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PART V. (C.)
THE UNION OF CHRIST AND HIS DISCIPLES, WITH THE RESULTS OF THIS UNION
1. The relation of the disciples to Christ is one of living union as branches in the vine (John 15:1-11).
2. The result of this union in the lives of the disciples (John 15:12-17), and in the unbelieving world (John 15:18-27).
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 15:1. True vine.—Christ and the disciples were now on the way to Gethsemane. Their passing through the vineyards, etc., surrounding the city may have suggested this image: others think it may have been called up by a vine in the courtyard, or on the roof, of the house where the supper was instituted; others, by the golden vine which adorned one of the temple gates; and others still, by the fires of the vine-prunings along the valley of the Kidron. The first seems the most likely origin of the figure, combined perhaps with the last. I am the true (ideal, veritable) vine, etc.—Israel was the vine of Jehovah; but they failed to bring about that living unity and fellowship between God and men that has been effected in Christ. Christ is the true centre of unity, the source of true vine-life, uniting the branches to Himself as one complete whole. The husbandman.—Christ is the true vine as the incarnate Son. It is as the Son of man that He enters into this close relationship with humanity. Christ is the life of the complex organism, and over this living whole the Father watches with providential care. The husbandman is the owner and cultivator.
John 15:2. Every branch in Me, etc.—There is a being in Christ which is yet not a living, vital union (Matthew 3:10; Matthew 21:19, etc.). These fruitless branches the divine husbandman “takes away.” The mode itself is not stated. “Death breaks the connection between the unfaithful Christian and Christ” (Westcott). Purgeth.—Cleanses or prunes. The word καθαίρει has here a spiritual significance. Everything that would retard fruit-bearing is removed. Bring forth.—Bear. This is the end of disciplinary training, as it is the end of pruning.
John 15:3. Now ye are clean, etc.—Pruned or cleansed. The Word is the whole revelation of Himself—the Λόγος. This Word has a cleansing power (Hebrews 4:12). When it is believed it exercises this power in the soul (see John 5:24; John 8:31-32; John 12:48; John 17:6; John 17:17).
John 15:4. Abide in Me, and let Me abide in you.—Both clauses are imperative. The indwelling is mutual; but the let Me abide, etc., signifies the source of the gracious spiritual life for the dependent branches.
John 15:5. Without Me.—Apart from or severed from Me, etc. All the branch’s fruitfulness depends on its living union with Christ. Let any seek to live apart from Him, without His divine strength, and the result will be speedily apparent.
John 15:6. He is cast forth, etc.—Whenever the vital connection ceases then separation has in reality begun. The branch Is already “cast forth,” though it may remain for a time in outward union apparently with the stem. And is withered.—The reality of the separation will show itself. And men gather, etc.—And their ultimate fate is to be destroyed. This image may have been suggested by the fires of vine-prunings (see John 15:1). Judgment now and hereafter.
John 15:7-8. The end of answered prayer, as of every Christian grace and blessing, is spiritual fruit-bearing.
John 15:9. Even as the Father hath loved Me, I also have loved you.—In these words our Lord recalls the disciples to that which is the source and foundation of this union—the eternal love of God. As the Father loves Him with this perfect eternal love, so He loves His disciples (John 17:24; John 17:26). My love (ἡ ) is that love which is His very nature. “Thy nature and Thy name is love.” Abiding in that love means in its deepest sense to abide in the Spirit and life of Christ.
John 15:10. If ye keep, etc. (John 14:15).—“Let no one deceive himself by saying that he loves Christ, when he does not obey Christ. We love Christ exactly in the proportion in which we keep His commandments” (Augustine in Wordsworth’s Greek Testament).
John 15:11. My joy.—The joy that is Mine. Just as He gives them His peace (John 14:27), He gives them His joy, the joy of self-sacrificing love.
John 15:13. Greater love, etc.—This shows the contents of the conception, “As I have loved you.” This is the loftiest ideal of love. Here He is speaking to His disciples, and of His self-sacrificing love in reference to them (John 10:11). In Romans 5:6-8 St. Paul is viewing that love from the point of view of perishing humanity.
John 15:14. Command you, etc.—This friendship is not, of course, on a footing of equality. Our friends do not command us. Our heavenly Friend must do so in virtue of His position.
John 15:15. I call you no longer servants, etc.—Servants = δούλους, slaves. But the apostles rejoiced in His service (Romans 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1, etc.). It was, however, a free service, not that of a slave. The slave’s position admits but of one mode of action, unthinking obedience. It is far otherwise with Christ’s disciples and friends. He takes them into confidence, reveals Himself and His work to them, makes them fellow-labourers in His vineyard. There were truths still to be revealed, but the Comforter would make these known unto them also.
John 15:16. Ye have not chosen Me, etc. (John 6:70; John 13:18; Luke 6:13).—High was the honour to which those fishermen of Galilee had been called. They had not chosen Him as disciples choose a teacher, but He had called them and ordained or appointed them to His work (1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Timothy 1:12, etc.), to go forth (when He had gone to the Father), still in unity with Him, to bring forth fruit, to sow and reap in the harvest field of the world (John 4:36-38), to labour for Him, and their labour would endure (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). To such the Father will give all needed gifts in answer to prayer in Christ’s name. The true disciple will come “boldly” to the throne of grace, as Christ did whilst He was on earth (see John 15:7-8).
John 15:17. These things, etc.—I.e. all contained in His words just-recorded (John 15:12-16). The outcome of obedience to Me will be love one to another.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 15:1-17
John 15:1-3. The true Vine and the Husbandman.—What guidance for the spiritual life, what calm in the midst of trial, what comfort and even cheerfulness in the hour of dissolution, have these words of our Lord given to the saints in all ages since they were spoken! It is touchingly related of the great Scottish reformer that when within an hour or two of his death he said to his wife, “Go, read where I cast my first anchor,” upon which she read the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel (McCrie’s Knox, p. 276). And how many since this discourse was uttered (in which Christ speaks of that unity of Himself and His people in God which He prays for in chap. 17) have cast an anchor there!—“an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil” (Hebrews 6:19). The first truth that meets us here is Christ’s declaration that He is—
I. The true Vine.—
1. The meaning of the word true here is not simply true as opposed to false, but true in an absolute sense—the ideal, the veritable Vine; the only root and stem to which the branches can be vitally united, and from which they can draw their life.
2. The vine of humanity had, through sin, withered and died away spiritually, severed from the source of true spiritual life. Even when God “brought a vine out of Egypt,” etc. (Psalms 80:0), sin was able to interpose. It was necessary that there should be a closer bond of union with the source of all true life, ere the vine of humanity could bring forth fruit to the divine glory.
3. Thus God sent the Son, and the Son came to earth to be the true centre of union between the human and divine. The true Vine is rooted in the divine and eternal; but its stem comes forth toward men in the world—“The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Humanity, united to Him in His incarnation through faith, becomes fruitful spiritually.
4. Men, the branches, become one with the Stem. “One life fills the plant from root through stem, and reddens and mellows each cluster. So His life pervades all His true followers; and that one life results in oneness of relation to God, of character, and of destiny” (Maclaren).
II. The Husbandman.—
1. It is the Husbandman who plants the Vine. The term includes here proprietorship. The Father is in a true sense the owner of the Vine. Christ’s disciples are His as branches of the Vine. But Vine and branches are both the Father’s—“Ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:23). The Father sent the Son into the world to assume our nature, so that He might become the medium of spiritual life for men, through their union with Him.
2. But the Vine is more than a possession of the Father. Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, and is the same in nature and essence as the Father. Jesus is the true Vine because of the double relation in which He stands toward God and toward man in virtue of His having become incarnate.
3. He thus “took upon Him the form of a servant”—in infinite love and condescension willingly came to earth to stand between God and men, and to become the means of spiritual life for men, and of union between them and the Father. But the Father is not only the owner—He is the Cultivator, he is—
III. The Vine-dresser.—
1. The vine needs special attention and care. A skilful cultivator is necessary. Left to itself, a vineyard would speedily degenerate and become comparatively fruitless.
2. So God watches over and cares for the spiritual Vine. He tended carefully the vine brought out of Egypt. Much more will He specially care for this true Vine—the centre and source of life and fruitfulness for men.
3. The heavenly Vine-dresser is active in His treatment of the branches in the true Vine.
(1) He cuts off all the fruitless twigs and branches which, through some cause, have been severed already from the source of life (see on John 15:6). But
(2) “Every branch that beareth fruit,” etc. The vine-branches need pruning lest the sap should run to leaves only. So does the Lord deal with His “people.” He cuts away what would hinder fruitfulness in the life.
4. This is a process that goes on both in the inner and outer life. In the best lives there remains some remnant of the old nature, which rebels against the “new man.” Hence such exhortations as this: “Die unto sin, live unto righteousness,” etc. Even a St. Paul had to struggle against the law in his members, etc., and cry, “O wretched man that I am,” etc. (Romans 7:23). But he could also thank God for victory through Christ. So Christ says to the disciples, “Now ye are clean,” etc. The light of His truth penetrates to the inner recesses of our being; the Word shows us to ourselves, and leads us through grace to put away evil and “cleave to that which is good” (John 13:10),
5. But pruning goes on in the outward life also. There are things lying around us and connected with us that engross us too much and chain us to the world. Men set up as gods some of those gifts entrusted to them oftentimes. This tends to weaken spiritual communion, and to check fruitfulness. Therefore God in mercy and love removes such things sometimes. The pruning-knife of trial, affliction, bereavement, cuts sharply down. It is hard sometimes to have to give up this or that at the call of conscience or duty. But the heavenly Vine-dresser sees it to be good for those who thus suffer. “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” etc. (Psalms 119:67; Psalms 119:71). The pruning results in fruitfulness.
Application.—See to it that this is the result; for if not the knife may again require to descend, cutting even more closely than before. And there may come a time when, after repeated trials, all is found to be vain, and the branch left until it becomes profitless. Of this what shall be the end?
John 15:4-5. The living union of Christ and His people.—How precious are those words, spoken under the soft springtide Syrian sky, among the vineyards and gardens clustering around Jerusalem! The closing words of the preceding chapter are most significant. “Arise, let us go hence,” the Saviour had said. And this going hence meant more than simply quitting the upper room (or the terrace) where, since the traitor’s departure, there had been so much peaceful fellowship, and such deep heart-converse regarding highest realities. For the disciples it was a going hence into a new set of experiences, the continuance of their life-journey without the blessed presence of their Master and Lord. He had spoken to the disciples of His own relationship to the Father, and of all the grace for them which that relationship afforded. But now, in view of what was coming, and to comfort them and sustain them during the conflict, He spoke of their close union with Himself under this figure of the vine and the branches.
I. The vine is a fit emblem of our Lord.—
1. The prophet wrote of Christ, “He hath no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him there is no beauty,” etc. (Isaiah 53:2). And the vine has no apparent graceful beauty as, from its short, knotted stem, it sends out its branches on the terraced hillside.
