“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.”
The very same acts performed by any others than the children of God would neither develop fruits of the true vine nor could they glorify God. Who hath required these things at the hands of those who are not branches of the true vine? It is not keeping the commandments of Christ for unbelievers to be baptized; for those who know not God to profess religion; for those whom he has not authorized to preach, even if they should preach the truth. Nor are any of the laws of the kingdom of Christ enjoined on the ungodly. The obedience of the saints is the obedience of faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God. And all men have not faith. The son of the bond-woman was but a slave, although begotten by Abraham, nor could he ever be an heir with the son of the free-woman. Fruits produced by Christians are not fruits of the Spirit, unless they are fruits of vital union with the living vine. They are but the fruits of the flesh if produced independently of the true vine. And against all the fruits of the flesh there is law. The law is as weak through the flesh to produce fruits unto God, as Abraham was weak through Hagar to fulfill the promise of God that Sarah should have a son.
Christians sometimes make powerful efforts to do something for the Lord. But if they do what he has not commanded, their doings cannot be accepted of God, or if they do even what he has commanded, and do it from any other spirit or influence than that which comes to them through the vine, it is unavailing. For instance, Christ has commanded his children to pray; but how often do they ask and receive not, because they ask amiss? This they are sure to do if they breathe forth any other than the aspirations of the Spirit in their prayer; they ask only for things that they may consume them on their carnal lusts, and God, in great mercy to them, refuses to grant them their desires. But when the healing virtues of the vine inspires them, they ask only for such things as God has in store for them. The Spirit, through the vine, maketh intercession for them according to the will of God, and then their prayers ascend like holy incense before the Lord. To abide in Christ, the true vine is, then:
First: To abide in his Spirit; and this requires that they be born of the Spirit, “because the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The saints, in abiding in that Spirit, must crucify the old man with his deeds, and be governed by, and walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Second: They must abide in his love; for no other than that love which God has shed abroad in them will do. To abide in his love requires that they shall put from them the affections as well as the lusts of the flesh, and if they walk in the love of God they will love God supremely, and his people, his word, his service, and all that is approved of God himself, and lovely in his estimation.
Third: To abide in Christ as the true vine is to abide in his Word. He said, when lifting up his eyes to heaven, and addressing the Father, “I have given them thy word, and they have received it, and the world has hated them,” etc. “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”
Fourth: They in abiding in his word abide in his truth, because the word is truth. All who depart from his word depart also from the truth, and abide not in the vine.
Fifth: They must abide in his law; that law which he hath written in their hearts: cheerfully obeying his precepts, and submitting to its authority in all things.
Sixth: They must abide in his doctrine, as stated and expounded by the holy apostles. For we see that the primitive disciples continued steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayer. They must abide in fellowship with the vine, strictly conforming to the rule which he has given for their doctrine and practice in all things.
Now, “If any man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch.” A nominal membership, or connection with the vine is not sufficient to secure a permanent abode in the church of Christ, the true vine. In that typical vine which the Lord brought out of Egypt, and planted, and made a hedge around it, and built a vine press for it, etc., a fleshly qualification conforming to the law of a carnal commandment, and a strict performance of the ordinances in a worldly sanctuary would secure an abode. But in the true vine, the order and discipline which Christ has established will detect, not only those who are only foxes who seek to spoil the vine, but it will also exclude from fellowship and membership all such as depart from the laws and institutions of Christ and abide not in him. Those foxes are cast forth, or “taken” as foxes that spoil the vine; but those who are cast forth as branches must mean those who have stood identified with the vine itself. And is not this clearly the case, that those branches or churches, or members who have had the confidence and fellowship of the saints, when they depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; who refuse to be governed by the laws of the kingdom, or oppose the doctrine of Christ, or walk after the flesh, and not after the spirit, abiding not in the vine, but going astray from the footsteps of Christ’s flock, are in the due order of the house of God cast forth as branches? And do they not wither? That verdure and beauty which they once exhibited consumes away like a moth, and all that seemed lovely to them fades out, and they being no more in harmony and fellowship with the people of God, are expelled from communion and fellowship, and from membership in the organized church.
