“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ” (John 15:1-2)
A vine is planted solely for the sake of its fruit. There are many sorts of vines, each with its different sort of fruit. When a vinedresser plants a vine or a vineyard, he selects the type that produces the desired fruit. The fruit will be the manifestation of his purpose. When God planted the Heavenly Vine, it was that its fruit might bring life and strength to dying men. The very life of God, which man had lost by the fall, was to be brought back to him by Christ from heaven; Christ was to be to us the True Tree of Life. In Him, the True, the Heavenly Vine, in His Word and work, in His life and death, the life of God was brought within reach of men; all who should eat of the fruit should live forever.
More wonderful still, Christ’s disciples should not only eat and live, but in turn become fruit-bearing branches. The Divine life entering into them should not only dwell in them, but so assert its life-giving power that it should show itself in the fruit they bear for their fellow men. As truly as the Heavenly Vine, all its branches receive the life of God.
I. The Life in the Vine
We often speak of receiving Christ, following Christ, of Christ living in us, when our ideas of who Christ is are very vague. Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice to God for men, and in that proved what is the true nobility of man as partaker of the Divine nature. We speak, and rightly too, of the obedience of Christ as the praiseworthy cause of our salvation: “By the obedience of One many were made righteous.” But we do not sufficiently recognize what it was that gave that obedience its redeeming power. It was this—that in it Christ restored that which is the only thing that the creature can render to its Creator, and so rendered to God what man owed to Him. It is because of this obedience He became a Redeemer, and this nature is the very life which as the Heavenly Vine He imparts. “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who became obedient unto death. Therefore God has highly exalted Him.” The life of God in human nature is obedience to the death.
And with that Christ loved men. In that He fulfilled the will of God. He gave Himself to the mighty Redeeming love of God towards men, and so gave Himself as much to men as to God. There is no possible way of living for God but by loving and living for the men whom He loves and lives for. The human life in Christ could be nothing but a surrender to His love to be used in saving and blessing men. Whether in God, or in Christ, or in us, the Divine life is love to men. This is the life-sap of the True Vine, the spirit that was in Christ Jesus.
II. The Life in the Branch
The life in the Branch is essentially and entirely the same as that in the Vine. If we are to bear fruit, it can only come as the life and the power that work in the Vine work in us. This alone is the secret of effective service.
In Christian work a great mistake is often made. The difference between work and fruit is overlooked. Under a sense of duty or from an inborn love of work, a Christian may be very diligent in doing his work for God, and yet find little blessing in it. He may think of gratitude as the great motive of the Christian life, and not understand that though that may rouse the will, it cannot give the power to work successfully. We need to see that if work is to be acceptable and effective, it must come as fruit; it must be the spontaneous outgrowth of a healthy, vigorous life, the Spirit and power of Christ living and working in us. And that power can only work freely and effectively in us as our main concern is to maintain the relationship to our Lord close and intimate. As He streams His nature into us, our work will truly be the fruit the Vine bears.
Still another mistake is made. We pray very earnestly for God’s blessing on our work and on those whom we wish to help. We forget that the God who delights to bless ourselves first, to give into our hearts the blessing He wants to impart through us. We are not channels, in the sense in which a lead pipe is when it carries water, and yet does not drink it in. We are channels in the way the branch is. The sap of the vine, before it goes through it to form fruit, first enters to be its life, to give it new wood and strength, and then passes on into the grape. When we preach the love of God and obedience to Him, when we call men to surrender themselves to that love, we must first seek each day to be receiving afresh, in close communion with Christ Jesus, that love and devotion to God into our hearts. When we teach love to man, we should do it as those in whom the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, is manifest in its freshness and beauty.
It is by having exactly the same spirit that was in Christ Jesus, and being possessed of the same mind and disposition that was in Him, that we can bear the same fruit He bore, that He can still bring forth fruit through us. And this spirit we cannot have by any imitation or effort, but only by receiving it fresh from Him every morning and all day. An intense devotion to God and an entire yielding up of ourselves to His service for men, and giving up of our life to live, and love and die for men, as Jesus did, this is the life to which the branches of the True Vine are called, this is the life for which the True Vine will surely prepare us. His words are true: He is the Truth and the Life. He gives all He promises. Count no time too precious and no pains too great, in waiting on Him by His Spirit to reveal to you the wondrous mystery of your being a branch, a partaker of the very Life there is in the Vine.