The vine and branches; or caution against apostacy from Christ, John 15:1-5.
1.The true vine—The only TRUE vine, of which all material vines are but the shadow. In the divine alone is the essential reality; all sublunary things are comparatively but phenomena, appearances.
Father is the husbandman—God is the divine planter, who has planted the Redeemer in the soil of this probationary world.
2.Every branch—But who are the branches of this vine? From John 15:5, Ye are the branches, we might infer that they were the apostles alone, and that they became branches by the election of Christ. But from John 15:6, If a man abide not in me, we infer that any and every man is, primitively, a branch of Christ; and then the apostles are but one class of branches in the great whole. But in what respect are all men branches of Christ? And, to prepare our reply to this question, we must, first, repudiate two interpretations, or rather falsifications, of the text. The first falsification is that which makes the vine to be not Christ but the Church, which is not interpretation but substitution of words. And as the vine is not the Church but Christ, so the branches are living members of Christ, drawing their life from him. The second is that which supposes that, in the cases of all apparent apostates, the union between branch and vine is not real but only seeming. As it is real branches of Christ that are described, whose connection with him is vital, so it is a real separation of these branches which is described, and that separation is final, for the branches are burned. We may here note that Christ, as the second Adam, is the gracious basis of all physical life to humanity, and the source of all spiritual life to the race and to the individual, even before the individual birth. By nature, we are the branches of the fallen vine, the first Adam; by grace, we are born the spiritual branches of the heavenly vine, the second Adam. Hence we are birth-branches, not merely of the Church, but of Christ the true vine himself. Baptism creates not this union, but only recognizes and seals it. And hence, too, all growth in wickedness is apostacy. Every man who lives an unregenerate life has fallen from grace. Every branch of Christ has received the vital sap, the spiritual life, from him. If he bear not fruit, and incur a cutting off, he is an apostate; and if finally burned, a final apostate.
That beareth not fruit—These branches are living, voluntary, free, responsible agents. They do not, like the vegetable branch, bear or fail to bear by an inward necessity of nature, but by a free responsible will, competent, in the self-same circumstances, either for the bearing or the barrenness.
He taketh away—By a just judgment the union between Christ and the branch is severed. That disunion, however, goes not so far, while he has yet a remainder of vital sap within him and is not withered, but that he may be reingrafted. But when so separated, and so withered, that no possibility of life remains, his end is to be burned.
He purgeth it—Purifies it; a term not so applicable to the branch as to the literal man figured by the branch. We have here, as in various parts of the apologue, an interchange of literal with figurative language. God, through his Spirit, ever and increasingly sanctifies the faithful followers of his Son.
More fruit— And what is this fruit? And here, while we insist upon including under this term fruit all those heavenly tempers which are the inward fruits of the Spirit, we would avoid the approach to a spurious evangelicism, apparent in Olshausen’s comment upon the passage, which too much excludes holy, practical, external action. By their fruits, says our Saviour, that is, by their external conduct before the world, shall ye know them. There is a danger in making religious fruit too internal and subjective. There is some Antinomian error liable to arise when we say, too securely, right tempers will necessarily produce right action. Action, action, action, is quite as necessary in religion as in oratory, and is to be insisted upon distinctly and of itself. Integrity in the practical dealings of life; conduct squared by the principles of a true ethics; zeal, liberality, and energy in the benevolent organizations and operations of the Church and age, are fruits which every branch of Christ should bring forth abundantly and increasingly. For it is this increase, this more fruit, which it is the purpose of the purifying Spirit to produce.
3.Ye are clean—His apostles were cleansed, though imperfectly cleansed. Hence it is to them as true branches, as really in Christ, that all these warnings against final defection are addressed.
Through the word—They were cleansed not so much by the power of the Spirit, as by the power of Jesus’s word; that is, by the impressive teaching he had imparted, affecting their heart and controlling their life.
4.Abide in me—This is the great lesson of the apologue. In Christ you are, in Christ abide. To these apostles, surrounding him like the cluster upon the stem, as he was about to leave them, and they to separate from each other, he addresses this final admonition. Whatever your lot, wherever your place, do this one thing, abide in me, and all is safe. Their only danger is apostacy. And they can only abide in him by bearing fruit. And they can bear fruit only by abiding in him. Christian life is the source of Christian action; and Christian action is, back again, the source of Christian life.
