“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
To the appeal for our views on this text made by sister Force, in our last number, we promised to respond in the present issue. The instructions of our divine Lord and Master, his admonitions and words of encouragement to his disciples, are frequently expressed in figures and parables, selected and employed by his infinite wisdom and most graciously adapted to our finite minds and very limited capacities. Yet although the most familiar things in nature are used to illustrate spiritual things, unto none but the saints is it given to know the things of the kingdom of Christ, and to all others all the instructions of our Lord are but parables, or dark and mysterious sayings which they can by no means comprehend. Hence, will-worshipers and Arminians generally profess to find in the beautiful figure of the vine and its branches only an implied threat of damnation to the children of God to be used as a scourge to lash them to vigilance from fear of falling from grace and sinking down to the perdition of the ungodly. But the child of God, taught by the Spirit to understand the true design of this cluster of figures, is thoroughly convinced that so far from sustaining the doctrine of free-will, human power or creature merit, its application tears them all up, root and branch, and that the idol of human agency in procuring the salvation which is in Christ Jesus must fall before it as Dagon fell before the Ark of God. In the connection of our text, Jesus says, “I am the true vine; my Father is the husbandman,” etc. The eternal deity of Christ, his independent, self-existent Godhead, abstractly considered, is incomparable, “Unto what shall we liken him?” We are forbidden to make any image, picture or comparison; but Christ in his Mediatorial glory is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person; and is therefore the image of the “Invisible God,” or Godhead. God is therefore never visible to men in the flesh, only as he is revealed in the person of his Son. In the Son of God dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; or embodied, and in that embodiment he is revealed to the faith of God’s children.
“God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness hath shined in our (the saint’s) hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” They, therefore, and they alone who have seen the Son have seen the Father also; for he is in the Father and the Father is in him; he and his Father are one. So also as the one Mediator between God and man, is he One with his church, and every one that has seen his church, has seen Christ. For his church is one with him, even as he is one with the Father.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” That kingdom which is invisible to all who are not born again is the body of Christ, and the fullness of Christ. And in his church dwells all the fullness of Christ bodily, or embodied, even as the fullness of the Godhead is embodied in him. Now the vine and branches are in our figure, Christ and his members, and his Father is the Husbandman, having the full charge, care and culture of it. And he says, “In that day sing ye unto her, a vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day (Isaiah 27:2,3).” It is very evident then that the vine in our figure signifies Christ in his Mediatorial identity with his church. The same figure is applied by the Holy Ghost both to Christ and his church. David and Solomon, and Isaiah and others, speaking by the Holy Ghost, calls the church a vine, having tender grapes, etc. But the church cannot be found out of Christ; nor, we bless God, can Christ be found out of the church which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Then when Christ says I am the true vine, we understand that he is the true vine, including all his branches. The same is expressed in a figure of similar import, used by Paul: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and these members, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” So also is the true vine. National Israel was the typical vine which God brought out of Egypt; but Christ is the true, anti-typical vine and his members are the branches of Christ, and are so identified as to bear his name.
