II. NO FRUIT
"Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away." John xv. 2.
The one object with which a husbandman plants a vine, and the vine has its place in the vineyard, is that it may bring forth fruit. The one object with which the branch has its place in the vine, is that it may bear the fruit the vine brings forth. The one object with which the Son of God became the Vine of God on earth was that He might bring forth fruit for the salvation of men. And the one object with which the believer is made a branch of the Heavenly Vine is that through him Christ may bring forth fruit, and bring it within reach of the hungry and the perishing. With the Husbandman, and the Vine, and the Branch, it is all Fruit, Fruit, Fruit 1
Immediately following on the opening words: "I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman," our Lord uses the word three times. In the course of the parable the word occurs eight times, with the variations, "Fruit," " No Fruit," "More Fruit," "Much Fruit," "Abiding Fruit." Everything points to the great truth that the heart of God is set upon this one thing, and that, as Christ is the Vine solely with this one purpose, so the one aim of the believer ought to be to bring forth much fruit. Let us enter upon our study of this, the key word of the parable, with the prayer that fruit may be to us nothing less than it is to God the Husbandman, and Christ the Vine—the one blessed and all-controlling reason for our being branches. If our insight into God's mind on this point be defective, our Christian life must suffer. As we are filled with the knowledge of God's will in this, in wisdom and spiritual understanding, our life can become wholly well pleasing to Him.
"Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away." No words could express more clearly than these, which come first after the opening announcement, "I am the Vine and My Father is the Husbandman," the solemn truth that fruit is the one test of true discipleship, the only evidence that will be accepted on earth or in heaven of the reality of our union with Christ. Until a Christian sees this and its exceeding reasonableness, he does not know what the Christian calling is. The fruitless branch must be taken away; it is only by fruit-bearing that our place in Christ can be maintained.
To understand the reason why this should be so, let us notice
Two Things about Fruit.
The one is, fruit is the natural spontaneous production of a plant, the forthputting in visible shape of its hidden life and sap. If the life of the tree be healthy, there will be good and abundant fruit. The fruit simply reveals what is in the tree. In the fruit the tree gives is its own witness as to what its state and nature is.
The other characteristic of fruit is, that the tree bears it not for itself but for the owner. All true life, all existence, serves a purpose. By its fruit a tree fulfils its destiny of supplying the needs of men or animals. Fruit is what the tree gives away; in it, it returns to nature, or to its master what has been spent upon it.
In both of these aspects fruit is the one great test of the Christian life, the true revelation of our inner state. All Godgiven life has in it something of the nature of the Divine life out of which it came. The life of God is a mystery, hidden and incomprehensible. But God reveals Himself in His works. And so man reveals himself in his works; conduct is everywhere the exponent of character; what a man does shows what he is. The inner life of the Christian is the resurrection life of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit: no one who apprehends this truly, and yields himself to it, but must bear fruit. What is said of Christ: "He could not be hidden," is true of all His people: the hidden life must break out.
And this not only for the manifestation, but for the communication of life. The fruit is not its own end; in it the hidden life is embodied in such a form that it can impart itself to men. The fruit fulfils the universal law, imprinted by its Maker on all creation, the law of beneficence. Nothing lives for itself. God is Love, and lives not for himself: He finds his life, His delight, His glory, in blessing His creatures. His Son is the embodiment of love and self-sacrifice. And God's redeemed children, how could the life and spirit of Christ truly enter them without at once seeking to find its way to others in love and blessing?
Simple as these truths appear, it is astonishing and saddening to find how little they are understood, and preached, and practised. How many a one there is, who thinks of receiving Christ for himself and not for others! He does not know that the Christ who comes into his heart is Christ the Saviour of all men, and that He has entered into him solely with the view of through him carrying on His work of saving others. We may well ask such: "Is Christ divided?" Can you take a part of Christ, enough for yourself, and leave the rest for others, to be brought them or not, as may happen? Verily, no. Christ who loves all has come into you, to dwell in you with that love, to have and fit you for a vessel and instrument of that love, and its possessing your heart, and becoming your love to the perishing, The proof that you are a true branch of the True Vine, is your bearing His fruit for others: the proof of the presence of the True Christ within you, is the outgoing of your heart in love to those He loves. We are " saved to serve." But God does not need our service, except in saving men. We are saved to serve our fellowmen; that is God's true service. The sacrifice Christ gave of Himself was " to God for men "; that is the only true surrender we can make.
To many Christians, salvation means nothing but safety; salvation from sin and self. Salvation for the sake of God and men, salvation for fruit-bearing, is not thought of.
