"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 cleanseth it." John xv. 1, 2.
A Vine is planted solely for the sake of its fruit. There are many sorts of vines, each with its different sort of fruit. When a husbandman plants a vine or a vineyard, he selects that special sort of which he desires to have the fruit. The fruit will be the manifestation of his purpose. When God planted the Heavenly Vine, it was that its fruit might bring life and strength to dying men. The very life of God, which man had lost by the fall was to be brought back to him by Christ from heaven; Christ was to be to men the True Tree of Life. In Him, the True, the Heavenly Vine, in His Word and work, in His life and death, the life of God was brought within reach of men; all who should eat of the fruit should live for ever.
More wonderful still, Christ's disciples should not only eat and live, but in their turn again become fruit-bearing branches. The Divine life entering into them should not only dwell in them, but so assert its quickening power that it should show itself in the fruit they bear for their fellow-men. As truly as the Heavenly Vine, all its branches receive the life of God.
/. The Life in the Vine.
We often speak of receiving Christ, following Christ, of Christ living in us, when our ideas of what Christ is are very vague. Christ gave Himself a sacrifice to God for men, and in that proved what is the true nobility of man as partaker of the Divine nature. We speak, and rightly too, of the obedience of Christ as the meritorious cause of our salvation: "By the obedience of One many were made righteous." But we do not sufficiently recognise what it was that gave that obedience its redeeming power. It was this—that in it Christ restored that which is the only thing that the creature can render to its Creator, and so rendered to God what man owed to Him. It is because of this obedience He became a Redeemer, and this disposition is the very life which as the Heavenly Vine He imparts. "Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who became obedient unto death. Therefore God hath highly exalted Him." The life of God in human nature is obedience to the death.
And with that Christ loved men. In that He fulfilled the will of God. He gave Himself to the mighty Redeeming love of God towards men, and so gave Himself as much to men as to God. There is no possible way of living for God but by loving and living for the men whom He loves and lives for. The human life in Christ could be nothing but a surrender to His love to be used in saving and blessing men. Whether in God, or in Christ, or in us, the Divine life is love to men. This is the life-sap of the True Vine, the spirit that was in Christ Jesus.
II. The Lite in the Branch.
It is essentially and entirely the same as that in the Vine. If we would bear fruit, it can only come as the life and the power that work in the Vine work in us. This alone is the secret of effective service.
In Christian work a great mistake is often made. The difference between work and fruit is overlooked. Under a sense of duty or from an inborn love of work, a Christian may be very diligent in doing his work for God, and yet find little blessing in it. He may think of gratitude as the great motive of the Christian life, and not understand that though that may stir the will, it cannot give the power to work successfully. We need to see that if work is to be acceptable and effectual, it must come as fruit; it must be the spontaneous outgrowth of a healthy, vigorous life, the Spirit and power of Christ living and working in us. And that power can only work freely and effectually in us as our chief care is to maintain the relationship to our Lord close and intimate. As He streams His dispositions into us, our work will truly be the fruit the Vine bears.
Still another mistake is made. We pray very earnestly for God's blessing on our work and on those whom we wish to help. We forget that the God who delights to bless ourselves first, to give into our hearts the blessing He wants to impart through us. We are not channels, in the sense in which a leaden or an earthen pipe is when it conveys water, and yet does not drink it in. We are channels in the way the branch is. The sap of the vine, before it goes through it to form fruit, first enters to be its life, to give it new wood and strength, and then passes on into the grape. When we preach the love of God and obedience to Him, when we call men to yield themselves to that love, we must first seek each day to be receiving afresh, in close communion with Christ Jesus, that love and devotion to God into our hearts. When we teach love to man, we should do it as those in whom the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, is manifest in its freshness and beauty.
It is by having exactly the same spirit that was in Christ Jesus, and being possessed of the same mind and disposition that was in Him, that we can bear the same fruit He bore, that He can still bring forth fruit through us. And this spirit we cannot have by any imitation or effort, but only by receiving it fresh from Himself every morning and all the day. An intense devotion to God and an entire yielding up of ourselves to His service for men, and giving up of our life to live, and love and die for men, as Jesus did, this is the life to which the branches of the True Vine are called, this is the life for which the True Vine will surely fit us. His words are true: He is the Truth and the Life. He gives all He promises. Count no time too precious and no pains too great, in waiting on Him by His Spirit to reveal to you the wondrous mystery of your being a branch, a partaker of the very Life there is in the Vine.
