On the Gospel of John 15

John 15  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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The Lord had then spoken to His disciples of His Person, above all dispensations, and of their place in Him when the Holy Ghost should have come down, and He had told them how He would make Himself known to them when afar, adding that He left them peace, even the peace He Himself possessed. Now, in chapter 15, He comes to the truth of His position down here in contrast with Judaism, of their position in relation to His, of their service following upon this position; then of the testimony rendered by the Holy Spirit of promise to the glory into which He was entering on high; and of their testimony as eye witnesses of that which He had been down here.
Judaism is thus entirely set aside, and its place taken by Christ Himself. This is what has happened with regard to all that God had established: the first man himself has been replaced before God by the second; the priesthood of Aaron by that of Christ; the king, son of David; Israel the servant (Isa. 49:11Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. (Isaiah 49:1)), by the Christ (v. 5); even the earthly tabernacle by the true heavenly tabernacle, as well as all its service. Thus here, Israel was not the true vine, although it had been transplanted as God's vine out of Egypt into Canaan; Psa. 80:8-168Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. 9Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 10The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. 11She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. 12Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? 13The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. 14Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; 15And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. 16It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. (Psalm 80:8‑16). Christ was upon earth the true vine of God, the disciples were the branches. They still thought that Israel was God's vine, and Christ the long-expected Messiah, the principal branch. But it was not so; Jesus was the vine, they were the branches; His Father, the husbandman. And they were already clean through the word He had spoken to them. The passage has occasioned difficulties to many souls, because they have applied these words to the church,1 but the union of the church with Christ takes place when He is glorified on high, and then we are complete in Him. There it is no question of bearing fruit, nor of being pruned, but as it is said in 1 John 4:17: " As he is, so are we in this world." In our chapter, Jesus is the true vine upon earth; and there, although Christ could declare them to be clean, their responsibility is developed, in order that they may bear fruit. They were already clean by the word He had spoken to them.
The union which is in question here is association with Him as disciples. He no doubt knew them, but they are looked at as being in a position of responsibility. It is a question of fruit-bearing; if a branch did not bear any, the Father removed it entirely; if it bore fruit, He purified it, that it should bear more. Not that it was Judaism, far from that; it is Christ, on the contrary, who takes its place. We see this more than once' in the word. Thus in Isa. 49, Christ is the true servant in place of Israel. He is the Son called out of Egypt, a position that Israel occupied: " Let my son go "; Jehovah said by Moses. In the same way, He is the true vine. Consequently, the Father is introduced: He is the husbandman. Thus we find the true moral position that the disciples occupy, as well as the important principles upon which it is founded, but which are connected with that which we have already found as characterizing this Gospel. That which had cleansed the disciples was the word that Jesus had spoken to them; but this cleansing is the same as the Father's. The Father can use the pruning knife. He does so evidently as to the branches that do not bear fruit; He does so as to those that bear it.
Now, all this is in connection with the revelation of the Father by the Son. The word that He had spoken to His disciples, was not the revelation of the Son glorified, by the Holy Ghost, but of the Father by the Son. It was this entirely new things; not what man ought to be according to the law, but what Christ was: grace and truth come by Jesus Christ. It was the communication of that which was divine, the words of God realized in the life of a man. The words of Christ were Himself (chap. 8: 25); but they were the words of God (chap. 3: 34), although of a man, by the Spirit without measure; they were of God, revealing the Father in sovereign grace by the Son, sent according to that grace. (Compare chap. 14: 1.) It was in the name of holy Father that the Lord kept them during His stay down here: now the Father Himself becomes the husbandman.
Now this chapter (except the last verses) does not speak of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, but of that of the disciples (with the help of the Holy Ghost, chap. 14: 25); and it is a testimony, not to His glory on high and the consequences which follow from it, but to that which He had been, and to what He had revealed being down here, to the subjective state of the divine life in a man in this world. This is what the Gospels essentially present to us; the epistles, in general, have the glory as a starting-point.
Thus the first three verses give the position as to detail: then come the exhortations founded upon this. The first, is to abide in Him. Let us remark here that it is always the side of man's responsibility that comes first. It is not: " I will abide in you, and you will be able thus to abide in me "; but " Abide in me, and I in you." The second thing is the effect of the first: there is no verb in the second part of the phrase; it is not that which He would do, but the consequence, the effect stated. If a soul dwells in Christ, Christ dwells in that soul. Now a soul dwells in Christ, when it lives in uninterrupted dependence upon Him, and assiduously seeks to realize that which is in Him, that which His presence gives to us, for He is the truth of all that is come to us from the Father, and one lives in it in dwelling in Him. That which is in Him is communicated to us, as the sap flows from the vine into the branches. All comes from Him, but there is activity in the soul to cleave to Him, and it is thus that fruit is produced in the branch. Now we do not dwell in Christ that there may be fruit, but fruit is produced because we dwell in Christ. We dwell in Christ in the consciousness that we can do nothing without Him, but it is for the love of Christ. This is the first exhortation, and the first statement of that which we have to do.
