Here Christ discourses concerning the fruit, the fruits of the Spirit, which his disciples were to bring forth, under the similitude of a vine. Observe here,
I. The doctrine of this similitude; what notion we ought to have of it.
1. That Jesus Christ is the vine, the true vine. It is an instance of the humility of Christ that he is pleased to speak of himself under low and humble comparisons. He that is the Sun of righteousness, and the bright and morning Star, compares himself to a vine. The church, which is Christ mystical, is a vine (Ps. 80:8), so is Christ, who is the church seminal. Christ and his church are thus set forth. (1.) He is the vine, planted in the vineyard, and not a spontaneous product; planted in the earth, for his is the Word made flesh. The vine has an unsightly unpromising outside; and Christ had no form nor comeliness, Isa. 53:2. The vine is a spreading plant, and Christ will be known as salvation to the ends of the earth. The fruit of the vine honours God and cheers man (Jdg. 9:13), so does the fruit of Christ’s mediation; it is better than gold, Prov. 8:19. (2.) He is the true vine, as truth is opposed to pretence and counterfeit; he is really a fruitful plant, a plant of renown. He is not like that wild vine which deceived those who gathered of it (2 Kgs. 4:39), but a true vine. Unfruitful trees are said to lie (Hab. 3:17. marg.), but Christ is a vine that will not deceive. Whatever excellency there is in any creature, serviceable to man, it is but a shadow of that grace which is in Christ for his people’s good. He is that true vine typified by Judah’s vine, which enriched him with the blood of the grape (Gen. 49:11), by Joseph’s vine, the branches of which ran over the wall (Gen. 49:22), by Israel’s vine, under which he dwelt safely, 1 Kgs. 4:25.
2. That believers are branches of this vine, which supposes that Christ is the root of the vine. The root is unseen, and our life is hid with Christ; the root bears the tree (Rom. 11:18), diffuses sap to it, and is all in all to its flourishing and fruitfulness; and in Christ are all supports and supplies. The branches of the vine are many, some on one side of the house or wall, others on the other side; yet, meeting in the root, are all but one vine; thus all good Christians, though in place and opinion distant from each other, yet meet in Christ, the centre of their unity. Believers, like the branches of the vine, are weak, and insufficient to stand of themselves, but as they are borne up. See Ezek. 15:2.
3. That the Father is the husbandman, georgos—the land-worker. Though the earth is the Lord’s, it yields him no fruit unless he work it. God has not only a propriety in, but a care of, the vine and all the branches. He hath planted, and watered, and gives the increase; for we are God’s husbandry, 1 Cor. 3:9. See Isa. 5:1, 2; 27:2, 3. He had an eye upon Christ, the root, and upheld him, and made him to flourish out of a dry ground. He has an eye upon all the branches, and prunes them, and watches over them, that nothing hurt them. Never was any husbandman so wise, so watchful, about his vineyard, as God is about his church, which therefore must needs prosper.
II. The duty taught us by this similitude, which is to bring forth fruit, and, in order to this, to abide in Christ.
1. We must be fruitful. From a vine we look for grapes (Isa. 5:2), and from a Christian we look for Christianity; this is the fruit, a Christian temper and disposition, a Christian life and conversation, Christian devotions and Christian designs. We must honour God, and do good, and exemplify the purity and power of the religion we profess; and this is bearing fruit. The disciples here must be fruitful, as Christians, in all the fruits of righteousness, and as apostles, in diffusing the savour of the knowledge of Christ. To persuade them to this, he urges,
(1.) The doom of the unfruitful (John 15:2): They are taken away. [1.] It is here intimated that there are many who pass for branches in Christ who yet do not bear fruit. Were they really united to Christ by faith, they would bear fruit; but being only tied to him by the thread of an outward profession, though they seem to be branches, they will soon be seen to be dry ones. Unfruitful professors are unfaithful professors; professors, and no more. It might be read, Every branch that beareth not fruit in me, and it comes much to one; for those that do not bear fruit in Christ, and in his Spirit and grace, are as if they bore no fruit at all, Hos. 10:1. [2.] It is here threatened that they shall be taken away, in justice to them and in kindness to the rest of the branches. From him that has not real union with Christ, and fruit produced thereby, shall be taken away even that which he seemed to have, Luke 8:18. Some think this refers primarily to Judas.
