FILTER BY:

Sermon Profile: God’s Vine (1978)

“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