In the sixth verse, He says no longer " you "; but " If a man," for He knew them, although this be not the subject treated in the passage, yet once one is really in Christ, one is there forever. Here, also, it is as in chapter 13, " Ye are clean "; then He adds: " but not all "; for Judas was still there. If a man did not cleave to Christ, even though associated with Him by profession, he was cut off as a branch to wither and be thrown into the fire. There is another very important principle found in verse 7. If the disciples dwelt in Him, and His words dwelt in them, they should have at command the power of the Lord without limit. Always in the spirit of dependence, it is true, they should ask what they would. This is the true limit of answers to prayer. The request is produced in a heart formed by the Savior's words, and according to the desires created by these words, that is to say, of God Himself who should dwell in the heart. We never find that the apostles healed, or prayed for the healing of persons who were dear to them, although it be perfectly lawful in such a case to present our requests to God. But Paul says: " I have left Trophimus sick at Miletus." And again: " Epaphroditus was sick, very near to death, but God had mercy on him." The works of power they accomplished, had the confirmation of the word as their aim; but it was an immense privilege, in their work of faith, to be assured of the intervention of God when they should ask for it, and that, when the wisdom of God had formed their thoughts, His power should add [to it] His efficacious working. Christ is the wisdom of God, and the power of God.
It will be asked how far we can apply this now. I do not expect miracles, I do not think that we ought to have them, except lying miracles from Satan; but I believe that if we dwell in Christ, and His words form the heart, if we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, then when we find ourselves in the conflicts of faith, God gives faith for the circumstances of the service. He will answer to the faith given, and will hear us, He who disposes of all by means unknown to us, of all hearts-of the unrighteous as well as of those of the righteous. But it is important for us (first, so as not to make mistakes; and secondly, to seize the thoughts of God in all their import) to understand the true limits of this promise. God will never fail of His promise. The fulfillment of the promise is sure for faith, but the words of the Savior form the thought of faith to which the promise answers. It is thus the Father should be glorified, in that they should bear much fruit-fruit of souls saved by their means, by the revelation of the Father in the Son, that the words of Jesus, words of God in grace, should communicate to them.
Then there comes another precious side of these exhortations: " As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." This is in connection with obedience: but the declaration is one of infinite grace. The Father had loved the Son, Jesus, in His course down here; He had loved Him according to the perfection of divine love, but as man in this world. So Christ had loved them: it was the love of a divine Person, for a man who perfectly accomplished all His will with an absolute devotedness, but it was also a love of communion, and that when He was in antagonism with evil. In the same manner Christ had loved them also. They were to dwell in this love. It is constancy in their relations with Christ, that is the great point in all the chapter. They were to continue in the realization of this love, truly divine but which yet adapted itself to their human state, and thus it should be if they walked in the path where Christ had walked. " 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."
It is not here a question of the Father's eternal love for the Son, nor of the unchangeable love that God bears to His children, but of the path in which these should enjoy divine love. Jesus, as man here below, never got out of the enjoyment of that love of the Father. His obedience had been absolute and perfect, and no cloud had ever found place between His soul and His Father. His life was a life of perfect obedience and of communion. They should keep His commandments, and thus they should dwell in His love, even as He dwelt in the Father's love. He told it them in order that His joy, the joy He had possessed down here, might abide in them, and that their joy should be full. Here it is Christ's love in a direct way; we are in contact with the Vine, not with the Mediator; with Him in whom we are, not with the Father. It is a human love, although divine, a love consequently full of sympathy, which comes in in all the details of human life, and of the service of ministry. This is what took place at the time of His sojourn here below. It was impossible for the Father to forget Christ one moment in His service down here. He took knowledge of it; He was there. It is the same thing with Christ towards us, as far as we keep His commandments.
But His first commandment is that this kind of love should be realized amongst themselves also. Perfect communion of love with one another; but superior (in that this love was divine) to all the infirmities that might weaken it, so that they were but the occasion for the exercise of this love; still that which should characterize it was the bond which made them all one by its means the love was mutual, in that Christ was all for each, and that, each one living in dependence and obedience, self-love disappeared. As being the branches, each one drew everything from the vine; Christ's words were the source of all the thoughts of the heart, in the consciousness of His perfect love.
