“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away. and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” John 15:1, 2
For some time now we have been examining the life of the young saint Joseph, from the double point of view that he is an example for the youth of the church today and that he stood in the Old Dispensation as a beautiful type of the coming Christ. Joseph was the Beloved Son, the Despised Brother, the Slandered Alien, the Prophetic Captive, the Prince of Life, and the Exalted Lord. In all this history the young man was “a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough whose branches run over the wall”, even as his father Jacob had prophesied (Gen. 49:22). The question we want to face with you now is this: Are we fruitful branches?
Do we find it easy to serve the Lord and walk worthy of our calling? Perhaps you say it’s not so hard to serve the Lord; we don’t live in a country where there is fierce persecution, our government doesn’t outlaw church services, prayer, and Christian schools. It’s easy to serve the Lord! But the conscientious child of God knows that overt persecution is only a small part of the difficulty. He knows that the battle is against sin which knows no national boundaries, it is against the devil who needs no passport, and it is against unbelief and corruption even as those things cleave to him! In whatever land they live, Christians have crosses to bear, battles to fight, weighty duties and obligations to fulfill. Surely the life of Joseph as recorded in the book of Genesis makes that clear.
The reason why the life of the child of God is so fraught with suffering, opposition, disappointment, and affliction is ultimately a divine reason. Whatever the reasons the devil, demons, and wicked men have for doing what they do to the church, God, Who is sovereign over all the enemy, has His reason as well. God chastens us, God corrects us, God teaches us reliance upon Him as our Help and our Strength, God sanctifies us and weans us away from the world. In the text quoted above the reason Jesus gives is that God purges every fruitful branch that it may bring forth more fruit.
Let’s identify several elements in the passage. First, Christ says that He is the vine; all the millions of grape vines on this earth are but pictures of Christ Who is “the true vine.” Secondly, God is the husbandman, or to use present day language, the nurseryman or the horticulturist. The Father of Christ has a vine which He has planted, for which He cares, and from which He expects abundant fruit. Thirdly, there are branches in the vine. These branches are of two types as we’ll see later, but here we will simply mention that the branches represent the church of Christ, the generations of believers, who are grafted into Christ by the living bond of faith. (See Lord’s Day VII and John 15:5) Finally, the passage speaks of fruit and the bringing forth of fruit; in fact, this is the main idea of Jesus in the passage. We read of this in verses 2, 3, 5 and 8 because the husbandman is interested in fruit. Why else would He plant a vineyard and care for it so faithfully? The emphasis of the passage is not upon the branches, not even upon Christ, but the emphasis falls on the fruit which Christ, through the branches, produces. Christ is the means in God’s hand whereby He saves a people, in order that they might bring forth fruits of thanksgiving and praise to Him! All the Scriptures make clear that this is the purpose of the vineyard. the purpose of the church, and the purpose of her salvation. The greatest question is not, Are we saved? Are we going to heaven? The all-important question is, Are we now, and will we one day in heaven. bring forth well pleasing fruit unto God? Do we live out of Christ, do we partake of His strength and nourishment spiritually, as does a branch out of the root and fatness of the vine? A vine is worthless without grapes, so is a church or a Christian worthless without fruit!
What are these fruits for which the divine Husbandman looks? Briefly. they are all things that are included in the fear and worship of God. The apostle Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace. longsuffering. gentleness. goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Spiritual fruits are those good works which God has prepared for us to walk in: seeking the things which are above, confession of and sorrow over sin, trusting in God each day, keeping His commandments, being faithful in personal devotions. Where there is fruit upon the branches of Christ’s vine, you may find humble submission to God’s will, a hatred of sin and deceit and corruption, and a manful attempt to live a new and godly life. And not only does Jesus say that there is fruit in the life of the Christian, but very strongly He states that there must be fruit. It is not simply the case that God doesn’t like or doesn’t want unfruitful branches; He doesn’t have them either! God always performs His good pleasure. Take note of verse 2 once more: “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he (God) taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.” God desires and receives fruit unto Himself!