III. The Lite in the Fruit.
If we have understood how the life in the Father, the Husbandman, and the life in the Son, the Vine, and the life in the Believer, the Branch, are, and cannot but be, one and the same, we shall easily see how it must still be the very same in the fruit the branch bears. It is of the utmost consequence to get a firm hold of this: the life, and words, and works of a believer can carry the life of God and convey it to his fellow-men. Our whole life, with all we are and do, can be the fruit of the Vine.
Character and Conduct are Fruit. The influence a holy life has, is Fruit. The reverence for God that is awakened by the presence of a truly godly man, the desire that is stirred to possess what they see in him and lack themselves, is Fruit. Every witness to the supreme claim of God's will, to the blessedness of full surrender and obedience, every act of Christ-like love and humility, every work in which the light of Christ's life shines out, is Fruit— the hidden sap of the heavenly Vine made manifest.
Words are Fruit. Christ not only lived, but He spake. Our life needs words to interpret its meaning, and give its message. The Christ in the heart must be confessed by the mouth. God's words living in the heart by the Holy Spirit, uttered by the lips, are the seeds of eternal life. As our life is the manifestation of the hidden life of the Vine, as the absolute surrender to God's will for His service among men, with the continuous dependence upon His presence and power fills the heart, the words will be with a heavenly power. The Divine Life in the Vine will be Divine Life in the Fruit, as the Branch, the connecting living channel, allows the Life to flow through unhindered.
Prayers are fruit. There is perhaps no higher fruit than the power of intercession. With Christ it is the fruit of His work on earth: "He ever liveth to pray." It is the fruit of the presence in us of "the Spirit that maketh intercession." The reason that its power is so little believed and proved, that the wonderful unlimited prayer promises of our Lord are practically regarded as not literally meant for us, is that we do not believe that the Divine life of the Vine is actually in us, flowing through us to men, rising up through us toGod in prayer, bearing fruit that reaches even into heaven, and makes glad the heart of God.
Whatever be the fruit we bear, whether in the works we do, or the words we speak, or the prayers we offer, do let usget hold of the truth, that all true fruit isin very deed the natural outgrowth of the life of Christ, under different forms. The life in Him and the Branch and the Fruit are most completely the same.
IV. The Life in those who partake of the Fruit
cannot be different. As the whole aim of vine and branch is to bear fruit that carries and imparts their life, so the object of eating the fruit is to receive the life. The obedience to God and the love to men, the sacrifice to God for men, which was in Christ and is in His true disciples the animating power, is what is offered men with the fruit. The redeeming power of His obedience and sacrifice, as it atoned for our sin, and reproduces its own spirit in all who believe, is what they must learn from us, and see in us, and receive from us. As this is done, they eat of the fruit of the very Tree of Life, borne to them by the branches. And so the life they receive will have its character from that which is in the fruit. Where the abiding
in the Vine is feeble, the fellowship with Christ on the part of the worker is not clear and unceasing, the fruit cannot be full and rich, and the life it brings to the converts will not be marked by true devotion to God and man. When, on the other hand, the life of the branches is in the power of the Spirit, and animated by intense desire for full conformity to Christ, the Vine, its character will reappear in those who have partaken of its fruit.
The great central truth we need to apprehend is, that the Divine life, whether as found in the Vine, or flowing through the Branch, or seen in the Fruit, or handled and partaken of by men, must be one and the same. And that therefore, for each one who would truly live the branch-life and bear much fruit, everything depends upon realising and maintaining the vital connection with the Vine. As this is done, all self-confidence and all ■discouragement will equally be conquered. As fellow-labourers with Christ in His great work of saving men, as branches who are no less ordained of God to carry life to men than Christ the Vine, we shall learn that our one need, as the one lesson of the parable, is unbounded faith. Faith will see that all that is in Christ is in us; that in our feebleness and our work we can count upon Christ's life and power working in us; that our life and fruit can indeed be full of His life and spirit. Such faith will lead us to maintain the contact with the Vine as closely and unceasingly as we see it in the earthly vine, and will grow up into a strong assurance that as naturally as the health and fatness of the earthly vine pass into the branches, will the fulness of Christ Jesus become our life and strength.