2. And yet it has a beauty and nobility all its own, possessed not by the stately cedar or other wonders of the vegetable kingdom. Its fertility, its vital richness, the excellency of its products and their wide and varied usefulness, cause it to be prized worldwide.
3. Thus, as Jesus, in reference to the spiritual nourishment of men, called Himself the bread of life, so here, in special reference to Himself as the source and channel of spiritual life, He called Himself the true vine.
4. In this emblematic description of Himself He fulfills the ancient prophecy which foretold that God would raise up for His people “a plant for renown” (Ezekiel 34:29). And lo! there is none in excellency and preciousness like unto Him.
5. Israel had been called by God a fruitful vine—it took deep root, it filled the land, “the hills were covered with the shadow of it,” etc. (Psalms 80:0). But the nation of Israel, the theocracy, was but a shadow of good things to come. And in Christ all that those shadows and types symbolised was found in reality and divine fulness. But there is a further truth revealed in this emblem. “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.” There is here set forth—
II. The oneness of Christ and His Church.—
1. A vine is not only a stem. The branches are part of the vine and in the vine. Through them the vine sends forth its fruit. Both are mutually dependent, although the branches are far more dependent on the stem. Still the one needs the other.
2. How grand is this thought as applied to the relationship of Christ and His Church! What a clear and definite idea it gives of the oneness of believers with Him, their organic unity with Him, the centre and source of life. And how should it lead us to lively gratitude, unbounded love, and adoring praise.
3. In Christ much more fully and vitally the Church becomes one in God than it had ever been before His coming. All the incomplete, imperfect, and shadowy types of the Jewish economy found their completion in Christ. “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts was the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant: and He looked for judgment,” etc. (Isaiah 5:7). The highest natural and spiritual advantages failed to keep the vine of the ancient Church in living oneness with God. Something from the world or the power of evil ever interposed, and the branches withered, the fruit failed. And only those branches which drew through the channels of promise a true though sometimes feeble nourishment became fruitful. There could not be thus for humanity abiding oneness with God.
4. But that is made possible through Christ in His divine-human personality. His essential nature is rooted in the divine. He is one with God. “The Word was God.” But through His incarnation He was revealed among men in the world as the centre and source of divine life for them. His people become one with Him, as the branches are one with the vine, as the members are one with the body. The most vital, intimate, and necessary relationship subsists between the living branches and the stem. The vine stock is essential to the vine branch; so is Christ to the believer—a close uninterrupted union must subsist between them.
III. How is this union effected and sustained?—
1. It is effected through faith. “He that believeth on Me,” etc. (John 6:47). That life which is in Christ through faith flows into the souls of believers.
2. This faith which is so essential implies a living trust in a present, living Lord, with whom we can hold communion, who is not far from us, but has promised to be with us “even unto the end of the world,” and whose life flows into and through us by faith. “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live,” etc. (Galatians 2:20). He has entered the believer’s heart when it was opened to Him by faith, and entering has become guest and provider. How close and real is this union between Christ and His people, the Vine and the branches!
3. And this union is maintained through believers abiding in Christ, and becoming stronger and more assured in their faith. Christ then gives Himself in all His fulness unto them, for this abiding becomes mutual. “Abide in Me, and I in you.” “Jesus is the ‘true Vine’ … of which Israel had failed to be the spiritual emblem which it was meant to be” (Maclaren). His people live in Him, and the fulness of His life is communicated to them. “We are sons of God in Him, lights of the world by Him, clothed with His righteousness, sanctified by His Spirit, and at last with Him and glorified with His glory” (Maclaren).
4. But there is implied in this the consciousness of dependence of the branches on the vine stock. If the branches are severed, new branches will grow, or may be grafted on the stem. So whilst the Church is “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23), yet it must never be forgotten that it owes its life to Him, and apart from Him can have no true life. So individuals may fall away, but others will take their place.
5. When this union is vital and real it is also enduring. “He gives His own eternal life, and they shall never perish.” His Church will endure; it cannot perish. Storms, etc., may come and tear away withered branches; but the true Vine, as an organic whole, will abide.
John 15:5. Much fruit.—These words were spoken when the ordinance of the supper was instituted. Thus they come specially home to those who are seated at the Lord’s table. There are words of encouragement and warning. This unity between Christ and His disciples, which is so close, is effected, through faith, by the “drawing” of the Father (John 6:65; John 10:29). It is not a merely external union if real; but is inward, spiritual. “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in Me.” In spite of our weakness and unworthiness, God will not willingly cut us off from union with Christ. Christians are in Christ, and are therefore able to draw from His divine fulness all they need to enable them to bring forth fruit.
I. Fruit.—That is what is expected as the result of union with Christ. What is this fruit? The fruit of faithfulness in the work given us to do, in our daily toil, etc.; the denial of ourselves to all ungodliness, etc.; steadfastness and endurance in trial and temptation, etc.; the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
II. No fruit apart from Christ.—In the world and in the life of sin men may be active enough. But the fruits they bear are ever vanity, i.e. nothingness. The fruits and results of sin shall all perish. Only that which bears the stamp of eternity can really be called fruit. Therefore it is ever true: apart from Christ, nothing—nothing for our own higher good, nothing for the advancement of the divine kingdom, nothing for the higher life of our fellow-men.
III. In Christ infinite possibilities of fruit-bearing.—
1. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me” (Philippians 4:13). Here are the negative and positive descriptions of the spiritual life: without Christ, nothing; in Christ, all things possible. There is given in Him divine strength, because there is given divine life. Thus boasting is excluded. I can through Christ. He alone is the source of spiritual life and strength for fruit-bearing. All true disciples need this. Their own strength is but weakness. But in Christ the weak and feeble have brought forth much fruit—even at the stake or on the scaffold.
2. How shall this power to bear fruit be attained? Learn of Him, of His word (John 15:3); come into vital union with Him through faith, and thus be strengthened to do and bear.
3. In the case of some the fruit is brought forth in enduring. Dr. Norman MacLeod relates a touching incident regarding a boy of eleven who for years had not a day’s rest from pain, and could not move. The night before he died, in response to some words of sympathy by Dr. MacLeod, the boy said, “I am strong in Him.” For the case of those to whom strength and opportunity are given, the fruit comes also in the form of doing.
4. And in every case the fruitfulness will be evidence of the hidden spiritual power. A great building is filled with mighty machinery, driven apparently by an invisible power. There is no sound of hissing steam, etc.; nothing but the “whir” of the belted wheels. There is no visible source of energy, but switch-handles manipulated by the engineers. Underground, however, and hidden, are the cables of wires connecting the machinery with the water power, perhaps many miles away, which is the source of the electric energy. So by hidden channels of communication and means of grace faith draws divine energy and strength for fruit-bearing.
Questions.—What are you doing? Dare you glory in that poor sheaf of blighted ears, or are you bringing only tares to perfection? Do not let any say, What can I do? I am poor, weak, etc. If Christ’s, you can draw drafts on the bank of faith—faith in the divine promises. And it is because Christians do not present their drafts, do not make the promises their own, that there is such poor fruit-bearing.
John 15:6. The end of separation from Christ.—Whilst the union of Christ and His Church endures—is close and abiding—there may be and are Churches and individuals who lose touch with Christ, and finally are cut off. Some branches are here spoken of as having been in the Vine, which are yet finally cut off from it and destroyed. However difficult this may be to understand, the history of the Christian Church testifies to the truth of it. Christ says that His sheep will not perish, and yet we read of lost sheep, who have strayed from the fold.
I. Apart from Christ there can be no true spiritual life.—
1. Although it may appear outwardly one with the tree, a branch which is not naturally and healthily connected with the stem soon becomes withered and falls, or is cut away. Something has interposed between it and the stem, or its organs of nutrition have become weakened and unable to fulfil their functions, and no vivifying sap flows through it to twig and leaf.
2. So it is with Churches. Instructive examples for all time are given among the seven Churches in Asia: Ephesus, “losing its first love”; Sardis, true emblem of a dying branch, “having a name to live, yet dead”; Laodicea, lukewarm in spiritual things, yet puffed up with spiritual pride; Pergamos, threatened with the influx of erroneous doctrine; and Thyatira, with corruptness of life. These are warning examples.
3. And to-day the old errors are ever ready to creep in and destroy the Church’s spiritual life; lukewarmness, scepticism, spiritual pride, were not confined to the early Christian centuries.
4. So is it with individuals. There may be men and women who were baptized into the name of Christ, have seemed true members of the Church, have been touched by His word, influenced by His Spirit, and have even prophesied in His name; and yet something or other has interposed to prevent a living union, and they are severed from the Vine.
II. Apart from Christ men abide in death.—
1. Here we seem to be in sight of the awful possibility spoken of by the apostle: “For as touching those who were once enlightened,” etc. (Hebrews 6:6).
2. We may not comprehend this thoroughly. What is called “the perseverance of the saints” is not known to us from the heavenly point of view—cannot yet, at least, be thus known. But from what is revealed we know that God in saving men does not override human freedom. And as a man by resistance can prevent himself from coming into saving union with Christ (John 5:40), so is abiding in Christ not against but with the will of the believer.
3. “Abide in Me.” Had not this union with Him been in some measure dependent on the mutual action of the believer, such words would never have been spoken, nor would exhortations and warnings “to watch,” “to take heed lest we fall,” etc., have been given. But this is a region of divine mysteries; and in view of this possibility—
III. We must learn to rest with entire dependence on Christ.—
1. This is the true secret of abiding in Him. The more healthily and unimpededly the branch draws its nourishment from the Vine, the stronger will it become, the more firmly and naturally united to the stem.
2. Thus the more Churches and individuals rely on their divine Head, the more healthy and vigorous will be their life.
3. Apart from Him there is no life. “Those who will live from themselves, not from the eternal truth and love of God, shall be cast forth and regarded as amongst the withered things whose end is to be burned” (Marshall Lang).
John 15:7-11. The results of living union with the true Vine.—Where true union with Christ exists—where the branch abides in the Vine—there will be clear evidence of the fact. The branches are united to the Vine for a purpose—to bear fruit. For that same purpose the sap circulates through the whole plant. One life is present in it all. From Christ comes the spiritual life and power and stimulus that lead to the spiritual life in the members of His Church being manifested in the fruits of the Spirit.
I. Living union with Christ leads to fruitfulness.—
1. Just as the branch which is living and draws its vigour from the living vine stock rejoices in the green freshness of its summer dress, and in the vintage season in its luscious clusters, so should it be with the branches of the true Vine. “He that abideth,” etc. (John 15:5); “Herein is My Father glorified,” etc. (John 15:8).
2. Christians evidence the presence of the spiritual life of Christ in them by bearing appropriate fruit. Christ’s spiritual life flows into their being, and bourgeons, blossoms, ripens in the daily life. Prayer will become habitual, love will fill the heart, deeds of mercy and kindness will be done spontaneously.
