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Bible Commentaries

A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews
John 15

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

Christ the True Vine

John 15:1-6

The following is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:—

1. The vine and the husbandman, verse 1.

2. The fruitless branch cared for, verse 2.

3. The purging of fruitless branches, verse 2.

4. Clean through the Word, verse 3.

5. Conditions of fruit-bearing, verse 4.

6. The absolute dependency of Christians, verse 5.

7. The consequences of severed fellowship, verse 6.

The passage which is to engage our attention is one that Isaiah , most probably, familiar to all of our readers. It is read as frequently, perhaps, as any chapter in the New Testament. Yet how far do we really understand its teachings? Why does Christ here liken Himself to a "vine"? What are the leading thoughts suggested by the figure? What does He mean when He says, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away"? What is the "fruit" here referred to? And what is the force of "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered; and men gather them, and cast into the fire, and they are burned"? Now as we approach any portion of Scripture for the purpose of studying it, it is essential to keep in mind several elementary but important principles: Who are the persons addressed? In what connection are they addressed? What is the central topic of address? We are not ready to take up the details of any passage until we have first settled these preparatory questions.

The persons addressed in John 15 were the eleven apostles. It was not to unsaved people, not to a mixed audience that Christ was speaking; but to believers only. The remote context takes us back to John 13:1. In chapters 13,14we are taught what Christ is doing for us while He is away—maintaining us in communion with Himself, preparing a place for us, manifesting Himself to us, supplying our every need through the Holy Spirit. In John 15 , it is the other side of the truth which is before us. Here we learn what we are to be and do for Him during the interval of His absence. In 13,14it is the freeness and fulness of Divine grace; in 15 it is our responsibility to bear fruit.

The immediate context is the closing sentence of chapter 14: "Arise, let us go hence. Christ had just said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." He had said this while seated at the supper-table, where the emblems of His death—the basis of our peace—were spread. Now He gets up from the table, which prefigured His resurrection from the dead. Right afterwards He says, I am the true vine. Christ's symbolic action at the close of 14 , views Him on resurrection-ground, and what we have here in 15 is in perfect accord with this. There must be resurrection-life before there can be resurrection-fruit. The central theme then is not salvation, how it is to be obtained or the danger of losing it. Instead, the great theme here is fruit-bearing, and the conditions of fertility. The word "fruit" occurs eight times in the chapter, and in Scripture eight is the resurrection-number. It is associated with a new beginning. It is the number of the new creation. If these facts be kept in mind, there should be little difficulty in arriving at the general meaning of our passage.

The figure used by our Savior on this occasion was one with which the apostles must have been quite familiar. Israel had been likened unto a "vine" again and again in the Old Testament. The chief value of the vine lies in its fruit. It really serves no other purpose. The vine is a thing of the earth, and in John 15 , it is used to set forth the relation which exists between Christ and His people while they are on earth. A vine whose branches bear fruit is a living thing, therefore the Savior here had in view those who had a living connection with Himself. The vine and its branches in John 15 does not represent what men term "the visible Church," nor does it embrace the whole sphere of Christian profession, as so many have contended. Only true believers are contemplated, those who have passed from death unto life. What we have in John 15:2,6 in nowise conflicts with this statement, as we shall seek to show in the course of our exposition.

The word which occurs most frequently in John 15 is "abide," being found no less than fifteen times in the first ten verses. Now "abiding" always has reference to fellowship, and only those who have been born again are capable of having fellowship with the Father and His Son. The vine and its branches express oneness, a common life, shared by all, with the complete dependency of the branches upon the vine, resulting in fruit-bearing. The relationship portrayed is that of which this world is the sphere and this life the period. It is here and now that we are to glorify the Father by bearing much fruit. Our salvation, our essential oneness with Christ, our standing before God, our heavenly calling, are neither brought into view nor called into question by anything that is said here. It is by dragging in these truths that some expositors have created their own difficulties in the passage.

A few words should now be said concerning the place which our present section occupies in this Paschal Discourse of our Lord. In the previous chapter we have seen the apostles troubled at the prospect of their Master's departure. In ministering to their fearful and sorrowing hearts, He had assured them that His cause in this world would not suffer by His going away: He had promised that, ultimately, He would return for them; in the meantime, He would manifest Himself to them, and He and the Father would abide in them. Now He further assures them that their connection with Him and their connection with each other, should not be dissolved. The outward bond which had united them was to be severed; the Shepherd was to be smitten, and the sheep scattered ( Zechariah 13:7). But there was a deeper, a more intimate bond, between them and Him, and between themselves, a spiritual bond, and while this remained, increasing fruitfulness would be the result.

The link of connection between the first two main sections of the discourse, where Christ is first comforting and then instructing and warning His disciples, is found in the dosing verses of chapter 14. There He had said, Hereafter, I will not talk much with you; for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do." In the light of this, chapter 15 intimates: Let My Father now (when the prince of this world cometh, but only as an instrument in the hands of His government) do with Me as He will. It will only issue in the bringing forth of that which will glorify the Father, if the corn of wheat died it would bring forth "much fruit" ( John 12:24). Fruit was the end in view of the Father's commandment and the Son's obedience. Thus the transition is natural and logical.

"I am the true vine" ( John 15:1). This word "true" is found in several other designations and descriptions of the Lord Jesus. He is the "true Light" ( John 1:9). He is the "true bread" ( John 6:32). He is "a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle" ( Hebrews 8:2). The usage of this adjective in the verses just quoted help to determine its force. It is not true in opposition to that which is false; but Christ was the perfect, essential, and enduring reality, of which other lights were but faint reflections, and of which other bread and another tabernacle,, were but the types and shadows. More specifically, Christ was the true light in contrast from His forerunner, John , who was but a "lamp" ( John 5:35 R.V.), or light-bearer. Christ was "the true bread" as contrasted from the manna, which the fathers did eat in the wilderness and died. He was a minister of "the true tabernacle" in contrast from the one Moses made, which was "the example and shadow of heavenly things" ( Hebrews 8:5).

But in addition to these instituted types of the Old Testament, there are types in nature. When our Lord used this figure of the "vine," He did not arbitrarily select it out of the multitude of objects from which an ordinary teacher might have drawn illustrations for his subject. Rather was the vine created and constituted as it Isaiah , that it might be a fit representation of Christ and His people bringing forth fruit to God. "There is a double type here, just as we find a double type in the ‘bread,' a reference to the manna in the wilderness, and behind that, a reference to bread in general, as the staff of human life. The vine itself is indeed constituted to be an earthly type of a spiritual truth, but we find a previous appropriation of it to that which is itself a type of the perfect reality which the Lord at length presents to us. We refer to the passages in Psalm and prophets where Israel is thus spoken of" (Waymarks in the Wilderness).

In Psalm 80:8-9 we read, "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land." Again, in Isaiah we are told "Now will I sing to my well-beloved, a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes and it brought forth wild grapes . . . For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant" ( Isaiah 5:1 , 2 , 7). These passages in the Old Testament throw further light on the declaration of Christ that He was "the true vine." Israel, as the type, had proved to be a failure. "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?" ( Jeremiah 2:21): "Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself" ( Hosea 10:1). In contrast from this failure and degeneracy of the typical people, Christ says "I am the true vine"—the antitype which fulfills all the expectations of the Heavenly Husbandman. Many are the thoughts suggested by this figure: ‘to barely mention them must suffice. The beauty of the vine; its exuberant fertility; its dependency—clinging for support to that on which and around which it grows; its spreading branches; its lovely fruit; the juice from which maketh glad the heart of God and man ( Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:15), were each perfectly exemplified in the incarnate Son of God.

"And my Father is the husbandman" ( John 15:1). In the Old Testament the Father is represented as the Proprietor of the vine, but here He is called the Husbandman, that is the Cultivator, the One who cares for it. The figure speaks of His love for Christ and His people: Christ as the One who was made in the form of a servant and took the place of dependency. How jealously did He watch over Him who "grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground" ( Isaiah 53:2)! Before His birth, the Father prevented Joseph from putting away his wife ( Matthew 1:18-20). Soon after His birth the Father bade Joseph to flee into Egypt, for Herod would seek the young Child to destroy Him ( Matthew 2:13). What proofs were these of the Husbandman's care for the true Vine!

"And my Father is the husbandman." The Father has the same loving solicitude for "the branches" of the vine. Three principal thoughts are suggested. His protecting care: His eye is upon and His hand tends to the weakest tendril and tenderest shoot. Then it suggests His watchfulness. Nothing escapes His eye. Just as the gardener notices daily the condition of each branch of the vine, watering, training, pruning as occasion arises; so the Divine Husbandman is constantly occupied with the need and welfare of those who are joined to Christ. It also denoted His faithfulness. No branch is allowed to run to waste. He spares neither the spray nor the pruning knife. When a branch is fruitless He tends to it; if it is bearing fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. "My Father is the husbandman." This is very blessed. He does not allot to others the task of caring for the vine and its branches, and this assures us of the widest, most tender, and most faithful care of it. But though this verse has a comforting and assuring voice, it also has a searching one, as has just been pointed out.

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away" ( John 15:2). This has been appealed to by Arminians in proof of their view that it is possible for a true Christian to perish, for they argue that the words "taketh away" signify eternal destruction. But this is manifestly erroneous, for such an interpretation would flatly contradict such explicit and positive declarations as are to be found in John 4:14; John 10:28; John 18:9; Romans 5:9-10; Romans 8:35-39 , etc. Let us repeat what we said in the opening paragraph: Christ was not here addressing a mixed audience, in which were true believers and those who were merely professors. Nor was He speaking to the twelve—Judas had already gone out! Had Judas been present when Christ spoke these words there might be reason to suppose that He had him in mind. But what the Lord here said was addressed to the eleven, that Isaiah , to believers only! This is the first key to its significance.

