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I am the True Vine
The origin of the allusion
Most of our Lord’s figurative discourses were obviously suggested by some outward thing.
What was the visible object here? It could hardly have originated in a thought about “the fruit of the vine,” represented by what He had been pouring from the cup; nor is it satisfactory to say that He pointed to a vine in the garden; for the garden was not a vineyard. You will notice that although the words, “Arise, let us go hence,” occur in John 14:31, the words that fill up chapters 15, 16, and 17, were spoken before we come to the entrance into the garden. Now, for these long utterances to have been spoken in this walk is to me inconceivable. Some think however, that when Christ said, “Arise, let us go hence,” they rose, and that the words filling the next three chapters were spoken while they were still standing, just as a leader, after he has signified that the meeting is over, may say at the door, “Stop, a new thought strikes me,” and may then linger to utter unpremeditated things. But it is inconceivable that Christ should leave His longest and most important parting instructions until the audience had, at His own request, all risen to go. My own opinion is that Jesus on His way to the garden went to take a farewell glance at the Temple, and that for the purpose of teaching the disciples lessons founded on its golden vine. Nations have often taken certain plants or flowers for their heraldic devices, such as the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock. If not as a matter of heraldry, as a matter of fact, the vine appeared to be the device on the shield of Israel. Striking passages might be quoted in proof, from the prophets (Isaiah 27:6; JeEze 15:2; 17:8; Psalms 80:8-11). The Master then took the scholars up to the famous national emblem displayed over the porch of the sanctuary, and with that before them, prepared them to understand that now the sacred nation was about to lose its ancient place, and to be superseded and fulfilled by the nation of saved souls; teaching them to withdraw their trust in that vine, and to place their trust in Him alone, henceforth to be one with Him, as are branches with the tree they spring from. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
The True Vine
I. THE VINE.
1. The method of Christ’s teaching seems to have depended largely on chances and occasions. Seeds of truth were blown from Him who is the Truth by every breeze of circumstance, like thistledown by the wind. This allegory was suggested, perhaps, by a portion of a trellised vine outside, peeping in through the latticed window, rustling in the evening breeze, or showing through its veined, transparent leaves the golden light of the setting sun; or, more probably still, the wine cup before Him on the supper table.
2. But while the form of Christ’s teaching was determined by the accident of the moment, it fell in with the general analogy of Scripture teaching. The vine is one of the most familiar images in the Old Testament. No less than five of our Lord’s parables refer to it.
3. The Land of Promise was a land of vineyards; and Juaea especially, with its temperate climate, and elevated rocky slopes, was admirably adapted for the culture of the vine. A vineyard on a terrace or brow of a hill is the first object that strikes the eye of the traveller when he approaches Judaea from the desert. A vineyard on a hill, fenced and cleared of stones, was the natural emblem of the kingdom of Judah; and this heraldic symbol was engraved on the coins of the Maccabees, on the ornaments of the Temple, and on the tombstones of the Jews. It is not without significance that the vine should be thus peculiar to Judaea. One of the most perfect of plants, it belongs to one of the most perfect of countries as regards its physical structure. Contrast the grapes of Eshcol with the variegated scenery of that valley, and its geological conformation, with the hard dry woody fruits of the parched plains of Australia: a low type of fruit with a low type of country. There is a close typical relation between the character of a country and the character of its productions; and this relation ascends even into the world of man. As the monotonous plains and innutritious fruits of Australia reared the lowest savages; so the picturesque mountain scenery, and the rich nutritious grapes, pomegranates and olives of Palestine developed the noblest of the human races.
II. THE FITNESS OF THE VINE FOR OUR LORD’S PURPOSE.
1. He wished to represent
(1) The permanent spiritual union of His disciples with Himself; and therefore a perennial and not an annual plant must be selected, a dicotyledonous tree with branches, and not a monocotyledonous tree without branches. The image of the lily suited Him when His own personal loveliness, purity, and fragrance, and His own short-lived single life on earth were intended to be shadowed forth; and the image of the palm tree, which has no branches, suited the disciples when their own individual excellence was portrayed.
(2) The fruitfulness of Christ and of believers in Him; and hence the plant that can do this adequately must be a cultivated one--not a mere herb of the field, like corn, yielding fruit only on the top of a stalk, but a tree yielding fruit on every branch.
(3) The subordinate relation to and dependence of Christ upon His Father in the days of His flesh; and this idea manifestly excludes all fruit trees that are capable of standing alone and unsupported, such as the apple--the pomegranate, or the fig tree.
(4) Believers exhibit, with general features of resemblance, considerable personal differences; and the plant which is to represent this quality must admit of considerable variability within certain distinct and well-recognized limits. All these qualifications meet in the vine, and in the vine alone.
2. The vine belongs peculiarly to the human period, and was planted in the earth shortly before its occupancy by man. It came into the world along with the beautiful rose, and the fruitful apple, and the fragrant mint, and the honey-laden bee, to make an Eden of nature for man’s use and enjoyment. The former ages were flowerless; green, monotonous tree ferns and tree mosses, destined to become fuel for man, alone covered the land. Prophesied by all previous vegetable forms, whose structure approached nearer and nearer to its type, the vine appeared in the fulness of the earth’s time; just as He whom it shadowed forth was announced in type and prophecy from the foundation of the world, and appeared in the fulness of human history when the world was ready for His reception. And thus the symbol and the Person symbolized belong peculiarly to the human world, and were destined specially for human nourishment and satisfaction.
3. A strict correlation exists between the culture of the vine and the intellectual and spiritual development of humanity. Wherever the grape ripens, there flourish all the arts that chiefly tend to make life nobler and more enjoyable. The spread of the Christian religion, as a general rule, has been co-extensive and synchronous with that of the vine, so that wherever the allegory of our Saviour is read, there the natural object may be seen to illustrate it.
4. In the symbol of the vine our Lord recognizes the prefiguration in plants of animal forms and functions. In the stem, branches, and foliage of the vine, we discern the ideal plan on which our own bodies are constructed: the stem being the spinal column; the branches the ribs and members: the leaves the lungs; while the sap vessels, filled with their nourishing fluid, correspond with the veins and their circulating blood. The functions, too, which all these parts and organs in the vine perform are precisely analogous to those which similar parts and organs perform in the economy of man.
III. CHRIST THE TRUE VINE.
1. St. John’s Gospel has several peculiar terms--such as the Word, the Light, the Life, the Truth, the World, Glory, Grace--which, perhaps more than all others, bear upon them the clear stamp of the Divine signet. To these may be added the word “true,” which occurs no less than twenty-two times in this Gospel, as against five times in all the rest of the New Testament. By us the word is commonly employed to represent, and so confound, two distinct ideas; viz., the true as opposed to the false, and as distinguished from the typical or subordinate realization. Our forefathers recognized this distinction, and expressed the former idea by “true,” and the latter by “very.” The man who fulfilled the promise of his lips was a true man; but the man who fulfilled the wider promise of his name was a very man, a man indeed. God is the true God, in the sense that He cannot lie; but He is the true God, inasmuch as He is all that the name of God implies, in contradistinction to false gods. The phrase is still retained in the Nicene creed, “very God of very God.” In Greek the distinction is clearly indicated by the use of two words, ale?the?s true, and ale?thinos very, which are never used indiscriminately. The word here is ale?thinos, and should be rendered “very,” for it indicates the contrast, not between the true and the false, but between the imperfect and the perfect--between the shadowy and the substantial, the type and the archetype, the highest ideal and a subordinate realization or partial anticipation. And in this connection it is interesting to notice that the Saxon word “tree” is etymologically cognate with “true,” signifying that which is firm, strong, or well-established.
5. Israel was a vine, but not the true vine of God. Though not altogether false and fraudulent, it was an inferior and subordinate realization, a partial and imperfect anticipation of the truth. It did not come up to God’s ideal of a vine. But Christ was the True Vine of God; He fulfilled to the utmost the purposes of His existence. The vineyard of Israel was to be taken from the wicked husbandmen. But out of this Jewish vineyard was to grow one Vine, which should endure when all the peculiar institutions of Judaism had perished, and become the starting point of a new and higher religious growth. While the Law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
3. Christ is also the “True Vine,” as distinguished from the false or counterfeit vine. There are many species of vine, but there is only one grapevine; so error is multiform, but truth is one. And just as the wheat is imitated by the tares--the poisonous darnel--which closely resemble it in every respect; so the True Vine is imitated by the vine of Sodom, with its poisonous fruit.
4. But there is another aspect still in which the phrase may be viewed. It is as if Christ had said, “I am the unconcealed Vine.”
(1) Israel was a concealed vine. Its full significance was not known until Christ, the True Vine, revealed it. And
(2) The natural vine is a concealed vine. Men could not understand its symbolical meaning, they misinterpreted its lessons; they thought that it had no higher uses than the mere material, utilitarian ones. It was only when Christ appeared that the parable was explained, and the mystery, hid from ages and generations, revealed. Our Lord’s first miracle at Cana was effected by the direct and immediate agency of the True Vine. It revealed the power which enables the natural vine in the vineyard to change the rains and dews of every summer into wine in its grapes. And what is thus asserted of the vine is equally applicable to bread, to light, to water--to every natural object. They all had a concealed meaning--a reference to Christ--from the beginning. Our Lord does not say, “I am like the vine.” That would have been to use a mere metaphor, or figure of speech. But He says, “I am the True Vine;” and this declares that the vine is the actual shadow of His substance.
IV. THE QUALITIES IN CHRIST WHICH ARE ADUMBRATED BY THE VINE?
1. The vine is the most perfect of plants.
(1) Some plants possess one part, or one quality, more highly developed; but for the harmonious development of every part and quality--for perfect balance of loveliness and usefulness, there are none to equal the vine. It belongs to the highest order of the vegetable kingdom. Painters tell us that to study the perfection of form, colour, light, and shade, united in one object, we must place before us a bunch of grapes. It is perfectly innocent, being one of the few climbing plants that do not injure the object of their support. It has no thorns--no noxious qualities; all its parts are useful. Its foliage affords a refreshing shade from the scorching sunshine. Its fruit was one of the first oblations to the Divinity, and, along with bread, is one of the primary and essential elements of human food. In common with other plants, it purifies the air--feeding upon what we reject as poison, and returning it to us as wine that maketh glad the heart, and in the process maintaining the atmosphere in a fit condition for our breathing.
(2) In all these aspects the vine is the shadow of Him who is altogether lovely--who unites in Himself the extremes of perfection--who is continually doing good--who beautified our fallen world by His presence, changed its wilderness into an Eden, and made the polluted atmosphere of our life purer by breathing it, and is now transforming our evil into good, and our sorrow into a fruitful and strengthening joy.
2. The words distinguish between nature and that which is above it. To Pantheism nature is God. The pronoun “I” in it leads us up to the Personal Origin of all creation, shows to us that creation is not eternal, but springs from a Person. How, then, can anyone expect to be able to interpret the meaning of the vine, without the personal knowledge of the Living Being who is working and speaking to us through its instrumentality? Without the knowledge of His person we cannot have the knowledge of His work in its fulness. But once united to Him by a living and loving faith, we have the proper view point of the universe. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The True Vine
Christ selected this metaphor because of
I. THE ABUNDANCE OF ITS FRUIT; for which reason it is used by David to express great fertility (Psalms 128:3). Hence this tree is especially appropriate as a type of Christ, through whose life and passion the abundant fruits of holiness are brought forth by believers.
II. THE PLEASANTNESS AND THE GRATEFUL CHARACTER OF ITS FRUIT, as the fruits produced by the indwelling of Christ are those which are accordant with and pleasing to man’s highest nature.
III. THE STRENGTH AND JOY WHICH WINE PRODUCES within the heart of Judges 9:13; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6-7).
IV. THE WIDE EXTENT OF THE BRANCHES stretching on all sides, and furnishing a striking figure of the growth and expansion of the Church, which is the body of Christ (Psalms 80:11).
V. ITS TYPICAL CHARACTER, wine symbolizing the blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The True Vine
I. THE VINE IN THE VITAL UNITY OF ALL ITS PARTS. We shall best understand this thought if we recur to some of those great vines in royal conservatories, where, for hundreds of yards, the pliant branches stretch along the espaliers, and yet one life pervades the whole, from the root, through the crooked stem, right away to the last leaf at the top of the furthest branch, and reddens and mellows every cluster. This great thought of the unity of life between Jesus Christ and all that believe upon Him is the familiar teaching of Scripture, and is set forth also by the metaphor of the body and its members. Personality remains, but across the awful gulf of the individual consciousness, which parts us from one another, Jesus Christ assumes the Divine prerogative of passing and joining Himself to each of us. A oneness of life, which is the sole cause of fruitfulness and growth, is taught us here. This is a oneness which results
1. In a oneness of relation to God. In this relation He is the Son, and we in Him receive the standing of sons. He has access ever into the Father’s presence, and we through Him and in Him have access with confidence and are accepted in the Beloved.
2. In relation to men, if He be Light, we touched with His light, are also, in our measure and degree, the lights of the world; and in the proportion in which we receive the power of His Spirit, we, too, become God’s anointed--“As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”
3. In regard of character, this union results in a similarity of character, and with His righteousness we are clothed.
4. In regard to the future, we can look forward and be sure that we are so closely joined with Him, that it is impossible but that where He is, there shall also His servants be. And as He sits on the Father’s throne, His children must needs sit with Him on His throne.
5. Therefore the name of the collective whole is Christ. And, as in the great Old Testament prophecy of the servant of the Lord, the figure fluctuates between that which is the collective Israel and the personal Messiah; so the “Christ” is not only the individual Redeemer, but the whole of that redeemed Church, of which it is said, “it is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”
II. THE HUSBANDMAN AND THE DRESSING OF THE VINE. The one tool that a vinedresser needs is a knife, and the one kind of husbandry spoken of here is pruning--not manuring, not digging, but simply the hacking away of all that is rank and dead.
1. Fruitless branches mean all those who have a mere superficial adherence to the true vine. If there be any real union, there will be some life, and therefore some fruit. And so the application is to those nominal adherents to Christianity, who, if you ask them to put down in the census paper what they are, will say that they are Christians, Churchmen, or Dissenters, as the case may be, but who have no real hold upon Jesus Christ, and no real reception of anything from Him; and the “taking away” is simply that God makes visible, what is a fact, that they do not belong to Him with whom they have this nominal connection. The longer Christianity continues in any country, the more does the Church get weighted and lowered in its temperature by the aggregation round about it of people of that sort. And one sometimes longs and prays for a storm to come, of some sort or other, to blow the dead wood out of the tree, and to get rid of all this oppressive and stifling weight of sham Christians that has come round every one of our churches.
2. The pruning of the fruitful branches. We all, in our Christian life, carry with us the two sources--our own poor, miserable self, and the better life of Jesus Christ within us. The one flourishes at the expense of the other; and it is the Husbandman’s merciful, though painful work, to cut back unsparingly the rank shoots that come from self, in order that all the force of our lives may be flung into the growing of the cluster which is acceptable to Him.
III. THE BRANCHES ABIDING IN THE VINE AND THEREFORE FRUITFUL.
1. Union with Christ is the condition of all fruitfulness. There may be plenty of activity and yet barrenness. Works are not fruit. We can bring forth a great deal “of ourselves,” and because it is of ourselves it is naught.
2. There is the great glory and distinctive blessedness of the gospel. Other teachers come to us and tell us how we ought to live, and give us laws, examples, reasons, motives. The gospel comes and gives us life, and unfolds itself in us into all the virtues that we have to possess. What is the use of giving a man a copy if he cannot copy it? Morality comes and stands over the cripple, and says to him, “Look here! This is how you ought to walk.” But Christianity comes and bends over Him, and lays hold of his hand, and says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
3. Our reception of that power depends upon our own efforts. “Abide in Me and I in you.” Suppress yourselves, and empty your lives of self, that the life of Christ may come in. A lock upon a canal, if it is empty, will have its gates pressed open by the water in the canal and will be filled. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
There are “strange vines” which bring forth wild grapes in perilous abundance, planted in the soil of our human nature by “an enemy.” Their nature is deadly, their grapes, however luscious and inviting, are noxious; their very shadow and foliage, like the fabled Upas tree, are redolent of destruction and death. There are grapes of gold, for which the grower sells his soul, and Mammon is the spirit that drives the ruinous bargain. There are the grapes which being pressed into the goblet do sparkle and coruscate, and Pleasure’s fascinating beauties are reflected in the flowing cup; but a serpent lies coiled below the ruby draught and stingeth like an adder the victim she allures. There are grapes of which the smooth-tongued vine dresser says that “they are much to be desired to make one wise.” “Eat,” quoth he, “and ye shall be as gods. Yes. There are vines, vineyards, vine dressers, and wine vats in this deluded and deluding world. Pleasant is their shadow, graceful and winsome their festoonings, attractive are their supplies either from the cluster or the flagon, and, alas! those who are deluded by them “know not that the dead are there,” and that the shaded and enticing paths that lead men thither are “steps that take hold on hell.” “Their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, etc. It was a “wild vine” which produced the fruit gathered in mistake by the servant of Elisha, so that there came to be “death in the pot” into which the deceptive grapes were shed; and so with all the false trusts and hopes of humanity. (J. JacksonWray.)
Christ the true Vine in His Divine humanity
It is in His manhood that Christ is the true Vine. It was of the essence of His Mediatorial work, of the Daysman, who should lay His hands upon both, that as on the one side He could say, “I and My Father are one,” so upon the other, “I and My brethren are one;” but while the vine and the vine branches must thus both be partakers of the same nature (Hebrews 2:11), He will presently challenge for Himself a share in the work of the husbandman. He, too, has power to “purge” or cleanse through His word (John 15:3). His humanity was a Divine humanity, for so only could it have become a life-giving humanity to the world. (Archbishop Trench.)
Union with Christ
I. ITS NATURE.
1. An actual joining of each branch to the vine. When Madame Guyon was ten years old, she learned that Madame de Chantal had written the characters of the holy name of Jesus upon her bosom with a red-hot iron. She sought to imitate, so she sewed on her breast a piece of stiff paper containing the name of Christ. Never has there been good in such folly. Union to the Saviour does not consist in tacking on a badge of mere profession of love for Him. You might as well nail a branch to a trellis, and call that grafting.
2. A living joining of each branch to this Vine. We have often seen flowers bound to sticks with a bit of wire, so that they seemed growing on long stems; but there was no life in the merely mechanical contact.
3. The reciprocal joining of every branch to the vine, and of the vine to every branch.
II. ITS PURPOSES. That it may produce after its kind for the enrichment of the husbandman the fruits he loves. These fruits are
1. Good views. It never profits anyone to sneer at creeds, and cry out for deeds instead; for no good deed was ever done unless there was a good thought behind it. The shallowness of much of our modern piety is owing to want of real conviction. Our religion has always been “a faith,” and so has had an intellectual basis.
2. Good deeds. For all genuine ideas force themselves out into conduct. Mere admiration for the character, or mystic affection for the person, of a Saviour like ours would not be enough. A pretty little honeysuckle in the garden might as well twine itself up around a trellis, and try for a whole season to look like a vine; grape time would show the sham.
3. Good feelings. Some people doubt the power of a religious duty to start the enthusiasm of a large soul. And yet many of the finest minds and purest hearts have drawn their inspirations from the spiritual intercourse they kept with the life and the words of Jesus. While Claudius Buchanan was missionary in India, he translated and issued the Syriac Testament. Macaulay says that once in his presence he stopped and suddenly burst into tears. When he recovered himself the great man said, “Do not be alarmed, I am not ill; but I was completely overcome with the recollections of the delight I have enjoyed in this exercise.” It is thus that good Christians have often gone to the stake for the love they bore for this Redeemer of men.
4. Good graces. Vines feel no shame for being beautiful. Excellencies of character are what the Lord loves (Galatians 5:22-23).
III. CHRIST’S CARE FOR IT. The Husbandman is God the Father. He cleanses the vines. In the East dressers wash the leaves and shoots and tendrils and clusters, each by itself in turn, so as to clear off the dust and mould. They cut away, also, the dead branches, and keep the whole vine under discipline.
1. The branch may be too feeble in its growth. Then, of course, it must be made to draw more strength from the vine which supports it. In the union of Christ to each soul these quickenings are efficaciously wrought by the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The believer seeks them by prayer, and openly welcomes them with thanksgiving and trust. A female teacher in Persia was seated on a mat in the middle of the earthen floor of the church greatly fatigued, and as she was endeavouring to catch a moment’s rest, one of the native women seated herself directly behind on the same mat. In a quiet whisper she begged her to lean back. The missionary just suffered her weight to fall against her knee; but the generous Christian drew her nearer and then whispered again, “If you love me, lean hard.” Never was a truer imitation of Christ. Those who are weal: show more love by leaning harder.
2. The branch may be too perverse in its growth. Sometimes it appears as if it had become wilful. It thrusts its rings and tendrils off as if a petulant rebelliousness against the trellis had awakened its spite, and it had determined to grow out of order. It will lay hold of twigs below it in the grass, and trees above it in the orchard, always endeavouring to defeat the husbandman’s purpose. For this there is no remedy but one: the knife comes suddenly, and now remains only the fire. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Union with Christ
I. THIS UNION.
1. It is compared
(1) By Peter (1 Peter 2:5-6) to the connection between the foundation stone and the building, and the relation thus suggested is one of dependence.
(2) By the Lord Himself to the union between the branches and the vine, the connection is seen to be one of life.
(3) By Paul (Ephesians 4:15-16) to the union between the head and the members, where the connection is one of subjection.
(4) By the same Apostle (Ephesians 5:22-23) to the union between husband and wife; and there the idea of affection is the predominating one. Now, putting all these together, we get this result, that believers are one with Christ, as represented by Him, dependent upon Him, living in Him, subject to Him, and loving Him with tenderest affection. But in the figure of our text there is further suggested the idea that believers are supported by Christ. The branches are sustained by the sap, which the vine supplies; and so His people are animated by the Spirit which Christ bestows.
2. How this union is entered into. The analogy of the vine does not help us here. The branches are in the vine, whether they will or no. But men have wills; and so this union is, on their part, a voluntary thing.
3. Then, when we are thus united to Him, His strength and grace flow into us. When the car is coupled to the engine, the motion of the engine is communicated to, and shared with, the car; and when we are one with Christ in love and trust, His Spirit comes into our hearts and makes us more responsive to Himself.
II. THE END FOR WHICH THE UNION EXISTS (John 15:2; John 15:8). Fruit, the character of which may be gathered from Ephesians 5:9; Gal 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:6-8. Then this fruit is
1. A personal thing. It is not the effect on others of some effort which we put forth, but the appearance in ourselves of the graces of holiness.
2. Not a single grace, but a whole circle. The spiritual vine, like the natural, brings forth its fruit in a cluster, and only when each of the members of that cluster is fairly and symmetrically developed is there true fruitfulness. (Christian Age.)
Union with Christ
The fruitful source of all the Christian’s blessings. Constantly felt and remembered tends to dignify and fructify his life. Leads to
(2) Safety. In Christ.
I. UNION IN ITS NATURE.
2. Mutually agreed.
II. PERMANENCE OF THE UNION.
III. FRUITFULNESS OF THE UNION. “Bear much fruit.”
1. Expected. It is a vine--a vineyard under care. “Father is the husbandman.”
2. Only possible in union. Human nature. “No fruit of itself,” “for without Me ye can do nothing.” Linked to Christ by faith. “Much fruit.”
3. To the highest end. Heavenward. “Glory to God” (John 15:8). Earthward. “So shall ye be My disciples” (John 15:8). The great want of earth--true disciples. God claims the glory.
4. Sign of life. “Bringeth forth”--out of--grow--result of the Divine life within. (E. Wickliffe Davies.)
The true spiritual life in man is
I. DERIVED FROM CHRIST. Religion is not a mere creed or form; it is a life, and the life is a “branch” of Christ’s life. It grows out of Him. There is no true spiritual life where Christ’s spirit is not the inspiration.
II. DEVELOPED IN FRUITFULNESS. The production of fruit is what is required; it is not to pass off in foliage and blossom. Unless we yield fruit we are worthless and doomed to destruction. What is the fruit? “Love, joy peace,” etc.
III. THE JOINT AGENCY OF GOD AND MAN.
1. Man must seek an abiding connection with Christ. Cut the branch from the tree, it will wither and rot.
2. God must act the part of the Great Husbandman. The mere abiding in Christ will not do of itself. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit
Believers branches in the true vine
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN BEING A BRANCH IN CHRIST AND WHO ARE PROPERLY BRANCHES IN HIM.
1. In order to be such, we must be cut off from the stock, which is wild by nature (Romans 11:24). This stock is our natural and sinful state (1 Peter 1:18). Growing in this stock, we bring forth evil fruit. We begin to be cut off from it when we are convinced of our sin, and brought to repentance. Hence we begin to die to all dependance on our own wisdom, righteousness, and strength; to all love of the world and sin (2 Corinthians 6:17).
2. We must be ingrafted into Christ (Romans 11:24). The usual way of ingrafting is not to insert a wild scion into a good stock, but a good scion into a wild stock.
3. Hence it appears evidently who are branches in Him
(1) Negatively; not all who have been baptized, and are reckoned members of the visible Church (Romans 2:25-29), who profess to know God, and to have religion (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 Corinthians 13:2-3).
(2) Positively. They are those who have experienced true repentance and faith, and are in Christ new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
II. WHAT IS THE FRUIT WHICH SUCH ARE EXPECTED TO BEAR. This implies the cultivation of truth, justice, mercy, charity (Hebrews 13:16; Titus 3:8; Philippians 1:10-11). Such must also cultivate, and maintain towards themselves, temperance in all its branches, chastity, self-denial, purity, universal holiness (Hebrews 12:14).
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEARING, OR NOT BEARING, THIS FRUIT.
1. If we do not bring forth this fruit, our grace, not being exercised, is withdrawn and lost. We are actually cut off from Christ, as an unfruitful branch is lopped off from a vine. We wither in our fruits, our blossoms, and our very leaves; in our works, graces, and gifts.
2. If we do produce fruit,--we are purged, or purified, by the Spirit, through the Word (John 17:17), which is believed, and obeyed Acts 15:9; 1 Peter 1:22); by affliction (Hebrews 12:4-11).
IV. HOW WE MAY BE ENABLED TO BEAR THIS FRUIT.
1. By abiding in Christ, and Christ in us (verse 5). We shall not otherwise be fruitful (verse 4), for otherwise we shall want life, inclination, knowledge, and power.
2. We abide in Him by abiding in faith, in God, in His revealed will, in His Gospel and its truths, in Christ, in the promises (John 6:47-58; Galatians 2:20; Hebrews 10:38; and especially Romans 11:16; Romans 11:24). By continuing in love (John 15:9; Galatians 5:6). Hence arise deadness to the world, and power over sin. By continuing to obey John 15:10; John 14:23-24) In order to these, the use of all prescribed means is necessary, as the Word, prayer, watchfulness, self-denial. (J. Benson.)
In the natural world branches of the vine which are not good for that to which they were specially ordained, viz., for the bearing of fruit, are good for nothing. There are trees which may be turned to secondary uses, if they fail to fulfil their primary. Not so the vine. As timber it is utterly valueless (Ezekiel 15:3-4). It is with it exactly as with the saltless salt, which, having lost its savour, is fit only to be east out of doors; both of them being meet emblems of the spiritual man who is not spiritual, who is good neither for the work of this world nor of a higher. (Abp. Trench.)
Character and doom of unfruitfulness
I. THE POSITION YOU OCCUPY. The Saviour speaks of those who are in Him. This, in a sense, is true of you; not in the highest sense, indeed; by the supposition, you are not in Him by that vital union which faith produces, and which secures fruitfulness, but you are so in a real, though a subordinate sense. You have some relation to Christ, are not like those to whom His name is unknown; you have heard of Christ, whence He came, what He did, how He suffered, how He is able and willing to “save to the uttermost”--a fact by which, while your ears are blessed, you are also involved in responsibility. To Him you were dedicated in Christian baptism; by parental piety, in His Church, His name was named upon you, and His blessing invoked. More than this. You have been trained and nurtured amid Christian influences: Inefficacious as these may have proved, they have existed; you can remember them. The possibility of such outward and visible union, as distinct from the inward and spiritual, is variously illustrated. “Have not I chosen you twelve? and one of you is a devil.” “Demas hath forsaken us, having loved the present world.” Such, then, is your position.
II. YOU ARE UNFRUITFUL. What do we mean by this? Not that you have no capacity for fruitfulness. You might have been so different, as different from your present self as light from darkness, life from death. Not that you have been unfruitful in all senses. Your intellect, perhaps, has been active, become acute and strong; your judgment has become matured; your affections have budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit; your character, so far as this can be perfected without the motives and principles of Christian life, has become developed and firm. It may be, too, that in the years we are now reviewing and charging with unfruitfulness, you have done much, been a philanthropist, a patriot, a projector of useful schemes. In what, then, are you chargeable with unfruitfulness? By lacking such principles as these. Love to God. Faith in Christ. Obedience. Humility and repentance, too. It might be supposed that sense of deficiency would have produced at least these. Have they? Has your heart been broken for sin? Have you offered the sacrifice which God will not despise, the broken and contrite spirit? Thus you see, there are fruits which you have not borne, the most important fruits, and those without which all others God esteems, if not “abomination,” yet certainly most subordinate.
III. SOME OF THE AGGRAVATIONS OF THIS UNFRUITFULNESS. You have had great advantages. Consider, too, the time you have wasted. How insufficient the causes, too, which have produced your infertility. It were wise for you seriously to inquire what these have been. Decree, fate, providence, necessity--you cannot charge these with the future. Your conscience is too enlightened for that. No! the cause is not from above. Nor from beneath altogether. Satan has no compulsory power over us. Where, then, is the cause to be found? In yourself only; in your yielding to outward influences. It is a further aggravation of your sin, that all the time of your unfruitfulness you have been positively injurious. Think, for example, of the incomparable mischief a father does in his family all the time he is living a worldly and careless life.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE UNFRUITFUL BRANCH. It is one proof, among many, of God’s willingness to save, that he announces punishment before He executes it. None are led blindfold to justice. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away.” This is fulfilled variously. It is sometimes in the loss of capacity. Then there is Death. This is common to man as the penally of sin; but to different men, how different! Whatever heaven is, and its glory is inexpressible, such are taken away from it; whatever hell is, and its dolefulness, as described by Christ, no darkness can paint, they are taken away to it. (J. Viney.)
Every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it
A sharp knife for the vine branches
I. THE TEXT SUGGESTS SELF-EXAMINATION. It mentions
1. Two characters who are in some respects exceedingly alike; they are both branches, and are in the vine: and yet for all this, the end of the one shall be to be cast away, while the end of the other shall be to bring forth fruit.
2. The distinction between them. The first branch brought forth no fruit; the second branch bore some fruit. We have no right to judge of our neighbours’ motives and thoughts, except so far as they may be clearly discoverable by their actions and words. The interior we must leave with God, but the exterior we may judge. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Paul has given us a list of these fruits in Galatians 5:23. Say, professor, hast thou brought forth the fruit “love?” etc. It is so easy for us to wrap ourselves up in the idea that attention to religious ceremonies is the test, but it is not so, for “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” etc.
3. The solemn difference between them leads to a solemn result.
(1) Sometimes God allows the professor to apostatise.
(2) Or else he is allowed to fall into open sin.
(3) Some have been taken away in a more terrible sense by death.
II. CONVEYS INSTRUCTION. The fruit-bearing branches are not perfect. If they were, they would not need pruning. Whenever the sap within them is strong, there is a tendency for that strength to turn into evil. The gardener desires to see that strength in clusters, but alas! instead it runs into wood. When the sap comes into a Christian to produce confidence in God, through the evil that is in him, it often produces confidence in himself. When the sap would produce zeal, how very frequently it turns into rashness. Suppose the sap flows to produce self-examination, very generally, instead of the man doubting himself, he begins to doubt his Lord. How often have I seen even the joy of the Lord turned into pride. That love which we ought to bear towards our neighbours, how apt is that to run into love of the world! Gentleness often turns to a silly compliance with everybody’s whim, and meekness, which is a fruit of the Spirit, how often that becomes an excuse for holding your tongue, when you ought boldly to speak!
2. Pruning is the lot of all the fruitful saints. It is generally thought that our trials and troubles purge us: I am not sure of that, they certainly are lost upon some. It is the word (verse 3) that prunes the Christian. Affliction is the handle of the knife, the grindstone that sharpens up the Word; the dresser which removes our soft garments, and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the surgeon’s lancet may get at it. Affliction makes us ready to feel the word, but the true pruner is the word in the hand of the Great Husbandman. Sometimes when you lay stretched upon the bed of sickness, you think more upon the word than you did before, that is one great thing. In the next place, you see more the applicability of that word to yourself. In the third place, the Holy Spirit makes you feel more, while you are thus laid aside, the force of the word than you did before.
3. The object in this pruning is never condemnatory. God chastises, but He cannot punish those for whom Jesus Christ has been already punished. You have no right to say, when a man is afflicted, that it is because he has done wrong; on the contrary, just the branch that is good for something gets the pruning knife. It is because the Lord loves His people that He chastens them.
4. The real reason is that more fruit may be produced.
(1) In quantity. A good man, who feels the power of the word pruning him of this and that superfluity, sets to work to do more for Jesus. Before he was afflicted he did not know how to be patient. Before he was poor he did not know how to be humble, etc.
(2) In variety. One tree can only produce one kind of fruit usually, but the Lord’s people, the more they are pruned the more they will produce.
(3) In quality. The man may not pray more, but he will pray more earnestly.
5. What greater blessing can a man have than to produce much fruit for God? Better to serve God much than to become a prince.
III. INVITES MEDITATION.
1. “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the wicked appear?”
2. What a mercy it is to the believer that it is pruning with him and not cutting off!
3. Think how gently the pruning has been done with the most of us up till now, compared with our barrenness.
4. How earnestly we ought to seek for more fruit.
5. How concerned should every one of us be to be efficaciously and truly one with Christ! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hard times, God’s pruning knife
I. TODAY WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL because
1. Hard as the times are, they might be worse.
2. The times are not so hard as we deserve.
3. They are not so hard as we represent.
II. WHAT WE CALL HARD TIMES ARE THE BEST FOR US.
1. Good for man’s physical nature. The frugality and self-control they induce are precisely what the athlete practices.
2. Good for his intellectual nature. No great genius ever daudled into inspiration.
3. Good for his moral nature. They remove the excrescences of
III. THE RESULT WILL BE BETTER FRUIT.
1. A new style or higher type of manhood.
2. A higher type of politics. Hard times teach befooled people to think, and to rise above party dictations.
3. A higher type of religion. God has ever developed the higher Christian life in times of trial.
IV. AFTER ALL, THE PRUNING KNIFE IS ONLY ONE OF THE IMPLEMENTS OF CULTURE. Soft rain and genial sunshine are the larger experience of the vine. And so even in hard times our afflictions are not one to a thousand of our blessings. (C. D. Wadsworth, D. D.)
Pruning, a reason for gratitude
Brambles certainly have a fine time of it, and grow after their own pleasure. We have seen their long shoots reaching far and wide, and no knife has threatened them as they luxuriated upon the commons and waste lands. The poor vine is cut down so closely that little remains of it but bare stems. Yet, when clearing time comes, and the brambles are heaped for their burning, who would not rather be the vine? (C. D. Wadsworth, D. D.)
Means of fruitfulness
The word translated “purgeth” is kathairo, which includes all the means that are necessary to develop the fruitfulness of the plant, and the removal of all hindrances. It means to purify the ground and prepare it for sowing, by removing weeds and rubbish--to winnow the corn, to separate the chaff from the wheat. Its root idea is purity, freedom from all that is foul, false, useless, or noxious. It is interesting to notice the close resemblance that exists between the word kathairo, to purge, and kathaireo, to destroy. The addition of one letter makes the one word to mean a very different thing from the other. And so there is a resemblance between the purging of the fruitful branches and the taking away of the unfruitful ones. In the garden during spring, the process of digging the ground, cutting the roots and branches, seems purely a process of destruction; but in the added beauty of summer and the richer fruitfulness of autumn, it is seen to be a remedial and constructive process. And so the means which God employs to promote the fertility of His own people seem so like those which He employs to punish the wicked, that the righteous are not seldom perplexed. In considering the means of fruitfulness, let us look at
I. THE NATURE OF THE SOIL in which believers are planted.
1. Some of the finest grapes are produced on volcanic soil. From the rich red mould into which lava is disintegrated when long exposed to the weather, the vine draws the juices that form the largest and most generous clusters. The passion of the soil, as it were, passes into the produce. Palestine, the native country of the vine, exhibits, for its size, more than any other country, evidences of extraordinary geological convulsions. These features were paralleled by the historical revolutions which were intended to make Israel the true vine of the Lord. And so it is in the experience of every nation that is intended to produce much fruit. Africa, with its uniform geology and its monotonous history, has done little for mankind compared with Europe, whose geology and history are exceedingly varied and complicated. It is as true of individuals as of nations, that because they have no changes, they do not fear God or prosper. But God plants His vines amid fiery trials, where they are exposed to constant temptations, lava floods of the wrath and malice of the Adversary and of wicked men. Since the ground beneath them is insecure, and liable to constant convulsive shocks, they are thereby induced to set their affections more firmly on things above, and to walk as pilgrims and strangers on earth.
2. The influence of external circumstances upon objects so plastic as plants is confessedly very powerful, leading often to great modifications of form, structure, and substance. Hence the endless variety of grapes and wines of different countries. A similar modification in the character of the growth and fruit of the Christian is caused by the circumstances in which God’s providence places him. One thing, amid all the changes of his circumstances, the Christian can command if he will--and that is the sunlight of God’s countenance. He does not, however, always avail himself of it. And hence, as the spice trees in our hot houses are destitute of aromatic taste, because we cannot supply them with the brilliant direct sunshine of their native skies, so the Christian, amid all the privileges of the Church, is often destitute of the rich aromatic fragrance of spiritual joy, because he seeks to make up, by the heat of forced spiritual emotion originating in himself, for the full, bright, joyous sunshine that beams from God’s face.
3. Under this head may be noticed the discipline of life’s daily work as one of the means of developing Christian fruitfulness. Like the vine, the Christian requires to be trained along the trellis of formal duties and orderly habits.
4. I may also notice the fact, that God’s tenderest vines are often placed in the most trying circumstances. It seems a strange appointment of nature, that the growing points of all trees should be their weakest and most delicate parts. So it is with God’s own people. Many of the most delicate and sensitive of them have to bear the full brunt of life’s storms. Tender women have often to withstand the severest shocks of circumstances. The sorest trials often meet the Christian at the beginning of his course. He puts forth the tenderest growths of his nature often into the biting air of doubt, and fear, and despondency. But it is good thus to bear the yoke in our youth. The elasticity and hopefulness of the young Christian can overcome trials which would crush the more aged and less buoyant. And the very patience and tenderness of those sensitive ones, who have to bear greater hardships and evils, disarm these evils of their bitterness, and turn them to profitable uses.
II. PRUNING IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON METHODS BY WHICH INCREASED FRUITFULNESS IS PRODUCED. No plant requires more pruning than the vine. So bountiful is its sap, so vigorous its vital force, that we are amazed at the abundance of superfluous growth which it annually produces. In order to adapt it to our conditions of cultivation we must systematically cripple and restrict it in every part.
1. The head, or leading shoots, are carefully broken off; and the long, luxuriant, lateral shoots are cut back to a few joints.
2. But besides the pruning of the suckers on the branch the branch itself is sometimes pruned. In almost every branch, owing to deficiency of light and heat, or overcrowding, many of the buds that are put forth every year become dormant. Some of these torpid buds retain a sufficient amount of vitality to carry them forward through the annually deposited layers of wood and bark; so that they still continue to maintain their position visibly, year after year, on the outside of the bark. In most instances, however, they are too feeble to keep pace with the onward growth of the branch; and, in that case, they fall behind, necessarily sink below the surface, and become buried beneath succeeding annual deposits of wood and bark. The branch, instead of developing them, employs the sap which ought to have gone for that purpose, into growing fresh shoots. But the gardener comes, and with his sharp pruning knife lops off these useless suckers; and the consequence is, that in a little while the sap goes back to the dormant buds and stimulates their slumbering vitality. And so God prunes every branch in the True Vine for two reasons; first, in order to remove rank and useless qualities; and, secondly, to develop latent graces. In no Christian is there an harmonious spiritual growth, a perfect expansion from a perfect germ in childhood. On the contrary, growth in grace in us is always unsymmetrical. Solid and valuable qualities are united with weak, worthless ones; graces that charm by their beauty lie side by side with defects that repel by their deformity. Some graces, also, are dormant in the soul, repressed by unfavourable circumstances of continued prosperity, or starved by the over-development of other graces. Some besetting sins, such as irritability, covetousness, worldliness, pride, impatience, are allowed to grow up and exhaust in their noxious growth the life of the soul. Now, to repress the evil and stimulate the good qualities of His people, God subjects them to the pruning of His providence. But, the pruning of God’s providence would be very unsatisfactory did it only lop off noxious qualities, mortify easily besetting sins. Such injurious growths may be repressed by affliction, but unless the discipline develops the opposite good qualities, they will spring up anew, and make matters worse than before. Spiritual graces must be developed in their room. In order to get rid of worldly mindedness, spirituality of mind must be cultivated; covetousness will only yield to a larger experience of the Love that for our sakes became poor: anger will only be extirpated by meekness, and pride by humility.
3. But we must be guarded against the idea that affliction of itself can develop the fruitfulness of the Christian life. We find that in the fruit tree the pruning is only of use when there are latent or open buds to develop. And so, unless we have Christian life and Christian capabilities, affliction, so far from doing us good, will only harden and injure us. But, while affliction cannot impart spiritual life, there are instances in which God uses it to quicken the soul dead in trespasses and sins. And here, too, we find an analogy in nature. The buds of plants almost always grow in the axil--the vacant angle between the leaf and the stem, where the hard, resisting bark which everywhere else invests the surface of the plant, is more easily penetrated, and allows the growing tissues to expand more easily. The axil is, so to speak, the joint in the armour of the stem. Now, “a wound is virtually an axil, for the continuity of the surface is there broken, and consequently, the resistance of the external investiture diminished.” Now, we all invest ourselves with a strong, resisting envelope of pride, worldliness and carelessness. Our property, our friends, our reputation, our comfort, all form a kind of outer crust of selfishness, which prevents our spiritual growth. But God removes our property or our friends, blights our reputation, destroys our carnal ease, and by the wound thus made in our selfish life an axil is formed, from whence springs up the bud of a new and holier growth.
4. There is one process of unusual severity which the gardener has recourse to in cases of obstinate sterility. The barren branch is girdled or ringed--that is, a narrow strip of its bark is removed all round the branch. The juices elaborated by the leaves are arrested in their downward course, and accumulated in the part above the ring, which is thus enabled to produce fruit abundantly; while the shoots that appear below the ring, being fed only by the crude ascending sap, do not bear flowers, but push forth into leafy branches. The prophet Joel says, “He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree.” Many Christians are ringed to prevent the earthward tendencies of their souls, and enable them to accumulate and concentrate all the heavenly influences which they receive in bringing forth more fruit. Their present life is separated from their past by some terrible crisis of suffering, which has altered everything to their view, which has been in itself a transformation, and has accomplished in a day, in an hour, in a moment, what else is effected only by the gradual process of years. The lot that is thus halved may be more useful than in its full and joyful completeness. Ceasing to draw its nourishment from broken cisterns of earthly love, the lonely branch, separated from its happy past, depends more upon the unfailing clue and sunshine of heavenly love.