5.Without me ye can do nothing—Gracious ability precedes all acceptable action. It is the sap without which no branch can bring forth fruit. Man, without the grace of God, through Christ, empowering him, can no more bring forth action pleasing to God than the dry and withered branch can put forth the rich and ruddy cluster.
6.Abide not in me—The assumption is that his union with Christ is not merely apparent, but real. For surely Christ would not require in any part of this passage a false and hypocritical abiding in or adherence to him. Such a requirement would be an injunction to hypocrisy; and an apostacy therefrom would be an apostacy not from holiness, but an apostacy from hypocrisy, that is, from the worst of sin, which would be no apostacy at all. The Calvinistic comment, therefore, which implies that this disunion is but a seeming one is preposterous.
He is cast forth as a branch—Separated from Christ; no longer justified through his blood.
Withered—The last spark of spiritual life extinct; the last susceptibility to renewal destroyed. The apostacy is, therefore, total.
Men gather them—We have now the apostates as a class, them, collected like withered branches into the bundle. It cannot, therefore, plausibly be said that no apostates have ever existed. Their collective existence is here described as an actual reality, and their destiny depicted under the most terrible imagery. For they are next cast into the fire, and, finally, there burned. Surely, from such apostacy there is no recovery. This description of the dark side of possible destiny is brief and terrible. It stands opposed to the fuller picture, drawn for the encouragement of the apostles, of their possible advancement in Christian grace and happiness.
Contrast between the apostate and the persevering adherent, John 15:6-11.
The contrast consists of five particulars on each side.
I. The five stages of judgment upon the apostate: 1, he is cast forth; 2, withered; 3, bundled; 4, cast into the fire; 5, and burned.
II. Five stages of blessing for the persevering disciple: 1, answer to prayer, John 15:7; John 2, glorification of the Father; 3, supreme love from Christ; 4, supreme obedience to Christ; 5, permanence and fulness of joy.
7.If ye abide’ ask what ye will—The full abiding in Christ, with Christ abiding in us, secures the privilege of answer to prayer. What we will in accordance with the Spirit of such a union as before explained (John 14:13) shall be granted unto us.
8.My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit—The second stage of advancement is, that our very advancement contributes to the honour and glory of God among men. Herein is the disciple’s great honour, that God accepts his advancement as honour to himself.
9.Father hath loved me, so’ I’ you—The third advancement is the attainment of a love from Christ so ineffable, and so perfect, as to be paralleled only by the love of the Father to the Son. The union of Christ with his persevering follower is modelled upon the ineffable unity of the Trinity itself. It is, therefore, perfect and eternal.
10.If ye keep my commandments’ kept my Father’s commandments—The fourth attainment is a love from the believer to Christ, evidenced by an obedience to his commandments paralleled only by the love of Christ to the Father. So that, reciprocally, as in the last verse we have a perfect love of Christ toward his elect, so here we have a perfect accord of heart and will from the elect to the Redeemer.
11.My joy might remain in you’ your joy might be full—And this completes the climax. As the apostate tends onward to the final burning, so the persevering elect progresses onward, through advancing stages of answered prayer, of glorifying God, of perfect love and obedience, to the full consummation of an eternal and absolute fulness of joy. Language can express no higher, no more perfect attainment.
The commandment of mutual love, based upon his example of love, John 15:12-17.
12.As I have loved you—Very perfect indeed is that authority in the commandment of love which is based upon the example of him who commands. Christ is the only preacher of absolute perfection who fully exemplified, in his own instance, the perfection he preached. All true human preaching is above the practice of even the best preacher.
13.For his friends—By laying down his life for them he demonstrated a love which no love could surpass. Others might faintly follow the example, but it is impossible that any should outdo it.
Friends—So called, as being loved by him, although they were originally, and before he died for them, enemies. So the apostle (Romans 5:9-10) is not contradicted. By so dying for them he raised them to the rank of friends. And in the case of all those who accept his atonement, he renders them, who formerly were not so, in reality his friends.
14.My friends, if ye do—He affords them a scope for becoming in action his friends. He condescends to raise them into the most intimate companionship with himself.
15.Call you not servants—Though they still may serve him, yet he raises them above a mere servile relation. He calls them not servants to the denial of the more exalted union.