3. All the gifts, talents, powers of the nature will be employed in Christ on the high level of the divine service. The believer will love what Christ loves, hate what He hates, do what He commands.
4. And for this end (looking now from the point of view of the branches, and not of the divine Husbandman, whose action also is necessary—John 15:2), the channels through which grace and power flow must be kept open. Prayer must be constant and fervent; the word and all other means of grace must be diligently and reverently used. Above all, faith and trust must lead to close and constant communion.
II. Abiding in Christ, and having His words abiding in us, leads to blessedness.—
1. Every needed gift is supplied.—“Ye shall ask what ye will,” etc. (John 15:7). What a blessed promise this is to those who can fully appropriate it! And yet it is only what might be expected from abiding in Christ. “It pleased the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell.” “In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And to living branches in Him—to living members of His body—will be given “every good and perfect gift.” But notice the condition: “If ye abide,” etc. It is only then that this promise holds good. For when we truly abide in Him, then are our wills in accord with His will, as His was with the Father’s. If we ask thus “it shall be done unto us.”
2. The more we receive from His fulness, grace after grace, the more shall we bring forth much fruit and approve ourselves to be His disciples.—Only those who are bringing forth much fruit to God—living for the divine glory—have reached the true end of life, and attained its highest bliss. None else indeed can truly understand life, none else do so much for men’s highest interests. It is a noble life, full of devout aspiration and noble endeavour; it implies the leaving behind of what is mean and petty and uncharitable, the growing up evermore toward permanent discipleship; sitting at Christ’s feet, learning daily of Him, rising ever nearer to that blessed height when “the disciple shall be as his Master,” when “we shall be like Him, seeing Him as He is.”
3. The more we approve ourselves His disciples, the more shall we keep His commandments and abide in His love.—The more intimate the relation of believers with Christ, the more constant will be their obedience and fervent their love. To know Him truly is to obey Him. Is He not highest wisdom, truth, love? “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). And when through obedience and following we become more closely united to Him, then we shall realise ever more perfectly that “His nature and His name is love.” To be the object of a pure affection is to taste of the highest blessedness earth can give. To be the object of Christ’s love—not only His love of compassion for fallen man, but His love of satisfaction—is the earnest of that blessedness which awaits His disciples in the Father’s house. In view of all this, then, we understand what Jesus means when He says—
4. “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you,” etc. (John 15:11).—Just as He spoke of His peace even when in view of Gethsemane and Calvary, so the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief spoke of His joy. As the patriot has joy even in the midst of trial and sorrow endured for fatherland and home, just as the artist has joy in the toil expended on his masterpiece, etc. (John 16:21), so had the Saviour joy in carrying out the divine purpose in man’s redemption, in enduring that men might be saved, in travailing to bring to light “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle,” etc. (Ephesians 5:27). And that joy will be ours if we devote ourselves to the divine service in Him. The chief end of life is to glorify God (John 15:8), that we may enjoy Him for ever. Obedience to Christ ever leads to joy here and hereafter. Whatever waters of tribulation the soul united truly to Christ may have to pass through, whatever dark valleys of trial and sorrow, whatever conflict of temptation it may have to endure, yet in obedience to Christ, as to Him in obedience to His Father, there will be given amid all an ever-increasing joy, which even though imperfect here shall be an earnest of the perfect bliss of heaven.
John 15:11. Spiritual joy.—It is strange that our Saviour should speak of joy—His joy—when the way of sorrow lay before Him. But that which was accompanied with such deep sorrow (“Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow!”) yet led to highest joy—joy to the Saviour “in bringing many sons to glory”—joy to His people in the blessedness of redemption.
I. The Saviour’s joy was that of harmony with the will of the Father.—
1. This is the true source of Christian joy. It comes through self-surrender to God and submission to His will. There can be no true joy in a man’s life till he has learned to say, “Thy will, O God, be done.”
2. For this reason joy and gratitude go together in the Christian life. Gratitude leads believers to surrender themselves to God in Christ. But to do this is to become sharers in Christ’s peace and partakers in His joy.
II. The nature of Christian joy.—
1. The term “Christian joy” seems to many to involve a paradox. Many believe that joy and religion are not associates—that where the one is the other is not.
2. Some good people truly contrive to make their religion somewhat unattractive. Even good men have been fallible here, and extreme austerity has hindered their power for good.
3. Why should religion—especially the religion of Jesus—be thought incompatible with joy? The belief or unbelief of the materialist, etc., might well be joyless, but not belief in the gospel.
4. Such mistaken ideas arise from wrong conceptions of the true nature of joy. What is joy? Not the excitement arising from material pleasures, from what men call pleasure. That is on the surface merely. Joy is a deep-seated emotion, arising from the possession of some good or the contemplation of it. Unmixed joy is a pure emotion, and cannot be called forth by what is sinful. Its outward manifestations are therefore often different from what might be expected. The eyes may be filled with tears, whilst the heart may be throbbing with joy. “The noisy laughter of the fool” has no affinity with true joy, nor has the effervescing excitement caused by the world’s pleasures. It is not like a winter torrent, but like a gentle, perennial spring. “Joy comes gently upon us as the evening dew, and does not patter down like a hailstorm” (Richter).
III. The way to true joy.—
1. It is the way of Christ. To attain to joy men do not need to live lives of inaction, etc. It is not to be found in some “Castle of Indolence” or “Lotos-easers’ Island.”
2. Men seek in the life of action, adventure, danger, the joy they could not find in luxurious living. The great statesman, e.g., does not spend laborious days and nights merely for fortune or fame. The first most of our legislators have. The second might be attained in other and easier fashion. The joy of the true statesman is the joy of service for people and country. There are times also when the noble mind finds that suffering and enduring bring truest joy.
3. True joy is from within. The world’s joy is adventitious, dependent on changing external things, which alter and leave only a sad memory of what has been. It is the life of selfishness that is destitute of true joy. When the heart is surrendered to God, and the life is given into His care for guidance, there is given to believers that peace and gladness at which the world wonders, but which it cannot understand. Such was the joy of Jesus.
Application.—Christians have many causes for joy.
1. God’s dealings, His gifts, deliverances, etc., in the past.
2. His mercies in the present.
3. The assured hope He gives in Jesus for the future. “Therefore rejoice evermore.”
John 15:12-14. Not servants, but friends.—Friendship that is sincere and lasting is much esteemed even among men. Cicero said well that it “improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy and dividing our grief.” It is a voluntary and reciprocal relationship. It is the most disinterested of all human relationships. It is our pride and happiness to be able to call any of the truly great and good on earth our friends; and that any of these should call us their friends is esteemed by us as a great honour.
I. Notice the greatness of the friendship spoken of here.—
1. It is no earthly potentate, king or Cæsar, no earthly sage however honoured or great, who calls these humble men His friends. It is He who is King of kings and Lord of lords who says to these humble Galileans, “Ye are My friends.”
2. This is indeed astonishing when we think of the vast distance that separates us by nature from this heavenly Friend. But for this very end Christ was “made flesh,” so that we being “made partakers of the divine nature” in Him might rise to this high estate.
3. It is wonderful, marvellous. Yet He delights in this name. He was called the friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19). But more especially is He the friend of His chosen. What a theme for praise and gratitude!
II. Notice the closeness and intimacy of this friendship.—
1. The disciples of Jesus might well rejoice in being called to His service, and count this a great honour. But Christ here raised them above that condition, though they still remained servants.
2. It often happens that a faithful servant of a great business house rises from the foot of the ladder to be the faithful friend and helper of the principals of the firm. But the wonderful thing here is that Christ raised these men to this high position.
3. The merely subordinate servant simply obeys without always knowing. But it is different with a servant-friend. He does knowingly and willingly what falls to be done. The mere servant is not taken into counsel. The true friend is.
4. Yet this friendship between Christ and His people has its distinguishing features. “Ye are My friends, if ye do,” etc. It is the friendship of the great and wise elder Brother, who is all-wise, and in whose love and friendship we can trust. And we are Jesus’ disciples and friends without ceasing to be His servants. It is a unique relationship.
5. Still it is a close friendship. “Henceforth I call you not servants,” etc. He is one with the Father. The Father makes known all things to Him; and He reveals the deep things of God to His true disciples. The closer our fellowship with Him, the more are the divine purposes of mercy and love revealed. His word becomes to Christ’s friends as a light in a dark place until the day dawn (2 Peter 1:19). His Spirit leads into all truth, and enlightens us so that we can understand the heavenly speech, and daily communications shall flow unto us from the divine presence. He gives of His Spirit; and the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God.
6. These tender words of the Saviour are surely the words of a friend. How may we be assured that these words may be appropriated by us?
III. This friendship shows itself in mutual love and offices.—
1. Christ showed His love toward us in unmistakable fashion. “He gave His life for us” (Romans 5:8). How much higher this than any of the commonly recognised tokens of friendship, the sacrificing of time, wealth, etc.! The greatness of Christ’s friendship is evinced in that while we were enemies He died for us.
2. How are we to show our love to Him? That love of His should constrain us no longer to-live to ourselves, but unto Him (2 Corinthians 5:14). We should do what this heavenly Friend commands us. As He denied Himself for us, we should deny ourselves for His sake. Our feeling ought to be: Lord, Thy love and friendship are so great that we will do all things, give all things, endure all things, for Thy sake. Our feet shall be swift for Thee, our hands quick to labour for Thee, our lips diligent to sing thy praise, not in the spirit of slaves, but as those whom Thou callest friends, bound to Thee by the cords of love.
John 15:14. The friendship of Jesus.—Christ is all things to the Christian: a Saviour mighty to save—a human friend and brother, entering in sympathy into all life’s circumstances, raising all His own nearer to Himself, shedding into the atmosphere of earth an aroma of heaven. He might have chosen to come in some other way, in greater outward pomp and glory. But He came a man among men. Men need friendship; and therefore Christ assumes this relationship toward His chosen. It is the most disinterested of earthly relationships. Note some of the characteristics of a true friend, and see how all are exemplified in Jesus.
I. Willingness to sympathise.—
1. All men are more or less dependent. None except those with a twist in their nature can be hermits. All need social intercourse—even our Lord did. This desire for friendship arises in part from the need of sympathy. Even joy we must impart, much more sorrow. Nothing relieves more a stricken heart than true sympathy.
2. There are times when human sympathy avails not. We may press the hand, speak the kindly word, but cannot reach with healing touch the deep wounds of human sorrow.
3. Christ can do so.
“In every pang that rends the heart
The Man of sorrows had a part.”
Believers need no laboured argument to prove to them the sympathy of Jesus. It is no figure of speech. It is a glorious reality. Have we experienced it?
II. Readiness to counsel and aid.—
1. A true friend will be willing to help in time of need. Those cannot be called friends who are always ready to aid us when we are quite able to help ourselves, but who, when the pinch comes, put us off with a little cheap sympathy. Nor are they true friends who do kind offices that they may receive the same.
