Y. ABIDING FRUIT
"Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ys should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide." John xv. 16.
"Fruit," "More Fruit," " Much Fruit," Abiding Fruit! How the heart of Christ is set upon fruit! And it is not only quantity that He seeks, but quality too; not only much fruit, but fruit that may abide. And He speaks these words that by the Holy Spirit His mind may enter into us, and fruit take the same place in our heart that it has in His.
"That your fruit should abide." The word warns against a possible, an imminent danger. When trees are not perfectly healthy, or are suffering from drought, they sometimes drop their fruit. The trees may bear much fruit, but are not able to ripen it: the fruit does not abide. Or there may be fruit that, when once ripe, will not keep: it does not abide. It must be used at once, while other sorts will keep, and can bear being carried far, or can be stored for use in winter. Or, again, there are trees that bear fruit only for a few years, and then fail, while others continue fruit-bearing till old age: the fruit abides as long as they live.
These failures in Nature have their counterpart in the Kingdom of Grace. Both in individuals and in Churches fruit may often be found that does not abide. You see Christians who begin well and are very zealous in their work for God, but it does not last: they do not bring their fruit to perfection. As the years go on there is no maturity or mellowness about it. The influence they exert is not permanent, the result of their work is a transient impression, nothing abiding. In course of time they grow weary and faint; they do not bring forth fruit in old age."
What is seen in individuals is often the mark of whole Churches and their services. In the impressions made by the preaching, in the influence exerted by the Sunday school, even in the results of special missions or revival services, little abiding fruit is seen. Christ meant that the branch that abides in Him should bear fruit that abides, should have permanent results for time and eternity. Where the connection between Christ and the believer is close and the communication unceasing, the power and reality of the Divine life in the Vine, flowing through the branch, is to be seen in the fruit; that work in its permanence is to bear the stamp of eternity.
"The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God," and what he doeth, "abideth for ever." There is a religion that is in harmony with the spirit and the wisdom of the world, and makes a fair show in the flesh, but speedily fades and fails. There is a religion which has its root in God and Christ, which can resist temptation and overcome the world, because it is of the faith which does not "stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." Let us listen to what our Lord has to teach us about the fruit that abides, and learn from Him how we can bear it.
"J appointed you that ye should go, and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide." Here Christ speaks of our fruit abiding as the result of our being appointed by Him to bear fruit. We speak of a man who has received an appointment to an important spot here on earth, first accepting it, then taking it up, and then giving his time and his life to the fulfilment of its duties. On his faithfulness depends his influence and his promotion. One great secret of our fruit abiding is, that we know that Christ has appointed us to bear fruit, and that with our whole heart we accept and take up the appointment. It is the Christian who indeed lives as one "appointed to bear fruit," whose fruit will abide.
But is not this what every earnest minister and worker believes, and proves that he believes by the very fact of his taking up Christian work? I fear not. Let us remember what has been spoken of in a previous chapter, that there are two different points of view from which the bearing of fruit may be regarded.
Some realise, or seek to realise, that their appointment of Christ to bear fruit is just as clear and simple and absolute as that of the man whom the Queen appoints to be a governor, or an officer in the army: it implies his giving his whole time and attention to this one thing; he lives for it.
Others think that such an entire devotion to fruit-bearing is only expected of those who are set apart for the ministry, or who choose thus to live. They have never seen that the relation between the branch and the fruit is universal and unchangeable.
It is easy to understand what the different effect will be of these two modes of looking at fruit-bearing. In the one case a man's care and unceasing prayer will be to bear fruit, more fruit, much fruit, abiding fruit. Everything will be subordinate to this: for this alone he lives. In the other he lives for himself in the first place. Whether in the pursuit of earthly or heavenly things, self-interest is his chief aim and motive, and fruit takes the second place, a part of what he chooses to seek. The former view leads a man to a life of absolute consequence and unceasing dependence. The latter leaves abundant room for self and its activity.
"I appointed you that ye should go, and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide." Shall we not ask that this word "appointed to bear fruit" may be as a sharp two-edged sword, cleaving us as branches from all that is of self? We have more than once said, the branch of the Heavenly Vine exists as exclusively and absolutely for the bearing of fruit as does the natural vine-branch, or as does the Heavenly Vine Himself. It is only the Holy Spirit that can make the thought a living truth within us, so that we truly feel as closely united to Christ, as entirely devoted to Him, as a branch on earth is to its vine. Let us wait in earnest prayer for the Holy Spirit to work this in us; let us day by day yield ourselves to the Living Christ as "appointed to bear fruit." He will give us the living spiritual consciousness of our calling, and the power to fulfil it. That abiding conviction will be the first step towards abiding fruit.
"Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit." Here is a second thought,
The knowledge that we have been "appointed" to bear fruit is a mighty power; but there is something deeper. Christ points to the Divine origin of our calling to bear fruit. It might have been that we had chosen Him as Lord, and offered ourselves for His service. The appointment would then have had its rise in our will. But no—" Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you." As little as a branch chooses the vine on which it grows, did we first seek or choose Christ. As each vine brings forth and sets the branch in the place it chooses, so each branch in Christ has become such in virtue of His election. To believe this with our whole heart, to allow the Holy Spirit to work this faith into our inmost being, is of more practical consequence for the Christian life than we think. It will show us how our being "appointed to bear fruit" has its root in the eternal purpose of God, and how in that we have the security for our being able to fulfil its requirement.
Christ chose us " according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." The God who has purposed is the God who also performs. He carries out His purpose Himself by working all that He has willed. He has given man, redeemed man especially, the wonderful power of willing, and so within certain limits hindering or serving Him. Whenever we enter jmto His will and give ourselves up to it, then we can count upon it that He will Himself, through Christ, work in us all that is well pleasing in His sight, all that He would really have each of us be.
In this light the doctrine of election becomes one of the utmost practical importance and of deep spiritual quickening and fruitfulness. As in adoring faith I see my personal life embraced in God's eternal purpose in Christ, as the heavenly truth possesses me that I have been appointed to bear fruit, not in virtue of my fitness or my having offered myself for it, but because God and Christ saw fit to choose me for it, the call to give myself up to live alone for this comes with irresistible urgency, and the confidence is begotten that I can bear just as much fruit as God would have me do. His election does no violence to my liberty or my will; its Divine glory enlightens and draws and strengthens my
will to yield itself wholly to the mighty power of the good and perfect Will. I am a branch chosen and appointed by the Vine to bear fruit. I can count on Him to work all in me that He wishes me to be.
"That your fruit may abide." The word abide suggests a third lesson. Christ has used it ten times in the parable already of our abiding in Him and His love, and of Himself and His joy abiding in us. Here He uses it of our fruit abiding. The connection is evident. The fruit of a tree depends upon its life. As our life abides in Him, our fruit will abide. The more entirely it is Christ's own fruit, His working in us, the more the power of His unchangeable life will be manifest in it. Fruit that abides comes from a branch that abides.
This brings us back to the great lesson of the parable—" Abide in me, and I in you." It is the Christian worker, who intensely and entirely abides in Christ, who turns away from everything to take up his election and appointment to go and bear fruit, and makes it the first, the one, the only thing he lives for, to whom the secret of abiding fruit will be imparted. There may be others with greater gifts to whom apparently more visible fruit is given: the abiding fruit, as it will be seen in the light of eternity, will be according to the abiding life of the Vine in which it abides.
What a solemn, blessed call to all who would be true branches of the True Vine, as true as the Vine is true, true disciples, bearing much abiding fruit. Our whole life must be abiding in Christ, as simply, as naturally, as exclusively as yonder branch abides in its vine. I trust we begin to see more what abiding means. It means making Christ everything for every moment, hating and losing our life, forsaking all to follow Him, to be with Him, near Him, in Him, perfectly like Him.
And can we thus abide? Rather, how can we not, if we believe in and yield to the Blessed Holy Spirit, who has been given us to make Christ all to us and in us that the Father meant Him to be. As the branch is still and waits and receives what the vine gives, let us be still in the faith that the Holy Spirit is in us. In ever drawing nigh to Christ, and in all our desire after Him, let us count upon the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe and abide as we should. Let us cry mightily to God " to strengthen us with might by His Spirit in the inner man," to "fill us with
the Spirit." Let us take time each day to believe that as we yield ourselves to abide, Christ does abide in us; that He dwells in our heart by faith. We shall become increasingly sure that our fruit is from Him, that He Himself is working in us, and that our fruit will abide. The more of the abiding life, the unchangeable eternal life, the more of abiding fruit, with the power of eternity in it.
"That your fruit may abide." In view of so much work of which the fruit is so short-lived, in view of so many backsliders, of Christians who "go backward and not forward," because "they have lost their first love," is not the great need of the Church in its members and converts, in Christian and heathen lands, the one word, "that your fruit may abide "? Let each of us pray for it and live for it. As we hear of souls willing, sometimes hungering, to know of Christ and His full salvation, let us pray that we may not only give them words and thoughts that are true, but may impart to them the very thing they seek— may give them the heavenly fruit of the heavenly Vine. This can be as day by day, it is our first care to be full of Christ, to let Him live and work in us. The branch that abides in Him, truly, closely, fully, wholly, will bear fruit that abides, because the very life of Christ brings it forth.