Now if His life had been the continual expression of this love, His death was still more so. He could not have greater love than to die for them. We must notice here that it is not the love of God to poor sinners, a love purely divine and sovereign, but the love of Christ for His friends. Neither is it Christ, who is here the Friend, but the disciples who are His friends, those in whom He has confidence: " Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." We communicate to a friend all that we have upon the heart, because we count upon the interest he bears to us. Christ had communicated to the disciples all that He had heard from the Father. There is the action of the human mediator, the vine with the branches. It is important to remark that He does not here place His disciples in His own relationship with the Father- that will be developed later on-but He communicated to them as from Himself all that He enjoyed. The relationship was with Himself, as He personally had been in it with the Father down here. It is in this relationship of intimacy in which He was with them, faithful in keeping His words, that He looks upon them when He lays down His life for them.
Their relationship with Christ was that of those sent by Him, as He had been by His Father. Jesus had chosen and sent them, in order that they might bear fruit in their work, and that this fruit might be lasting-of which we are the blessed result today; but being sent thus by Christ, the Father, so to speak, was pledged to give all that was necessary for the work, so that all that they should ask the Father in the Savior's name, the Father would give them. This places the twelve in their position as apostles, sent by the Lord, the Mediator, in the great work of salvation-the vine from which the branches drew all their strength-under the faithful care of the Sovereign Husbandman. Such is the moral position in which the Lord places them; it is union in love. They form a body of workmen apart, united to Him as to the vine, in order to bear fruit; but now the fruit is borne by the branches, and not by the vine.
The bond between them should be love; but what should characterize the relationship in which they should find themselves with the world? The world would hate them. The world had hated their Master; they had seen and known Him. Christ was not of the world, but He had been in the world, bearing witness, in His life and by His words, to that which the world was as seen in the light of God. If the disciples had been of the world, the world would have loved them, but because they were not of it, although they were in it, the world would hate them. All their ways, their walk, their motives were different from those of the world. It was a company of men apart: the world is very susceptible; its happiness is not real; its glory is false and transitory: all there is hollow, and will not bear a little reflection. The world will allow you to say this in maxims and proverbs, but that there should be men whose lives tell constantly the truth with regard to the state of the world that surrounds us, that is what is insupportable. The relationship and connections of the disciples with the world were to be the same as those of the Savior; the branches would be treated as the vine had been. But it is on account of the name of Christ that these things would happen, fruit of this hatred, because they had not known Him who had sent Him. It was always the manifestation of God in Christ, of the Father in grace, in Jesus, that had awakened this hatred and had given it its true character.
This is the grave and terrible question that has been raised. God the Father presented in grace to men, and especially to Israel, where all His promises and oracles had been deposited, but God presented to men in Jesus, the word of God in grace; otherwise their state would not have been manifested as being a state of sin, and nothing else, a state of hatred against God, come into their midst full of goodness. If there had been any good in man that the presence of Jesus could have awakened, faults and grave sins might have been committed, but there would have been also remedy and forgiveness, for the bottom once reached would have been good. But now there was no longer any cloak for their sin. Their state was that of absolute sin in the will. In hating Jesus they had hated the Father, for Jesus manifested Him. His words were the words of God, of the Father; and mote than this, He had given the clearest proofs of the revelation of the Father in Him. There never had been any like them; for not only was divine power shown even in raising the dead, and in giving power to others to perform the same works, but His miracles were acts of goodness. Divine love was displayed in them, and united itself with the power whilst directing it. Thus they had seen and hated both the Father and the Son.
But terrible as that was, and it was fatal and final for man (save sovereign grace that created him anew), it was but that which was written in their law: " They hated me without a cause "; terrible judgment given upon man, such as he is. But it is sweet and beautiful to see that the sin of man does not stop the current of the grace of God. The Lord continues thus: " But when the Comforter shall come whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me. And ye also shall bear witness; because ye are with me from the beginning." Another order of things was necessary; man dead and risen, man in heaven even, redemption accomplished, the Holy Ghost come. This hatred of man would only accomplish that. Then the Holy Ghost would communicate to them the heavenly glory of the Son of man, the result of His rejection. Proceeding from the Father, sent by the glorified Son of man, the Spirit of truth, the Comforter come down here, would bear witness to this Son of man, to Him who had been rejected, perfect here below, but now in heavenly glory. They also should bear witness, having been with Him from the beginning of His public ministry down here. The same Comforter should be their power, to make them competent for this (chap. 14: 26), but they would bear testimony as eye-witnesses of His life of suffering.
1. John does not speak of the church, either in his gospel or in his epistles; but that which is said in the text is as true of our individual place in Christ, as of the church.