2. The true friend is he who loves us for what we are, who is willing to help us for our own sakes. This is not the world’s way. Many who have fallen through misfortune have been driven to despair by the coldness of false friends. How many also have been sent on their way rejoicing by wise directions and aid in time of need!
3. Yet, after all, however willing our friends may be to aid, they may not be able. But the Friend who speaks here is not only willing but able to help unto the uttermost. His power is almighty. He who sits on the throne of the universe stoops down to help His chosen in their time of need.
1. Adversity is a great test of friendship. The true friend is one who loves me whatever misfortunes befall me: yes, and, even when my own folly has brought harm and loss, who will help me when repentant, or seek to bring me to repentance—who will inflict those wounds of a friend that are “faithful”—who turns a deaf ear to those “whispering tongues that poison truth.”
2. But where are such friends to be found? Is it not well written—
“Constancy lives in realms above”?
Yes. But even among men there are bright examples—Jonathan and David, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, etc.
3. But such examples are prominent because of their rarity. Many can recall the memory of some friends with whom they took sweet counsel who have turned against them. But here is One who “sticketh closer than a brother”—who is ever the same—in whom all true friendships and relationships endure.
“One family we dwell in Him,
One Church above, beneath.”
IV. This relationship between believers and Christ is higher than earthly friendship.—
1. There is not an entire equality in the relationship. We cannot render help or guidance to Him or any adequate return for His kindness and love.
2. Our friends do not command us. Christ does, and has a right to do so.
3. But we need never fear to trust ourselves into His hands. For He is all-wise and all-loving.
4. Keeping His commandments does not procure us His friendship. This is a proof of our love to Him, in which His friendship has its being. Is this a reality to us? It is because we do not realise it sufficiently that our lives fail so much.
John 15:15. The love of Christ to His disciples.—The superlative love of Christ appears in the several degrees of His kindness to man, before man was created, when he had been created, and when he had fallen. And not only did He spare fallen men, but from the number of subjects took some into the retinue of His servants, and further advanced them to the privilege of being friends. The difference between these two appellations is this:—
I. The servants.—In those ages servants occupied a different position than they now do. They were generally slaves. And for these reasons Christ waived the appellation:
1. Because the servant is utterly unacquainted with the Master’s designs.
2. The name of servant imports a slavish and degenerous awe of mind, as it is in Romans 8:5.
3. The appellation of servant imports a mercenary temper and disposition, and denotes such an one as makes his rewards both the sole motive and measure of his obedience.
II. The friends.—That great character and privilege which Christ was pleased to vouchsafe to the disciples includes the following things:
1. Freedom of access. Home and heart and all are open for the reception of a friend. We need no mediator to bring us to Christ; for He has condescended to a cognation and consanguinity with us, that He might subdue His glories to a possibility of human converse. He that denies himself an immediate access to Christ affronts Him in the great relation of a friend.
2. A favourable construction of all passages between friends.
3. Sympathy in joy and grief.
4. The communication of secrets. God maintained intimacy with them whom He loved under the law (Genesis 18:17, etc.); much more will He under the Gospel (Matthew 13:17, etc.).
5. Counsel and advice.
1. The excellency and value of friendship—especially of the friendship of Christ.
2. The advantage of becoming truly pious and religious. “He who will give up his name to Christ in faith unfeigned, and a sincere obedience to all His righteous laws, will be sure to find love for love and friendship for friendship.”—Dr. Robert South.
John 15:16. Chosen and appointed.—Jesus chose His disciples from among the multitudes of the people whom He came to save, for a special purpose and a divine end. And no doubt the words of our Lord referred especially to these disciples—to His choice of them as appointed instruments in doing His work in the world. But the words were not recorded for an historical purpose merely. They were spoken to the disciples as representing the whole Church as already constituted and yet to be extended, just as the promise of the Comforter was not confined to the eleven, but was meant for all the members of the Church. Thus the words apply to all true disciples, to all living branches of the true Vine.
I. The divine choice.—
1. From a human point of view the choice of His disciples by our Lord was not what men would have looked for—at least, so it seems at first view. He passed by the men in position, the learned, the rich, the influential, and chose those fishermen of Galilee. He did not regard their humble position, their want of culture, and even their spiritual obtuseness; but called them graciously and freely to be His ministers and disciples, nay, to be His friends.
2. This choice was of grace; and yet when we consider it, it will be found to have been dictated by highest wisdom. The divine choice does not entirely ignore fitness for service. God chooses the instruments best fitted for His purpose, even when He takes the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Corinthians 1:27). And certainly some of those men were weak in faith, and in the hour of trial “all forsook Him and fled.” And yet through grace they were made foundation-stones in the great spiritual building (Ephesians 2:20).
3. And how graciously did the Saviour, when He had chosen, prepare those men for their work and ministry. How patiently He bore with their faults and follies, never wearying in instructing them, comforting them, strengthening their faith. And how tenderly in this parting discourse did He speak to them, further fitting them for their work by showing His confidence in them, in that He desired that they should no longer regard Him with the spirit of the servant or slave, but should rise into fellowship with Him as His friends! He had won them to Himself and His service. He had chosen them not only in the outward call, but had won their hearts to Himself.
4. To all true disciples Jesus can say, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” The beginning of true discipleship and friendship is with Christ. By nature men are not attracted to Him. But there are those who, when His grace touches them, respond to the call and “follow Him.” It is first from Him; it is to His call that the soul responds. But here is the mystery of divine grace, that the call and the response of His chosen are, so to speak, simultaneous. The divine choice is met by the human response. The divine inworking is met by the human effort. His chosen choose Him.
II. The divine appointment and its purpose.—
1. The divine choice and appointment are not without a special end. It may be said of all men indeed that God works out His purposes in their lives.
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them how we will.”
But in the special appointment by Jesus of His disciples there was a definite and blessed purpose in view.
2. They were to obey and serve. It is here that the divine wisdom of the choice of Jesus is seen. Those disciples had consecrated themselves to Him, to do His will and finish His work. They were resolved—although they did not know how weak they were then—to follow Him. In this resolve they would be strengthened. Such is the character of true ministers of Christ: they “go forth” gladly, as His friends, when He calls and where He appoints.
3. We know how the apostles “went forth”: the missionary labours of the apostolic Church have here their spring. And so too all true disciples who realise that Christ has laid His hand on them and appointed them to membership in His Church feel the call in some way to “go forth” for Him, as His servants and friends, into the highways and byways of the world.
4. “That ye should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” It is not to be a fruitless activity or “going forth,” but a fruitful. Although the reference is to fruit of effort, yet it must not be forgotten that personal fruit-bearing, the growing of the character and life spiritually toward Christ, is essential to the fruit of effort. First character, then fruitful effort. And those disciples did “bring forth fruit,” and their fruit remains. It is the product of the “incorruptible seed” sown in their own hearts, and by them through the Spirit’s power in the hearts of others.
5. So too now, the only “fruit” that remains, the only work that bears the stamp of eternity, is work done in and for Christ.
III. The promise to those going forth as Christ’s chosen and appointed ones.—
1. Christ does not send His disciples on a warfare “at their own charges.” The divine grace and blessing are ever needed, and therefore our Lord repeats the blessed promise already given, that to His chosen the infinite, divine fulness is opened to believing prayer.
2. His friends will have free access to the source of all grace; limitless riches are open to them (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 3:21).
2. There is but one condition as to the asking. We are to ask in Christ’s name, i.e. we are to ask as His friends, as filled with His Spirit. Therefore we shall ask in accordance with His will, guided by His Spirit. And surely this is reasonable. Our heavenly Friend is infinitely wise, good, gracious. And when we learn to desire what is in accordance with His will, nothing that is good will be withheld from us.
John 15:1-2. The union of believers with Christ.—Look but into thy garden or orchard, and see the vine, or any other fruit-bearing tree, how it grows and fructifies. The branches are loaden with increase: whence is this, but that they are one with the stock, and the stock one with the root? Were either of these severed the branch were barren and dead. The branch hath not sap enough to maintain life in itself, unless it receive it from the body of the tree; nor that unless it derived it from the root; nor that unless it were cherished by the earth. Lo, “I am the vine,” saith our Saviour, “ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.… If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered” (John 15:5-6). Were the branch and the body of the tree of different substances, and only closed together in some artificial contiguity, no fruit could be expected from it; it is only the abiding in the tree as a living limb of that plant which yields it the benefit and issue of vegetation. No otherwise is it betwixt Christ and His Church; the bough and the tree are not more of one piece than we are of one substance with our Saviour; and branching out from Him, and receiving the sap of heavenly virtue from His precious root, we cannot but be acceptably fruitful. But if the analogy seem not to be so full, for that the branch issues naturally from the tree and the fruit from the branch, whereas we by nature have no part in the Son of God, take that resemblance which the apostle fetches from the stock and the branch or scion. The branches of the wild olive (Romans 11:0) are cut off, and are graffed with choice scions of the good olive. These imps grow, and are now, by this incision, no less embodied in that stock than if they had sprouted out by a natural propagation, neither can be any more separated from it than the strongest bough that nature puts forth. In the meantime that scion alters the nature of that stock; and while the root gives fatness to the stock, and the stock yields juice to the scion, the scion gives goodness to the plant and a specification to the fruit: so as while the imp is now the same thing with the stock, the tree is different from what it was. So it is betwixt Christ and the believing soul. Old Adam is our wild stock: what could that have yielded but either none or sour fruit? We are imped with the new man, Christ, that is now incorporated into us. We are become one with Him. Our nature is not more ours than He is ours by grace. Now we bear His fruit and not our own; our old stock is forgotten, all things are become new. Our natural life we receive from Adam; our spiritual life and growth from Christ, from whom, after the improvement of this blessed incision, we can no more be severed than He can be severed from Himself.… To wind up all: if ever thou look for sound comfort on earth and salvation in heaven, unglue thyself from the world and the vanities of it: put thyself upon thy Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ: leave not till thou findest thyself firmly united to Him; so as thou art become a limb of that body whereof He is head, a spouse of that husband, a branch of that stem, a stone laid upon that foundation. Look not, therefore, for any blessing out of Him; and in, and by, and from Him, look for all blessings. Let Him be thy life; and wish not to live longer than thou art quickened by Him.—Bishop Hall.
John 15:3. Self-pruning.—Sometimes there is a nearer (though still distant) approach toward the glorious example before us—and the loss is not only suffered, not only endured and acquiesced in, but in some sense self-inflicted, at the bidding of duty, of religion, of conscience, and of the soul. The very fact that a particular possession is inestimably precious has been felt ere now—and felt not by the morbidly scrupulous, but by the honest and straightforward Christian—as a reason why it should be sacrificed Again and again, in the secret histories of human life, offerings have been made, on God’s altar, of affections and attachments not sinful but perilous, perilous by reason of their strength. Connections which would bring the world too much into the life, or which would too probably thwart and choke the growth of grace in the soul, or which would too often present the embarrassment of “walking together without being agreed,” or would involve the risk of perpetual compromise in the daily arrangements of society or of worship, have again and again been renounced, on the eve of formation, by the one party or by the other, at a cost of present, sometimes of abiding distress, which can have no compensation in the world of time and of the living. Faith has been found equal to the trial, but it must carry the scar of it to the grave.—C. J. Vaughan, D.D.
