I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.
doctrine ye can do nothing;" important though it is that Christian people should apprehend and receive his truth. Nor does he say, "Apart from my Church ye can do nothing;" though, if we understand the term "Church" aright, this would be manifestly true. But he says, "Apart from me." Christ is, then, himself everything to his people. He is the Power, the Wisdom, the Salvation, of God, and consequently, could we be sundered from him, we should be rendered poor and powerless.
I. TO BEAR FRUIT, IS THE END OF TRUE RELIGION, AND THE RESULT AND PROOF OF SPIRITUAL LIFE. When substituted for faith, "doing" is bad; but when it is the effect of faith, it is good and precious. Where do we look for evidence of the goodness of the tree? Is it not sought in fruit, good fruit, much fruit? The doing, or fruit-bearing, here commended by the Lord Jesus, is the performance of the will of God, is the imitation of the Master's own example, is the fulfillment of the behests of an enlightened conscience. It comprises personal holiness and active usefulness.
II. SEVERANCE FROM CHRIST RENDERS MEN POWERLESS FOR GOOD WORKS. The conduct and service which are distinctively Christian are only possible through personal union with the Savior.
1. This assertion places in a clear light the unequalled dignity of the Lord Jesus. This is a declaration which none but he could make. Yet, being the Son of God and the Source of spiritual life to men, he could justly advance a claim so vast. The disciple is nothing without his master, the servant nothing without his lord, the soldier nothing without his commander, the hand nothing without the head, the Christian nothing without Christ.
2. This assertion brings out into clear light the absolute dependence of Christians. Without our Lord's teaching and example, we, should have no conception of the highest moral excellence. Without his love, we should not feel the mightiest motive that can influence the soul to consecration and service. Without his mediation, we should not enjoy the favor of God, our Ruler and Judge. Without his Spirit, we should be strangers to the spiritual power which alone can enable feeble man to do the will of God. Without his promises, we should lack the encouragement and inspiration we need to cheer us amidst the difficulties, perplexities, and trials from which no earthly life is ever exempt. Without him, there would be no deliverance from the bondage of sin, and no prospect of what is truly the eternal life. "Neither," says Peter, "is there salvation in any other."
III. UNION WITH CHRIST IS THEREFORE UNSPEAKABLY PRECIOUS, AND FOR THE CHRISTIAN ABSOLUTELY NEEDFUL. As to the nature of this connection, there should be no misunderstanding. External privileges and professions are all insufficient. A spiritual and vital union is necessary, such as in the vegetable kingdom joins the branch to the vine-stock, such as in architecture unites the temple to its foundation. This union is effected on the human side by a believing reception of the gospel of Christ; on the Divine side by the impartation of the quickening Spirit of God. Such union is capable of increase in degree; a closer spiritual fellowship with the Divine Redeemer is the means of increased fitness for holy and acceptable service. The experience of the Apostle Paul was an illustration of this principle. He could say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." He who would work more diligently, and wait more patiently, must come nearer to Christ, and so obtain the spiritual power he needs.
1. If this union with the living Vine be not formed, let it be formed at once.
2. If it be suspended or enfeebled, let it be renewed.
3. If it be existing and vitally active and energetic, let it be prized and cultivated. - T.
I am the Vine, ye are the branches.
I. THE FRUITFULNESS OF UNION.
1. "I am the Vine" was a general truth, with no clear personal application. "Ye are the branches" brought each individual listener into connection with it. How many people there are that listen in a fitful sort of languid way, interestedly, to the most glorious and solemn truths and never dream that they have any bearing upon themselves! The one thing most needed is that truth should be sharpened to a point and the conviction driven into you, that you have got something to do with this great message. "Ye are the branches" is the one side of that sharpening and making definite of the truth in its personal application, and the other side is "Thou art the man." All religious teaching is toothless generalities, utterly useless, unless we can force it through the wall of indifference and vague assent.