In line with that, Jesus speaks of two kinds of branches: not of dead and living branches (though that is true in the deepest sense), but of fruitful and barren branches. It doesn’t make any difference what the type of soil or what the variety of vine, there are always some branches in the vineyard that are without fruit. There are always shoots (sometimes called suckers) growing out of the vine or out of other branches which have the appearance of true branches, but they never yield any fruit. Really, that’s the only way you can tell the useless from the useful: this matter of fruit. What does the vine-grower do with those unfruitful branches? He takes his pruning knife, goes up and down the rows, and cuts off every one of them!
Now Jesus is saying that there are such fruitless branches in the church as she exists as an institute in this world. Of course, these branches were never really in Christ. If they were grafted into Him by faith, how could they ever fall from that faith, which is a gift of grace? No, they were members of the church outwardly. They went to church but were not really of the church. Just as all citizens of this country are called Americans, even though some may not have any heart for this country. just as the whole plant of corn is called corn while we know only the kernel is corn, so with the church: all those belonging to her outwardly bear the name that its true heart and nucleus has. They are not all Israel that are called Israel.
Although Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that “by their fruits ye shall know them”, He does not mean that we are to be judges of one another in this, nor that we can know these things absolutely. (In Matt. 7:15-20 Jesus speaks in the context of false teachers.) But the heavenly Husbandman does have perfect understanding of this matter of fruit. He allows for no barren branches in His vineyard, and therefore He takes them persecution and hardship; then the false branches leave! This takes place through the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. When preaching is according to the whole counsel of God, without compromise, and distinctive according to our confessions, then fruitless branches are cut off! And this can happen, this taking away, by means of the discipline of the church. which ends, unless there is repentance, in cutting off or excommunication.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that there are branches which do bring forth much fruit. I know there is a great deal of difference in these branches; some bring forth abundantly and some bring forth with scarcity. For there are the strong in faith and the weak in faith. There are those who reveal the power of God’s grace in their lives powerfully, and others who manifest the life of Christ very weakly due to unfaithfulness and backsliding. Without exception, on these also, the Husbandman Who is God operates with His pruning knife. Unfruitful branches are cut off entirely; fruitful branches are pruned, shaped, and formed, strikingly by the same knife! Have you ever seen a vineyard that has been pruned? A pathetic sight, really. There in the corner of the field is a large pile of useless branches, and then if you look up and down the rows you find that the living branches have been cut back and trimmed! It looks all wrong! But the owner of the vineyard knows that pruning causes the vine to put forth more grapes. Are you fruitful branches?
“My Father is the husbandman!” God purges His people! The reason why we as Christians often bring forth so little fruit is that our flesh is present with us, and is against us. The flesh is not interested in fruit unto God, but only in the gratification of itself. Foolishly we occupy ourselves with, and pursue, those things which shall go up in the flame! And when God purges us, 0, how that hurts the flesh! But God’s knife makes no mistakes; the flesh must go down, it must be cut off if we are to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and consistent with the life of the Vine in us.
This purging takes place, also, through the preaching of the Word of God, that mighty two-edged Sword! True preaching condemns sin, commands repentance, and calls to obedience. Such purging goes on whenever the Word of God is faithfully preached. Young people must know that about the preaching of the Gospel. Does your minister sometimes step on your toes? As he is preaching along on a certain text, does he say some things occasionally (or often) that make you a bit uncomfortable, that come powerfully close to home? Does the Spirit of Grace say to you, during and after the preaching, that’s you! Be thankful for that kind of preaching! God is addressing you and purging you that you may bring forth more fruit!
But you say, “Purging hurts!” Yes it does! For the flesh, the ways of God are always difficult. Do you remember the question we asked at the beginning? Is it easy for you to serve God? in the kingdom of God, where the Christian serves the flesh is of no account! It has to go under. It has to go. Let it go! The only thing that matters is that there be abundant fruit unto the heavenly Husbandman whose vineyard we are! It may seem to us that we are doing our utmost for the Lord, then God purges us and shows us that He demands even more. It may seem only the weak in faith need this purging, and then God purges the strong in faith, as He did with faithful Job. From the natural point of view, our life is labor and sorrow. But from the spiritual point of view, it is purging and purifying. And remember. child of God, bringing forth fruit unto God is a little bit of heaven!