5. Sometimes even the roots of the vine require to be dug about and cut short. There is a correspondence between the horizontal extension of the branches in the air and the lateral spreading of the roots in the earth. For this reason the roots require pruning no less than the branches. If they are allowed to develop too luxuriantly, the branches will keep pace with them, only they will be barren. We are prone to root ourselves too firmly in the rich soil of our circumstances, to spread our roots far and wide in search of what shall minister to our love of ease and pleasure. But God digs about us. Our circumstances crumble away about our roots; the things and the persons in which we trusted prove as unstable as a sand heap on a slope. But, from roots bare and exposed, or cut off and circumscribed by uncongenial soil, we should seek to develop a higher beauty and richness of character.
6. The leaves also need sometimes to be taken away, as superabundant foliage would shade the fruit and prevent the sunshine from getting access to it to ripen it. So the fruit of the Christian is sometimes prevented from ripening or filling out properly by the superabundance of the leaves of profession. There may be more profession than practice, more of the rustling foliage than of the silent fruit. The most common fault of believers is letting their profession of the Christian life run ahead of their experience. Not more necessary are the leaves of a natural tree to the production of the fruit, than the profession of a Christian is to the formation of the Christian character. But God, by some appropriate discipline, regulates what leaves of profession should be stripped off and what leaves should remain.
7. Many of the tendrils of the vine require to be nipped off, in order that no sap may be wasted, or diverted from the fruit. If left to itself, the vine would put forth a tendril at every alternate joint; for it would seek to climb to the top of the highest tree. In like manner, it is necessary that the excessive upward tendency of some Christians should he restricted, in order that the common duties, and the homely concerns of ordinary life--which in their own sphere are equally important--may not be neglected.
8. The fruit itself must be thinned. The gardener prunes the cluster of grapes when young and tender, in order that the berries which are allowed to remain may be larger and finer. In the Christian life there must be concentration of effort, conservation of force. Much moral energy is spent without effect on a multiplicity of objects, which, if husbanded and focussed on a few of the most important, would lead to far greater results.
9. It has been observed that the hues of the sunbeam which the growing plant does not reflect at one time are absorbed, like a stream running underground for a while, and reappear in some after part. So is it with God’s discipline of His people. Much of it may seem to be void and lost--to make no adequate return; but in some part or other of the life the effect of it is seen. If it fails to manifest itself in the leaf, it comes out in the blossom or fruit.
10. It may happen, however, that the purging, whose various forms and relations I have thus considered, may be here, and the fruition in eternity. Christians are placed in an unfavourable climate. Tropical by nature, they have been carried, like a wind-wafted seed, into a temperate zone, and have striven in vain to grow and flower among the hardy plants around them. But it is a comforting thought, that what bears about it here the marks of incompleteness, and to our eyes the appearance of failure, belongs essentially to some vaster whole.
III. ANOTHER METHOD OF PURGING THE BRANCH IS FREEING IT FROM ITS ENEMIES. The natural vine, owing to its rich productiveness, is peculiarly exposed to the attacks of numerous foes which prey upon it.
1. A species of vegetable parasite not unfrequently assails it, called the “dodder.” This strange plant is a mere mass of elastic, pale red, knotted threads, which shoot out in all directions over the vine. It springs originally from the ground, and if it finds no living plant near on which to graft itself, it withers and dies; but if there be a vine or any other useful plant within its reach, it surrounds the stem in a very little time, and henceforth lives on the fostering plant by its suckers only, the original root in the ground becoming dried up. The dodder is exceedingly injurious to the plants it attacks, depriving them of their nourishment, and strangling them in its folds. Can we imagine a more striking natural emblem of the law of sin and death with which the believer has to contend, and from which he longs for deliverance? We can only hope to prevent the dodder growing and spreading by perpetually breaking and dividing its stalks before they have time to fruit; and we can only hope to keep down the remains of corruption within us by incessant effort, watchfulness, and prayer; not allowing them to develop into fruit and seed. How blessed will be the deliverance when this terrible despoiler of our peace and usefulness is finally and completely removed from us, when we are saved forever from the power and presence of that sin from whose guilt the blood of Christ has freed us!
2. Every one has heard of the terrible grape mildew which, on its first appearance, utterly destroyed the vineyards in many parts of the world, and still annually reappears to levy its tax upon the vine grower. In consists of a fungus, whose growth spreads a white, downy mould over the surface of the grape, checking its development, and converting its pulp into a sour and watery mass of decay. But it does no harm unless the conditions of its germination exists--which are cold, wet seasons, with little sunshine--in which case it starts into life, and grows with inconceivable rapidity, spreading ruin on every side. To a species of moral mildew the fruit of the Christian is also exposed. In cold seasons, when clouds of unbelief rise up between the soul and the Sun of Righteousness, intercepting His light, this mildew is peculiarly destructive. It is a very solemn thought, that the spiritual atmosphere is full of the devices of the Prince of the power of the air--that the existence of another world of evil beyond our own world, makes all remissness on our part most dangerous.
3. In this country, the greatest pest of the vinery is the little red spider, whose movements over the leaves and fruit are exceedingly nimble, and which makes up by its vast numbers for its individual weakness. It punctures the fruit, sips its juice, and thus injures its appearance and quality. In the East, the land of the vine, the special foe of the vineyard is the fox. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes”--or small grapes just out of blossom--says the beautiful Song of Solomon. These are fitting symbols of some weakness or infirmity of believers--some sin of temper or tongue--which, although it may not endanger their safety, will, nevertheless, greatly mar their peace. Peevishness, irritability, etc., may seem so small and trifling as to be hardly entitled to be called sins at all. They may be extenuated and explained away, but they are in reality red spiders--little foxes, that spoil the tender grapes of the soul.
4. There is a disease called “rust,” which makes its appearance on the berries of the vine a few days after they are out. It is supposed to be caused by handling the berries while thinning them. Our vines have indeed tender grapes. The beauty of holiness is easily blurred: self-consciousness rusts it; affectation brushes off the fine edge--the delicate beauty of the various graces.
5. Another disease known to gardeners is “shanking,” which makes its appearance just as the grapes are changing from the acid to the saccharine state, and arrests the transformation at once; the berry remaining perfectly acid, and at length shrivelling up. It begins in the decay of the little stem or shank of the berry, and is supposed to be caused by the roots of the vine descending into a cold, wet subsoil. How often, alas, is it true of the believer, that his fruit is shanked, remaining sour when it should become sweet and palatable! (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
What is pruning? Whatever it be, two things are observable. It is effected by the husbandman, and applied to each. It is a pleasant thought that all the discipline is from the hand of our Father. There may indeed by which we are exercised be subordinate instruments, the “wicked” being God’s “sword,” but it is still “the Lord’s doing.” A work so important as the spiritual culture of His people He commits wholly to none. “He pruneth,” nor are any exempt. “Every branch” is the subject of pruning. As all need, so all have, discipline. In the deepest trial there has nothing happened to you but what is “common to man.” And why this? For greater fruitfulness. Not “willingly,” for wantonness, for pleasure, for any benefit the husbandman secures, but for fruit. The subject, then, is, Fruit as the result of affliction. Affliction! What a scene does this word open to view. It is well to bear in mind that it is confined to earth. There are whole races of beings who experimentally know not the meaning of the word, who never felt a pain, never breathed a sigh, never wept a tear; others to whom it is a thing of the past. How truthful in this, as in all other respects, is the Bible. How large a portion of the Scriptures is occupied with scenes and truths bearing on affliction! The terms by which it designates it, how various--“adversity,” “correction,” “chastisement,” “calamity,” “distress,” “grief,” “judgment,” “stripes,” “smiting,” “trouble,” “visitation,” are some of the literal expressions; while the figures of “fire,” “water,” the “rod,” the “yoke,” “gall,” “wormwood,” “rough wind,” “sackcloth,” “ashes,” and many others, are significantly employed as its symbols. You know, too, how deeply all the histories of the Bible are tinged by it: Job in the ashes, Jacob mourning his children, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the desert, David in the wilderness, the youths in the furnace, Daniel in the den--what are all these familiar tales of life, but scenes of affliction, showinghow it was experienced and borne? It is not of affliction, however, whether in fact or description, we have now to think, but of its fruit, the “more fruit,” which it is designed to produce, the “peaceable fruit” which “afterward” it yields.
1. Affliction deepens on the mind a sense of the reality of eternal things. It is said that after an earthquake, men tread more warily. The foundations having been shaken, a sense of insecurity is felt, which produces solemn impression.
2. Another valuable result of affliction is increased sense of the value of religion. When Israel passed through the desert they learnt, as they never otherwise could have done, the worth of many things--water, manna, guidance. As the dove beaten by the tempest to the sheltering ark, as the tossed disciples to the mighty One who walked on the billows, we repair to Christ. Certain colours require certain lights to show them. There are views of Christ as a Saviour, a Friend, a High Priest, an Example, which only the shadow of affliction could enable us to discern, but which, when once seen, remain forever upon the vision of the soul. So with God’s Word. To enjoy plaintive music or a minor key, a certain state of mind is requisite; and who but one in trial can fully enter into the deep bass of sorrow and wailing in the Lamentations or the Psalms. Prayer is another exercise of which affliction teaches the value. “I will go and return unto My place till they seek My face, in their affliction they will seek Me early.”
3. Another valuable effect of affliction is the cultivation and growth of the passive virtues. The importance and value of these we are apt to overlook. Constitutionally active, we are all prone to honour the more stirring graces rather than the gentler ones. By far the larger proportion are passive virtues. What are these? Patience, submission, acquiescence. To take away wilfulness, waywardness, self-determination, and suchlike natural excrescences, and thus secure the opposite growth, He prunes even the fruitful branch.
4. Another fruit of affliction is increasing fellowship with Christ. There are communications for which affliction is indispensable, and which the Saviour reserves for this season. To see the stars we require darkness. Certain flowers open only at night. The sweetest song is heard in the dusk. The most beautiful effect of colour requires a camera obscura, a darkened chamber. It is even thus with affliction. Would Abraham have heard the angel had it not been for the outstretched knife? And it is worth while to be afflicted to have such fruit as this. Is it necessary to pass through spiritual darkness and desertion in order to know the unchanging love of Christ.
5. Another result of sanctified affliction is increased desire for heaven. Such are some of the fruits of sanctified affliction. Some, not all. Each affliction comes with its special message, as well as its general one. “Every branch” has its own particular deformities, and these the pruning knife first cuts. It may be, too, that affliction sometimes comes specially with reference to others--is rather relative than personal. Trial may be vicarious. The child suffers for the parent, the sister for the brother, the minister for the people. Learn, then, to estimate affliction aright. Seek earnestly to get the benefit of affliction. Look through affliction to that which is beyond. (J. Viney.)
Now are ye clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you
Further cleansing necessary
Now are ye clean through the Word, and yet needing to be cleansed.
We have a hint here of the mystery of that double relation in which every believing man stands to God, of that double relation which is more fully and dogmatically stated in some of the Epistles; but which is yet distinctly anticipated here and at chap. 10:10. The faithful in Christ Jesus are “clean,” being by faith justified from all things, and having thus a standing ground before God; which yet is in some sort an ideal one--their actual state, although ever approximating to this, yet still failing to correspond to it--they therefore needing by the same faith to appropriate ever more and more of that sanctifying grace, those purifying influences, which continually stream forth from Him on all them that are His; and by aid of which He is bringing them to be all that, which for His sake His Father has been already willing to regard them, however the absolute identity of what they are and what they are counted to be, is reserved for another state of existence. (Archbishop Trench.)
The Christian’s present condition as compared with the past
At Munich the custom is said to prevail that every child found begging in the streets is arrested, and carried to a charitable establishment. The moment he enters, and before he is cleaned, and gets the new clothes intended for him, his portrait is painted in his ragged dress, and precisely as he was found begging. When his education is finished, this portrait is given him, and be promises by an oath to keep it all his life, that he may be reminded of the abject condition from which he has been rescued, and of the gratitude he owes the establishment which raised him from misery, and taught him how to avoid it for the future. Let the Christian often compare thus his former condition, as a sinner unsaved, with his state as a renewed believer, that his love and gratitude may be excited, and his affections drawn to Him who has wrought the change.
Abide in Me, and I in you
Abiding in Christ
TO WHOM THE COMMAND IS GIVEN. To those who are already in Him.
1. We are at first in nature, possessed merely of the powers of nature, as understanding, will, affections; but we must be in grace, which raises us above nature, purifies all our faculties, and directs them to a proper end.
2. We are naturally in the flesh influenced and governed by the body, its appetites, and senses (Genesis 6:5; John 3:5-6). We must be in the Spirit under the influence and government of His motions and graces.
3. We are naturally in Belial (Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:18); inspired, deceived, deluded, corrupted by him; but we must be in Christ.
(1) By the knowledge of Him (Philippians 3:8);
(2) by faith in Him;
(3) love to Him;
(4) an interest in Him (Philippians 3:9).
II. WHAT THIS COMMAND IMPLIES.
1. It implies that we are to retain this knowledge, faith, love, interest, union with Christ; which may be lost (Colossians 1:23; John 15:9-10; Romans 11:22; Hebrews 10:38). Now, we retain these
(1) When we abide in Him in our thoughts; not only thinking highly of Him, but having our thoughts stayed upon Him.
(2) When our desires, our designs, our will, both in its choice and resolution, and our affections, are set upon these things.
(3) When we dwell upon them in our conversation, and manifest that we love Him, and cleave to Him in our behaviour.
2. To illustrate this: we must abide in Christ, as a branch in a tree, which is supported by it, adheres to it, grows in it, and becomes verdant and fruitful by the virtue derived from it; as a hand in a body, from which it receives its warmth, life, activity, and usefulness; as a man slayer in the city of refuge, for he would be safe only while abiding in the consecrated city; so we are in danger of being overtaken by the curse and wrath of God, unless we have fled to Christ and continue in Him; as a besieged citizen in a garrison, for we are surrounded and attacked by various enemies; as passengers in a ship, for we are on the sea of this world, tossed with the winds and waves, proceeding on our voyage for the port of eternal bliss, and our safety depends on being in the ship.
III. THE PROMISE MADE TO THOSE THAT KEEP IT; AND THE ADVANTAGES RESULTING THEREFROM.
1. Christ will abide in us
(1) By His word, teaching, instructing, directing, strengthening, supporting, encouraging, comforting us (Romans 15:4).
(2) By His Spirit, in His witness as a Spirit of adoption, and in His fruits, which are “love, joy, peace,” etc. (Romans 8:15; Galatians 5:22-23).
(3) By the efficacy of His body and blood (John 6:56-57).
(4) By His indwelling presence, as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
(5) By permitting us to have followship with Him (Revelation 3:20).
2. Hence we shall have pardon, acceptance, adoption, safety, access. All our prayers shall be heard (John 15:7; Mark 11:24). We shall abound in the fruits of righteousness (John 15:5-6; 2 Corinthians 9:8).
IV. HOW WE MAY BE ENABLED TO KEEP THE COMMAND.
1. By abiding in a belief of His word, and holding fast all the doctrines, precepts, promises, and threatenings of the Scripture. By continuing to attend the ordinances, public, domestic, social, and private.
2. By guarding against hypocrisy, formality, and lukewarmness, in the use of all ordinances, and maintaining sincerity, spirituality, and fervour therein.
3. By conscientiously keeping His commandments, carefully shunning sins of commission and omission, and whatever is calculated to grieve His Spirit.
4. By guarding against an evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12), and “holding fast our confidence.” By guarding against the love of this present world. (J. Benson.)
Christ the True Vine
“I am the True Vine.”
I. Christ sets forth the GENUINENESS of His union with His disciples.
II. In the REALITY AND COMPLETENESS of His life-giving power Christ infinitely excels all His forerunners and types.
III. This relationship is much NEARER than that of the shepherd with the sheep.
IV. This union is COMPREHENSIVE, embracing many besides those who are usually recognized as believers. “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit.”
V. Our union with Christ should be CONSTANT. Twelve times in this allegory the word “abide” is used. They were in danger of unfaithfulness and apostasy. Christ sought to fortify them. He assured them that He would keep them if they would trust Him.
VI. This communion is one of LOVE (John 15:9-16). “As the Father hath loved Me, even so have I loved you.” “Abide in My love.” The believer lives in the love of Christ. Christ loves all men; but He manifests His love in a peculiar manner to those whose hearts are given to Him. If we love God, we will delight in His character, we will be drawn by those Divine attributes which Jesus reveals. Love of a holy Being implies hatred of sin. The Spirit convicts the loving heart of sin. Is my fruit recognized as Divine fruit, such fruit as Christ bore?
1. One of the fruits of union with Christ according to this lesson is patience under discipline (John 15:1-3). “My Father is the Husbandman.” “He purgeth it,” etc. “Ye are clean through the Word,” etc. The lot of Jesus was one of severe trial.” He was made “perfect through suffering.” Those who become Christ-like must expect Christ-like trials. The believer can maintain his union with Christ only by uncompromising opposition to every form of evil.
2. Another result of this union is the spirit of dependence on Christ (John 15:4-5). “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” This sense of dependence on Christ, instead of paralyzing human energy, becomes the source of its power. It enables the soul to look up and confidently exclaim with the apostle, “I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth Me.”
3. This suggest another fruit of union with Christ, namely, life (John 15:6-8). “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered.” Christ came that we might have life. All the vital juices of the branch and its power to bear fruit come from the vine. So, for every good desire we ever formed, or good word we ever spoke, or good deed we ever did, evidencing a renewed life in us, we are indebted to Christ. He “is our life.” (G. H.Cheney.)
Abiding in Christ
“Believe on Christ” is the gospel to the world. “Abide in Christ” is the gospel to the Church. We cannot think too much of Christ for us, but we may think far too little of Christ in us; yet for perfect salvation we need both. Notice that this is
I. A CALL TO CONSCIOUS VITAL UNION WITH OUR LORD. This implies
1. A realization that of ourselves we can do nothing, that we are mere dead branches apart from Him! We live too much as though we were trees, as though by our own power we were to do God’s will, and we have striven, and then groaned over the inevitable failure. Now, says Christ, be satisfied to be a branch.
2. An assurance that the fulness of Christ is ours. That is involved in the figure, and is stated in the chapter. He goes on to say (as its consequence) that what He has, they share. They are to share
(1) His joy--“that My joy might abide in you”;
(2) His love--“that ye love one another as I have loved you”;
(3) His knowledge--“all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you”;
(4) His rights--“that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you”;
(5) His persecutions--“if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you”;
(6) His work--“the Spirit shall bear witness of Me, and ye also shall bear witness”;
(7) His glory--“the glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them.”
3. A surrender of ourselves to Christ for His purposes. For the branch exists for the tree.
II. THE FIGURE OF THE VINE SUGGESTS HOW THIS CALL MAY BE FULFILLED. The words show that the responsibility is with us. Christ can only bless according to our willingness; and willingness is proved by readiness to seek the blessing. “Abide in Me, and I in you” is a command; it is ours, therefore, to fulfil it. And we ask How? Remember there are degrees in this union; some are more closely joined to Christ than others, and receive more of His life; and this is due to their growth into Him, they have struck the fibres of their spiritual being deeper and yet deeper into His being, and thus are close knit to Him.
1. We need the cords of meditation and prayer to bind us to Him more firmly. The formal prayer, the ill-studied Bible, the almost deserted closet, are the destruction of the hopes held out in the text. The weather soon loosens the old cords, and through perpetual communion they must be perpetually renewed.
2. We need the putting away of whatever would come between Christ and us. Sin hinders Christ giving, for He will not give to sin. Sin weakens our desire and faith, that is, our power of receiving. So everything in any degree contrary to Christ must be put away.
3. We need the ceaseless drawing by faith on His fulness.
III. FROM THIS WOULD COME THAT SPIRITUAL FRUIT BEARING WHICH IS GOD’S WILL. There would be
1. The natural growth of personal holiness. It is a common thought that before Christ can enter into us we must put out evil. That is not the order. Let Christ in and He will put out the evil, as light puts out darkness.
2. A heart at rest. The poverty of our resources is our perpetual fear; loneliness and care are with some a perpetual grief. But would not that be altered if we consciously abode in Christ?
3. Christ’s power working through us. Think of being the channel for the will of Jesus. (C. New.)
I. THE DUTY ENJOINED.
1. Abide in Me. It has been justly said, that the command is not abide with Me--near Me--or under Me; but, in Me. The fruit-bearing branch is not only in the same place with the vine--near it, under its shadow--it is in it, and it abides in it. The ideas suggested are, residence and continuance. It is as if he had said, “Think as I think; feel as I feel; will as I will; choose as I choose; and let My views of all objects and all events be yours, because they are Mine; let My feelings, My volitions, My choices, all be yours, and let them be yours because they are Mine. Prosecute My ends--use My means--rely on Me, entirely on Me. Let My wisdom be your wisdom--My righteousness your righteousness--My strength your strength. Come out of yourselves. Come out of the creature. Come into Me.” It is faith that thus unites us to the Saviour, and it is continued faith which keeps us thus united to the Saviour.
2. Let Me abide in you. What is meant by Christ’s abiding in His people? The best answer is at the seventh verse, and 1 John 3:24. Christ abides in His people, by continuously making them, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and the instrumentality of His word, understood and believed under His influence, think along with Him--feel, choose, enjoy along with
Him. Christ is so “formed in them” that it is not so much they who live, as Christ who lives in them.
2. What is the import of the injunction, “Let Me dwell in you”? Christ never does come into any man, so as to dwell in him, against the man’s will Were the thing possible, it would be to degrade man into a mere machine, and involve the incongruity, than which none can be greater, that He who of old inhabited His own eternity, and has heaven for His throne and earth for His footstool, should, as if in want of a house, force an entrance where He was not desired. But His language is, “Behold, I stand at the door,” etc.
3. The two parts of the injunction are closely connected. Christians will abide in Christ just in the degree in which they let Christ abide in them.
II. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THE INJUNCTION IS ENFORCED.
1. Compliance with the injunction is necessary to prevent unfruitfulness and its fearful consequences. A vine branch by itself can bring forth nothing, not even blossoms or leaves. All men are naturally unholy and unprofitable. There is no way in which they can be made fruitful, except by being cut off from their original stock, the first Adam, and being grafted into Him who is the True Vine. When men are awakened to a sense of the dangers of a state of spiritual barrenness, they often endeavour to become “fruitful of themselves.” They go about to make themselves holy by the works of the law: but the thing is impossible. There is no good fruit but what is the product of Divine influence; and no channel for Divine influence to flow into the human heart, but the mediation of Jesus Christ. It is not, “Without Me ye can do little”; it is, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” It is not, “Without Me ye will do nothing”--that is true too--but it is, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” It is not, “Without Me you can accomplish--finish--nothing”; it is, “Without Me ye can do nothing.”
2. Compliance with this injunction alone can, and certainly will, secure fruitfulness, with all its blessed results. No stream without a fountain; no fountain, unless obstructed, without a stream. Three effects are mentioned by our Lord
(1) The answer of whatever prayers we present to God;
(2) The glorification of God;
(3) The clearly proving to ourselves and others that we are really the disciples of Christ. (J. Brown, D. D.)
Branches not mechanically in the vine
It is, of course, possible to attach a bough or branch either to the stem of a vine or the trunk of any other tree by artificial means, and so to secure a kind of external union therewith. A length of cord or iron wire may accomplish a poor and pitiful result like that; but the stem knows it not and the branch is withered, however painfully and skilfully art may struggle to endorse the lie. In the same way we may be mechanically and externally united to the visible Church of Christ. That is entirely an affair of contrivance, a mere matter of ligature or glue. It is altogether and at most a concern of nomination, register or ceremonial. But let it be remembered that this is in itself stark naught. Never a rotten branch on the floor of a forest, a branch that breaks and crackles beneath the foot of a passer-by, is more dead than we are, if the hasp and staple of Church membership, if the hook and eye of registration, if the glue of mere sectarian adhesion, if the paint of mere external profession are all that holds us on to the Christ of God. (J. J.Wray.)
Union with Christ the means of salvation
Of the precise origin of the late civil war in America I am not quite sure; but I am told it was a perverse misunderstanding on the subject of slavery. The North was against the slave trade, the South for it; and so both parties appealed to arms. But be that as it may, one thing is clear: not many months passed before the question of slavery was swallowed up in the most important question of the Union--the Union of the States. Who is for or against the slave? There the conflict began. Who is for or against the Union? There it finished. Neither am I quite certain of the first cause of the prolonged controversy between earth and heaven, man and God. A rumour was afloat in my native neighbourhood that it all began in a slight misunderstanding touching a certain apple tree in the garden of Eden. But be that as it may, the question of the apple tree has been long ago swallowed up in the more important question of the union--the union with the Son. Salvation hinges not on such questions as what was the first sin, or who is the greatest sinner? but upon the simple straightforward question--Who is for or against the union with Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the only-begotten Son? (J. C. Jones, D. D.)
Union with Christ and fruitfulness
The villages in Persia may be derided into two classes: those of the plains, treeless, sterile and poor; and those of the mountains, where the springs and torrents encourage the growth of plane, mulberry, poplar trees, and orchards, and allow channels for the nourishment of plantations. Elevation means fertility here. (H. O.Mackey.)
The reciprocities of personal salvation
I. CHRIST IN THE BELIEVER.
II. THE BELIEVER IN CHRIST.
3. Why. (S. S. Times.)
Union with Christ
1. A spiritual union (1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13).
2. A vital union (John 14:19; Galatians 2:20).
3. It embraces our entire persons, our bodies through our spirits (1 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
4. It is a legal or federal union, so that all of our legal or covenant responsibilities rest upon Christ, and all of His legal or covenant merits accrue to us …
5. This union is between the believer and the person of the God-man in His office as mediator (John 14:23; John 17:21; John 17:23). (A. A. Hodge.)
Abide in Christ
Be like Milton’s angel, who lived in the sun. Abide in Christ, and let His words abide in you. Closer, closer, closer, this is the way to spiritual wealth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The entire dependence of sanctity on Christ
1. “Without Me,” in John 15:5, should rather be rendered, “Apart from Me,” “separate from Me,” “in state of independence on Me.” “Without” the assistance of a strong person, a weak one cannot lift a heavy weight; but the dependence of the weak on the strong in order to lift the weight, is not the dependence which the word here employed indicates. “Apart from” the soul the body is motionless, and cannot stir a finger. This is the sort of dependence indicated here.
2. The subject brought before us is, that the sanctification of the Christian, like his justification, is entirely dependent upon our Lord. As regards our justification, this is clearly seen (at least in the Reformed Churches) and generally admitted. But it is thought that, unlike justification (which is something that passes on the sinner externally to him, a sentence of acquittal in consideration of Our Lord’s merits), sanctification is an achievement mastered--much as a lesson is mastered--by a variety of exercises, prayers, almsdeeds, sacraments, etc., and when mastered, a sort of permanent acquisition, which goes on increasing as the stock of these spiritual exercises accumulates. It is not regarded in its true light as a momentary receiving out of Christ’s fulness grace for grace, as the result of His inworking in a heart, which finds the task of self-renewal hopeless, and makes itself over to Him, to be moulded by Him.
3. Let us take two illustrations
(1) His own. “As the branch”, etc. The circulating sap, which is the life of the tree, is indeed in the vine branch, so long as it holds of the stem; but in no sense whatever is it from the vine branch. Cut off the branch from the stem, and it ceases instantaneously to live, for it has no independent life. Even so the fruits of the Spirit, while of course our hearts are the sphere of their manifestation, are in no sense from our hearts; but a righteousness outflowing continually from the fulness of grace which is in Christ.
(2) When we walk abroad on a beautiful day, 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 reside in the landscape. Now, 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 fable from the robe of nature. The difference of colour is produced by some subtle difference of texture or superficies, which makes each object absorb certain rays, and reflect certain others 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 our Christian graces of one description, by another of another, according to their different receptivity and natural temperament. The great secret, then, of bringing forth much fruit, or of all advance in holiness, is a constant keeping open the avenues of the soul towards Him. If a vine branch is to sprout, the tube by which it communicates with the stock of the tree must adhere tightly to the stem, and be well open for the passage of the sap. If you desire to see the colours of furniture in this room, whose shutters are closed, throw open the shutters, and admit the full flood of sunlight. And if you desire to see the dead heart, put forth the energies of spiritual life, and the dark heart illumined by the fair colours of spiritual grace, throw wide open the passage of communication between Christ and it, and allow the Life which is in Him, and the Light which is in Him, to circulate freely through it.
I. Take heed, first, that YE ABIDE IN ME. This is done by faith. As we first consciously entered into fellowship with Christ by faith, so there is no other way to abide in Him, than by repeated exercises of the same faith. The faith which enables the soul to abide in Christ is nothing else than an assured trust and confidence that, as He has already wrought out for us our acceptance with God, so He will work in us every gracious disposition which is necessary to qualify us for glory. It is not enough to supplicate these graces; we must lean upon Him for them, and fix the eye of expectation upon the promise of His new covenant: “I will put My laws into their mind,” etc. And as without holiness no man shall (or can) see the Lord, must not Christ be much more earnestly anxious to make us holy, than we can be to be made so? If we do not believe in this earnest anxiety of His, do we believe in His love at all? Ah! what if these struggles to be holy should themselves be in a certain sense a token of unbelief? What if the poor bird imprisoned in the cage should be thinking that, if it is ever to gain its liberty, it must be by its own exertions, and by vigorous and frequent strokes of its wings against the bars? If it did so, it would ere long fall back breathless and exhausted, faint and sore, and despairing. And the soul will have a similar experience, which thinks that Christ has indeed won pardon and acceptance for her, but that sanctification she must win for herself, and under this delusion beats herself sore in vain efforts to correct the propensities of a heart which the Word of God pronounces to be “desperately” wicked. That heart,--you can make nothing of it yourself;--leave it to Christ, in quiet dependence upon His grace. Suffer Him toopen the prison doors for you, and then you shall fly out and hide yourself in your Lord’s bosom, and there find rest.
II. LET ME ABIDE IN YOU. Christ thus teaches us that ordinances, as well as faith, form part of His religion. In order to fruitfulness the sap must rise from the vine stock, and pass into the branch, this is the abiding of the vine in the branch. Similarly Christ must continually send up into our heart a current of holy inspirations, new loves, good impulses, devout hopes--i.e., communicate Himself to the soul by the continual influx of the Holy Ghost. And this is made specially in the Supper of the Lord. Of course the Divine allegory quite precludes the supposition that without faith in the recipient the Holy Supper will avail anything. The vine stock may push upwards its sap in strong current, at the first outburst of the genial spring; but what will that avail the branch, which does not hold closely to the tree, which is half broken off from the stem, and the fracture filled up with dust, or corroded by insects? Christ may offer Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper; but, if the soul cleaves not to Him, if the avenues of the heart are not open towards Him, how can He enter? (Dean Goulburn.)
I am the Vine, ye are the branches
The true branches of the True Vine
No wise teacher is ever afraid of repeating himself.
The average mind requires the reiteration of truth before it can make that truth its own. One coat of paint is not enough, it soon rubs off.
I. THE FRUITFULNESS OF UNION.
1. “I am the Vine” was a general truth, with no clear personal application. “Ye are the branches” brought each individual listener into connection with it. How many people there are that listen in a fitful sort of languid way, interestedly, to the most glorious and solemn truths and never dream that they have any bearing upon themselves! The one thing most needed is that truth should be sharpened to a point and the conviction driven into you, that you have got something to do with this great message. “Ye are the branches” is the one side of that sharpening and making definite of the truth in its personal application, and the other side is “Thou art the man.” All religious teaching is toothless generalities, utterly useless, unless we can force it through the wall of indifference and vague assent.
2. Note next the great promise, “He that abideth in Me, and I in Him,” etc. Abiding in Christ, and Christ’s abiding in us means a temper and tone of mind very far remote from the noisy, bustling distractions too common in our present Christianity. We want quiet, patient, waiting within the veil. The best way to secure Christian conduct is to cultivate communion with Christ. Get more of the sap into the branch, and there will be more fruit. We may grow graces artificially and they will be of little worth. First of all be, and then do; receive, and then give forth. That is the Christian way of mending men, not tinkering at this, that, and the other individual excellence, but grasping the secret of total excellence in communion with Him. Our Lord is here not merely laying down a law, but giving a promise, and putting His veracity into pawn for the fulfilment of it.
3. Notice that little word which now appears for the first time: “much.” We are not to be content with a poor shrivelled bunch of grapes that are more like marbles than grapes, here and there, upon the half-nourished stem. God forbid that I should say that there is no possibility of union with Christ and a little fruit. A little union will have a little fruit; but the only two alternatives here are, “no fruit,” and “much fruit.” And I would ask why it is that the average Christian man of this generation bears only a berry or two here and there, like such as are left upon the vines after the vintage, when the promise is that if he will abide in Christ, he will bear much fruit.
4. This verse, setting forth the fruitfulness of union with Jesus, ends with the brief solemn statement of the converse--the barrenness of separation. There is the condemnation of all the busy life of men which is not lived in union with Jesus Christ; it is a long row of figures which, like some other long rows of figures added up, amount just to Zero. “Without Me, nothing.”
II. THE WITHERING AND DESTRUCTION OF SEPARATION FROM HIM (John 15:6).
1. Separation is withering. Did you ever see a hawthorn bough that children bring home from the woods, and stick in the grate; how in a day or two the fresh green leaves all shrivel up and the white blossoms become brown and smell foul, and the only thing to be done with it is to fling it into the fire and get rid of it? Separate from Christ, the individual shrivels, and the possibilities of fair buds wither and set into no fruit. And no man is the man he might have been unless he holds by Jesus Christ and lets His life come into Him. And as for individuals, so for communities. The Church or the body of professing Christians that is separate from Jesus Christ dies to all noble life, to all high activity, to all Christlike conduct, and, being dead, rots.
2. Withering means destruction. Look at the mysteriousness of the language. “They gather them.” “They cast them into the fire.” Who have that tragic task? The solemn fact that the withering of manhood by separation from Jesus Christ requires, and ends in, the consuming of the withered, is all that we have here. We have to speak of it pityingly, with reticence, with terror, with tenderness, with awe lest it be our fate. Be on your guard against that tendency of this generation, to paste a bit of blank paper over all the threatenings of the Bible. One of two things must befall the branch, either it is in the Vine or it gets into the fire. And if we would avoid the fire let us see to it that we are in the Vine.
III. THE UNION WITH CHRIST AS THE CONDITION OF SATISFIED DESIRES (John 15:7). Our Lord instead of saying, “I in you,” says “My words in you.” He is speaking about prayers, consequently the variation is natural. The abiding of His words in us is largely the means of His abiding in us.
1. What do we mean by this? Something a great deal more than the mere intellectual acceptance. Something very different from reading a verse in a morning, and forgetting all about it all the day long; something very different from coming in contact with Christian truth on a Sunday, when somebody else preaches what he has found in the Bible to us, and we take in a little of it. It means the whole of the conscious nature of a man. His desires, understanding, affections, will, all being steeped in those great truths which the Master spoke. Put a little bit of colouring matter into the fountain at its head and you will have the stream dyed down its course forever so far. See that Christ’s words be lodged in your inmost selves, and all the life will be glorified and flash into richness of colouring and beauty by their presence.
2. The main effect of such abiding of the Lord’s words with us is, that in such a ease, my desire will be granted. If Christ’s words are the substratum of your wishes, then your wishes will harmonize with His will, and so “Ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.”
IV. THIS UNION AND FRUITFULNESS LEAD TO THE NOBLE ENDS OF GLORIFYING GOD AND INCREASING DISCIPLESHIP (John 15:8).
1. Christ’s life was all for the glorifying of God. The lives, which are the life of Christ in us, will have the same end and the same issue. We come there to a very sharp test. How many of us are there on whom men, looking, think more loftily of God. And yet we should all be mirrors of the Divine radiance, on which some eyes, that are too dim and sore to bear the light as it streams from the sun, may look, and, beholding the reflection, may learn to love.
2. And if thus we abide in Him and bear fruit we shall “become His disciples.” The end of our discipleship is never reached on earth; we never so much are, as we are in the process of becoming, His true followers and servants. If we bear fruit because we are knit to Him, the fruit itself will help us to get nearer Him, and so be more His disciples and more fruitful. Character produces conduct, but conduct reacts on character and strengthens the impulses from which it springs. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Growth from within
This growing is to be the growth of a branch: not by accretion, by adding to the surface, but by strength and development from within. You may make a molehill into a mountain by bringing a sufficiency of material to it, to swell the rising pile; but trees and branches expand from within: their growth is the putting forth of a vital but unseen force. The life power in the stock, being also in the bough, compels an outward exhibition of results in progressive keeping with the vigour and strength of the supplies. So the believer “grows up” into Christ into ever-increasing holiness, influence and grace through the Divine afflatus which is at work within his soul, for it is thus that “God worketh in you” more and more “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” By this inner power the branches of a tree have a wonderful power of assimilation.. They take hold upon all surrounding forces and turn them to advantage. The dew that falls, the gases of the atmosphere, the descending rain, the chemistry of the sunlight, all are drawn into it; all are made a part of itself, are made to serve its purpose and to nurse its health. The very storms that blow, the alternations of weather that test and try it and ofttimes seem to work it damage, are all made to consolidate its fibres, to quicken the action of its sap, and send new energy through every vein, a stronger life: thrill into every leaf. So grows the righteous soul into higher, stronger, more mature religious life. “All things are yours,” says the apostle Paul. That is to say, all events, all experiences, all the providences of God, all the circumstances of life, as well as all the riches of promised grace, are made by the goodness and wisdom of God to serve the Christian’s interests and help his soul to grow. The dew of the Spirit, the sunshine of God, the aids of the sanctuary, the society of the good, the exercise of Christian toil, the business of life, the storms and tempests of sorrow and toil--all things, by reason of the subtle power of the inner life, are made to help the Christian, to deepen his piety, to strengthen his soul, to beautify his character, to mature and ripen his graces, and to give him a stronger grip upon his God. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Neither is there any limit to the attainments possible to the godly soul. Under the influence of the Divine life it is placed amid an exhaustless store of nourishment, it is grafted into the Vine whose Root is the Godhead and whose resources are infinite and eternal. (J. J. Wray.)
Religion in diverse places
I saw a vine growing on the fertile plain of Damascus with “boughs like the goodly cedars” (Psalms 80:10). One “bough” of that vine had appropriated a large forest tree; it had climbed the giant trunk, it had wound itself round the great gnarled arms, it had, in fact, covered every branch of the tree with garlands of its foliage, and bent down every twig with the weight of its fruit. And I saw another branch of the same vine spread out along the ground, and cover bushes and brambles with foliage as luxuriant and fruit as plentiful as those on the lordly forest tree. So is it in the Church. Some branches of that heaven-planted vine climb to the very pinnacles of human society. They appropriate and sanctify the sceptre of the monarch, the dignity of the peer, the power of the statesman, the genius of the philosopher, and they shed a lustre upon each and all greater and more enduring than can ever be conferred by gemmed coronet or laurel crown. While other branches of the same vine find a congenial sphere in humbler walks, they penetrate city lanes, they creep up wild mountain glens, they climb the gloomy stair to the garret where the daughter of toil lies on her death bed, and they diffuse wherever they go a peace and a joy and a halo of spiritual glory, such as rank and riches cannot bestow, and such too as poverty and suffering cannot take away. Peer and peasant, philosopher and working man, king and beggar, have equal rights and rewards in the Church. They are united to the same Saviour on earth, and they shall recline on the same bosom in heaven. (J. L. Porter, LL. D.)
Variety of Christian growth
There may be a hundred branches in a vine; their place in reference to each other may be far apart; they may seem to have but a very distant connection with each other; but having each a living union with the central stem, they are all members of the same Vine, and every one of them therefore is a member one of the other. Some of the branches are barely above the ground; some peer higher than all the rest; some are weighted with fruit, much fruit rich and fine; some bear but little fruit and that only small and inferior; some occupy important and central positions; some are seemingly insignificant, and look as though they might readily be dispensed with; as though, indeed, the tree would be healthier and more graceful without them; some are old and well grown, thoroughly strong and established; others are young, delicate, and need development. But whatever variety there may be among the branches in size, circumstance, or state, they all form a part of one complete, harmonious and like-natured whole. The vine stem is the common centre, and in it all partake of a common life. (J. J. Wray.)
The Christian individuality
The discoveries of vegetable physiology have shown that every branch is, in fact, a tree perfectly distinct and complete in itself: a tree which, by means of roots struck into the parent tree, derives its life, and sends out its leafage. The common idea is, that every tree in the ground has in itself the same kind of individual existence that a man has, and that, just as in the body limbs and various organs are component parts of a man, so the bole, the boughs, and the leaves are component parts of a tree. But the common idea is wrong; a tree is, in truth, a colony of trees, one growing on another--an aggregate of individuals--a body corporate, losing nothing, however, and merging nothing of its own individuality. It is charming to study a scientifically written biography of a tree, giving an account of its cells and pores and hairs, telling the isle of its evolution and its education; its infinite relations with all the elements, and how it is affected by the chemistries of nature; tracing it from its first faint filament to its full wealth of foliage and its final sweep of extension; thereby revealing through this miracle of the forest the glory of God. But, for the reasons suggested by some of the thoughts just confessed, interesting as is the story of a tree, a Christian will find the life tory of a mere branch scarcely less interesting, for it teaches him how to connect the ideas of total dependence and perfect individuality. I am a branch, yet I am a true tree--a tree growing on another tree--even on the Tree of Life. I see it all now, and also see the harmony between this particular Scripture and other Scriptures, better than formerly. It is scientifically true that I am a branch in the Vine, yet that I am a tree, answering to the description, “Rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
A Sunday school teacher was trying to make his class understand this lesson. “Jesus is the Vine,” said he, “we are the branches; we get all our life and happiness from Him.” “Yes,” said a little fellow in the class, “Jesus is the Vine, grown up people are the branches, and we young ones are the buds.” In the natural vine the buds do not bear any fruit. But in Jesus, the Spiritual Vine, even the buds can be fruitful; the youngest can make themselves useful. (J. L. Nye.)
The condition of fruitfulness
I saw a little twig scarcely an inch long, so tender an infant hand could break it; rough and unseemly without comeliness, and when I saw it there was no beauty that I should desire it. It said: “If I were comely and beautiful, like those spring flowers I see, I could attract, and please, and fulfil a mission.” It said: “If I were like yonder oak or cedar, I could afford shelter to God’s weary sheep at noonday, and the fowls of heaven should sing among my branches.” It said: “If I were even strong, I might bear some burden, or serve a purpose as a peg, a bolt, or a pin, in God’s great building that is going up. But so unsightly, so weak, so small!” A voice said to it: “Abide in Me, and I in you, He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” And so it rested. It was not long until a glory of leaves crowned it, and in God’s time I saw the heavy fruit it bore.
Without Me ye can do nothing
No saint, prophet, apostle would ever have said this to a company of faithful men. Among the virtues of a perfect man we must certainly reckon modesty. It is impossible to conceive that Jesus of Nazareth, had he not been more than man, could ever have uttered this sentence. We have here
I. AN ASPIRATION OF HOPE. From such a root what a vintage must come! Being branches in Him, what fruit we must produce! That word “do” has music in it. Jesus went about doing good, and, being in Him, we shall do good. There is the hope of doing something in the way of glorifying God by bringing forth
1. The fruits of holiness, peace, and love.
2. Fruit in the conversion of others.
3. Fruit of further blessing will ripen for this poor world. Men shall be blessed in us because we are blessed in Christ.
II. A SHUDDER OF FEAR. It is possible that I may be without Christ, and so may be utterly incapacitated for all good.
1. What if you should not be so in Christ as to bring forth fruit? If you are without Christ, what is the use of carrying on that Bible lass; for you can do nothing?
2. What if you should be in Christ, and not so in Him as to abide in Him? It appears from our Lord’s words that some branches in Him are cast forth and are withered. What if you are off and on with Christ! What if you play fast and loose with the Lord! What if you are an outside saint and an inside devil! What will come of such conduct as this?
