Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love." (John 15:8,9)
You will find that in this chapter Christ most sweetly sets forth the union between himself and his church. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman." There are other vines mentioned in Scripture, as in Deut. 32:32, "For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter." These are not true fruits. Also in 2 Kings 4:39, we have an account of a time of great scarcity, when Elisha commanded to set on the great pot to seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets, when one of them went out to gather herbs and found a wild vine, and he gathered wild gourds and shred them into the pot, but they soon discovered that there was death in the pot. So it will be in a spiritual sense; if you gather from any other vine except Christ, there will be death in the pot. Beware of wild vines! It is said (Ps. 80:8), "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt, Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it." Here the church of God is called a vine. And again: (Isa. 27:2,3), "In that day sing ye unto her a vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it; I will keep it night and day." The branches of a vine are of very different sizes, some strong, and some weak. So it is in Christ's church; some are babes, some young men, and some of full age. The point to be ascertained is this: Am I a living branch of the true vine? "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away." Is it possible that a branch in Christ should be taken away? In one sense it is not. None of God's elect in Christ, or chosen in him, or truly united to him, can be taken away. "In me." Many are professedly in Christ, and yet not truly united by a living faith to him; they are only outwardly in Christ. It was so in his time on the earth, and you see it prophesied by Isaiah (4:1): "In that day seven women shall lay hold of one man, saying, we will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: Only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach." Here an indefinite number of churches are represented as seeking only for a name to live. They take hold of Christ by natural faith or historical faith, but Christ does not take hold of them. Jesus said to those Jews which believed on him, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed." All that are Christ's, are the spiritual seed of Abraham. These churches say they will wear their own apparel. Some will still abide in their own works and performances. When Christ was on earth some followed him because of the miracles, and some for the bread. Hart says:
"Ye children of God, by faith in his Son,
Redeemed by His blood, and with Him made one;
This union with wonder and rapture be seen,
Which nothing shall sunder, without or within."
"The sinner that truly believes,
And trusts in his crucified God," etc.
I quote Hart's Hymns because he conveys my ideas better and fuller than I am able to do. He expresses exactly my meaning, and I believe his writings to be according to the Word of God, or else I would not quote them at all. "Truly believes;" not a natural, notional, or historical faith. "He that believeth in Christ, hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit," etc., that is, in me professedly, notionally, or doctrinally only, as Judas was, who never was united, or chosen, or accepted, or completed in Christ. "And every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it," etc. These branches are truly in Christ. They know the power of vital godliness which consists in union and communion with him, communion flowing from union. There can be no communion, no heart melting, humbling, meekening communion, without union. It is so in the natural vine, there is no communication of the sap without union. You may tie a piece on the vine, but it will get no sap. I want no better evidence of my union with Christ, than my having heart melting communion with him. This proves my oneness with Christ. When does your heart melt with contrition and humiliation? When, like Abraham, you hold sweet communion with Christ, who appeared unto him in the form of a man, and Abraham said, "Behold now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes," etc. Here is humility, as if he would say, this is a privilege too great, too wonderful for such a poor sinner as I. But nothing less than this will do for us, my friends, great as it is. Every empty professor is taken away, no branch can bear without life. I know something about the natural vine. I was very fond of it and almost worshipped it. It throws forth (as I believe) more than any other tree, long and strong branches. This sets forth the church of God, which does so. The vine wants more cutting back than any other tree, to make it bear fruit abundantly, and as the gardener heads it in for this purpose, so in a spiritual sense, it is in the church. Heavy afflictions, temptations, and cutting rebukes are sent to the Lord's people.
Another circumstance I have remarked in the vine, which is peculiar to it. If it be not cut back in good time in the season, before the sap is fully risen, it will bleed itself to death. And so with God's children; if they are left alone too long, it will be almost death to cut them down. I know what it is to be superfluous and redundant. If you are a right branch you will be pruned and cut back. I believe that in the church of Christ there are weak branches as well as strong ones. The thing is to prove the union by divine life. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." He that is united is one spirit with Christ. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you, abide in me," etc. I know the Lord has often spoken to me. He said once to me in this vestry, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee." If you have found this with a sense of your pardon and acceptance, you are a true branch. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them," etc. I think this alludes to Judas, the man who abided not is Christ. He will wither in his profession, and ungodly men will gather him in their company. "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples."
I propose to enquire what is necessary to our bringing forth fruit? What this fruit signifies? What we are to understand by being the Lord's disciples? And what it is to continue in his love?
