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“God’s Vine” is a sermon by the late Rev. Marinus Schipper preached in 1978.* He preached it with special thought for “our covenant young people.” The message is timeless, the homiletics masterful, and the doctrine distinctively Protestant Reformed. Every reader would do well to listen to it.

The sermon takes as its text John 15:1-2. Rev. Schipper’s introduction describes this passage as containing “a very solemn and important truth.” In the same breath, he mentions that this truth is “hidden” in the text. I think this fact is what makes this, in my estimation, a remarkable and particularly excellent sermon. The text is short, contains just a simple figure, and might easily be read over with little understanding. But the course of the sermon reveals that the meaning of this text spans from Paradise the First to Paradise the Second, governs the whole history of the Church, and extols in the highest the glory of God’s sovereign grace. The believing heart is thrilled and encouraged by this gospel message.

Although containing great depth that merits repeated listens, the outline of the sermon is elegant in its simplicity. Rev. Schipper begins by pointing out that these words of Jesus are spoken in the night in which he was betrayed. Indeed his crucifixion cannot have been much more than twelve hours away, with all the shame and suffering of his trial looming closer still. Yet it is at this critical point in history that the Lord speaks these words. To understand what they mean, the sermon looks back at two Old Testament passages that use the figure of the vine. These are Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5, both of which use the figure of the vine to denote the nation of Israel. Viewing this in the lens of the New Testament, we see more specifically that the vine is Christ, together with the Church as it comes to organic manifestation in the world.

With that point established, the sermon has to explain the most challenging part of the text, namely that there are branches on the vine that are cut off and burned. The answer develops into an explanation of the ever-important organic idea of history. That vine, of which some branches are purged and some cut off, comes to historical manifestation according to God’s eternal decree. The outworking of that decree falls along the lines of sin and grace, election and reprobation. This is why the text is “very solemn.” On its forefront is the profound truth of God’s sovereignty in predestination, with its grand and awesome goal as the glory of God, both in the vessels of honor and of dishonor.

Flowing out of the rich doctrine of the sermon is eminently practical instruction. Having considered the vine and its two kinds of branches, the ones purged and the others cut off, the sermon discusses how this is brought about. God, the Husbandman, prunes his vine by means of the preaching of the gospel, Christian discipline, and leading people through “deep ways.” All of these means serve the purification of the vine. The fruit-bearing, elect branches have their sins addressed in the preaching and are moved to cut off those sins, to cut off that which is not fruitful in their lives. They hear the rebuke of Christian discipline and put to death the old man that would lead them on in impenitence. They go through trials in life with a mind toward the perfect wisdom of God in his fatherly care. In contrast, the reprobate hear in the gospel that they have no part in Christ, and they are hardened. They never truly turn under the admonitions of Christian discipline and in that way are sometimes formally cut off. And they do not look to God in their afflictions but in sinful pride are made bitter against him. Under the sovereign administrations of the Husbandman, the vine grows and takes shape according to his decree.

Not to be ignored is the emphasis on this point: the gospel cuts off. The gospel must cut off. It is necessary for the life of the church that the preaching of the gospel cut off those unfruitful branches. I had the pleasure of listening to this sermon once with a member of the CRC. I introduced it by stating that if this sermon were preached in his church, they would depose the minister for it. Not only did this pique his interest, but it was the simple truth. The CRC with its well-meant offer will hear nothing of the gospel as God’s tool to cut off the reprobate. Always it is his sincere desire to save all who hear, dependent on man’s will. But such preaching will not purify the church and will not result in a fruitful vine. Such preaching flatters man with its message of gaining the blessings of the covenant by the work of man. Ever beware of preaching that flatters man.

Nevertheless, the sermon is by no means dark and gloomy. Always the glorious gospel of grace is declared in its wonder and beauty. It is only all the more wonderful when the believing heart understands that God’s righteous discrimination appoints the reprobate to the service of the elect. Confronted with the glorious Christ who is declared in that gospel, the believer is moved to praise the mercy of God in Christ, who speaks these words just hours before his crucifixion. There he died for your sins and mine, being made a curse for us. Believing this, we have the sure hope of our place in the perfection of God’s vine in the church triumphant, and the daily renewed strength to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God. Young people, it is necessary that we understand and believe sound doctrine and bring that to bear on every sphere of life. Do not let our emphasis on our historic doctrines slip so much as an inch. Listen, learn, and hold fast to the faith of our fathers.