Servant knoweth not—The servant, or slave, obeys without question the command he understands not. He is the tool of an arbitrary authority. But, to his friends, Christ has made known all things which the Father has revealed as the doctrines of salvation. Not absolutely all things, but all within the limits of their apostolate.
16.Ye have not chosen me—Students of the law among the Jews select their own masters and teachers; but not so have you selected me from among many others.
I have chosen you—It is I who have chosen and raised you to the rank of friends, and not you me. I have ordained, and given you official position, in order to your production of permanent fruit, and in order to your attaining the privilege of the answer of prayer, in my name, from the Father.
17.I command you—Inasmuch as I have conferred upon you grace so stupendous, and a love so perfect, full rightly have I authority to command you. And my command is, that one command most fully authorized by my example—the commandment of mutual love.
18.If the world hate you—He had just been softening their heart with lessons of love. But to the loving heart no pain is greater than the consciousness of being the object of hate, and this little band of apostles are to be the central object of hatred to a surrounding world. The if suggests no doubt of the fact, but prepares them for the terrible reality and furnishes them the antidote—it hated me before it hated you. You are hated, then, not because you are bad, but because you are good. It is the hatred of badness against goodness; for they hated incarnate goodness before they hated you.
18-27.Hatred of the world to the apostles, John 15:18-21; its guilt and aggravation, John 15:22-25; against which shall be the testimony of the Comforter and the apostles to Christ, John 15:26-27.
Thus far in his valedictory the Saviour has enjoined the adherence in love of his apostles to himself and to each other. From this internal bond of union he now turns to an external pressure from a hostile world, which may aid to render that union still more compact.
19.The world—Five times is the world named in this verse. And what, truly, is this so-named world? It is, of course, not the physical frame of the globe, nor is it the human race as such. It is the living, fallen, unregenerate race, with whom self-interest is supreme; to whom right is a word of feeble meaning, and holiness a term of disgust; to whom sin is a trifle or an unreality; to whom God in his true attributes is offensive, and of whom Satan, but dimly disguised, is the actual god. This world is a realm of sordid appetite, of turbulent passion, of unprincipled ambition; a kingdom of evil, in which, were the inhabitants not mortal, and occupied with compulsory labour, there would be a complete likeness and sameness with hell. Were God to render the bodies of unregenerate men at once immortal, men would become fiends and earth a pandemonium. No wonder, then, that one being the incarnation of goodness, should be the central object of its antipathy.
World would love its own—Were the apostles of this same world they would be the objects of such love as the world entertains, namely, the affinity of evil with evil. It would shed its grim smile upon them as its own, and welcome them into the compact and strife that the world affords and enjoys.
Because’ not of the world—Chosen by him from the world, the affinity of the world is broken and the antipathy is established. And it is not merely the antipathy of unlikeness. For the world hates them because, by assuming to be better than the world, the world feels itself to be by them condemned. And their mission of reproof, of warning, of threatening, and of reformation, is accepted by the world as a rebuke, an attack, and a war. Hence the world is in arms against them unarmed. It is the war of the many with the few; of the powerful with the weak; of the fierce with the mild; of the armored with the defenceless. But still he now propounds a consolation and justification. And these are threefold. First, they share this hatred with their Lord, John 15:20; second, that hatred guiltily strikes against God the Father, 21-25; and third, they co-operate in their testimony with the holy Comforter, 26, 27. Then, through the entire sixteenth chapter, does the Lord expand this struggle between the Comforter and the world before their view, closing with the grand trumpet peal of triumph, Be of good cheer, I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD! Such is the joyous close of the Lord’s earthly ministry to his apostles. His Gospel is a gospel of ultimate triumph.
20.Remember—Bear this word imprinted on your heart.
Servant’ Lord— Matthew 10:24; John 13:16. Honourable are the scorn and the hatred shared with Him who is honour itself. Nor can they complain while, in their suffering, they are preceded by his great example. And ever since he, the Lord, suffered persecution, persecution has become an honour; and persecutors have become afraid and ashamed when men cry persecution! against them. If’
persecuted me’ also persecute you—This thought shall harden you into good soldiers: that all their assaults were first suffered by me. Just the same persecution, and the same acceptance, which they afforded me, they will afford you; no more no less.