2. Note next the great promise, "He that abideth in Me, and I in Him," etc. Abiding in Christ, and Christ's abiding in us means a temper and tone of mind very far remote from the noisy, bustling distractions too common in our present Christianity. We want quiet, patient, waiting within the veil. The best way to secure Christian conduct is to cultivate communion with Christ. Get more of the sap into the branch, and there will be more fruit. We may grow graces artificially and they will be of little worth. First of all be, and then do; receive, and then give forth. That is the Christian way of mending men, not tinkering at this, that, and the other individual excellence, but grasping the secret of total excellence in communion with Him. Our Lord is here not merely laying down a law, but giving a promise, and putting His veracity into pawn for the fulfilment of it.
3. Notice that little word which now appears for the first time: "much." We are not to be content with a poor shrivelled bunch of grapes that are more like marbles than grapes, here and there, upon the half-nourished stem. God forbid that I should say that there is no possibility of union with Christ and a little fruit. A little union will have a little fruit; but the only two alternatives here are, "no fruit," and "much fruit." And I would ask why it is that the average Christian man of this generation bears only a berry or two here and there, like such as are left upon the vines after the vintage, when the promise is that if he will abide in Christ, he will bear much fruit.
4. This verse, setting forth the fruitfulness of union with Jesus, ends with the brief solemn statement of the converse — the barrenness of separation. There is the condemnation of all the busy life of men which is not lived in union with Jesus Christ; it is a long row of figures which, like some other long rows of figures added up, amount just to Zero. "Without Me, nothing."
II. THE WITHERING AND DESTRUCTION OF SEPARATION FROM HIM (ver. 6).
1. Separation is withering. Did you ever see a hawthorn bough that children bring home from the woods, and stick in the grate; how in a day or two the fresh green leaves all shrivel up and the white blossoms become brown and smell foul, and the only thing to be done with it is to fling it into the fire and get rid of it? Separate from Christ, the individual shrivels, and the possibilities of fair buds wither and set into no fruit. And no man is the man he might have been unless he holds by Jesus Christ and lets His life come into Him. And as for individuals, so for communities. The Church or the body of professing Christians that is separate from Jesus Christ dies to all noble life, to all high activity, to all Christlike conduct, and, being dead, rots.
2. Withering means destruction. Look at the mysteriousness of the language. "They gather them." "They cast them into the fire." Who have that tragic task? The solemn fact that the withering of manhood by separation from Jesus Christ requires, and ends in, the consuming of the withered, is all that we have here. We have to speak of it pityingly, with reticence, with terror, with tenderness, with awe lest it be our fate. Be on your guard against that tendency of this generation, to paste a bit of blank paper over all the threatenings of the Bible. One of two things must befall the branch, either it is in the Vine or it gets into the fire. And if we would avoid the fire let us see to it that we are in the Vine.
III. THE UNION WITH CHRIST AS THE CONDITION OF SATISFIED DESIRES (ver. 7). Our Lord instead of saying, "I in you," says "My words in you." He is speaking about prayers, consequently the variation is natural. The abiding of His words in us is largely the means of His abiding in us.
1. What do we mean by this? Something a great deal more than the mere intellectual acceptance. Something very different from reading a verse in a morning, and forgetting all about it all the day long; something very different from coming in contact with Christian truth on a Sunday, when somebody else preaches what he has found in the Bible to us, and we take in a little of it. It means the whole of the conscious nature of a man. His desires, understanding, affections, will, all being steeped in those great truths which the Master spoke. Put a little bit of colouring matter into the fountain at its head and you will have the stream dyed down its course forever so far. See that Christ's words be lodged in your inmost selves, and all the life will be glorified and flash into richness of colouring and beauty by their presence.
2. The main effect of such abiding of the Lord's words with us is, that in such a ease, my desire will be granted. If Christ's words are the substratum of your wishes, then your wishes will harmonize with His will, and so "Ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you."
IV. THIS UNION AND FRUITFULNESS LEAD TO THE NOBLE ENDS OF GLORIFYING GOD AND INCREASING DISCIPLESHIP (ver. 8).
1. Christ's life was all for the glorifying of God. The lives, which are the life of Christ in us, will have the same end and the same issue. We come there to a very sharp test. How many of us are there on whom men, looking, think more loftily of God. And yet we should all be mirrors of the Divine radiance, on which some eyes, that are too dim and sore to bear the light as it streams from the sun, may look, and, beholding the reflection, may learn to love.