III. A VISION OF TOTAL FAILURE.
1. A ministry without Christ in its doctrine will do nothing. Preachers aspire to be leaders of thought; wilt they not command the multitude and charm the intelligent? “Add music and architecture, and what is to hinder success, and what has been done?” The sum total is expressed in the text--“Nothing.”
2. Without acknowledging always the absolute supremacy of Christ we shall do nothing. Jesus is much complimented but He is not submitted to. Certain modern praises of Jesus are written upon the theory that, on the whole, the Saviour has given us a religion that is tolerably suited to the enlightenment of the nineteenth century, and may be allowed to last a little longer. It is fortunate for Jesus that He commends Himself to the “best thought” and ripest culture of the period; for, if He had not done so, these wise gentlemen would have exposed Him as being behind the times. Of course they have every now and then to rectify certain of His dogmas; He is rectified and squared, and His garment without seam is taken off, and He is dressed out in proper style, as by a West-end clothier; then He is introduced to us as a remarkable teacher, and we are advised to accept Him as far as He goes. Now, what will come of this foolish wisdom? Nothing but delusions, mischief, infidelity, anarchy, and all manner of imaginable and unimaginable ills.
3. You may have sound doctrine, and yet do nothing unless you have Christ in your spirit. In former years many orthodox preachers thought it to be their sole duty to comfort and confirm the godly few who by dint of great perseverance found out the holes and corners in which they prophesied. These brethren spoke of sinners as of people whom God might possibly gather in if He thought fit to do so; but they did not care much whether He did so or not. When a Church falls into this condition it is, as to its spirit, “without Christ.” What comes of it? The comfortable corporation exists and grows for a little while, but it comes to nothing.
4. But above all things we must have Christ with us in the power of His actual presence. The power lies with the Master, not with the servant; the might is in the hand, not in the weapon.
5. We have, then, before us a vision of total failure if we attempt in any way to do without Christ. He says, “Without Me ye can do nothing:” it is in the doing that the failure is most conspicuous. You may talk a good deal without Him; you may hold conferences and conventions; but doing is another matter. The most eloquent discourse without Him will be all a bottle of smoke. You shall lay your plans, and arrange your machinery, and start your schemes; but without the Lord you will do nothing.
IV. A VOICE OF WISDOM, which speaks out of the text, and says to us who are in Christ
1. Let us acknowledge this.
2. Let us pray. If without Christ we can do nothing, let us cry to Him that we may never be without Him.
3. Let us personally cleave to Jesus.
4. Heartily submit yourselves to the Lord’s leadership, and ask to do everything in His style and way. He will not be with you unless you accept Him as your Master.
5. Joyfully believe in Him. Though without Him you can do nothing, yet with Him all things are possible.
V. A SONG OF CONTENT. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Be it so. Do you wish to have it altered, any of you that love His dear name? I am sure you do not: for suppose we could do something without Christ, then He would not have the glory of it. Who wishes that? If the Church could do something without Christ she would try to live without Him. As I listened to the song I began to laugh. I thought of those who are going to destroy the orthodox doctrine from off the face of the earth. They say our old theology is decaying, and that nobody believes it. It is all a lie. If His friends can do nothing without Him, I am sure His foes can do nothing against Him. I laughed, too, because I recollected a story of a New England service, when suddenly a lunatic started up and declared that he would at once pull down the meeting house about their ears. Taking hold of one of the pillars of the gallery, this newly-announced Samson repeated his threatening. Everybody rose; the women were ready to faint. There was about to be a great tumult; no one could see the end of it; when suddenly one cool brother produced a calm by a single sentence. “Let him try!” Even so today the enemy is about to disprove the gospel and crush out the doctrines of grace. Are you distressed, alarmed, astounded? So far from that, my reply is this only--Let him try! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Nothing without Christ
I. AS TO THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE. There is much in the Bible which all must understand and admire; but as to its moral spirit and purpose what can be done without Christ? How slow of heart to believe were the disciples till Christ opened their understandings (Luke 24:48). Of the Old Testament Christ said, “They are they which testify of Me.” The first words of the New are, “The Book of the Generations of Jesus Christ;” and its last, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. He is the Alpha and Omega, and of the whole Bible John 20:31 may be said.
II. AS TO RECONCILIATION WITH GOD. That man needs this is not to be questioned; but how is it to be effected? God cannot change; His laws cannot be set aside. Sin is eternal separation from God. How, then, can man be reconciled? Only through Christ (Romans 3:19-25; Col 1:21; 2 Corinthians 5:19 : Romans 5:11).
III. AS TO PROGRESS IN THE DIVINE LIFE. From first to last the Christian is dependent on Christ. His life is derived from, developed by, devoted to Christ.
IV. AS TO SUCCESS IN EVANGELISTIC WORK. (W. Forsyth, M. A.)
None but Christ indispensable
In this world no man is necessary. There are many men who, if they were taken away, would be missed. But there is no man but what we may say of him, that useful and valuable as he may be, we might come to do without him. It is a truth this which we do not like to admit. We like to fancy that things would not go on exactly the same without us as with us. But this world has never seen more than one Being who could say that it was absolutely impossible to go on when separated from Him. The little child fancied, when its mother died, that without her it could “do nothing;” but the grownup, busy man, hardly seems ever to remember at all her whom the heart-broken child missed so sorely. And the mother, when her little one is called to go, may fancy that without that little one she “can do nothing;” but time brings its wonderful easing, and, though not forgetting, she gets on much as before. And it is the same way in every earthly relation. The husband comes to do without his dead wife; and the wife to do without the departed husband. The congregation that missed their minister for a while, come at length to gather Sunday after Sunday with little thought of the voice it once was pleasant for them to hear. The state comes to do without its lost political chief, and the country without its departed hero: and we learn in a hundred ways, that no human being is absolutely necessary to any other human being. We may indeed fancy so for a while, but at length we shall find that we were mistaken; we may indeed miss our absent friends sadly and long; but we shall come at last to do without them. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Man’s greatest need
No man lives a true and useful life who lives without Christ. The good man feels his need of Him, and of all of Him always.
1. His eye to guide him.
2. His hand to uphold him.
3. His arm to shield him.
4. His bosom to lean upon.
5. His blood to cleanse him.
6. His Spirit to make him holy and meet for heaven.
Christ is the one only Saviour who can make a sinner a saint, and secure to him eternal life. Usefulness is suspended upon holiness, and we are made holy by Christ’s cleansing blood, and in no other way. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The union between Christ and His people
Apart from Christ
I. THERE IS NO MERIT FOR OUR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” But in Christ there is all-sufficient merit. Believing in Him, we are justified and accepted. Not through His merit together with what we ourselves can do. Dr. Chalmers’, when awakened to his condition as a sinner, for a time “repaired to the atonement to eke out his deficiencies, and as the ground of assurance that God would look upon him with a propitious eye.” But the conviction was at length “wrought in him that he had been attempting an impossibility … that it must be either on his own merits wholly, or on Christ’s merits wholly, that he must lean; and that, by introducing his own righteousness into the ground of his meritorious acceptance with God, ‘he had been inserting a flaw, he had been importing a falsehood into the very principle of his justification.’”
II. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO OVERCOME THE POWER OF INDWELLING SIN. The evil propensities within us are not the same in each one; it may be the love of money or the lust of power in one, vanity or pride, malice or guile, in another. Does not the Christian have frequent experience that the corruption of his heart is too strong for him? He made good resolutions, and broke them; after repeated failures he is driven almost to despair, and is ready to ask, “Can my corruptions ever be conquered, or must I become more and more their slave?” But if we be brought by Divine grace to cleave in faith to the Saviour, we shall have His Spirit to dwell in us, and in His strength we shall prevail. In ancient fable we read that one of the great labours imposed upon Hercules was to cleanse the foul Augean Stable. This mighty task he accomplished by turning the river Alpheus through it, thus performing with ease what before had appeared impossible. That stable is a true picture of the heart defiled by countless sins. The streams of that fountain opened in the house of David, turned by a living faith to flow into it, alone can cleanse it.
III. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO BUILD UP A CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. In a building there is not only a foundation, but also a superstructure. Apart from Christ we cannot build aright. Christian character may be likened unto a tree growing. “Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue,” etc. Here is a noble, well-developed growth; But these spiritual graces will not appear if we do not abide in constant communion with Christ.
IV. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO PROMOTE THE TRUE INTERESTS OF OTHERS. What are all the provisions for the alleviating and removing of the wants and sufferings of men--the hospitals, orphanages, almshouses, and other philanthropic institutions--but the results of Christian effort, the products of the Christian spirit! All noble enduring, legislative acts also, such as that for the emancipation of the slaves, have been brought about by men under the influence of the religion of Christ. Who likewise have filled Wales and other countries with the gospel? Is it not men with the love of Christ as a holy fire burning Within them? (J. R. Owen.)
The necessity of supernatural grace in order to a Christian life
I. WHAT WE MEAN BY THE SUPERNATURAL GRACE AND ASSISTANCE OF CHRIST. Whatever natural power we have to do anything is from God, but God, considering the lapsed condition of mankind, sent His Son to recover us out of that condition, but we, being without strength, our Saviour hath in His Gospel offered an extraordinary assistance of His Holy Spirit, to supply the defects of our natural strength. And this supernatural grace of Christ is that alone which can enable us to perform what He requires of us. And this, according to the several uses and occasions of it, is called by several names. As it puts good motions into us, it is called preventing grace; because it prevents any motion or desire on our parts; as it assists and strengthens us in the doing of anything that is good, it is called assisting grace; as it keeps us constant in a good course, it is called persevering grace.
II. TO THIS GRACE THE SCRIPTURE DOTH CONSTANTLY ATTRIBUTE OUR REGENERATION, SANCTIFICATION, AND PERSEVERANCE IN HOLINESS.
III. THERE IS GREAT REASON TO ASSERT THE NECESSITY OF THIS GRACE AND ASSISTANCE TO THESE PURPOSES. If we consider
1. The corruption and impotency of human nature. When the Scripture speaks of the redemption of Christ, it represents our condition not only as miserable, but helpless (Romans 5:6).
2. The strange power of evil habits and customs. The other is a natural, and this is a contracted impotency. The habits of sin being added to our natural impotency, are like so many diseases superinduced upon a constitution naturally weak, which do all help to increase the man’s infirmity. Evil habits in Scripture are compared to fetters, which do as effectually hinder a man from motion, as if he were quite lame, hand and foot. By passing from one degree of sin to another, men became hardened in their wickedness, and insensibly bring themselves into that state, out of which they are utterly unable to recover themselves.
3. The inconstancy and fickleness of human resolution.
4. The malice and activity of the devil.
IV. THIS SUPERNATURAL GRACE AND ASSISTANCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE, BUT SUPPOSES THE CONCURRENCE OF OUR ENDEAVOURS. The grace of God strengthens and assists us. Our Saviour implies that by the assistance of grace we may perform all the duties of the Christian life; we may bear fruit, and bring forth much fruit. When the Apostle says, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me,” he does not think it a disparagement to the grace of Christ to say, he could do all things by the assistance of it Philippians 2:12-13).
V. THIS GRACE IS DERIVED TO US FROM OUR UNION WITH CHRIST. Inferences:
1. If the grace of God be so necessary to all the ends of holiness, obedience, and perseverance, then there is great reason why we should continually depend upon God, and every day earnestly pray to Him for the aids of His grace.
2. We should thankfully acknowledge and ascribe all the good that is in us, and all that we do, to the grace of God.
3. Let us take heed that we resist not the Spirit of God, and receive not the grace of God in vain.
4. The consideration of our own impotency is no excuse to our sloth and negligence, if so be the grace of God be ready to assist us.
5. The consideration of our own impotency is no just ground of discouragement to our endeavours, considering the promise of Divine grace and assistance. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
If a man abide not in Me he is cast forth
Jesus and the only means of righteousness
God is the author of righteousness, and Jesus is the Son of God, because He gives the method and secret by which alone righteousness is possible, And that He does give this, we can verify from experience.
It is so I try, and you will find it to be so! Try all the ways to righteousness you can think of, and you will find no way brings you to it except the way of Jesus, but that this way does bring you to it. This is a thing that can prove itself, if it is so; and it will prove itself, because it is so. (Matthew Arnold.)
Five steps to judgment
Just as abiding in Christ infers grace for grace, fruit for fruit, so not abiding in Christ draws after it the judgment of being rejected, the successive steps to which are presented to us in the words: cast forth, wither, gather, cast into the fire, burn. These are the five steps in the judgment; the complete execution of which is, by God’s long suffering, delayed. (R. Besser, D. D.)
One year when I was travelling towards my usual winter resting place I halted at Marseilles, and there was overtaken by great pain. In my room in the hotel I found it cold so I asked for a fire. The porter came in, and he had in his hand a bundle of twigs. I called to him to let me look at it. He was about to push it into the stove as fuel with which to kindle the fire. As I took the bundle into my hand, I found it was made of vine branches--branches that had been cut off now that the pruning time was come. I solemnly thought, will this be my portion? Here I am, away from home, unable to bear fruit, as I love to do. Shall I end with this as my portion? Shall I be gathered for the fire? Those vine shoots were parts of a good vine, no doubt, branches that once looked fair and green; but now they were fuel for the flame. They had been cut off and cast off as useless things, and then men gathered them and tied them in bundles, and they were ignobly thrust into the fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And is withered
The cast-out branch withers; whatever remains of sap it might have had so long as it hung on ever so slightly to the vine, now quickly dries up; it becomes a hard piece of wood, which can no longer be bent, only broken. A man may refuse to be bent by grace, but he cannot hinder himself from being broken by wrath. Judas is a fearful example of this: he withered in one day. We may indeed place a cast-off branch in water, and by that means keep it for a time from completely withering; but it is of no lasting good: so it is no use for a man inwardly dead and forsaken by the Holy Ghost to force forward for a while the appearance of a pious life from his own strength; it cannot last long, seldom until his end, and then his withered state is manifest. (R. Besser, D. D.)
If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you
The conditions of prevailing prayer
WHAT IS REQUIRED OR SUPPOSED.
1. What is meant by our abiding in Him? This is called partaking of Him Hebrews 3:14), and implies in it our
(1) Being in Him (Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
(a) By faith (Philippians 3:8-9).
(b) Obedience (Galatians 5:24).
(c) Being members of His mystical body (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:30).
(2) Continuing in Him as a branch in the vine (verses 1-6). Continuing in the profession of His doctrine (John 8:31), and hearty endeavours after perfection (Colossians 1:28).
2. What is meant by His words abiding in us?
(1) His words are that doctrine that He came to deliver in His Father’s John 17:8; John 17:8; Mark 1:22; Luke 4:23).
(2) These words abide in us by our
(a) Knowing them (chap 10:4, 5).
(b) Believing them (John 17:8; John 17:8; Matthew 24:35; Romans 10:10; Hebrews 4:2).
(c) Remembering them (verse 20).
(d) Persevering in the observance of them (Mark 13:13; Lu Revelation 2:26).
(3) The effect of their abiding in us.
(a) They purify us (John 15:3; John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
(b) They bring forth fruit in us (Matthew 13:23; John 15:5).
II. WHAT IS PROMISED (Matthew 7:7). Such as abide in Christ shall be sure not to meet with disappointment, because
1. They will only according to God’s will (1 Samuel 3:18); herein following the example of their blessed Lord (Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42); submitting with those in Acts 21:14; and praying as our Lord directs Matthew 6:10).
2. They ask according to His will, and so are sure to be heard upon this account (1 John 5:14-15). Particularly, they ask
(1) Nothing but what is lawful (Matthew 7:11); avoiding the folly mentioned in Psalms 50:21-22.
(2) And only to a good end (James 4:3).
3. They take a right method in asking: praying
(1) In faith (Matthew 21:22; James 1:5-7).
(2) With fervency and devotion (Romans 1:9; 1 Corinthians 6:20).
(3) In humility (Luke 18:9, etc.; Psalms 138:6).
(4) From a clean heart (Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:8).
(5) With constancy and perseverance (Luke 11:8-10; Luke 11:8-10; Ephesians 6:8).
(6) In the name and through the merits of Christ (John 14:13-14). (Bp. Beveridge.)
I. THE NATURE OF THE CONDITIONS LAID DOWN.
The secret of prevailing prayer
1. “If ye abide in Me,” as the branches abide in the vine: union with and reception of the whole Christ by faith, as Saviour, Teacher, Example. If we accept Him in one aspect and not in another, we fail to fulfil the condition.
2. “If My words abide in you.”
(1) Christ’s words are His whole teaching, not the part of it which we most like.
(2) These words are to abide in us--not merely in our memories as words, nor in our understandings as facts, nor in our reasons as truths, nor in our feelings as sentiments; but pervading our whole spiritual being as principles of life and action, just as we assimilate food, which does not profit unless changed into blood, bone, sinew, etc. If we have Christ’s words thus abiding in us, we shall have Christ Himself, and that being so we shall breathe His Spirit and be transformed into His likeness.
II. THE CERTAINTY, IN THE FULFILMENT OF SUCH CONDITIONS, THAT ALL OUR PETITIONS WILL BE GRANTED. If we fulfil such conditions in the very fulfilment all our best desires are already granted. What more can we have than to be in Christ and to have Christ in us? The branch is already most fruitful if it is actually the branch of the most fruitful vine. But note the grounds on which this certainty rests.
1. God honours simplicity of trust. For what is this trust? It is to feel that truth cannot lie, that faithfulness cannot deceive, that wisdom cannot err, that power cannot fail, that holiness cannot blight the hope that perfect love has inspired. On the contrary, unbelief is absurd. Think of casting a shadow of doubt on infinite excellence, omnipotence, and wisdom. Let a man doubt that there is not enough light in the sun to enable him to see, or enough water in the sea to float his vessel. Besides, trust has naturally a drawing power on the heart of love.
2. Only such blessings will be sought for as are within the range of God’s promise. All the Christian’s hopes and yearnings are bounded by this. What lies beyond? Unholy honours, pleasures, etc.; but the Christian does not want these, he has done with these trifling or injurious toys. What lies within? Whatever is calculated to make us wiser, holier, happier, and more useful.
3. There is purity of desire in supplicating spiritual blessings. Prayer for other things necessarily arises from mixed motives.
4. We have further in this state of soul complete submissiveness to the Divine will. (J. M. Charlten, M. A.)
Ask great things from God
Sir Walter Raleigh one day asking a favour from Queen Elizabeth, the latter said to him, “Raleigh, when will you leave off begging?” To which he answered, “When your Majesty leaves off giving.” Ask great things of God. Expect great things from God. Let His past goodness make us “instant in prayer.” (W. Baxendale.)
Christ’s work for us the secret of successful prayer
All the promises in the Bible are so many bills of exchange drawn by God the Father in heaven upon His Son Jesus Christ, and payable to every pious bearer,--to everyone that comes to the mercy seat, and offers the promise or bill for acceptance, and pleads in the way of obedient faith and prayer. Jesus, the High Treasurer of heaven, knows every letter of His Father’s handwriting, and can never be imposed upon by any forged note. He will ever honour His Father’s bills: He accepts them all. It is for His Father’s honour that His bills never fail of acceptance and payment. (J. Beaumont, M. D.)
The necessity of specific prayer
In order to be prevailing our prayers must be pointed and personal. The old woman who interrupted an “eloquent” supplication, in which the attributes of God were being stated at great length, by saying, “Ask Him for something,” may teach us a much-needed lesson. (S. Pearson, M. A.)
Herein is My Father glorified, that ye hear much fruit
God glorified in His people
The great majority of Christ’s illustrations were drawn from the world of nature, which teaches us that there is a profound connection between the natural and spiritual worlds.
For Christ did not introduce His teaching into nature, but showed men the lessons concerning God and the spiritual which it had been silently teaching for ages, but which they had been too blind to see. For years had the vines of Palestine been uttering glorious things about the union of man to God: prophets had seen something of the mystery; but it was reserved for the greatest of the prophets to gather all their finest teachings into one beautiful discourse. And because the principle on which Christ taught is ever true, we may learn most solemn lessons from the beauty of God’s world. The great teaching of the text is this: Man’s greatest power for glorifying God is a life of Christ-like action, and in order to illustrate its full force we must trace it back to its first principles.
I. THE INWARD LIFE IN UNION WITH CHRIST MUST SHOW ITSELF OUTWARDLY IS CHRIST-LIKE ACTION.
1. All profound emotions must display themselves in action. Whenever a deep love or a strong conviction enters a man’s heart, it impels him to utter it. If it be unspoken in word, it will change his whole being., and burning itself into speech in his deeds, give its meaning a tongue, and manifest its secret fire; or if it cannot express itself it will perish in its own concealment. So the ruling emotion of love to Christ must utter itself to men in the language of Christ-like words and life, or it will pine and perish in its secrecy. And not only so, but all deep love must transform the soul into the image of the beloved, and thus reveal its energy.
2. The inner Christian life has a power to overcome the hindrances to its manifestation. It has been said that “circumstances make the man”; but do circumstances hinder the man who is resolved to be rich? On the contrary, he turns them to his own end. Did circumstances make Napoleon? He made them steps to his throne. Circumstances make weak men, but strong men make circumstances. There we have the answer to the timid assertion that it is impossible in such a world as this to manifest the power of a living Christianity. As the vine, by the inward force of life, draws from the sun and air and soil those elements that give it beauty and vigour, so the Christian life causes all outward states to minister to its growing power. The sight of sin is an opposing circumstance to the real Christian it is transformed into a mighty lesson. The slanders of men are an opposing circumstance--they form the noblest school for Christian patience. The sufferings and sacrifices of life may seem to be hindrances--in reality they make the soul strong in faith and prayer. If the life of love be in a man he will live Christ everywhere, and, like the oak, grow stronger in storms. Hence the conclusion arises unanswerably, that the inner life in union with Christ must reveal itself in Christ-like deeds.
II. THE LIFE OF CHRIST-LIKE ACTION IS MAN’S GREATEST POWER OF GLORIFYING GOD.
1. A Christ-like life is the strongest manifestation of God to the world. The men of this world do not perceive the signs of a present God. They may have an indistinct belief in an awful Power existing somewhere in the universe. They read the Bible as an old book, not as a testimony to a living Lord: they find a beauty in nature, but that beauty is not to them the evidence of its invisible King. But a Christ-like man brings the Divine so directly into the sphere of his own daily life, that they cannot help perceiving it there and then. That man’s life becomes a Bible, which in the clearest tones proclaims the presence of his Lord.
2. A Christ-like life is the greatest human influence to bring men near God. When Christ said to His disciples, “Go and bear fruit, go and reproduce My life in your life,” He laid hold of the two great forces that mould all human society--influence and example. For the power of social influence is constant and irresistible, while all direct efforts for God are of necessity limited, and awaken opposition. Men hear the appeals of the preacher, and apply them only to their neighbours. But the ceaseless, silent influence of a Christ-like life enters with its resistless majesty into hearts that are barred and bolted in self-complacency against the preacher’s voice, and, like the light, makes their darkness visible. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
God requires that His vines be fruitful
A vine would never be so stupid as to examine itself thus, but suppose it should, and should call out, “Roots, do you enjoy being down there in the soil?” “Yes, we enjoy being here in the soil.” “Stem, do you like to be out there in summer?” “Yes, I like to be out here in summer.” “Leaves, are you fond of waving in the sun and air?” “Yes, we are fond of the sun and air;” and, satisfied, it says, “I am an excellent vine.” The gardener, standing near, exclaims, “The useless thing! I paid ten dollars for the cutting, and I have pruned and cultivated it, and for years looked for the black Hamburg grapes it was to bear, but it has yielded only leaves.” He does not care that the roots love the soil, and the stem the summer. It makes no difference to him though every leaf spread itself broad as Sahara in its barrenness. It is fruit that he wants. (H. W.Beecher.)
They say that at Mentone the citron harvest lasts from the 1st of January to the 31st of December. Women may be seen almost every morning of the year stepping down the rocky mountain paths with large baskets upon their heads filled with the fruit. Pastors may well wish that their Churches were always in such bearing order, and Sabbath school teachers may sigh for such perpetual fruit. To come nearer home, may not each one of us long for like perpetuity of fertility in our own souls? It would be a grand thing, to be evermore working and at the same time planning new effort, and preparing material for new enterprises. Mentone owes its lemons to its warm sun, and to its sheltered position close under the great rocks. Here is a secret for us all. To dwell in communion with Jesus is to abide in the sunshine, and to rest in His great love and atoning sacrifice is to nestle under the Rock of Ages, and to be shielded from every withering blast. “Nearer to God” is the way to greater fruitfulness. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I. ITS NATURE.
1. It consists in a visible exhibition of Christian feeling and principle. I say visible; for though your heart was as tender as that of a child, and warm as that of a seraph, you bring forth no fruit unto God unless your internal feelings are manifested in appropriate acts of obedience. Those who in ancient times retired from all connection with the world may have been persons of piety, but they were prevented by the very circumstances of their condition from bringing forth fruit unto God. To be a fruitful Christian it must be seen that you are a living, active Christian.
2. It demands that we discharge with fidelity the appropriate duties of our respective stations. If we neglect these and attempt to perform others that do not belong to us or for which we are not qualified, we dishonour rather than glorify God--just as the planets would if they should quit their proper orbits and rush into spheres in which they were not appointed to move. Christians are all the servants of Jesus Christ, and each one has his proper work assigned him; they are all soldiers of Jesus Christ, and each one has his post allotted him. Some are ordained to serve as ministers, some as magistrates, some as heads of families, some as masters, some as servants. Some are rich, and are appointed to be the Lord’s stewards, to honour Him with their substance; some in an inferior station are called to serve Him like Dorcas by making coats and garments for the poor.
3. Christian fruitfulness, in order to glorify God, must be abundant. The glory of the husbandman does not arise from his fields or vines bearing fruit but much fruit. A few ears of corn in the one nearly choked with weeds, or here and there a branch or berry on the other, much blighted and shrivelled, rather dishonours than honours him. Thus a little religion often dishonours God more than none. An indecisive halting between God and the world causes His name to be evil spoken of much more than the excesses of the openly wicked. The husbandman is not dishonoured by the unfruitfuiness of a wild tree upon which he has bestowed no culture, but the barrenness of what is planted in his garden or in his enclosed field reflects on himself, and he will therefore cut it down and cast it out as an incumbrance.
II. ITS MEANS. Very analogous are the means of Christian fruitfulness to those of common husbandry.
1. A good soil, i.e., a good heart. This is indispensable. You do not expect a harvest from seed sown upon a rock or in sand. And what but such is the heart unsanctified by grace? Never till it is softened and warmed into spiritual life by an influence from above will it yield any fruit that is pleasing to God. Hence vital union to Christ is asserted to be indispensable to Christian fruitfulness. “Abide in Me, and I in you,” etc. Union with Christ is the animating principle of all holy obedience, infusing spiritual life and vigour into the soul, and quickening all its powers into activity for the glory of God. No culture will make us fruitful till we are brought into vital union with Christ.
2. Good seed, i.e., the truths of God’s Word lodged in the mind by a just apprehension and cordial faith of them. As well might you expect a harvest of wheat from a field sowed with tares, as the fruits of righteousness from a mind vacant of religious truth or filled with error. Doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion are all necessarily connected; they cannot exist apart or separate from each other.
3. Careful cultivation. Fruitfulness unto God is not a growth of chance. It does not spring from indolence, unwatchfulness, or carelessness, much less from sinful conformity to the world or deadening absorption in its cares and pursuits. No; it is the result of a tender, conscientious keeping of the heart in the love of God; it is the growth of diligence and care in the use of such means as God has appointed for our advancement in the Divine life. Whatever be the state of your heart at any given time, or however excellent the seed sown in it, if you allow the cares, the riches, and pleasures of the world to enter in and choke the Word, no fruit will be brought forth to perfection.
4. Rain and sunshine, i.e., the influences of the Holy Spirit. The most careful labours of the husbandman cannot avail to produce a single ear of corn or blade of grass. So in things spiritual. Means of themselves have no efficacy to produce spiritual life or Christian fruitfulness. “Paul may plant,” etc. Here comes in the necessity of prayer; and a beautiful arrangement it is which connects our endeavours to grow in Christian fruitfulness with dependence on help from God.
III. ITS MOTIVES. By bearing much fruit you
1. Glorify your Heavenly Father. As the works of creation show forth the glory of the Lord, because they illustrate His perfections exerted in their formation; so His rational creatures glorify Him when some resemblance of His moral excellence is discerned upon their hearts and manifested in their lives. In this sense every Christian, however humble his station, or circumscribed his sphere of action, may attain to the high privilege and honour of glorifying God his Maker. Professed disciples of Jesus, if you take a just view of your character and obligations, you will regard yourselves in a most important sense as representatives of the Divine Majesty among your fellow men. Their eyes are upon you, and they will form their opinion of the religion you profess and of the God you adore very much from the conduct you exhibit from day to day.
2. Prove to yourselves and to others the reality of your professed discipleship. The question is often asked, How may I know that I am a Christian? The answer is by bearing fruit to the glory of God. In the absence of such fruitfulness all other evidence is worthless. You see a tree in the season of winter stripped of its leaves and fruit, and you find it difficult to decide what tree it is. But look at it when it is covered with foliage and loaded with fruit, and you are at no loss for a moment on the subject. Just so in judging of your own character. (J. Hawes, D. D.)
Union with Christ the sole condition of fruitfulness
Our only possibility of bearing any fruit worthy of our natures and of God’s purpose concerning us is by vital union with Jesus Christ. If we have not that, there may be plenty of activity and mountains of work in our lives, but there will be no fruit. Only that is fruit which pleases God and is conformed to His purpose concerning us, and all the rest of your busy doings is no more the fruit that a man should bear than cankers are roses, or than oak galls are acorns. They are but the work of a creeping grub, and diseased excrescences that suck into themselves the juices that should swell the fruit. Open your hearts to Christ and let His life and His Spirit come into you, and then you will “have fruit is the purpose for which the vine was planted and the branches grown. No husbandman plants vines for wood or shade or beauty, but for fruit. Christ’s disciples are of value according to their fruitfulness.
II. THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE DISCIPLE CONSISTS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE DISTINCTIVELY CHRISTIAN QUALITIES. It is not first or mainly in its usefulness or fruitfulness of service, though this is the sense in which probably the text is most often read and expounded. It is not usefulness, but character, which is the first and great end of the Husbandman. We are called, not to be missionaries first, but to be saints; not to be apostles, but first to be disciples--learners first, and afterwards men sent to teach and preach. It is not by discipling others so much as becoming more and more disciples ourselves that we bear fruit and glorify our Father. We have compared fruitfulness with usefulness as an aim. But we must not forget that the very fruitfulness of the branch is its usefulness. It had never thought of anything but growing, developing what was in it, coming to its perfection and maturity. That was all its aim to throw its life into the fruitage. But so it found its usefulness. So it did its work for God and men. For the fruit contains both food and seed. The starving eats and is refreshed. The invalid with failing appetite tastes and is revived. It graces the tables of the rich and inexpensively supplies the needs of the poor. The owner stands by well pleased, and invites all to feast themselves. It only tried to grow, but growing found its means and opportunity of service. It is so with the Christian. His best usefulness is that which comes out of his simple obedience to the laws of the vineyard, out of his simple purpose to grow into that to which His Lord has called him. He may exhort, but his life speaks louder than his lips. He may set out with intent to serve, and his best service may have been before his setting out. He may be reproaching himself with his unfaithfulness even while his faithfulness is winning men to Christ. To grow is more important than to go. Suppose the branch, just started from the vine, begins to feel the burden of its mission to do good more than the compulsion to bear fruit. In sees yonder a porch which it might shade and so be a blessing to a household, and its stretches away to reach and cover it. It strains away over the intervening space, and twines itself over the vacant trellis. It has succeeded, but, alas! where is the shade? It has grown so fast, the stem has almost run away from the leaves--a foot apart they stretch along the spindling vine; small and but half-grown, they have neither shade nor beauty, and not a bunch of grapes. If it had simply grown and sought to fill the fruit which it had set, a season later and the fragrant clusters would have hung within reach of those resting under its shade and delighting in its beauty. Have you never seen something like that among the disciples? “Grow in grace” is the first law of the Christian life. All else comes under that law and out of it. The fruit, too, has in it the seed: that by which it is perpetuated; the more fruit, the more seed. The branch might think that if it could, by some process of layering, multiply plants, it would be doing good service. But so it can never accomplish as much as by the natural way: filling its fruit, so making seed. Nothing so tends to the perpetuation of the Christian faith as the fidelity to the Christian standard of those who bear the name of Christ. The Divine order is first, fruitfulness; and, second, usefulness. It is fruitfulness only which ever come to the hundredfold of useful service.
III. THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE DISCIPLE DEPENDS UPON HIS RELATION TO HIS DIVINE TEACHER AND LORD. The branch gets its life through the vine from which it grows. It has no life in itself: cut it off, it dies. Does this Scripture tell us plainly in what this abiding in Christ consists? It does.
1. It is abiding in His words, in His commandments, and having them abide in us. It is in keeping His commandments, not simply obeying them--that, but not only that; it is in guarding them as a sacred treasure, and protecting them from violation not only, but from the slightest disrespect.
2. It is abiding in His love: and that is not living so that He shall continue to love us, but abiding in the love of Him, proving that love by lovingly keeping His commandments; abiding also in a love like His to others, and proving that by a spirit of self-sacrifice whose measure is a willingness to lay down our lives if so we can serve or save them.
3. It is abiding in that fellowship with Him which finds its natural expression in prayer; that is, communion with Him. Thus the channels of communication are kept open between the vine and the branches, and the lifeblood flows freely from the one to and through the other. (George M. Boynton.)
Fruitfulness the true proof of the tree’s excellence and the gardener’s skill
I remember going over the garden of a friend who had taken up with immense enthusiasm some new system of growing dwarf trees. He exhibited his garden to me with great pride as a model of what a garden ought to be. “I presume,” said I, “that you get a large quantity of fruit.” “Fruit?” was the reply--“fruit? Why, I scarcely think about that;” and I found that my friend had so delighted himself with his new scheme, and with the beauty of the small trees all standing in rows, and the delightfulness of their leaves, so bewildered himself in his enthusiasm for his new method of gardening, that he had deceived his own self and was satisfied with leaves, and forgot that which seemed to me, as a looker-on, to be the only proof of success. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The analogies existing between Nature and Grace are striking and beautiful. Nor is it at all surprising that so they should be. He who formed the one kingdom formed also the other. Nature is designed as the type, the symbol of Grace. It was ever thus the Saviour looked at it. To Him, Nature was always illustrative, typical of higher truths, sublimer realities than appeared on its surface. He never rested in anything short of the spiritual. On few subjects is this analogy more frequently indicated than on that of “fruit”--fruit in Nature betokening fruit in grace. “First fruits;” “the fruits of the Spirit;” “the fruits of righteousness;” “fruit in its season;” “His fruit;” “fruits of the valley,” etc. Note
I. THAT FRUIT BEARING IS THE GREAT END OF ALL GOD’S DISPENSATIONS. Fruit is the great object sought in all agricultural arrangements. It is not otherwise with the Great Husbandman, the “Lord of the Vineyard.” His arrangements who can conceive! They span eternity, embrace worlds, include the gift of His Son, the Mission of His Spirit, the revolutions of Providence, the breathing of inspiration. His purpose is our fruitfulness. This too was the Saviour’s object. For this He was born, lived, died; for this He endured sorrow; for this He still lives, pleads, gives His Spirit, conducts His entire moral government. The Holy Spirit too works for this, and uses all the appliances He has created and sustains. Means and opportunities, Bibles and ordinances, sanctuaries and Sabbaths, all exist for this.
II. THE ONLY FRUIT WE CAN BEAR, THAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, COMES FROM A SOURCE EXTERNAL TO OURSELVES. Much instruction is conveyed in the figure here employed--“fruit.” What is it! It is result, sequence, an effect, not a cause. It must be thus with ourselves. What we are in spirit, life, character, must come from a hidden source, an inner nature; from something “back of itself.” And what is the source of this life? There are beautiful fruits borne by unsanctified humanity. Generosity, amiability, benevolence, honour, kindness. Unregenerate nature cannot produce such fruit as is acceptable to a holy God. It follows, that in order to acceptable fruit, there must be renovation of nature--a new principle of life. Regeneration is spiritual grafting, the introduction of a new life, the modification of the old tree to such an extent that, though it does not alter its physical qualities, its natural capacities, it altogether renovates its moral nature, and makes it a new creation, capable henceforth of bearing acceptable fruit. This Divine and blessed influence, this grace of the Holy Spirit, comes alone from Christ. Had sin not entered our world and tainted our nature, it had come direct from our Father. As it was in paradise, so it would have been since, God’s nature would have flowed into man’s with an unimpeded current. Sin checked this, and now the sacred influence, the Holy Spirit’s energy and grace flows through another, even Christ. The whole spiritual being with all its new capacities and instincts unfolding to Christ. “Abiding”--not a state expressed by fits and starts, spiritual and worldly by turns; but continuing; in all conditions of sorrow and joy, like the branch in the tree--“abiding.” Is this all? No. The branch thus abiding cannot be without the reception of influence. It does not give, it receives; and assuredly the great Saviour, the Celestial Vine, will not allow any of His branches thus to abide in Him for nothing. Are you thus abiding? Then you know there comes from Him sap, nurishment, energy, spiritual power, which, flowing into you, makes you at once to adhere more closely, and also to “bear fruit.” “He that abideth in Me, and I in him.” The latter is more than the former, though the first is indispensable to the second. It it important to observe here, too, the point of contact. What is this? On our part it is faith crystallizing into prayer. On His the Word, the medium of His Spirit. Such is the philosophy of Christian fruit bearing. As the pomegranate, the peach, the grape, the fig, are the results of elements, drawn from sources external to themselves, so all the fruits borne by the Christian are the result of a true life first given, then sustained by Him who said, I am the Vine, ye are the branches.
III. THE RESULTS OF SUCH FRUIT BEARING ARE MOST VALUABLE. How great the value even of material fruits! “As the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself,” what a mint of wealth does she annually yield to ungrateful and sinful man. Fields of golden corn, orchards of russet apples, mountains of purple grapes, what an immense money value they express; sufficient to tell upon the national exchequer, to regulate the markets of the world. The “fruits of righteousness” which are by Jesus Christ, how great their value! They glorify God. “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.” God is “glorified” variously. All His works praise Him, His saints bless Him. Their praise is voluntary, conscious, intelligent, therefore higher in its nature, more acceptable, and worthy. They render it according to their fruitfulness. It vindicates and honours Christianity. This is often aspersed, vilified, scorned. While, thus, the gospel has brought forth fruits fully adequate to vindicate its claims as a system, it is only as its friends do this personally that those claims will be adequately recognized. Oh, the value of a fruitful, practical course of Christian life in this respect. It vindicates the gospel. It may be silent, but it is not dumb. A tree laden with fruit, whether a sapling or giant stem, is an object which speaks for itself. More than this, it speaks for the soil in which it grows, the garden in which it is, the husbandman by whom it is trained. These clusters of themselves show what needs to be known, so that “we need not to speak anything.” Fruit bearing ministers to joy. Christ would have His disciples joyful. It is most experienced when the soul is most fruitful. Consciousness of improvement in anything, most of all in self-culture and moral excellence, ministers to satisfaction. Fruitfulness is of inestimable value for the joy it secures. It gives efficacy to prayer. The Saviour recognizes this intercourse when He says, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Abiding in Me, My Spirit through My Word flowing into you, the branch and the Vine will become one. My grace will be the source of your fruitfulness, My Spirit the inspirer of your prayers. The purport of all that has been said is simple and practical. It says to each and all, be fruitful, and see the way in which you may become so. If hitherto unfruitful, it says to you, You are defeating the great end of your being, of God’s purpose in reference to you, of Christ’s coming into this world. Let me entreat you to do this at once, lest you lost the capacity for it. The unfruitful tree becomes less and less likely to improve, till at last it withers and dies. (J. Viney.)
How many of the professed disciples of our blessed Lord and Master are there, who, while they possess and manifest certain indubitable excellencies, and clearly exhibit certain Christian graces, do, nevertheless, appear to much and serious disadvantage by reason of the total, or almost total, absence of other essential Christian virtues. Their moral defects cause so many gaps in the cluster, that, like a ragged, illshapen, and sparsely furnished bunch of grapes, they fail effectively to manifest the fruit aright which they actually do produce; and if they do not bring their religious honesty and sincerity into serious doubt, do unquestionably fall far short of what they ought to be, and what they might be, and what they must try to be, if they are to be really well-written epistles, setting forth the true character of the Master, known and read of all men. In these defective fruit bearers there is no proportion, no symmetry, no sign or promise of that ultimate holiness which will make them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. Whatever of good there is in them is largely discounted in moral value as the representations of the Christly character, and as influences for good on those who dwell within their circle. They are the subject of sore anxiety and discomfort to their godly comrades, and unfavourably impress “them that are without the knowledge of God,” and whom it is their sacred duty to win to Christ. One exhibits the fruit of benevolence, but his temper is fitful, uncertain, and at times is altogether unrestrained. Another bears the fruit of fidelity; nobody can question his integrity or the purity of his motives; but he is cold, hard, morose, ungentle. A third is full of energy, courage, action, but these excellent fruits are spoiled by lack of patience, and his longsuffering is conspicuous by its absence. A fourth, again, is genial, gentle, sunny and kindly almost to a fault, but he is altogether deficient in firmness, strength of principle, stability of character, and is easily led away: and so on through all the defective combinations possible to an ill-formed Christian character. It is to be feared that, too often, the absence of certain fruits of the Spirit not only becomes chronic, bat has a very noxious and destructive influence on such as do exist, and imperils the whole religious life. In full consciousness of this the apostolic teachers ever urge the followers of the Perfect Man to strive after moral completeness. They are to “perfect that which is lacking;” they are to grow into the “full stature of a man in Christ Jesus;” they are to seek to be “sanctified wholly;” and to be “perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” (J. J. Wray.)
Fruit bearing the test of discipleship
I. HOW IS GOD GLORIFIED? It cannot be that we can add anything to His intrinsic excellence. We can glorify a man by office, by honours, in various ways; but nobody can add anything to God. We can glorify Him only by revealing in some degree what His excellencies are. No man can glorify the sun; but when the day has hung drooping, and by and by the clouds begin to fold and spread, and here and there sun bursts come in, and at last the every-increasing light sweeps out of the whole heaven every cloud, we do not create the sun, and we do not burnish it; but the wind reveals it. And we cannot in any way increase the glory of God; but in our lives and dispositions we can make known to men the quality of Divine attributes. One drop of water is enough to teach us what liquid is, but one drop of water would not be enough to teach us what the Atlantic ocean is if we had not seen it; and so one single development of love reveals the glory of the God of love, although the ocean, the tides, the infinities that belong to the Divine Nature we shall not know until we behold them from a higher point of vision, even if we do then.
II. IF WE BEAR MUCH FRUIT WE GLORIFY GOD. What the fruit is we know already. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc. These are very precious fruits, and the more we bring forth the more we reveal the nature of God. A diamond is nothing in itself; and yet, having the power of refraction and reflection, it in every facet gives brilliance and colour from light. So it is with those who are really God’s gems and jewels. The light that flashes from their lives from day to day reflects Him, and makes men easily to know Him. Call back the example of Christ. He was perpetually endeavouring to teach that the development of a beautiful life was the power that He sought to establish. It was not an order of the priesthood or philosophy, new institutions or methods that He was seeking to build up; it was to take man by man, and develop in him the kingdom of God. That is the lever, and the sight of the highest form of manhood is the instrument by which the world is to be converted--has been, is, will be.