(2.) The promise made to the fruitful: He purgeth them, that they may bring forth more fruit. Note, [1.] Further fruitfulness is the blessed reward of forward fruitfulness. The first blessing was, Be fruitful; and it is still a great blessing. [2.] Even fruitful branches, in order to their further fruitfulness, have need of purging or pruning; kathairei—he taketh away that which is superfluous and luxuriant, which hinders its growth and fruitfulness. The best have that in them which is peccant, aliquid amputandum—something which should be taken away; some notions, passions, or humours, that want to be purged away, which Christ has promised to do by his word, and Spirit, and providence; and these shall be taken off by degrees in the proper season. [3.] The purging of fruitful branches, in order to their greater fruitfulness, is the care and work of the great husbandman, for his own glory.
(3.) The benefits which believers have by the doctrine of Christ, the power of which they should labour to exemplify in a fruitful conversation: Now you are clean, John 15:3. [1.] Their society was clean, now that Judas was expelled by that word of Christ, What thou doest, do quickly; and till they were got clear of him they were not all clean. The word of Christ is a distinguishing word, and separates between the precious and the vile; it will purify the church of the first-born in the great dividing day. [2.] They were each of them clean, that is, sanctified, by the truth of Christ (John 17:17); that faith by which they received the word of Christ purified their hearts, Acts 15:9. The Spirit of grace by the word refined them from the dross of the world and the flesh, and purged out of them the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees, from which, when they saw their inveterate rage and enmity against their Master, they were now pretty well cleansed. Apply it to all believers. The word of Christ is spoken to them; there is a cleansing virtue in that word, as it works grace, and works out corruption. It cleanses as fire cleanses the gold from its dross, and as physic cleanses the body from its disease. We then evidence that we are cleansed by the word when we bring forth fruit unto holiness. Perhaps here is an allusion to the law concerning vineyards in Canaan; the fruit of them was as unclean, and uncircumcised, the first three years after it was planted, and the fourth year it was to be holiness of praise unto the Lord; and then it was clean, Lev. 19:23, 24. The disciples had now been three years under Christ’s instruction; and now you are clean.
(4.) The glory that will redound to God by our fruitfulness, with the comfort and honour that will come to ourselves by it, John 15:8. If we bear much fruit, [1.] Herein our Father will be glorified. The fruitfulness of the apostles, as such, in the diligent discharge of their office, would be to the glory of God in the conversion of souls, and the offering of them up to him, Rom. 15:9, 16. The fruitfulness of all Christians, in a lower or narrower sphere, is to the glory of God. By the eminent good works of Christians many are brought to glorify our Father who is in heaven. [2.] So shall we be Christ’s disciples indeed, approving ourselves so, and making it to appear that we are really what we call ourselves. So shall we both evidence our discipleship and adorn it, and be to our Master for a name and a praise, and a glory, that is, disciples indeed, Jer. 13:11. So shall we be owned by our Master in the great day, and have the reward of disciples, a share in the joy of our Lord. And the more fruit we bring forth, the more we abound in that which is good, the more he is glorified.
2. In order to our fruitfulness, we must abide in Christ, must keep up our union with him by faith, and do all we do in religion in the virtue of that union. Here is,
(1.) The duty enjoined (John 15:4): Abide in me, and I in you. Note, It is the great concern of all Christ’s disciples constantly to keep up a dependence upon Christ and communion with him, habitually to adhere to him, and actually to derive supplies from him. Those that are come to Christ must abide in him: “Abide in me, by faith; and I in you, by my Spirit; abide in me, and then fear not but I will abide in you;” for the communion between Christ and believers never fails on his side. We must abide in Christ’s word by a regard to it, and it in us as a light to our feet. We must abide in Christ’s merit as our righteousness and plea, and it in us as our support and comfort. The knot of the branch abides in the vine, and the sap of the vine abides in the branch, and so there is a constant communication between them.