John 15:4-5. The indispensableness of Christ to believers.—This is one of the most precious and richest similitudes in which Christ represents the relationship between Himself and His disciples. Whilst He calls His Father the husbandman, He brings back the origin of the union between Himself and the disciples who believe on Him to God as its author and founder in conformity with the utterances in John 6:37; John 6:44-45. The indispensableness of the vine-stock to the branches, the entire dependence of the latter on the vine, and the depth and closeness of the union between both—these are the chief points of resemblance which meet us here. If we consider the humble appearance of the vine-stock (when it is not covered with leafage), this may be taken by us as an image of the low estate—the form of a servant—of the Redeemer. The worth and splendour of the vine, on the other hand, may stand as a figure of the glory of Christ and His faithful people. Still these references lie outside of the three principal and natural points of resemblance just given, and may conveniently be left out of view. The Redeemer calls Himself a true vine, i.e. He is in truth the all in the spiritual province in relation to His disciples that the actual vine-stock is to the branches. The vine gives and the branches receive from it the sap which contributes to their growth, prosperity, blossoming, and fruit-bearing; so those who believe in Christ receive the divine vital sap. Through inner canals, hidden from the bodily eye, the life-sap flows from the vine-stock into the branches. Thus unseen do the influences of the Holy Spirit from Christ flow in and upon those who are united with Him in faith as branches adhere in the vine. Without these influences men can have no true, divine, and blessed life in them; without them they cannot truly do good, cannot bring forth fruit. The branch cut off from the vine-stock withers away, becomes dry and ripe for the fire. So when through unbelief fellowship with Christ is relinquished, then the stream of life gradually dries up, and the man, as long as this continues, fades away and finally dies spiritually. The fruit-bearing branches are “cleansed” by the husbandman for their own good, so that they may be enabled to bring forth fruit ever more richly. The faithful need thus that grace which cleanses and purifies them inwardly. It is the pruning-knife of affliction by means of which God seeks to effect our correction, our sanctification, and our glorification.—Translated from F. G. Lisco.
John 15:5. Without Christ, nothing; in Him, all things.—These gracious words of our Lord, “I am the vine, ye are the branches,” afford us above all things the greatest comfort, and the assurance that we shall not on account of our sins be cast out or severed from Him as we well deserve to be. The faithful Saviour does not depart from us because of our unworthiness, but acknowledges us, and speaks with us out of the fulness of His love, as a head, could we think of it speaking, would speak with the members of the body. We are called into Christ’s kingdom, and not merely called, but admitted and welcomed. “Jesus receiveth sinners: He hath received me.” We are branches of the Vine. We have often experienced the truth of this. For the Holy Spirit has continually shed forth on us His blessed sunshine and showered His fructifying rain on our souls. We can ever hear the word of God, may ever pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, and in times of trial have tasted of heavenly consolation.—Translated from Lecher.
John 15:5. Seasons of the spiritual year.—There are four seasons in thy spiritual year: the winter of desolation; the buds of spring, which tell of hope; the warmth of summer, which bespeaks the fulness of the heart; and the ingathering of autumn, which is the time for life’s practical fruits. Each season has its fruit, and the fruit is in its turn golden. Do not seek to change the order of God’s spiritual year; do not seek to put the fruits of one season into the lap of another. Thou must not expect the buds of spring from the desolation of winter, for desolation is the fruit of winter; thou, like Nicodemus, must begin thy journey in the sense of night—night without a star. Thou must not expect the warmth of summer from the buds of spring, for the fruit of spring is not fruition, but hope; thou, like Peter, must be content for a time to live on aspiration alone. Thou must not expect the practical ingathering of autumn from the warmth of summer, for the fruit of summer is not action, but emotion; thou, like John, must be content to lie on the Master’s bosom until thy time to work for Him shall come. O Thou that hast revealed the order of Thine acceptable year, reveal in my experience the stages of that year! Help me to gather the fruits of each season as good and perfect gifts from Thee! When I feel the sense of night, let me accept it as the token that, like Nicodemus, I am coming to Thee. When I feel the sense of hope, let me accept it as the sign that, like Peter, I am called by Thee. When I feel the sense of warmth, let me accept it as the evidence that, like John, I rest on Thee. When I feel the sense of power and am inspired to gather in the fruits, let me accept it as the pledge that I am bidden, like Paul, to work for Thee. So shall my year be rounded, hallowed, perfected. So shall my life be girt about with Thee. The snows of its winter shall be sanctified, the buds of its spring shall be fostered, the foliage of its summer shall be blest, the firstfruits of its autumn shall be hailed with joy; they shall proclaim that within my soul the year of the Lord has come.—Dr. Geo. Matheson.
John 15:5-6. Causes of separation, and fruitlessness.—When we walk abroad on a beautiful day and survey a landscape lit up by the beams of a summer sun, our eye catches a variety of colours lying on the surface of the landscape: there is the yellow of the golden grain, the green of the pasture-land, the dark brown of those thick-planted copses, the silver gleam of the stream which winds through them, the faint blue of distant hills seen in perspective, the more intense blue of the sky, the purple tinge of yonder sheet of water; but none of these colours resides in the landscape, they are not the properties of the material objects on which they rest. All colours are wrapped up in the sunlight, which, as is well known, may be seen resolved into its elementary colours in the prism or the rainbow. Apart from the sunlight no object has any colour—as is shown by the fact that, as soon as light is withdrawn from the landscape, the colours fade from the robe of nature. The difference of colour in different objects, while the sun is shining, is produced by some subtle difference of texture or superficies, which makes each object absorb certain rays, and reflect certain other rays, in different proportions. Now Christ is the Sun of righteousness, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, the fair colour of every grace and Christian virtue. When Christ is shining upon the heart, then these virtues are manifested there—by one Christian graces of one description, by another of another, according to their different receptivity and natural temperament, just as when the sun is shining colours are thrown upon a landscape and reflected by the different objects in different proportions. But as no part of the landscape has any colour in the absence of the sun, so Christians have no grace except from Christ, nor hold any virtue independently of Him.—Goulburn.
John 15:7-8. Conditions of spiritual fruitfulness.—Our blessed Lord said not only “Abide in Me,” but also “Let Me, or take heed that I, abide in you.” He thus teaches us that ordinance, as well as faith, forms part of the system of His religion, and especially that ordinance, in which indeed all others are included, by which He communicates Himself to the faithful soul. In order to the fruitfulness of the vine branch, two conditions have to be fulfilled: the first that the branch shall adhere closely to the stem, and offer an open tube for the passage of the sap—this is the abiding of the branch in the vine; the second, that the sap shall rise ever and anon from the vine-stock, and pass into the branch—this the abiding of the vine in the branch. Similarly in the case of the Christian. The first condition of his spiritual fruitfulness is that he shall adhere by a close trust to Christ, and keep open towards Him the avenues of faith, hope, and expectation. This is, “Abide in Me.” The second is, that Christ shall continually send up into his heart a current of holy inspirations, new loves, good impulses, devout hopes. Or, more accurately, that He shall communicate Himself to the soul by the continual influx of the Holy Ghost. This is, “And I in you.” And this communication of Himself is made specially (where that sacrament may be had) in the supper of the Lord: He comes at those seasons into the opened avenue of the faithful communicant’s soul—comes to cement by His own passage into the inner man the union in which our faith cleaves to Him; and the result is “the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the body and blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine.”—Idem.
John 15:8-11. The fruit of the spiritual vine branch.—Let us give diligent heed to the saying of our Lord: “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.” We may notice the honour which He puts on discipleship. The sentence is not, “So shall ye be My apostles.” Apostles and all must, before and above everything else, be learners. That is the summit as well as the beginning of the Christian life. And the learning advances in the measure in which the fruit-bearing increases. For, in that measure, our sympathy with the Lord, the union of our wills with Him, and therefore our knowledge of Him, is deepened and confirmed. Herein is Jesus’ Father glorified. He desires the glory of His Son—that is the Father’s glory. He is regarding this in all the discipline of His love. “Whoso knows that the gardener’s arm is not set on work by anger, but by skill, will not conclude that he hates the tree he wounds, but that he has a mind to have it fruitful, and judges these harsh means the fittest to produce that effect.” Always let us say this to ourselves: The mind of my Father in all His dealings with me is to enlarge the capacity of discipleship, of learning the sonship of His Son, of bearing much fruit. Fruit is, so to speak, the concentrated juice or blood of the tree. It is the result and sign of the life which is in that blood. The fruit to which Christ refers is the character, with all its influence, which expresses the cleansing efficacy of His blood, which is the necessary manifestation of the spirit of a son. “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance”—thus St. Paul describes “the fruit of the Spirit.” How solemn the reminder, “Much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples.” Ah, to what must we trace the reason of our spiritual poverty and powerlessness but to this, that we are not abiding in Christ, making Him truly our home, understanding that the order is, first, in Him, the inner life fed out of Him, and, second, for Him, the outer life His witness to men. Some of us, I dare say, feel that we do not attend sufficiently to the springs of action. We are so busy, so engaged in work of one kind or another, that the private, personal communion with the Lord suffers. Oh, for all right service the need is, Christ at the centre of the being, Christ Himself the being’s centre. Mrs. Stowe has beautifully interpreted the longing of the true disciple:—
“The soul alone, like a neglected harp,
Grows out of tune, and needs that hand divine;
Dwell Thou within it, tune and touch the chords,
Till every note and string shall answer Thine.
“Abide in me, there have been moments pure
When I have seen Thy face and felt Thy power;
Then evil lost its charm, and passion hushed,
Owned the divine enchantment of the hour.
“These were but seasons beautiful and rare;
Abide in me and they shall ever be.
I ask Thee now fulfil my earnest prayer—
Come and abide in me and I in Thee.”
Dr. Marshall Lang.