And first, what is necessary to our bringing forth fruit? In Hosea 10:1, it is said, "Israel is an empty vine; he bringeth forth fruit unto himself," not to God. The text signifieth that it shall be brought forth to God, whereby He is glorified. Some bring forth fruit and eat it afterwards themselves. None in a state of nature can bring forth fruit unto God. "First make the tree good and the fruit shall be good." But we are born in sin. The carnal mind is abstractedly enmity against God. Works done in the flesh cannot please God. By faith Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Paul shows this in Rom. 7., "The woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth;" and afterwards says. "Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." We are by nature married to the law, to the covenant of works, and must first die to it before we can be married to Christ, so as to bring forth fruit unto God. "From me," says Christ, "is thy fruit found." Paul says (Gal. 4), "God sent forth his son, to redeem them that were under the law." And in (Gal. 2), he says, "I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." When the law enters, in its spirituality, you will find it takes all hope away. "The law is spiritual," says Paul, "but I am carnal, sold under sin." I know what it is to have the law applied spiritually. The severity of one husband and the kindness and sweetness of the other, that brings about the divorce in spirit and the new union. Boaz' kindness to Ruth shows us Christ's kindness to his people. It is not the severity of Moses alone, but Christ's kindness with it, that effects this change. The prophet Ezekiel (Chapter 16) is to show Jerusalem her pollution, under the figure of a poor infant just born and cast out, not washed nor swaddled. Then take notice of the kindness of Christ. "I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood (thy sin and misery) Live." Here the Lord passed by. He found me in this state, and what did I do to merit his kindness? Nothing. "I said unto thee, live." Now the Lord said "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life," John 6. Remember he found them in their blood, and not after they are washed. Ezekiel 16:8, "Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea I sware unto thee and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine." God communicates his Spirit and grace, and we feel the severity of the law. The Lord now and then drops a soft word on the heart, or pays us a secret visit, and thus engages our affections. "I looked upon thee." This is a look of love, like the Lord's look on Peter, which melts the heart. The skirt is the precious spotless righteousness of Christ, as noticed in a figure in Ruth, whose affections were first fixed upon Boaz, before she lay at his feet. Christ is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. This is the covenant of wedlock, wherein the sinner gives himself freely to Christ. But it must be mutual, as you well know; otherwise it is no marriage. So the sinner will give himself over to Christ, and Christ to the sinner. "My beloved is mine, and I am his." "I am for thee, and not another." I know what this is. The Lord takes us for better and for worse, as a man takes his wife. "Thy Maker is thine husband." This union is requisite, before we can bring forth fruit unto God. "If the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches" (Rom. 11:16). The fristfruit is Christ. "Christ is the root of the righteous." He is the root of the matter. "If thou wert cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree" (Rom. 11:24). To graft is to take a slip off a good tree, and put it on to a wild stock. But we are wild slips and put into Christ, the true stock, and then partake of his richness, not our own. This, you see, is contrary to nature. The poor sinner is cut from his old stock, Adam, and being grafted into Christ partakes of his nature. I hope to conclude the subject at our next meeting.
I hope to gather up a few of the fragments left, when I preached on this subject before. I spoke, in the first place, of Christ being the true vine. The vine sets forth to us the whole church, carnal and spiritual. God has ever had a spiritual church within the carnal church. You will find in Matt. 25:1, the whole church set forth as ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. They all went forth to meet the bridegroom, and were outwardly the same in appearance; but the foolish took no oil in their vessels with their lamps. So the carnal form an open and visible church, and having an historical or temporary faith, make an open profession. The indwelling of the Spirit and grace of God marks the wise virgins. The fools had not got this. They were only natural branches, that is, they had a natural, historical, or temporary faith. This is not enough, as the Lord showed to the Jews: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." They were by profession and natural faith Christ's disciples; but not spiritually, for they were offended at his word, and did not continue in it." They understood it carnally, and said they were never in bondage: they were Abraham's seed; but the Lord showed that those who are his, are Abraham's seed. If you can ascertain this union with Christ, you are heirs according to the promise. When Christ speaks pardon and peace in a poor sinner's heart, he makes him free from the guilt of sin, and from the fear of death. Perfect love casteth out fear. Then you perhaps may say, he is free to do what he pleases in the flesh. No; he is not free to go into licentiousness, but free from bondage to it. The life, walk, and conversation must be consistent with Christ's word, if the tree be good. (John 15:4,5) "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me," etc. The Lord says, severed from me, ye can do nothing. Are we sensible to this? There is a three-fold cleansing required.
First, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. You will find there are six verilys to confirm this doctrine in the third chapter of John, where the account is given of Nicodemus going to the Lord by night. Perhaps he was afraid of the Jews, for it was no easy thing for a master in Israel, and a ruler of a synagogue, to go to Christ at all. This manifested great grace, and he was a true man, though weak, and so was Joseph of Arimathea. These were hidden ones, but when they came to the open trial, they were more bold than Peter. Joseph went, not creeping in the dark, but boldly in the face of day, to beg the body of Jesus, when the apostles had all fled. If I were to choose a person to stand a hot persecution, I should take a poor weak creature who is faint and trembling. That is the person who will glorify God, when the strong man will turn back. Joseph was a hidden one. Nicodemus boldly comes forward and anoints the body of Jesus; and yet these are little ones. I like to see little ones, not like Saul. Let me see those who fear they shall not hold on to the end: these will hold on to the end. "Let the weak say I am strong." They shall wax valiant in the fight; they shall put to flight the armies of the aliens. Don't be afraid of, nor envy strong folks. "When I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10). "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." They come up out of the wilderness. How? Leaning on the arm of Christ, like me who cannot walk without help, only in a spiritual sense. There may be great mortification in this sense of weakness, but mortification is the high road to humiliation, and humiliation is the path to exaltation and glory. "He lifeth up the beggar from the dunghill." What for? "To set him among princes, and make him inherit the throne of glory" (1 Sam. 2:8). "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered," etc. John 15:6,7. We inquired what is requisite to our bringing forth fruit? First, Regeneration.
Secondly, Being brought into a marriage covenant with Christ. This we illustrated by referring to Rom. 7. And this marriage is, that we may bring forth fruit unto God. Israel is an empty vine; he brings forth fruit unto God. Israel is an empty vine; he brings forth fruit unto himself, and, like Solomon's fool, eateth it up afterwards. He feeds his pride and vanity with it. We also referred to Ezekiel 16:4. to show that the church is compared to a poor infant cast out, and Christ taking compassion on it while in its sin. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." But "My beloved is mine, and I am his." Hart says:
"This union with wonder,
And rapture be seen,
Which nothing can sunder,
Without or within."
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress," etc. "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." Hart also says:
"The sinner that by precious faith,
Has felt his sins forgiven:
Is from that moment passed from death,
And sealed an heir of heaven."
"The sinner that truly believes,
And trusts in his crucified God;
His justification receives,
Redemption in full, through his blood."
There must be much and good fruit springing from a good tree (Matt. 7:16,17). Now we find the fruit that is not good, set forth in Isaiah chapter 5., where the church of God is compared to a vineyard that brought forth wild grapes, not good fruit. Everything that springs from nature is, in a spiritual sense, wild fruit. I told you I was a half-bred gardener, and I will illustrate this point by comparison with the mode of raising fruit trees. Perhaps some of you have partaken of some rich fruit today, good favored peaches or nectarines. An ignorant person would take a stone from the finest of these fruits, and think by planting it to obtain a tree bearing good fruit; but he would find it come up a wild tree. A tree will come up that looks as well as the others, but its fruit will be wild because it wants budding, buds taken from a good tree and put into the wild stock, when perhaps one out of every four or five will take or form a union. There must be a budding into Christ in like manner. Perhaps you may say, you had better have been a gardener than a preacher. And this might appear to be true; but I did not make myself a preacher: God made me, not unwillingly for he made me willing in the day of his power. I know very little about anything, but I know my own foolishness, and that is a great thing to learn. That without God I can do nothing. Here I have the promise of God who says that the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err in the way. "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let become a fool that he may be wise."
What are these fruits of the Spirit? First, They are internal fruits, as set forth in Gal. 5:22,23: "Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." These things are seen of God, and gathered by God. They show the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The carnal church knows nothing about these fruits. "Their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter" (Deut. 32:32). How are the true fruits brought forth? It is said in Deut. 33:14, "The precious fruits brought forth by the sun." So it is in a spiritual sense. "Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:2). When the Lord melts the heart and humbles the spirit, these fruits are brought forth. Does not this rising of the Sun melt the heart in humility, compunction, and godly sorrow, working repentance? Love springs up directly. And here is the unity between Christ and the Holy Ghost. "Awake, O north wind, and come thou south: blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits." These are Christ's fruits brought forth by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost. The north wind represents the cutting rebukes of the Spirit, and south the soft sweet gentle operations of it. It was asked of Job whether he could tell how his garments were warm, when the Lord quieteth the earth by the south wind (Job 37:17). So it is in the influence of the blessed Spirit. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth." The wind is the Spirit. That blessed Comforter sweetly blows on the heart, so that the graces, thereof send forth a pleasant smell. "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice: I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved" (Songs 5:1). What precious words of a precious Christ! Has this been made known to you? This is the way of a personal application of the promises. I like the religion found in the night between the soul and God. "Let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another" (Gal. 6:4). "But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night" (Job 35:10). What a sweet thing is this, "By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth" (Songs 3:1). When you awake up in the night, don't you find a feeling after God? Dorney in his Letters speaks of a hankering after Christ. I like the expression. Now I am feeling the pulse. Is there a breathing after Christ within you? "With my soul have I desired thee in the night" (Isa. 26:9). Hart says:
"A barren tree that bears no fruit,
"Brings no great glory to its root;
When on the boughs rich fruit we see,
'Tis then we cry, A goodly tree."
Secondly, There are the fruits of the lip. "I create the fruit of the lips: peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord" (Isa. 57:19). The Lord speaks highly of this fruit, "Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb" (Songs 4:11). God creates first, humble prayer and supplication. "Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely" (Songs 2:14). "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Ps. 50:15). Secondly, Praise to the Lord. "To give thanks unto him for his goodness, and for his marvelous works to the children of men." Thirdly, Thanksgiving. "Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing" (Ps. 107:22). And this will be done when Christ gives you a sweet love visit. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for thy love is better than wine" (Songs 1:2). "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good" (Ps. 136:1). Fourthly, An acknowledgment of what God has done and a rejoicing in it. The ten lepers all cried out to the Lord, but only one returned to give glory to God, Christ will have the tenth. "The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness: come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God" (Jer. 51:10). We have got Christ, and therefore all is ours. "Take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself." Suppose I received a gift; should I not acknowledge it to man? How much rather then should I acknowledge it before God. "Come (says David) and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul." When you get an answer to prayer, or hear a word of encouragement, give thanks to God. A poor weak child of God prevails the most in prayer. A tender mother who has got a babe in arms will attend to its cry and hasten to it before she will to the older children. So it is with babes in Christ. Let me have an interest in their prayers, rather than in those of the strong. You will find one that has just come under Christ's banner has many secret visits. You say, it was so with me once; but now it is different. We are obliged to wait long. "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me. As I was in the days of my youth, when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle" (Job 29:2,4). Hart says:
"I look for life, but dead remain;
'Tis winter all the year with me."
Thank God for every word and look from him, and then remember in your prayer the poor servant who ministers the word.
Fruit sometimes means external acts, as your life, walk, and conversation. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Christ says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." No professor unless he lives to Christ, can know him.
"In vain men talk of living faith,
When all their works exhibit death."
"The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11,12). Where there is an internal work there will be an outward walk that adorns our profession. The true fruits are not meritorious to us, but are God glorifying. I am chosen and perfect in Christ; I can add nothing to that. James says, "Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18). These fruits are not the procuring cause of our being disciples, but only the evidence of our being so. None can make disciples but he who made the world. Christ called Peter, and Andrew, and James, and John, while fishing is a ship. He took the sons and left the father. They left all and followed him, and so will every person do, who is made a disciple. God met me, not in prayer, or in church or chapel, but in the middle of the night, after spending the first part of it in jollity; and this is the way he spoke to me, "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17). I then left all my carnal relations and ungodly companions and have been kept from them 41 years, and I believe God will never suffer me to go back again. God has kept me out of the world ever since, except so far as my lawful calling required. For that purpose we are to be in the world; but not to run into it without a call. Wheresoever a man is called, there let him abide. Mr. Baxter of Chichester (now in glory), was a man who lived very near to God. He has told me that he has been forced to attend the Mayor and Aldermen at City feasts and give out the toasts, and that he was confessing before God while the company were in revelry. Thus a man may be in the world and out of the world. He left the room as early as he could, and blessed God that his heart and affections were not with the company. If you can be with the world, and that is your element, your Christianity is not worth anything. "Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world" (John 15:19). Be a separate people, and never mind being called a narrow minded people. How narrow is the path that leadeth to life! You cannot serve the world and Christ. He draws the line between the carnal and spiritual church. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered: and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6). I have smarted for liberalism, and that makes me warn you against widening the path. "This fruit," says the Lord, "will manifest that ye are my disciples." If I were to go into any tap-room in Lewes, the people would immediately stop their revelry. If you live to Christ, it will deal conviction to all around you.