III. INFERENCES. If this be, then, the substance of Christ’s teaching--bear much fruit; so shall ye glorify your Father--then I remark
1. That the growth of the Church is not by the numbers that are in it, but by the graces, the beauty, variety and ripeness of Christian character. Whatever tends to make men, looking upon you, revere you, love you, whatever lifts their conception of your spiritual excellence, gives strength to the Church.
2. The courses which glorify God and make the Church rich are within the reach of everybody. There is an impression that the men who have great gifts, great knowledge, are the glory of the Church. No; it is the man who has the most fruit of the Spirit of God; and the qualities that constitute fruit are those that are open--to the child, to the ungifted, to the ignorant. Everybody knows, or may know, how to be gentle. Everybody knows how to use his tongue, not as a sword, but as an instrument of pleasure, profit, and instruction to other men. There be Christians that say, “I never speak in meeting; I can’t.” Very well, that is all right. To be dumb when you ought not to speak is a very good Christian grace. “But I am of very little account. I only wish I could pray as I hear brethren pray. I should be glad to rise in the meetings sometimes; but I know nobody wants to hear me.” You are not fit to exhort; and nobody wants to hear you explain Scripture; but if God has brought you out of sorrow, and you have a word of testimony as to how in some gracious hour the heavens cleared, and your soul was lifted on high, then you will be listened to with interest. No eloquence is like that of a fact of soul experience. The power of the Church lies not in its ordinances, not in its creed, but in the life of its members. It is not a declaration that creeds or organizations are valueless. A fence is a very good thing on a farm for the sake of the crops that grow inside of it; but there are any number of Christian farms that have high fences, and that have not a thing growing in them but weeds.
3. God saves by few rather than by many. One single electric light in a hall is better than five hundred candles. So one glowing and eminent Christian life is better than a whole church full of tolerable Christians; and usually I think it will be found that in the activities of the Church it is the few and not the many that give it quality, influence, power. I do not think there is anything on earth more beautiful than a vine. But some Christian vines have not a solitary grape on them. They are empty vines. But there are some that have two or three clusters, here and there. There are one or two things which they do that are conspicuous and excellent; how many Christians are there whose branches are loaded with the choicest fruit, that fills the air with its aroma, and delights the eye, and much more the tongue, if one be privileged to pluck and eat? “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.”
4. Faith in Christ is like faith in any master. If one, conscious of ignorance in music, goes to some celebrated pianist to take lessons, he has faith in him, showing it by the fact that he accepts him as a teacher, and then puts forth all his exertions to do the thing he is taught to do. If a man goes to some great master to study art, he has faith in him. Knowing what his reputation is he betakes himself to his instruction, and attempts to develop form, grouping, colour, sentiment. Now faith in Christ consists in putting yourself into His hands, that you may be what He was--you according to the measure of your nature what He was according to the measure of His nature. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Put on the graces that made Jesus Christ preeminently the Man of all time--the God-man; and whoever accepts Christ, and every one of all the attributes then eventuated in His life, has faith in Him.
5. The tendency to judge of revivals is, I am afraid, becoming more materialized. Men glorify God that a great outpouring of His Spirit has filled the Churches. With what? Some rivers, when they come down in freshets in spring, bring sand, and destroy the meadows over which they spread themselves; while some bring loam, and refresh all the meadows where the detrius settles down, increasing the soil. And a revival is beneficial not by the number of persons supposed to be converted, but by the quality of the conversion they have gone through. The boy preacher, Harrison, informed me that there were twenty-six hundred persons converted in one city where he was. Twenty-six hundred gardens of the Lord! Well, I would like to see those gardens. I would like to see what they bring forth. If they simply say they are in the Church, and have a through ticket paid up to heaven, and go back and live just as they always have lived, I do not very much esteem that; but if there could be twenty-six hundred persons that break out with the blossom and fruit of the Lord’s garden in their hearts, and they could all be brought into the Church in one company, the millennium would be the next step, right outside the door. Communities could not stand such a cloudburst as that. (H. W. Beecher.)
As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you
The principle of Divine love constitutes the essence of true religion.
Upon the golden link of love hangs not only the gospel, but also the law and the prophets. Meditate
I. Upon THE MAGNITUDE OF CHRIST’S LOVE TOWARD US. The love of Christ to us may be regarded as resembling the love of God to His Son.
1. As to its strength. The intensity of the love of Christ may be fairly exhibited by human affection; yet the Saviour’s love is infinitely stronger than all human love combined.
2. In its freeness.
3. In its durability.
4. In its harmony with all the trials and sorrows of earth.
II. THE CLAIMS CHRIST’S LOVE HAS UPON US. “Continue,” etc. It should be realized and manifested.
1. The fact that Jesus loves us should be realized believingly.
2. It should be realized joyfully.
3. Should prompt us to manifest our love to Him in return. (G. Philips.)
The Divine measure of love
1. In John’s Gospel we have God’s love to man, and in his Epistles man’s love to God.
2. Each of the apostles had his mission--Paul to expound the Divine decrees, James to hoist the standard of Christian duty, John to proclaim Divine love. So the first propagators of Christianity represented the various phases of Christ’s character.
3. In his treatment of love John elevated it. The poet, historian, dramatist, found it the most inspiring subject. But alas! the Divine passion which left the portals of immortality whiter than snow was dragged through the culverts of human debasement; but John took it to the foot of the cross, where its stains were cleansed, and led it back to the gate of heaven whiter than before.
I. THE DECLARATION. “As the Father,” etc. This was
1. Old love. The question of Pharaoh is of frequent occurrence, “How old art thou?” The historian asks it of the archives of nations, the antiquarian of ancient monuments, the geologist of primaeval formations. Nature is venerable and has a calendar which contains this record, “In the beginning God created the heavens,” etc.; but the date when He began to love the Son is not there. Of the old things of life, old friendship is the sweetest. You say “These are very old friends of mine.” After an absence of years with what a hearty shake of hands old friends greet each other! But the oldest began to love; Christ’s is an everlasting love.
2. Great love. If God so loved the world of imperfect beings how intense His love to His Son must have been; and Christ is fuller of love to us than the sun is of light, or the sea of water.
3. Enduring love (Zec 3:17; John 13:1).
II. THE ADVICE. “Continue,” etc. Christ’s love is
1. The source of Christian discipleship. The followers of Christ were many, and were actuated by a variety of motives; some because of the loaves and fishes, some out of admiration, some out of sympathy, some because of His irresistible charm. But how quickly these sources of attraction dried up! There are many religious influences at work, but only one abides today. During winter and spring the rills overflow their beds, and the villagers have no need to go far for water; but when summer comes all these cease flowing. The village well, however, is inexhaustible. Religious life has its rills, but the fountain is Jesus. Young converts should take heed to the word “abide.”
2. The only sphere is which the Christian should turn. “Love one another, so shall ye be My disciples.” Christians strive hard to love one another and fail. The only secret of success in this direction is to love Christ.
3. The only condition of safety. Behold the helpless babe. Its safety is not in its own strength, but in its mother’s love. A mother once said about her youngest son, “I am not afraid of his going astray; he is so fond of home.” Do you want to be safe? Abide in Christ’s love. A mother begged her daughter to stay at home one day; she refused, and embarked on the ill fated Princess Alice, and was lost. Young Christian, allow the pleasureboats of sin to pass by, and stay at home in Christ’s love. (T. Davies, Ph. D.)
Christ’s love for His disciples
I. IS LIKE THE LOVE THE FATHER HAS FOR HIM. No being in the universe is so dear to the Infinite heart as Christ; yet
1. As really as the Father loved Him He loves us. The reality of the Father’s love for Him was a grand reality attested by His own consciousnesss. He could not doubt it. It was proved to Him in a thousand ways, in every faculty and fact of His life. But not less really did He love His disciples. His love for them was a mighty, ever operating force within Him.
2. As disinterestedly. The Father’s love for Christ was absolutely and spontaneously unselfish, so was Christ’s love for His disciples. There was nothing in them to merit His affection, nothing in them to render Him more glorious or more happy.
II. IS PERPETUATED BY OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMANDS. “If ye keep My commandments,” etc. How does Christ retain the love of His Father? By working out His will. It would seem as if the Father’s love, great though it be, would wane and die if the Son ceased to obey. So with Christ’s love towards His disciples. Its continuance depends upon a practical fulfilment of His will. It seems almost a law of mind that love must work to live. If it remain in the mind merely as a sentiment or emotion, it will perish. The mother’s love is kept alive by working for her children. When the work ceases the maternal affection wanes. If we would keep the love of Christ strong in the heart we must keep His commandments. No emotion of the soul will strike root, live and grow, except as it is translated into acts. Love only lives in deeds.
III. YEARNS TO MAKE ITS OBJECTS HAPPY (John 15:11). It is the essence of love to glow with desires for the happiness of its object. See this in the unwearied services of parents, and in the countless efforts of genuine philanthropy. In Christ’s love for man this desire is unquenchable and ever operating. To make men happy was the grand object of His advent to earth. “I am come that ye might have life.” “He came to heal the brokenhearted,” etc. Christ wishes His disciples not only to be happy, but to be full of happiness. “That your joy may be full.” All saddening emotions are foreign to Christliness. Christliness is sunshine, music, rapture. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Abiding in love
The last of these verses shows that they are to be taken as a kind of conclusion of the parable of the vine. They have three words as their keynotes--love, obedience, joy.
I. THE LOVE IN WHICH IT IS OUR SWEET DUTY TO ABIDE. What shall we say about these mysterious and profound words? They carry us into the very depths of Divinity.
1. Christ here claims to be, in a unique fashion, the object of the Father’s love, and to be able to love like God. As deeply, purely, fully, eternally, and with all the unnameable perfectnesses which must belong to the Divine affection, does Christ declare that He loves us.
2. In this affection He exhorts us to abide. The command to abide in Him suggests much that is blessed, but to have all that mysterious abiding in Him resolved into abiding in His love is infinitely tenderer, and draws us still closer to Himself. What is meant is not our continuance in the attitude of love to Him, but rather our continuance in the atmosphere of His love to us. But then, whosoever thus abides in Christ’s love to Him will echo it back again in an equally continuous love to Him.
3. This continuance is a thing in our power since it is commanded. What a quiet, blessed home that is for us! The image, I suppose, that underlies dwelling in Christ, in His joy, in His words, in His peace, is the image of some safe house in which we may be secure.
II. THE OBEDIENCE BY WHICH WE CONTINUE IN CHRIST’S LOVE. The analogy, on which He has already touched, is still continued. “If ye keep My commandments,” etc. Note
1. That Christ here claims for Himself absolute and unbroken conformity with the Father’s will, and consequent uninterrupted and complete communion with the Father’s love. It is the utterance of a nature conscious of no sin, of a humanity that never knew one instant’s film of separation between Him and the Father. No more tremendous words were ever spoken than these.
2. Christ here, with His consciousness of perfect obedience and communion, intercepts our obedience and diverts it to Himself. He does not say, “Obey God as I have done and He will love you;” but He says,
“Obey Me as I obey God and I will love you.” Who is this that thus comes between the child’s heart and the Father’s? Does He come between? or does He rather lead us up to the Father, and to a share in His own filial obedience?
3. By keeping His commandments, we shall continue in that sweet home and safe stronghold of His love.
(1) Of course the keeping of the commandment is something more than mere outward conformity by action. It is the inward harmony of will, and the bowing of the whole nature.
(2) He will love us better the more we obey His commandments, for although His tender heart is charged with the love of pity and of desire to help towards all, He cannot but feel a growing thrill of satisfied affection towards us, in the measure in which we become like Himself.
(3) The obedience which we render for love’s sake will make us more capable of receiving, and more blessedly conscious of possessing, the love of Jesus Christ. The lightest cloud before the sun will prevent it from focussing its rays to a burning point on the convex glass. And the small, thin, fleeting, scarcely visible acts of self-will that sometimes pass across our skies will prevent our feeling the warmth of that love upon our shrouded hearts. You cannot rejoice in Jesus Christ unless you do His will. You will have no real comfort and blessedness in your religion unless it works itself out in your daily lives.
(4) We shall continue in His love by obedience, inasmuch as every emotion which finds expression in our daily life is strengthened by the fact that it is expressed. The love which works is love which grows, and the tree that bears fruit is the tree that is healthy and increases.
4. So, note how all these deepest things of Christian teaching come at last to a plain piece of practical duty. We talk about the mysticism of John’s Gospel, about the depth of these last sayings of Jesus Christ. Yes! They are mystical, they are deep, but connected by the shortest possible road with the plainest possible duties. It is no use talking about communion with Jesus Christ, and abiding in Him, the possession of His love, and all those other properly mystical sides of Christian experience, unless you verify them for yourselves by the plain way of practice.
III. THE JOY WHICH FOLLOWS ON THIS PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE (verse 11).
1. A strange time to talk of His “joy.” In half an hour he would be in Gethsemane. Was Christ a joyful Man? He was a man of sorrows. But it is said of Him, “Thou hast loved righteousness,…therefore God hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” Absolute surrender and submission in love to the beloved commands of a loving Father made Him, in spite of the baptism with which He was baptized, the most joyful of men.
2. This joy He offers to us. There is no joy to compare with that deep, solid, continuous sunshine which floods the soul, that is freed from all the clouds and mists of self and the darkness of sin. Self-sacrifice at the bidding of Jesus Christ is the recipe for the most God-like gladnesses. Our joy will remain if His joy is ours. Then our joy will be up to the measure of its capacity, ennobled, and advancing ever towards fuller possession. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Continuing in Christ’s love
I. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH THE PRECEPT IS BASED. “As the Father hath loved Me,” etc. The particle “as” of course does not indicate equality, but similitude; and even the similitude indicated is not absolute. From the very nature of the objects--the one, the Son--infinite--the other, Christians--finite--the love borne by the Father to the Son must, both in natureand degree, exceed the love which the Son bears to His people; and there is at least one point in which there is not resemblance, but strong contrast. Like the love of the Father to the Son, the love of the Son to His elect ones is
1. Unbeginning. There never was a period when the Father began to love His Son. The only begotten Son was, from eternity, in the Father’s bosom Proverbs 8:22-23; Proverbs 8:30). In this respect the Son loved His chosen people, predestinated, as they were, in Him before the foundation of the world. There was a time when they did not love Him--for they did not exist; at a time when, though they might have loved Him, they did not--they would not; but there never was a time when He did not love them.
2. Infinite. The excellences of the Son, which are the ground of the Father’s love, are infinite; and so is--so must be--the Father’s love. The love of the Son to His people cannot be, in this sense, infinite; but we can set no bounds to it.
3. Active. How it manifested itself when there was nothing but Deity in the universe, we cannot tell. The declaration in reference to one of the economies is true of them all. “The Father loveth the Son, and”--i.e., therefore--“He hath put all things into His hand.” The love of the Son to His people is also active. It has proved itself stronger than death. Whether we fix our minds on the value of the innumerable blessings it bestows, or on the cost of these blessings to Him, surely we must say, this love has “a height and a depth, a length and a breadth, that passeth knowledge.”
4. Unchanged and unchangeable. Immutability is equally the attribute of the Father and the Son; and therefore it is impossible that there should be any change in the affection with which the one regards the other. In like manner does the Son love His people. He “rests in His love”--Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The invariableness of His love to them wants one of the foundations on which the invariable love of the Father to Him rests. He never changes; but they often do.
5. Unending. While the Father and the Son continue to exist, they must continue to regard each other with infinite love; and, as a token of His everlasting love, the Father has given the Son an everlasting kingdom. The love of the Son to His people is also everlasting, and proves itself in the bestowal of eternal blessings. But there is one point in which the contrast is as striking, as the resemblance. The love of the Father to the Son was richly merited. But as for the objects of the love of the Son, as creatures standing at an infinite distance from Him who is God over all, blessed forever, it would have been wonderful if the Son had loved man, in His best estate, as the Father loved Him (Psalms 8:4). But how much more does the contrast come out when we remember what they are. The Father’s love to the Son was love to dignity, moral beauty, innocence, excellence, perfection; but the Son’s love to men, fallen men, is love to the degraded, the deformed, the condemned, the (but for His love) hopelessly Romans 8:8).
II. THE DUTY ENJOINED. “Continue in My love,” or, as Jude has it, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” To continue in Christ’s love is to continue in cherishing those affections, and doing those actions, which are well-pleasing in His sight; and to continue in the enjoyment of an humble assurance, that He continues to regard us with complacential satisfaction. The subject teaches us
1. How we should regard official station or personal standing in the Church of Christ. We should regard it as the being made branches of the True Vine; as a token of the love of Christ. To be a minister or a member of the
Church is a far higher honour than to be a member or office bearer in the most distinguished literary or political societies in the world.
2. What is the duty of those who, through the love of Christ, have been placed in such circumstances. It is to continue in His love. The branch is put forth by the vine, or grafted into it, not for its own honour, but that it may grow, and blossom, and bring forth fruit, to the glory of the vine, and the vine dresser.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH COMPLIANCE WITH THE PRECEPT IS TO BE YIELDED. By keeping our Lord’s commandments, as He kept His Father’s commandments. The following may be considered as among the most comprehensive and important of our Lord’s commandments: Matthew 10:8; Matthew 10:8; Luke 12:15; John 13:34. Now, when a disciple, from regard to His Lord’s authority, and from love to His person, yields a cheerful habitual obedience to these commandments, he cannot but continue in His love. The eye of the Saviour cannot but rest complacently on him. And this is the only way in which a disciple can continue in his Master’s complacential love. When the Father manifested His love to His Son, by constituting Him His great agent in the restorative economy, He gave Him a commandment (Psalms 40:7-8). He fully conformed Himself to this law; and, in doing so, he continued in His Father’s love. Our obedience must have the same leading characters as our Lord’s had. His obedience was the obedience of
1. Love, and so must ours be.
2. In consequence of its being the result of love, it was cheerful. So we must run in the way of His commandments with enlarged hearts.
3. Universal--it extended to every requisition of the law. And in our obedience there must be no reserves, Do allowed omissions or violations.
4. Persevering. He was faithful to death, and it is He who endures to the end, that so continues in the Saviour’s love as to be saved.
IV. MOTIVES TO COMPLY WITH THE INJUNCTION. By continuing in Christ’s love, by keeping His commandments
1. You will be conformed to Him, four Lord and Master. Ought not the “disciple to be as His teacher,” etc. It is the great design of the Father of the whole family, that the younger members, the fanny brethren, should all be conformed to their elder brother.
2. You will minister to the Lord’s enjoyment. His joy in us will remain, if, keeping His commandments, we continue in His love (John 13:11). The disciple whom Jesus loved breathed the Spirit of Him on whose bosom he had been accustomed to lean, when he said, “I have no greater joy,” etc. (3 John 1:4) And Paul (Philippians 2:1-30). Our Lord had joy in His disciples, etc. Matthew 11:25) His joy in them was proportioned to the degree in which they were made holy, useful, and happy, through the influence of His word and Spirit.
3. You will promote your own happiness. While Christ’s joy in us remains, our joy in Him will be full. (J. Brown, D. D.)
Obedient love bringing fulness of joy
I. LOVE IN ITS BIRTH. Christ loved us first, and this was after the model of the Father’s to Him. It was, therefore
1. A free love.
2. An eternal love.
3. A deep and infinite love. To believe in, and to receive Christ’s love, awakens in our hearts reciprocal love to Him.
II. LOVE IN ITS CONTINUANCE. The law of continuance in love is obedience: obedience to Christ after the model of His obedience to the Father.
1. What are we to obey? The moral law which is Christ’s, and His special evangelical laws.
2. Why? Out of gratitude to Him, as the condition of His continued love to us.
3. How? As Christ obeyed God: cheerfully, heartily, unreservedly, even unto death. Thus will our love be sustained: not otherwise.
III. LOVE IN ITS FRUITION.
1. This obedience leads to fruitfulness in doing good to others--which pleases God.
2. It occasions joy to the soul that loves and obeys. Conclusions:
1. How to be happy? By loving Christ.
2. How to foster love to Christ? By diligently doing His commandments. (T. G. Horton.)
If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love
The condition of abiding in Christ’s love
What is implied in that keeping of His commandments, which is essential to abiding in His love?
The keeping of all those commandments of His
I. WHICH REFER TO THE MAINTAINING OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION WITH HIMSELF. He kept constantly all such commandments of His Father, and so continued in His Father’s love. If we would abide in Christ’s love, we must imitate Him and make an earnest use of the means of grace. There are those who neglect these, and thus plainly do not keep God’s commandments. There are others who do not quite neglect them, and yet do not use them as Christ’s commandments require, and therefore not so as to benefit by them.
II. WHICH REQUIRE US TO BE LIKE HIMSELF IN SPIRIT. We must seek after the wisdom, truthfulness, delicacy of feeling, purity of heart, disinterestedness, patience, humility, charity, piety, and all those other excellencies which were included in His perfection. What a number of people there are so engrossed in business that they can find no time for moral, or mental, or spiritual culture! Others, again, feel that Christ has claims upon them, and that they should be at work in His service; but they are not thoughtful, and do not realize how much of Christ’s work is inward, not outward. There is a great deal of so-called “doing good” which is very worthless and comes to nothing, because it does not flow naturally from real inward goodness. Be good and you will do good, without having to go out of your way to seek to do it.
III. WHICH REFER TO THE ORDINARY COMMON DUTIES OF DAILY LIFE--to the relationships in which we are placed by nature and Providence; and if we would continue in Christ’s love, we must be careful to obey these. The Christian life is to fill and beautify our whole existence. It is not by what a man does on special occasions in public, or to those who seldom come into contact with him, that you can form an accurate estimate of him, but by his daily ordinary life--by knowing what sort of son or brother he has been, or what sort of a husband he is. Love to Christ will show itself much better there than anywhere else. It is especially through these that God seeks to train into order and obedience, into nobleness and freedom, the souls of the children of men.
IV. WHICH POINT US TO A LIFE OF ACTIVE BENEFICENCE; and if we would continue in His love, we must do good to all men. Christ’s death for all men pledges us to the love of all men. To abide in the love of Christ, we must seek to lessen pain and suffering, ignorance and crime, wrong and injustice, and to make all to whom our influence can reach better and happier. Thus living in love to our brethren, for whom Christ died, we shall live in the love of Christ, who died for them as well as for us. (R. Flint, D. D.)
These things have I spoken unto you, that My Joy might remain in you
Christ’s things to make His disciples happy
A revelation of
HEAVEN (John 14:1-5) as
1. A Father’s house.
4. Taken to by Himself.
II. THE FATHER.
1. Christ tells them that they have a Father. That was the great want of their souls.
2. He tells them that those who have seen Him have seen the Father. All the love, faithfulness, tenderness, wisdom of the Father was in Him. Therefore they might trust Him.
III. The SPIRIT (John 14:12-31). He tells them that He would not leave them comfortless. The Spirit would
1. Give them power to do wonderful works.
2. Qualify them to pray successfully.
3. Abide with them forever.
IV. UNION WITH HIMSELF (John 15:1-11). He showed that this union was
3. Necessary. (R. V. Pryce, LL. B.)
The greatest of sufferers was the happiest of men. He exulted in the prospect of Gethsemane and the Cross.
I. HIS OWN JOY. It was the joy
1. Of uninterrupted communion with the Father (John 4:31-32).
2. Of accomplishing His Father’s will (Hebrews 10:7; Psalms 40:6; Luke 22:41).
3. Of anticipating the result of His great work (Isaiah 13:11; Hebrews 12:2).
II. THE BELIEVER’S PARTICIPATION IN THE JOY.
1. It is the Saviour’s joy. Is it possible to have this? Yes; we may partake of the joys of fellowship, obedience, hope. Present service is ours, and future victory will be.
2. It is a joy that may be full, or fulfilled. A man has joy as soon as he becomes a believer, but it is not filled up. Jesus wishes it to be, and puts into his hand a cup of joy which overflows. It is a paradox; but the Christian, though sorrowful, is always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:9-10; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:4).
3. It is a joy which none can take away (John 16:22). It is not in the power of the world to rob a Christian of his joy. (T. Stephenson.)
The sources of Christ’s joy
I. THE BEAUTY AND PERFECTION OF HIS OWN CHARACTER.
1. As an innocent child.
2. As a righteous man.
II. HIS EXQUISITE SENSE OF THE MEANING AND BEAUTY OF NATURE. No artist, or poet, or psalmist so revelled in the glories of creation. He might well do so; for He knew it with the knowledge not of a spectator or student, but of a Maker.
III. HIS TESTIMONY OF HIS FATHER, DECLARING HIS NAME AND WONDROUS LOVE. If a Newton cannot tell his discoveries without being overjoyed; if a reformer cannot but be enthusiastic about his mission, what must Christ have felt, whose work was to reveal the Father?
IV. HIS LIFE OF SERVICE AND SELF-SACRIFICE (Hebrews 12:3). (J. T.Stannard.)
Christ’s inner joy
I. ITS SOURCES.
1. The consciousness of the abiding presence of the Father. Harmony of Spirit with heaven.
2. The obedience and attachment of the disciples. Great is the joy of a tutor or parent when the scholar or child manifests proficiency and perseverence.
3. The beneficent effects of His working. It was His joy to take this up, and his meat to finish it.
4. The foresight of the working of His truth in the world, and its ultimate results. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” “He shall see of the travail of His soul.”
II. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. It was not like the joy of the world, which is often mere levity, never lasts, and is quenched by death.
2. It was
(1) A steady joy. All through His life, from His infancy to His Cross, we see calm joy and obedience.
(2) A joy in the prospect of death (Hebrews 12:3).
(3) A lasting joy, not variable, like that of many of us--grasping at the clouds one day, and the next in the depths of despair.
(4) A shared joy. He lived not for Himself, but for others. Those who seek to bless others are always the most happy.
III. ITS INFLUENCE. Strength-inspiring, health-giving. Sterne said every smile tends to lengthen out the fragment of our lives. No wonder, with this inspiration, the apostles became what they did. What manner of men ought we to be? (Homiletic Magazine.)
The fellowship of Christ’s joy the source of true blessedness
This saying is strange, because our idea of Christ is that of the man of sorrows. Only on one occasion are we told that He rejoiced. But the saying seems stranger still when we look at the circumstances under which it was uttered--in sight of the agony and the Cross. Then remember to whom it wasspoken: to men for whom He had predicted martyrdom.
I. WHAT WAS THE BLESSEDNESS OF CHRIST? Note
1. That the blessedness of the infinite God is essentially incomprehensible. The thought of God is necessarily the thought of One infinite and eternal, without limit or change. But we can only conceive of blessedness as a change from the less to the more blessed. We know the light by knowing the darkness, and joy only by its changes. We are obliged, therefore, to think of God as rejoicing in His world, and as rising to a higher gladness when He had peopled His universe with creatures. In these two contradictory thoughts, both of which we must think and yet cannot reconcile, lies the mystery of the ever blessed God.
2. In God revealed in Christ, the mystery is yet deeper. How, if one with the Infinite, could His joy ever fail? Why, if foreseeing the results of His mission, could He sorrow? But observing Christ on His human side, His blessedness as the God-Man must be in some measure comprehensible. He humanity was as perfect as His divinity, and the emotions of the human Christ we can partly understand; and this will lead us to a comprehension in part of His Divine joy.
3. The elements of His joy were two fold. It came, He tells us
(1) By keeping the Father’s commandments. It was the feeling that He did not live for Himself--that He existed as Man to reveal the full glory of eternal love, that every toil and sorrow were helping on the Divine plan for man’s redemption--that formed His joy.
(2) By abiding in the Father’s love. Men might desert Him--this never did. His human nature might tremble, but His eye pierced beyond the sorrow into the sunshine of the Divine law behind it, and that was a mighty joy. Hence His frequent hours of prayer.
(3) Combining these two elements, we may understand how it was that He spoke of it so soon after His Spirit was troubled. For His blessedness and suffering arose from one source: the doing of the Father’s will. The consciousness of complete self-surrender gave Him gladness; yet the surrender produced the sorrow.
II. CAN THAT JOY RE COMMUNICATED? We find the answer in the preceding verse. Like their Master, the disciples were to surrender life to be the organ of God’s will, and then the consciousness of His love would dawn. In a sense, joy and sorrow are incommunicable. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness,” etc. But they are communicable just as we are one in sympathy and purpose with a friend. I know nothing of the joy of a stranger; but I do know the joy of a man with whom I am bound by the deep sympathies of love. So to enter into Christ’s joy we must become Christ-like. Amid anxiety and sorrow, a man first gives up his all to God; and amid His suffering there flashes the conviction, “God loves me,” and there steals over his heart a blessedness which is the joy of the Lord.
III. THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST’S BLESSEDNESS IS THE ONLY SOURCE OF PERFECT JOY. Perfect joy has two conditions.
1. In its source it must be self-surrender to the highest love. All inward discord destroys joy, and that discord only ceases when a man loses the thought of self in devotion to something he regards as greater. The man who toils for wealth is never satisfied, because in the pursuit he is trying to lose the sense of self. The pleasure seeker plunges into every excitement that will drown reflection. The ambitious man loses the thought of self in the intense yearning for future achievement. In fine, man pants for the Infinite--for a boundless something to which he may yield his heart and be conscious of himself no more. This explains the idea of final absorption into the Deity, and the belief in the eternal sleep of death. But fellowship with the eternal joy of Christ furnishes the only anodyne to the unresting sense of self.
2. Real enjoyment must be independent of outward changes. The longing to attain a state of life superior to the accidents of time and change shows this. The wisest men have spoken of following the right, in the face of all consequences, as the source of the highest joy. The fellowship of Christ’s joy gives this. It gave it to Paul, who was enabled there by to glory in infirmity. Even death, which damps the joy of all other men, consummates the blessedness of those who, through fellowship of life, are partakers of the joy of Christ. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The abiding joy
I. ITS SOURCE. “These things have I spoken unto you.” He referred them especially to what He had just said. Union with Christ. “I am the Vine,” etc.
1. To be one with Christ is to enjoy the peace of God.
2. To be one with Christ is to walk in the right path--the path of truth, virtue, and honour. He is the Way.
3. To be one with Christ has its prospects. The crown is beyond the Cross. “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you.”
II. ITS CONTINUANCE. “That My joy may remain in you.” The promise implies a state of heart which is never without sources of joy. Christians are subject to natural and moral grief; but when the clouds obscure the light and make the atmosphere cold, the sun is, nevertheless, in the heavens. Christian joy is perpetual, because
(1) Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, without change. The streams never dry while the fountain is full.
(2) Intercommunion never fails. He has ordained means which are infallible. This is a bold saying; but as the sun cannot fail to give life, the promise cannot fail to give comfort, prayer cannot fail to bring the blessing, and the communion of saints cannot fail to generate love.
III. ITS EXPANSIVENESS--“That your joy might be full.” The growth of the child, or the increased light of the sun until the perfect day, or the journey of the pilgrims Zion-ward, represents the advancing state of grace.
(1) Full in respect of its object. We have only touched the hem of His garment as yet. As faith is turned into sight, our joy increases.
(2) Full in respect of the subject. It is possible only when all fear of sin and death is removed. “Rejoice evermore”; that is, rejoice on to rejoicing, for sources of anxiety are left behind, and you and Christ are one. (Weekly Pulpit.)
The Christian’s joy
1. Jesus spoke these words to those who were about to be His representatives in the world. It was no easy mission on which He was sending them; but it was His will that they should go, not as soldiers on a forlorn hope, with the courage of despair, but in that holy joyous tone of spirit which means the courage of confident victory. And what He means for one set of disciples He means for all.
2. Note three elements of Christ’s joy.
I. HIS FILAL JOY. We are brought into the presence of it in chap. 17. Now it is His will that we should share the joy of sonship. We may do this by faith in His name and the possession of the Spirit of Adoption which He gives. What joy can equal that of even the greatest sufferer who trusts and delights in his Father in heaven?
II. THE JOY OF SERVICE. “I delight to do Thy will.” Even beyond results, beyond the luxury of doing good, there is a joy in the very serving itself. To gather the wanderers, to win the young, to alleviate suffering, drives away a thousand black thoughts, and fills the individual heart and the Church with joy. What a joyful ring there is in “Neither count I My life dear unto Myself, that I might finish My course with joy.” The self-same joy is open to us. Instead of being self-seekers, let us simply ask, “What is the will of God for me?” The narrow, dissatisfied, unhappy, will find their cure here.
III. THE SAVIOUR JOY. There are many passages in which this comes into view--e.g., when Jesus saw the poor and lowly gathering around Him, He “rejoiced in spirit”; and then, when the publican and sinner drew near, He likened Himself to the shepherd, who in rescuing the lost sheep, called his friends together, saying, “rejoice with me.” This is the joy for which He endured the Cross and despised the shame. Now He will have all Christians share in that very joy, and be glad in the fruits of the travail of His soul. (J. Culross, D. D.)
The nature and sources of Christian joy
This Divine joy is planted in the soul by the Holy Spirit. It is therefore an inward and spiritual joy; it is deep-rooted in the heart; it is solid and well founded; it is abiding and lasting; it is a satisfying joy, and purifying in its effects. It is a joy that flourishes most in adversity. It is a communicative joy. A man has not tasted what religion is if he does not seek to impart this joy to others. It is the joy of communion with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a humble joy; but it causes a man “to triumph in Christ.” (R. Cecil, M. A.)
Happiness and joy
Christ enters the world bringing joy: “Good tidings of great joy.” So now He leaves it, bestowing His gospel as a gift of joy. This testament of His joy He also renews in His parting prayer: “These things I speak in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” “Man of sorrows” though we call Him, still He counts Himself the Man of joy. It is an impression that the Christian life is one of hardship and suffering: Christ, you perceive, has no such conception of it, and no such conception is true.
I. To clear this truth, it is necessary, first of all, to exhibit THE MISTAKE OF NOT DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN HAPPINESS AND JOY.
1. There is a distinction represented in the words themselves.
(1) Happiness is that which happens or comes by an outward befalling. It is what money yields, or will buy--settlement in life or rank, political standing, victory, power. All these stir a delight in the soul, which is not of the soul, but from without. Hence they are looked upon as happening to the soul, and, in that sense, create happiness. The Latin word “fortune” very nearly corresponds with the Saxon. For whatever came to the soul, bringing it pleasure, was considered to be its good chance, and was called fortunate.
(2) But joy differs from this, as being of the soul itself. And this appears in the original form of the word, which, instead of suggesting a “hap,” literally denotes a “leap” or “spring.” Here again, also, the Latin bad “exult”--a “leaping forth.” The radical idea, then, of joy is that the soul has such springs of life opened in its own blessed virtues, that it pours forth a sovereign joy from within. It is not the bliss of condition, but of character.
2. And we have many symbols of joy about us from which we might take the hint of a felicity higher than the mere pleasures of fortune or condition: the sportive children, too full of life to be able to restrain their activity; the birds pouring out their music, simply because it is in them. Precisely, too, history shows us the saints of God singing out their joy together in caves and dens of the earth, and the souls of martyrs issuing, with a shout, from the fires that crisp their bodies.
II. It is necessary, in order to a right conception of Christian joy, as now defined, that we discover HOW TO DISPOSE OF CERTAIN FACTS, WHICH COMMONLY PRODUCE A CONTRARY IMPRESSION.
1. Thus, when the Saviour bequeaths His joy to us, He lives a persecuted life, and passes through an agony to His death. Where, then, is the joy of which He speaks? To this I answer that He was a Man of sorrows in the matter of happiness; that is, in the outward condition of His earthly state; still He had ever within a joy, a spring of good, which was perfectly sufficient. Indeed, He reveals the victorious power of joy in the Divine nature itself; for God, in the contradictions of sinners, suffers a degree of abhorence and pain that may properly be called unhappiness; and He would be an unhappy Being were it not that the love He pours into their bosom is to Him a welling up eternally of conscious joy. And exactly so He represents Himself in the incarnate person of Christ. In His parable of the shepherd calling in his neighbours to rejoice with him over the sheep he has found, He opens the joy He feels as being that Shepherd. And then, how much does it signify when, coming to the close of His career, He says, glancing backward in thought over all He has experienced, “My joy,” bequeathing it to His disciples as His dearest legacy. What, then, does it signify of real privation or loss to become His follower!
2. But it requires, you will say, painful thought to begin such a life--sorrow, repentance, self-renunciation, and to pass through life under a cross. How can the Christian life be called a life of joy? It is not, I answer, in these things, taken simply by themselves. But consider what labours, cares, self-denials, all men have to suffer in the way of what is called success--in scholarships, e.g., and in war. Are these made unhappy because of the losses they are obliged to make? Are they not rather raised in feeling on this very account? But how is this? The solution is easy, viz., that the sacrifice made is a sacrifice of happiness, a sacrifice of comfort of condition; and the gain made is a gain of something more ennobling, a gain that partakes of the nature of joy. The man of industry and enterprise says within himself, These are not gifts of fortune; they are my conquests, tokens of my patience, economy, application, fortitude, integrity. In them his soul is elevated from within. And it will be found that even worldly men despise mere happiness. None but the tamest will sit down to be nursed by fortune. In such a truth you may see how it is possible for the repentances, sacrifices, self-denials, and labours of the Christian life to issue in joy.
III. THE POSITIVE REALITY ITSELF. We notice
1. The fact that, in a life of selfishness and sin, there is a wellspring of misery which is now taken away. No matter how fortunate the external condition of an unbelieving, evil mind, there is yet a disturbance, a sorrow within, too strong to be mastered by any outward felicity. The whole internal nature is in a state of discord. And this discord is the misery, the hell of sin. How much, then, does it signify that Christ takes away this? For Christ is the embodied harmony of God, and he that receives Him settles into harmony with Him. Just to exterminate the evil of the mind, and clear the sovereign hell which sin creates in it, would suffice to make a seeming paradise.
2. Besides, there is a fact more positive: the soul is no sooner set in peace with itself than it becomes an instrument in tune, discoursing heavenly music; and now no fires of calamity, no pains of outward torment, can for one moment break the sovereign spell of its joy.
3. But we must ascend to a plane that is higher. Little conception have we of the soul’s joy, or capacities of joy, till we see it established in God. It dares to call Him Father without any sense of daring. It is strong with His strength. It turns adversity into peace, for it sees a friendly hand ministering only good in what it suffers. In dark times it is never anxious, for God is its trust, and God will suffer no harm to befall it. To a mind thus tempered, fortune can add little, and as little take away.
4. The Christian type of character is a character rooted in the Divine love, and in that view has a sovereign bliss welling up from within. No power is strong enough to forbid love, none therefore strong enough to conquer the joy of love; for whoever is loved must be enjoyed. Besides, it is a peculiarity of love that it takes possession of its neighbour’s riches and successes, and makes them its own. Loving him, it loves all that he has for his sake. It understands the declaration well, “For all things are yours.” Having such resources of joy in its own nature, the word that signifies love, in the original of the New Testament, is radically one with that which signifies joy. According to the family registers of that language, they are twins of the same birth. Love is joy, and all true joy is love. And Christ is an exhibition to us of this fact in His own Person, a revelation of God’s eternal joy, as being a revelation of God’s eternal love, coming down thus to utter in our ears this glorious call, “Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” He finds us hunting after condition. He says, “Behold My poverty, watch with Me in My agony, follow Me to My Cross. Coming up into love, you clear all dependence of condition, you ascend into the very joy of God; and this is My joy. This I have taught you; this I now bequeath to your race.”
IV. SOME OF THE INSPIRING AND QUICKENING THOUGHTS THAT CROWD UPON US IN THE SUBJECT REVIEWED.
1. Joy is for all men. It does not depend on circumstance or condition; if it did, it could only be for the few.
2. The reason why men have it not is that they do not seek it where it is--in the receiving of Christ and the spirit of His life. They go after it in things without, not in character within.
3. It is important that we hold some rational and worthy conception of the heavenly felicity. How easy it is for the Christian, who has tasted the true joy of Christ, to let go the idea of joy and slide into the pursuit only of happiness or the good of condition. No getting into heaven as a place will compass it. You must carry it with you, else it is not there. Consider only whether heaven be in you now. For heaven is nothing but the joy of a perfectly harmonized being filled with God and His love. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The difference between worldly mirth and Christian joy
Mirth comes from external things which tickle the senses and please the appetite; but joy comes from the happy spirit within us. If this be so, a poor sickly man may not be full of mirth, but he may be full of joy; while a rich man may be sinful and mirthful, and yet have no joy. Mirth comes from outward things, and it therefore lasts only for a short time; but joy springs from an inward eternal force of blessedness. The other day, in London, a kind friend called at my hotel and left me a bouquet of beautiful flowers. I had them put in water, and I said, “I will take these flowers home with me”; but they faded, and the sweet perfume was gone; they were beautiful and fragrant only for a time. So mirth is pleasant while it lasts, but very soon it is gone like a dream; but the joy that comes from trusting God and doing His will has no end; it is an increasing eternal delight. What is more beautiful than a balloon rising in the sky? but what is more unsightly than the beautiful thing emptied and lying, an unshapely mass, upon the ground? Mirth may well be compared to fireworks. How grand they are! why, they put out the light of the stars! but, then, you know, when the fireworks have finished their explosive din, the stars keep on shining forever. Equally enduring shall be the joy of the believer and doer of God’s will; he shall be like a light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Let me remind you of the martyr, John Bradford. When the morning dawned on which he was to be put to death, he had such peace within him that he swung upon the rail of the bedstead in his dungeon, and while he swung he cried, “Oh, I am so happy! We shall light a fire today that will never be put out!” Then he went forth, Smiling and joyful, to the stake in Smithfield, glorifying God; and so he died. Can you find anything in sinful pleasure to give a joy like that? Will you find it in the intoxicating cup? In gambling? In any of the sinful indulgencies of life? No, no; they are not solid; they let you down at the critical moment when they ought to sustain you. You find that they give no help, and you are left alone like a boy on the ice when it gives way, and he cries for a friend and deliverer, and there is none. (W. Birch.)
This is My commandment, that ye love one another
The great commandment of Christ
THE LOVE OF CHRIST. Remember
1. How free it was. We did not merit it, ask for it, nor even desire it. And here is the wonder of it. It is love which found nothing to draw it forth. It was entirely self-moved. Disinterestedness then must be one main ingredient in the love we are to bear our fellow men. It is not to stop and ask, “Why should I love that man? What has he done for me?” That is a love like Christ’s, which rises up spontaneously. It does not wait to be bought or won.
2. How costly. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.” Moved by His grace, He paid for our redemption the price that His law demanded. And what a price! Oh to find a man who will break through any thing but the law of God for his fellow man! That is the man, who embodies this precept of our Lord; a self-denying man, one who even in his love is willing to take up his cross and follow Christ.
3. How compassionate and tender! In looking at its greatness, we often lose sight of this. But the softness of a mother’s love never equalled our Lord’s. Read His life. It is not here and there that His compassion comes out, it is everywhere. And this is the point in which the love of many real Christians is most deficient. Our neighbours want our hearts as well as our hands. There is ten-fold more sorrow in men’s minds, than pain in men’s bodies, or sickness and poverty in men’s houses. Would you show it mercy? Then carry a feeling heart through it. This will do more for the world’s comfort than the richest purse.
4. How bountiful! “No good thing will He withhold from us.” “Freely ye have received, freely give.” The measure of what our love is to do for others and give to others, is simply this, the measure of our ability to give and do. That is Christ’s standard in His love; it must be our standard in ours.
5. How extensive! It is discriminating. It took almost as many forms as love could take. The love of country was strong in Him, and the love of kindred and the love of friends. But then look, at the same time, at its extent. Who was excluded from it? His enemies? No, with His last breath He prayed for the very men who murdered Him. Or the world? There is not a guilty being on the wide earth whom He does not pity, and load daily with benefits. His love is like the sun in the heavens--they who are the nearest to it are warmed, and gladdened by it the most, but they who are the farthest off from it behold its light. And this is the unfailing character of all true Christian love. Worldly love is narrow, and generally becomes more so as we grow older. This is expansive. No one object can absorb it; no one house or family can hold it; no sect or party can confine it.
