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Lord took occasion to renew his discourse with the beautiful illustration of the vine and the branches.
This supposition, however, seems improbable, when we consider that Jerusalem was, at this season of the year, crowded with inhabitants; and therefore that it would have been hardly practicable to deliver this discourse, while passing through the streets; and, especially, that the prayer with which it concludes cannot be with any propriety supposed to have been offered up, except in some perfectly retired place.
It appears most likely, that after the close of the address in the fourteenth chapter, they rose from the supper-table, but something hindering them from immediately leaving the room, their Divine Master, anxious to improve every moment which he had yet to spare with them, occupied the "little while" between the conclusion of the supper, and their retiring from the house, in giving them farther instruction and comfort.
It is probable that Jesus was led to use the illustration of the vine and the branches, by the circumstances of the Last Supper. He had only a few moments before partaken with them of the paschal lamb-he had poured forth the wine into the cup-he had given it to them, and told them, " Drink
ye all of this;" they were to do this in remembrance of his death, and as a pledge of his coming again, when they should drink the new wine in the kingdom of God; and from the circumstances then connected with this holy ordinance, he proceeds to illustrate and unfold the character of the union between himself and his people, by a reference to himself as the true vine; as if he had said, I have given you by this sacramental wine, an emblem in which you are to remember me, and to feed on me, for I am the true vine. The wine of which you have partaken in
the supper is a symbol of what you spiritually derive from your union with me. “I am the true vine," and "ye are the branches."
The illustration here used is very beautiful and emphatic, and tends to bring forth into prominence some of the most remarkable features of the union between Christ and his people. The expression “the true vine” may possibly have some reference to the parable which God spake to Israel of old, by the mouth of Isaiah the prophet. “My beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill, and he planted it with the choicest vine," even the vine which he brought out of Egypt. But this choice vine, even the seed of Abraham his servant whom he had chosen, did not repay his culture, it " brought forth wild grapes,” and therefore he laid waste his vineyard, and allowed the degenerate vine to be trodden down. Yet had he respect unto his vineyard, and in the fulness of time, the heavenly husbandman again brought a plant into it, which indeed at first appeared, like "a root out of a dry ground,” but which was, nevertheless,
, “wholly a right stock," "a true vine," "a vine of truth,” a vine from which could arise nothing that was noxious in its sap or its fruit, a vine whose wide-spreading branches should yet be laden with the ripe clusters of grapes, and
, never fail to bring forth its fruit in due season.
Of course it is in reference to the human nature of our Divine Lord, that he is spoken of as a vine, planted, taking root, and having branches. As God, this cannot be said of him; but in reference to his human nature, it is peculiarly applicable. As Emmanuel he was brought into this world, he made his dwelling-place in the midst of the miserable creatures he came to save, and even as the vine is but a fragile, tender, and easily bruised plant, so he hid not himself from shame, reproach, and persecution ; but was
content to be “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities."
But as Christ says of himself, “I am the true vine," so he adds, in the fifth verse, speaking to the apostles, “ Ye are the branches." The people of God, then, are the branches of the “true vine.” This is not their natural condition, they are by nature branches of a wild and unproductive stock. In their natural state they are wild, barren, and fit only to be burned—they are therefore branches of the “true vine,” not by way of nature but by way of grace. They have been severed from the wild stock, and have been grafted into, that they might partake of, the root and fatness of the true vine. And that which joins them to their root is faith. The root is rich and fertile without them, but where the connection is formed by the heavenly grace of faith in the individual sinner, then that fertility is imparted to him. The life-principle of the tree on which he is engrafted, flows freely into him and thus being “one with Christ and Christ with him," though his faith is not the source of his new life, yet it is the means and the channel by which the stream flows into his soul from the fountain of life.
But let us now observe that, in the eleven verses, which we have marked at the opening of this exposition, there are various blessings evidently made to depend on this union between the Spiritual vine and the Spiritual branches.
The first of these we gather from the third verse : ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you." The word which Christ spake unto them, was his gospel, and the whole of this gospel was illustrated by the figure he had just brought before them, “I am the true vine." They were in need of the washing of regeneration, the cleansing of justification, and their union then with him as
the branches of the vine had so cleansed them,—they were in need of the renewing of the Holy Ghost, the cleansing of sanctification, and this too they were then receiving by virtue of their union with Christ; and especially "now" they were clean, inasmuch as the unhappy Judas, the withered branch, had been cut off and cast away. He was left to bear his iniquity, because he abode not in the vine ; but they who were the living branches, were washed, they were sanctified, they were justified in the name of Jesus, and by the Spirit of God. Beloved, would you be clean every whit from the leprosy of sin? would you be cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit ? then must you abide in Christ, both in the way of justification and sanctification. Apart from him every thing must be defiled and polluted; but with him, in him, you shall be presented blameless, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
Another blessing dependent on our abiding in the true vine, is strikingly exhibited to us in the verses before us:
- The blessing of fruitfulness. Thus in the fourth verse. “ Abide in me, and I in you; as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Our union with Christ not only removes from us that which is negatively good, it also fully supplies us with positive good. The living branch of the true vine is not only cleansed from all noxious qualities, so as no longer to bring forth wild grapes; it is also filled with such gracious heavenly influence, as to bring good fruit unto perfection. The soul of the sinner, when taken possession of by Christ, is not left as an empty habitation, whence the evil and corrupt desires are cast out; it is also filled with consecrated things. That temple which had been degraded to the service of idols, when purged from its idolatory is not left an empty void, but has its altar of
sacrifice and incense, its active lively worship, with holy devotedness to the true God, inscribed on every affection, and stimulating every energy. Thus the branch which abides in Christ no longer produces poisonous berries, it does not even continue unproductive, it brings forth the fruits of the Spirit, which will "remain."
But the blessing of fruitfulness is not bestowed in its lowest degree, in consequence of the union with Christ; for consider the fifth verse, “I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit;" he who is one with Christ, is not only privileged to manifest "a little strength”-a little life; the Spirit which has been imparted to him by Christ can bring forth the bundred-fold as well as the thirty. If he abide in Christ, neither shall his leaf wither, nor the abundance of his fruit fail; and these are the plentiful fruits of the Spirit which he bears, “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”
But here let us observe, that no believer brings forth so much fruit that he may not bring forth more; and what then are the means employed for causing the branch, abiding in Christ, to increase in fruitfulness. “Every branch in me," says our Lord in the second verse, " which beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." This unfolds a truth of deep and extensive interest to the believer. The desires which have been awakened in his heart by the Spirit of God, are great and aspiring, every step that he takes in his way to Zion tends but to shew him how many more must be taken, before he can attain to rest: every exertion for his Divine Master, tends but to impress his mind with the meagreness of his best service, and to urge him to press on towards the mark for the prize