2. And if thus we abide in Him and bear fruit we shall "become His disciples." The end of our discipleship is never reached on earth; we never so much are, as we are in the process of becoming, His true followers and servants. If we bear fruit because we are knit to Him, the fruit itself will help us to get nearer Him, and so be more His disciples and more fruitful. Character produces conduct, but conduct reacts on character and strengthens the impulses from which it springs.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(J. J. Wray.)Psalm 80:10). One "bough" of that vine had appropriated a large forest tree; it had climbed the giant trunk, it had wound itself round the great gnarled arms, it had, in fact, covered every branch of the tree with garlands of its foliage, and bent down every twig with the weight of its fruit. And I saw another branch of the same vine spread out along the ground, and cover bushes and brambles with foliage as luxuriant and fruit as plentiful as those on the lordly forest tree. So is it in the Church. Some branches of that heaven-planted vine climb to the very pinnacles of human society. They appropriate and sanctify the sceptre of the monarch, the dignity of the peer, the power of the statesman, the genius of the philosopher, and they shed a lustre upon each and all greater and more enduring than can ever be conferred by gemmed coronet or laurel crown. While other branches of the same vine find a congenial sphere in humbler walks, they penetrate city lanes, they creep up wild mountain glens, they climb the gloomy stair to the garret where the daughter of toil lies on her death bed, and they diffuse wherever they go a peace and a joy and a halo of spiritual glory, such as rank and riches cannot bestow, and such too as poverty and suffering cannot take away. Peer and peasant, philosopher and working man, king and beggar, have equal rights and rewards in the Church. They are united to the same Saviour on earth, and they shall recline on the same bosom in heaven.
(J. L. Porter, LL. D.)
(J. J. Wray.)
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
(J. L. Nye.)
Without Me ye can do nothing.
I. AN ASPIRATION OF HOPE. From such a root what a vintage must come! Being branches in Him, what fruit we must produce! That word "do" has music in it. Jesus went about doing good, and, being in Him, we shall do good. There is the hope of doing something in the way of glorifying God by bringing forth —
1. The fruits of holiness, peace, and love.
2. Fruit in the conversion of others.
3. Fruit of further blessing will ripen for this poor world. Men shall be blessed in us because we are blessed in Christ.
II. A SHUDDER OF FEAR. It is possible that I may be without Christ, and so may be utterly incapacitated for all good.
1. What if you should not be so in Christ as to bring forth fruit? If you are without Christ, what is the use of carrying on that Bible lass; for you can do nothing?
2. What if you should be in Christ, and not so in Him as to abide in Him? It appears from our Lord's words that some branches in Him are cast forth and are withered. What if you are off and on with Christ! What if you play fast and loose with the Lord! What if you are an outside saint and an inside devil! What will come of such conduct as this?
III. A VISION OF TOTAL FAILURE.
1. A ministry without Christ in its doctrine will do nothing. Preachers aspire to be leaders of thought; wilt they not command the multitude and charm the intelligent? "Add music and architecture, and what is to hinder success, and what has been done?" The sum total is expressed in the text — "Nothing."
2. Without acknowledging always the absolute supremacy of Christ we shall do nothing. Jesus is much complimented but He is not submitted to. Certain modern praises of Jesus are written upon the theory that, on the whole, the Saviour has given us a religion that is tolerably suited to the enlightenment of the nineteenth century, and may be allowed to last a little longer. It is fortunate for Jesus that He commends Himself to the "best thought" and ripest culture of the period; for, if He had not done so, these wise gentlemen would have exposed Him as being behind the times. Of course they have every now and then to rectify certain of His dogmas; He is rectified and squared, and His garment without seam is taken off, and He is dressed out in proper style, as by a West-end clothier; then He is introduced to us as a remarkable teacher, and we are advised to accept Him as far as He goes. Now, what will come of this foolish wisdom? Nothing but delusions, mischief, infidelity, anarchy, and all manner of imaginable and unimaginable ills.