Very frequently the true interpretation of a message is discovered by attending to the character of those addressed. A striking example of this is found in Luke 15—where a case the very opposite of what we have here is in view. There the Lord speaks of the lost sheep and the lost coin being found, and the wayward son coming to the Father. Many have supposed that the Lord was speaking (in a parable) of the restoration of a backslidden believer. But the Lord was not addressing His disciples and warning them of the danger of getting out of communion with God. Instead He was speaking to His enemies ( Luke 15:2) who criticised Him because He received sinners. Therefore, in what follows He proceeded to describe how a sinner is saved, first from the Divine side and then from the human. Here the case is otherwise. The Lord was not speaking to professors, and warning them that God requires truth in the inward parts; but He is talking to genuine believers, instructing, admonishing and warning them.

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away." Many Calvinists have swung to the other extreme, erring in the opposite direction. We greatly fear that their principal aim was to overthrow the reasoning of their theological opponents, rather than to study carefully this verse in the light of its setting. They have argued that Christ was not speaking of a real believer at all. They insist that the words "beareth not fruit" described one who is within the "visible Church" but who has not vital union with Christ. But we are quite satisfied that this too is a mistake. The fact Isaiah , that we are so accustomed to concentrate everything on our own salvation and so little accustomed to dwell upon God's glory in the saved, that there is a lamentable tendency in all of us to apply many of the most Pointed rebukes and warnings found in the Scriptures (which are declared to be "profitable for reproof and correction," as well as "for instruction in righteousness") to those who are not saved, thus losing their salutary effects on ourselves.

The words of our Lord leave us no choice in our application of this passage—as a whole and in its details—no matter what the conclusions be to which it leads us. Surely none will deny that they are believers to whom He says "Ye are the branches" ( John 15:5). Very well then; observe that Christ employs the same term in this needed word in John 15:2: "Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit." To make it doubly clear as to whom He was referring, He added, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit." Now if there is one form of expression, which, by invariable and unexceptional use, indicates a believer more emphatically and explicitly than another, it is this:—"in me," "in him," "in Christ." Never are these expressions used loosely; never are they applied to any but the children of God: "If any one be in Christ (he is) a new creation" ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away." If then, it is a real believer who is in view here, and if the "taketh away" does not refer to perishing, then what is the force and meaning of our Lord's words? First of all, notice the tense of the first verb: "Every branch in me not bearing fruit he taketh away" is the literal translation. It is not of a branch which never bore fruit that the Lord is here speaking, but of one who is no longer "bearing fruit." Now there are three things which cause the branches of the natural vine to become fruitless: either through running to leaf, or through disease (a blight), or through old age, when they wither and die. The same holds good in the spiritual application. In 2Peter , we read: "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." The unescapable inference from this is that, if the "these things" (mentioned in 2Peter 1:5-7) do not abound in us, we shall be "barren and unfruitful"—compare Titus 3:14. In such a case we bring forth nothing but leaves—the works of the flesh. Unspeakably solemn is this: one who has been bought at such infinite cost, saved by such wondrous grace, may yet, in this world, fall into a barren and unprofitable state, and thus fail to glorify God.

"He taketh away." Who does? The "husbandman," the Father. This is conclusive proof that an unregenerate sinner is not in view. "The Father judgeth no Prayer of Manasseh , but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" ( John 5:22). It is Christ who will say, "Depart from me" ( Matthew 25). It is Christ who shall sit upon the Great White Throne to judge the wicked ( Revelation 20). Therefore it cannot be a mere professor who is here in view—taken away unto judgment. Again a difficulty has been needlessly created here by the English rendering of the Greek verb. "Airo" is frequently translated in the A.V. "lifted up." For example: "And they lifted up their voices" ( Luke 17:13 , so also in Acts 4:24). "And Jesus lifted up his eyes" ( John 11:41). "Lifted up his hand" ( Revelation 10:5), etc. In none of these places could the verb be rendered "taken away." Therefore, we are satisfied that it would be more accurate and more in accord with "the analogy of faith" to translate, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he lifteth up"—from trailing on the ground. Compare with this Daniel 7:4: "I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made to stand upon the feet like a man."

"And every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" ( John 15:2). The words "branch in me," though dearly understood, are not expressed in the Greek. Literally, it is "And every one that fruit bears," that Isaiah , every one of the class of persons mentioned in the previous clause. How this confirms the conclusion that if believers are intended in the one case, they must be in the other also! The care and method used by the Husbandman are told out in the words: "He purgeth it." The majority of people imagine that "purgeth" here is the equivalent of "pruning," and understand the reference is to affliction, chastisement, and painful discipline. But the word "purgeth" here does not mean "pruning," it would be better rendered, "cleanseth," as it is in the very next verse. It may strike some of us as rather incongruous to speak of cleansing a branch of a vine. It would not be so if we were familiar with the Palestinian vineyards. The reference is to the washing off of the deposits of insects, of moss, and other parasites which infest the plant. Now the "water" which the Husbandman uses in cleansing the branches is the Word, as John 15:3 tells us. The thought, then, is the removal by the Word of what would obstruct the flow of the life and fatness of the vine through the branches. Let it be clearly understood that this "purging is not to fit the believer for Heaven (that was accomplished, once for all, the first moment that faith rested upon the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ), but is designed to make us more fruitful, while we are here in this world.

"And every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." "It is that action of the Father by which He brings the believer more fully under the operation of the ‘quick and powerful' Word. The Word is that by which the believer is born, with that new birth to which no uncleanness attaches ( 1 Peter 1:23). But while by second birth he is ‘clean,' and in relation to his former condition is ‘cleansed,' he is ever viewed as exposed to defilement, and consequently as needing to be ‘cleansed.' And as the Word was, through the energy of the Spirit, effectual in the complete cleansing, so in regard to defilement by the way and in regard to the husbandman's purging to obtain more fruit, the purging is ever to be traced up to the operation of the Word ( Psalm 119:9; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Whatever other means may be employed, and there are many, they must be viewed as subordinate to the action of the ‘truth,' or as making room for its purging process. Thus when affliction as a part of the process is brought into view, it is only as a means to the end of the soul's subjection and obedience to the Word. So the Psalmist said, ‘Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept thy word... It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes' ( Psalm 119:67 , 71). It will, we think, be apparent, that all means which Divine wisdom employs to bring to real subjection to the Word, must be regarded as belonging to the process of ‘purging' that we may bring forth more fruit.

"It would be interesting to pursue our inquiry into the course of our purging but our present limits forbid this. We may just remark that much that may be learned on this point from such passages as those of which, without any extended remark, we cite one or two. Here is one which suggests a loving rebuke of all impatience under the operations of the Husbandman's hand: ‘For a season if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold trials' ( 1 Peter 1:7). Then we have a text in James , which calls for joy under the Father's faithful purging: ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers trials; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing,' ( John 1:2-4). Once more, we take the words of Christian exultation which declare our fellowship with God in the whole process and fruit of our purging: ‘And not only Song of Solomon , but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us' ( Romans 5:3-5). O that we might learn from these revelations of the Father's work, upon us and in us, quietly and joyfully to endure; and rightly to interpret all that befalls us, only desiring that He may fulfill in us all the good pleasure of His will, that we may be fruitful in every good work" (Mr. C. Campbell).

"Now (better, ‘already') ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you," ( John 15:3). The purging or cleansing of the previous verse refers to the believer's state; the cleanness here describes his standing before God. The one is progressive, the other absolute. The two things are carefully distinguished all through. We have purified our souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit ( 1 Peter 1:22), yet we need to be purifying ourselves, even as Christ is pure ( 1 John 3:3). We are washed" ( 1 Corinthians 6:11), yet there is constant need that He who washed us from our sins at first should daily wash our feet ( John 13:10). The Lord, having had occasion to speak here of a purging which is constantly in process, graciously stopped to assure the disciples that they were already clean. Note He makes no exception—"ye": the branches spoken of in the previous verses. If the Lord had had in mind two entirely different classes in John 15:2 (as almost all of the best commentators argue), namely, formal professors in the former part of the verse and genuine believers in the latter, He would necessarily have qualified His statement here. This is the more conclusive if we contrast His words in John 13:10: "Ye are clean, but not all"! Let the reader refer back to our remarks upon John 13:10 for a fuller treatment of this cleanness.

"Abide in me" ( John 15:4). The force of this cannot be appreciated till faith has laid firm hold of the previous verse: "Already ye are clean." "Brethren in Christ, what a testimony is this: He who speaks what he knows and testifies what He has seen, declares us ‘clean every whit.' Yea, and He thus testifies in the very same moment as when He asserts that we had need to have our feet washed; in the very same breath in which He reveals our need of cleansing in order to further fruit-bearing. He would thus assure us that the defilement which we contract in our walk as pilgrims, and the impurity which we contract as branches do in nowise, nor in the least degree, affect the absolute spotless purity which is ours in Him.

"Now in all study of the Word this should be a starting-point, the acknowledgement of our real oneness with Christ, and our cleanness in Him by His Word. It may be observed that He cannot ‘wash our feet' till we know that we are cleansed ‘every whit'; and we cannot go on to learn of Him what is needful fruit-bearing unless we first drink in the Word, ‘Ye are already clean.' We can only receive His further instruction when we have well learned and are holding fast the first lesson of His love—our completeness in Him" (Mr. C. Campbell).

"Clean every whit," Thou saidst it, Lord!

Shall one suspicion lurk?

Thine surely is a faithful Word,

And Thine a finished Work.

"Abide in me," "To be" in Christ and "to abide" in Him are two different things which must not be confounded. One must first be "in him" before he can "abide in him." The former respects a union effected by the creating-power of God, and which can neither be dissolved nor suspended. Believers are never exhorted to be "in Christ"—they are in Him by new creation ( 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10). But Christians are frequently exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and experience may be interrupted. "To ‘abide,' ‘continue,' ‘dwell,' ‘remain' in Christ—by all these terms is this one word translated—has always reference to the maintenance of fellowship with God in Christ. The word ‘abide' calls us to vigilance, lest at any time the experimental realization of our union with Christ should be interrupted. To abide in Him, then, is to have sustained conscious communion with Him" (Mr. Campbell). To abide in Christ signifies the constant occupation of the heart with Him—a daily active faith in Him which, so to speak, maintains the dependency of the branch upon the vine, and the circulation of life and fatness of the vine in the branch. What we have here is parallel with that other figurative expression used by our Lord in John 6:56: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth (abideth) in me, and I in him." This is but another way of insisting upon the continuous exercise of faith in a crucified and living Savior, deriving life and the sustenance of life from Him. As the initial act of believing in Him is described as "coming" to Him, ("He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst": John 6:35), so the continued activity of faith is described as "abiding in him."