II. THE CHARGE OUR LORD GIVES US TO IMITATE HIM IN HIS LOVE.
1. There is a commandment in the case. It is remarkable that our Lord, who seldom uses this word on other occasions, uses it again and again in reference to this love. Here, you observe, is authority pressing down on us. We are to be without this love at our peril. We little think what we are doing when we keep back the helping hand or the pitying heart from a suffering brother. We are setting up once more for our own masters.
2. It is Christ’s commandment. He stamps it with His own authority. Viewed in this light, there is an appeal in this charge to our gratitude and affection. When our Lord calls it a commandment, He says, “Dread to dispise it;” and when He calls it His commandment, He urges us by His mercies towards us to obey it. And there may be a reference here to a custom of the times. Each of the different sects among the Jews had some particular tenet or practice to distinguish it. “Now I,” says our Lord, “fix on this as the mark and badge of My followers--mutual love. You shall be as well known by this love, as the priests of the Temple are by their garments, or the Roman soldiers by their standards.”
3. It is His last and great commandment. Herein He shows us
(1) The amazing tenderness of His own love. His love for them triumphs over every other feeling and desire.
(2) The importance in itself of this mutual love. Our all-wise Lord would not have spoken thus emphatically of a trifle. St. Paul says that this love is “the fulfilling of the law,” and “the end of the commandment.” Just so our Lord speaks of it (John 15:17). (C. Bradley, M. A.)
I. HAS THE HIGHEST MODEL. “As I have loved you.” How did Christ love?
1. Disinterestedly. There was not a taint of selfishness in His love. He looked for no compensation, no advantage.
2. Earnestly. It was an all-pervading, all-commanding passion. It was a zeal consuming Him.
3. Practically. It was not a love that slept as an emotion in the heart, that expended itself in words and professions; it was a love that worked all the faculties to the utmost, and led Him to the sacrifice of Himself. This is the kind of love we should have one toward another. This is the brotherly love that
(1) Unites Christ’s disciples together.
(2) Honours Christ.
(3) Blesses the world with the most beneficient influences.
II. FORMS THE HIGHEST FRIENDSHIP. “Ye are My friends,” etc.
1. It not only establishes a friendship, but a friendship between them and Christ. A true friendship between man and man is the greatest blessing on earth.
2. A friendship between man and Christ is the consummation of man’s well being. If Christ is my friend what want I more?
III. HAS THE HIGHEST SOURCE. “Ye have not chosen Me,” etc. We did not choose to love Christ first, but He chose to love us. His love to us generates our love to Him. He chose His first disciples from their worldly avocations and called them into His circle; this inspired them with His love. Men will never love one another properly until Christ sheds abroad His love in their hearts. He is to all His disciples what the sun is to the planets; around Him they revolve and from Him derive their life and unity. They are united one to another by the bonds that unite them to Christ.
IV. REALISES THE HIGHEST GOOD.
1. Spiritual fruitfulness. “Ordained you,” appointed you, “that ye bring forth fruit.” The fruit involves two things
(1) The highest excellence of character.
(2) The highest usefulness of life. Rendering others the highest service.
2. Successful prayer. “Whatsoever ye shall ask,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christians bound to love one another
I. THE DUTY.
1. Mutual love. There is a love which all men owe to all men. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: but the love which is the subject of our Lord’s precept, is obviously much more comprehensive in its elements, and much less extensive in its range, than this. It is the love of which none but a disciple can be either the object or the subject. Its component elements are esteem, complacency, benevolence, and its appropriate manifestations,--highly valuing each others’ Christian gifts and graces,--delighting in such association with each other as naturally calls forth into exercise all that is peculiarly Christian in the character,--defending each other’s Christian reputation when attacked,--sympathising with each other’s Christian joys and sorrows,--promoting each other’s personal Christian holiness and comfort.
and cordially cooperating with each other in enterprises calculated to promote the common Christian cause, the cause of God’s glory, and man’s improve ment and happiness.
2. Love like that of our Lord. “As I have loved you.”
(4) Fervent and copious.
(8) Considerate and wise.
(9) Generously confiding and kindly forbearing.
(12) Holy and spiritual.
II. THE MOTIVES.
1. The commandment of Christ. There is no duty which the apostles, more frequently, or more authoritively, enjoin. To enable us to form some estimate of the force of this motive we have only to propose and answer the question, Who is this who speaketh? This is a commandment which Christ claims as His own, in a peculiar sense; and it is addressed to a class who stand in a peculiar relation to Him.
2. The example of Christ. How did Christ love
(1) He was just about to give them the greatest proof of friendship which can be given. “Greater love hath no man than this,” etc.
(2) He had made them the objects of His peculiar complacent regard, as persons who were really desirous of doing whatever He commanded them. “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
(3) He had treated them as “friends,” by unfolding to them, so far as they were capable of apprehending it, the whole truth respecting the wonderful communication He had come from heaven to earth to make, and the wonderful work He had come from heaven to earth to perform--the economy of salvation. “Henceforth I call you not servants,” etc.
(4) He had selected them, and appointed them to a great, important, salutary work, their success in which was assured by all necessary assistance in it being secured in answer to believing prayer. “Ye have not chosen Me,” etc. (J. Brown, D. D.)
The Cross the means of perpetuating Christian love
The fire of charity is never extinguished, but will always be rekindled by the wood of the cross. (St. Ignatius.)
The oneness of the branches
The union between Christ and His disciples has been set forth in the parable of the vine. We now turn to the union between the disciples, which is the consequences of their common union to the Lord. There are four things suggested.
I. THE OBLIGATION.
1. The two ideas of commandment and love do not go well together. You cannot pump up love to order, and if you try you generally produce sentimental hypocrisy, hollow and unreal. Still we can do a great deal for the cultivation and strengthening of any emotion. We can cast ourselves into the attitude which is favourable or unfavourable to it. We can look at the subjects which will create it or at those which will cheek it.
2. This is an obligation
(1) Because He commands it. He puts Himself here in the position.
(2) Because such an attitude is the only fitting expression of the mutual relation of Christian men, through their common relation to the vine. However unlike any two Christian people are in character, culture, circumstances, the bond that knits those who have the same relations to Jesus Christ is far deeper, more real, and ought to be far closer, than the bond that knits them to the men or women to whom they are likest in all these other respects, and to whom they are unlike in this one central one. Let all secondary grounds of union and of separation be relegated to their proper subordinate place; and let us recognize this, that the children of one father are brethren. And do not let it be said, that “brethren” in the Church means a great deal less than brothers in the world.
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF LOVE.
1. Our Lord has been speaking in a former verse about the keeping of His commandments. Now He gathers them all up into one: the all comprehensive simplification of duty--love.
2. If the heart be right all else will be right; and if there be a deficiency of love nothing will be right. You cannot help anybody except on condition of having an honest and benevolent regard towards him. You may pitch him benefits, and you will neither get nor deserve thanks for them; you may try to teach him, and your words will be hopeless and profitless. As we read Corinthians 13--the lyric praise of charity--all kinds of blessing and sweetness and gladness come out of this.
3. And Jesus Christ, leaving the little flock of His followers in the world, gave them no other instruction for their mutual relationship? He did not talk to them about institutions and organizations, about orders of the ministry and sacraments, or Church polity. His one commandment was “Love one another,” and that will make you wise. Love one another and you will shape yourselves into the right forms.
III. THE PATTERN OF LOVE. “As I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this,” etc.
1. Christ sets Himself forward here, as He does in all aspects of human conduct and character, as being the realized ideal of them all. Reflect upon the strangeness of a man thus calmly saying to the whole world, “I am the embodiment of all that love ought to be.” The pattern that He proposes is more august than appears at first sight. A verse or two before our Lord had said, “As the Father hath loved Me so I have loved you.” Now He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
2. But then our Lord here sets forth the very central point of His work, even His death upon the cross for us, as being the pattern to which our poor affection ought to aspire, and after which it must tend to be conformed. That is to say, the heart of the love that He commands is self-sacrifice, reaching to death if death be needful. And no man loves as Christ would have Him love who does not bear in his heart affection which has so conquered selfishness that, if need be, he is ready to die. It is a solemn obligation, which many well make us tremble, that is laid on us in these words, “As I have loved you.” Calvary was less than twenty-four hours off, and He says to us, “That is your pattern!”
3. Remember, too, that the restriction which here seems to be cast around the flow of His love is not a restriction in reality, but rather a deepening of it. The “friends” for whom He dies are the same persons as the Apostle, in his sweet variation upon these words, has called by the opposite name when he says that He died for His “enemies.” There is an old wild ballad that tells of how a knight found, coiling round a tree in a dismal forest, a loathly dragon breathing out poison; and how, undeterred by its hideousness and foulness, he cast his arms round it and kissed it on the mouth. Three times he did it undisgusted, and at the third the shape changed into a fair lady, and he won his bride. Christ “kisses with the kisses of His mouth” His enemies, and makes them His friends because He loves them. “If He had never died for His enemies,” says one of the old fathers, “He would never have possessed His friends.” And so He teaches us, that the way by which we are to meet even alienation and hostility is by pouring upon it the treasures of an unselfish, self-sacrificing affection which will conquer at the last.
IV. THE MOTIVE. “As I have loved you.” The novelty of Christian morality lies here, that in its law there is a self-fulfilling force. We have not to look to one place for the knowledge of our duty, and somewhere else for the strength to do it, but both are given to us in the one thing, the gift of the dying Christ and His immortal love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Love the means of unity
In the early spring, when the wheat is green and young, and scarcely appears above the ground, it springs in the lines in which it was sown, parted from one another and distinctly showing their separation, and the furrows. But, when the full corn in the ear waves on the autumn plain, all the lines and separations have disappeared, and there is one unbroken tract of sunny fruitfulness. And so when the life in Christ is low and feeble, His servants may be separated and drawn up in rigid lines of denominations, and churches, and sects; but as they grow the lines disappear. If to the churches of England today there came a sudden accession of knowledge of Christ, and of union with Him, the first thing that would go would be the wretched barriers that separate us from one another. For if we have the life of Christ in any mature measure in ourselves, we shall certainly bare grown up above the fences behind which we began to grow, and shall be able to reach out to all that love the Lord Jesus Christ, and feel with thankfulness that we are one in Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Greater love hath no man than this.
Let us consider the unparalleled greatness of Christ’s love.
I. IN THE OBJECTS OF HIS REGARD.
1. In the vastness of their number. He, indeed, knows their number, but it is beyond all human calculation. We admire local charity and extended philanthropy; but the widest range of human benevolence falls far short of the love of Christ, which flows through all nature, worlds, and generations. We are apt to limit the range of this love; but the love of the Redeemer could not be satisfied with a less number than that which no man could number.
2. In the depth of their degradation. If we could fathom the bottomless pit, we might tell the depth of human depravity and degradation. In such objects there was nothing attractive, but everything repulsive. Their moral pollution was contracted by acts of aggression against this Redeemer.
3. In their utter helplessness. No human power could have subdued their depravity. No human mercy could have removed their guilt. No human arm could have rescued them from their degradation.
II. IN THE MAGNITUDE OF HIS SACRIFICES.
1. That which He relinquished. “Being in the form of God He made Himself of no reputation.” He threw aside His original glory. Human conception is inadequate to the greatness of this sacrifice.
2. What He assumed. He condescended to be made one of us. If a man, having the power, were to assume the nature and form of a beast to deliver the brute creation from the “groaning” to which they are subject by reason of man’s sin, that would be an admirable sacrifice; but there would be no parallel between it and the love of Christ in this respect.
3. That which He sustained. Our sorrows, infirmities, sins.
III. IN THE ACTIVITY OF HIS SOLICITUDES. He was not idle--He went about doing good. Mark
1. The intensity of His designs. He sought the salvation of strangers, aliens, enemies.
2. In the fervour of His zeal. In a thousand instances the spark of our desire is never fanned into the flame of zeal. It was not so with the Redeemer.
3. In the constancy of His exertions. He shrunk not back in the day of battle. Once, and once only, for a moment, His nature seemed to shrink from the violence of the storm, when He said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me!” But when His time was come, impelled by love, “He steadfastly set Himself to go to Jerusalem;” nay, He was “straitened” till His work was accomplished.
IV. IN THE DEPTH OF HIS HUMILIATION.
1. He stooped to the lowest grade of human society.
2. To be charged with the lowest crimes of human delinquency, thus bearing the reproach of His people.
3. To endure the vilest and most painful death that ever was inflicted on the lowest criminal. But though He died, He lives again: His love was stronger than death. He lives to execise it still; and we see its unparalleled greatness.
V. IN THE AMPLITUDE OF ITS BESTOWMENTS.
1. Upon the guilty unlimited pardon.
2. Upon the necessitous unlimited supplies.
3. Upon the redeemed unlimited glory.
VI. IN THE RICHES OF ITS ANTICIPATIONS. We anticipate
1. The absolute perfection of our intellectual and moral nature.
2. The uninterrupted enjoyment of the Redeemer’s presence.
3. The everlasting beatitudes of God himself.
1. What a ground of encouragement to the true penitent!
2. What a stimulus to the accepted believer!
3. What an aggravation of guilt is incurred by those who obstinately persist in sin! (J. Hunt.)
Love’s crowning deed
I. LOVE’S CROWNING DEED. There is a climax to everything, and the climax of love is to die for the beloved one. This is the ultima rule of love; its sails can find no further shore.
1. This is clear if we consider, that when a man dies for his friends, it proves
(1) His deep sincerity. Lip love is a thing to be questioned; too often is it a counterfeit. All are not hunters that blow the horn, all are not friends who cry up friendship; all is not gold that glitters, so it is not all love that feigneth affection. But we are sure he loves who dies for love.
(2) The intensity of his affection. A man may make us feel that he is intensely in earnest when he speaks with burning words, and he may perform many actions which may all appear to show how intense he is, and yet for all that he may but be a skilful player, but when a man dies for the cause he has espoused, you know that he is no superficial passion.
(3) The thorough self-abnegation of the heart. If I profess to love a certain person, and yet in no way deny myself for his sake, such love is contemptible. After all, the value of a thing in the market is what a man will give for it, and you must estimate the value of a man’s love by that which he is willing to give up for it. Greater love for friends hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for them. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.”
2. Death for its object is the crowning deed of love because
(1) It excels all other deeds. Jesus Christ had proved His love by dwelling among His people as their Brother, by participating in their poverty as their friend, by telling them all He knew of the Father, by the patience with which He bore with their faults, by the miracles He wrought on their behalf, and the honour which He put upon them by using them in His service; but none of these can for a moment endure comparison with His dying for them. These life actions of His love are bright as stars, but yet they are only stars compared with this sun of infinite love.
(2) It comprehends all other acts, for when a man lays down his life for his friend he has laid down everything else. Give up life, and you have given up wealth, position, enjoyment. Hence the force of that reasoning, “He that spared not His own Son,” etc.
(3) After a man has died for another, there can be no question raised about his love. Unbelief would be insane if it should venture to intrude itself at the cross foot, though, alas! it has been there, and has there proved its utter unreasonableness. Shame on any of God’s children that they should ever raise questions on a matter so conclusively proven!
II. THE SEVEN CROWNS OF JESUS’ DYING LOW. Men’s dying for their friends--this is superlative--but Christ’s dying for us is as much above man’s superlative as that could be above mere commonplace.
1. Jesus was immortal, hence the special character of His death. Damon is willing to die for Pythias; But suppose Damon dies, he is only antedating what must occur, for they must both die eventually. A substitutionary death for love’s sake in ordinary cases would be but a slightly premature payment of that debt of nature which must be paid by all. Jesus needed not die at all. Up there in the glory was the Christ of God forever with the Father everlasting. He came to earth and assumed our nature that He might be capable of death, yet His body need not have died; as it was it never saw corruption, because there was not in it the element of sin which necessitated death and decay. “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself,” etc.
2. In the cases of persons who have yielded up their lives for others they may have entertained the prospect that the supreme penalty would not have been exacted. Damon stood before Dionysius, willing to be slain instead of Pythias; but the tyrant was so struck with the devotion of the two friends that he did not put either of them to death. A pious miner was in the pit with an ungodly man at work. They were about to blast a piece of rock, and it was necessary that they should both leave the mine before the powder exploded; they both got into the bucket, but the hand above was not strong enough to draw the two together, and the pious miner, leaping from the bucket, said to his friend, “You are an unconverted man, and if you die your soul will be lost. Get up in the bucket as quickly as you can; as for me, if I die I am saved.” This lover of his neighbour’s soul was soared, for he was found in perfect safety arched over by the fragments which had been blown from the rock. But, such a thing could not occur in the case of our Redeemer. Die He or His people must, there was no other alternative.
3. He could have had no motive in that death but one of pure, unmingled love. You remember when the Russian nobleman was crossing the steppes in the snow, the wolves followed the sledge. The horses needed not the lash, for they fled for their lives from their howling pursuers. Whatever could stay the eager wolves for a time was thrown to them in vain. A horse was loosed: they pursued it, rent it to pieces, and still followed, like grim death. At last a devoted servant, who had long lived with his master’s family, said, “There remains but one hope for you; I will throw myself to the wolves, and then you will have time to escape.” There was great love in this, but doubtless it was mingled with a habit of obedience, a sense of reverence, and emotions of gratitude for many obligations. If I had seen the nobleman surrender himself to the wolves to save his servant, and if that servant had in former days sought his life, I could see some parallel, but as the case stands there is a wide distinction.
4. In our Saviour’s case it was not precisely, though it was, in a sense, death for His friends. Though He called us “friends,” the friendship was all on His side at the first. Our hearts called Him enemy, for we were opposed to Him. God commendeth His love to us in that while we were yet sinners in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
5. We had ourselves been the cause of the difficulty which required a death. There were two brothers on board a raft once, upon which they had escaped from a foundering ship. There was not enough of food, and it was proposed to reduce the number, that some at least might be able to live. They cast lots for life and death. One of the brothers was drawn, and was doomed to be thrown into the sea. His brother interposed and said, “You have a wife and children at home; I am single, and therefore can be better spared, I will die instead of you.” “Nay,” said the brother, “not so,” and they struggled in mutual arguments of love, till at last the substitute was thrown into the sea. Now, there was no ground of difference between those two brothers whatever. But in our case there would never have been a need for anyone to die if we had not been the wilful offenders; and the offended one, whose injured honour required the death, was the Christ that died.
6. There have been men who died for others, but they have never borne the sins of others; they were willing to take the punishment, but not the guilt. Those cases which I have already mentioned did not involve character. But here, ere Christ must die, it must be written--“He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin,” etc.
7. The death of Christ was a proof of love superlative, because in His case He was denied all the helps and alleviations which in other cases make death to be less than death. I marvel not that a saint can die joyously; for he sees his heavenly Father gazing down upon him, and glory waiting him. But ah, to die upon a cross without a pitying eye, surrounded by a scoffing multitude, and to die with this as your requiem, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!”
III. MANY ROYAL THINGS OUGHT TO BE SUGGESTED TO US BY THIS ROYAL LOVE. How this thought of Christ’s proving His love by His death
1. Ennobles self-denial.
2. Prompts us to heroism. When you get to the cross you have left the realm of little men: you have reached the nursery of true chivalry. Does Christ die?--then we feel we could die too. But mark how the heroic in this case is sweetly tinctured and flavoured with gentleness. The chivalry of the olden times was cruel. We want that blessed chivalry of love in which a man feels, “I would suffer any insult from that man if I could do him good for Christ’s sake.”
3. There seems to come from the cross, a gentle voice that saith, “Guilty sinner, I did all this for thee, what hast thou done for Me?” and yet another which saith, “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
A little child six years old, went out one autumn afternoon to play with a companion younger than himself, Johnnie Carr, the little hero whose name deserves to be written in gold, rambled about with his smaller playmate till the houses were left behind, and they were in the country. Presently they found that they had lost their way, and the night was coming on, cold and stormy. The younger child, chill and hungry, began to cry, and his brave companion cheered him on, now carrying him for a few steps, now anxiously searching for the way home. At last the night fell dark and cold, the children were lost, and lay down for shelter in a field. But the ground was wet and chilly, and the younger cried for home and his mother. Then Johnnie Carr, who was only six years old, remember, could not bear to see his playmate crying with the cold, and he stripped off his own jacket and made a bed for his companion, and placed the rest of his clothes to cover the child. Then, with only his shirt and socks, the little hero lay down beside him. Their childish prayers were said, and Johnnie Carr knew not that in his sublime act of self-sacrifice he had taken part in the mightier sacrifice of Jesus. When the morning came, the anxious friends, who had been searching through the night, found the children lying. The younger was soon restored to health and strength, but no care could save the life of the child-hero who had given himself for his friend. (H. J. W. Buxton)
The death of Christ our only stay
If the thought of sin, death, and judgment be so terrible, as in truth they are to every soul of man, on what shall we stay ourselves when our time is at hand?
I. UPON THE LOVE OF GOD, IN GIVING HIS SON TO DIE FOR US (John 1 John 4:10; Romans 5:8). Whatever be doubtful, this is sure. Light does not pour forth from the sun, with a fuller and directer ray than does perfect and eternal love overflow from the bosom of God upon all the works that He has made. The love of God is the sphere in which the world is sustained, every living soul is encompassed by that love, as stars by the firmament of heaven. And from this blessed truth flows all manner of consolation. Not only does God hate sin, but He hates death; not only does He abhor evil, but the peril and perdition of so much as one living soul--of one, even the least of all things He has made. The Lord hath sworn by Himself, saying (Ezekiel 18:32). What do we further need to assure us that He desires our salvation? Does a child bind his father by promises to give him bread, or a mother to foster him in sickness? Surely the character of God is enough. “God is love.” What more do we ask! What more would we receive? “He cannot deny Himself.” And therefore when He was “willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel,” He “confirmed it by an oath.” But for us God has done still more: He has, beside His promise, found a pledge to give us. He has given us “His only begotten Son.” He most abhors; and He gave Him to be ours in so full a right, that we might offer Him as our own in sacrifice for our sins.
II. THE LOVE OF THE SON IS GIVING HIMSELF FOR US. When we remember who He is that gave Himself, and for whom, and to die what death, we cannot find capacity of heart to receive it. If He had saved us by a new exertion of His creative will, it would have been a miracle of lovingkindness. If He had spoken once more the first words of power, and creating us again in light, it would have been a mystery of sovereign grace. If He had redeemed us by the lowliness of the Incarnation, still revealing Himself in majesty, though as a man, and lightening the earth with His glory, as Saviour, God, and King, it would have seemed to us a perfect exhibition of the Divine compassion to a sinful world. How much more when He came to suffer shame and sorrow, all that flesh and blood can endure, to sink, as it were, into the lowest depths of creation, that He might uplift it from its farthest fall? If He so loved us as to die for us, what will He not grant or do? If He gave His whole self, will He keep back any partial gift? Will He not save us, who Himself died for us? If He loved us when we loved Him not, will He not love us now that we desire to love Him again?
III. Christ’s death upon the cross is not only a revelation of Divine love to us; it is also a DIVINE ATONEMENT FOR OUR SIN. How it is so, we may not eagerly search to know. That by death He has destroyed “Him that had the power of death,” and taken away “the sin of the world,” is enough. In that death were united the oblation of a Divine person and the sanctity of a sinless man; the perfection of a holy will and the fulfilment of a spotless life; the willing sacrifice of the sinless for the sinful, of the shepherd for the sheep that was lost, of life for the dead. How this wrought atonement for the sin of the world we cannot say further than is revealed. God “made Him to be sin for us.” “He bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” “By His stripes we are healed.” “He hath tasted death for every man.” “There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” (Archdeacon Manning.)
Demonstration of friendship, Divine and human
I. CHRIST DEMONSTRATES HIS LOVE TO MAN BY DYING. Here He states
1. The utmost limit of human love. Nothing is felt by man to be more precious than his life. Everything he has he will sacrifice for this. A love that will lead to the sacrifice of this is love in its highest human measure.
2. Christ’s love transcended this limit, He laid down His life for His enemies. There is nothing in history approaching this. This transcendent love is
(1) The love of compassion. There could be neither gratitude nor esteem in it, for the subjects are all wicked.
(2) The love of disinterestedness. He had nothing to gain by it; for His glory and happiness admitted of no entrancement.
II. MAN DEMONSTRATES HIS LOVE BY OBEYING. Surely all men ought to love Christ, and when they do they will obey. This obedience will be marked by
2. Cheerfulness. When this love is obedience to Christ is the highest gratification of the soul. When the heart is enlarged it runs in the way of Christ’s commandments.
3. Entireness. Love does not sort duties, or weigh or measure them. Whatever the object wishes shall be done, even unto death. Conclusion: The subject
(1) Supplies the test of Christian piety. Christian piety is not ritualism, however becoming; not a theology, however Scriptural; it is obedient love to Christ.
2. Indicates the true method of preaching--to so exhibit Christ’s love as to awaken the love of human souls. (Swain.)
A friend’s love
During the Civil war in America, a farmer was drawn to be a soldier. He was much grieved about it, not because he was a coward, but on account of his motherless family, who would have no breadwinner or caretaker in his absence. The day before he had to march to the town where the conscripts’ names were called over, and their clothing and weapons given them for the campaign, young Mr. Durham, a neighbour, came, saying, “Farmer Blake, I will go instead of you.” The farmer was astonished so much so as to be unable to reply for some time. He stood leaning one hand on his spade and wiping the sweat from his brow with the other. It seemed too good to be true! At length he took in the deliverance, as if it were an angel of light in a dark dungeon, and he grasped the hand of young Durham and praised God. The young fellow went, feeling that he was doing a noble thing, and all the village came out and bid him “God speed.” It may be that he had “glory” before him--the sash of a general, the chair of the President. Whatever his ideas, he nobly took the place of his fellow man; but alas! in the first battle he was shot and killed! When the farmer saw in the newspaper the name of Charles Durham in the list of “missing,” he at once saddled his old horse and went off to the battlefield, and after searching for some time, found the body of his friend. He brought it to his village, to the little churchyard in which they had so often walked together to the house of God; and from the quarry up on the hill he cut out a plain marble tablet, on which he carved an inscription with his own hand. It was roughly done, but with every blow there fell a tear from his eyes. There, in the little churchyard, he placed the body of his devoted friend and substitute, and covered the grave with grass sods from his garden. Then, while his tears dropped, he put the marble tablet on the grave, and when the villagers stooped to see the little monument they also wept. It did not say much, but it really touched them; it said, “C.D. He died for me.” (New Testament Anecdotes.)
Ye are My friends if ye do whatsoever I command you
WHAT CHRIST’S FRIENDS DO FOR HIM (John 15:16). In the former verse, “friends” means chiefly those whom He loved. Here it means mainly those who love Him.
1. He lingers on the idea, as if He would meet the doubts arising from the sense of unworthiness, and from some dim perception of how He towers above them. How wonderful that stooping love of His is! Every form of human love Christ lays His hand upon. “He that doeth the will of My Father, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” That which is even sacreder, the purest and most complete union that humanity is capable of, receives a new sweetness when we think of the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. And, passing from that Holy of Holies out into this outer court, He lays His hand on that more common and familiar, and yet precious and sacred, thing, the bond of friendship. The Prince makes a friend of the beggar.
2. This friendship lasts today. The pecularity of Christianity is the strong personal tie which binds men to this Man that died nineteen hundred years ago. We look back into the wastes of antiquity: the mighty names rise there that we reverence; there are great teachers from whom we have learned, and to whom we are grateful. But what a gulf there is between us and the best and noblest of them! But here is a dead Man, who today is the object of passionate attachment, and a love deeper than life to millions of people, and will be till the end of time.
3. There are no limitations in that friendship, no misconstructions in that heart, no alienation possible, no change to be feared. There is absolute rest for us there. Why should I be solitary if Jesus Christ is my Friend? Why should I fear if He walks by my side? Why should anything be burdensome if He lays it upon me, and helps me to bear it? What is there in life that cannot be faced and borne--aye, and conquered--if we have Him, as we all may have Him, for the Friend and the Home of our hearts?
4. But notice the condition, “If ye do what I command you.” Note the singular blending of friendship and command, involving on our parts absolute submission and closest friendship. For this is the relationship between love and obedience, in regard to Jesus Christ, that the love is the parent of the obedience, and the obedience is the guard and the guarantee of the love.
II. WHAT CHRIST DOES FOR HIS FRIENDS (John 15:15) The slave may see what his lord does, but he does not know his purpose in his acts. “Their’s not to reason why,” If the servant is in his master’s confidence he is more than a servant. But, says Christ, “I have called you friends”; and He calls them so before in act, and and He points to all His past relationship, and especially to the heart outpourings of the upper room, as the proof.
1. Jesus Christ, then, recognizes the obligation of absolute frankness, and He will tell His friends everything that He can. When He tells them what He can the voice of the Father speaks through the Son.
2. Of course, to Christ’s frankness there are limits. He will not pour out His treasures into vessels that will spill them. And though here he speaks as if His communion was perfect, we are to remember that it was necessarily conditioned by the power of reception on the part of the hearers.
3. That frank speech is continued today. By the light which He sheds on the Word, by many a suggestion through human lips, by many a blessed thought rising quietly within our hearts, and bearing the token that it comes from a sacreder source than our poor, blundering minds, He still speaks to us, His friends.
4. Ought not that thought of the utter frankness of Jesus make us for one thing very patient of the gaps that are left in His communications and in our knowledge? There are so many things that we should like to know. He holds all in His hand. Why does He thus open one finger instead of the whole palm? Because He loves. A friend exercises the right of reticence as well as the prerogative of speech. “Trust Me! I tell you all that is good for you to receive.”
5. And that frankness may well teach us the obligation of keeping our ears open and our hearts prepared to receive the speech that comes from Him. Many a message from your Lord flits past you like the idle wind through an archway, because you are not listening for His voice. If we silenced passion, ambition, selfishness, worldliness, if we took less of our religion out of books and from other people, and were more accustomed to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High,” and to say, “Speak, Friend, for Thy friend heareth,” we should more often understand how real today is the voice of Christ to them that love Him.
III. HOW CHRIST’S FRIENDS COME TO BE SO AND WHY THEY ARE SO (John 15:16)
1. In all the cases of friendship between Christ and men, the origination and initiation come from Him. “We love Him because He first loved us.” The apostle said,” I was apprehended of Christ.” It is because He lays His seeking and drawing hand upon us, that we ever come to love Him. His choice of us precedes our choice of Him. The Shepherd always comes to seek the sheep that is lost. We come to be His friends: because, when we were enemies, He loved us, and gave Himself for us, and ever since has been sending out the messengers of His love to draw us to His heart.
2. And the purpose is two fold
(1) It respects service or fruit. “That we may go.” There is deep pathos and meaning in that word. He had been telling them that He was going; now He says them, “You are to go! We part here. My road lies upward; yours runs onward. Go into all the world.” “That ye may bring forth fruit.” “Keeping His commandments” does not explain the whole process by which we do the things that are pleasing in His sight. We must also take this other metaphor of the bearing of fruit. There must be the effort; for men do not grow Christlike in character as the vine grows its grapes, but there must be, regulated and disciplined by the effort, the inward life, for no mere outward obedience and tinkering at duties and commandments will produce the fruit that Christ desires and rejoices to have. “That your fruit should remain.” There is nothing that corrupts faster than fruit. There is only one kind of fruit that is permanent, incorruptible. The only life’s activity that outlasts life and the world is the activity of the men that obey Christ.
(2) It respects the satisfying of our desires, that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name He may give it you.” Make your desires Christ’s, and Christ’s yours, and you will be satisfied.
IV. THE MUTUAL FRIENDSHIP OF CHRIST’S FRIENDS (John 15:17) This whole context is enclosed within a golden circlet by that commandment which appears in John 15:12, and reappears here at the close, thus shutting off this portion from the rest of the discourse. Friends of a friend should themselves be friends. We care for the lifeless things that a dear Friend has cared for. And here are living men and women, in all diversities of character and circumstances, but with this stamped upon them all--Christ’s friends, lovers of and loved by Him. And how can we be indifferent to those to whom Christ is not indifferent? We are knit together by that bond. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The friends of Jesus
There is no title surely that excels in dignity that which was worn by Abraham, who was called “The friend of God.” Lord Brooke was so delighted with the friendship of Sir Philip Sydney that he ordered to be engraved upon his tomb nothing but this, “Here lies the friend of Sir Philip Sydney.” There is beauty in such a feeling, but yet it is a small matter compared with being able to say, “Here lives a friend of Christ.”
I. Note--WHAT OBEDIENCE CHRIST REQUESTS FROM THOSE WHO CALL THEMSELVES HIS FRIENDS. It must be
1. Active. “If ye do.” Some think it is quite sufficient if they avoid what He forbids.. Abstinence from evil is a great part of righteousness, but it is not enough for friendship. It would be a poor friendship which only said, “I am your friend, and to prove it, I don’t insult you, I don’t rob you, I don’t speak evil of you.” Surely there must be more positive evidence to certify friendship. In that memorable twenty-fifth of Matthew nothing is said about negative virtues; but positive actions are cited and dwelt upon in detail. Fine words, again, are mere wind, and go for nothing if not backed up with substantial deeds. Friendship cannot live on windy talk, it needs the bread of matter of fact.
2. Continuous. He does not say, “If you sometimes do--if you do it on Sundays, in your place of worship”; no, we are to abide in Him, and keep His statutes even unto the end.
3. Universal. “Whatsoever.” No sooner is anything discovered to be the subject of a command than the man who is a true friend of Christ says, “I will do it,” and he does it. He does not pick and choose which precept he will keep and which he will neglect. The smallest command of Christ may often be the most important. Here is the proof of your love. Will you do the smaller thing for Jesus as well as the more weighty matter? The reality of your subjection to your Lord and Master may hinge upon seemingly insignificant points. A servant might place the breakfast on the table, and feel that she had done her duty, but if her mistress told her to place the salt at the corner, and she did not, she would be asked the cause of her neglect. Suppose she replied, “I placed the breakfast before you, but a little salt was too trifling a matter for me to be troubled about.” Her mistress might answer, “But I told you to be sure and put out the salt cellar. Mind you do so tomorrow.”
4. To Christ Himself. Put the emphasis on the I. We are told to do these things because Jesus commands them. Does not the royal person of our Lord cast a very strong light upon the necessity of obedience?
5. Out of a friendly spirit. Obedience to Christ as if we were forced to do it under pains and penalties would be of no worth as a proof of friendship. He speaks not of slaves, but of friends.
II. THOSE WHO DO NOT OBEY HIM ARE NO FRIENDS OF HIS. A man who does not obey Christ
1. Does not give the Saviour His proper place, and this is an unfriendly deed. If I have a friend I am very careful that, if he has honour anywhere, he shall certainly have due respect from me.
2. Is not of one mind with Christ. Can two walk together except they be agreed? Christ is for holiness, this man is for sin.
3. He may be a very high and loud professor, and for that reason be all the more an enemy of the Cross. Through the inconsistent conduct of our Lord’s professed friends, His cause is more hindered than by anything else.
4. A disobedient friend would be a great dishonour to Christ. A man is known by the company he keeps.
III. THOSE WHO BEST OBEY CHRIST ARE ON THE BEST OF TERMS WITH HIM.
1. You cannot walk in holy converse with Christ unless you keep His commandments.
2. Some Christians will never get into full fellowship with Christ because they neglect to study His word and search out what His will is. Half the Christian people in the world are content to ask, “What is the rule of our Church?” That is not the question: the point is, “What is the rule of Christ?” Some plead, “My father and mother before me did so.” I sympathize in a measure with that feeling; but yet in spiritual things we are to call no man “father,” but make the Lord Jesus our Master and Exemplar. Take your light directly from the sun. Let holy Scripture be your unquestioned rule of faith and practice.
3. Under all the crosses, and losses, and trials of life, there is no comfort more desirable than the confidence that you have aimed at doing your Lord’s will. Losses borne in the defence of the right and true are gains. Jesus is never nearer His friends than when they bravely bear shame for His sake.
IV. THE MOST FRIENDLY ACTION A MAN CAN DO FOR JESUS IS TO OBEY HIM.
1. Rich men have thought to do the most friendly act towards Christ by building a church, or founding almshouses or schools. If they are believers, and have done this thing as an act of obedience to Christ’s law of stewardship, they have well done, and the more of such munificence the better, but where splendid benefactions are given out of ostentation, or from the idea that some merit will be gained by the consecration of a large amount of wealth, the whole business is unacceptable. Jesus asks not lavish expenditure, but ourselves. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
2. Others have imagined that they could show their friendliness to Christ by self-mortification. Jesus Christ has not demanded this as the gauge of friendship. He says, “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you,” but He does not command you to starve, or to wear sackcloth, or to shut yourselves up in a cell, pride invents these things, but grace teaches obedience.
3. Certain persons have thought it would be the noblest form of holy service to enter into brotherhoods and sisterhoods. But assuredly in the
New Testament you shall find no foreshadowing of Franciscans and Dominicans. All godly women were sisters of mercy, and all Christlike men were of the society of Jesus, but of monastic and conventual vows we read nothing.
4. Some think it a very friendly act towards Christ to attend many religious services in a consecrated building. They are at matins, and vespers, and feasts and fasts without number. Ye are Christ’s friends, if ye do whatsoever He commands ye: that is a better test than early communion or daily mass.
5. It comes to this, that we must steadily, carefully, persistently, cheerfully, do the will of God from the heart in daily life, from the first waking moment till our eyes are closed. Say concerning everything, “What would Jesus have me do about this? What is the teaching of Christ as to this?” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
A Christian--Christ’s friend
If we are friends of Christ
I. WE SHALL BE FREQUENTLY THINKING OF HIM. His image will be often in our minds. Almost all remarkable occurrences, at least, will suggest Him, in one way or another, to our hearts. In common life you could scarcely be regarded as being a warm-hearted friend of that man, of whom there had not been a single thought in your mind during the course of the day. And, yet, are there not a few in our churches who, from one Sabbath to another, have their thoughts wandering in every direction but toward Christ.
II. WE SHALL SEEK HIS COMPANY, and embrace opportunities of meeting with Him. When, and where do we find Him?
1. In the reading of the Word.
2. In prayer.
3. At the prayer meeting.
4. At His own house, amid the ordinances of the Sabbath.
5. In His sacraments. How easy, then, is the application of the test?
III. WE SHALL READ WITH INTEREST THE LETTERS HE SENDS US AND DELIGHT IN CORRESPONDING WITH HIM IN RETURN. On being asked, When you heard from an attached friend? were you to reply, “Some days ago, but! have not yet found leisure to open and read it”--what would be the inference? Well, is not the New Testament literally an epistle which Christ has sent us? And ought not a Sabbath’s sermon to be waited on expectantly as containing some message from Him? And is not the return of correspondence on our part exemplified specially by prayer? How, then, do our professions of friendship for Him stand this test?
IV. WE SHALL HAVE RECOURSE TO HIM FOR SYMPATHY AND HELP IN SEASONS OF AFFLICTION. Friendship is often manifested and proved better by applying for aid than by bestowing it. If you have two friends of whom you cannot at present tell who is the more endeared to your heart--watch, when some Evil may befall you, and see whose image presents itself first to your mind. In applying these principles for the determination of the question of your friendship for Christ, observe, that there are two classes of evils, for deliverance from which you need friendly help.
1. Your sinfulness, with its two-fold evil of guilt and servitude. To whom, then, do you apply for deliverance? Now Jesus is the Friend of Sinners; and that, too, in the sense of His being “the only Mediator between God and man;” and in the sense of His taking the penitent by the hand, and leading him up to the throne of grace. Can that, then, be a friend of Christ, who, as He stands, inviting the guilty to come unto Him, passes Him by.
2. There are your temporal wants, difficulties and distresses. How many, who ween of themselves that they are good friends of Christ, have yet much of the lesson to learn of giving Him the dependence of their hearts, without exception or reserve!
V. WE SHALL BE THE FRIENDS OF HIS FRIENDS.
1. We will take a friendly interest in them, for His sake. I should feel there was a want of entireness in the friendship of that man who treated with negligence even the dog in which he saw I delighted.
2. For their own sakes, as bearing a resemblance to Him, and possessed of properties which we admire in Himself.
VI. WE WILL BE FRIENDS OF HIS CAUSE--interested in the welfare of His Church: will grieve for its losses; rejoice for its gains; plead for it, spend for it, work for it, and, if need be, suffer for it.
VII. WE SHALL NOT BE ASHAMED TO CONFESS HIM (Romans 5:5). There is nothing by which friendship, in common life, is better manifested, than by avowing yourself a friend of your friend. But
1. Friendship for Christ does not require that we be always obtruding on our company professions of love for Him, and His claims on their embracement of His cause.
2. When challenged and accused for your declared or suspected faith in Christ, by either the magistrate or the mob, though it might imperil your life to confess Him, it would imperil your salvation more to deny Him.
3. There are manners, customs, and fashions of the world which are inimical to Christ’s honour and interests, compliance with which His friends will refuse and resist.
VIII. WE SHALL BE SCRUPULOUS IN OBEYING HIS COMMANDMENTS. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)
The friendship between Christ and the believer
I. YOUR FRIENDSHIP IS SOUGHT BY JESUS CHRIST. That He might win it, He declares His own friendship. No matter how meanly you think of yourselves, there is One who seeks your friendship. Think who this One is. In His presence Socrates and Plato pale. The greatness of Alexander, of Hannibal, of Caesar, of Napoleon, of Washington is feeble indeed in comparison with His.
II. THE GROUND UPON WHICH THIS FRIENDSHIP CAN BE BUILT UP.
1. By mutual confidence. This is a law of friendship. To strengthen their confidence He reveals the secrets of His heart to His disciples. He makes confidants of them.
2. By gratitude. Christ says, “All is thine.” We answer back, “All that we have is Thine.”
III. THE FORMS OF THIS FRIENDSHIP.
1. Intercourse. We do not desire to be separated from our friends, but to be near them.
2. Remembrance. The human heart craves to be remembered. Is not this the meaning of tokens, even of the writing on gravestones? Friendship ministers to this want. It is met in the friendship of Christ. We are told that we are in His thoughts, that our very names are written on His hands. Is there anything more touching than Christ’s desire to be remembered by His disciples after He would be gone? At our communion seasons we comply with this desire of Christ.
3. Desire to please. Hence, if our friends are below us we sink to their level. If Christ is our friend, we rise to Him, and become more and more like Him. Hence, not anything tends to such purity of life as love for Christ.
4. Mutual care. Christ cares for us, for our interests, protects us, and we care for His interests. If, as a scientist, I am set for the defence of the law of gravitation, I arrange my arguments and endeavour to convince the understanding. But when our friend is attacked then it is that the lip quivers and the blood boils. When Christianity is assailed it is more to us than the assailing of a system of principles; the interests of our dearest Friend are involved, and we are ready to make any sacrifice, even to the laying down of our lives, in their defence.
IV. THE PROOF OF THIS FRIENDSHIP. Friendship does not spring from obedience, but obedience from friendship. What should we think of an admiral who would say, “I will take advantage of the fact that the President of the United States is my friend and will disregard his commands”? That would be unspeakably mean. The Christian does not presume on the friendship of Christ. That friendship holds him but the firmer to what is right. Note some of the characteristics of Christian obedience. It is
1. Active and positive. The best way to meet the importunities to do wrong is to be fully occupied. “I have a great work to do. Why should I come down?”
2. Cheerful. The Christian has the friendship of the most powerful and beat Being in the universe; why should he not be cheerful in his obedience to that One? What parent would wish to see his child surly in his obedience?