This Selfish Salvation
has been one of the great causes of continual feebleness in the Christian life, and of stumbling to men who are not Christians. If fruit be spoken of, it is chiefly as an evidence of being safe, or else as some return to be rendered to God in gratitude for what He has done. Fruit, to the glory of God and the blessing of men, as the great object, the highest privilege, the sure and natural outcome of the life in Christ, has almost no place in the scheme of life. And where it is thought of—-for the words are too plain to be neglected—there it is often sought after in human strength and wisdom. Christ said: "As the branch cannot of itself bear fruit, except it. abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me." No fruit of itself—the words reveal the reason there is so little fruit. Men seek it in their own efforts; they never come to apprehend and believe in and wait for that Divine and infallible supply of strength which comes through true, close, and continuous abiding in Christ, through living on and depending on Him alone. The words of our text are a warning to all Christians who make fruit a secondary thing, to see lest what they count their religious work be no fruit at all, not the spontaneous growth of a life hid with Christ in God.
"Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away." One of the terrible consequences of the comparative unfruitfulness of many Christians, and of the truth of fruit as indispensable to the true life not having the place it ought to have in the teaching of the Church, is, that multitudes of men are deluded into thinking themselves Christians without any fruit at all. There is so little difference between them and those who make a distinct profession of being saved, that the lack of fruit does not trouble them; there is no clear testimony in the lives around them, that without fruit there can be no true salvation. If it were said to them that our salvation will be tested by our care for others, they would ask if works are to have any part in securing our final salvation. And yet this is what our Lord plainly teaches. The "Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you," has its ground in the "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these." In the Sermon on the Mount, the good fruit is the " doing of the will of the Father." It cannot be too loudly and urgently preached that the words of our Lord are literally and absolutely true. "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away." And that the call to conversion is a call to a life bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, a life of obedience to God and beneficence to men. He redeemed us unto Himself for a people of His own possession, zealous of good works, "fruitful in every good work."
"Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away." It was not only as a warning to the individual that our Lord spake these words to the disciples, but to instruct them, as the future teachers of His Church, as to
The Place Fruit has In the Mind
and is to have in the teaching and care of His servants. It takes long before we realise that as definitely and exclusively as a husbandman plants a vineyard for the sake of its fruit, and as definitely as God planted the Heavenly Vine for the sake of its fruit, every branch has its place in the the Vine, only and solely for the sake of its fruit. Fruit is the first consideration, it rules all the husbandman's labour; it decides the fate of every branch. "Every branch that beareth not fruit, He taketh away:" this irreversible judgment of God is the overwhelming proof that nothing but fruit can satisfy Him.
If the truth were to take hold of believers, what sorrow would fill their hearts at the thought of all the unfruitful professors to be found in our churches 1 In the judgment of charity, men are considered safe; it is hoped that the root of the matter is in them, while the evidences of the fruit of the Spirit, or even of the desire to bring forth much fruit, are sadly lacking. We complain of the lack of interest in missions, of true self-sacrifice or earnest prayer for the salvation of men, of the difficulty of finding devoted spiritual workers among numbers of our respectable church members. We confess to a terrible increase of the worldly spirit that is ever spending more on comfort and luxury, while out of that abundance there is hardly anything for the extension of Christ's kingdom. Ministers will tell of congregations, containing many of whom they trust that they are Christians, and who will take some little part in work, and yet so few, if any, who possess the devotion or the spirituality that has the power or the will to sacrifice itself, and influence men for God. The lesson that every vine and every branch throughout the world teaches—we only are for the sake of our fruit—must enter into the Christian consciousness of our days.
It is especially among our converts and young Christians, our students and young ministers, that we must seek to let the word " Fruit " acquire power. The simple truth that nature teaches concerning it, with the Divine application Christ has made of it in the parable, if truly yielded to and acted on, would change our modern Christianity. God has created us for fruit-bearing, and, as Husbandman, fits us perfectly for it. Christ the Vine,'supplies all the life and strength we need. Abiding in Christ, close union to Christ, maintained in direct daily intercourse, will secure abundant fruit. A life of love and beneficence, a life given up to the welfare of others, is to be, not the end, but the beginning of our Christian crusade. As a race of Christians is trained, who in child-like simplicity and restfulness of a faith that joyfully counts upon Christ to work all this in them, the preaching: "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away," will make itself felt among the fruitless professors. For the simple reason that the preaching can thus appeal to the witnesses who prove that Christ does make His people fruitful branches, Christ's solemn words about "no fruit" will come with the power of conviction and judgment, and waken in all the overpowering conviction: The only test for the judgment day will be—Fruit.