Notes on John 15:5-8

John 15:5‑8  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The opening words had laid down the principle of Christ as the source of fruit, in contrast with Israel, and under the living, watchful, care of the Father. It was wholly distinct from government of the flesh by the law before Jehovah, as in the chosen nation to which all the branches belonged. Christ here displaced the old associations. He had shown fruit to be so indispensable in the Father's eyes, that not to bear it involves the removal of the branch, whilst that which bears fruit is cleansed in order to bear more. He had pronounced the disciples already clean by reason of His word, and had urged them to abide in Him, as He in them; and this because they could not bear fruit except they abode in Christ, any more than the branch itself except it abide in the vine.
Next, He sums up and applies this weighty truth of communion with Him, in its great positive elements, and in strong contradistinction from abandonment of Him. “I am the vine, ye the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, he beareth much fruit; because apart from me ye can do nothing.” (Ver. 5.) Nothing more precise. The Lord leaves no uncertainty in a matter so nearly affecting both Himself and them. As surely as He was the Vine, they were the branches. There is, and could be, no failure on His part. It is easy for us to fail in dependence, and to lack confidence in Him. To abide in Him supposes, not merely distrust of ourselves, but cleaving to Him and counting on Him. Every influence around us is adverse to this; every natural feeling not less so. Faith working by love alone secures it, for self and the world are then alike judged in the light of God. It is not only that we need, and cannot do without, Him for the least things as truly as the greatest, but He attracts us by His positive excellency. If He is the one source of fruit according to the Father, He cannot be slighted with impunity, least of all by those who confess Him. It is not the grace which gives eternal life in Him, of which the Lord speaks, but throughout these verses the responsibility of the disciples. Hence, as we shall see presently, there is danger of ruin, no less than fruitlessness, where one does not abide in Him.
This, then, is the secret of fruit-bearing. It is not in saints, any more than in self, but by abiding in Christ, and Christ in us. Then there is more than promising blossom; fruit follows. Where He is intercepted from our view, or we look elsewhere, there is no such power: we manifest our nature, not Christ. Nor does the character of the circumstances affect the result. He is superior to all, spite of our weakness. Abiding in Christ, we may safely face the most hostile; and if traps be laid, and provocation given, what matters it, if Christ abides in us, as He then does? For that the two are correlative, He guarantees, and we know. Again, does fruit follow because we are with dear children of God? Alas! how often the very reverse is proved, and the levity, if not the bitterness, in the heart comes out so much the more because we are saints not abiding in Christ. For gossip about saints to saints is even more painful than among the sons of this age, not a few of whom are above it, though on grounds of nature—of course not of Christ. Trials, again, cannot shake off spiritual fruit, nor blighting influences enter, if we abide in Christ, and Christ in us; but the greater the pressure, the more fruit where we thus abide. And the heart feels that so it should be, as it is. For, as ordinances fail, and law is the strength of sin, not of holiness, flesh being what it is, Christ here, as everywhere, has the glory by faith, and to faith; “because apart from him ye can do nothing.”
On the other hand the peril is proportionally greater. “If one abide1 not in me, he is cast out as the branch, and is dried up: and they gather it,2 and cast [it] into the fire, and it burneth.” (Ver. 6.) Christ being the sole source of fruit, to abandon Him is fatal; and so much the worse, if at the last, when He should be the more precious, as the worthlessness of all else is learned practically, and His excellency better known to faith. So it was with Judas, so in general with those not born of God, who essay to follow Jesus. Not only their lusts, but His words, may give the occasion, as we see in John 6. It is vain and mischievous to distinguish between the person and the work, as theologians and others do who reason on either side of the equator of truth. The Calvinist fears to compromise his doctrines of grace; the Arminian is anxious to push his advantage on the side of falling away. Hence the former is apt to evade the solemn warning of personal ruin and final judgment conveyed here, as the latter argues that the passage implies that a saved soul may be lost after all. They both confound the figure of the Vine with the body in Eph. 2-4, and hence are alike wrong, and of course, unable to expound these scriptures satisfactorily, so as to hold all the truth, without sacrificing one part to another. The error comes put plainly in the Anglican Baptismal Service: “seeing now that this child is regenerated, and grafted into the body of Christ's church.” To be grafted into the olive of Rom. 11 is equivalent, in this teaching, to being made a member of Christ's body; and the results of such confusion are ever favorable to the adversaries of the truth. The answer is that the body is the expression of unity by the Holy Ghost, the vine insists on communion as the condition of bearing fruit. In no case do such trees necessarily imply life, but the possession of privilege as the olive, and the responsibility of bearing fruit as the vine. To leave Christ, therefore, is utter ruin, not only to be fruitless, but to burn. It is not merely to suffer loss, as in 1 Cor. 3:1818Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. (1 Corinthians 3:18), but to be manifestly lost, as in 1 Cor. 9:2727But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1 Corinthians 9:27). Thus each scripture renders its own testimony, and has its own value, while none can be broken, though men may stumble at the word, being disobedient.
But now, from the sad case of the man that quits Him, the Lord returns to the disciples, and, with divine simplicity and fullness, gives the way of blessing and abundant fruit. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask [or, ye shall ask] 3what ye will, and it shall come to pass for you. In this is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit, and [ye shall] become4 my disciples.” (Vers. 7, 8.) Thus is each thing put in its place. The first need for the Christian is to abide in Christ; the next, to have Christ's words abiding in him; then he is emboldened to ask, with the assurance that the resources of divine power effect accordingly. For thus Christ Himself has the first place, and the saint is kept in dependence as well as confidence. Then His words direct, as well as correct; and we need and have both, though doubtless, in so abiding, direction would here be the characteristic, rather than that holy correction which we deeply want in our walk through this unclean and slippery world. So led, prayer is encouraged to expect the surest answer, for the heart is in fellowship with Him who prompts the desire, in order to accomplish it in His love and faithfulness. Further, in this is the Father glorified, that we bear much fruit, and become disciples of His. What enlargement of heart that so it should be in the midst of what, apart from Him, would be but a grief and worry to the saint, if not worse! With Christ all is changed, and even the most distracting cares turn to fruit; so that to live in flesh, instead of being with Him in glory, becomes worth the while, but only when to live is Christ. Thus is His Father glorified even now, and we become Christ's disciples in deed and in truth.