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 Main Index : Commentaries : PNT : PNT Vol. 3 : Chapter XV

Volume III
The Gospel According to John
Previous Chapter | Next Chapter



CHAPTER XV.

THE TRUE VINE

      The solemnity of the moment, when the Redeemer rose to leave the Upper Room where he had eaten the Passover, must have produced a powerful effect upon the hearts of his disciples. Up to this period they had been a united and a peaceful band, and the beloved Master was yet with them; what a separation awaited them in a few hours! The anticipation of this arrested their steps; the assembly broke up but no one moved; they stood in silence around their Lord. Then it was that he again opened his lips, and delivered the following discourses, which made an indelible impression on the mind of the beloved disciple. It may be that some incidental circumstance led Jesus to begin the comparison; perhaps a twig stretched through the window into the room where he then was, or the apartment was decorated with the foliage of the vine. According to Josephus, on the door, 70 cubits high, which led into the Holy Place of the temple, an artificial vine was spread out, the branches and leaves of which were made of gold, and its clusters of diamonds and pearls. Rosenmuller thinks that it was this that led Jesus to institute the comparison before us.--Olshausen. I am of the opinion rather that the comparison sprang from the juice of the grape which had just been used to represent his blood. After the Lord choosing and distributing the fruit of the vine to represent the blood that should cleanse from all sin, and declaring, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God is come," what more natural than for him to say, "I am the true vine?" As before stated, the Lord did not pass out over the Kedron, until after [228] the discourses of the 15th and 16th chapters and the prayer of the 17th. It is, then, almost certain that these were spoken in the Upper Room. It then becomes probable that the feast was broken up with the words that close chapter 14, the preceding discourse having been at table; that with the command, Arise, all arose from table to prepare for departure, but as they were standing the Savior, out of his full heart, spoke the words that are contained in the three chapters, closing with the 17th. The student is then to picture to himself the Master with the eleven apostles, in the dimly-lighted chamber, standing, girt for departure; and they, eagerly watching every look and gesture, and drinking in every word, while he begins, "I am the true Vine."

      1. I am the true vine. On the table from whence they had just risen was the "fruit of the vine," and the Lord had said that he would never drink it again upon the earth. That may have been the occasion of the striking figure that he now uses, in which he exemplifies union with Christ. In the Old Testament the Vine is often used as the type of Israel, planted and tended by the Almighty as the husbandman. See Isa. 5:1; Ps. 80; Jer. 2:21. Israel, however, had proved a wild and fruitless Vine. Instead of it, therefore, Christ had now been planted by the Father as the True Vine. He is the true Bread, the true Light, as well as the Good Shepherd. All these figures fitly express some of his relations to his people and the world. The Vine stands in a much closer relation to the branches than the Shepherd to the sheep. The latter cares for the sheep, but the Vine imparts its life to the branches and there is one life in the whole, the branch having no life except as it draws it from the vine. The relation is similar to that expressed by Paul when he describes Christ as the Head of the body, and the servants of Christ as the various members of that body, all pervaded by the life and will of the Head. See Eph. 5:23, and Col. 2:19. My Father is the husbandman. God had planted the old Jewish Vine, which was not the True Vine, but "a figure of the true," Heb. 9:24, and God had also sent his Son, the True Vine, into the world, or "planted" him, and his care was always over the Son and has been ever since the Vine was left to grow and fill the earth. "God giveth the increase."

      2. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away. As the husbandman cuts off the unfruitful branches of the vine, so the Father severs the unfruitful branches from his Son. Judas, an unfruitful branch which did not have in it the life of the Vine, had just been severed and had gone forth. So any branch that ceases to have the life of the true Vine and bear fruit, that becomes lifeless and barren, is cut off. It often dies and drops off from the Church, which is the earthly representative of the True Vine, of its own weight and is lost sight of. Sometimes it is needful to cut it off lest it injure the other branches. Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it. The husbandman prunes and dresses the branches in order that they may be more healthy and fruitful. The Father [229] cleanses, purifies, frees from sin, all who become branches of the True Vine. This is done, not merely for their own sake, but that they may be fruitful branches. The means employed to cleanse them from sin and impurity is next described.

      3. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. The spoken word is the instrument appointed by God for the cleansing of the soul. He who hears the word, believes it, receives it into his soul, obeys it and makes it the rule of his life, is "cleansed," or freed from sin. The "Word" tells the sinner what to do in order to the remission of sins. See Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38. It is God in Christ who cleanses, but the means employed is the "Word," which must be received in obedient faith.

      4. Abide in me, and I in you. The idea is, Abide in me that I may abide in you. Christ abiding in us is dependent on our abiding in him. We abide in him by keeping his words, or having his "word abide in us" (verse 7), and all who "keep his sayings" (chap. 14:23) will have Christ abide in their souls. We must prepare for the presence of Christ by loving him, for he can find no congenial home in any heart that does not love him, but he says, "If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him." See the steps: 1. Love of Christ; 2. Keeping the words of Christ; 3. The Father's love; 4. The Father and Son come to abide with the one who loves and obeys. To abide in Christ and to have his life in us is needful, because "As the branch cannot bear fruit without the vine," as an its life and strength and fruitfulness comes from the vine, and it dies if severed, so No more can ye, except ye abide in me. We are dead, fruitless branches, without the Christ-life. The whole history of the world demonstrates that fruitfulness is only found in union with Christ. Where are the colleges, hospitals and benevolent institutions that have been reared by infidelity? What fallen and savage race has infidelity lifted up? What has it done for mankind? Where are its fruits, or the benevolent fruits of heathenism or false religions? There was not a hospital or benevolent institution in Rome, the capital of the world, when it was visited by Paul. The fruit of pure, holy, sweet lives, full of helpfulness to the race, is borne by abiding in Christ, living with his life, being moved by his Spirit.

      5. I am the vine; ye are the branches. He has already declared (verse 1) that he is the True Vine, but he had not yet declared that every disciple is a branch of the Vine. Had he not declared, "Ye are the branches," they might have concluded when, a little later, separate congregations were organized in various portions of the earth, that these were the branches; or denominationalism might [230] have a little warrant for speaking of "branch churches of Christ;" but the relation is a much nearer, sweeter one. Every Christian is a branch of the Vine. His life is drawn directly from the Vine. If he clings to the Vine, keeps Christ's words, so that Christ abides in him, and has the life of the Vine, the same bringeth forth much fruit. But the branch that is severed from the vine is not only fruitless but dies. So the disciple, without Christ, can do nothing. Paul declared, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."

      6. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered. The lifeless, fruitless branches in the vineyard are lopped off and carried out, and wither and are burned. So, too, any one who does not abide in Christ, is severed from the Vine, and they (the angels at the great day, not men as in the Common Version. See Revision.) cast them into the fire and they are burned. The Lord sweeps on over time to the eternal judgment and fate of the dead branches. Note 1. These have been branches of the Vine; 2. They did not "abide" in the Vine (Greek remain); 3. Hence they were cast forth; 4. Hence at the end they are gathered, by the angels, to be burned. Hence there may be a falling away by those who have been branches of the Vine, or "a falling from grace," and hence the need of watchful, prayerful diligence that we may abide in the Vine.

      7, 8. Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. The condition of this blessed promise is that we abide in the Vine, by having Christ's words abide in us. If we maintain thus the life union so that we are alive with the Christ life, from his presence in us, then whatsoever we ask will be granted. Do you ask whether God hears prayer? I answer, "If we abide in Christ and he in us." Has he heard your prayers? Are you thus united to Christ? But this "effectual prayer" is needful to our fruitfulness in Christ and the glorification of the Father. For herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. The best comment on this is the Savior's injunction, "Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, shall glorify your Father who is in heaven." Those who are fruitful show that they have the life of the Vine and thus demonstrate that they are true disciples. "So shall ye be my disciples."

      9. As the Father hath loved me, so I have loved you. The Father loved the Son and dwelt in him as the Son in the Father, because of their mutual love. Love opens the heart of the disciple to Christ that he may abide there (chap. 14:23) and hence the union of the disciple with Christ may be as close as that of Christ with the Father. Hence he enjoins: Abide ye in my love. This is the Revision and is better than the Common Version, the Greek word being that before [231] rendered abide. The Lord next tells how they shall "continue" or abide in his love.

      10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love. He abode in the love of the Father by a life of perfect obedience. So we must abide in his love. The wilful, disobedient disciple cannot dwell there. Only he in whose heart Christ is enthroned as King and who has an absolute empire over the soul. To keep Christ's commandments is, not to obey those that suit us, but to follow him and obey all he says. Some set aside his commandment to be baptized. Such do not keep his commandments. Some obey it faithfully, but fail to observe the other things he has commanded, and especially the great law of love. Such do not keep his commandments.

      11. These things have I spoken . . . that my joy might remain in you. Strange words, that one about to be crucified should speak of his joy! His joy was union with and the presence of the Father. He had "anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows." He desired his disciples to have that joy, the constant consolation of the sense of the presence of Christ. If Christ abode in them, his joy would remain in them. All spoken above was that they might have this joy. If this is realized their joy will be fulfilled. They "shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied." The soul that has Christ in it is "full."

      12. That ye love one another, as I have loved you. The greatness of his love for the disciples has been shown. Thus they must love one another. The thought developed is, 1. Love the bond that unites Father and Son. 2. Such love the bond that unites the Son and the disciples. 3. How much love must also exist between the disciples in order to unite them? Mutual love, instead of an iron chain of commands, binds them together.

      13, 14. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The highest human exhibition of love that earth has ever seen was this. Damon had been ready to die for Pythias; fathers had died for their families; mothers for their children. Christ was about to exhibit this highest human type of love by dying for his friends. He did even more, as Paul shows us, Romans 5:6; he died for enemies, something that man had never done. The Lord here, however, points his disciples to his love for them. They are his friends, if they obey him. That is the condition. One may "lay down his life for another" without dying. If he lives to consecrate his life to his welfare, he gives, if possible, a higher proof of love. [232]

      15. I call you not servants . . . I have called you friends. Christ's disciples serve him, but their service is not bondage, but that of love. Hence, they are friends instead of servants. They have his presence abiding in them and the will of the Father is made known to them.

      16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you. Each one of the eleven apostles present had been chosen, called, by the Lord, from among his disciples. They did not choose him, but he them, in order that they might bring forth abundant fruit in the conversion of the world. The same is true, in part, of each disciple. Christ calls them by the gospel, and if they hear and obey, then they are called and chosen to his work. These words, however, have a special, rather than a general signification. The Lord selected every apostle, and called them to become his representatives in the church when he had ascended his heavenly throne. Peter, Andrew, James and John were taken from their boats and nets at the Sea of Galilee; Matthew from his place at the receipt of custom, the rest of the eleven from their various callings, and, last of all, Saul of Tarsus was arrested by the Lord himself on the way to Damascus and told that he was to become "a minister and a witness" to the Gentiles. As God chose Noah to build the ark, Abraham to found the Jewish nation, Moses to be its law-giver, David to leave his flocks and be its king, the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ, so the Lord chose out the apostles and ordained (appointed) them to their special work. So, too, I cannot doubt that he chooses servants in all ages to become the leaders in great works which are called for by the interests of his kingdom. Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name. They were ordained to "go forth and bring forth fruit." While engaged in that work they are promised the divine help. If at any time their own arms are too short they are authorized to call for the help they need in Christ's name. This help is to the end that they may bear fruit, or be efficient in the work of converting men. The principle that underlies the promise is of general application. The men of prayer have in all ages been those that have been most abundantly fruitful in their labors.


PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.

      1. The life of the branch springs from the life of the vine. The branch does not give life to the vine, but the vine to the branches. So Christ is our life.

      2. If the connection between the branch and the vine is severed it will at [233] once die. As the sap must flow from the vine into the branch to give it life and keep it alive, so the life of the True Vine must flow into our souls. Christ is not only the fountain of our life, but we must abide in him in order to maintain it. If we let sin come between and cut us off we are dead.

      3. Whatever works of beneficence and love are done by the church, or by Christians, serve to honor and glorify Christ, because it is his life in us that works and bears fruit. Without him we can do nothing.

      4. Christ and sin cannot abide in the heart together. If sin abides there, Christ will not enter; if Christ abides there, sin can find no room.

      5. The beneficent work of Christ for man. Now, if there were to be made two maps of the world, one showing the happiness, comforts, morality, good deeds, benevolent gifts, means of innocent enjoyment, the light shades showing the countries in which a large degree of happiness is enjoyed, and the shades growing darker as the blessings grow less; the other map showing the prevalence of Christianity, the lands where the purest Christianity is most prevalent being represented in white, and the shades darkening as the lands have a less pure Christianity, or it is less prevalent, down to the blackness of utter heathenism,--it would be found that these two maps almost exactly coincide.


THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD.

      17. These things I command you that ye love one another. "These things" are all the precepts the Lord had spoken since the interview began with chapter XIII. It is remarkable how frequently and with what emphasis he enforces this duty. Indeed, to fill the heart with earnest, active love, love to God and to man, is the great end of the mission of Christ. "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." 1 John 3:14. See also Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor., chapter XIII, etc. In the next verse the powerful need of his disciples being indissolubly bound together by love is pointed out in the fact that they shall be hated by the world.

      18. If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me. The world, as used by the Savior, means the unconverted, unspiritual, sensual, selfish and worldly portion of mankind, nearly all of our race at the time that he spoke. Of that world the spirit of evil was the prince, and the kings and rulers of the earth were his willing servants. When the Lord was about to begin his ministry the prince of the world tempted him with the offer of worldly glory and empire, and when the offer was rejected became his bitter enemy. The world hated him because he rebuked its sins, rejected him and crucified him. His disciples, who bear his likeness, have his spirit and speak his words, will also be a constant rebuke to the lusts and wrongs of the world and, hence, will not enjoy its favor. When they are hated they can remember that the world hated their Lord also. [234]

      19. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own. It is the nature of all intelligent persons to love best what is in sympathy with themselves. Christ loves most tenderly the disciples who obey his commandments and seek to be like him. The world loves those best that are in harmony with its ambitions, aims and pleasures. Hence, when the church lowers itself to a worldly standard, is complaisant toward sin, and full of the worldly spirit, it will not come into collision with the world. It is the servants who are "chosen out of the world," who are not of the world and who testify against it, that it hates. This has been illustrated in all ages. John the Baptist and Christ might have chosen smooth paths that would have secured worldly favor, but their rebukes of sin brought them to death, and in every generation the faithful servants, such men as Huss, Waldo, Wickliffe, Savonarola, Luther, Roger Williams, and the great army of martyrs, have been hated and persecuted. See chapter 7:7 where Christ shows that the world cannot hate those who act in accordance with its worldly policy and principles, and also, 1 Peter 4:12, 13; 1 John 3:13, 14, and 4:4, 5.

      20. Remember the word, . . . The servant is not greater than his lord. For this admonition to which the Lord refers see John 13:16; Matt. 10:24; Luke 6:40. The servants who represent the Master, show his spirit, obey his commands and do his work, must expect similar treatment to that which the world would award to the Master himself. They represent a spirit and policy that comes into direct collision with the world. Those who would persecute the Lord will persecute the disciples also. Those who would receive the Lord's words will also receive and keep their words also. Some will persecute; others will accept the gospel. The disciple must expect both results, persecution and glad reception. This has been the experience of all devoted proclaimers of the gospel, from Paul down to our own day. See in Paul's experience, Acts 13:42-45.

      21. All these things will they do unto you for my name's sake. The name of Christ, so sweet to his followers, is an object of hatred to his enemies. Not many months passed after these words were uttered until those that now heard Christ were under arrest by the Sanhedrim and were asked by the high priest, "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" Then Peter answered, "By the name of Jesus Christ, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand before you [235] whole." Then, after a conference, the Sanhedrim "commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts, chapter IV). Again, Acts 5:28, "The high priest asked, Did we not straitly charge that you should not teach in this name?" And they departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (verse 41). See also 1 Pet. 4:14 and Rev. 3:8. What was true of the first age of persecution has been true of later ages. The Roman emperor, Diocletian, declared that he "would abolish the Christian name from the face of the earth." The infidel Convention of France, at the time of the Reign of Terror, tried to destroy all that would recall his name, and there is nothing that excites the animosity of the haters of Christ more intensely than his name. One ground of the intense hatred of the Jews to "the name" was that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Christ predicted by the prophets, and the use of this "name" was a constant indictment of them for crucifying the "Holy One" of Israel. They had rejected him because they knew not God, God who had sent Jesus into the world, though they professed to honor him.

      22. If I had not come and spoken . . . they would not have had sin. There are three principles involved in this declaration. 1. The degree of sin is determined by the measure of our opportunities. Those in total darkness cannot be blamed for not seeing unless they are responsible for being in the darkness. Those who have had no light from heaven will be lightly judged for breaking laws of which they could have no knowledge. 2. Increased opportunities bring the consciousness of sin. A ray of sunlight in the chamber reveals, but does not create, the motes. They were there before. So, too, the motions of sin in the soul are imperfectly recognized until the light comes, but in that light they are seen to be sin, and the conscience is alive to sin. "Without the law sin is dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." Rom. 7:8, 9. So the knowledge of Christ, flooding the soul with light, brings sin into full view and takes away all excuse for continuance therein. Henceforth it is known, conscious sin. 3. The sin of sins is the rejection of Christ. He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. He has not only shed his blood to cleanse from all sin, but comes to men and pleads with them to let him be their Savior. He who refuses him chooses, deliberately chooses sin, as his portion. He declares by the rejection of Christ that he clings to his sins and will abide by their consequences. He not only willfully retains his past sins but he adds to them the fearful sin of rejecting heaven's offer of mercy as embodied in the gospel. By the rejection of Christ he shows himself a stubborn and determined rebel against the King of kings. Had heaven offered no mercy, showed no love, sent no Lamb of God to take away sin, there might have been less, or even no responsibility for sin, because many were so in darkness that they knew not sin, but now they have no cloke for their sin. There is no excuse for it, no shelter, no covering, nothing that can extenuate sin. Ignorance might be an excuse, but when the offer of pardon is [236] made and refused ignorance cannot be pleaded. Christ's offer takes away every excuse and leaves the sinner at the judgment day to the sentence of condemnation. Men are lost because "they will not have life." Luther says: "No man shall die in his sins, except him who, through unbelief, thrusts from him the forgiveness of sin, which, in the name of Jesus Christ, is offered to him. This is the real sin that contains all others. For if the word of Christ was received every sin would be forgiven and remitted, but since men will not receive it this constitutes a sin which is not to be forgiven."