3. Without reserve: “whatsoever.” I know no earthly friend to whom I would say, “I will do whatsoever you command me.” (John Hall, D. D.)
Believers Christ’s friends
I. WHAT THIS PRIVILEGE IS IN THE GENERAL.
1. The friends of Christ, whereas naturally they were in a state of enmity with God, are now in a state of peace with Christ, and God through Christ Ephesians 2:14).
2. Whereas they had divided interests as to heaven, now there is an unity of interests betwixt Christ and them (1 John 1:3).
II. HOW THIS FRIENDSHIP IS MADE UP.
1. The first spring and source of it is everlasting free love (Jeremiah 31:3).
2. The plot for compassing it was laid from eternity between the Father and the Son (Titus 1:2).
3. The foundation of it was laid in the blood of Christ, in the fulness of time Galatians 4:4-5).
4. It was moved to them in the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20).
5. They are won to it by His own Spirit (Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 44:5).
6. By faith they go into the friendship with Him (Ephesians 3:17).
7. The friendship is sealed by the sacraments, particularly that of His body and blood. It was an ancient custom to confirm a covenant of friendship with a feast (Genesis 31:54; John 15:13).
III. WHAT A PRIVILEGE THIS IS! Men nor angels cannot fully express the value of it, for it is of infinite value (1 Corinthians 2:9).
1. It is an honourable friendship. Their Friend is the Prince of the kings of the earth; and through Him God is their friend.
2. It is a beneficial friendship. The friendship of many in the world is no more but an empty name. But Christ’s friendship, the benefits of it who can tell?
3. It is an intimate friendship. There is no such close and intimate friendship betwixt any relations on earth (1 Corinthians 6:17).
4. It is an universal friendship, of universal influence. There is no friendship in the world but it is limited. But from the greatest to the least of the concerns of His friends, Christ interests Himself.
5. It is a sure and lasting friendship. The friendships in the world are very uncertain (Job 19:14; Psalms 38:11). But Christ’s friendship never dies John 13:1; Isaiah 49:14-16).
IV. IMPROVEMENT. See
1. The wonderful condescension of heaven. We are rebels against God naturally, but may become friends through Christ.
2. They that are Christ’s are most happy.
3. Jesus Christ is the best and most generous of masters. He makes all His servants friends.
4. Friendless persons, who have none to regard them, may best bestow themselves and get a friend, that will be better to them than all the world.
5. Let sinners seek this friendship.
6. Ye that profess to be the friends of Christ, walk worthy of your privilege. (T. Boston, D. D.)
Christ’s friends, doers of all His commands
I. INQUIRE INTO THIS CHARACTER OF THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST.
1. The friends of Christ are doers of His commands. They are all His servants (Luke 6:46). Christ is their Lord and Lawgiver, and they do His commandments (Revelation 22:14).
(1) Their lusts are not their domineering lords, to whom they yield themselves to obey (Romans 6:14; Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:24).
(2) The course of the world is not their rule (Ephesians 2:2).
(3) But as they look for salvation by Him, it is the business of their life, to please, serve, and glorify Him, to walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing (Colossians 1:10). There are two works seriously plied by all Christ’s friends.
(a) salvation work, that they may be saved from sin and wrath, and set beyond hazard of eternal ruin. This is done by faith.
(b) Their generation work (Acts 13:36; 1 Peter 2:9). This is done by obedience. In the former they look for their own safety, and in the latter for the honour of their Saviour.
2. The friends of Christ are doers of His commands, because they are His commands (Colossians 3:17).
(1) Out of respect to His authority (Psalms 119:4; Hebrews 11:8).
(2) Out of love to Him (Hebrews 6:10).
(3) As sons redeemed by His blood, not as bondservants working for their own redemption; to please their Benefactor, not to render themselves accepted by their own obedience (Romans 8:15; Colossians 1:10).
(4) With heart and good-will (Ephesians 6:7; Isaiah 64:5).
3. The friends of Christ are doers of His commands universally and without exception (Psalms 119:6). They are universal
(1) In their desire to do all His commands, saying, as (Psalms 119:5).
(2) In respect of their endeavour (Philippians 1:13-14).
(3) In respect of their willingness to know all that Christ commands, that they may do it (Psalms 139:23). The reasons why Christ’s friends are universal in their obedience, are
(a) Because the grace of God inclines them to do what Christ commands, because He commands it (Psalms 119:4). The law of Christ is a chain of many links, and he that truly draws one to Him, draws all.
(b) Because the whole law is written on their hearts in regeneration, and not scraps of it here and there (Hebrews 8:10).
(c) Because Christ hath the chief room in their hearts beyond all competitors (Luke 14:26).
(d) Because He is jealous, and the least command of His that is slighted is displeasing to Him (Matthew 5:19).
(e) Because their hearts are reconciled to the whole law, and every part of it (Psalms 119:128).
II. WHY THIS IS MADE THE TRYING AND DISTINGUISHING CHARACTER OF THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST.
1. Because this hits the point in which the sincere and hypocrites differ.
2. Because the reality of friendship to Christ does without controversy appear here. “Show your faith by your works. Love not in word only but in deed.”
3. Because where Christ’s friendship to a person takes effect, it certainly has this effect (Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 2:14).
4. Because though the free grace of God tends to holiness (Titus 2:11-12), yet there is a disposition in the children of men to turn it to licentiousness (Jude 1:4). Therefore the apostle cautions the Galations Galatians 5:13).
1. Of information. This shows us
(1) What the life of a Christian is. It is a life of doing whatsoever Christ commands. And so it is
(a) An active not an idle life (Philippians 2:12; Revelation 14:13).
(b) A well doing life (1 Timothy 1:5).
(c) A watchful life (1 Corinthians 16:13).
(d) A resolute life (Ephesians 6:15).
(2) The doctrine of free grace gives no encouragement to looseness of life: for there is no separating of faith and holiness. If ye be Christ’s friends by faith, ye will be His faithful and tender servants in obedience.
2. Of exhortation. Show yourselves Christ’s friends by doing whatsoever He commands you. And do ye what Christ commands you, if you would show yourselves His friends.
(1) In a time of general apostasy and blacksliding from the ways of God Genesis 6:9).
(2) Even when it must be your temporal loss (Hebrews 11:35).
(3) When His hand is lying heavy on you by crosses and afflictions (Job 1:9-10).
(4) When sin comes with a seen advantage in its hand, as in the case of Hebrews 11:24-26).
(5) When the sin that most easily besets you comes in competition with your obedience to the commands of Christ (Psalms 18:23).
(6) When there is nothing to keep you back from sin, but pure regard to the command of Christ.
1. Because all His commands are those of an absolute Lord, to whom we owe obedience in all things (Exodus 20:2).
2. All His commands are just, righteous, and reasonable (Psalms 119:128).
3. We are all of us under covenant engagements to do whatsoever He commands us. We have all avouched Him for our Lord (Luke 6:46).
4. Christ has been the best friend ever mankind had (John 15:13; Romans 5:8)
5. It is necessary to evidence your sincerity (Psalms 119:6).
6. The glorious privilege of those who do whatsoever Christ commands them. (T. Boston, D. D.)
At Federal Hill, Baltimore, Colonel Warren gave orders to his guards that only officers in uniform were to be admitted to camp. One bright morning General Dix, who commanded the troops guarding the city, walked over from Fort McHenry in undress. Attempting to pass the line of sentries in company with an aide, the old general was amused at finding a musket barring his passage, while the aide, with his glittering shoulder straps, was permitted to enter. “Why do you stop me, my man?” inquired the general, quietly. “My orders are to admit only officers in uniform,” was the reply. “But don’t you see that this is General Dix?” exclaimed the aide, angrily. “Well, between you and me, major,” said the sentry, his eyes twinkling with amusement, “I see very well who it is; but if General I)ix wants to gets to get into this camp he had better go back and put on his uniform.” “You are quite right, sentry,” remarked the general. “I’ll go back and get my coat.” The incident increased his admiration for the entire command. (H. O. Mackey.)
Henceforth I call you not servants
Slave or friend?
The word used was the word for slave, though not always used in the most ignominious relation. The word “friends” is philos, something more than friendship in the ordinary use of the word “love friends.” These were the disciples that had been ordained to go out and preach. All that time they have been only servants.
I. THERE IS, THEN, A DISCIPLESHIP THAT IS SERVITUDE, HAVING IN IT A GOOD MANY EXCELLENT QUALITIES but as soon as possible to be left behind. All over the world, we see in progress this primary state of discipleship--that of servitude and inferiority.
1. The lower province begins, with conscientious morality; that is, so much of rectitude recognized and mildly sought as is embodied in public law and in public sentiment. But the averages of society are always and everywhere very low.
2. Higher than this is a more active recognition of what may technically be called religious life: that is, the recognition of an invisible God, of a moral order, and of a providence which unfolds the thought and the will of God among men. A man has certainly risen very much higher than the ordinary morality which is contained in the Ten Commandments--he has risen a great deal when he begins to be a worshipper.
3. Then we come, a little more interiorly, to the condition of those who are seeking to conform their lives to canons of morality, to rules of Church life, to religion as a personal experience; and we find that fear is usually the very first incitement, as it is the lowest motive. There is a fear that runs with the highest feelings, that purity itself has lest it should be sullied. There is a fear of love--filial fear. But there is also the fear that if a duty be neglected it will bring chastisement; and this fear takes a very low range. It indicates no great love for moral quality, no worship of good because it is good, no spontaneity, but a dark shadow of dread for neglect or violation. There are thousands whose religion rises in its motives no higher than this: “We must prepare for death; it may come in an untold hour.” There are multitudes who are afraid to be wicked. I am glad of that; but it is a very low motive. Multitudes of persons are afraid not to say their prayers. That is a very low motive. Sometimes it is the misery of an heir to know that a decrepit aunt is going to bequeath her property to him, provided his conduct is in all respects suitable to her wishes. So all his life long he is thinking: “What does she want?” And what politeness! what keeping out of her prejudices! And so all his life long he has a certain sort of respectable morality; but the whole way through it is carnal and mean, and it is to get the property, not because he loves politeness, not because he loves her at all--he loves her Will. A service of fear never works the higher moral qualities. If a man’s religion is very largely compounded of the element of fear he may save his soul; but is it worth saving?--poor, scrawny, mean!
4. Then comes, next higher in order, the sense of duty--conscience. In combination with higher qualities conscience gives strength and great power. It is an undertone that should run through life. Duty is not less noble because it is inferior to love, but it is inferior to love. The things that every mother does for her child, are they things that are done from a sense of duty? She ought; but she never touches bottom on ought. She does, because spontaneous love urges it upon her. If that were deficient she would fall down upon another, but inferior, faculty of conscience--“It is my duty.” A rich man, dying, leaves large properties to be distributed for charitable purposes; and those appointed as trustees and distributors, men of honour and conscientiousness, say: “This is a good cause; we think we will devote a hundred thousand dollars for that.” It is the fulfilment of a duty that has been laid upon them. But if a man with a great heart, and blessed with large inheritance, looks out on society, and pities the orphans, and builds a home for them, that springs out of his own heart. It is not his duty; it is his desire and wish. So, then, a man may be doing benevolent work as a duty; but it is a very much higher thing to do benevolent work because you are benevolent, and not because it is your duty.
5. In various grades, all these things are acceptable to God and useful; but as in the pictures of a studio there are various grades of excellence, and yet the least may be a good picture, so in the development of the dispositions of Christians there is very low, and there is a little higher, and there is the higher still, and there is the highest level, which men should seek, and on which they should stand.
II. On the eve of His departure, Christ said to men who had been living in this lower relation, doing right things, avoiding evil things--doing this from various motives, more or less in bondage, more or less exhorted by duty: “Henceforth I call you not servants; I CALL YOU FRIENDS.
1. One can see easily how this might take place. In the thrall of poverty and neglect some beneficent heart, meeting with a maiden, sees in her some moral quality that indicates a higher place in life; and it turns out at last that she came of good parents, that they were swept away, that the child went through various hands down to the bottom of society, but that being caught up by this philanthropic missionary, she had responded quickly to moral appeals. Every point in her is susceptible of development; and at every step, coming up, and ministered to little by little, at last there comes a day when the benefactor says: “Hitherto I have called you my ward; I have been your benefactor; now I love you, and I take you for my own.” How many have found that higher and nobler development of confidence between their souls and their Saviour?
2. We attain to this state of experience, not as the direct result of effort. It is not by prayer. You never can pray it into yourself, although prayer is an excellent thing. It is not by mortification; it is by the power of love, and soul ripening that it is attained. That process differs with different people and in different circumstances. In June the orchard blossoms; but nobody wants to eat blossoms. In early July the germs of the apple and the pear have set, and the blossoms are gone. The work has begun. Now, the first rejoicing that the soul has comes when it just begins the Christian life. Then it has the flush of early love and joy. The growing comes afterward. In early July the apple and the pear have set their germs, they are beginning to grow, and are utterly unfit to eat. In September they have got size that they had not, but are very sour. In October they begin to get colour on their cheeks, but they are hard yet. In November they begin to have sugar in themselves, and they exhale fragrance. Step by step, the fruit from greenness goes on to size, and from size to quality, and from quality to perfect ripeness and harmony. So, largely, is it in Christian life. There is a process constantly going on; and the evidence that there is this tendency toward ripeness is one of the things that should stimulate the hope of our soul. The ripening of men is not a mechanical system, by which we have been awakened, and convicted of sin, and have changed our will and purpose. This ripening does not come because we are joined to God’s people, and because we are striving, according to the measure of our knowledge in ordinary things, to live about right and fulfil our duties. We have simply ripened so that we have begun to be susceptible; and Christ says: “Henceforth I call you My love,” and we respond, “I am my Lord’s; He is mine.” (H. W. Beecher.)
Servants and friends
I. SERVANTS AND FRIENDS. All Christ’s friends are His servants, but all His servants are not therefore His friends. This was perhaps the distinction between Moses and Aaron (Exodus 33:11), You see the difference at once between their characters. In Aaron it was attention to the ministry at the altar, in Moses it was jealousy for the Divine law. In Aaron it was a regard for the defences and pictures of purity and truth, in Moses it was regard for truth and purity themselves.
1. Servants may be quite unconscious of their servitude. The elements are the servants of God. Winds, and vapours, and storms fulfilling His word. Time is His servant, and the ambition of princes; but it is all unconscious servitude. How great the difference between the two Shepherds of God, David and Cyrus! (Isaiah 44:28). Christ made my relationship to Him aconsciousness.
2. Servants have but a passing and transient relationship. The connection is slight and fragile, born in interest. Servants have a divided interest from their masters. How suspicious of him and of their fellows! Friendship would make common cause with the master, and identify both interests in one. Christ spoke in the light of the perpetuity of our relationship.
3. Servants are unable to enter into the meaning of the Master’s will. “His ways are not their ways, neither are His thoughts their thoughts.” The soldier is not one of the council of war; but the mind and heart are revealed to the friend. We know words lovelessly pronounced, how cold! words lovingly pronounced, how dear! The same number of letters, but the accent is all. So God speaks to His people with an accent. “All that My Father hath given Me have I made known to you.” In the thought of this deep intercourse, Christ said, “I have called you not servants,” etc.
4. Servants may be absolute enemies. How many names are recorded in Scripture of men who were His enemies at last? He used them, while they sought, as Balsam did, to circumvent the Divine purposes. He used them as the builder uses a scaffold or a tool, then to be cast aside as useful no more. In thought of a will made one with His, Christ said, “Henceforth I call you not servants,” etc.
II. LOOK AT THE DOCTRINE TO WHICH THE TEXT POINTS.
1. Now it is clear that all along throughout Scripture, its language points to a state of hallowed seclusiveness, in which the soul sees more and feels more, knows more and has more, in highest communion with Christ (1 John 1:3; John 14:22; John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 John 5:10). There is no fact more stupendously beautiful than this--God loves His friends, and they know it. He crowds all imaginable and all imageable mercies upon their souls, to assure them of His love (Isaiah 63:9). Inthe light of God’s love to his friends, even nature acquires new majesty. What is more sure and steadfast than the heavens in their daily march, or in their midnight pomp (Jeremiah 33:20-21)? Or, think of the seasons in their annual round (Jeremiah 33:25-26). And hence you see the difference between the two methods of our Lord’s teaching. He had the parabolical and the real (Luke 9:10; Luke 9:10; Matthew 13:16). For friendship has words which mere acquaintanceship cannot use. And love ever finds new words and new meanings.
2. The doctrine suffers no defect, and does not recoil from the fact of the infinite superiority on one hand, and the infinite inferiority on the other.
Such friendships, either in time or eternity, are not impossible. On earth, indeed, real friendship always receives; it is impossible but there must be some benefit on either side. The subject, the friend of the prince, repays the prince in counsel, and in sympathy, more than he receives in honour. And even the heart of the Redeemer owns the Divine light of sympathy with His believing friends. Few joys, to which we can look forward, can equal the hope we have that one day we shall call our boy our friend. I said to a young mother once, congratulating her on her newborn child. “How proud you will be to take his arm twenty years hence.” Although, alas! the young mother, a few days after, was among the angels. Very beautiful is the friendship between a master and a disciple, when the disciple looks reverently up to the teacher for instruction, and the master looks lovingly down and beholds himself growing anew in his young friend.
3. Servants of God, here is a higher ambition for you. Strive for the peerage, for the dignity of friends! This is the relation that completes the Divine life; this is the highest object of ambition of the friends of God.
4. What hallowed rest is here! Friendship rests. They are not troubled as we are who are only servants. Doubts vanish from the full assurance of love. Talk with them, and they will tell you that all things about them Jesus knows. (Paxton Hood.)
Christ our friend
Seneca once told a courtier who had lost his son, that he had no cause to mourn, either for that or ought else, because Caesar was his friend. Oh, then, what little cause have the saints to mourn for this or that loss, considering that God is their portion! Would you not laugh to see a man lament bitterly for the loss of his shoestrings when his purse is safe? or for the burning of a pig sty when his dwelling house is safe? and why then should a Christian lament for the loss of this or that, so long as his God is with him? (Thomas Brooks.)
The friendship of Jesus
When we say of two men that they are friends, we put them down in the same list; but what condescension on the Lord’s part to be on terms of friendship with a man! Again I say, no nobility is comparable to this. Parmenio was a great general, but all his fame in that direction is forgotten in the fact that he was known as the friend of Alexander. He had a great love for Alexander as a man, whereas others only cared for him as a conqueror and a monarch; and Alexander, perceiving this, placed great reliance upon Parmenio. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The servant and the friend compared and contrasted
The whole human race may be divided into two classes, “Servants” and “Friends.” All human beings have to do with Christ, and their service must be either that of slaves or of friends. Our Lord here intimates the superiority of the one relationship to the other, and the superiority will be obvious by comparing the relationships together.
I. The one is LEGAL, the other is LOVING. The master treats his slave, and the slave treats him, according to legal contract. The servant works by rule, and the master treats him accordingly; the slave lives and works in the letter of the contract. But the service of the friend is irrespective of all prescriptive rules, of all legal arrangements. He does not feel himself to be under the law at all, and although he does more real hard work in the service of his friend than that of the slave in the employ of his master, love is his inspiration, and love is his law.
II. The one is WATCHED, the other is TRUSTED. The master keeps his eye upon the slave; he knows that he is not the character to be trusted, here is a mere eye servant. If the contracted work is to be done he is to be kept up to it by force. Not so with the friend; he is thrown upon his love, honour, sense of gratitude and justice. Thus Christ treats His disciples; He does not tell them how much to do, or how to do it. He trusts to their love, knowing that if they love Him they will keep His commandments. This is the true way to treat men--trust them. Thus Dr. Arnold treated his boys at Rugby, and thus all whom Providence has put in authority over men should treat their subordinates, in order to get from them the highest service they can render.
III. The one is DISTANT, the other is NEAR. The master keeps his servant at a distance, he stands on his authority, gives out his orders, and insists on their discharge. They live not only in different apartments, but in different mental worlds, Not so with the friend--the friend is near to the heart. An old philosopher defined friendship as the existence of two souls in one body. Thus near are Christ’s disciples to Him. “The servant,” He says, “knoweth not what his Lord doeth … but all things that I do I have made known unto you.” How close and vital the connection!” Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” said God.
IV. The one is USED, the other USES. The master uses his slave, uses him as he does a piece of machinery; he has no tender interest in him. All he cares for is what benefits he can extract from his service, the slave is used--used as a beast of burden. But the friend is using. All his services, as atrue friend, answer his own purpose, conduce to his own happiness of soul. He acts from love, and love, like the philosopher’s stone, turns the commonest things into moral gold, to enrich his own heart. Thus it is with Christ’s disciples: all their efforts to serve Him serve themselves. “All things are yours, life, death,” etc. Everything turns to the real use of those who are the friends of Christ.
V. The one is COERCED, the other is FREE. The slave is not free in his work; he would not serve his master if he could help it. He is placed under considerations that force him to do his work. But the service of the friend is free, he would not but do what he does, and his desires to render service transcend his abilities. Thus it is with Christ’s disciples. “He that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit.” The love of Christ constrains them; they welcome the slightest intimation of duty from their Lord. Conclusion: What is our relationship to Christ--that of servitude or friendship? All must serve Him, either against their will or by their will. The former is the condition of devils, the latter that of holy saints and blessed angels. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Friendship with Jesus
When a blind man was asked what he thought the sun to be like, he replied, “Like friendship.” And truly friendship is a sun, if not the sun, of life. All feel it to be so. Most strange is it that men should wonder that the gospel has not enjoined so good a thing. It needs no injunction. It grows best of itself. It is as unnecessary to command men to cultivate friendship, as to command them to eat and drink. Let us
I. LOOK AT THE EXPRESSIONS EMPLOYED AND THE GENERAL SENTIMENT WHICH THEY EMBODY.
1. Both slavery and friendship represent our relations to our Lord and Saviour. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a slave, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s slave.” Freedom and bondage go together, and we are not free till we are bound. Here servitude is the sign of friendship. As inferiors, as creatures, we can be friends of Jesus only “if we keep His commandments.”
2. When Christ says, “All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you,” He can mean only all things intended for them, for in the next chapter He remarks, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot hear them now.” Their intimacy with Him was progressive. And so now His people pass from one degree of fellowship to another; become less and less slaves, and more and more friends, and the honours and privileges of friendship increase with its spirit.
3. Confidence is the sign of Christ’s friendship. There are but two essentially different ways of treating men as friends, or as slaves. We must be ruled either by force or by reason; we must be watched or trusted. Selfishness, ignorance, prejudice, fear, tyranny may say, “Treat him as a slave”; but reason, love, justice, hope, and all in Christ Jesus, say, “Treat Him as a friend.” The world is learning this. Severity, though the way to govern men, as Dr. Johnson said, is not the way to mend them, and in the school, the State, the Church, and even the mad house, they are being treated more as friends, and less as slaves. Who knows not that, even among children, not to believe is to excite to falsehood, to be always watching to be sure to prompt to go astray, and want of trust to beget unworthiness? And if it is so with children, it is still more so with men.
II. ILLUSTRATE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SLAVERY AND FRIENDSHIP, AND SHOW THAT CHRIST TREATS US NOT AS SLAVES BUT AS FRIENDS. This is seen
1. In the position which Christ assigns us, and the spirit which He excites within us. Being reconciled, we receive “not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption.” Thus the state and the temper of slavery are both abolished. We are “joined unto the Lord” and are “one spirit” with Him. When John, king of France, lost the battle of Poictiers, though he had been beaten by a force one eighth only of his own, though he himself was taken prisioner, he was overpowered by the courtesy and chivalrous kindness of the Black Prince, his foe, “the tears burst from his eyes, and mingled with the marks of blood upon his cheeks.” It is thus that God moves the heart. In seeking His high ends, He does not beget a crouching spirit, but treats us generously. And I do not know how the heart of man is to be reached in any other way, how its enmity is to be slain and its love drawn out.
2. In the nature of Christ’s communications to us. “The servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth,” etc. In like manner God spake of Abraham, His “friend:” “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?”
(1) It is true of us as of them. Christ has given us information as to what He intends to do, and “the wise shall understand”; He has given us notices of His general purposes respecting the world and the Church: not a minute prophetic history, but a grand idea of the destiny of systems and of men.
But we have a more glorious revelation than this. In the text Christ means the whole counsel of God’s will. He had opened to them His mind and heart; and, if they saw but little, the fault was in the eye, not the object. He has entered into frank and friendly communication with us, opened His counsels, explained His objects and His methods, told us His desires and designs, and has thus given us an interest not only in what we do, but in what He does.
(2) And if this confidence is seen in what He communicates, it is seen also in what He withholds. A friend is not bound by a clear and particular direction in respect of everything; trust is reposed in him, he has to exercise his own skill and feel his own responsibility. And so, on no subject is the gospel a full rule, except as to principles. If the heart be not right, such a rule would be useless; if it be right, such a rule is unnecessary. When the heart is “ready to every good work,” a hint will be enough to set all its powers in active and pleasant motion. “I will guide thee with Mine eye,” says God to His people: that look of God will speak volumes to a friendly heart, and supply its own best motive to obedience.
3. In the manner in which Christ employs us. For the gospel idea of saints is that they are not merely to do His commandments, but to engage in His work, and He attaches the greatest importance to their service. He works out His gracious will on earth by the instrumentality of redeemed men; He puts His Spirit into men, and draws out their powers in grateful, cheerful labour. His object is not only to secure the effects of their service; but as a Father, though needing not His children’s labour, makes a work to please and honour them. This is seen very striking in the constitution of His Church. Christian Churches are societies of friends.
4. In the extent to which Christ blesses us. No one can look at the gospel and not perceive that it deals with all that believe in the way of the greatest bountifulness. It is not meant to meet a mere necessity, but to gratify our utmost desires and hopes. Are we not treated as friends?
III. A FEW OBVIOUS THOUGHTS BY WAY OF APPLICATION. If this is Christ’s friendship
1. Let us realize and rejoice in it. He is more deeply interested in us than we are in ourselves: He wishes our welfare as we have never wished it. Why should we not therefore tell Him our perplexities, trials, gladness? Why should we not pass our life in free and familiar intercourse with Him? Friendship cannot live in an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. “He that hath friends must show himself friendly”; and if Christ confides in us, we must confide in Him. Nothing is more important than our being frank and faithful with Him. As among men, a few honest words may prevent a world of mischief, so with Christ, long seasons of trouble and sin may be prevented by the prompt and ingenious acknowledgment of faults and doubts and difficulties.
2. Let us be worthy of it. There are men not at all remarkable for integrity or gratitude who would feel the force of this claim. The appeal to honour they would respond to, though to all other appeals they would be deaf. Christ makes His appeal to your honour. If He treats you in the way we have indicated, shall it not move you to the utmost zeal to please and glorify Him? Will you abuse His confidence, and answer His grace with gracelessness? Answer His trust with fidelity; His love with obedience. Sin in you is not mere transgression; it is ingratitude, it is sacrilege, it is treachery.
3. Let us imitate Him in our treatment of others. This is the right way, the way most in accordance with human nature. Some, perhaps many, may prove themselves unworthy of it--there was a traitor among Christ’s friends--but many also will respond to it; or, if they do not, they will not respond to anything. Let it be your method in your treatment of your friends, in the education of children, in the Church. (A. J. Morris.)
Friendship is the sweetest wild flower that can be found in the desert soil of a fallen world. There can scarcely be conceived a more forlorn description of a man, than that he is friendless. But man often calls another a friend, and it is but a name; he has sinster ends and selfish motives, which he thus disguises; in the hour of need he proves himself false, and when friends ought most to stand forward, he keeps back. But note
I. The REALITY of the friendship of Christ.
1. It is the clearest evidence of friendship, that it will make the greatest sacrifices for a friend. Who can doubt the infinite reality of the friendship of Christ, that traces Him from the throne of heaven to the manger in Bethlehem, from the manger to the cross. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.”
2. But the reality of friendship is also tested by the confidence and the communion which it extends to the friend. Jesus puts His Spirit into us, and He unites us to Himself. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear
Him, and He will show them His covenant;” He reveals Himself to them, as He said--“I will come to you, and I will manifest Myself to you.”
3. But the reality of friendship is further evidenced by the sympathy that it is manifest, in the hour of trial and affliction. That man is not worthy to be my friend, who can be unaffected in my grief, a friend’s heart should throb with every throb of my heart, and thrill at whatever thrills mine. And where is friendship so real as Christ’s? “In all the afflictions of His people, He is afflicted;” “He is touched with the feeling of their infirmities;” “Let not your heart be troubled.”
4. It is a further proof of friendship, that the faithful friend will rebuke as well as commend, It is a rare quality, even in Christian friendship; in the friendship of the world, it is hardly known. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” But what friendship gives proof of faithfulness, in comparison with that of Christ? Look at His treatment of Simon Peter.
II. ITS EXCELLENCY.
1. What friend can we find so disinterested as Christ? Without disinterestedness, friendship is a mockery. The man who loves me for some selfish end is not my friend--he is his own. A friend is one who loves my soul, loves me for myself, and would love me forever! He does not love me for what I have, but for what I am. So Jesus loves us. He came to demonstrate His friendship towards us when we were enemies.
2. When shall we find a friend so able as Christ? The love of an earthly friend, however sincere, is often impotent; but there is a Friend sticking closer than a brother,” who knows no perplexity of ours which He cannot resolve--no conflict which He cannot comprehend and sustain under--no tempestuous surges to which He cannot speak the word--“Peace be still”--no extremity of poverty, or desolation, or bereavement, to which He cannot say, “Weep not,” and the tear shall be staunched. With Christ as my Friend, if I have the universe for my foes, I smile at them all.
3. There is no friend so faithful as Christ. Faithfulness is the crown of friendship. He whom no slight occasion of offence can alienate, whom no infirmities can revolt, whom no outward circumstances can wean, who loves me in poverty as in wealth, in reproach as in renown, in sickness as in health, in death as in life; He is a friend indeed. There are few such, however, to be found. But where Jesus loves, He loves forever. “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Canon Stowell.)
Christians the friends of Christ
I. A FEW EXPLANATORY REMARKS CONCERNING THIS FRIENDSHIP.
1. It is really friendship, consisting, not of kindly feelings only, such as we bear towards our ordinary acquaintance, but of a cordial heart-warm love, like that which we have felt towards a few select individals only.
2. It is mutual between our Lord and His people. It is not all on His side, nor all on theirs. To constitute friendship there must be reciprocity. The hearts of Christ and His people are “knit together in love.”
3. It is His true disciples only who are admitted to His friendship. He has compassion and kindness for all. But still His kindness, great and tender as it is, is not His friendship. He wept over Jerusalem, the city of His enemies--there was His compassion: He has only His dear, faithful disciplesaround Him, when He says here, “Ye are My friends.”
4. This friendship does not set aside the relation of Master and servant existing between our Lord and His people (John 15:14). Spiritual privileges, however high, never alter our obligations. They never put us out of our proper places, nor remove the exalted Jesus from His.
5. This friendship is in truth a friendship between us and God. It begins with Christ; but it does not terminate with Him. All the love of the Father dwells in Him and embraces us as soon as Christ’s love embraces us, and soon too we discover this and joyfully embrace the Father in our love. It takes in His Divine nature as well. “Truly our fellowship is with the Father,” etc.
II. THE GROUNDS OF IT. All these may be comprehended in one word--grace; yet we may trace it still to intermediate things, themselves the fruits of this grace.
1. To mutual knowledge.
(1) “I know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” Christ knows their persons, peculiarities, all that can be known of them; all they are to be to Him; and thus, knowing them, He fixes His love on them, draws them to Him, makes them His friends.
(2) And there is a knowledge too of Him on their side: “Whom having not seen ye love.” The Holy Spirit opens the sinner’s eyes to behold Christ, discovers to Him the glory of His character and the amiableness of it, and enables him to see and feel how worthy Christ is in Himself of His love. “They that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.”
2. Congeniality. Men may be perfect opposites; but let there be a real friendship between them, and we know that there is much that is common between them. So wherever there is friendship between the soul and Christ, a conformity to Christ has been wrought in that soul. Without it Christ might love the soul with a love of compassion, but not with a love of complacency. And the soul could have without this a little of what we call gratitude, but gratitude is not friendship. The soul must begin to love what Christ loves, to have the same mind that is in Christ and the same heart--then the soul lays hold with its affections on the Saviour and true friendship between them begins.
3. A mutual power of conferring pleasure. I love the man who in any way contributes personally to my happiness, and I love him the most who contributes most to my happiness. Now the Lord Jesus contributes to the happiness of His people. He is precious to their soul, because He is even now their soul’s satisfaction and rest. On the other hand, “the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.” His delights are with them.” He rejoices over them, as a father rejoices over a recovered child, or as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride. And this joy, strange as it may seem to us, can be partly explained. What constitutes the Divine happiness? The exercise of the Divine love, and with it the exercise and enjoyment of the other Divine perfections. And where does God so exercise His love, so call into action and display His perfections, as in His people? in their salvation pardon, sanctification, and final blessedness?
III. ITS PROOFS.
1. He has made a great sacrifice for His people (John 15:13).
2. He admits His people to His confidence.
3. On our side we should obey His commands (John 15:14). C. Bradley, M. A.)
Christ a friend
Jonathan Edwards when he came to die, his last words, after bidding his relations good-bye, were--“Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never failing Friend?” and so saying he fell asleep.
The service of friendship
I. CHRIST’S SERVICE IS A SERVICE OF FRIENDSHIP.
1. The relation between the Lord and His people is that of Master and servants; but the perfect bond of that relation is love to His person.
(1) These disciples had hitherto been servants, whose awful sense of their Lord’s dignity had never yet been quickened into the ardour of personal devotion that He desired. “Henceforth”--after they had received into their inmost souls the self-sacrifice of Christ in laying down His life for them--they added perfect love to perfect homage. Servants they termed themselves to the end; but from that time one spoke for the rest the common sentiment, “We love Him, for He first loved us.”
(2) In every Christian there is the same “henceforth.” Until the hour of the manifestation of the personal Saviour comes, we can neither perfectly love nor serve Him. But when the Son of God is revealed in us, then, “Whether we live we live unto the Lord,” etc. The love of God is “then” shed abroad in our hearts.
2. Our interest in the Saviour’s work is when made perfect that of friendship. He shares His counsels with us, not as being His servants only, but as being His friends.
(1) Before the “henceforth” the disciples’ thought of His work was that of servants who know not what their Lord doeth. When He spoke to them of the vast designs He came to accomplish, they were like men that dreamed. When, however, He had died, and the Holy Spirit shed His light upon the Redeemer’s passion, their minds entered into the infinite Secret and made it their own.
(2) This is, in a sense, the dignity and privilege of all believers. They enter into the fellowship, not only of the Saviour’s death and resurrection, but of His government also. “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do” expresses the spirit of our Lord’s dealings with His friends. His language is not “Go and do this for Me,” so much as “Come and let us do it together.”
3. The principle that animates true Christian service is that of the truest love.
(1) These disciples before that “henceforth” had done their Master’s will from a lower impulse: sometimes from fear, ambition, or reward. “What shall we have?” But when they went forth to their duty after the baptism of Pentecost, we trace no other constraint but that of love.
(2) And so it is with us if our devotion is made perfect. We are indeed servants still; but the commanding energy of duty is always and only love.
II. The counterpart of this truth. Their friendship must not degenerate into licence or presumption: it must be the FRIENDSHIP OF SERVICE. He who knew what was in man knew what would be the danger of His friends; and with exquisite tenderness shows what their peril would be and how they should effectually guard against it.
1. There is an everlasting distinction between the Redeemer and His people in their mutual friendship.
(1) This word in the language of men implies, generally speaking, a certain equality, and thus it is in some affecting respects between Christ and His friends. But still the eternal distinction remains. “He chose us.” Though in His union with our humanity, He is one with our race. He never ceases to be God. Though He came down from heaven to make us His friends He is still the Son of Man which is in heaven. Hence the profound reverence which is stamped on their every allusion to His person. He called them not servants: they called themselves by no other name.
(2) In this they are examples to us. We must enter into their feelings of reverence, while cherishing the warmest personal love towards Him. “He is thy Lord, and worship thou Him.” “Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well:” which reminds us that we say well when we keep our language free from endearing epithets.
2. As on the one hand our interest in Christ’s work must be that of friends, so on the other we must remember that we are entirely dependent on Him for the best ability in His service. Human friends are mutually serviceable; but in this heavenly relation we have nothing that we did not receive. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” “I can do all things through Christ.”
3. The Lord guards our sentiments of love and delight in His service by the solemn intimation that His disciples are under probation for the blessedness of His present and final friendship (John 15:14).
Conclusion: The two leading terms of the text point to two prevalent errors in religion.
1. There is a religion which is a service without love, which regards the Lord as only an austere man.
2. There is also a religion which is too full of a baseless confidence in Christ. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you
1. Negatively. “Ye have not chosen Me.” This is true, both in regard to election unto salvation and election unto office. Christ no more chooses us because we have first chosen Him, than He loves us because we have first loved Him. He makes His universal offer of mercy; we close with it, and are elected. He says, “Whom shall I send?” We have to say, “Here am I; send me.” “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” was addressed to the chosen people.
2. Positively. The Divine choice which originates our discipleship
(1) Is not arbitrary. Those are chosen for salvation who evince the qualifications for receiving salvation. “Chosen … through belief of the truth.” In regard to office, the apostles were the choice men of their race, as is seen in their after careers. Christ chose for His work Peter and Paul, rather than Caiaphas or Gamaliel, because they were immeasurably better men. Appearances and circumstances go for nothing, as is seen in God’s choice of David. So today Christ chooses with reference to fitness. There were more brilliant men at Oxford; but when God wanted a man for Africa He went to a factory and chose Livingstone.
2. May he frustrated. Judas was chosen, and the traitor had elements about him which would have made him a prince amongst the apostles. Election is not indelible in regard either to nations or individuals. Israel was chosen because of unique racial qualities, but was rejected because those qualities were abused. England has been chosen; may she be faithful. As for us, however distinguished the office we hold, let us not be high-minded, but fear. “Let him that thinketh he standeth,” etc.
II. ITS VALIDATION. “Ordained you.”
1. Designation for the work. This is a Divine prerogative. Sometimes it is voiced by the appointment of the Church. Sometimes, alas! not. No human authority, however august, can validate an appointment that has not been ratified in heaven. Let all Church officers note this. Often the clearest Divine designation is apparent where there has been no human sanction.
2. Qualification. Whom Christ ordains He qualifies. This may be independent of human qualifications, or it may include them. There are posts for which Christ ordains a man where they would be in the way.
There are others where they are imperative. In the latter case He works in us the desire to amass learning, eloquence, etc., and sanctifies these and other gifts to the accomplishment of His purposes.
III. ITS WORKS.
1. “That ye should go and bring forth fruit” in two senses.
(1) In the graces of personal character; because these are often the means of successful evangelism, and without them a man in the highest office is but a “sounding brass,” etc.
(2) In conversions to God. This is the grand outcome of all spiritual ministries.
2. “That your fruit should remain.”
(1) Of what value are the “fruits of the Spirit” unless permanent? Of what value is faith if tomorrow we are unbelieving? Of love if it alternates with hatred? Of joy if it is drowned in despondency? etc.
(2) Of what value to a Church are converts unless they “remain”? The curse of modern times is great ingatherings, followed by great failings away.
IV. ITS PRIVILEGE. Prayer
1. Keeps alive our sense of the Divine choice, and maintains our position as chosen ones.
2. Augments our personal and official qualifications. “Without Me ye can do nothing.” “I can do all things through Christ,” etc.
3. Ensures abiding success in our work. (J. W. Burn.)
That ye should go and bring forth fruit
1. Fruitfulness is the great end of God’s ordinances in the vegetable kingdom. It is the focus into which all the various secondary purposes of nature are concentrated. And is it not so in the kingdom of grace? For the fruitfulness of those who love God the whole material system of the earth is upheld; and the whole spiritual world exists and revolves on its axis, that the harvest of spiritual life may be produced in the Church and in the believer.
2. But while fruitfulness is the great end of vegetable life, there are some plants in which this quality is of more importance than in others. It is necessary that every plant should bring forth fruit in order to propagate itself; but, besides this, some plants confer benefits upon the rest of creation by means of their fruit. Like the cow, which produces more milk than its progeny needs; and the bee, which stores a larger quantity of honey than it requires; the vine produces a fruit whose exceptional excess of nourishness is intended for the use of man. Fruit is not so important to the vine itself as it is to man. We grow some plans in order to produce seed; but we can perpetuate the vine by slips, and, therefore, we grow it solely to supply man’s wants.
3. Apart from its fruit, the vine is, indeed, a beautiful plant; but this is subordinate to the one great purpose of producing grapes: and did it cease to produce fruit it would be condemned as a failure. It was for the sake of the fruit of salvation--the redemption of a fallen world--that God cultivated His own Son by the sufferings which He endured. And as with the Vine Himself, so with the branches. The Husbandman of souls grafts these branches in the Vine for the special purpose of producing spiritual fruit; and if this result does not follow, no mere natural beauty or grace will compensate. And so Christ speaks as if in the bringing forth of fruit was summed up all duty and privilege. God’s glory is the chief end of man; but “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.” God requires of us to believe in Christ; but faith is the root of fruitfulness. Faith and fruit are not distinct; but, on the contrary, the same thing at different periods of existence; just as the fruit of autumn is the seed of spring, and vice versa. God desires our highest happiness; but our highest happiness is indissolubly linked together with our fruitfulness. No man can have a continual feast of gladness who is barren and unfruitful. And here we come to the great outstanding question
I. WHAT IS THE REAL SIGNIFICANCE OF FRUIT?
1. The fruit of a plant is simply an arrested and metamorphosed branch. The bud of a plant which, under the ordinary laws of vegetation, would have elongated into a leafy branch, remains, in a special case, shortened, and develops finally, according to some regular law, blossom and fruit instead. Its further growth is thus stayed; it has attained the end of its existence; its life terminates with the ripe fruit that drops off to the ground. In producing blossom and fruit, therefore, a branch sacrifices itself, yields up its own individual vegetative life for the sake of another life that is to spring from it, and to perpetuate the species. Every annual plant dies when it has produced blossom and fruit every individual branch in a tree which corresponds with an annual plant also dies when it has blossomed and fruited. Fruit trees are the most short-lived of all trees; and cultivated fruit trees are less vigorous in growth, and do not last so long as the wild varieties. Producing larger and more abundant fruit than is natural, they necessarily so much the more exhaust their vital energies. Every blossom is a Passion flower. The sign of the cross, which superstitious eyes saw in one mystical flower, the enlightened eye sees in every blossom that opens to the summer sun. The great spiritual principle which every blossom shadows forth is--self-sacrifice. And is it not most instructive to notice that it is in this self-sacrifice of the plant that all its beauty comes out and culminates?
2. And is it not so in the kingdom of grace? Christian fruit is an arrestment and transformation of the branch in the True Vine. Instead of growing for its own ends, it produces the blossoms of holiness and the fruits of righteousness for the glory of God and the good of men. The Christian life begins in self-sacrifice. We can bring forth no fruit that is pleasing to God until, besought by His mercies, we yield ourselves a living sacrifice to Him. And in this self-sacrifice all the beauty of the Christian life comes out and culminates. The life that lives for another, in so doing bursts into flower, and shows its brightest hues, and yields its sweetest fragrance. All given to Christ is received back a hundredfold. Have we not seen the glory of self-sacrifice ennobling even the aspect of the countenance, the expression of the eye, the carriage of the form, making the plainest and homliest face beautiful and heroic?