"Abide in me, and I in you" ( John 15:4). The two things are quite distinct, though closely connected. Just as it is one thing to be "in Christ," and another to "abide in him," so there is a real difference between His being in us, and His abiding in us. The one is a matter of His grace; the other of our responsibility. The one is perpetual, the other may be interrupted. By our abiding in Him is meant the happy conscious fellowship of our union with Him, in the discernment of what He is for us; so by His abiding in us is meant the happy conscious recognition of His presence, the assurance of His goodness, grace and power—Himself the recourse of our soul in everything.

"As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me ( John 15:4). "Thus our Lord enforces the necessity of maintaining fellowship. He is not only the source of all fruit, but He also puts forth His power while there is personal appropriation of what He is for us, and in us. And this, if we receive it, will lead us to a right judgment of ourselves and our service. In the eyes of our own brethren, and in our own esteem, we may maintain a goodly appearance as fruitbearing branches. But whatever our own judgment or that of others, unless the apparent springs from ‘innermost fellowship and communion' the true Vine will never own it as His fruit.

"Moreover, all this may, by His blessing, bring us to see the cause of our imperfect or sparse fruit bearing. Thousands of Christians are complaining of barrenness; but they fail to trace their barrenness to its right source—the meagerness of their communion with Christ. Consequently, they seek fruitfulness in activities, often right in themselves, but which, while He is unrecognized, can never yield any fruit. In such condition, they ought rather to cry, ‘Our leanness! Our leanness'; and they ought to know that leanness can only be remedied by that abiding in Christ, and He in them, which ‘fills the soul with marrow and its fatness.' ‘Those that be planted in the house of the Lord (an Old Testament form for "abiding in Him") shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing' ( Psalm 92:13 , 14). We are surely warranted to say, Take heed to the fellowship, and the fruit will spring forth" (Mr. C. Campbell).

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" ( John 15:5). This is very blessed, coming in just here. It is a word of assurance. As we contemplate the failure of Israel as God's vine of old, and as we review our own past resolutions and attempts, we are discouraged and despondent. This is met by the announcement, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." It is not a question of your sufficiency; yea, let your insufficiency be admitted, as settled once for all. In your self you are no better than a branch severed from the vine-dry, dead. But "he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." "No figure could more forcibly express the complete dependence of the believer on Christ for all fruit-bearing than this. A branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine. In itself it has no resources though in union with vine it is provided with life. This is precisely the believer's condition: ‘Christ liveth in me.' The branch bears the clusters, but it does not produce them. It bears what the vine produces; and so the result is expressed by the Apostle, ‘to me to live is Christ.' It is important that in this respect, as well as with reference to righteousness before God, we should be brought to the end of self with all its vain efforts and strivings. And then there comes to us the assurance of unfailing resources in Another" ("Waymarks in the Wilderness").

"For without me (better ‘severed from me') ye can do nothing" ( John 15:5). Clearly this refers not to the vital union existing between Christ and the believer, which shall never be broken, either by his own volition or the will of God, through all eternity ( Romans 8:38-39); but to the interruption of fellowship and dependency upon Him, mentioned in the immediate context. This searching word is introduced here to enforce our need of heeding what had just been said in the previous verse and repeated at the beginning of this.

"Severed from me ye can do nothing." There are many who believe this in a general way, but who fail to apply it in detail. They know that they cannot do the important things without Christ's aid, but how many of the little things we attempt in our own strength! No wonder we fail so often. "Without me ye can do nothing". "Nothing that is spiritually good; no, not any thing at all, be it little or great, easy or difficult to be performed; cannot think a good thought, speak a good word, or do a good action; can neither begin one, nor when it is begun, perfect it" (Dr. John Gill). But mark it well, the Lord did not say, "Without you I can do nothing." In gathering out His elect, and in building up His Church, He employs human instrumentality; but that is not a matter of necessity, but of choice, with Him; He could "do" without them, just as well as with them.

"Severed from me ye can do nothing." Urgently do we need this warning. Not only will the allowance of any known sin break our fellowship with Him, but concentration on any thing but Himself will also surely do it. Satan is very subtle. If only he can get us occupied with ourselves, our fruit-bearing, or our fruit, his purpose is accomplished. Faith is nothing apart from its object, and is no longer in operation when it becomes occupied with itself. Love, too, is in exercise only while it is occupied with its beloved. "There is a disastrous delusion in this matter when, under the plea of witnessing for Christ and relating their experience, men are tempted to parade their own attainments: their love, joy and peace, their zeal in service, their victory in conflict. And Satan has no more effectual method of severing the soul from Christ, and arresting the bringing forth of fruit to the glory of God, than when he can persuade Christians to feast upon their own fruit, instead of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man. But shall we not bear witness for Christ? Yes, verily, but let your testimony be of Him, not of yourself" ("Waymarks in the Wilderness").

"If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast into the fire, and they are burned" ( John 15:6). This is another verse which has been much misunderstood, and it is really surprising to discover how many able commentators have entirely missed its meaning. With scarcely an exception, Calvinistic expositors suppose that Christ here referred to a different class from what had been before Him in the three previous verses. Attention is called to the fact that Christ did not say, "If a branch abide not in me he is cast forth," but "If a man abide not in me." But really this is inexcusable in those who are able, in any measure, to consult the Greek. The word "man" is not found in the original at all! Literally rendered it Isaiah , "unless any one abide in me he is cast out as the branch" (Bagster's Interlinear). The simple and obvious meaning of these words of Christ is this: If any one of the branches, any believer, continues out of fellowship with Me, he is "cast forth." It could not be said of any one who had never "come" to Christ that He does not abide in Him. This is made the more apparent by the limitation in this very verse: "he is cast forth as a branch." Let it be remembered that the central figure here employed by the Lord has reference to our sojourn in this world, and the bringing forth of fruit to the glory of the Father. The "casting forth" is done by the Husbandman, and evidently had in view the stripping of the believer of the gifts and opportunities which he failed to improve. It is similar to the salt "losing its savor" ( Matthew 5:13). It is parallel with Luke 8:18: "And whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." It is analogous to that admonition in 2John 8: "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward."

But what is meant by, "Men gather them, and cast into the fire, and they are burned"? Observe, first, the plural pronouns. It is not "men gather him and cast into the fire, and he is burned," as it would most certainly have been had an unbeliever, a mere professor, been in view. The change of number here is very striking, and evidences, once more, the minute accuracy of Scripture. "Unless any one abide in me, he is east forth as a branch, and men gather them and cast into the fire and they are burned." The "them" and the "they" are what issues from the one who has been cast forth "as a branch." And what is it that issues from such a one—what but dead works: "wood, hay, stubble"! and what is to become of his "dead works." 1 Corinthians 3:15 tells us: "If any man's work shall be burned (the very word used in John 15:6!), he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Lot is a pertinent example: he was out of fellowship with the Lord, he ceased to bear fruit to His glory, and his dead works were all burned up in Sodom; yet he himself was saved!

One other detail should be noticed. In the original it is not "men gather them," but "they gather them." Light is thrown on this by Matthew 13:41 , 42: "The Son of man shall send forth his angels and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity: And shall east them into a furnace of fire: There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Note the two distinct items here: the angels gather "all things that offend" and "them which do iniquity." In the light of John 15:6 the first of these actions will be fulfilled at the session of the judgment-seat of Christ ( 2 Corinthians 5:10), the second when He returns to the earth.

Here then is a most solemn warning and heart-searching prospect for every Christian. Either your life and my life Isaiah , as the result of continuous fellowship with Christ, bringing forth fruit to the glory of the Father, fruit which will remain; or, because of neglect of communion with Him, we are in immense danger of being set aside as His witnesses on earth, to bring forth only that which the fire will consume in a coming Day. May the Holy Spirit apply the words of the Lord Jesus to each conscience and heart.

Studying the following questions will prepare for our next lesson:—

1. What is the connection between verse 7 and the context?

2. How is "ye shall ask what ye will" in verse 7 to be qualified?

3. What is meant by "so shall ye be my disciples," verse 8?

4. What is the relation between verses 9-12and the subject of fruit-bearing?

5. What constituted Christ's "joy," verse 11?

6. What is suggested by "friends," verses 13-15?

7. Why does Christ bring in election in verse 16?


Verses 7-16

Christ the True Vine (Concluded)

John 15:7-16

Below is an Analysis of the second section of John 15:—

1. Fellowship and prayer, verse 7.

2. The Father glorified by much fruit, verse 8.

3. Fruit found in love, verses 9-10.

4. Fruit found in joy, verse 11.

5. Fruit found in peace, verse 12.

6. The proofs of Christ's love, verses 13-15.

7. The purpose of Christ's choice, verse 16.

That the theme of this second section of John 15 is the same as was before us in its opening portion is clear from verses 8,16: in both of these verses the word "fruit" is found, and as we shall see, all that lies between is intimately connected with them. Before taking up the study of our present passage let us summarize what was before us in our last lesson.

The vine and its branches, unlike the "body" and its head, does not set forth the vital and indissoluble union between Christ and His people—though that is manifestly presupposed; instead, it treats of that relationship which exists between Him and them while they are upon earth, a relationship which may be interrupted. The prominent thing is fruit-bearing and the conditions of fertility. Three conditions have already been before us. First, to be a fruit-bearing branch of the vine, one must be in Christ. Second, to be a fruit-bearing branch of the vine, the Father must purge him by the cleansing action of the Word. Third, to be a fruit-bearing branch of the vine, he must abide in Christ. The first two are solely of God's grace: they are Divine actions. But the third is a matter of Christian responsibility, and this what is enforced throughout John 15.