Now, having thus far dwelt upon the figure of the vine and branches, and its application, we will pass on to notice that its introduction by our Lord, in this fifteenth chapter of John, was for a practical application, principally to impress the more forcibly his admonitions on those members of himself whom he recognizes as the branches of the vine. Having premised that the vine is Christ, in his mystical body, the church; and the branches of the vine are the members of Christ, being members of his body, members of his church, and members one of another, he says to his members, the branches, “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.” For a branch to abide in the vine it must be identified with it, as a part of it, deriving all its vitality and vigor from the parent vine. The figure is full of instruction. We all know that a branch cut off, or separated, from the vine must wither and cease to bear fruit. What is it then to abide in Christ and bear fruit; and what is it for a branch to abide not in the vine, be cut off, wither, be gathered of men, and cast into the fire, and be burned? To abide in Christ implies a restriction to certain limits which are not to be transcended, all beyond which is forbidden ground. As he is the vine, our vitality and fruitfulness depends upon our abiding in him. To all the members of his body, the church, her exact boundaries are immutably staked out. Not one of her stakes shall ever be removed. Not one of her cords shall ever be broken. They mark and define the curtains of our habitation in Christ, beyond which we may not go; they measure to us the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ. To exceed these stakes which God has set is to depart from Christ as our abiding place. These stakes, cords, or measurements, are designed to signify the laws, ordinances, doctrine, examples, precepts, admonitions and instructions which are found in the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Hence, in the connection, Jesus explains to his disciples what it is to abide in him; thus “if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” This and other explanatory expressions of our Lord, in the same chapter, very clearly show in what sense he speaks of his members’ abiding in him as the true vine. We cannot be thrown out of, or cut off from, our election in him, which was before the foundation of the world; for that would be to overthrow the sovereign, immutable and eternal choice, purpose and predestination of God; for “whom he did foreknow, them he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son.” A failure in this would disarrange and indeed destroy the divine government; but a separation from his mystical body, the church, or vine, may be effected by disobedience to his commands, departure from his doctrine, or by a rejection of his words; or by disorderly deportment. To keep, or abide in his commandments is to abide in his love. So abiding we shall observe all things whatsoever he hath commanded us. Without his instruction, or authority, we will turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. To abide in him, in his word, his house, his church, his laws, and ordinances, mean that we remain permanently in them. Not as visitors, or occasional guests, but permanently settled and established in them. Ruth was admonished to abide in the field of Boaz, close by the reapers, which signified that she was to glean in no other field. It is said of anti-christ that “Her feet abide not in her house (Proverbs 7:11).” But the abiding branch or member will say, “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem (Psalm 122:2).” “They that dwell in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1).” To go beyond the word of the Lord, to do what he has not commanded, or to leave undone what he has commanded, is to depart from him. To embrace doctrine which he has not taught, or to repudiate doctrine which he has taught in his word, is a departure from him in the sense of our figure. If we abide in him, that is, in his word, in his love, in his doctrine, then he also abideth in us. That is, his word abides permanently in us, his love abides in our hearts, as the life and sap of the vine abides in and invigorates the branches, so when his members go not out of his word, but keep within the precincts which environs his kingdom, then he, in his word, laws, love, life and healthful presence, by all the fruits of his Holy Spirit, dwells in us as the sap of the vine flows to all the branches fructifying and invigorating them. As Christ and his Word, his Spirit, his truth and grace are inseparable, if they abide in us it is because he abides in us. But if they abide not in us, then neither does he, in this sense, abide in us.
The branch, whether we apply the term to a single Christian or to a branch of the kingdom of Christ (for it can apply to none other) that abides in Christ, and Christ in him, or her, the same bringeth forth much fruit. “And herein,” says Christ, “is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” The fruits of this abiding union with Christ, the true vine, are the legitimate fruits of the vine, which are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” And these are the true clusters of the true vine, very unlike the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah, whose grapes are gall, and whose clusters are bitter, the wine of which is the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps (Deuteronomy 32:32,33), as we have painfully witnessed during the last four or five years. But these fruits of the true vine, borne by the branches which abide in Christ, are fruits which are unto holiness, whereby the Father, the Husbandman of the vine, is declaratively glorified. The love abounding in all the abiding branches is the love of God, shed abroad in them through Christ the vine; their faith is the faith of the Son of God who hath loved them and given himself for them. Their peace is from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Their joy is in the Holy Ghost. So their gentleness, goodness, meekness, and all their fruits are of God, for “their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” None of these grapes can be gathered from thorns or thistles, nor can the Christian bear them, only so far as he abides in the vine. The people of Israel, married to Moses, brought forth fruit gendering to bondage; but being now dead to the law by the body of Christ, the true vine, they are lawfully married to him that is risen from the dead, that they may bring forth fruits unto God.
(To be continued.)
April 1, 1866.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 312 - 316