      23. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. This follows from the fact that Christ is Immanuel, God with us, the manifestation of the Father. As Christ is revealed to us, so is the Father. Every one who hates God in Christ, hates the Father who sent him. The Jews thought they did not, but they did. They knew not God, but worshiped another god whom their own imaginations had created. Christ was the manifestation of the God of their Fathers, but when they saw him they hated him.

      24. If I had not done . . . they had not had sin. The attestation of his divine mission was such that they were without excuse. His whole life work, including his sinlessness, his beneficence, his divine teaching and his superhuman signs, were such as no man had ever shown. They therefore demonstrated that he was more than man. Sometimes cavilers call for a scientific argument that Jesus is divine. The Savior here gives it. The syllogism is as follows: 1. No man that ever lived was sinless, was a teacher who never erred, or unlocked the portals of the dead, or made those whose souls were dead, live again as new creatures in a new and beautiful life. 2. Jesus of Nazareth did and does all these things. 3. Therefore, he is more than man and is divine.

      25. They hated me without a cause. He had just stated that "they hated both him and his Father." This hatred was without any justifiable cause, and therefore fulfilled of Psalm 35:19. "These words (Christ's words from verse 21 to 26) are perhaps the most terrible words in the Old or New Testament. No description of divine punishment which is written anywhere can come into the least comparison with them in awfulness or horror. This gratuitous hatred, this hatred of Christ by men because they hate God, this hatred of God because he has manifested himself and proved himself to be love, is something which passes all our conception, and yet which would not mean anything to us if our conscience did not bear witness that the possibility of it lies in ourselves. Such a hatred is only possible to nations which, like the Jewish, is full of religious knowledge and of religious profession."--Maurice. [237]

      26. When the Comforter is come. For discussion of the Comforter, his nature and work, see notes on the preceding chapter. In chapter 14:26, he says that the Father will send the Comforter in his name, while here he says that he will send him from the Father. These passages are in harmony and merely show how intimate the union between the Father and the Son. What one does the other may be said to do, for the same mind is in each. Christ often emphasized the fact that what he did and said was done by the Father. In Acts 2:33, when this promise was first fulfilled, Peter declared that it was Christ "which hath shed forth this, which you now see and hear." Which proceedeth from the Father. Christ attributes all the blessed and redemptive powers to his Father as the final cause. As he came himself from the Father so the Holy Spirit is from the Father. He is called the Spirit of God, and also the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; Phil. 1:19; 1 Peter 1:11.) He shall testify of me. One principal office of the Spirit is to testify of Christ. See chapter 16:13-15. Nor is it difficult to ascertain how the Spirit testifies. Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost the apostles "spake as the Spirit gave them utterance." Testimony is given in words, or by acts, and the Spirit speaks through the saints whom he chooses as his agents. Hebrews 10:15, 16, shows how the Spirit bears witness: "Whereof the Holy Spirit is a witness to us; for after that he said before, This is the covenant," etc. The words which the Holy Spirit "said before" and by which he became "a witness" were spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. There is not an example recorded in the Bible of the Spirit testifying otherwise than in words spoken by those moved by his power, and in the lives of those in whom he dwells. I emphasize this fact because there is much idle speculation and error on the subject.

      27. Ye also shall bear witness. The apostles were double witnesses. They had been with Christ "from the beginning" and knew all the facts. If he had been a deceiver they would have known it. If he was true they knew it. When he was risen they were witnesses of the fact. If they had never received the Comforter they could have been witnesses of the facts of his life, death and resurrection. But when the Holy Spirit was given, the dark things made plain, the Scriptures understood, power from on high sent upon them, and when they could speak with tongues and work miracles, then also the Holy Spirit in them bore witness. There was their witness as men, eleven competent witnesses to every fact, and then in addition there was the divine witness through them. They still testify, and added to this, there are those in whom Christ dwells by his Spirit. Every true Christian life is a witness to the living power of Christ. It must be kept clearly in mind that there is not the slightest intimation in the Scriptures of a testimony independent of those who have received the Spirit through the acceptance of Christ. [238]

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