21.Because they know not him that sent me—This persecution against you travels up against me, and, through me, mounts up against God.
They know not—Not that they are passively and necessarily ignorant; but actively, voluntarily, freely, with full means and power to know and to do otherwise, they ignore Him that sent me.
22.If—There is a supposable case in which they would be without condemnation. If they had no means or power to know, if I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had responsible sin. Their action might have been wrong, but with no means or power to do right instead of wrong, it is not responsible wrong; it could not have incurred just condemnation or penalty. The impossibility in the intellect to know the truth is a cloak, an excuse, for not knowing the truth. The incapacity in the will to do right, arising from a necessary controlling motive force, is a cloak or an excuse for not doing right, and for doing wrong. If that wrong doing be properly called a sin, it is not a responsible sin.
And this is a universal law of a just divine administration. Where there is from the beginning no power for right there can be no guilt for wrong. Were the posterity of Adam born into existence without the means to know the truth, without the volitional power to will the right, or without any personal fault or forfeiture by their own free act, they could not have been held responsible or justly punishable. If Christ had not come, if no sufficient light had been shed, and no sufficient power imparted, there could have been no responsible sin, guilt, or penalty. Hence it was not until a Saviour was promised that Adam was spared and he begat a son. The future Saviour was the previous condition of the continuance of the race. Without that future Saviour there is no proof but that the fulness of the penalty of death would have been suffered in the person of guilty Adam alone, no posterity of his succeeding.
But now—Inasmuch as I have come and have spoken the truth, affording them the means of knowing, willing, and doing.
They have no cloak—No covering, no justification, no palliation; but a full exposure to the utmost penalty for their excuseless sin. They knew their duty and they did it not.
23.Hateth me hateth my Father—Their hatred runs through Christ as a conductor and lights upon God. And this is ever true. Men may claim to reject Jesus and yet hold to God. But their God is but a mere natural power, it is not the God of Christ or of the Bible. Some men of science reject Christ, and recognize a Nature, or a system of Laws, as ruling creation. But they ignore Christ, because they really ignore, reject, and scientifically hate the God of Christ. Deism, atheism, are a temper of the heart. Their theories grow out from the spirit and temper of the soul. It is in his heart that the fool saith there is no God; whether that fool be the fool of ignorance, or the greater fool of science. He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
24.If—There is another if enforcing and expanding the if of John 15:22.
Had not done’ works—Not by his word only, but by his works, attesting the superhuman power of his word, had he revealed to them the truth. His word, like original right and truth, attested itself to the conscience. His work, such as none other man did, attested his superhuman nature to their reason. With conscience and reason combining to attest his superhuman excellence, it was an excuseless folly for human beings to reject and hate him, claiming to be the Son and Messenger of God.
Seen and hated’ me and my Father—His works were not merely in themselves separate evidences. They were a part of his character and of himself. They were the attributes going to make up his divine person, as it appeared before them. He walked before them an Omnipotent. He passed in the scene before their eyes visible God. The curtain was uplifted, and upon the level stage of earth God incarnate passed before their view, as the visible Jehovah passed before the eyes of Moses. Hence he could truly say, now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
25.Without a cause—Psalms 69:9. For what cause was all this hatred? What plea for this malignity? And still might we ask, Why does the world hate religion, and the Church, and the Bible, and God? Why do so many of the scientific world so often ignore the God of Christ? It is all without reason or excuse. It is a pure gratuitous unholy temper.
26.Comforter’ Spirit’ shall testify—Though a wicked world reject and deny, there is a Holy Spirit that confirms and testifies. And here is the great issue. The world, with the spirit of evil, is on one hand, and Jesus, with his apostles and the Spirit of truth, is on the other. But the result of this issue cannot be doubtful. That Spirit proceedeth from the Father. Over all is God the Father Almighty. And where shall be the victory when God contendeth? Boastful and mighty as is the world, there is one who is mightier—GOD.
27.Ye’ witness—Indescribable glory and honour! Ye are permitted to cooperate with the Spirit of truth to the lordship and headship of Jesus the Christ, for yours has been the indescribable honour to have been with me from the beginning. Kings and princes are honored. They have a conspicuous place in history. But far above kings, emperors, or czars, is the dignity to have been an original witness to Christ, a co-worker with the Spirit of truth, an apostle of the indestructible Church.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany