as in nature, as an unconscious compulsion. God appeals to our will, to our heart. He asks the two things we have spoken of.
He asks for more fruit. He asks that we think of His one object with us, of His great desire to see more fruit, and that we set our heart upon it even as he does.
As we do this, and feel how impossible it is for us to attain to it, we shall learn to believe that He Himself will give us the grace, the quickened life, the abundant life, for the more abundant fruit-bearing. Our thought of His desiring more fruit will not only teach us what we ought to desire, but draw us to give ourselves up to wait on Him in the assurance that He will work it in us.
He asks for more fruit. He asks that we yield ourselves to His pruning, that we see how much there is in self, and we confess that this is the one great hindrance to His working through us, that we recognise that self cannot cleanse or kill self, and begin to desire and implore of Him, as His choicest mercy, that He stretch out His knife and purge us.
God's pruning knife is His Word, "sharper than any two-edged sword, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Christ says: "Ye are clean through the word I have spoken to you." We know how cutting, how piercing, many of these words were that He had spoken to the disciples. Think of His conditions of discipleship: " He that loveth father or mother more than Me, he that taketh not his cross—is not worthy of Me," thrice repeated (Matt. x. 37, 38). "If any man come to Me and hate not his father, yea, and his own life also, and forsake not all he hath, he cannot be My disciple," thrice repeated (Luke xiv. 27—33). Think of all his heart-searching teaching on humility and love, and you will feel how God cleansed them through Christ's Word.
Oh! let us begin and plead with God for His Knife, for Himself to cleanse us. We may study the Word, and strive to apply it—that cannot cleanse us. The Living God, the Holy One who cleanses with the Spirit of Burning, He must do it.
Christian worker I are you yielding everything of self to God for Him to cut away, and cleanse with His Divine circumcision? Oh; are there not Christians praying for more fruit, praying even for the Holy Ghost and power from above, and who know not what it is to yield to the humbling, cleansing, slaying power of God's holiness?
Let us enter into His presence and give Him the two things He asks—a heart set upon more fruit, a will yielded up to Him to be pruned and purged and made free from self, and to be the living channel for the Life and Spirit of the Vine only and wholly to possess and use.
Nothing can possibly fulfil the Father's desire or yours for more fruit, but a full and a daily surrender to the Divine cleansing by God Himself. It is not till a deep longing for this Divine cleansing fills the Church that the desire for more fruit can be realised to any large extent. Let God's call for more fruit find its response in the cry for full cleansing.