(2.) The necessity of our abiding in Christ, in order to our fruitfulness (John 15:4, 5): “You cannot bring forth fruit, except you abide in me; but, if you do, you bring forth much fruit; for, in short, without me, or separate from me, you can do nothing.” So necessary is it to our comfort and happiness that we be fruitful, that the best argument to engage us to abide in Christ is, that otherwise we cannot be fruitful. [1.] Abiding in Christ is necessary in order to our doing much good. He that is constant in the exercise of faith in Christ and love to him, that lives upon his promises and is led by his Spirit, bringeth forth much fruit, he is very serviceable to God’s glory, and his own account in the great day. Note, Union with Christ is a noble principle, productive of all good. A life of faith in the Son of God is incomparably the most excellent life a man can live in this world; it is regular and even, pure and heavenly; it is useful and comfortable, and all that answers the end of life. [2.] It is necessary to our doing any good. It is not only a means of cultivating ad increasing what good there is already in us, but it is the root and spring of all good: “Without me you can do nothing: not only no great thing, heal the sick, or raise the dead, but nothing.” Note, We have as necessary and constant a dependence upon the grace of the Mediator for all the actions of the spiritual and divine life as we have upon the providence of the Creator for all the actions of the natural life; for, as to both, it is in the divine power that we live, move, and have our being. Abstracted from the merit of Christ, we can do nothing towards our justification; and from the Spirit of Christ nothing towards our sanctification. Without Christ we can do nothing aright, nothing that will be fruit pleasing to God or profitable to ourselves, 2 Cor. 3:5. We depend upon Christ, not only as the vine upon the wall, for support; but, as the branch on the root, for sap.
(3.) The fatal consequences of forsaking Christ (John 15:6): If any man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch. This is a description of the fearful state of hypocrites that are not in Christ, and of apostates that abide not in Christ. [1.] They are cast forth as dry and withered branches, which are plucked off because they cumber the tree. It is just that those should have no benefit by Christ who think they have no need of him; and that those who reject him should be rejected by him. Those that abide not in Christ shall be abandoned by him; they are left to themselves, to fall into scandalous sin, and then are justly cast out of the communion of the faithful. [2.] They are withered, as a branch broken off from the tree. Those that abide not in Christ, though they may flourish awhile in a plausible, at least a passable profession, yet in a little time wither and come to nothing. Their parts and gifts wither; their zeal and devotion wither; their credit and reputation wither; their hopes and comforts wither, Job 8:11-13. Note, Those that bear no fruit, after while will bear no leaves. How soon is that fig-tree withered away which Christ has cursed! [3.] Men gather them. Satan’s agents and emissaries pick them up, and make an easy prey of them. Those that fall off from Christ presently fall in with sinners; and the sheep that wander from Christ’s fold, the devil stands ready to seize them for himself. When the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, an evil spirit possessed him. [4.] They cast them into the fire, that is, they are cast into the fire; and those who seduce them and draw them to sin do in effect cast them there; for they make them children of hell. Fire is the fittest place for withered branches, for they are good for nothing else, Ezek. 15:2-4. [5.] They are burned; this follows of course, but it is here added very emphatically, and makes the threatening very terrible. They will not be consumed in a moment, like thorns under a pot (Eccl. 7:6), but kaietai, they are burning for ever in a fire, which not only cannot be quenched, but will never spend itself. This comes of quitting Christ, this is the end of barren trees. Apostates are twice dead (Jude 1:12), and when it is said, They are cast into the fire and are burned, it speaks as if they were twice damned. Some apply men’s gathering them to the ministry of the angels in the great day, when they shall gather out of Christ’s kingdom all things that offend, and shall bundle the tares for the fire.
(4.) The blessed privilege which those have that abide in Christ (John 15:7): If my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will of my Father in my name, and it shall be done. See here, [1.] How our union with Christ is maintained—by the word: If you abide in me; he had said before, and I in you; here he explains himself, and my words abide in you; for it is in the word that Christ is set before us, and offered to us, Rom. 10:6-8. It is in the word that we receive and embrace him; and so where the word of Christ dwells richly there Christ dwells. If the word be our constant guide and monitor, if it be in us as at home, then we abide in Christ, and he in us. [2.] How our communion with Christ is maintained—by prayer: You shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. And what can we desire more than to have what we will for the asking? Note, Those that abide in Christ as their heart’s delight shall have, through Christ, their heart’s desire. If we have Christ, we shall want nothing that is good for us. Two things are implied in this promise:—First, That if we abide in Christ, and his word in us, we shall not ask any thing but what is proper to be done for us. The promises abiding in us lie ready to be turned into prayers; and the prayers so regulated cannot but speed. Secondly, That if we abide in Christ and his word we shall have such an interest in God’s favour and Christ’s mediation that we shall have an answer of peace to all our prayers.