John 15:11. In what does man’s happiness consist?—Man’s happiness consists not in any earthly abundance, taken from this consideration,—that the greatest happiness which this life is capable of, may be, and actually has been, enjoyed without this abundance; and consequently cannot depend upon it. Now that undoubtedly is the chief happiness of life, for the attainment of which all other things are designed but as the means and subservient instruments. And what else can this be, but the content, quiet, and inward satisfaction of a man’s mind? For why, or for what other imaginable reason, are riches, power, and honour so much valued by men, but because they promise themselves that content and satisfaction of mind from them, which, they fully believe, cannot otherwise be had? This, no doubt, is the inward reasoning of men’s minds in the present case. But the experience of thousands (against which all arguments signify nothing) irrefragably evinces the contrary. For was there not a sort of men, whom we read of in the former ages of the world, called the ancient philosophers, who, even while they lived in the world, lived above it, and in a manner without it; and yet all the while accounted themselves the happiest men in it? And from these, if we pass to the professors and practisers of an higher philosophy, the apostles and primitive Christians, who ever so overflowed with spiritual joy as they did?—“a joy unspeakable and full of glory,” as St. Peter terms it; a joy not to be forced or ravished from the heart once possessed of it, as our Saviour Himself, the great giver of it, has assured us. Hear St. Paul and Silas singing out this joy aloud in the dismal prison, where they sat expecting death every moment. And from hence to proceed to the next ages of the Church: who could be fuller of and more transported with a joyous sense of their condition, than the martyrs of those primitive times, who were so far from any of the accommodations of this world, that their only portion in it was to live in hunger, nakedness, and want, and stripped of everything but the bodies, in and through which they suffered all these afflictions? And as this internal, spiritual comfort is doubtless the highest that human nature is capable of, and may serve instead of all others, so it descends even to those of the lowest condition.—South.
John 15:11. Earthly joy not secured to men so that they may seek heavenly joy.—The providence of God has not thought it worth while to secure and protect the very best of men in their rights to any enjoyment under heaven; and all this to depress and vilify these things in their thoughts; that so they may every day find a necessity of placing them above, and of bestowing their pains upon that which, if they pursue, they shall certainly obtain; and if they obtain, they shall impregnably keep. My peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” says our Saviour; “not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Why? What was the difference? He tells us in John 16:22, “Your joy no man taketh from you.” It was such a joy or peace as was to be above the reach of either fraud or force, artifice or assault: which can never be said of any earthly enjoyment whatsoever, either as to the acquisition or possession of it; God having made no man any promise, that by all his virtue and innocence, all his skill and industry, he shall be able to continue in health, wealth, or honour; but that, after his utmost endeavour to preserve those desirable things, he may in the issue lose them all. But God has promised and engaged to mankind that whosoever shall faithfully and constantly persevere in the duties of a pious Christian life, shall obtain “an eternal crown of glory,” and an “inheritance that fadeth not away.” A man cannot indeed by all his piety secure his estate, but he may “make his calling and election sure”; which is infinitely and unspeakably more valuable than all the estates, pleasures, and greatness of the world. For all these are without him, and consequently may be taken from him, and, which is yet worse, may do him no good, even while they stay with him. But the conscience is a sure repository for a man to lodge and preserve his treasure in, and the chest of his own heart can never be forced open.—South.
John 15:11. Some afraid of joy in religion.—Some people are afraid of anything like joy in religion. They have none themselves, and they do not love to see it in others. Their religion is something like the stars, very high and very clear, but very cold. When they see tears of anxiety, or tears of joy, they cry out, Enthusiasm, enthusiasm! “I sat down under His shadow with great delight.” Is this enthusiasm? “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” If it be really in sitting under the shadow of Christ, let there be no bounds to our joy. Oh! if God would but open our eyes and give us simple childlike faith to look to Jesus, to sit under His shadow, then would songs of joy arise from all our dwellings. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.”—M’Cheyne.
John 15:11. True joy not on the surface.—The passion of joy was not that which now often usurps this name; that trivial, vanishing, superficial thing, that only gilds the apprehension, and plays upon the surface of the soul. It was not the mere crackling of thorns, a sudden blaze of the spirits, the exultation of a tickled fancy or a pleased appetite. Joy was then a masculine and a severe thing; the recreation of the judgment, the jubilee of reason. It was the result of a real good, suitably applied. It commenced upon the solidities of truth, and the substance of fruition. It did not run out in voice, or undecent eruptions; but filled the soul, as God does the universe, silently and without noise. It was refreshing, but composed; like the pleasantness of youth tempered with the gravity of age; or the mirth of a festival managed with the silence of contemplation.—South.
John 15:11. Christians are commanded to rejoice in the Lord.—We are not only allowed indeed, but we are commanded to rejoice in the Lord. No joy has so good and firm a foundation as that which is to be found in the Lord, who has bought us, and with whom we are blessed with all spiritual blessings. But whoever wishes to rejoice in the blessings purchased for us by Jesus Christ, must be in Him, intimately united to Him by faith, renouncing sin, and all the false pleasures of the world. This true union and communion with Christ is the source of joy, the only source. Hence will follow a willingness to love, obey, and glorify Him as long as we live. But if, instead of trusting in Christ and in His consummate atonement, we rely on our own virtue, and consequently try to stand upon our own foundation, we shall never enjoy one moment’s peace of mind. Our virtue and holiness are, and ever will be, imperfect; we shall, therefore, always have reason to confess before God, “If Thou wilt mark what is amiss, Lord, who shall stand before Thee?” Let us therefore seek for pardon, peace, and joy in Jesus; and having found, then let us be grateful and obedient. But though we should be as holy as any of the apostles, let us beware lest we put our confidence in anything except the sufferings and atoning death of Jesus Christ.—Swartz.
John 15:12-14. The friendship of the Redeemer.—It was certainly a circle containing but a few to which the Redeemer spoke these words. They were not only as regards their number an inconsiderable selection from the whole of the people, among whom and for whom He lived, but from the whole human race, to whom He had been sent. And on those few He set His hopes. Ah! therefore He must have felt a special, inward relation to them. Therefore He could give them no name which could more sweetly and tenderly express this than the name of brethren and friends, in contradistinction to the whole race of men, who had misunderstood Him, and would in no wise receive Him. But now we who confess Him include a great multitude of the peoples, a considerable portion of the human race. Innumerable are those who stand toward Him, fundamentally and in deepest truth, in the same relation of love and confession. Can we indeed appropriate these words as spoken to us also, that each can be His friend and He ours? Let us for the moment, my friends, give space to our diffidence which excites a doubt on this point. It will, of itself, lead us to another point of view, from which the similarity between ourselves and those disciples will come more clearly into view. Is this mass of Christian people from so many lands and zones, among whom His name is made known in so many tongues, entirely one? No! It is divided into many communities, whose members hold more closely to one another than they do with the others. In part it is divided by the same circumstances which in other relations divide and separate men from each other; in part it is divided in a peculiar manner, not so much from difference of view in regard to Christ’s person and His aim, as rather by the different manner and fashion of expressing and explaining what, in its inner spirit, is one and the same. Well then, let us think of these different bodies of Christians instead of the innumerable individuals composing the mass. Each such group may be regarded as one; and thus we arrive at a number which is less diverse from the small body of the disciples to whom the Lord spoke this great word. Now shall not each of those communities occupy a similar position to the disciples? Is not each such community of Christians, in so far as they are one in faithfulness to Him, like one of the disciples, and in a measure in the same condition? Well then, let us first so state our claim to the Redeemer’s friendship, as that we shall regard ourselves as His friends, not as individuals, but as members of a Christian community to which we belong, when these love each other as the Saviour commanded. Each one of these communities, though they may differ from us, and may deviate from our practice, yet makes Him known and directs men to Him. And with each of them, however much may be the differences that separate us, we should feel ourselves bound in that same love which He commanded to His disciples, since they too are the instruments of His glory. If, therefore, those communities recognised and cherished in each other the same hunger and thirst after righteousness, and their susceptibility for the same fulness of spiritual gifts which proceed from Christ, then Christendom would truly deserve to be called His spiritual body. And are we as individuals so engrafted into that whole with which we are more nearly connected, and do we seek to animate it with this love, and extend this love in every way possible toward the various communities of Christendom, oh! then truly may we have a right to consider that we may appropriate this claim to ourselves personally, that the Redeemer will call such disciples His friends! For then truly it will be evident that we have understood His Spirit, that we are in sympathy with His love, which goes forth to all the race of men without being turned aside by those differences, or caring more for the one than the others. Then in such a case we also are received into His confidence, and He makes known to us fully that unity of the Spirit in the bonds of love and peace which should unite together all those among whom His name is known. Then we also are bound together with Him as fellow-workers in freedom and power. And in such community we again truly find ourselves, and are not lost as a single individual in the great mass. Each of us can contribute to the quickening of this spirit evermore in the community to which he belongs. Each can influence the others mightily in this spirit, and receive from them a like influence in return. And thus we also shall be entitled to appropriate this to ourselves—that we are friends of the Lord when we do what He commands us.—Translated from Fr. Schleiermacher.
John 15:14. The inward blessedness of the friends of Christ.—Now if God maintained such intimacies with those whom He loved under the law (which was a dispensation of greater distance), we may be sure that under the Gospel (the very nature of which imports condescension and compliance) there must needs be the same, with much greater advantage. And therefore, when God had manifested Himself in the flesh, how sacredly did He preserve this privilege! How freely did Christ unbosom Himself to His disciples (Luke 8:10)! “Unto you,” says He, “it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but unto others in parables; that seeing they might not see”; such shall be permitted to cast an eye into the ark, and to look into the very holy of holies. And again (Matthew 13:17), “Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” Neither did He treat them with these peculiarities of favour in the extraordinary discoveries of the Gospel only, but also of those incommunicable revelations of the divine love, in reference to their own personal interest in it. In Revelation 2:17, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Assurance is a rarity covered from the inspection of the world—a secret that none can know but God, and the person that is blessed with it. It is writ in a private character, not to be read nor understood but by the conscience, to which the Spirit of God has vouchsafed to decipher it. Every believer lives upon an inward provision of comfort, that the world is a stranger to.—South.
John 15:14. The sympathy of our divine Friend.—Friendship is one of the greatest boons God can bestow on man. It is a union of our finest feelings; an uninterested binding of hearts, and a sympathy between two souls. It is an indefinable trust we repose in one another, a constant communication between two minds, and an unremitting anxiety for each other’s souls. What, then, is the root, the cause of friendship? Sympathy. Sympathy conceives friendship; friendship, love. Love is friendship. The tree that bears love, bears also friendship. Where friendship exists between two persons, there is also, always, hope; in adversity there is always a support, a refuge, a knowledge of there still remaining some succour; and as a babe cries for its mother for nourishment, so do we in adversity run to friendship for advice, fully relying on some means by which it may release us from the troubles of the world. And in true friendship there is cultivated such a love of God, such a devotion for the Creator of the world, that the chains become adamant. Friendship having thus a righteous appreciation of the Almighty’s goodness and power, and a knowledge of His injunctions to the righteous, and the reward they may expect hereafter, it spreads around, everywhere, joy and happiness, causing not only fresh unions, but, with praiseworthy Christian exertion and love, rendering them inflexible.—J. Hill.
John 15:14. The Friend above all others.
One there is, above all others,
Well deserves the name of Friend:
His is love beyond a brother’s,
Costly, free, and knows no end.
They who once His kindness prove
Find it everlasting love.
Which of all our friends, to save us,
Could or would have shed their blood?
But our Jesus died to have us
Reconciled in Him to God.