“And men gather them,” etc. As men gather and burn the withered offcasts of a vine, so there are those in the world who watch for the halting of the professed followers of Christ, that they may gather them to feed the flame of their carnal passions, and if possible, use them as fuel to increase the fire of persecution against the church of God. The dry and withered trimmings of a vine will make a sudden blaze, a glaring light, and produce a momentary heat, but all soon dies out, leaving the withered, charred branches blacker, and more unlike the verdant parent vine than ever. So we have often seen the backsliding members of the church, when lured from the pathway of holiness, departing from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, when by the faithful application of the discipline of the church excluded from the fellowship of orderly Christians, and separated from the vine, cast forth and withered. And men do gather them, for they look for the sympathy of the world, and there are those who will join them in their bitterness against the church of God, and for a time the lurid flame burns fiercely against the church and people of God, and like the crackling noise of burning thorns utter their malicious but incoherent maledictions against the faithful defenders of the truth of God.
Those who have been cut off from the fellowship of the saints for their transgressions of the laws of Christ have frequently, for a season, manifested more bitterness against the vine from which they have been cut off than those have been want to show, into whose hands they have fallen, and by the accession which they make to the ever-burning fire of persecution, the furnace is, for a moment, made perhaps seven times hotter than it is wont to be heated.
But there is another sense in which those who abide not in Christ, in the sense explained in this figure, who by departing from his instructions, his laws, institutions, doctrine, examples, and from the communion and fellowship of his saints, are gathered and cast into the fire. God’s children are not allowed to go into transgression unrebuked. When cast forth and withered, as excluded branches from the parent vine, they suffer the burning fire of divine disapprobation. They are cast into a place of discomfort and unrest; where their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched, in which their beauty is consumed as a moth, and their comeliness becomes as ashes to them. How indescribably distressing must be the condition of a branch of the true vine, a child of God who has tasted of the heavenly gift, and of the joys of the world to come, who has enjoyed the companionship of dear loving brethren and sisters, who has shared with them all the privileges of the house of God, to be cut off from the vine, cast forth from fellowship, gathered up like a withered branch, joined to a citizen of a foreign country, far from his father’s house, in wretchedness and famine of soul, reduced to such extreme want that he fain would fill himself with that which only the swine can eat.
Practical illustrations of this part of our Lord’s parable are not infrequent. When those who have enjoyed the privileges of the church of God have become disaffected, have grown cold in their appreciation of the society of the saints, cease to prefer Jerusalem above their chief joy, and allured by some sensual bait from the doctrine, practice or order of the house of God; become indifferent to the confidence and fellowship of their brethren, reject their counsel, spurn their admonitions and shun their company. In their wanderings from the footsteps of the flock, they become charmed with some gilded illusion which seems to promise them present gratification, they are taken in the fowler’s snare, and soon become wedded to some idol. They follow the leadings of their carnal mind until alienated in their feelings and affections from their fellow-branches of the vine, bid defiance to the authority of Christ in his church, and madly throw off all restraints, assume to be independent of the church or vine in which they had once seemed verdant and fruitful. The commands of Christ are disobeyed, and his authority disregarded until the discipline of the church demands their expulsion from the vine or church. Now they are withered, barren of those fruits of the Spirit in which they once seemed to abound; like the salt which has lost its savory qualities by becoming filthy, thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast forth, and trodden under foot of men. In this condition men gather them. Men of the world of anti-christ, who feel malicious towards the vine, hail with fiendish gusto their apostasy from the faith and order of the gospel, and give them a warm reception. The powers of darkness exult in the momentary seeming triumph. But how soon the stolen waters grow bitter, the allurement fades, the promised gratification is not realized. The truant child begins to be in trouble. The easy down-hill-road from Jerusalem to Jericho is infested with thieves, and cruel merciless robbers are on the alert; the way of the transgressor is hard, the robbers strip him and wound him, and leave him half dead. The cup of promised pleasure is dashed. A famine has overtaken him, a storm has arisen, and his soul now vainly yearns within him for the tender sympathy of loving brethren; and, like Esau, he seeks repentance, and a restoration of birthright blessings before despised and unappreciated.
“I die with hunger here, he cries,
I starve in foreign lands.”
The society, and the element into which the prodigal has fallen is a burning furnace, and a devouring flame to every true branch of the vine, when separated from the fellowship and communion of the saints of God.
We know that the heirs of immortality cannot be so separated from Christ, or from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, as to cease to be children of God and joint heirs with Christ; all that being secured in Christ, independent of their good or bad works. Our abiding in Christ as our Savior, our Surety, our Everlasting Father, and as our Advocate with the Father is secured beyond the possibility of a failure. But to abide in him as the “True Vine,” of which his Father is the Husbandman, is to abide in him as the embodiment of the true gospel church, in his laws, ordinances, order and communion. “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us (I John 3:24).” “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 (John 15:10).” “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live.” For the child of God to abide in the flesh is to abide in death; “For the body is dead, because of sin; but the spirit is life, because of righteousness.”
April 15, 1866.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 316 – 321