As pointed out in the introduction to our last chapter, the broad distinction between John 14,15 is that in the former we have the grace of God unfolded; in the latter Christian responsibility is pressed. Further evidence of this will be found in the frequent repetition of two pronouns. In John 14the emphasis is upon the "me"; in John 15 upon the "ye." In John 14it is: "believe also in me" (verse 1); "no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (verse 6); "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also" (verse 7); "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?" (verse 9); and so on. Whereas in John 15 it is "ye are clean" (verse 3); "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit" (verse 8); "continue ye in my love" (verse 9); "Ye are my friends, if" etc. (verse 14). The word "ye" occurs no less than twenty-two times in John 15!

That which is of such deep importance for the Christian is the third condition noted above; hence our Lord's repeated emphasis upon it. Mark how in John 15:4 the word "abide" occurs no less than three times. Note how the same truth is reiterated in John 15:5. Observe how John 15:6 is devoted to a solemn statement of the consequences of failure to "abide" in Christ. Observe also how this same word "abide" is found again in John 15:7 , 9 , 10 , 11 , and 16. Just as necessary and imperative as Christ's command "Come unto me" is to the sinner, so absolutely essential is His "Abide in me" to the saint. As then this subject of abiding in Christ is of such moment, we will now supplement our previous remarks upon it.

First, to abide in Christ is to continue in the joyful recognition of the value of His perfect sacrifice and the efficacy of His precious blood. There can be no fellowship with the Lord Jesus, in the full sense of the word, while we harbor doubts of our personal salvation and acceptance with God. Should some soul troubled on this very point be reading these lines, we would earnestly press upon him or her the fact that the only way to be rid of torturing uncertainty is to turn the eye away from self, unto the Savior. Here are His own blessed words: "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth (abideth) in me, and I in him" ( John 6:56), That means that I feed upon, am satisfied with, that Sacrifice of sweet savor which has fully satisfied God.

Second, to abide in Christ is to maintain a spirit and an attitude of entire dependency on Him. It is the consciousness of my helplessness; it is the realization that "severed from him, I can do nothing." The figure which the Lord here employed strongly emphasizes this. What are the branches of a vine but helpless, creeping, clinging, things? They cannot stand alone; they need to be supported, held up. Now there can be no abiding in Christ while we entertain a spirit of self-sufficiency. To have no confidence in the flesh, to renounce our own might, to lean not unto our own understanding, precedes our turning unto Christ: there must be a recognition of my own emptiness before I shall turn to and draw from His fulness. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." In itself a branch has absolutely no resources: in union with the vine it is pervaded with life.

Third, to abide in Christ is to draw from His fulness. It is not enough that I turn from myself in disgust, I must turn to Christ with delight. I must seek His presence; I must be occupied with His excellency; I must commune with Him. It is no longer a question of my sufficiency, my strength, or my anything. It is solely a matter of His sufficiency. The branch is simply a conduit through which flows the fruit-producing juices, which result in the lovely dusters of grapes. Remember that the branch does not produce, but simply bears them! It is the vine which produces, but produces through the branch, by the branch being in the vine. It is not that the believer finds in Christ a place of rest and support, whither he may go in order to produce his own fruit. This is the sad mistake made by those who are ever speaking of their own self-complacency, self-glorifying experiences, which shows that their souls are occupied with themselves rather than with Christ. It is of the greatest practical importance to know that Christ is "all and in all"—not only as our standing before God and our ultimate Perfection, but also as to our present life to the glory of the Father.

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" ( John 15:7). The connection between this verse and the ones preceding it is as follows. In John 15:4,5 the Lord had exhorted His disciples to abide in Him. In John 15:6 He had warned them what would be the consequences if they did not. Now He turns, or rather returns, to the consolatory and blessed effects which would follow their compliance with his admonition. Three results are here stated. First, the answer to whatever prayers they presented to Cod; the glorification of the Father; the clear witness to themselves and to others that they were His disciples. Thus would Christ most graciously encourage us.

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." What erroneous conclusions have been drawn from these words! How often they have been appealed to in order to justify the most unworthy views of prayer! The popular interpretation of them is that if the Christian will only work himself up to an importunate pleading of this promise before the throne of grace, he may then ask God for what he pleases, and the Almighty will not—some go so far as to say He cannot—deny him. We are told that Christ has here given us a blank check, signed it, and left us to fill it in for what we will. But 1John plainly repudiates such a carnal conception—"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." Therefore, what we ask shall not be done unto us unless our will is subordinated to and is in accord with the will of God.

What then is the meaning of our Lord's promise? Certainly it does not give praying souls carte blanche. For God to gratify us in everything we requested, would not only be dishonoring to Himself, but, ofttimes, highly injurious to ourselves. Moreover, the experience of many of those who frequent the throne of grace dissipates such a delusion. All of us have asked for many things which have not been "done unto" us. Some have asked in great earnestness, with full expectation, and they have been very importunate; and yet their petitions have been denied them. Does this falsify our Lord's promise? A thousand times no! Every word He uttered was God's infallible truth. What then? Shall we fall back upon the hope that God's time to answer has not yet come; but that shortly He will give us the desire of our hearts? Such a hope may be realized, or it may not. It all depends upon whether the conditions governing the promise in John 15:7 are being met. If they are not, it will be said of us "Ye ask, and have not, because ye ask amiss" ( James 4:3).

Two conditions here qualify the promise: "If ye abide in me." Abiding in Christ signifies the maintaining of heart communion with Christ. "And my words abide in you": not only must the heart be occupied with Christ, but the life must be regulated by the Scriptures. Note it is not here "my word," but "my words." It is not the Word as a whole, but the Word, as it were, broken up. It is the precepts and promises of Scripture personally appropriated, fed upon by faith, hidden in the heart. It is the practical heeding of that injunction, "Man shall not live (his daily life) by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." And mark that it is Christ's words abiding in us. It is no fitful, spasmodic, occasional exercise and experience, but constant and habitual communion with God through the Word, until its contents become the substance of our innermost beings.

"Ye shall ask what ye will." But for what would such a one ask? If he continues in fellowship with Christ, if His "words" remain in him, then his thoughts will be regulated and his desires formed by that Word. Such an one will be raised above the lusts of the flesh. Such an one will "bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 10:5), proving "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" ( Romans 12:2). Consequently, such, an one will ask only for that which is according to his will ( 1 John 5:14); and thereby will he verify the Lord's promise "it shall be done unto you."

Such a view of prayer is glorifying to God and satisfying to the soul. For one who communes with the Savior, and in whom His Word dwells "richly," supplication is simply the pulsation of a heart that has been won to God. While the believer is in fellowship with the Lord and is governed from within by His Word, he will not ask for things "amiss." Instead of praying in the energy of the flesh (which, alas, all of us so often do), he will pray "in the Spirit" ( Jude 20). "Why is there so little power of prayer like this in our own times? Simply because there is so little close communion with Christ, and so little strict conformity to His words. Men do not ‘abide in Christ,' and therefore pray in vain. Christ's words do not abide in them, as their standard of practice, and therefore their prayers are not answered. Let this lesson sink down into our hearts. He that would have answers to his prayers, must carefully remember Christ's directions. We must keep up intimate friendship with the great advocate in Heaven, if our petitions are to be granted" (Bishop Ryle).

"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" ( John 15:8).This is an appeal to our hearts. The "glory" of the Father was that which Christ ever kept before Him, and here He presses it upon us. He would have us concerned as to whether our lives honor and magnify the Father, or whether they are a reproach to Him. An unfruitful branch is a dishonor to God. What an inducement is this to "abide in Christ"!

It is time that we now inquire as to the nature or character of the "fruit" of which Christ here speaks. What is the "fruit," the much fruit, by which the Father is glorified? Fruit is not something which is attached to the branch and fastened on from without, but is the organic product and evidence of the inner life. Too often attention is directed to the outward services and actions, or to the results of these services, as the "fruit" here intended. We do not deny that this fruit is frequently manifested externally, and that it also finds expression in outward works is clear from John 15:6: "Severed from me ye can do nothing." But there is a twofold evil in confining our attention to these. First, it often becomes a source of deception in those who may do many things in the will and energy of the flesh, but these are dead works, often found on corrupt trees. Second, it becomes a source of discouragement to children of God who, by reason of sickness, old age, or unfavourable circumstances, cannot engage in such activities, and hence are made to believe that they are barren and useless.

"We may say, in brief, that the fruit borne by the branches is precisely that which is produced by the Vine; and what that Isaiah , may be best understood by looking at what He was as God's witness in the world. The fruit is Christlike affections, dispositions, graces, as well as the works in which they are displayed. We cannot undervalue the work of faith and labor of love; but we would remember that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance'; and those who are prevented from engaging in the activities of Christian service, may often be in circumstances most favorable to the production of the fruit of the Spirit" ("Waymarks in the Wilderness").

It is deeply important for us to recognize that the "fruit" is the outflow of our union with Christ; only thus will it be traced to its true origin and source. Then will it be seen that our fruit is produced not merely by Christ's power acting upon us, but, as it truly Isaiah , as the fruit of the vine. Thus, in every branch, is HIS word literally verified: "From me is thy fruit found" ( Hosea 14:8), and therefore should every branch say, "Not I, but the grace of God." This is all one as to say that our fruit is Christ's fruit; for God's operations of grace are only wrought in and by Christ Jesus. Thus saints are "filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God" ( Philippians 1:11). If there be any love, it is "the love of Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 5:14); if there be any joy, it is Christ's joy ( John 15:11); if there be any peace, it is His peace, given unto us ( John 14:27); if there be any meekness and gentleness it is "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 10:1). How thoroughly this was realized by the apostle, to whom it was given to be the most signal example of the vine sending forth fruit by His branches, may be gathered from such expressions: "I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me" ( Romans 15:18). "Christ speaking in me" ( 2 Corinthians 13:3); "He that wrought effectually in Peter... was mighty in me" ( Galatians 2:8); "Christ liveth in me" ( Galatians 2:20): "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" ( Philippians 4:13). Thus, and thus only as this is recognized, all dependency upon and all glorying in self is excluded, and Christ becomes all in all.