3. You may have sound doctrine, and yet do nothing unless you have Christ in your spirit. In former years many orthodox preachers thought it to be their sole duty to comfort and confirm the godly few who by dint of great perseverance found out the holes and corners in which they prophesied. These brethren spoke of sinners as of people whom God might possibly gather in if He thought fit to do so; but they did not care much whether He did so or not. When a Church falls into this condition it is, as to its spirit, "without Christ." What comes of it? The comfortable corporation exists and grows for a little while, but it comes to nothing.
4. But above all things we must have Christ with us in the power of His actual presence. The power lies with the Master, not with the servant; the might is in the hand, not in the weapon.
5. We have, then, before us a vision of total failure if we attempt in any way to do without Christ. He says, "Without Me ye can do nothing:" it is in the doing that the failure is most conspicuous. You may talk a good deal without Him; you may hold conferences and conventions; but doing is another matter. The most eloquent discourse without Him will be all a bottle of smoke. You shall lay your plans, and arrange your machinery, and start your schemes; but without the Lord you will do nothing.
IV. A VOICE OF WISDOM, which speaks out of the text, and says to us who are in Christ —
1. Let us acknowledge this.
2. Let us pray. If without Christ we can do nothing, let us cry to Him that we may never be without Him.
3. Let us personally cleave to Jesus.
4. Heartily submit yourselves to the Lord's leadership, and ask to do everything in His style and way. He will not be with you unless you accept Him as your Master.
5. Joyfully believe in Him. Though without Him you can do nothing, yet with Him all things are possible.
V. A SONG OF CONTENT. "Without Me ye can do nothing." Be it so. Do you wish to have it altered, any of you that love His dear name? I am sure you do not: for suppose we could do something without Christ, then He would not have the glory of it. Who wishes that? If the Church could do something without Christ she would try to live without Him. As I listened to the song I began to laugh. I thought of those who are going to destroy the orthodox doctrine from off the face of the earth. They say our old theology is decaying, and that nobody believes it. It is all a lie. If His friends can do nothing without Him, I am sure His foes can do nothing against Him. I laughed, too, because I recollected a story of a New England service, when suddenly a lunatic started up and declared that he would at once pull down the meeting house about their ears. Taking hold of one of the pillars of the gallery, this newly-announced Samson repeated his threatening. Everybody rose; the women were ready to faint. There was about to be a great tumult; no one could see the end of it; when suddenly one cool brother produced a calm by a single sentence. "Let him try!" Even so today the enemy is about to disprove the gospel and crush out the doctrines of grace. Are you distressed, alarmed, astounded? So far from that, my reply is this only — Let him try!
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. AS TO THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE. There is much in the Bible which all must understand and admire; but as to its moral spirit and purpose what can be done without Christ? How slow of heart to believe were the disciples till Christ opened their understandings (Luke 24:48). Of the Old Testament Christ said, "They are they which testify of Me." The first words of the New are, "The Book of the Generations of Jesus Christ;" and its last, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. He is the Alpha and Omega, and of the whole Bible John 20:31 may be said.
II. AS TO RECONCILIATION WITH GOD. That man needs this is not to be questioned; but how is it to be effected? God cannot change; His laws cannot be set aside. Sin is eternal separation from God. How, then, can man be reconciled? Only through Christ (Romans 3:19-25; Colossians 1:21; 2 Corinthians 5:19: Romans 5:11).
III. AS TO PROGRESS IN THE DIVINE LIFE. From first to last the Christian is dependent on Christ. His life is derived from, developed by, devoted to Christ.
IV. AS TO SUCCESS IN EVANGELISTIC WORK.
(W. Forsyth, M. A.)
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Homiletic Monthly.No man lives a true and useful life who lives without Christ. The good man feels his need of Him, and of all of Him always.