This was boundless love indeed.
Jesus is a Friend in need.
When He lived on earth abasèd,
Friend of sinners was His name;
Now, above all glory raisèd,
He rejoices in the same:
Still He calls them brethren, friends,
And to all their wants attends.
Could we bear from one another
What He daily bears from us!
Yet this glorious Friend and Brother
Loves us though we treat Him thus.
Though for good we render ill,
He accounts us brethren still.
Oh for grace our hearts to soften!
Teach us, Lord, at length to love:
We, alas! forget too often
What a Friend we have above:
But when home our souls are brought,
We will love Thee as we ought.
John 15:15. The grand leading affection of all is love.—This is the great instrument and engine of nature, the bond and cement of society, the spring and spirit of the universe. Love is such an affection, as cannot so properly be said to be in the soul, as the soul to be in that. It is the whole man wrapt up into one desire; all the powers, vigour, and faculties of the soul abridged into one inclination. And it is of that active, restless nature, that it must of necessity exert itself; and like the fire to which it is so often compared, it is not a free agent, to choose whether it will heat or no, but it streams forth by natural results and unavoidable emanations. So that it will fasten upon an inferior, unsuitable object, rather than none at all. The soul may sooner leave off to subsist, than to love; and like the vine, it withers and dies if it has nothing to embrace. Now this affection, in the state of innocence, was happily pitched upon its right object; it flamed up in direct fervours of devotion to God, and in collateral emissions of charity to its neighbour. It was not then only another and more cleanly name for lust. It had none of those impure heats, that both represent and deserve hell. It was a vestal, and a virgin fire, and differed as much from that which usually passes by this names nowadays, as the vital heat from the burning of a fever. Then, for the contrary passion of hatred. This we know is the passion of defiance, and there is a kind of aversation and hostility included in its very essence and being. But then (if there could have been hatred in the world, when there was scarce anything odious), it would have acted within the compass of its proper object. Like aloes, bitter indeed, but wholesome. There would have been no rancour, no hatred of our brother: an innocent nature could hate nothing that was innocent. In a word, so great is the commutation, that the soul then hated only that which now only it loves, that is, sin.—South.
EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL NOTES
John 15:18. If the world hate you, etc.—He now directs the attention of the disciples to their relation toward the world. Christ loves His disciples, the world hates them, and in this they are one with their Lord (1 Peter 4:12-13).
John 15:19. The world would love, etc.—ἐφίλει, the love of affection. Notice the selfishness of the world’s love (John 7:7; Matthew 5:46).
John 15:20. Remember the word, etc.—The reference is probably to some such saying as Matthew 10:16-24; but see also John 13:16. He prepares them to encounter the persecution they would meet.
John 15:21. But all these things, etc.—The Lord considers the hatred as already manifested; it was inevitable in the nature of things. The persecutions, indeed, that arose about and against the apostles were instigated by hatred of the name of Jesus (Acts 4:30; Acts 5:41). They know not Him that sent Me.—Had the Jews really had any true spiritual knowledge of God, would they have acted toward Jesus and His disciples as they did?
John 15:22. If I had not come, etc.—They shut their eyes against the light and closed their ears to the truth, and therefore they could not plead ignorance (Acts 17:30-31). They sinned wilfully after the revelation of the truth (Hebrews 10:26); they are therefore without excuse.
John 15:23. Hateth My Father, etc.—The nadir of the heavenly, for God is love (1 John 4:8).
John 15:24. If I had not done, etc.—Not only did they reject Christ’s teaching, but His mighty works which confirmed it (John 5:36; John 9:30; John 10:21; John 10:37, etc.). Thus they were doubly without excuse (Romans 1:20).
John 15:25. They hated Me, etc. (Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4).—Such is the attitude of the world to God’s true sons and servants in all ages.
John 15:26. The Comforter (John 14:16).—The Spirit of Truth, i.e. the Spirit of Christ, who is the Truth and whose gospel is the truth. Proceedeth from (παρά).—From beside. The reference is to the mission of the Spirit. Testify.—Bear witness (John 14:26).
John 15:27. And ye also shall bear witness, etc.—They testified as to what they had seen and known, and what the Holy Spirit brought to their remembrance. But there was also a distinct witness-bearing of the Spirit (Acts 5:32).
John 15:27. The Spirit does not teach historical facts, but reveals their true meaning. Hence the apostolic testimony and the testimony of the Spirit form but a single act, in which each contributes a different element—the one the historic narrative, the other the internal evidence and the victorious power. This relation is reproduced in our day in all living preaching derived from Holy Scripture. St. Peter equally distinguishes the two kinds of testimony (Acts 5:32) (see Westcott, etc.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—John 15:18-27
John 15:18-21. The hatred of Christ’s disciples by the world.—In the upper chamber our Lord taught His disciples the new commandment of love. This was to be the rule and law of His Church. But the Christian spirit would lead to conflict in the world. Just as the world hated and persecuted the Master, because the truth which He was and taught brought condemnation to the world, so would it be with the disciples. Hatred and persecution, He foretold, would track their course through the world.
I. The source of hatred of the disciples: the world.—
1. There are several meanings attached to the word “world” in the Scriptures. The term means
(1) the earth, the material world and its inhabitants. “The world and they that dwell therein” (Psalms 98:7), viewed as the works of the Creator;
(2) the inhabitants of the world, without any reference to their character (John 16:28);
(3) the inhabitants of the world, viewed from the moral point of view. In this view it is called the “present evil world” (Galatians 1:4). It lies in the wicked one (1 John 5:19), and those who are in this world are not conformed to God. God is light, the world darkness; God is love, the world hatred, etc.
2. What causes this is sin. It may be urged that the world of men is not so depraved. Yet there may be many amiable men in an army of rebels. Sin causes enmity to God, hatred to His cause.
3. It was the enmity and hatred of this sinful world which our Lord’s disciples had to encounter. We see how the rebellious Jews—to whom Christ came as to His own, and they received Him not—were inimical to the gospel as preached by the apostles. They hated Christ “without a cause” (John 15:25), for the real antagonism was that of hypocrisy and truth, sin and holiness.
4. Nor did this hatred end with Judæa and Judaism. Wherever the disciples came into contact with the spirit of the world the same hatred blazed forth. It has burned in all the martyrdoms and persecutions of true followers of Christ from the apostolic age until the fires of the Inquisition were extinguished.
5. But even now it has not ceased. In subtle ways the world manifests its hatred of true followers of Christ. The sneer of the worldling at true piety, his covert attacks, innuendoes, and insinuations regarding followers of Christ and labourers for Him, show the old spirit still at work. And the absolute hostility which converts to the gospel have to endure in the ranks of bigoted Judaism, and in the midst of idolatrous communities, is the same as of old. Christian converts from Judaism, Mohammedanism, and idolatry need this same consoling word of the Master.
II. The cause of the world’s hatred to Christ and His disciples.—
1. This has been in part dwelt on. But it is to be noticed more fully that the disciple must expect the world to wear this aspect toward him, for the Master was also hated by it.
2. As Christ was, so must His disciples be in the world. If they desire to have His glory, they must have fellowship in His sufferings. As He was made perfect through suffering, so will they be; for the servant is not greater than his Lord. If Christ is in us, and we are manifesting His life, we must expect to bear His reproach. 3. Persecution may seem to have ceased against the Church. But the spirit of the world is still the same. The world is ignorant of God, and those Christians who let their light shine before men bring condemnation to the impenitent and hatred to themselves oftentimes. For the world loves its own, and there must be want of harmony between it and the Church. Those that will live godly must suffer persecution. “Where the living Christ manifests Himself, there also is seen the old serpent that bruised His heel.” A Christianity that can endure the world, and with which the world is pleased, must have in some measure lost its true power.
4. Persecution in a gross sense has ceased in civilised lands. But there seems a time coming when it may be renewed (2 Thessalonians 2:0, etc.). The fanaticism of superstition and unbelief wants but the power to show the old spirit.
III. The spirit in which the disciple should meet the world’s hatred.—
1. It is not to be met with hatred. Christ speaks of a must needs be, so long as men are what they are. But Christ came to save the world.
“Then, like Thine own, be all our aim
To conquer them by love.”
2. We must therefore meet the world’s hatred with faith, and undismayed. The Lord knows how to solace His own and deliver the godly in temptation and trial. The apostles joyfully departed from the council because they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). Paul and Silas could pray and sing praises in the dungeon at Philippi (Acts 16:26). Paul could write of himself, “I take pleasure,” etc. (2 Corinthians 12:10). Tertullian thus witnessed for Christ: “We say it, and say it openly, freely, and without fear, and even under your tortures we shall cry from our torn and bleeding frames, We honour God in Christ.”
3. We should meet the world’s hatred with gentleness and pitying love, as Christ did. Thus shall true disciples following Christ win men from a hostile world to the love and service of Christ. And there will be joy in the assured presence of the Master, and in the thought, “Even as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
John 15:22-25. The inexcusableness of the sin of unbelief.—The earthly ministry of the Saviour had come to a close. He was sent to His own possessions, and His own people received Him not (John 1:11). He had, indeed, come for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which should be spoken against (Luke 2:34). And unbelief in its various forms in all ages rests on much the same causes as in Judæa of old.
I. The culmination of unbelief.—I. It had grown rapidly during the last few months of Christ’s earthly course. At the beginning of Christ’s ministry there was a time when the rulers were not so inimical. Perhaps the outward form which the temptation took was attempts by these men to get our Lord to proclaim Himself a temporal Messiah (and see John 6:15).
2. But when the Jewish rulers saw His determination to have nothing to do with their ideas of the Messianic kingdom, they refused to listen to the truth. Their spiritual pride, their hypocrisy, their low moral standard, were all brought home to them by the humility, the purity, the beauty, of Christ’s character. All this produced antagonism, and led them to shut their eyes to the truth so plainly evident in all Christ’s life.
3. And thus they arrived at deliberate and bold unbelief, and were even now seeking means to destroy the truth.
4. Unbelief is still the same. It results now, as of old, either from spiritual pride or moral antagonism. The gospel is humbling to human pride. Many will not entertain the idea that a spiritual and fundamental change is needed ere they can enter the kingdom. So did the Jews pride themselves on being Abraham’s seed (John 8:39). Many will not believe in Christ’s works; others reject the gospel because it demands holiness and self-denial; and thus many still remain in alienation and enmity.
II. The sin of unbelief.—
1. How terrible are its consequences as here stated by Christ! Of the Jews He said, “They have seen and hated both Me and My Father.” It was nothing less than rejection and hatred of the God of love and His eternal Son. It was the rejection and hatred of Him who had been the God of their fathers, who had wrought wonders in the days of old and blessed them beyond any nation. It was the rejection and hatred of the divine Son who had come to seek and to save the lost.
2. And unbelief and rejection of the gospel are as sinful now. For if men would but examine it, they would at once see that it could not be from earth. The character of Christ is so heavenly and so noble that a careful consideration ought to show that all attempts to account for it in a merely natural way utterly fail.