II. IT IS FRUIT AND NOT WORKS THAT THE BELIEVER PRODUCES.
1. Work and fruit are contrasted in a very striking manner at the close of Galatians 5:1-26;--“the works of the flesh”--“the fruit of the Spirit.” This contrast is very instructive. Works bear upon them the curse of Adam. They are wrought in the sweat of the brow and in the sweat of the soul. All that a natural man does comes under the category of works. And even in the case of believers, some things which they do are works, because they are the result of a legal and servile spirit. Such works are only like those of a manufacturer, which display his skill and power, but do not reveal character. You cannot tell what kind of a man he is who makes your furniture from his productions. You may be able to say that he is a clever workman, but not that he is a wise, a good, or an upright man. But fruit, on the other hand, is the spontaneous natural manifestation of the life within. The soul that has the life and the love of Christ in it cannot help producing fruit. Fruit is the free, unrestrained outpouring of a heart at peace with God, filled with the love of Christ, and stimulated by the presence, and power of the Holy Spirit. The curse is removed from it. It brings back the pure and innocent conditions of Eden. The whole man is displayed in it, as the whole life of the tree is gathered into and manifested in its fruit. By their fruit we know believers as well as trees.
2. It is fruit that Christ wants, not works; because it is the free will offering of a heart of love, not the constrained service of fear or of law, and because He studies the individual character and regulates His discipline according to individual requirements. If works were what He desired, He could order Christians in the mass to do them, caring nothing for any one of them in particular. But, in order to produce fruit, His sap must flow to, His personal influence must reach, the smallest twig, the humblest individual that yields it.
3. How significant in the light of this idea is the reward promised--“a crown of life.” It is not an arbitrary reward from without, but the fruit of their own efforts--a living crown, the crown of their own life. It is with us as it is with some mountains whose deepest or primary formations appear on the summit, which are not mere masses laid in dead weight upon the surface of the earth, but the protrusion of their own energies. So we are crowned with the deepest and most essential part of our own life. Our highest summit is our deepest foundation. Our crown of life is that which we ourselves have formed, and which passes through our own being. Heaven is the fruit of what we have sown, the living crown of the life that we have lived.
III. IT IS FRUIT AND NOT FRUITS, WHICH THE BRANCH IN THE TRUE VINE PRODUCES. The “fruit” of the Spirit is not so many apples growing on separate twigs and having no organic connection except as produced by the same tree. It is a bunch of grapes, all growing from one stalk and united to each other in the closest manner. Each grace is, as it were, a separate berry, connected with the others by organic ties, and forming a complete cluster. It should be the Christian’s endeavour, therefore, that the whole cluster should appear--each grape full formed and in due proportion to the rest.
IV. IT IS HEAVENLY, AND NOT EARTHLY, FRUIT THAT THE HUSBANDMAN DEMANDS.
1. The fruits of Egypt were melons and cucumbers, grown close to the earth; while its vegetables were leeks, onions, and garlic, which are not fruits at all, but roots. It is such low earth-born fruits that the natural man produces, and for which alone he has a relish. All his tendencies and labours are earthward. The cucumber and the melon are climbing plants by nature; they have tendrils to raise them up among the trees, but they are cultivated on the ground, and therefore their tendrils are useless. So every man has tendrils of hopes and aspirations that were meant to raise him above the world, but he perverts them from their proper purpose, and they run among earthly things utterly wasted. In marked contrast with the earth-borne fruits of Egypt were the fruits of the Holy Land. It is a mountainous country, on which everything is lifted above the world. The people went literally, as well as spiritually, up from Egypt to Palestine, up to God’s house. Its fruits were grown on trees, raised up from the ground and ripening in the pure air and bright sunshine of heaven. Believers are risen with Christ. They are not merely elevated a little, but are raised to being fruits in the sky.
V. THE FRUIT OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS PERMANENT. “That your fruit should remain.”
1. In spring, when the blossoms have withered and fallen off, a large proportion of these blossoms leave behind young fruits that have actually set. These fruits grow fur a few weeks, acquire shape, become tinted with colour, cheat the eye with the hope of a rich harvest of ripe and full-formed fruit in autumn. But, alas! ere long, they wither and fall. And is it not so with the fruits which unsanctified man produces? They are beautiful in blossom; they minister to his self-glorification and enjoyment; they delude him with fair promises; but they never come to maturity and abide. They are fruits that set, but do not ripen. On every brow we see care planting his wrinkles--bare, wintry branches, whose stem is rooted in the heart, from which have fallen, one after another, the fairest fruits of life, and which, through future springs and summers, will bear no more leaves or fruit.
2. But in contrast with all the passing and perishing fruits of earth, we have the abiding fruits of righteousness. It is the glorious distinction of the fruit which Christ enables us to produce that it endures. How literally were these words fulfilled in the case of the disciples themselves! Of all the works of all the men who were living eighteen hundred years ago, what is remaining now? But twelve poor uneducated peasants went forth, and where is the fruit of their labours? Look around! And what is thus true of the glorious fruit of the disciples, is also true of the humblest fruit of the humblest Christian. What has been done for God cannot be lost or forgotten. As the Tree upon which the Christian is grafted as a branch is the Tree of Life, so the fruit that he brings forth when nourished by its sap is “fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
VI. IN THE GRAPE THERE ARE TWO PARTS, THAT SERVE TWO PURPOSES--there is a fleshy, or succulent part, and there are the seeds embedded in the core, or interior.
1. The fleshy part is for nourishment; the seeds are intended to perpetuate the plant. And so every fruit of the Spirit contains these two parts--holiness and usefulness. Personal holiness is the succulent nourishing portion, delighting God and man; and embedded in it is the seed of usefulness. An earnest desire to extend the blessings of the gospel is an invariable result of their true enjoyment. What the soul has received it would communicate.
2. There are cases in nature in which the fruit swells and becomes, to all appearance, perfect, while no seeds are produced. Seedless oranges and grapes are often met with. And is there not good cause to fear that too much of what is called Christian fruit contains no seed with the embryo spark of life in it, although it may seem fair and perfectly formed? What should go to develop the seed of righteousness for others is diverted to the production of greater self-righteousness and self-indulgence. Many Christians are satisfied with enjoying themselves spiritual blessings which they ought to communicate to others. They are pampered in the selfish use of privileges and means of grace. Moreover, it is necessary that the fruit should have pulp as well as seed; that the perpetuating principle of righteousness should be imbedded in all that is lovely, and amiable, and of good report. The fruits of some Christians are harsh and hard as the wild hips on the hedges--all seed and no luscious pulp. They are zealous in recommending religion to others, while they do not exhibit the amenities of it themselves. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The wonder of fruit growing. What nature does, men and women and children are to do. Lives are to be fruitful lives. This what those of the apostles were. Results of their labours. The fruit remains. Different kinds of moral and spiritual fruit.
I. THOSE HARMFUL OR USELESS.
1. Crab apples and sour cherries, emblems of crabbed tempers, sour looks, and general disagreeableness. Cross temper. Sour temper. Sharp temper. Spiteful temper. Surly temper. Fretful temper.
2. Poison berries. Fair seeming, but death within. Selfishness. Hatred. Falsehood. Revenge. Hypocrisy. False friendship.
3. Hips and haws. Disorder. Idleness. Procrastination.
II. GOOD FRUITS. Don’t grow by accident. Faith the root. Cultivated.
1. Loving obedience and goodness at home.
2. Kindness, brightness, cheerfulness.
5. Attendance on means of grace.
6. Work for others. Such fruits remain in their effects, influence, and blessedness. Those that he planted in the house of the Lord, etc. (Preacher’s Monthly.)
Continuance the test of religious profession
1. There are few things which, as we grow older, impress us more deeply than the transitoriness of thoughts and feelings. Places and persons that we once thought we never could forget, as years go on are all but quite forgotten; and so with feelings. And there is no respect in which this is more sadly felt than in the case of pious feelings and holy resolutions. We often think sadly of those whose goodness was like the morning cloud and the early dew. We sometimes fear lest we have been deluding ourselves with the belief that we were better and safer than we ever have been, and mourn for the soul-refreshing views, the earnest purpose, the warm affections, of the days when we first believed in Christ.
2. No doubt, by the make of our being, as we grow older, we grow less capable of emotion. Religion in the soul, after all, is a matter of fixed choice and resolution, of principle rather than of feeling. And yet it remains a great and true principle, that in the matter of Christian faith and feelings, that which lasts longest is best. This, indeed, is true of most things. The worth of anything depends much upon its durability. It is not the gaudy annual we value most, but the stedfast forest tree. The slight triumphal arch, run up in a day, may flout the sober-looking buildings near it; but they remain after it is gone. The fairest profession, the most earnest labours, the most ardent affection for a time, will not suffice. That only is the true fruit of the Spirit, which does not wear out with advancing time. The text hints to us that it is even a harder thing to keep up a consistent Christian profession--year after year, through temptations, through troubles--than to make it, however fairly, at the first.
I. IT IS ONLY BY OUR FRUIT REMAINING THAT WE ARE WARRANTED IN BELIEVING THAT IT IS THE RIGHT FRUIT. The only satisfactory proof, either to ourselves or to others, that our Christian faith, and hope, and charity, are the true fruits of the Spirit is that they last. In religion, the fruit which “remains” is the only fruit. Anything else is a pretender. Herein is a point of difference between worldly and spiritual things. It would not be just to say that things which wear out have no value. Who shall say that the flower which blooms in the morning and withers before the sunset is not a fair and kind gift of the Creator? Who shall affirm that the summer sunset is not beautiful, though even while we gaze upon it its hues are fading? Who shall deny that there is something precious in the lightsome glee of childhood, even though in a little while that cheerful face is sure to be shadowed by the cares of manhood? Indeed, the beauty and value of many things in this world are increased by the shortness of the time for which they last. But it is not thus with Christian grace. If it be not a grace which will last forever, it is no grace at all. A man may show every appearance of being a true disciple; but if his zeal wanes and expires, if the throne of grace is deserted, the Bible neglected, and the little task of Christian philanthropy abandoned, how much reason there is then to fear lest the man was deceiving himself with a name to live while he was dead--that he was mistaking the transient warmth of mere human emotion for the gracious working of the Holy Spirit of God!
II. “FRUIT WHICH REMAINS” IS THE ONLY KIND OF CHRISTIAN PROFESSION WHICH WILL RECOMMEND RELIGION TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT CHRISTIANS. Men judge of religion by the conduct and character of its professors. And just as a humble, consistent believer is a letter of recommendation of Christianity to all who know him, just so is the inconsistent believer’s life a something to make them doubt whether religion be a real thing, and not a mere matter of profession and pretence. No one but God can tell how much harm is done by the Christian who, in his newborn zeal, disdains the quiet faith of old disciples who have long walked consistently, but whose zeal passes like the morning cloud and the early dew. Oh! far better the modest fruit of the Spirit, which makes little show at first, but which remains year after year. Conclusion: The same power which implanted the better life within must keep it alive day by day; the continual working of the Spirit must foster the fruits of the Spirit; and that Spirit is to be had for the asking in fervent, humble prayer. Let us watch against the first symptoms of declension in religion; remember that spiritual decline begins in the closet; guard against that worldly spirit which is always ready to creep over us; seek to walk by faith, and not by sight; be diligent in the use of all the appointed means of grace, and vigilant in guarding against every approach of temptation; and seek to have our loins girt and our lamps burning, as those who do not know how soon or suddenly the Bridegroom may come. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Think of the Speaker Himself! He is near unto His end. Will He indeed remain? Listen to the angry roar of the multitude, “Away with Him!” If an artist of that age had been asked to put on fresco the permanent, would he have chosen “the Christ”? He might have selected the emperor, or Jerusalem’s marble temple; but he would scarcely have selected the Saviour when He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. But our Lord Himself? Did He not know the secret of permanence? Full well we know His thoughts. “I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto Me.” “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” The same spiritual permanence He would see in all His professed disciples. Let them but abide in Him, and then the branch would be as the vine I Fruit is to remain
I. IN PRINCIPLE. Religion is founded on the permanence of the moral nature. It lays hold on the eternally right and true within us. Religion without principle is but a Jonah’s gourd. There may be beauty in our life, but there must be strength, or the beauty itself will be but the hectic flush of consumption. Think of a divine teacher who had to suit his thesis of virtue to education or country! No! His virtue was Sinai etherealized and glorified, but it was the same virtue. Christ has made morality living and real. His principles will live on in every age. None can displace them until men have denied the conscience within them. His words still are spirit, still are life. Thus, then, if we are Christians, we shall be firm and strong in moral principle. Ours will be no sentimental life.
II. IN INFLUENCE. We are so to live that others may gather fruit from our lives when we are gone. We say Milton lives, and Baxter, and Pascal. True. The lustre of noble words and beautiful deeds lingers on, yea, even brightens with time. But the humblest life also lives on in the future years. The permanent influence is not that of the mere orator, thinker, or theologian. Brilliant epochs do not make lives. It is easy to fulfil special tasks, to enter upon some memorable struggle with all eyes fixed upon us. It is difficult in daily life, amid the distraction of little things, to be faithful, patient, earnest unto the end.
III. IN FEELING. The emotional nature is not to be crushed, or even relegated to an inferior place. No life is beautiful that is a stranger to tenderness or tears. But unless the heart keeps alive affection, all else will suffer; for we were made to love, and our influence will cease if that dies out. Why should emotion be a transient thing, to be apologized for or treated with affected criticism as unmanly? Christ was moved with compassion. Feeling should be permanent. Why not? We need not exhaust it by stimulants, nor mortgage the emotion of tomorrow by drawing upon its exchequer today. Within us all there ought to be a nature which the Divine memories of the gospel always touch with tenderness.
IV. IN ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR. As flowers retire into themselves at eventide, so too often do men and women. There is lassitude or languor not born of physical weakness, but of mental ennui, which too often comes in the evening of life. It is a characteristic of a true Christian faith that it vivifies all eras of life. For there can be no preserved sanctities of service where there is no delight in the dear old ways, no true fountains of joy in God. When men lose interest, you cannot quicken their energy. Appeal will not do it, nor arguments, nor firmness of will. A regiment in which there are grey-headed soldiers is likely to have enduring men in it; and a Christian army in which the veterans do not tire is not only a beautiful spectacle, but constitutes a brave contingent for the war.
V. IMMORTALITY. (W. M. Statham.)
These things I command you that ye love one another (see John 15:12)
Love in the Christian system
The work is all love: love in its hidden source the love of the Father; in its first manifestation, the love of Christ; and lastly, in its full outpouring, the love of believers for each other.
Love is its root, its stem, its fruit. It forms the essential characteristic of the new kingdom, whose power and conquests are owing solely to the contagion of love. This is why our Lord left no other law but that of love to those who had by faith become members of His body. (F. Godet, D. D.)
As the spokes of a carriage wheel approach their centre, they approach each other: so also, when men are brought to Jesus Christ, the centre of life and hope, they are drawn towards each other in brotherly relationship, and stand side by side journeying to their heavenly home. (J. F.Serjeant.)
When a rose bud is formed, if the soil is soft, and the sky is genial, it is not long before it bursts; for the life within is so abundant, that it can no longer contain it all, but in blossomed brightness and swimming fragrance it must needs let forth its joy, and gladden all the air. And if, when thus ripe, it refused to expand, it would quickly rot at heart, and die. And Christian love is just piety with its petals fully spread, developing itself, and making it a happier world. The religion which fancies that it loves God, when it never evinces love to its brother, is not piety, but a poor mildewed theology, a dogma with a worm in the heart. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
If the world hate you
Kosmos: unregenerate humanity
is here presented.
I. AS GLOWING WITH HATE.
1. It was a hatred of goodness. To hate the mean, the selfish, the false, the dishonest, and morally dishonourable would be right. But evil was not the object of their hatred.
(1) It was good as embodied in the life of Christ. “It hated Me before it hated you.” How deep, burning, persistent, and cruelly operative was this enmity from Bethlehem to Calvary.
(2) It was good as reflected in His disciples. Just so far as they imbibed and reflected the Spirit of Christ were they hated. “For My name’s sake.”
2. It was a hatred developed in persecution. It was not a hatred that slumbered in a passion or that went off even in abusive language, it prompted the infliction of the greatest cruelties. The history of true Christians in all ages has been a history of persecution.
3. It was a hatred without a just reason. “Without a cause.” Of course they had a “cause.” The doctrines of goodness clashed with their deep rooted prejudices, its policy with their daily procedure, its eternal principles flashed on their consciences and exposed their wickedness. But their
“cause” was the very reason why they ought to have loved Christ. Christ knew and stated the cause of the hatred (John 15:19).
4. It was a hatred forming a strong reason for brotherly love amongst the disciples. Christ begins His forewarning them of it by urging them to love one another (John 15:17). As your enemies outside of you are strong in their passionate hostility towards you, be you compactly welded together in mutual love. Unity is strength.
II. AS LOADED WITH RESPONSIBILITY (John 15:22). These words must, of course, be taken in their comparative sense. Before He came amongst them the guilt of their nation had been augmenting for centuries, and they had been, filling up the measure of their iniquities. But great as was their sin before He came it was trifling compared to it now since His advent amongst them.
1. Had He not come they would not have known the sin of hating Him. Hatred towards the best of beings, the incarnation of goodness, is sin in its most malignant form, it was the culmination of human depravity. But had they not known Him they could not have hated Him, the heart is dead to all objects outside the region of knowledge.
2. Had He not come they would not have rejected Him. “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” The rejection of Him involved the most wicked folly, the most heartless ingratitude, the most daring impiety. “If they which despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two witnesses,” etc.
3. If He had not come they would not have crucified Him. What crime on the long black catalogue of human wickedness is to be compared to this?
1. Good men accept the moral hostility of the unregenerate world. Your great Master taught you to accept it. It is in truth a test of your character and an evidence of your Christliness.
2. Nominal Christians read your doom. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The children of this world as distinguished from the children of God. Called the world as indicating number, confederacy, and spirit. Three characteristics.
I. GOVERNED BY SENSE.
II. LIVING FOR THE PRESENT.
III. RULED BY THE OPINIONS AND CUSTOMS OF MEN. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
The world of John’s day we know, as to its actual condition, from other sources. Let anyone turn over the pages of Tacitus, Martial, or Persius, and what he learns will put “colour” into John’s outlines: nay, one dare not say, “turn over their pages,” for some of them can scarcely be read without hurt by the saintliest living. The same “world”--at heart--we still find in the present century, under modern conditions. It has grown in wealth. It has become civilized and refined. Law has become a mightier thing. The glory of science was never half so radiant. But, looking close in, we still find the old facts--a dislike of God and love of sin, pride and self-sufficiency, a godless and selfish use of things men “hating one another,” selfishness fighting selfishness--an infinite mass of misery. Look beyond the borders of comfort and respectability, and think of what exists today round about us. Think of the unblest poverty that is growing side by side with enormous wealth and luxury, associated in many cases with vice and crime, crushing the spirit in ways that comfortable people cannot understand, and frequently aggravated by the temper in which it is borne, and by added evils which do not properly belong to it. Think of the ignorance that has grown to such proportions under the very shadow of our schools and churches. (J. Culross, D. D.)
Sheep among wolves
1. These words strike a discord in the midst of sweet music. The keynote of all that has preceded has been love, and just because it binds the disciples to Christ in a sacred community, it separates them from those who do not share in His life, and hence there result two communities--the Church and the World; and the antagonism between these is perpetual.
2. Our Lord is here speaking with special reference to the apostles, who were “sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” If we may trust tradition, every one of that little company died a martyr’s death, with the exception of John. But there is no more reason for restricting the force of these words to the hearer,, than there is for restricting any of the rest of this discourse.
I. WHAT MAKES THIS HOSTILITY INEVITABLE? Our Lord here prepares His hearers for what is coming by putting it in the gentle form of an hypothesis.
The frequency with which “if” occurs in this section is rely remarkable, but the tense of the original shows us that, whilst the form is hypothetical, the substance of it is prophetic. Jesus points to two things which make this hostility inevitable.
1. If we share Christ’s life, we must necessarily, in some measure, share His fate (verse 18). He is the typical example of what the world thinks of, and does to, goodness. And all who have the spirit of life which was in Jesus Christ will come under the same influences which carried Him to the cross. In a world like this it is impossible for a man to “love righteousness and hate iniquity,” and to order his life accordingly, without treading on somebody’s corns.
2. And then (verse 19), there are two bands, and the fundamental principles that underlie each are in deadly antagonism. We stand in diametrical opposition in thought about God, self, duty, life, death, the future; and that opposition goes right down to the bottom of things, and, however it may be covered over, there is a gulf, as in some of those American cations: the towering banks may be very near--but a yard or two seems to separate them; but they go down for thousands and thousands of feet, and never get any nearer each other, and between them at the bottom a black, sullen river flows. If the world loves you it is because ye are of it.
II. HOW THIS HOSTILITY IS MASKED AND MODIFIED.
1. There are a great many bonds that unite men together besides religion or its absence. There are the domestic ties, the associations of commerce and neighbourhood, surface identities of opinion. We have all the same affections and needs, do the same sort of things. So there is a film of roofing thrown over the gulf. You can make up a crack in a wall with plaster after a fashion, and it will hide the solution of continuity that lies beneath. But, let bad weather come, and the bricks gape apart as before. And so, as soon as we get down below the surface of things and come to grapple with real, deep-lying, and formative principles of a life, we come to antagonism.
2. Then the world has got a dash of Christianity into it. Thus Christian men and others have, to a large extent, a common code of morality, as long as you keep on the surface; and do a great many things from substantially the same motives. And thus the gulf is partly bridged over; and so the hostility takes another form. We do not wrap Christians up in pitch and stick them up for candles in the emperor’s garden nowadays, but the same thing can be done in different ways. Newspaper articles, the light laugh of scorn, the whoop of exultation over the failures or faults of any prominent man that has stood out boldly on Christ’s side; all these indicate what lies below the surface, and sometimes not so very far below. Many a young man in a warehouse, trying to live a godly life, many a workman, commercial traveller, student, has to find out that there is a great gulf between him and the man that sits close to him; and that he cannot be faithful to his Lord and at the same time down to the depths of his being a friend of one who has no friendship to his Master.
3. And again the world has a conscience that responds to goodness, though grumblingly. After all, men do know that it is better and wiser to be like Christ, and that cannot but modify to some extent the manifestations of the hostility. But it is there all the same. Let a man for Christ’s sake avow unpopular beliefs, let him boldly seek to apply Christian principles to the fashionable and popular sins of his class or of his country, and what a chorus will be yelping at his heels! The law remains still, if any man will be a friend of the world he is at enmity wish God.
III. HOW YOU MAY ESCAPE THE HOSTILITY. A half-Christianized world and a more than half-secularised Church get on well together. And it is a miserable thing to reflect that about the average Christianity of this generation there is so very little that does deserve the antagonism of the world. Why should the world care to hate a professing Church, large tracts of which are only a bit of the world under another name? If you want to escape the hostility drop your flag, button your coat over the badge that shows that you belong to Christ, and do the thing that the people round about you do, and you will have a perfectly easy and undisturbed life. Of course, a Christianity that winks at commercial immoralities is very welcome on the exchange, a Christianity that lets beer barrels alone may reckon upon having publicans for its adherents, a Christianity that blesses flags and sings Te Deums over victories will get its share of the spoil. If the world can put a hook in the nostrils of leviathan, and make him play with its maidens, it will substitute good nature, half contemptuous, for the hostility which our Master here predicts. Christian men and woman I be you sure that you deserve the hostility which my text predicts.
IV. HOW TO MEET THIS ANTAGONISM.
1. Reckon it as a sign and test of our true union with Jesus Christ. Let us count the reproach of Christ as a treasure to be proud of, and to be guarded.
2. Be sure that it is your goodness, and not your evils or your weakness, that men dislike. The world has a very keen eye, and it is a good thing that it has, for the faults of professing Christians. Many bring down a great deal of deserved hostility upon themselves and of discredit upon Christianity; and then they comfort themselves and say they are bearing the reproach of the Cross. Not a bit of it. Be you careful for this, that it is Christ in you that men turn from, and not you yourself and your weakness and sin.
3. Meet this antagonism by not dropping your standard one inch. If you begin to haul it down where are you going to stop? Nowhere, until you have got it draggling in the mud at your foot. It is no use trying to conciliate by compromise. All that we shall gain by that will be indifference and contempt.
4. Meet hostility with unmoved, patient, Christ-like, and Christ-derived love and sympathy. The patient sunshine pours upon the glaciers and melts the thick-ribbed ice at last into sweet water. The patient sunshine beats upon the mist clouds and breaks up its edges and scatters it at the last. And our Lord here tells us that our experience, if we are faithful to Him, will be like His experience, in that some will hearken to our word though others will persecute, and to some our testimony will come as a message from God that draws them to the Lord Himself. The only conqueror of the world is the love that was in Christ breathed through us. The only way to overcome the world’s hostility is by turning the world into a church. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
If ye were of the world the world, would love his own
The pedigree and position of true men
THE PEDIGREE OF TRUE MEN.
1. They were once in the world. That world is characterized by
(1) Practical athiesm. They who make it up are without God, if not avowedly, at least in spirit, conduct and aim.
(2) Imperial materialism. They have no practical recognition of a spiritual universe, relationship, obligation. They walk after the flesh, and seek their happiness, wealth, dignity in earthly things.
(3) Dominant selfishness. Each one is governed by selfish interests. These are the goal towards which their steps are directed; the idol they worship.
2. They have been brought out of the world by Christ. No one but Christ can bring men out of such a state. Philosophy, civilization, natural religion are powerless. Christ penetrates men with the idea of the true God. He draws the curtain of materialism and reveals the spiritual world. He destroys selfishness and constrains men with His own love. This work is represented by an emancipation, regeneration, resurrection, creation--and none of these words are too strong.
II. THE POSITION OF TRUE MEN. They are rendered repugnant to the world by Christ.
1. The hatred of the world to true men is of the same kind as that which Christ experienced. The forms of persecution change, but the spirit remains. If it is prevented from mangling the body, it will mangle the reputation.
2. Then hatred is for the same reason. The world hated Christ because
(1) His purity condemned their depravity.
(2) His benevolence their selfishness.
(3) His humility their pride.
(4) His truth their prejudices.
(5) His spirituality their carnal pleasures. For these reasons now the world hates true men. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The world we have renounced
1. Perhaps there is no word more commonly in our mouth than “the world;” and yet hardly any to which we attach less clear and certain meaning, Indeed, the sense intended by it varies according to the character of the person that uses it. Some people denounce the world as unmixed evil; some say it is for the most part good, or at least innocent: some profess to see its deceitful workings everywhere; some will see them nowhere: some make their religion to consist in a separation from the world; some think the field of their religious duty is in the world: in a word, there is little or no agreement or certainly but in this, that there is such a power and reality as the world, and that it is of great moment to us to know what it is.
2. In its original sense, the world is altogether good. By the work and will of God it is all sinless and pure. It is only in its second intention that the world has an evil sense; but that sense is its prevailing and true one--“the weed” is the creation of God as it is possessed by sin and death. So subtle and far spreading is the original sin of man, that no living soul is without a taint. The original sin was not a measured quantity, so to speak, of evil, which, like a hereditary disease, might exhaust itself in the course of two or three descents. Every several generation renewed it afresh; every several man reproduced it, and sustained the tradition of evil by example, habit, and license; it was perpetuated in races, nations, families; by custom, usage, law. And what is this great tradition of human thought and will, action and imagination, with all its illusions, misjudgments, indulgences, and abuses of God’s creatures, but the world? We mean by it something external to our minds, and yet not identical with the creation of God; something which has thrust itself between it and us; something parasitical, which has fastened upon all God’s works, and has wound itself into its inmost action, and into its very being.
I. It is true to DISTINGUISH BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD, as between things antagonistic and irreconcilable: for the Son of God, by His incarnation and atonement, and by the calling and mission of His apostles, has founded and built up in the earth a visible kingdom, which has no other Head but Him alone. “That visible kingdom is so taken out of the world, that a man must either be in it or out of it; and must, therefore, be either in the Church or in the world. In the visible kingdom of Christ are all the graces and promises of life; in the world are the powers and traditions of death.
II. But it is no less true to say, that THE WORLD, WHICH IN THE BEGINNING WAS VISIBLY WITHOUT THE CHURCH, IS NOW INVISIBLY WITHIN IT. So long as the world was heathen, it warred against the Church in bitter and relentless persecutions. The two great traditions--the one of God, the other of the world, the powers of the regeneration and of the fall--kept their own integrity by contradiction and perpetual conflict. The Church stood alone--a kingdom ordained of God, having her own princes and thrones, her own judges and tribunals, her own laws and equity, her own public customs and private economy of life. It was when the conversion of individuals drew after it, at last, the whole civil state; when the secular powers, with all their courts, pomps, institutions, laws, judicatures, and the entire political order of the world, came into the precincts of the Church; then it was that the great tradition of human thought, passion, belief, prejudice, and custom, mingled itself with the unwritten usages of the Church. In the beginning the Church had a sorer and a more fiery trial: but who can say that the peril of souls is not greater now? In those days it was no hard matter to discern between the world and the Church. But now our very difficulty is, to know what is that world which we have renounced; to detect its snares, and to overcome its allurements … I will say, that the state of public morals, the habits of personal and social life, popular amusements, and the policy of governments, so far as they are not under the direct guidance of religion, are examples of the presence and power of that which is properly and truly called “the world.” And nobody need fear to add, that the tone and moral effect of all these, except when they are especially guided by religion to a Christian use and purpose, is almost always, in a greater or less degree, at variance with God. This, then, is the world which in our baptism we renounced. It was no remote or imaginary notion, but a present and active reality: that very same principle of original evil which, in all ages, under all shapes, in all places, has issued in lust, pride, covetousness, vainglory. We are not called to separate ourselves from any outward system, but to be inwardly as estranged from the evil that cleaves to the system around us, as if we were not of it. (Archdeacon Manning.)
Christians separated from the world
It is a remarkable act, that while the baser metals are diffused through the body of the rocks, gold and silver usually lie in veins; collected together in distinct metallic masses. They are in the rocks but not of them And as by some power in nature God has separated them from the base and common earths, even so by the power of His grace will he separate His chosen from a reprobate and rejected world. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The believer not of the world
When courtiers come down into the country, the common home-bred people possibly think their habits strange; but they care not for that. “It is the fashion at Court.” What need, then, have the godly to be so tender-foreheaded, to be out of countenance because the world looks on holiness as a singularity? It is the only fashion in the highest Court,--yea, of the King of kings Himself.” (H. G. Salter.)
Christians not to compromise with the world
That idea is very popular. “Now then, Moses, do not be too strict. Some people are a deal too particular. Those old-fashioned puritanical people are narrow and straitlaced: be liberal and take broader views. Cannot you make a compromise? Tell Pharaoh’s daughter you are an Israelite, but that, in consequence of her great kindness, you will also be an Egyptian. Thus you can become an Egypto-Israelite--what a fine blend! Or say an Israelito-Egyptian--with the better part in the front. You see, it seems a simple way out of a difficulty, to hold with the hare and run with the hounds. It saves you from unpleasant decisions and separations: Besides, Jack-of-both-sides has great praise from both parties for his large-heartedness. My hearers, come out, I pray you, one way or the other. If God be God, serve Him; if Baal be God, serve him. If it is right to be an Israelite, be an Israelite; if it is right to be an Egyptian, be an Egyptian. None of your trimming. It will go hard with trimmers at the last great day. When Christ comes to divide the sheep from the goats, there will be no middle sort, and meanwhile you border people will be driven down to hell. May God grant us grace to be decided! (C. H.Spurgeon.)
But all these things will they do unto you
The world’s hatred, as Christ saw it
THE WORLD’S IGNORANCE (John 15:21). “The world,” in Christ’s language, is the aggregate of Godless men. There is no mincing of the matter in the antithesis which Christ here draws; no hesitation, as if there were a great central mass, too bad for a blessing perhaps, but too good for a curse. No I however it may be with the masses beyond the reach of the truth, the men that come into contact with Him, like a heap of metal filings brought into contact with a magnet mass themselves into two bunches, the one, those that yield to the attraction, and the other those that do not. The one is “My disciples,” and the other is “the world.” And now, says Jesus Christ, all that mass that stands apart from Him, have, as the underlying motive of their conduct and their feelings, a real ignorance of God.
2. Our Lord assumes that He is so completely the revealer of the Divine nature as that any man that looks upon Him has had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with God, and that any man who turns away from Him has lost that opportunity. Out of Him God is not known, and they that turn away from His beneficent manifestation turn their faces to the black North, from which no light can shine.
3. But there is a deeper meaning than simply the possession of true thoughts concerning the Divine nature. We know God as we know one another; because God is a Person, as we are persons. And the only way to know persons is through familiar acquaintance and sympathy. And so the world which turns away from Christ has no acquaintance with God. This is the surface fact. Our Lord goes on to show what lies below it.
II. THE WORLD’S IGNORANCE IN THE FACE OF CHRIST’S LIGHT IS WORSE THAN IGNORANCE: IT IS SIN.
1. Mark how He speaks (verses 22, 24). He puts before us two forms of His manifestation of the Divine nature by His words and His works. And of these two He puts His words foremost, as being a deeper and more precious and brilliant revelation. Miracles are subordinate, they come as a second source of illumination. The miracle to the word is but like the picture in the child’s book to the text, fit for feeble eyes and infantile judgments, but containing far less of the revelation of God than the sacred words.
2. But notice, too, how decisively, and yet sorrowfully, our Lord here makes a claim which, on the lips of any but Himself, would have been mere madness of presumption. Think of any of us saying that our words made all the difference between innocence, ignorance, and criminality! Think of any of us pointing to our actions and saying, in these God is so manifest that not to see Him augurs wickedness, and is condemnation! And yet Jesus Christ says all this. And what is more wonderful, nobody wonders that He says it, and the world believes that He is saying the truth when He says it. How does that come? There is only one answer. He Himself was Divine.
3. But, notice how our Lord here declares that in comparison with the sin of not listening to His words, and being taught by His manifestation, all other sins dwindle into nothing. “If I had not spoken, they had not had sin.” That does not mean, of course, that these men would have been clear of all moral delinquency. There were men committing all the ordinary forms of human transgression amongst them. And yet, says Christ, black as these natures are, they are white in comparison with the blackness of the man that, looking into His face, sees nothing there that he should desire.
4. As light grows responsibility grows. The truth that the measure of light is the measure of guilt turns a face of alleviation to the dark place of the earth; but adds weight to the condemnation of you, who are bathed in the light of Christianity. No shadows are so black as those which the intersest sunshine at the tropics casts.
III. THE IGNORANCE WHICH IS SIN IS THE MANIFESTATION OF HATRED.
1. Observe our Lord’s indentification of Himself with the Father, so that the feelings with which men regard Him are, ipso facto, the feelings with which they regard God.
2. You say, “I do not pretend to be a Christian, but I do not hate God. Take the ordinary run of people round about us in the world; if you say God is not in all their thoughts I agree with you, but if you say that they hate God, I do not believe it.” Well, do you think it would be possible for a man that loved God to go on for a twelvemonth and never think of the object that he loved? And inasmuch as, deep down in our moral being, there is no such thing as indifference in reference to God, it is clear, that although the word must not be pressed as if it meant conscious and active antagonism--where there is no love there is hate. If a man does not love God, he does not care to please Him. And if obedience is the very life breath of love, disobedience or non-obedience are the manifestation of antagonism, and antagonism is the same thing as hate. There is no neutrality in a man’s relation to God. It is one thing or other. “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” “The friendship of the world is enmity against God.”
IV. THIS IGNORANCE, WHICH IS SIN AND HATRED, IS UTTERLY IRRATIONAL. (verse 25). One hears sighing through these words the Master’s meek wonder that His love should be so met. The most mysterious and irrational thing in men’s whole history and experience is the way in which they recompense God in Christ for what He has done for them. Think of that Cross! Do we not stand ashamed at the absurdity as well as at the criminality of our requital? Causeless love on the one side, and causeless indifference on the other, are the two powers that meet in this mystery--men’s rejection of the infinite love of God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Persecution for Christ’s name’s sake
Among all the malefactors you condemn there is not a Christian to be found chargeable with any crime but His name. So much is the hatred of our name above all the advantages of virtue flowing from it. Setting aside all inquiry into the principle of our religion and its Founder, and all knowledge of them, the mere name is laid hold of; the name is attacked; and a word alone prejudges a sect unknown, and its Author also unknown, because they have a name, not because they are convicted. (Tertullian.)
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin
The peculiar sin of the Jews, the sin which aggravated above everything their former iniquities, was their rejection of Christ.
He had been very plainly described in the prophets, and they who waited for Him rejoiced to see Him. But because Jesus had not the outward garnishing of a prince, they shut their eyes against Him, and were not content till they had crucified Him. Now, the sin of the Jews is every day repeated by the Gentiles. As often as ye hear the Word preached and reject it, so often do you in effect once more pierce the hand and the side.
I. IN THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL, THERE IS TO MAN’S CONSCIENCE THE COMING OF OUR LORD. He that despiseth us despiseth not us, but Him that sent us. As for what I may say, as a man, it is but little that I should say it; but if I speak as the Lord’s ambassador, take heed that ye slight not the message. Have we not all of us grossly sinned against God, in the neglect that we have often put upon the means of grace? How often have you stayed away from the house of God, when God Himself was speaking there? And when ye have come up, how often ye have heard as though ye heard not. In all this you have despised God, and woe unto you, except ye repent, for ‘tis a fearful thing to have despised the voice of Him that speaketh from heaven.
II. THE REJECTION OF THE GOSPEL AGGRAVATES MEN’S SIN. Now, understand, we do not increase our condemnation by going to the house of God; we are far more likely to increase it by stopping away; for in stopping away there is a double rejection of Christ; you reject Him even with the outward mind, as well as with the inward spirit. Your sin is not aggravated merely by the hearing of the gospel, but by the wilful and wicked rejection of it when it is heard. Because the man who does this
1. Gets a new sin. Bring me a wild savage who has never listened to the Word. That man may have every sin in the catalogue of guilt except one; but that one I am sure he has not. He has not the sin of rejecting the gospel when it is preached to him. But you, when you hear the gospel, if you have rejected it, you have added a fresh iniquity to all others. “He that believeth not is condemned already,” etc. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did,” etc. “Woe unto thee, Chorazin!” etc. To reject Christ destroys a man hopelessly. The murderer, the thief, the drunkard, may yet enter the kingdom of heaven, if, repenting of his sins, he will lay hold on the cross of Christ; but with these sins, a man is inevitably lost, if he believeth not on Christ. Consider what an awful sin this is. There is murder in this; for if the man on the scaffold rejects a pardon, does he not murder himself? There is pride in this; for you reject Christ, because your proud hearts have turned you aside. There is high treason in this; for you reject a king.
2. He aggravates all the rest. You cannot sin so cheap as other people, you, who have had the gospel. He who sins ignorantly hath some little excuse; but he who sins against light and knowledge sins presumptuously; and under the law there was no atonement for this.
III. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL TAKES AWAY ALL EXCUSE FROM THOSE WHO HEAR IT AND REJECT IT. “Now have they no cloke for their sin.” A cloak is a very poor covering for sin, when there is an all-seeing eye to look through it. In the great day of the tempest of God’s wrath a cloak will be a very poor shelter; but still man is always fond of a cloak. And so it is with you; you will gather, if you can, an excuse for your sin, and when conscience pricks you, you seek to heal the wound with an excuse. And even in the day of judgment, although a cloak will be a sorry covering, yet it will be better than nothing at all. “But now ye have no cloke for your sin.” The traveller is left in the rain without his covering, exposed to the tempest without that garment which once did shelter him. Notice how the preaching of the gospel takes away all cloaks for sin.
1. One man might get up and say, “I did not know I was doing wrong when I committed such and such an iniquity.” Now, that you cannot say. God has by His law told you solemnly what is wrong. If the Mahommedan commits lust, I doubt not his conscience doth prick him, but his sacred books give him liberty. But you profess to believe your Bibles, and therefore when you sin, you do wilfully violate a well-known law.
2. Again you might say, “When I sinned, I did not know how great would be the punishment.” Of this also, by the gospel, you are left without excuse; for did not Jesus Christ tell you, that those who will not have Him shall be cast into outer darkness?
3. But some of you may say, “Ah, I heard the gospel, and I knew that I was doing wrong, but I did not know what I must do to be saved.” Is there one among you who can urge such an excuse as this? “Believe and live” is preached every day in your hearing.
4. I can hear another say, “I heard the gospel preached, but I never had a good example set me.” Some of you may say that, and it would be partially true; but there are others of you, concerning whom this would be a lying excuse. Ah! man; you have been very fond of speaking of the inconsistencies of Christians. But there was one Christian whom you knew, and whose character you were compelled to admire. It was your mother. That has always been the one difficulty with you up to this day. You could have rejected the gospel very easily, but your mother’s example stood before you, and you could not overcome that.
5. But others of you can say that you had no such mother; your first school was the street, and the first example you ever had was that of a swearing father. Recollect, there is one perfect example--Christ.
6. One more excuse is this: “I had many advantages, but they were never sent home to my conscience so that I felt them.” Now, there are very few of you here who can say that. No, you have not always been unmoved by the gospel; you have grown old now, and it takes a deal to stir you, but it was not always so.
IV. I have now as it were to PRONOUNCE THE SENTENCE OF CONDEMNATION. For those who live and die rejecting Christ there is a most fearful doom. They shall perish with an utter destruction. There are degrees of punishment; but the highest degree is given to the man who rejects Christ. The liar and the whoremonger, and drunkards shall have their portion--whom do you suppose with?--with unbelievers; as if hell was made first of all for unbelievers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Cloaks for sin: or excuses removed
No excuse for sin? That is a strange statement. Excuses have been one of the specialties of each sinner’s stock-in-trade from Eden. These “cloaks for sin” are “always on hand.” And yet Christ declares of those who wickedly and presumptuously reject the offered pardon and guidance, that they have no good excuse, “no cloak for their sin.” But you say, I “I have a valid excuse for not being a Christian
I. THE HYPOCRISIES AND WRONG-DOINGS OF CHURCH MEMBERS.”
1. I admit that some rogues are hiding their wolfish hearts under the deceptive wool of churchly professions. As Jacob, by putting hair upon himself and thus professing to be Esau, secured a blessing from blind Isaac, so some bad men have secured credit and confidence by stealing the livery of heaven to serve the devil in. One Sunday morning a dressmaker told her little niece to put on her things and take a bundle of dress goods under her shawl to the house of one of her patrons, remarking, “Nobody will see it.” The child replied, “But, Aunty, is it not Sunday under my shawl?” There are some professors to whom church membership is only a shawl to cover up sin. Such an empty profession affords “no cloak for sin.”
2. You say then, “I believe in a man living up to what he professes!” I answer, “I believe in a man’s daring to profess what he believes.” The outward and inward life should fit both ways. Do not think your strange eagerness to point out stains on Christian garments arises from pure love of truth and righteousness. Look down into your heart and ask, “Why do I so readily hear and so quickly believe and so promptly circulate, without investigation, reports against professing Christians” (Act 8:58)? Besides, Christians never profess perfection in conduct, but only in love, with sincere though imperfect efforts toward goodness.
II. But another says, “I have a real excuse--A GOOD MORAL LIFE IS A CHRISTIAN LIFE. I gave my old overcoat the other day to a poor man, and I give away to the poor more than anybody knows.” Let it be remembered that Dorcas was saved because she was “a disciple.” She did not hold up the garments she had made for the poor to cover up the sin of disobeying and rejecting Christ--indeed, she did not exhibit her charity at all; but those to whom she gave them praised her and not her own lips. This effort to cloak our sins is only a repetition of Naaman’s effort to hide and heal his leprosy by giving away changes of raiment instead of obeying God in His command.