"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" ( John 15:8). There are four relationships which need to be distinguished. Life in Christ is salvation. Life with Christ is fellowship. Life by Christ is fruit-bearing. Life for Christ is service. The "fruit" is Christ manifested through us. But note the gradation: in John 15:2 it is first "fruit," then "more fruit," here "much fruit." This reminds us of the "some thirty-fold, some sixty, and some an hundred" ( Mark 4:20).

"So shall ye be my disciples" ( John 15:8). With this should be compared John 8:31: "If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed." Continuance in the Word is not a condition of discipleship, but an evidence of it. So here, to bear much fruit will make it manifest that we are His disciples. Just as good fruit on a tree does not make the tree a good one, but marks it out as such, so we prove ourselves to be Christ's disciples by displaying Christlike qualities.

"As the Father hath loved me, so I have loved you" ( John 15:9). There is no change of theme, only another aspect of it. In the two previous verses the Lord had described three of the consequences of abiding in Him in order to fruitfulness; here, and in the three verses that follow, He names three of the varieties of the fruit home; and it is very striking to note that they are identical with the first three and are given in the same order as those enumerated in Galatians 5:22 , where the "fruit of the Spirit" is defined. Here in John 15:9 , it is love; in John 15:11 , it is joy; while in John 15:12 it is peace—the happy issue of brethren loving one another.

"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." "As the Father loved Him from everlasting, so did He love them; as His Father loved Him with a love of complacency and delight, so did He love them; as the Father loved Him with a special and peculiar affection, with an unchanging, invariable, constant love, which would last forever, in like manner does Christ love His people; and with this He enforces the exhortation which follows" (Dr. John Gill).

"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love." ( John 15:9). Christ's love to us is unaffected by our changeableness, but our enjoyment of His love depends upon our continuance in it. By this continuance in His love, or abiding in it, as it should be (the Greek word is the same), is meant our actual assurance of it, our reposing in it. No matter how mysterious His dispensations be, no matter how severe the trials through which He causes us to pass, we must never doubt His immeasurable love for us and to us. The measure of His love for us was told out at the Cross, and as He is the same to-day as yesterday, therefore He loves us just as dearly now, every moment, as when He laid down His life for us. To "abide" in His love, then, is to be occupied with it, to count upon it, to be persuaded that nothing shall ever be able to separate us from it. Dwelling upon our poor, fluctuating love for Him, will make us miserable; but having the heart fixed upon His wondrous love, that love which "passeth knowledge," will fill us with praise and thanksgiving. Very blessed but very searching is this. To "abide" in Christ is to abide in His love. Our growth proceeds from love to love.

"If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." ( John 15:10). Even still more searching is this. There can be no fruit for the Father, no abiding in Christ's love, unless there be real subjection of will. It is only in the path of obedience that He will have fellowship with us. Alas, how many err on this point. We are living in an age wherein lawlessness abounds. Insubordination is rife on every hand. In many a place even professing Christians will no longer tolerate the word "commandments." Those who would urge the duty of obedience to the Lord, are regarded as enemies of the faith, seeking to bring Christians into bondage. Satan is very subtle, but we are not ignorant of his devices. He seeks to persuade sinners that they must keep God's commandments in order to be saved. He tries to make saints believe that they must not keep God's commandment, otherwise they will be putting themselves "under law," beneath a yoke grievous to be borne. But let these specious lies of the Devil be tested by Scripture, and their falsity will soon appear 1Corinthians 9:21 tells us that we are "under the law to Christ.' Romans 13:10 assures us that "love is the fulfilling of the law": the fulfilling Mark , not the abrogating of it, nor a substitution for it. The apostle Paul declared that he "delighted in the law of God after the inward Prayer of Manasseh ," and that he "served the law of God" ( Romans 7:22-25). And here in John 15 the Lord Himself said to His disciples, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love. O fellow Christians, let no sophistry of man (no matter how able a Bible teacher you may deem him), and no deceptive art of Satan, rob you of this word of the Savior's; a word which we all need, never more than now, when all authority, Divine and human, is more and more flouted. Note that this was not the only time that Christ made mention of His commandments and pressed upon His people their obligations to keep them. See John 13:34; John 14:15; John 15:10; Matthew 28:20 , etc.

"Even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" ( John 15:10). Here is the final word against those who decry godly obedience as "legalism." The incarnate Son walked according to His Father's commandments. He "pleased not himself" ( Romans 15:3). His meat was to do the will of the One who had sent Him. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked" ( 1 John 2:6). The one who disregards God's "commandments" is not walking as Christ walked; instead, he is walking as the world walks. Let no one heed the idle quibble that the "commandments" of Christ are opposed to or even different from the commandments of the Father. Christ and the Father are one—one in nature, one in character, one in authority. "The commandments of Christ include the whole of the preceptive part of the inspired volume, with the exception of those ritual and political statutes which refer to the introductory dispensations which have passed away" (Dr. John Brown). And let it be said again, that no Christian can abide in Christ's love unless he is keeping Christ's commandments!

"Even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love." The "even as" refers to the character of Christ's obedience to the Father. "His obedience was the obedience of love, and so must ours be. His obedience was but the expression of His love. External obedience to Christ's commandments, if not the expression of love, Isaiah , in His estimation, of less than no value, for He sees it to be what it is—vile hypocrisy or mere selfishness. No man will continue in His love by such obedience. His obedience was, in consequence of its being the result of love, cheerful obedience. He delighted to do the will of His Father. It was His meat to do the Father's will, and so must be our obedience to Him. We must run in the way of His commandments with enlarged hearts. We are to keep them, not so much because we must keep them as because we choose to keep them, or, if a necessity is felt to be laid upon us, it should be the sweet necessity resulting from perfect approbation of the law, and supreme love to the Law-giver. Christ's obedience to the Father was universal—it extended to every requisition of the law. There was no omission, no violation; and in our obedience to the Savior, there must be no reserves—we must count His commandments to be in all things, what they are—right; and we must abhor every wicked way. Christ's obedience to the Father was persevering. He was faithful unto death; and so must we be. This is His promise: To him that overeometh will I give to sit with me on my throne, even as I have overcome, and am set down with my Father on his throne' ( Revelation 3:21). It is thus, then—only thus—by keeping the commandments of our Lord as He kept the commandments of His Father, that we shall continue in His love, as He continued in His Father's love" (Dr. John Brown).

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you" ( John 15:11). The "these things" covers the whole of the ten preceding verses. The fruit of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22) is "love, joy, peace." Having mentioned love in the previous verse, Christ now goes on to speak of joy. Just as in John 14:27 there is a double "peace," so here there is a twofold joy. First, there is the joy of Christ Himself, that joy which had been His during His sojourn on earth. He mentions this in His prayer in John 17: "These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (verse 13). How this reveals to us the inner life of the Savior! Abiding in His Father's love, He had a joy which certainly not His enemies and perhaps His friends would have credited the "Man of sorrows." His joy was in pleasing the Father, in doing His will and glorifying His name. Then, too, He rejoiced in the prospect before Him. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" ( Hebrews 12:2). This double joy of the incarnate Song of Solomon , is mentioned in Psalm 16 , where the Spirit of prophecy recorded the Savior's words long beforehand: "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth" (verses 8 , 9). This was the joy of communion and obedience. "Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore" (verse 11): this was the joy "set before him."

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you." The "these things" refers, more specifically, to the maintaining of communion with Christ, and the conditions upon which they may be realized. When fellowship with the Lord Jesus is broken, joy disappears. This was illustrated in the experience of the Psalmist. David had sinned; sinned grievously against the Lord, and in consequence, he no longer enjoyed a comforting sense of His presence. David was wretched in soul, and after making earnest confession of his sin, he cried, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" ( Psalm 51:12): salvation he had not lost, but the joy of it he had. It was the same with Peter: he "went out and wept bitterly" ( Luke 22:62). A child of God can only be miserable when he is away from Christ. It is important for us to recognize and realize that we need Christ just as much for our everyday life, as we do for eternity; just as really for the fruit which the Father expects from us, as for our title to Heaven.

"And that your joy might be full" ( John 15:11). The grounds of the Christian's joy are not in himself, but in Christ: "Rejoice in the Lord" ( Philippians 4:4). But the measure in which we enter into this is determined by our daily communion with the Lord. "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, and these things write we unto you that your joy may be full" ( 1 John 1:3 , 4). Our joy ought to be steady and constant, not fitful and occasional: "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" ( Philippians 4:4). Joy is not "happiness'' as the world uses the term; it is much deeper. The worldling finds his happiness in circumstances and surroundings; but the Christian is quite independent of these. Paul and Silas, in the Philippian dungeon, with backs bleeding, "sang praises unto God" ( Acts 16:25). What a blessed triumphing over circumstances was that! Prison-walls could not cut them off from Christ! But how this puts us to shame! The reason why we are so often dull and despondent, the cause of our restlessness and discontent, is because we walk so little in the light of the Lord's countenance. May we earnestly seek grace to heed the things which He has "spoken unto us" that our joy may be "full."

"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" ( John 15:12). "Love is benignant affection, and the appropriate display of it. In this most general meaning of the term, ‘love is the fulfilling of the law.' The exercise of this principle in supremacy, in a well-informed intelligent being, secures the performance of all duty. It cannot coexist with selfishness and malignity, the great causes of sin. In the degree it prevails, they are destroyed. ‘Love does'—love can do—‘no evil' ( Romans 13:10). Love does—love must do—all practical good. If evil is done—if good is not done—it is just because love is not there in sufficient force" (Dr. John Brown).

