The True Vine

John 13‑16  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 6
CHAPTERS 13. to 16. form a very distinct section in the Gospel of John, and present to us the Lord's precious communication to His disciples in the upper chamber at Jerusalem on the night of His betrayal. They are sub-divided, however, into two parts. Chapters 13. and 14. are characterized by grace—He promises to return, to send the Comforter, to manifest Himself to His own; and gives them His peace. Chapters 15. and 16. the rather press responsibility. This is very strikingly seen in the parable of the vine and the branches. Christ declares Himself to be the true vine, His Father the Husbandman. Of old Israel had been called the vine of God. Jehovah had brought a vine out of Egypt, and had cast out the heathen and planted it (Psa. 80). He had bestowed much patient care upon it and had granted many privileges; but where was the fruit? “Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isa. 5:44What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4)). Israel—man in the flesh—failed; privileges and favors developed no good where all was evil and corrupt. How often had Jehovah sent how patiently had He borne! but all was vain, Israel was a fruitless unprofitable plant. When Christ came to His own, He did not find idolatry as in the evil days of the kings; He found religion and plenty of it. We nowhere read of the restored remnant lapsing into the old idolatrous ways of their fathers; but when Messiah came, He found them sunk into cold dead formalism. Feast-days were kept, sacrifices were offered; but fruit, where was it? Alas for Israel!
Therefore He takes Israel's place, so to speak (brought out of Egypt by God, as truly as they, Matt. 2:1515And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matthew 2:15); Hos. 11:11When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1)), and commences Israel's history afresh, saying, “I am the true vine.” The same principle is seen in Isa. 49 Jehovah there addresses (not the nation, but) Christ, “Thou art My servant, O Israel, in Whom I will he glorified.” Though Israel had failed, He would not; but would bring forth abundance of precious fruit in the scene where hitherto the Divine Husbandman had looked for it in vain.
But the vine has branches; these are the disciples, and indeed all who attach themselves to Christ, and profess His name. There is an immense difference between salvation and fruit-bearing, between being a branch of the vine and a member of Christ's body. To fail in seeing this difference is to lose the instruction of John 15, and, more serious still, to imperil the peace of conscience which those are entitled to enjoy who rest upon Christ and His work. When I think of salvation, I think of grace; but when fruit-bearing is before my mind, I think of responsibility. Every branch in Him should produce fruit: only thus are they manifestly His disciples; and fruit can only be borne as the result of abiding in Him. Where are we without Him? “Apart from Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:55I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)). Thus are we taught the ever needed lesson of dependence. It is ours to count on Him and draw upon His fullness of grace that the new man may develop himself in the power of the Holy Ghost. “Much fruit” is His desire, not merely a little here and there: anticipating thus the perpetual fruit-bearing in the glory of His presence (Rev. 22:22In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)).
The Father is glorified in us thus, and we walk in the enjoyment of His love, keeping the commandments of Christ. The Father's hand is upon His own—ever in love—to increase their fruitfulness: “every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Purging is oftentimes painful and grievous, and we are prone to miss the divine mind as to it when experiencing it; but love orders all for the divine glory and the soul's welfare. Things spring up in us, and quietly develop and grow, of which perhaps we are but little conscious, but which, nevertheless, would seriously retard our progress in moral conformity to Christ's image, if permitted to go on. We are under the care of the Husbandman. The saints are God's husbandry (1 Cor. 3:99For we are laborers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. (1 Corinthians 3:9)), and the pruning knife is graciously and in love applied. Precious dealings! needed because of the deceitfulness of the heart while passing through this present scene.
But all the branches are not true men, for profession, not life, is the subject here; and the reality of profession is shown by fruit. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Therefore the Lord proceeds to say, “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.” Note, the language is general, “If a man.” The Lord does not say to the eleven, “ye,” as in vers. 4 and 5; of their reality there was no doubt, the Lord Himself having just pronounced them clean through His word. He had spoken differently in chap. 13., when washing their feet—Ye are not all clean—for Judas Iscariot was then present; but the traitor had gone out, and all who remained were true, however failing. Judas Iscariot was a sample of the class of whom the Lord now speaks; he had not abode in Him; to his own eternal loss and ruin. More of such are found in John 6. His sayings were “hard” to them. They went back, and walked no more with Him, even though He, and He only, had the words of eternal life.
Wholesome indeed are the “ifs” of scripture; not indeed to distress the believer, such being by no means the object of the Spirit, but to sift and test those who profess the Lord's name. Where divine counsels are expounded, as in Ephesians, “ifs” are not found, for there all is of God. But where human responsibility comes in, as in Colossians and Hebrews, they are brought forward solemnly again and again by the Holy Ghost. There is a right use of such warnings, and there is a grave misuse.
W. W. F.