III. Some of you are wrapping yourself in another cloak, which you think is fireproof asbestos--“GOD IS TOO MERCIFUL TO PUNISH ME. I don’t believe as you do about future punishment.” But the laws of the world assert that there must be punishment or atonement for sin, as well as the Old and New Testaments. But questions about endless punishment cannot fairly be made excuses for anyone refusing to accept personal salvation, as the only condition of conversion in the matter of belief is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “I don’t believe” is no cloak for sin when God challenges you to test religion. “Come and see.”
IV. Another wrap is, “I AM TRYING TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN A QUIET WAY. I don’t believe in talking about it.” As well might our soldiers have said in the late war, “We are trying to be loyal, but we don’t think that the order to wear blue uniforms and carry the stars and stripes and organize into regiments is essential.”
V. Another wraps a cloak of mingled humility and pride over his sin as he says, “I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO BE A CHRISTIAN. I’m very conscientious and I couldn’t be a Christian without being a perfect one.” Hear that sick man saying, “I’m not well enough yet to send for the Great Physician.”
VI. Or do you say, “I TRIED THIS THING ONCE AND FAILED?” As well say, “I tried to wear an overcoat but I didn’t have it made carefully and it came to pieces in a little while, and so I’ll never try to wear another, however cold the winds may blow.” Throw away that shivering cloak of past failures as an excuse for sin and have another robe made more thoroughly than your first--the robe of Christ’s righteousness.
VII. Another cloak is, “I FEAR I SHOULD FAIL AND NOT LIVE UP TO MY PROFESSION. I have very unfavourable surroundings and a peculiar temperament.” Exchange that miserable cloak for the sword of Divine help and defence and “the whole armour of God” (Ephesians 6:11). As to unfavourable surroundings, there were” saints in Caesar’s household,” and also in the households of Ahab, Pharaoh, and other famous foes of God. Abraham reared his altar in the very midst of idolaters.
VIII. Or do you frankly say, “I COULDN’T BE A CHRISTIAN AND CONTINUE IN MY BUSINESS, and I can’t give that up, for a man must live?” Mark you, when every man gives an account of himself to God, church records will never appear in evidence. What is wrong is wrong, whether a man’s name is on the church book or not, and it is simply ridiculous to suppose you have a cloak for sin that will wash, because you can say, “My name is not on the church book” (James 5:2).
IX. Or do you wave that “cloak for sin” aloft?--“I WANT TO HAVE FUN AND FREEDOM A LITTLE LONGER.” “Only use not liberty as a cloak of maliciousness” (1 Peter 2:16). Joseph, when tempted by the wife of Potiphar, left the outer robs she had seized upon in her hand and fled, saying, “How can! do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
X. Or do you offer the excuse, “CAN’T AFFORD TO BE A CHRISTIAN?” The church of Elijah and John the Baptist, with their rough camel’s hair coats, and of the widow who gave the two mites, is surely a place for the poorest. Think less of pews and pennies and appearance and more of the penitence and the inward adorning of the hearts.
XI. Or do you say by way of excuse, “I’M TOO BUSY TO THINK OF RELIGIOUS MATTERS? The care of the body is about all I can attend to just now.” That was Dives’ mistake. He was so busy in robing himself and family in purple and fine linen that he left his soul in rags and at last brought himself to hell’s robe of fire.
XII. OTHER EXCUSES
1. “Too old.” “He is able to save unto the uttermost.”
2. Too young? As Samuel wore the ephod of a priest at three years of age, so in early life any child may wear the robe of righteousness.
3. Don’t feel enough? When you have feeling the tempter will suggest the opposite excuse, “You feel too much excitement.” Between these two halves of his shears he is striving to cut in twain your offered robe of righteousness.
1. What comedies are these excuses! To be frank and honest, most are mere quibbling, dilatory motions, talking against time. Such shallow excuses for absence from a business engagement would not be accepted--not even offered, and instead of providing a cloak for our sin, weave another scarlet robe of mockery for the Crucified (Matthew 27:28). When Joseph was called before Pharaoh, he “changed his raiment” Genesis 41:14). We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Are you willing to appear there with no change of raiment, wrapped in these ragged excuses? Thank God that a change of raiment, a wedding garment is provided--a real cloak for sin (Isaiah 61:10). With this robe of Christ’s righteousness offered to us a real cloak to cover sin, shall we not, like the returning prodigal, throw away our ragged excuses and accede to that plan of God’s infinite love, “bring forth the best robe and put it on him.” As Peter threw off his outer robe when he plunged into the sea, that he might the quicker swim to Christ who stood upon the shore; as Lazarus was loosed from the grave clothes, so let us, lay aside every weight and the cloaks of excuse for sin that keep us back from God and Heaven, and let us first hasten to Christ, and run with patience the race that is set before us. As Lord Raleigh gallantly threw his beautiful robe upon the muddy ground for Queen Elizabeth to walk upon, so let us throw all our excusing cloaks of at the feet of Jesus and take instead Christ’s cloaks of zeal (Isaiah 59:17). (W. F. Crafts.)
The pleas of gospel impenitents examined and refuted
Gospel impenitents who finally reject Christ have no cloak for their sin
I. FROM ANY PLEAS OR PRENTENCES THEY CAN MAKE RELATING TO GOD THEIR MAKER. They cannot plead
1. That they are not invited to believe in Christ for salvation. The gospel invitation runs in indefinite terms, “Whosoever will, let him come.”
2. That they are not elected. It is not the undiscovered decree, but the revealed precept, that is our rule, according to which we are to conduct ourselves, and by which we shall finally be judged (Deuteronomy 29:29)
3. That God uses any compulsion, or exerts any positive influence, to keep them in unbelief and harden them in sin (James 1:13).
4. That there is any deficiency of suitable means on God’s part, or that He does not afford them necessary external helps for their believing in Christ Isaiah 5:4). He has given men the Bible, the Church, pastors and teachers, sabbaths, etc.
5. That there is a want of internal assistances, and a defect of necessary influences from God to make the means effectual. The fact is
(1) Sinners do not realise what God tells them of the necessity of His grace, and of their own impotency, but are apt vainly to magnify their own abilities, and to think every man of himself more highly than he ought to think.
(2) Sinners do not pray to God for His Spirit as they ought, although they confess their own impotency.
(3) Sinners under the gospel, whether they pray for the Spirit or not, do actually experience those assistances of common grace, which are a full vindication of God, and leave them without all excuse. The Spirit of God is often at work in their consciences. He convinces them of sin, admonishes them of duty, and stirs up their affections, desires, fears, and hopes. But here is the misery and folly of sinners: they do always resist and vex the Holy Ghost.
II. FROM ANY PLEAS THEY CAN MAKE REFERRING TO SATAN, AND AN EVIL WORLD, THEIR SPIRITUAL ADVERSARIES. They suffer no violence from external causes, nor will any impediments they met with in the way of duty, afford them a plea sufficient to justify their not repenting and receiving Christ. What or who should compel the sinner to refuse Christ? They may persuade and entice, but they cannot force. They may indeed use a violence upon the body, and hinder that from external duties; but they cannot reach the soul, to hinder repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (James 4:7). It is the fault and folly of sinners, they do not resist the devil. And then, if Satan has gained a power over any, which seems almost irresistible (2 Timothy 2:26), they have brought this upon themselves (Psalms 81:11-12).
III. IT REMAINS, THEREFORE, THAT SIINNERS TAKE ALL THE BLAME OF THEIR SIN AND RUIN TO THEMSELVES (James 1:14; John 3:19). Gospel impenitents
1. Neglect to use, or trifle in using, those means which are in their own power, and which they might probably hope God would bless, in order to their salvation (John 6:27; Luke 13:24; Philippians 2:12).
2. Resist the methods of grace, which the blessed God uses with them, and quench the Holy Spirit striving in them (Isaiah 63:10; Acts 7:51).
3. Do actually commit those sins, which, as they have a natural tendency to hinder their conversion, so they provoke God to withhold His special grace from them (Zechariah 7:11-12; Ezekiel 24:13).
4. Do all this in a free and voluntary manner, and upon motives which, at the time, appear to them founded in reason.
Conclusion: Have gospel impenitents no cloak for their sin?
1. Hence we may learn the justice of God in the eternal condemnation of such in a future state.
2. Hence the awfulness of our standing under the gospel, and the miserable delusion of such as trust to mere privileges and externals in religion.
3. Hence the folly of delay in the grand affair of conversion.
4. If gospel impenitents are inexusable, who perish in their own iniquity; how much more such sinners as are voluntarily instrumental to the sin and ruin of others!
5. What abundant reason have they to admire the grace of God toward them, who after a course of great sin, under gospel light, have been converted! (T. Foxcroft.)
They hated Me without a cause
Hatred without cause
It is usually understood that the quotation is Psalms 35:19. No being was ever more lovely than the Saviour; it would seem almost impossible not to have affection for Him. And yet, loveable as He was, from His first moment to the cross, save the temporary lull while He was a child, it seemed as if all men sought to destroy Him. In different ways that hatred displayed itself, in overt deeds, in words of slander, or in looks of contempt. At other times that hatred dwelt in their thoughts, and they thought within themselves, “This man blasphemeth.” All grades of men hated Him. Most men have to meet with some opposition; but then it is frequently a class opposition. The demagogue must expect to be despised by the rich, and he who labours for the aristocracy of course meets with the contempt of the many. But here was a man who walked among the people, who loved them, who spoke to the rich and poor as though they were on one level in His blessed sight; and yet all classes conspired to hate Him.
I. LET US JUSTIFY WHAT THE SAVIOUR SAID.
1. In Christ’s person there was an absence of almost everything which excites hatred between man and man.
(1) There was no great rank in Christ to excite envy. Let a man be ever so good, if he be at all lifted above his fellow creatures the many often speak against him. Now, Christ had none of the outward circumstances of rank. Instead of being lifted above men, He did, in some sense, seem to be below them, for foxes had holes, etc.
(2) Many persons envy those who exercise rule or government over them. If authorities were changed every month, in some countries there would be revolutions as much under one as under another. But this did not operate in Christ’s case: He did not assume sway over the multitude. In fact, instead of binding laws upon them which were severe, He loosened the rigidity of their system.
(3) Some men make others dislike them because they are proud. Somehow or other the human mind cannot bear pride; we always kick against it. But there was nothing of that in our Saviour. How humble He was! He would wash His disciples’ feet.
(4) There are others that you cannot help disliking, because they are so snappish, and waspish, and angry. But you cannot find that Christ spake one angry word, save those words of holy wrath against Pharasaic pride. Such a loving, kind, gentle spirit, one would have thought would have gone through the world as easy as possible.
(5) Another set you can scarcely help disliking--selfish people. But whatever Christ did, He did for others. “He saved others; Himself He did not save.” Self-sacrifice was the life of Christ; but He did it with such an ease that it seemed no sacrifice.
(6) Another sort of people there are that I do not like, viz. the hypocritical. But there never was a more unvarnished man than Christ. Among all the slanders men brought against Christ they never disputed His sincerity.
2. Was there anything in Christ’s errand which could make people hate Him? He came
(1) To explain mysteries, to tell them what was meant by the sacrificial lamb. Should they have hated one who made dark things light.
(2) To reclaim the wanderer; and is there anything in that that should make men hate Christ?
(3) To heal the diseases of the body. Shall I hate the physician who goes about gratuitously healing all manner of diseases? Surely, He might well say, “For which of the works do ye stone Me.”
(4) To die, that sinners might not die? Ought I to hate the substitute who takes my sins and griefs upon Him, and carries my sorrows?
3. Was there anything in Christ’s doctrine that that should have made us hate Him?
(1) Take His preceptive doctrines. Did He not teach us to do to others as we would they should do to us?
(2) Was it the ethical part of His doctrines that men bated? He taught that rich and poor must stand on one level; He taught that His gospel was to be gloriously expansive. This, perhaps, was one principal reason of their hating Him; but surely there was no justifiable cause for their indignation in this.
II. MAN’S SIN, THAT HE SHOULD HAVE HATED THE SAVIOUR WITHOUT A CAUSE.
1. I will not tell you of man’s adulteries, murders, wars, cruelties, and rebellions; if I want to tell you man’s sin, I must tell you that man is a deicide--that he put to death his God, and slew his Saviour; and when I have told you that I have given you the essence of all sin. In every other case, when man has hated goodness, there have always been some extenuating circumstances. We never do see goodness in this world without alloy. But because the Saviour had no inconsistencies or infirmities, men were stripped of all their excuses for hating Him, and it came out that man naturally hates goodness, because he is so evil that he cannot but detest it.
2. And now let me appeal to every sinner, and ask him whether he ever had any cause for hating Christ. But someone says, “I do not hate Him; if He were to come to my house I would love Him very much.” But Christ lives next door to you, in the person of poor Betty there. Why don’t you like Betty? She is one of Christ’s members, and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these ye have done it unto Me.” Don’t you know a very holy man you cannot bear because he told you of your faults once? Ah! sir, if you loved Christ you would love His members. I must suppose you to be hostile to Christ, unless you love Him; for I know there are only two opinions of Him. You must either hate Him or love Him. Indifference with regard to Christ is a clear impossibility. A man might as well say, “I am indifferent towards honesty.”
3. And now, Christian men, I must preach at you. Sure ye have great reason to love Christ now, for ye once hated Him without a cause. Did ye ever treat a friend ill, and did not know it.
1. If your Master was hated without a cause, do not you expect to get off very easily in this world.
2. Take care, if the world does hate you, that it hates you without a cause. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
But when the Comforter is come
The Holy Spirit: His work and mission
THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1. Our text speaks of the Holy Spirit as a Person. “He shall testify;” “and ye also” (see also Joh_16:7-8; Joh_16:13-15). In the first of these places He is spoken of as a Person acting with other persons, of whose personality there can be no doubt, viz., the apostles. In the last He is represented as acting intermediately between the Father, an undoubted Person, and the apostles. We know that the effects of His operation are sometimes personified. But still our Lord and the sacred writers speak of Him in a way which requires us to understand an intelligent agent, e.g., in the form of baptism (Matthew 28:19). If the Spirit is a figure of speech, so are the Father and the Son.
2. He is a Divine Person. Otherwise an idol is set up on the very threshold of the Christian temple; and we are taught by the form of baptism to worship a creature of our own fancy. If the inspired language is perplexing, if He is not a real Person, it is delusive and dangerous if He be not divine Matthew 12:28; John 14:12; of. Romans 15:19). We turn our thoughts to the offer of forgiveness so free and wide (Isaiah 55:7; Mark 3:28); but amidst all this wealth of mercy we find a solitary exception--blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Mark 3:29). Is a figure of speech the object of the one irremissible sin!
3. The Three Divine Persons, though equal in dignity and power, have been pleased to establish a method of procedure which corresponds in a measure to the mode of the Divine existence. The Father is “of none,” and is never said to be sent or given. The Son is of the Father, and as the Son of the Father, is sent and given by Him (2 John 1:3; 1 John 4:9; John 3:16), The Holy Spirit is never said to give or send the Son; but to proceed from the Father, to be given, and sent by the Father. In like manner, also, as the Son is called the Son of the Father, the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of His Son,” etc. (Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:11), and is said to be sent and given by Christ (John 16:7; Acts 2:33).
II. HIS WORK.
1. “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” All the preannouncements concerning the coming and work of Christ were but the voice of the Spirit (Matthew 1:22; Acts 28:25). This testimony is so manifold as to anticipate the gospel at every point (Acts 26:22). It was by the agency of the Spirit that this prophecy was turned into history.
(1) Our Redeemer must be a man like ourselves, and a body was prepared Him by the agency of the Spirit (Luke 1:35).
(2) He must be a holy man, and so that conceived by the Holy Ghost was “that holy thing,” and continued so.
(3) In His public capacity He was anointed with the Holy Ghost and power.
(4) To the same gracious agency we are taught to ascribe the virtues exhibited in His passion.
(5) After death Jesus was “quickened by the Spirit.”
2. The Holy Spirit’s testimony as borne by the apostles.
(1) All Christ’s oral teachings was recalled to their minds, and the knowledge, courage, etc., needed to discharge their duties.
(2) Their testimony was confirmed by the Spirit in a wonderful manner in “wonders and signs,” etc.
(3) The spoken testimony has perished, but the written testimony remains from generation to generation.
(4) In the long succession of faithful men who have been “able to teach others also,” from that day to this the Spirit has borne a continuous testimony to Christ.
3. In the Church, as in the ministry, the Holy Spirit bears this testimony, and not only in many persons, but in many ways in the same persons.
(1) He testifies to men’s need of Christ, by convincing them of sin.
(2) He reveals Christ as a Saviour, and enables the penitent to receive and rest on Him for salvation.
(3) The spirit of adoption is a testimony of Christ. When we cry, “Abba, Father,” it is by the spirit of God’s Son.
(4) The spirit of adoption is also the spirit of holiness, and growth in holiness is inseparably connected with the knowledge of Christ (2Pe Hebrews 6:1). (G. Osborn, D. D.)
The Spirit testifying of Christ
I. CONSIDER STATEMENTS IN GENERAL TERMS OF THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1. “He shall testify”--bear witness. Now, when we have a witness it is most important that we should understand whether or not he is competent to bear witness about the matter in question. This witness is “the Spirit who searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” He is a Divine and therefore a competent witness with regard to Christ Jesus.
2. Again, in a court of justice it is important to know whether a witness is reliable. This witness is none other than “the Spirit of Truth” Himself.
3. He is one who puts honour on Christ. In John 16:14 we read, “Heshall glorify Me.” As we preach, the Holy Ghost bears witness to Him--carries home the truth in power to the hearts of those to whom it is addressed, and by His sweet constraint leads them to yield to the Saviour and to put their trust in Him. John 16:8, etc., we read--
(1) “He will convict of sin because they believe not on Me;” of all sins the most heinous is the rejection of Christ Jesus.
(2) “Of righteousness,” etc., i.e., of righteousness in Christ Jesus.
(3) “Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” This is of triumph over Satan’s power.
II. STATEMENTS OF HIS WORK IN PARTICULAR CASES.
1. A striking example of that is afforded in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. What a catalogue! “Such were some of you,” says the apostle, “but ye are washed, ye are sanctified,” etc. What a wondrous change! How had the change come about? By the Spirit of God. He had spoken to them; He had dealt with them; He had drawn them; He had united them to Christ Jesus, so that they were sanctified and justified in Him. A strolling conjuror was one night in a tramps’ lodging house in Sheffield, and different members of the fraternity were sitting over the fire, and they were overhauling the contents of their bags, and he told me that he saw one bring out a New Testament that he had bought for his little girl. The conjuror was greatly struck, and bought it, and that night, before he lay down upon his bed in that tramps’ lodging house, by the dim light of the candle, he opened his new purchase to see what it contained, and his eye fell upon these words, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” He was like a man who had been shot. He tossed backwards and forwards upon his bed that night; there was no rest, no sleep for him. The Holy Ghost had carried the word home to his heart. He gave up his conjuring, and followed some honest trade, and for months he went up and down England with the arrow of conviction sticking fast in his heart; and then, through the kindly counsels of a town missionary, he was brought to put his trust in the Lord Jesus as his Saviour. When last I saw him he was earning an honest living, making and selling braces, and as he offered them for sale he would speak some homely earnest words about the Saviour.
2. If you will turn to the Epistle to Titus 3:3, you will find another list of sins. Now, when we read the list in the Corinthians, we cannot help thinking what loathsome, horrible people they were. When we read the list in Titus, we cannot help thinking what exceedingly disagreeable people they must have been to live with. But the Apostle says, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour,” etc. Those persons had become the heirs of God in the hope of eternal life. And how? By the work of God, because the Holy Spirit had spoken to them and had dealt with them, had wrought in their hearts, had drawn them to the Lord Jesus, and united them in faith to Him.
III. THERE ARE SOME NEGATIVE STATEMENTS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE, AS THROWING LIGHT UPON THIS SUBJECT.
1. Turn to Romans 8:9. “If any man,” whosoever he may be, however beautiful may be his character, and however excellent may be his natural disposition, “have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”
2. Another statement occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:3. These words imply that we not only recognize in Christ a Saviour, but a Lord to whom we yield, and to whose service we consecrate all that we are and all that we have. No man can do that but by the Holy Ghost.
3. Another negative statement is found in Jude 1:19, where we read,“These be they who separate themselves, sensual--not having the Spirit”--those who are beyond the pale; those who are not to be numberedamongst the children of God. They are in their natural or unrenewed state because they have not the Spirit.
IV. ONE OR TWO VERY PERSONAL OR STRIKING WORDS IN SCRIPTURE ON THIS SAME SUBJECT.
1. “My Spirit shall not always strive with men.”
2. Turn to Hebrews 4:7; Hebrews 4:7. Why has God seen fit to repeat that sentence three times over? Do you know that when a division on a most important subject is about to take place in the House of Commons the whips on the respective sides of the House send out a letter urging members individually not to fail to be present? And they put what is called “underlining,” and when you have a three-line whip or a four-line whip” it means that the matter is most urgent, and that the member must by all means give heed to it, Now, when God caused this word to be written three times over, it is as if He had sent out a three-line whip to the children of men. It is the message of one who loves the souls of men as tenderly as does the Father or as does the Son. (W. P. Lockhart.)
The Spirit the witness to truth
1. Pilate put the question to our Lord, What is truth? The answer was given in a manner more direct and forcible than words can express: in person and in deed. Jesus was Himself the Truth. But Pilate had neither an eye to see the Truth, nor an ear to hear it.
2. Many men, worthy and noble, before and since have put the question, presuming that truth belongs to the region of thought and human speech. But truth does not lie in the sphere of thought and speculation. Reflections and images of the truth are indeed to be found there; but truth is deeper and more original than human intelligence. Our Lord says of Himself, “I am the Truth”--absolute Truth. All other truth is such only relatively to Himself. He is the Truth of all other truths. But to know the truth and to receive its light and power, a man must be in positive sympathy with it. “Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.”
3. Jesus Christ witnesses of Himself as the Absolute Truth by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth. Other witnesses, indeed, there are and will always be. But such only are witnesses who are the organs of the Spirit. Let us consider the Christian doctrine--that the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit of Truth, is the all-sufficient witness to Jesus Christ.
I. THAT THE SPIRIT IS THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH IS SPECIALLY MANIFESTED BY THE FACT THAT THROUGH HIS AGENCY THE TRUTH OF THE GODHEAD HAS BECOME INCARNATE IN MAN.
1. The Creator and the creature, the Absolute Truth in God and the relative truth in man are constituted one life in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word was made flesh by the Holy Ghost. “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,” etc. The Divine was made human according to the law of human life; for Jesus was born. And the human was assumed into the Divine after the Divine manner, for Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost. The eternal and absolute Truth was revealed and made manifest in the person and life of a veritable man, who is for us and for all men the living and ultimate Truth, in whom and by whom alone the truth of all truths is accessible to faith, and through faith accessible to intelligence.
2. If we inquire further, How was it that He became the Truth in life and in death? The answer is as by the Spirit Jesus was born the Holy Babe, so by the Spirit did He manifest God by a perfectly holy manhood, and offer a spotless sacrifice for sin upon the cross, and vanquish all the powers of darkness in His resurrection from the dead.
II. THIS SPIRIT OF TRUTH, WHEREBY JESUS ACCOMPLISHED THE WORK OF REDEMPTION, IS BY HIM SENT FROM HEAVEN TO EARTH AS HIS REPRESENTATIVE AND WITNESS, THAT HE MAY LIVE IN THOSE WHO RECEIVE HIM AND GUIDE THEM INTO ALL TRUTH. The Spirit makes those true who are by nature perverse.
1. The truth is heavenly and spiritual, not earthly and material. No earthly thing can witness of the essence of the heavenly. No material thing can exhibit the life of the spirtual. Human genius cannot look into the depths of the Divine and announce its unfathomable fulness. If, as He claims, Jesus be the Truth, and if the Truth be spiritual and heavenly, transcendent and Divine, then in this fallen, dark, wicked world, where the He is enthroned and men walk in a vain show, there can be no agencies, no resources, whereby the depraved heart and the darkened understanding and the perverted will may come to a knowledge of the Truth. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” etc. The wisdom of this world is utterly inadequate to the task of discovering the truth of God. But God has revealed to us His wisdom by the Spirit.
2. It must needs be, then, that the truth being spiritual and heavenly, the agency, by whom we may know the truth, must likewise be spiritual and heavenly. To this end, the presence and the power of the Spirit is effectual. In those who receive Him, the Spirit dissipates the clouds of natural darkness, removes the aversion of the carnal mind, and sheds the light of heavenly truth into the soul with convincing power. As on the day of Pentecost the Spirit touched the consciences of the multitudes; as the revelation of Christ smote Saul of Tarsus to the ground, as the Spirit opened the heart of Lydia, so has the same Spirit all along the ages been a power working mysteriously in those to whom the Word was preached, convincing them of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The Spirit alone can shed the light of truth into the souls of men now.
III. THE SPIRIT AWAKENS IN MEN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH BY MAKING THEM POSSESSORS OF THE TRUTH.
1. No right knowledge of Jesus Christ is external or merely intellectual. To appreciate Christ men must be members of Christ. The Spirit, accordingly, is the Divine agency whereby Christ apprehends men and men appropriate Christ. In the Spirit the separation is resolved into unity, the contradiction into the fellowship of faith. The dominion of error and falsehood is broken--broken because He who is the Truth lives in the believer, and thebeliever thus also becomes true.
2. To this end the power of the Spirit is effectual, independently of time or place, independently of rank or station.
3. For this work of the Spirit there can be no substitute. No discoveries in the natural world, no progress in science, no achievement of human genius can put man in possession of the truth, and thus make man personally true. In spite of all these empty glories he will remain the victim of a lie, and all his proud knowledge will confirm his delusion and deepen his spiritual darkness.
IV. MAKING MEN POSSESSORS OF THE TRUTH, THE SPIRIT IS ALSO THE POWER BY WHICH BELIEVERS FULFIL THE TRUTH BY A RIGHTEOUS AND GODLY WALK.
1. When the truth lives in the soul, it becomes the principle of action. The truth fills our ethical nature and gives it freedom. The truth sets the will free from the bondage of self-love and the world spirit. It becomes active in the truth and for the truth. Thus consciously active our ethical life acquires strength, that strength which is of the truth itself, a strength as mighty as the truth is mighty.
2. No such strength can come from the resoluteness and firmness of the natural will; not from any kind of self-imposed moral discipline. The self-denial and self-sacrifice of which the natural man is capable is but the renunciation of one falsehood to lay hold of another. The noble heroism and the stern morality of which, without possessing the truth that is in Christ, some men are capable, falls short just as certainly of freedom.
3. Not that the spiritual man is without spot or blemish. Nevertheless the man who by the Spirit possesses the truth and lives by faith under its power, asserts and develops a new morality. Thus in him the Spirit bears witness of Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the believer in turn is a living perpetual witness to the truth of God in Christ.
V. RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT AS THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, HE BECOMES FOR THE CHURCH AND FOR THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN THE WITNESS TO CHRIST.
1. He is the immediate witness. The Spirit is the living bond by which Jesus Christ and fallen men become one life. Possessing the believer, Christ authenticates Himself to his heart and mind, in his will and consciousness. In that He shows unto us the things of Christ, the Spirit witnesses directly of Christ to us that He (Jesus Christ) is the Truth. Such witness is like the witness of self-consciousness. No truth can be more certainly known than this: that I am, that I think and will. Even so, in the heart and consciousness of a true believer, does the Holy Ghost testify that Jesus is the Truth of all truths.
2. The Spirit is the all-sufficient witness. Whatever question the natural reason may raise, or philosophy suggest; whatever new problem may arise in the history of the world; whatever doubts may be prompted by revolutions in science or convulsions in social life; whatever strength the human intellect may acquire by culture and discipline; however imposing and fearful may be the hostile array of the enemies of the Cross; however proud and triumphant the boasts and predictions of unbelief and naturalism, the status of the Christian Church remains unchanged. The witness is at hand, adequate to every objection that scepticism, materialism, and wickedness may seek to establish; a witness just as satisfying to every man who is not of the lie but of the truth as an axiom of quantitative truth is satisfying to the intellect of a mathematician. Here is the refuge and the strength of the Church and of the ministry and of the people of God in every land and in every age. No other witness is valid, or can satisfy the spiritual demands of the soul. (E. V. Gerhart, D. D.)
The great world-restoring Spirit
I. HIS ADVENT FORETOLD. “When the Comforter is come.”
1. The prediction was given to comfort them in the prospect of the persecution to which Christ had just directed their attention. They are given to understand that however great their approaching trials may be, and though He Himself was about departing from them, One would soon come to them from His Father who would be all sufficient for their help.
2. The prediction was strikingly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, in connection with the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:1-3).
II. HIS CHARACTER PORTRAYED. “The Spirit of truth.” There is a spirit of lying abroad in the world, sowing the seeds of error in human souls, and cultivating them into briars and thorns, into poisonous weeds and upas trees. But here is the Spirit of Truth who is also abroad and at work.
1. He is infallible Truth. Truth without any admixture of error or impunity. His ideas and His affections, so to say, are in perfect accord with eternal fact.
2. He is Redemptive Truth. His truth is to open the eyes of ignorance, to break the chains of bondage, to cleanse the heart from impurities, to deliver the conscience from guilt l In one word, to restore the soul to the knowledge, the image, the friendship, and the enjoyment of the great God.
III. HIS WORK INDICATED.
1. His work is that of an advocate. He goes into the court of human conscience and there He pleads for spirituality, benevolence, righteousness, God, against worldliness, selfishness, wrong, the devil. Sometimes He pleads in whispers, sometimes in thunder. Always is He earnest and persevering. He inspires His ministers to say, “We beseech you in Christ’s stead be ye reconciled unto God.”
2. His work is that of a witness. A witness for Christ, for the perfection of His character, the purity of His doctrines, and the beneficence of His influence. He does this through the teaching, the miraculous works, the moral triumphs, and the noble lives of those whom He inspired as the apostles of Christ. Conclusion: Let the assurance that this restoring Spirit is in the world encourage us in our efforts to spread truth, and in our trials to be magnanimous and patient. (D. Thomas D. D.)
The defence against a hostile world
Our Lord has been speaking of a world hostile to His followers and to Him. He proceeds, in the words which follow, to paint that hostility as aggravated even to the pitch of religious murder. But here He lets a beam of light in upon the darkness. He lets them see that they will not be left alone, but have a great champion, who will put into their hands a weapon, with which they may conquer the world, and turn it into a friend, and with which alone they must meet the world’s hate. Consider
I. THE GREAT PROMISE OF AN ALLY AS AGAINST A HOSTILE WORLD.
1. The wonderful designation of this Champion Friend.
(1) The “Comforter” is no mere gentle consoler. The word which means one who is summoned to the side of another, conveys the idea of a helper. The verses before our text suggest what sort of aid and succour the disciples will need. And that Paraclete is a strong Spirit who will be our champion and our ally, whatever antagonism may storm against us, and however strong and well-armed may be the assaulting legions of the world’s hate.
(2) “The Spirit of Truth,” which means not so much His characteristic attribute as rather the weapon which He wields, or the material with which He works. That is to say, the Spirit of God is the Strengthener, the Encourager, the Comforter, the Fighter for us and with us, because He wields that great body of truth, the perfect revelation of God, and man, and duty, and salvation, which is embodied in the Incarnation and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. The truth is His weapon, and it is by that that He makes us strong.
2. The two-fold description of the mission of this Divine Champion.
(1) “Sent” by Christ. In a previous part of this discourse, our Lord speaks of Him as being sent by the Father in His name and in answer to His prayer. The representation here is by no means antagonistic to this, for “whatsoever the Son seeth the Father do that also the Son doeth likewise.” And therefore the Spirit is sent forth by the Father, and also the Son sends the Spirit.
(2) But, on the other hand, we are not to regard that Divine Spirit as merely a messenger sent by another. He “proceeds from the Father.” That word has been the battlefield of theological controversy, but what is meant is the simple historical coming forth into human life of that Divine Spirit. And, possibly, the word is chosen to give the idea of a voluntary and personal action of the Messenger, who not only is sent by the Father, but of Himself proceeds on the mighty work to which He is destined. Mark that wonderful phrase, twice repeated and emphasized by repetition “from the Father.” The word translated “from” designates a position at the side of, and suggests much rather the intimate and ineffable union between, Father, Son, and Spirit than the source from which the Spirit comes.
3. Is not all this enough to make the weakest strong, and to make us “more than conquerors through Him that loved us”? All nations have legends of the gods fighting at the head of their armies, and through the dust of battle the white horses and the shining armour of the celestial champions have been seen. The chiddish dream is a historical reality. It is not we that fight, it is the Spirit of God that fighteth in us.
II. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT WHICH FORTIFIES AGAINST THE WORLD. “He shall bear witness of Me.” That phrase, “unto you,” tells us that the witness is something which is done within the circle of the Christian believers, and not in the wide field of the world’s history or in nature. Of course it is a great truth that long before Jesus Christ, and today far beyond the limits of His name the Spirit of God is working. As of old, He brooded over the chaotic darkness, ever labouring to turn chaos into order, and darkness into light; so today, all over the field of humanity, He is operating. But what is spoken of here is something that is done in and on Christian men, and not even through them on the world, but in them for themselves. “He shall testify of Me” to you.
1. The first application of these words is to the little group listening to Him. Never were men more desolate and beaten down than these were, in the prospect of Christ’s departure. Never were men more utterly bewildered and dispirited than these were, in the days between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Think of them during His earthly life, their narrow understandings, their manifold faults, moral as well as intellectual. What was it that made these dwarfs into giants in six weeks; that made them start up all at once as heroes and that so swiftly matured them, as the fruits and flowers are ripened under tropical sunshine? The witness of the Spirit of God working within them, working upon what they knew of the historical facts of Christ’s life, and interpreting them, was the explanation of their change and growth. And the New Testament is product of that. Christ’s life was the truth which the Spirit used, and the product of His teaching was these epistles which we have, and which for us step into the place which the historical facts held for them; and become the instrument with which the Spirit of God will deepen our understanding of Christ and enlarge our knowledge of what He is to us.
2. The promise still applies to each of us in a secondary and modified sense. For there is nothing in these great valedictory words which is not the revelation of a permanent truth in regard to the Christian Church. And, therefore, we have the promise of a universal gift to all Christian men and women, an actual Divine Spirit to dwell with each of us, to speak in our hearts. And what will He do there? He will teach us a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. He will help us to understand better what He is. He will show us more and more of the whole sweep of His work, of the whole infinite truth for morals and religion, for politics and society, for time and for eternity, about men and about God, which is wrapped up in that great saying which we first of all, perhaps under the pressure of our own sense of sin, grasp as our deliverance from sin--“God so loved the world,” etc. And as the days roll on, and new problems rise, and new difficulties present themselves, and new circumstances emerge in our personal life, we find the truth that we first of all dimly grasped as life and salvation, opening out into wisdom and depth and meaning that we never dreamed of in the early hours.
3. Then, note that this inward witness of Christ’s depth and preciousness is the true weapon and stay against a hostile world.
(1) A little candle in a room will make the lightning outside almost invisible; and if I have burning in my heart the inward experience and conviction of what Jesus Christ is, and what He has done and will do for me--oh, then all the storm without may rage and it will not trouble.
(2) If you take an empty vessel and bring pressure to bear upon it, in go the sides. Fill it, and they will resist the pressure. So with growing knowledge of Christ and growing personal experience of His sweetness in our souls, we shall be able to throw off, untouched and undinted, the pressure which would otherwise have crushed us.
4. And so here is the true secret of tranquillity, in an age of questioning and doubt. Let me have that Divine voice speaking in my heart, and no matter what questions may be doubtful, this is sure--“We know whom we have believed”; and we can say, “Settle all your controversies any way you like, one thing I know”--“the Son of God is come and hath given us understanding that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true.” Labour for more of this inward, personal conviction of the preciousness of Jesus Christ to strengthen you against a hostile world.
5. And remember that there are conditions under which this Voice speaks in our souls
(1) One is that we attend to the instrument which the Spirit of God uses, and that is “the truth.” If Christians will not read their Bibles, they need not expect to have the words of these Bibles interpreted and made real to them by any inward experience.
(2) And there must be moral discipline too. Laziness, worldliness, the absorption of attention with other things, self-conceit, prejudice, and the taking of our religion at second hand, stand in the way of our hearing the Spirit of God when He speaks. Come away from the babble and go by yourself, and take your Bibles with you and read them and meditate upon them and get near the Master of whom they speak, and the Spirit which uses the truth will use it to fortify you.
III. THE CONSEQUENT WITNESS WITH WHICH THE CHRISTIAN MAY WIN THE WORLD. “And ye also shall bear witness of Me,” etc. That also has, of course, direct reference to the apostles, and therefore their qualification was simply the companionship with Him which enabled them to say, “We saw what we tell you; we were witnesses from the beginning.” But then, again, it belongs to us all, and so here is the task of the Christian Church in all its members. They receive the witness of the Spirit, and they are Christ’s witnesses in the world. Note
1. What we have to do--to bear witness: not to argue, to adorn, but simply to attest.
2. What we have to attest--the fact, not of the historical life of Jesus Christ, because we are not in a position to be witnesses of that, but the fact of His preciousness and power, and the fact of our own experience of what He has done for us.
3. That is by far the most powerful agency for winning the world. You can never make men angry by saying to them, “We have found the Messias.” You cannot irritate people, or provoke them into a controversial opposition when you say, “Brother I let me tell you my experience. I was dark, sad, sinful, weak, solitary, miserable; and I got light, gladness, pardon, strength, companionship, and a joyful hope.” We can all say that. This is the witness that needs no eloquence, no genius, no anything except honesty and experience; and whosoever has tasted and felt and handled of the Word of Life may surely go to a brother and say, “Brother! I have eaten and am satisfied. Will you not help yourself?” We can all do it, and we ought to do it. Conclusion: The Christian privilege of being witnessed to by the Spirit of God in our hearts brings with it the Christian duty of befog witnesses in our turn to the world. Oh! listen to the Master, who says, “Him that confesseth Me before men, will I also confess before My Father in heaven.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And ye also shall bear witness
True Christian testimony
(text in conjunction with John 16:1-4):--In this we see
THE SPIRIT OF GODLY HUMILITY. It comes only from the Lord, and serves the Lord only (John 15:26). Do not trust your own talents and power, but implore heaven’s blessing. Otherwise you will be in the case of Gehazi with the prophet’s stick. The witnessing must be concerning Him, not concerning us, our zeal, wisdom, or success.
II. SINCERE TRUTH. It comes from the heart and goes to the heart (John 15:27).
III. FEARLESS COURAGE (John 16:2). Stephen and the martyrs of everyage had this. If an unfriendly world has persecuted the Master, His followers must not expect to escape, although it may only take the form of a smile or a sneer.
IV. HOLY LOVE--a love for men that says, “They do not know the Lord” (John 15:3). He prayed for His enemies because they knew not what they did. It is not all malignity which meets us in the shape of evil at the hands of our fellow creatures--much of it is folly, blindness, and infirmity. (C. Gerok, D. D.)
Witness bearing for Christ
I. ITS NATURE. To witness is to give testimony: and testimony is a statement of facts within the knowledge of the witness.
1. The facts. Christ risen; alive; living in the witness; saving the witness now. The facts relate to a present experience, and not to what may have been realized years ago.
2. A knowledge of the facts. No court will admit a desire, hope, belief, as evidence. So the Christian witness must know that Christ is able to save.
3. A statement of the facts known. A holy life is necessary not only to salvation, but to give credibility to testimony; but it cannot of itself bear testimony. We must declare Christ as the source of our excellencies and joys, and confirm our statement by a consistent life.
II. ITS OBLIGATIONS. The text is imperative. It is not a matter of option whether we bear witness or not.
1. It is demanded by the constitution of things. Science, art, and enterprize, etc., are largely dependent on testimony for success. And so the gospel is spread by the testimony of those who enjoy it as a living power in the soul.
2. It is one of the ordained weapons for the conquest of the world. Our Lord did not burden His soldiers. One coat, a pair of shoes, and two weapons--the Word and the testimony--made up their outfit. They preached Christ from the prophecies and then charged upon the enemy by their testimony. “They testified and preached.” Paul was made “a minister and a witness.” The secret of many failures is a want of true and deep experience which enables the preacher to join clear and definite testimony to the Word.
3. Its power to stir and overcome the wicked one. Witness the success of evangelists of very limited ability. (S. Baker.)
The witness of the Church to Christ
It is in truth one of the most serious things in life to be called upon solemnly to bear witness before our fellow men and with the invocation of the presence and help of God, even to one’s own observation, experience, conviction. To speak out simply and fully, without regard to consequences, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of those matters on which our testimony may be required, involves a simplicity of mind, a straightforwardness, and a courage which are probably less common than we are apt to suppose. How much more awful the duty of bearing witness for God, of representing to the world His thoughts, His words, His life! And yet this is the duty of all who know Him. It was the work to which He called that ancient people whom He separated from the idolatrous nations of the earth, and recorded His incommunicable Name among them. But even He, the Holy Ghost, is not alone in the work of testifying of Jesus; for He adds, “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” The members of His mystical body are to be fellow workers with God, and organs of the Divine Spirit. And what is the nature of the witness which they were to carry to the world.
1. They were to testify to His Person. “Bear witness--not merely of My doctrine, not merely of My works but--of Me.” It is the one most marked peculiarity of our blessed Lord’s teaching. Other teachers and leaders had been contented to have followers who would receive and disseminate their doctrines. And the true witness must also direct men to Him, as the God man, the Redeemer, the Prophet, Priest, and King of humanity.
2. They were to testify to His work. They had been with Him from the beginning, and had heard His words and seen His deeds of truth and love and power. The testimony to His work is the completion of the witness to His Person. What He has done for us must explain what He is to us.
3. But they were also to testify to His life. It was in His life that the nature of His person and the character of His work were most fully disclosed. His
Divine greatness, His moral sublimity, His redeeming power all shone out in the unequalled, unapproachable grandeur of His life. It declared itself to be unearthly, superhuman, from God. This, then, is the very core of our witness for Christ--not merely a better life than the life of the world: it will of course be in all respects a better life, but that is not all: it must be another life, drawing its origin from a higher source, animated by a higher principle, directed towards a higher end. It is not difficult to account for the profound impression produced upon men of all ages and lands, and of the most various culture, by the grandeur and sublimity of the character of Jesus Christ. Men could not help being struck with the absolute self-renunciation, the entire spirit of self-sacrifice which pervaded, like an atmosphere, His every thought, and word, and deed. It was a thing, a thought so absolutely new to the world. Obedience more or less ready and willing to the command of a superior they were not unacquainted with. But the complete, voluntary, and a cheerful surrender of a will to God, so complete and entire that there was no hesitancy, no momentary effort at self-assertion, was a phenomenon unexpected and startling, which revealed a kind of spiritual force which they had never seen in operation. Can we wonder that, when men have seen the disciples of Jesus fond of worldly display, greedy of honour, ambitious of place and of power, craving for earthly distinction, they should have found us false witnesses for God, and laughed us to scorn? Can we wonder that some, not caring to mark the startling contrast between the Master and the scholar, should have blasphemed the Holy Name by which we are called? Mark another element in the superhuman life of Christ: His ardent and unquenchable love of souls. They who would be witnesses for our Lord must first be deeply convinced of the unworldliness of the life of Christ, they must have heard and received His testimony to Himself and to them: “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” And yet again, we do not learn from the example of our Lord that ours need not be, ought not to be, an unsympathetic unworldliness? The light of Christ was not the clear cold, hard moonlight of a winter’s night; but the bright, soft, warm sunshine of a summer’s day. The unworldliness of the Son of God was not that of a stern asceticism which refused to own relationship with those who could not rise to its level. It was on the contrary gentle, tolerant, winning. The life of unworldliness of which we have spoken, as the true witness for” Christ, is beset with great and peculiar difficulties in our own day. (W. R. Clark, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent