“I am the true vine, and my Father is the hushandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit, Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:1-6).
With these words Jesus shows us, among other things, that to be a Christian is to live a life of full fellowship with Him. As the branch is united with the tree, so must we be united with Him.
These verses show also that the life in fellowship with Jesus can develop in such a way that we bear fruit in varying degrees. Life can even become wholly unproductive. This is a serious truth; “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away.” It may seem impossible to us that a branch on the true vine should be fruitless, but Jesus has declared it to be so. Therefore we need to be on guard lest we become such branches.
In the light of the above truths, I should like to discuss three pertinent questions:
1. How do we become branches on the true vine?
2. What can we do to bear more fruit?
3. What causes the branches to become nonproductive?
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It may be that many do not know how a branch is grafted into a tree. Let me explain this procedure, for it pictures so well the process of our becoming branches of Christ.
The tree which is to receive the branch must be wounded; bark is cut away and the very life of the tree is exposed. But the branch must also be wounded; it is necessary to cut it to the pith. The life-fibres of the wounded branch must make contact with the “life” in the wound of the tree. The wound is covered with wax to preserve the contact and to prevent foreign elements from entering the incision. Then the branch receives of the “life” of the tree, and soon buds appear on what seemed to be a dead branch.
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Let us apply this picture to our relationship with Christ.
We all know that Jesus, the true vine, has been wounded. His hands, feet and heart were pierced by nails and spear; stripes changed His body into one bleeding sore.
These wounds provide the way for us to God. By them the branches, cut from the wild olive of the world, can be grafted into the true vine and receive life from God. Men may try as much as they please to convince themselves and others that life is obtained through good deeds; eternity will prove them to be wrong. Only those who are grafted into Christ have life; God has made no other arrangement for our salvation.
But also you and I, the wild branches, must be wounded. Our whole inner being must be exposed to Him whose Word pierces “to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.” Our wounds are placed next to the wounds of Christ; thus we are grafted into Him and become branches on the true vine.
All who have gone through this process remember it so well. In our hearts there was to begin with a divided affection. We wanted to become Christians, but we did not care to break with sin. We wanted the branch to grow on the vine without any living contact. In time we realized that this was impossible; the day came when we said to ourselves and to God: Now I have to find peace, cost what it may. We came to God just as we were; we confessed every sin that lay on our conscience. That which we formerly kept to ourselves we then gave to Him.. Unconcerned about public opinion, we bade farewell to the old life; we had chosen Christ and given ourselves to Him. Thus the “branch” was cut to the quick of its being and brought into contact with Christ.
We had an experience of something entirely new, and people saw that a change had come over us. Parents discovered that their children were different, and masters marveled at the transformation in their servants. New life had begun to bud on the branch which was dead. It was now a branch on the true vine, and we could sing with others who had likewise experienced this blessedness:
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.
Many people come no further than to long for salvation. They do not feel at home in the world, and fail to find peace with God. As winged birds they flutter from church to chapel, from rally to conference, without finding peace.
Is this your case? If so, what hinders your development?
For many — perhaps also for you — the reason is that they do not give themselves completely to God. They do not want to give up all sin; deep down in their heart there is something they want to keep for themselves. The “branch” is not broken and thus cannot be united with the true vine. “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25). There is no other way. Go to Golgotha with your sinful life; let your wounds be healed by His stripes. Then life will come out of death. If you will go this way, God will take care of the matter of uniting you with Christ.
Someone may possibly ask, “Am I not supposed to be saved by believing?” That is very true. But faith is simply the organ through which the life from God reaches us; faith is the hand outstretched to receive the gift. God sees your empty hands reaching up to Him, and He fills them with eternal life.
Why do you wait, dear brother?
Why do you tarry so long?
Your Savior is waiting to give you
A place in His sanctified throng.
Do you fear that you might lose your liberty? Yes, it is true that He will bind you, but it is with the cords of love. By them you will be drawn away from judgment and death and into the Kingdom of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. To let yourself be bound by Him is the wisest thing you can do with your one precious life.
It is important for Christians, not least in our day, to pay close attention to the first part of this chapter. Among other things we read, “Already you are clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” It is also written, “Every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth.”
It was this truth Jesus sought to impress upon the disciples when He washed their feet on Holy Thursday. Peter said to Him, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus replied, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” When Peter learned that it was so important he requested the Savior to wash his entire body. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.”
The truth is that he who is clean must be cleansed; otherwise he has no fellowship with Christ. It is so easy to think that we have nothing further to do with sin and to forget the need of continued cleansing. If that happens the branch will not bear fruit, but is cut off and consigned to the flames.
The question then is: How can we be kept clean?
We are still in the world. We must walk on an earthy road to our fatherland. Just as certainly as the world is unclean, so surely will our feet be sullied by sin. He who is not aware of all the evil and wickedness that clings so easily to us must be lacking in both sense and sight. If we are honest we shall have to admit that selfishness, bitterness, miserliness, worldliness, jealousy and pride infect every one of us.
What is all this? It is grime and grit that clings to our feet. It is moss that conceals the corroding canker. Here it becomes necessary to cut and cleanse if the branch is to be saved and bear fruit. If we fail to see this we shall soon be undone; the branch will cease to bear fruit and must soon perish.
But he who sees his sin and acknowledges his guilt will be chastened; God points out to him all that is evil in his life. He admits everything to his Savior and feels himself to be a sinner who still needs to be saved. There will be tears and lamentations, for this is not a pleasant process; the heart seems to be an open sore.
It is the husbandman who is there with His knife to pare and prune and to cut the canker; that is the reason for all the pain. But the branch is being cleansed.
The child of God rises from such an experience with a soothing fragrance in his soul and spirit. He smiles through tears and the sun begins to shine again. He feels clean throughout. Lamentations soon give way to songs of praise. His whole being breathes of spiritual health because the branch has been cleansed. He begins to bear fruit again.
Life with God on earth is one of continued cleansing and renewal. God reproves and consoles through good and evil days until our life is over. When we reach the other side we shall be through with all that is unclean. There shall be no further need of cleansing because there is nothing to begrime our feet, no canker to be removed, and no dead branches to cut off.
How happy every child of grace,
Who knows his sins forgiven!
“This earth!” he cries, “is not my place,
I seek a place in heaven —
A country far from mortal sight,
Which yet by faith I see,
The land of rest, the saints’ delight,
The Heaven prepared for me.”
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