 

Originally published March 2021, Vol 80 No 3

 

* Interested readers may find the sermon at Oldpathsrecordings.com

God is the supreme possessor of all things, for he has created all things, and indeed upholds and governs them as it were by his almighty hand. This fact alone ought to drive any man to consider his earthly possessions with deep humility, for truly the richest man then only possesses so much dust and ashes. Thus humbled, a man should strive to employ all his goods in the service of God, for all other service is vanity and idolatry. But natural man is very proud and eager to think himself and his worldly goods to be quite something. Moreover, he is prone to hate God, and therefore, to love idols. This sin of idolatry with regard to money is certainly seen in our society, but more personal and of greater impact is the observation of this sin within our own hearts, no less among us as young people than among older generations. It is therefore necessary that we, covenant youth, elect of God, bought with a price, and called out of darkness, consider this calling of the thankful life, that is, to fight against the worship of money.

As soon as a you get your first job, your perspective on life changes. Not the least part of this change in perspective is your relationship with money. Where previously money was of little concern as the business of “grown -ups”, it suddenly becomes very relevant and very real. You put in real hours of your time and earn a real paycheck at the end of the week, for which you are really responsible. Further, you begin to realize that generally as a young person, you aren’t making all that much, because looming up ahead in life is college tuition, vehicle expenses, housing costs, and much more besides. The enormous role of money is impossible to ignore in making the transition from teenage child to independent adult.

Different people approach this reality with different mindsets. One option is to focus completely on saving for the future. The mind set becomes, “I have to work as much as I can, and I need to save all my money now so that it will protect me from financial struggles down the road.” With this “every penny counts” mentality can come various temptations in the workplace, like stretching the time clock or the attraction of extra income through Sunday work. Even if these temptations are successfully avoided, it remains a tiring and stressful attitude. To the person with this mindset comes the word of God in Matthew 6:24ff to “take no thought for the morrow” but rather to consider the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, both well provided for by God. Again, in Psalm 127:2, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” God knows his people’s needs and will surely supply them. The one whose confidence lies in his own industry to ensure his success in life suffers from “little faith.”

On the other side is the mentality that says “I am still young, I need to take this time to enjoy life!” So a person works, not with an eye to the future, but with an eye to the weekend. He spends his money on himself. The lifestyles that the world portrays as fun, exciting, and carefree appeal to him, and he puts his money towards such pursuits, be they fashion, partying, cars, or any of a host of others. To have such skewed priorities surely leads to the neglect of other more worthy uses of money, and a lifestyle patterned after the world’s ideals carries with it many temptations. To a young person of this disposition comes the call of Peter to sobriety and vigilance (1 Pet. 5:8) lest the roaring lion come upon him as easy prey.

These attitudes and lifestyles present real threats, real sins that young people may be tempted to commit. Both make an idol of money, the former trusting in it for security, the latter for satisfaction. Both must be guarded against. However, these attitudes are the extremes. The average covenant young person is not a penny-pinching miser who takes every opportunity to make an extra buck at the expense of his employer or his spiritual life. Nor is he fallen headlong into the money-loving ways of the world, only wearing the highest fashions and caught up in the drunkenness and other sins of the party lifestyle.

Where these extreme cases are present, they cannot be excused, and measures need to be taken in the spiritual lives of anyone thus fallen. However, the reality is somewhere in the middle, or even more accurately, the reality can change day by day, even hour by hour. One minute you are feeling lazy and take some extra time on a job. The next, you think about your hourly wage and think how much nicer it would be if you were better paid. Then you think about how much money you have on hand, and how you plan to spend it, and your church budget somehow doesn’t make it onto the list. These are the everyday types of things that reveal our sinful nature’s inclination to be discontent, to serve ourselves, and, indeed, to idolize money.

But the way to fight against this is not with a long list of condemnations of all the idolatrous thoughts, actions, desires and motives that we have. We young people have been raised in the church, and we know what things are wrong for us to do, think, etc. (We also know that our sinful natures cause us to do them anyway). Rather, the answer that is profitable and productive for us in our walk of sanctification is the positive side of the law. It is studying and applying how we can love the Lord our God with all our heart and in every part of our lives, now with regard to money.

We return to where we started. God owns everything. Let our foolish pride stop there. All that we may ever gain for ourselves is never in principle ours. As such, our first priority in the use of our goods must be for the glory of God. Besides that, God has saved us. All the guilt of all of our idolatry and every other sin has been imputed to Christ, who suffered in our place. Therefore we are called to use our goods in thankfulness to God for such great salvation. Let this knowledge constantly frame our thinking in every use we make of the earthly goods that God has entrusted to us.

Let no young person imagine that it is not his business to contribute to collection. Contribute with the consciousness that the God of our salvation, whom we gather in church to worship, gives us the direct opportunity to express thankfulness to him in the support of the church, the poor, the Christian schools, and other kingdom causes. A reminder: thankfulness does not have a dollar value. Give real, prayerful consideration to your giving, and then, with neither shame nor pride, but rather with a thankful heart, give.

The biggest money-related area of a person’s life is their job where money is earned. Therefore, carry the fight against idolizing money into the workplace by consciously considering your job as another of God’s innumerable gifts and as a part of his perfect plan for your life. Every job teaches you lessons and life skills, gives opportunity to consider God’s mighty works in different lights, and of course, earns you money. Give real thought to how your job is part of God’s plan. Did you ever expect to be in the field you now find yourself in? Did a certain life event give you a change of plans? Or has God made your way plain before you? How will this job be part of God’s guiding you through this phase in your life? As for your paycheck, if you find yourself underpaid, look to God to learn contentment and patience. If you find yourself quite comfortable, learn humility and make use of this lack of stress to take on duties in the church. Contentment is the watchword of the thankful worker. Oh, and work hard. Laziness and half-heartedness have no place in thankfulness.

The point is not to outline every possible example of walking in thankfulness. The point is in the principle. God is so good. He is so good to you, covenant youth. And he gives countless opportunities to express your thankfulness in our use of the earthly possessions that he gives us. Also added is that he demands thankfulness, perfect thankfulness. Therein lies our call to continual repentance. Certainly we may try to drive out every vestige of idolatry from our thoughts and hearts, but, great sinners that we are, we cannot do it. Then we look to Christ, the perfect man, who was never discontent or proud, but was rather always obedient to the will of his Father. In keeping the law for us, Christ is to us righteousness and holiness. Looking to him we find the forgiveness of all of our idolatry, the freedom from all guilt, and the cause for ever increasing zeal in serving him as our Lord and savior. No greater riches could be desired.

 

*Ryan is a member of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI

 

God in eternity has chosen those whom he in his divine wisdom both loves and hates—the elect and the reprobate. Since earliest history, God has shown the distinction between these two groups. He has promised that he will bless the elect and preserve them, and also that he will curse the reprobate and bring them to destruction. If you read the historical parts of the Bible, you will clearly see both of these things happening. Take, for example, the story of Noah or of David and Goliath. In both cases, the faithful child of God overcame the godless, blaspheming reprobate, thanks to God’s providential care.

Throughout history God has preserved both his church and the truth of his word, and has helped them to grow. He used the wicked men of this world to force his church to battle for the truth, and thereby to grow in their doctrinal understanding of God’s word. Through these battles, God has rooted out those who claim to be his people, but are not willing to fight for the truth, and has kept his church pure. By this means we have today what is the clearest and purest manifestation of the truth the world has ever known, that is, the Protestant Reformed Churches. We are immensely blessed of God that he has chosen us to be his people, and has worked through our ancestors to bring us all here where we are today. To be able to hear the unadulterated truth of God’s word is a wonderful thing that we so often take for granted. Praise be to God for this great blessing, and may we strive to live a life of thanksgiving before him.

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