It is important that we distinguish between love and benevolence. The benevolence of Christ knows no limits to any of His people. Just as the Father maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth the rain on the just and on the unjust, so Christ ever ministers to and supplies the every need of each of His people, whether they are abiding in Him or no. But just as He abides only in the one who is abiding in Him, just as he finds complacency only in him who keeps His commandments ( John 14:21), so the Christian is to regulate his actions and manifest his love. "As a Christian I am to cherish and exercise love toward every one who gives evidence that he is a brother in Christ. It is only in this character that he has any claim upon my brotherly affection, and the degree not of my good will, for that should in every ease be boundless; yet my esteem of, and complacency in a Christian brother, should be proportioned to the manifestation which he makes of the various excellencies of the Christian character. The better he Isaiah , and shows himself to be, I should love him the better. My love should be regulated on the same principle as Christ's, whose benevolence knows no limit in reference to any of His people, but whose esteem and complacency are always proportioned to holy principles and conduct on the part of His people" (Dr. John Brown).

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" ( John 15:13). It is to be observed that these words follow right on after Christ saying, "love one another as I have loved you." In view of this, we believe that John 15:13 to 16 set forth a number of proofs of Christ's love, each of which manifested some distinctive feature of it, and that these are here advanced in order to teach us how we should love one another. The Lord places first the highest evidence of His love: He laid down His life for His people. It is to be observed that in the Greek the word "man" is not found in this verse. Literally rendered it reads, "greater than this love no one has, that one his life lay down for friends his." Christ emphasizes once more the great fact that His death, imminent at the time He spoke, was purely voluntary. He "laid down" His life; none took His life from Him. This life was laid down for His friends, and in thus dying on their behalf, in their stead, He furnished the supreme demonstration of His love to and for them. Romans 5:6-10 emphasizes the same truth, only from a different standpoint. There, the objects of Christ's atoning sacrifice are described as Divine justice saw them, they are viewed as they were in themselves, by nature and practice—ungodly, sinners, enemies. But here in John 15 the Savior speaks of them in the terms of Divine love, and as they were by election and regeneration—His "friends."

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Now in this verse the Lord not only speaks of His own unselfish, sacrificial, illimitable love, but He does so for the express purpose of supplying both a motive and an example for us. He has given us a commandment that we "love one another," and that we love our brethren as He loved them.

There is to be no limitation in our love: if occasion requires it we are to be ready to lay down our life one for another. The same truth is found in John's first Epistle: "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" ( 1 John 3:16). "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." How these scriptures rebuke us! What is it worth if we hold the theory that we are ready, in obedience to God's Word, to lay down our lives for our brethren, when we fail so sadly in ministering to the common and daily needs and sufferings of God's children? "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" ( 1 John 3:18)!

"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" ( John 15:14). Here is the second proof of Christ's love for His own. He had treated them with unreserved intimacy. He had brought them into close fellowship with Himself. He had dealt with them not as strangers, nor had He acted as men do toward casual acquaintances. Instead, He had, in infinite condescension, given them the unspeakable privilege of being His friends. And such they would continue, so long as they did whatsoever He had commanded them, for the Lord will not be on intimate terms with any who are out of the path of obedience. This was something far higher than the attitude which the Rabbis maintained toward their disciples, and higher still than the feeling which a master entertained for his servants. The Lord of glory deigned to treat his disciples and servants as friends!

"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." It is to be carefully noted that Christ did not here say, "I am your friend?" Just now there is a great deal in the more popular hymnbooks about Jesus as our friend. How few seem to appreciate the desire of our Lord to make us His friends! The difference is very real. When a man who has attained the highest position in the nation notices a man of the laboring class and calls him his friend, it is a condescension, for he hereby exalts that unknown man to his own level. But for the insignificant man to say of the famous one, ‘He's my friend,' by no means exalts that one; indeed, it might be considered a presumption, a piece of impudence. This familiarity, this calling Jesus our Friend, is dimming in people's hearts the consciousness that He is something more than that: He is out Savior! He is our Lord! He is really, in His own essential nature, our God" (Mr. C. H. Bright). The same rebuke is called for by those who term the incarnate Son of God their elder Brother! It is true that Hebrews , in marvellous grace, is "not ashamed to call us brethren," but it ill requites that grace for us to term Him our "Elder Brother." Let us ever remember His own word "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am" ( John 13:13).

"Henceforth I call you not servants: for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends: for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" ( John 15:15). Here is the third proof of the love of Christ for His own. He not only treated the disciples as friends, but He owned them as such, and took them fully into His confidence. Our thoughts at once revert to Abraham, who is expressly called "the friend of God" ( James 2:23). The reference no doubt is to what we read of in Genesis 18:17. God was about to destroy Sodom. Lot knew nothing of this, for he was at too great a moral distance from God. But the Lord said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" In Abraham God found delight, and therefore did He make him the confidant of His counsels. It is striking that Abraham is the only Old Testament saint directly termed the friend of God (see Isaiah 41:8). But Abraham is "the father of all them that believe," and here the Lord calls his believing children His "friends." The term speaks both of confidence and intimacy—not our confidence in and intimacy with Him, but He in and with us. He would no longer call them "servants," though they were such; but He makes them His companions. He reveals to them the Father's thoughts, bringing them into that holy nearness and freedom which He had with the Father. What a place to put them into! If they were not fit to receive these intimacies, He would be betraying the confidence of the Father! It is the new nature which gives us the needed fitness.

"I have called you friends." This is not to be restricted to the Eleven, but applies equally to all His blood-bought people. The King of kings and Lord of lords not only pities and saves all them that believe in Him, but actually calls them His friends! In view of such language, we need not wonder that the apostle said, "The love of Christ passeth knowledge." What encouragement this should give us to pour out our hearts to Him in prayer! Why should we hesitate to unbosom ourselves to One who calls us His "friends"! What comfort this should give us in trouble. Will He not minister of His own mercy and grace to His "friends"! And what assurance is here for the one who doubts the final issue. Weak and unworthy, we all are in ourselves, but Christ will never forsake His "friends"!

"For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (). The "all things" here were those which pertained to His Mediatorship. Mark 4supplies us with a striking illustration of how the Lord made His disciples His special confidants: "And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables . . . Without a parable spake he not unto them (the multitudes): and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples'' (verses 11 , 34). And again in the Gospel records we find the Savior distinguishing His disciples by similar marks of His love. To them only did He confide His approaching betrayal into the hands of wicked men. To them only did He declare that His place in the Father's House should be theirs. To them only did He announce the coming of the Comforter.

In like manner Christ has revealed many things to us in His Word which the wise of this world know nothing about. "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say Peace and safety: then sudden destruction cometh upon them as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4). How highly we should value such confidences. How much would He reveal to us, now hidden, if only we gave more diligent heed to His commandments! Ever remember that "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him"! Ere passing to the next verse let it be pointed out again that the Lord was not only here referring to the evidences of His own love for us, but was also making known how our love should be manifested one toward another. "He that hath friends will show himself friendly" ( Proverbs 18:24). Then let us abstain from encroaching on a brother's spiritual liberty; let us not usurp dominion over a brother's faith; let us treat our brother not as a servant, still less as a stranger, but as a friend!

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you" ( John 15:16). "This love was at the foundation of all for them: and to it they owed, and we owe, that choice was on His side, not ours. ‘Ye have not chosen me,' He says, ‘but I have chosen you.' Thus in conscious weakness the power of God is with us: and as He sought us when lost, when there was nothing but our misery to awaken His compassion—so we may count assuredly upon Him, whatever our helplessness, to perfect the work He has begun. What comfort lies for us in the royal work, ‘I have chosen you'!

"But grace enables us to fulfill the conditions necessarily imposed by the holiness of the Divine nature, and cannot set these aside: therefore the closing words. They are in the same line with others that we have lately heard: which they emphasize only in a somewhat different way. Fruit that abides is that which alone satisfies God. How much that looks well has not that quality in it which ensures permanence. How much that seems truly of God reveals its character by its decay! This ‘abiding' connects itself, in the Gospel of John , with the Divine side of things which is seen all through" (Numerical Bible).

The following questions are to help the student prepare for our next lesson:—

1. What is the link between verses 17 to 27 with the context?

2. What is our Lord's central design in this passage?

3. Wherein is the depravity of man exhibited?

4. Why does Christ repeat verse 12in verse 17?

5. What is the meaning of verse 19?

6. What is the force of "had not had sin," verses 22 , 24?

7. Of what does the testimony of verses 26 , 27 consist?


Verses 17-27

Christ Fortifying His Disciples

John 15:17-27

The following is an Analysis of the closing section of John 15:—

1. Christians commanded to love one another, verse 17.

2. Christians warned of the world's hatred, verse 18.

3. Causes of the world's hatred, verses 19-21.

4. The greatness of the world's guilt, verses 22-24.

5. The fulfillment of God's Word, verse 25.

6. The witness of the Spirit, verse 26.

7. The witness of Christians, verse 27.

The principal Subject in the passage which is to be before us is the world's hostility against Christ and His people. Its hatred is mentioned seven times—solemn witness to its awful entirety and inveteracy. The transition from the preceding section is quite natural and easy. The Lord had been speaking to and of "his own;" now He contemplates "the world." He had just declared that His disciples are His friends; now He turns to describe His and their enemies. He had set before the apostles the proofs of His love for them; now He warns them of the world's hatred. The connection between the last verse of the previous section and the opening one of our present portion is most significant. "These things I command you, that ye love one another." Various motives had been presented for them loving one another, chief among them being the example of His own wondrous love. Now an entirely new and different reason is advanced: Christians need to be united together by the bonds of brotherly affection because the world, their common enemy, hated them.