III. The sin of unbelief is without excuse.—
1. It was so in the case of the Jews since Christ had come among them.
(1) He taught them with authority. He spake among them as never man spake (John 7:46).
(2) He wrought mighty works among them which in their less biassed moments bore conviction in on the minds of many of them (John 10:41-42, etc.). All these should have appealed to them. They could plead no excuse to the effect that He had not given adequate proofs of His claims. Indeed, they were altogether without excuse; for they hated Him without a cause. His character and life, His works and teaching, should have been sufficient to convince.
2. Rejecters of Christ now have the same proofs. Attack after attack has been made on the authenticity of gospel history—attacks often most subtle and virulent. But it still stands; and the attacking theories have fallen. A system not founded on truth could not have withstood such attacks.
3. But more than that. “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.” The proofs of the divine origin of the gospel are all around. The changed face of the world proclaims its truth. The whole course of Christian history, the whole realm of Christian biography, tell of its heavenly power. The pure and noble lives of true Christians, the conquests of Christian missions, the ability of the gospel to regenerate and raise men nearer God—all are proofs, that cannot be dismissed with a word, of the heavenly origin of the religion of Christ. And those who reject guiltily reject the Father and the Son, reject that power which evidently makes for righteousness and meets the requirements of the race.
John 15:26-27. Zeal in defence of the divine interests.—The apostles bore witness to Christ in preaching His gospel. And even although we may not be called to the same ministry, we ought to bear witness to God in defending His cause and His interests when they are assailed. People abandon the defence of the divine cause either through a false prudence or a culpable weakness. Here in the one case this false prudence is reproved, and in the other this hurtful weakness.
I. False prudence reproved.—
1. God holds Himself to be dishonoured by such a prudence. It is His glory to be served by those who find their glory in His service, and who do not balance His interests with their own. Thus there is an indubitable obligation laid on Christian men to confess their faith, even at the expense of their lives. On thousands of occasions we ought to declare ourselves on the side of God—otherwise we sin against Him; for as Christ has said, “He that is not for Me is against Me.” The example of David—his zeal (Psalms 68:0).
2. This is a sort of prudence that even the world approves not of. A man would be regarded as a craven who did not come to the help of his friend. A subject would be treated as a rebel if in war he did not come to the aid of his prince. The rules of honour of the world even condemn our indifference in regard to the divine cause.
3. This is a kind of prudence that brings scandal on religion. For this indifference to the cause of God is considered to be a sign of secret alienation from Him. The world scarcely distinguishes the man who is indifferent to the things of God from the open libertine who is without doubt against Him. The reason is that libertinage does not dare to show itself fully, but comes forward under the guise of indifference. Whence comes occasion of offence to the weak. It was this that awoke of old the zeal of Elijah (1 Kings 18:21).
4. Such a prudence tends to encourage impiety. Libertinism does not exactly ask that it should be applauded—only tolerated. This is sufficient to give it opportunity to take root and flourish. Is it said, My zeal would only irritate the evil? What although it did! You would have done your duty. But we must use discretion. True, provided it is a discretion which leads to the end to which zeal directs. But this zeal would lead to publicity and noise. It is not always prudent to avoid that when it is necessary. There is a kind of peace which is more dangerous than trouble. But must not one be careful in regard to one’s neighbours? Away with such carefulness where the service of God is concerned! The apostles did not reason thus.
II. To abandon the divine cause is a most injurious weakness.—
1. It deprives us of the greatest honour to which we could aspire—to be defenders of the divine cause. It was in defence of this cause that the heroes of faith in the Old Testament and the New were distinguished. Have you the same boldness in the cause of Christ? Will God make use of you as He did of them?
2. It makes men odious and despicable. To whom?
(1) To good men, who behold this faithlessness with just indignation;
(2) to impious and sinful men even, who interpret the weakness of this conduct, and see very well that our indulgence toward them results from fear and littleness of mind.
3. The acme of our misery is this: we lack firmness only where the interests of God are concerned; we preach firmness strongly enough where our personal interests are concerned. When we think of this, can we listen to the testimony of our own hearts without blushing from shame and confusion?
4. This weakness may end in God withdrawing His grace and sending on us the most severe chastisements. Rather let us second His designs whilst He may be found, etc.; and by an ardour and zeal altogether new so prepare ourselves to hear from His mouth this glorious invitation, “Come, good and faithful servants,” etc. (Matthew 25:23).—Bourdaloue.
John 15:18. The hatred of Christ’s disciples by the world.—The friends and disciples of Jesus Christ have two marks of their friendship and discipleship: the first is that they love one another; the second, that they are hated by the world. Concerning the first our Lord had spoken in the former part of this chapter. “This text is worth hundreds of thousands of gulden; yes, no gold could buy it. For Christ Himself tells us therein that we are not of the world, and that this is the sign thereof, i.e. that the world hates us. This includes lofty contempt and excellent comfort; because if we are hated for His sake, it is because we have been chosen by Him and separated from the world, judged and marked by it” (Luther). Just as the love of Christ is the ground of love of the brethren, so the hatred of the world rests on Christians because they abide in the love of their Lord. For just so little as the world can hate those who are of the world (John 7:7), just so little can it love those chosen out of the world as friends of Jesus. The disciples would from the time of our Lord’s departure most painfully experience this. But let not your heart be troubled. It must so be and happen so long as the world is world and Christians are Christians, and so long as Abel’s race inhabits the earth with Cain’s race. That, however, which the blind world does as a curse God turns into pure blessing for His children. For the Vine-dresser cleanses the branches of the vine by means often of this hatred of the world; but He does not permit the world to tear one twig from the vine. If the world has hated that vine-stock, yet it must leave it scathless; yes, must even help its glorious growth by this bitter hatred. Thus, too, will it be with the beloved branches in spite of the cruel hatred and rage of the world.—Translated from Dr. R. Besser.
John 15:22. The boldness of unbelief.—As to the manner in which unbelief takes the field against faith, I read recently of a glaring instance in a religious journal. An intelligent Christian farmer, in the vicinity of Caln, brought to his minister, with great indignation, a little book which had been sent him by post, and which bore the title, The Return Home from Heaven to Earth, a Book for Free Christians, printed at Stuttgart 1851. In this tractate, in the form of a catechism with question and answer, the most naked infidelity was taught—the Bible laid under suspicion of being a book of fables, heaven and everything heavenly denied, and the earth alone, as our true home, and the world of sense as the only element in which to live, held up to honour. “Return home from heaven to earth!” Yes, so runs the watchword of the sensualist. He does not desire to look beyond the horizon of earth; therefore for him everything that comes from an unseen world and would lead men thither—Bible and church, heaven and eternity, God and Saviour, religion and Christianity—is a cause of offence and foolishness. Therefore he desires to call men back from heaven to earth. The watchword of faith, however, runs otherwise: “The return home from earth to heaven.” Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come; we look not on the things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen. Thence did our undying souls come; thither our heart goes forth like a child’s heart toward his father’s house. Thence our Lord and Saviour has come to bring heavenly light, heavenly power, heavenly comfort, into this poor dark world; thither He has prepared a way for us through His divine teaching His heavenly example, His holy death, His glorious ascension; and thither will He also lead us, so that where He is we, whom the Father has given Him, may be with Him. Now, which of these is the true way? Will we agree with the catechism of unbelief, “Return home from heaven to earth”? Shall we leave the heavenly air and light of faith, in which we hitherto have been so well and happy, and come back to our five senses like a snail into its shell, or creep like a mole into its hole. Shall Christendom retreat like a defeated army from a land it cannot possess, a city that it cannot take—retreat from the blessed province of faith, and abandon the heavenly city with its glittering walls, and renounce the heavenly inheritance which the Captain of our salvation had gained by His blood, whither for eighteen hundred years so many thousand believing souls have looked amid the afflictions of time, where we also hoped to find our eternal home and to rest from toil in the heavenly Sabbath? Shall we let all this go as a booty that pertains not to us, as a dream, behind which there is nothing? Shall we give it all up simply because it lies beyond our earthly horizon, because it is not strengthened and confirmed by the evidence of our five senses? Never! Our faith is the victory that overcomes the world. It overcame the world and the world’s doubt eighteen hundred years ago, as the message “Christ is risen” went victoriously through all lands. It overcomes the world and its doubt to-day also; for it rests on a divine testimony (1 John 5:9).—Translated from Karl Gerok.
John 15:27. Boldness in witness-bearing for Christ.—Yes, Christians, you in reality put away your true glory when, among the subjects that come before you, and in regard to which your zeal should be engaged, you do not dare, from a timidity that is weak and craven, either to speak or to act for the cause of God. For what is more worthy of a great spirit, of a noble and dignified soul, than the defence of such a cause? and what can we propose to ourselves in the world as a more honourable aim? When yon labour for yourselves alone, how little do you become; whatever you may do all is small and limited, is reduced to that nothingness and that vanity inseparable both from your persons and your position. But when you interest yourselves for the cause of God, all that you do, even according to men’s ideas, possesses I know not what of the divine, which they are forced to honour, and which awakes in them for you a secret respect. “You seek for glory,” wrote Augustine to a man of the world, “and where will you find this glory that you seek better than in the exercise of an ardent zeal for everything connected with the service of your God, i.e. to protect those who engage in it, to reprove those who dishonour it, to cause abuses in connection with it to cease, to maintain discipline, to oppose yourself like a wall of brass and like a pillar of bronze to the enterprises of error and of impiety? If you wish to acquire a solid merit, in order to commend yourself to men, by what other way can you hope to attain to that end? What is it that has immortalised the names of the great men of Old Testament history, and those of the New Testament story? Was it not this that has impressed on all minds such general sentiments of esteem and constant admiration for these illustrious Maccabees? What distinguished Constantine and Theodosius among the Christian emperors? Was it not that zeal for the honour of God and His law by which they were animated? ‘Traverse,’ said the brave Mattathias, when instructing his children from his deathbed—‘traverse all the generations, and see if those of our ancestors whose memory is blessed have merited the praise and respect of the people otherwise than by the power and courage which they displayed when the cause of the Lord called for their aid. Do not imagine you will ever arrive at such a degree of glory as that to which they attained, unless through the same resolution. And do not be blind enough to suppose that any purely human success only, regarding which the world may compliment you, will ever enable you to equal them.’ ” Thus spoke this saintly and noble church-father. And this is what I would say after him, Christians. No, whoever you may be, do not expect to find any true glory other than that which will come to you through the holy ardour which will make it plain that you are God’s and for God. By the so-called successes you may achieve otherwise, and for which men applaud, you may make some noise in the world. But with this fleeting flame, as Scripture teaches, your memory will perish. This glory which you have sought apart from God, and in which God has no part, will vanish like smoke. And after you have shone for a little with a false lustre, it will leave you in eternal darkness.—Translated from Bourdaloue.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on John 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27