A loving heart would feign discover or induce love everywhere. To be ungratified in that desire and more than that, to be hated, is a hard and bitter lot, the bitterest ingredient in all affliction. Therefore does the Lord here faithfully prepare His disciples for such an experience, that they might not marvel at the world's hostility nor be stumbled by it—"Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" ( 1 John 3:13). Graciously did the Savior proceed to fortify His disciples against the storm of persecution which He knew full well would burst upon them shortly after His departure. Charged with such a mission, proclaiming such a message, invested with miraculous powers of benevolence, the apostles might fondly imagine that the world would soon be won to Christ. But they must be prepared for disappointment. Therefore, did Christ arm them beforehand, that their spirits might not be overwhelmed by the bitter malice and opposition which they would surely encounter.

There is little or nothing in the Gospel records to intimate that the apostles had been subjected to persecution while their Master was with them. After the seventy were sent forth, we read that they "returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the demons are subject unto us through thy name" ( Luke 10:17). When the scribes and Pharisees were offended because the disciples transgressed the tradition of the elders, eating with unwashen hands, instead of assailing them directly, the complaint was laid before the Lord Jesus ( Matthew 15:2). When the Savior was arrested in the Garden, He said to the officers, "Let these (the apostles) go their way" ( John 18:8). Even after His crucifixion, they were allowed to go, unmolested, back to their fishing ( John 21:23). But after His return to the Father, they too would experience the world's malignity. Therefore did the Lord forewarn them of the treatment which they must expect and would certainly receive at the hands of the ungodly.

The warning which the Lord Jesus here gave the apostles is much needed by young believers to-day. The inexperienced Christian supposes that the hatred of the world against him is a reproach. He thinks that he is to blame for it. He imagines that if only he were kinder, more gentle, more humble, more Christlike, the enmity of unbelievers would be overcome. This is a great mistake. The truth Isaiah , the more Christlike we are the more shall we be antagonized and shunned. The most conclusive proof of this is found in the treatment which our blessed Savior received when He was in the world. He was "despised and rejected of men." If then the purest love which was ever manifested on earth, if goodness incarnate was hated by men in general, if the brighter His love shone, the fiercer was the enmity which it met with in response, then how can we expect to be admired and esteemed by the world? Surely none will entertain the horrible thought that any of us can surpass the prudence of the Son of God!

And how all of this rebukes the popularity which so many professing Christians, yea, and many of the professed servants of the Christ now enjoy! Have we forgotten that severe rebuke, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" ( James 4:4)! Solemn indeed are the terms used here. Adulterers and adulteresses are they who seek and enjoy illicit love. In like manner, for a professing Christian—one who claims to love Christ—to seek his delight in the world, to company with the ungodly, is to be guilty of spiritual adultery. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" ( 1 John 2:15). "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" ( Romans 12:2).

"These things I command you, that ye love one another" ( John 15:17). There is something peculiarly searching and heart-rebuking in this. How humbling to find that Christ had to command us to love one another! How humbling to hear Him repeating this command, for He has already given this same commandment to His disciples in John 13:34! And how humbling to find Him here repeating it again, for He had only just said, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" ( John 15:12)! Was it because He foreknew how little Christian love would be exercised among His people? Was it because He knew how much there is in each of us that is so unlovely? Was it because He foresaw that the Devil would stir up bitterness and strife among His followers, seeking to make them bite and devour one another? Whatever may or may not have been before Him, one thing cannot be denied—Christ has expressly commanded His people to love one another.

"These things I command you, that ye love one another." Not only does the insistent emphasis of our Lord upon this world indicate that here is something which every Christian needs to take seriously to heart, but the large place given to it in the Epistles adds strong confirmation. The following commandments of the Holy Spirit through the apostles are but repetitions and expansions of the precept now before us: "Be kindly affectioned one to another" ( Romans 12:10). "Forbearing one another in love" ( Ephesians 4:2). "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" ( Ephesians 4:3). "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another" ( Ephesians 4:32). "If any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye" ( Colossians 3:13). "See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" ( 1 Peter 1:22). "Love the brotherhood" ( 1 Peter 2:17). "And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves" ( 1 Peter 4:8). "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" ( 1 Peter 3:8). Envy, malice, ill-feeling, evil-speaking among brethren are a sure proof of the lack of this brotherly love!

"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" ( John 15:18). Here the Lord introduces the subject of the world's enmity, and He begins by pointing out to His apostles that what they would suffer was only what lie had suffered before them; they must not be surprised then at finding themselves in the midst of a hostile people. For their part they must be meek and gentle, living peaceably with all men so far as they would allow them to. They must do nothing maliciously to provoke or warrant the hatred of the world; but if they were faithful to the Lord, they must be prepared for the same evil treatment which He met with.

"Ye know that it hated me before it hated you." The word "before" here refers not so much to time as it does to experience. Christ was assuring them that He trode the very same path which they would be called on to follow. He had preceded them in it: "When he putteth forth his own sheep he goeth before them" ( John 10:4). How this should comfort us! It was Christ identifying the disciples with Himself. If we belong to the Lord Jesus that is sufficient to arouse the world's rancor. But it is blessed to know that it hates us because of Him, not because of ourselves! It is the repulsion of human nature for what is of God. And nowhere is the awful depravity of fallen man more evidenced than. in his hatred of that which is pure, lovely, good, holy.

"If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" ( John 15:19). Here the Lord proceeds to state the various causes of the world's hatred. Two are given in this verse: tint, His people are no longer "of the world;" second, Christ had "chosen them out of the world." The two are really resolvable into one: it is because Christ has chosen us out of the world that we no more belong to it. We no longer share its spirit, are no more actuated by its aims, are not now governed by its principles. Note the Lord's emphatic emphasis here: five times in this one verse does the Lord mention "the world"! Do you, He seems to ask, desire the smiles of men, are you anxious to stand high in their favor? That would be tragic indeed; that would prove you also belonged to the world. In John 8:23 , Christ had declared of Himself, "Ye are from beneath; I am from above; ye are of this world; I am not of this world." Now, for the first time, He predicates the same thing of His disciples. It is striking to note that this was not until after John 14:31 , and Christ had (figuratively) taken His place—identifying the disciples with Himself in that place—on resurrection ground. It is only as united to a risen Christ that we are taken (positionally) out of "the world."

"I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." It is remarkable that the first reason Christ here gives as to why the world hates believers, is because of their election. "The world cannot endure the thought of God's sovereignty and electing love" (Mr. F. W. Grant). The world is enraged at the very idea of Christians being the singled-out favorites of God. Strikingly was this demonstrated almost at the beginning of our Lord's public ministry. After announcing that the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1 , 2found its fulfillment in His mission, He went on to say how that while the heaven was shut up for three years and a half, during the subsequent famine, though there were many widows in Israel, God, in His sovereign grace, sent Elijah unto none but the widow of Zarephath; and though there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, none of them were cleansed, though God in His sovereign mercy healed Naaman, the Syrian. The response to our Lord's words was very shocking. "And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong" ( Luke 4:28 , 29).

It is just the same to-day. Nothing so stirs up the enmity of the carnal mind as to hear of God's absolute sovereignty: choosing some, passing by others. Then how much worldliness there must now be in many professing Christians! It should be noted in the example cited above that it was the religious world which was so enraged against Christ: it was the synagogue-worshippers that sought to murder the Savior, because He pressed upon them the fact that God had compassion on whom He pleases. Nor have things changed for the better. Let any servant of God to-day expound the truths of Divine election and foreordination, and he will be assailed the most fiercely by those who claim to be the people of God. Song of Solomon , too, with believers in general. Let their lives attest their calling, let their walk make it manifest that they are not "of the world," because "chosen out of it," and the bitter enmity of the ungodly will indeed be excited. But let us not be cast down at this, rather let us see in the hostility of unbelievers a precious evidence that we are one with Him whom the world cast out.

"Therefore the world hateth you." It will not hate mere professors. The man who is conformed to this world, who takes part in its politics, who shares its pleasures, who acts according to its principles, even though he beats the name of Christ, will not be ostracised or persecuted. The woman who is conformed to this world, who follows its fashions, who enjoys its society, who works for its reformation, will not be shunned by it. The world loves its own. But those who walk in separation from the world (and they are few in number), those who follow a rejected Christ, will know something of what it means to enter into "the fellowship of his sufferings" ( Philippians 3:10). God has said, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" ( 2 Timothy 3:12). But let such recall and be cheered by those words of our Savior, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" ( Matthew 5:10 , 12).

"Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord" ( John 15:20). How touching is this! Christ would have us forget no words spoken by Him! He here reminds the apostles of what He had said to them a little previously, though in another connection—showing how full His utterances are, designed for various applications. His purpose here is to press upon us that it is a mark of genuine discipleship if we share the experiences of our Master, encountering the hatred of the world. "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also" ( John 15:20). The "if" looks back to the same word at the beginning of John 15:18,19. If you are My followers, My friends, then must you have fellowship in My sufferings. They have persecuted the Lord, and just so far as they live and act accordingly, they will also persecute His servants. The world may boast of its liberal principles; it may for a time tolerate a lukewarm Christianity; but, let the people of God be out and out for Him, and the secret hatred of the heart will soon manifest itself. When the "I have chosen you out of the world" becomes a practical reality, then the world's rage and ban will be displayed. But after all, what is the world's hatred in comparison with Christ's love! And yet, as has been said, "If there is anything that true Christians seem incessantly forgetting, and seem to need incessantly reminding of, it is the real feeling of unconverted people towards them, and the treatment they must expect to meet with" (Bishop Ryle).

"If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." There seems to be a note of irony here. The Lord had spoken nought but the unadulterated truth of God, yet the world had not kept His sayings. And why? Because His sayings condemned them. "For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" ( John 7:20). "The world cannot hate you (His unbelieving brethren); but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil" ( John 7:7). And just so far as we proclaim the truth of God, so will men (in general) reject our message! "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us" ( 1 John 4:5 , 6).

"But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me" ( John 15:21). Here the Lord gives the deepest reason why His disciples would be hated by the world. "For my name's sake" means, of course, on account of it. It was because they would represent Him, acting as His ambassadors, that men would persecute them. Christ would grant His people the high privilege of sharing His sufferings: "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you" ( 1 Peter 4:14). It is the confession of Christ's name which arouses the enmity of depraved hearts. May we, like Moses, "esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt"—the world ( Hebrews 11:26). "Because they know not him that sent me": far from this ignorance affording an excuse, it was inexcusable, because wilful.

"If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin" ( John 15:22). Here is an example of where the words of Scripture cannot be taken in their absolute sense. When our Lord declared of the Jews that if He had not become incarnate and spoken unto them "they had not had sin," He does not mean that they would have been without sin in every sense. The chief design of the first three chapters of Romans is to establish the fact that all the world, Jew and Gentile alike, were "guilty before God." Christ was speaking in a comparative sense. Compared with their immeasurable guilt of rejecting the Lord of glory, their personal sins were as nothing. Similar instances where things are represented absolutely, though intended in a comparative sense, are frequent in Scripture. For example: "All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing" ( Isaiah 40:17). "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" ( 1 Corinthians 3:7).

There had been sin all along, and the governmental dealings of God with men clearly evidenced that He took account of it. But evil as man had shown himself all through his history, the coming of Christ to the earth brought sin to such a head, that all that had gone before was relatively speaking, a trifling thing when compared with the monstrous evil that was done against incarnate Love. It is a question of the standard of measurement. There are a number of passages which clearly teach that there will be degrees of punishment meted out to those who are lost: Matthew 11:22; Hebrews 10:28 , 29 , etc. The degree of punishment will be determined by the heinousness of the sins committed, and that will be decided by the degree of light sinned against. When One who was more than man came into the world, the Divine dignity of His person, the love and light which He manifested, brought in a new standard of measurement. Christ was here speaking according to the glory of His person. It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of judgment than for Capernaum. And why? Because the latter turned its back upon the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The principle here enunciated by the Savior is very solemn in its application, and one which we all do well to take to heart. Spiritual privileges carry with them heavy responsibilities: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." ( Luke 12:48)! To dwell in a land of open Bibles and preached Gospel, places men on a very different footing before God than the heathen who have never heard of Christ. Judgment will be according to the light enjoyed! The mere fact that men knew the way of truth, and walked not therein, will only increase their condemnation. To receive Divine instruction and not improve it, Isaiah , as Christ here plainly declares, to leave men without any cloak (or "excuse") for their sin.

"He that hateth me hateth my Father also" ( John 15:23). The Lord here furnished proof that the sin of despising Him involved guilt of unparalleled magnitude. Christwords were not only His own words, but the Father's also. He and the Father were one. The idea of some that they can acceptably worship the Father while rejecting His Son is a deceit of man's depraved heart and a lie of the Devil. "The Jews professed that they loved God, and that on the ground of that love they hated Christ; the God however, whom they loved was not the true God, but a phantom which they named God. The fact that they rejected Christ, in spite of all His words of spirit and truth, showed them to be the enemies of the Father" (Hengstenberg).

"He that hateth me hateth my Father also." Very solemn is this. In the previous verses the Lord had shown that the principal reason why the world would hate His disciples was because of their oneness with Himself. Now He shows that the reason why the world hated Him was because of His oneness with the Father. Christ revealed the Father. He was the express image of His person. In Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He that saw Him, saw the Father also. His doctrine was the truth of God. His life revealed the perfections of God. His laws expressed the will of God. To dislike Him, then, was proof positive that they hated God. It is a most fearful fact, but one most clearly revealed in Scripture, that men in their natural state are "haters of God" ( Romans 1:30); their minds being "enmity against God" ( Romans 8:7). It is this hatred of God which causes people to reject Christ and dislike Christians. Conversely their rejection of Christ demonstrates their hatred of God. Christ is the test of the state of every human heart! "What think ye of Christ?" honestly answered, reveals whether we are His friends or His enemies. There is no God in the universe except the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if men do not believe in, love, worship and serve the Song of Solomon , they hate the Father. Just as faith begets love, so unbelief begets hatred.

"If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father" ( John 15:24). How decidedly does the Lord Jesus place Himself above all the other messengers of God that had preceded Him! The words "they had not had sin" have the same force here as in John 15:22. If Israel had not enjoyed such privileges, they had not contracted such guilt. If they had not heard Him who spake as never man spake, and if they had not witnessed works such as never man performed, their criminality in the sight of God would have been so much less that, in comparison with their culpability now that they had heard and seen and believed not, had been as nothing. It is to be noted that Christ first mentioned what He had spoken unto them ( John 15:22), and they referred to the works which He had done among them.

"If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin, but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father." "The presence and testimony of the Son of God had the gravest possible results. It was not only an infinite blessing in itself and for God's glory, but it left men, and Israel especially, reprobate. Law had proved man's weakness and sin, as it put under the curse all who took their stand on the legal principle. There was none righteous, none that sought after God, none that did good, no, not one. The heathen were manifestly wicked, the Jews proved so by the incontestable sentence of the law. Thus every mouth was stopped, and all the world obnoxious to God's judgment. But the presence of Christ brought out, not merely failure to meet obligations as under law, but hatred of Divine goodness come down to men in perfect grace... Sin before or otherwise was swallowed up in the surpassing sin of rejecting the Son of God come in love and speaking not merely as man never spoke, but as God had never spoken."

"But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause" ( John 15:25). Terrible indictment of Israel was this. "There was nothing in Christ to provoke hatred in any but morally disordered, depraved minds. Nothing in His character, it was faultless; nothing in His doctrines, they were all true; nothing in His laws, they were holy, just and good. He never had done the world any harm: He had spent His life in bestowing favors on men. Why, then, did they hate Him, why did they persecute Him, why did they put Him to death? They hated Him because they hated His Father" (Dr. John Brown.)

"But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause." Here the Lord was tracing the world's enmity back to its true source. He had given no cause for it; it must therefore be attributed to their desperately wicked hearts. The Lord was further fortifying His disciples. They must not be surprised nor offended at the bitterness and malice of the ungodly. His conduct had been mild and benevolent; yet they hated Him. Let us see to it that we give men no "cause" to hate us. Let their enmity against us be provoked only by fellowship with Christ: "It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household!" ( Matthew 10:25).

"But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause." No doubt Christ was also anticipating an objection here. How is such hatred possible? Why does God permit it? The Lord answers by saying, This hatred of the world is but the fulfillment of God's Word, and therefore of His inscrutable counsels. So little do the wicked affect by their malice, they only fulfill the Scriptures—while they draw down upon themselves the judgments which other passages therein announce. In quoting here from "their law," Christ showed that the written Word testified against Israel!

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" ( John 15:26). The connection here is apparent. The Lord had been warning the disciples of the opposition they would meet with from that kingdom over which Satan is "the Prince." But that only distresses the more their already saddened hearts, therefore did their tender Master revert again to His original promise—the one promise repeated most frequently in this Paschal Discourse—that the Divine Comforter would come to their relief. It was presupposed in John 15:20 , 21that His disciples would be hated, like Himself, on account of their word. He predicted their fate to them as His witnesses. It was obvious that they should think, But how shall we poor, weak men persist in our testimony, yea, even bear it in the face of such predicted hatred? He therefore confirms to them their vocation, and predicts to them with equal clearness that they shall bear Him testimony in the future ( John 15:27). "Not of themselves, however, and in their own human persons: the Paraclete (the Comforter) will conduct the cause. He then, however, returns to the former again, and consoles them by the emphatic assurance that they might not stumble at this: I have now (more clearly than ever before) foretold to you both the coming of the Spirit as a Witness against the hatred of the world, and at the same time the continuance of that hatred in spite of His testimony" (Stier).

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." That the Spirit is here said to "proceed from the Father" (a statement which has split the Greek from the Roman "Church," into whose differences we shall not here enter) is supplementary to what the Lord had said in John 14:26. There the Comforter was to be sent in Christ's name: here He proceeds from the Father. The two statements placed side by side, bring out the unity of the Godhead. This additional word also shows that the Spirit was not exclusively subordinate to Christ, as some have argued from John 14:26. "He shall testify of me," amplifies His former word in John 14:16 , "another Comforter.'' The Spirit would further Christ's interests, and be unto the disciples (only in another way) all that Christ would have been unto them had He remained on earth.

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." "Here the Comforter is viewed as sent by the ascended Christ from the Father, and consequently as witness of His heavenly glory. This is an advance on what we saw in the previous chapter where Christ asks and the Father gives the Paraclete to be with them forever, sending Him in His Son's name. Here the Son Himself sends, though of course, from the Father. The Spirit of truth is thus the suited Witness of Christ as He is above" (The Bible Treasury). "Whom I will send" brings out the glory of the exalted Savior in a most striking way.

"And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning" ( John 15:27). Here the Lord explains to the disciples how the Spirit would testify and of what it would consist. He would not make any corporeal manifestation of Himself as had the Song of Solomon , but He would bear witness in and through the disciples. He would testify that which they had already seen in Him, and that which they had already heard from Him—nothing besides, essentially different or new. Thus it will be seen that the two "testimonies" of John 15:26,27 are not separate and independent, but natural and harmonious.

"And ye also shall bear witness." Marvellous grace was this. Neither hostility nor hatred had quenched the compassion of Christ. The world might cast Him out, yet still would His mercy linger over it. Before judgment ultimately descended on the world, a further witness to Himself should be given it, a witness which has already continued for over eighteen centuries! May Divine power enable every real Christian to witness faithfully and constantly for our absent Lord. May we by lip and life bear testimony, in season and out of season, to His excellency, and to Him as our sufficiency.

The following questions are to aid the student on the opening portion of John 16:—

1. What is the central theme of verses 1-11?

2. What is the meaning of verse 1?

3. What does the last clause of verse 2go to prove?

4. What blessings would "remembrance" bring the apostles, verse 4?

5.Why did the apostles ask "Whither goest Thou?" verse 5?

6. Why "expedient" for Christ to go, verse 7?

7. In what way does the Spirit "reprove the world," verse 8?

 


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Bibliography Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 15:4". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/awp/john-15.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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