1. His eye to guide him.
2. His hand to uphold him.
3. His arm to shield him.
4. His bosom to lean upon.
5. His blood to cleanse him.
6. His Spirit to make him holy and meet for heaven.Christ is the one only Saviour who can make a sinner a saint, and secure to him eternal life. Usefulness is suspended upon holiness, and we are made holy by Christ's cleansing blood, and in no other way.
I. THERE IS NO MERIT FOR OUR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD. "There is none righteous, no, not one." "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight." But in Christ there is all-sufficient merit. Believing in Him, we are justified and accepted. Not through His merit together with what we ourselves can do. Dr. Chalmers', when awakened to his condition as a sinner, for a time "repaired to the atonement to eke out his deficiencies, and as the ground of assurance that God would look upon him with a propitious eye." But the conviction was at length "wrought in him that he had been attempting an impossibility...that it must be either on his own merits wholly, or on Christ's merits wholly, that he must lean; and that, by introducing his own righteousness into the ground of his meritorious acceptance with God, 'he had been inserting a flaw, he had been importing a falsehood into the very principle of his justification.'"
II. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO OVERCOME THE POWER OF INDWELLING SIN. The evil propensities within us are not the same in each one; it may be the love of money or the lust of power in one, vanity or pride, malice or guile, in another. Does not the Christian have frequent experience that the corruption of his heart is too strong for him? He made good resolutions, and broke them; after repeated failures he is driven almost to despair, and is ready to ask, "Can my corruptions ever be conquered, or must I become more and more their slave?" But if we be brought by Divine grace to cleave in faith to the Saviour, we shall have His Spirit to dwell in us, and in His strength we shall prevail. In ancient fable we read that one of the great labours imposed upon Hercules was to cleanse the foul Augean Stable. This mighty task he accomplished by turning the river Alpheus through it, thus performing with ease what before had appeared impossible. That stable is a true picture of the heart defiled by countless sins. The streams of that fountain opened in the house of David, turned by a living faith to flow into it, alone can cleanse it.
III. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO BUILD UP A CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. In a building there is not only a foundation, but also a superstructure. Apart from Christ we cannot build aright. Christian character may be likened unto a tree growing. "Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue," etc. Here is a noble, well-developed growth; But these spiritual graces will not appear if we do not abide in constant communion with Christ.
IV. WE CAN DO NOTHING TO PROMOTE THE TRUE INTERESTS OF OTHERS. What are all the provisions for the alleviating and removing of the wants and sufferings of men — the hospitals, orphanages, almshouses, and other philanthropic institutions — but the results of Christian effort, the products of the Christian spirit! All noble enduring, legislative acts also, such as that for the emancipation of the slaves, have been brought about by men under the influence of the religion of Christ. Who likewise have filled Wales and other countries with the gospel? Is it not men with the love of Christ as a holy fire burning Within them?
(J. R. Owen.)I. WHAT WE MEAN BY THE SUPERNATURAL GRACE AND ASSISTANCE OF CHRIST. Whatever natural power we have to do anything is from God, but God, considering the lapsed condition of mankind, sent His Son to recover us out of that condition, but we, being without strength, our Saviour hath in His Gospel offered an extraordinary assistance of His Holy Spirit, to supply the defects of our natural strength. And this supernatural grace of Christ is that alone which can enable us to perform what He requires of us. And this, according to the several uses and occasions of it, is called by several names. As it puts good motions into us, it is called preventing grace; because it prevents any motion or desire on our parts; as it assists and strengthens us in the doing of anything that is good, it is called assisting grace; as it keeps us constant in a good course, it is called persevering grace.
II. TO THIS GRACE THE SCRIPTURE DOTH CONSTANTLY ATTRIBUTE OUR REGENERATION, SANCTIFICATION, AND PERSEVERANCE IN HOLINESS.
III. THERE IS GREAT REASON TO ASSERT THE NECESSITY OF THIS GRACE AND ASSISTANCE TO THESE PURPOSES. If we consider —
1. The corruption and impotency of human nature. When the Scripture speaks of the redemption of Christ, it represents our condition not only as miserable, but helpless (Romans 5:6).
2. The strange power of evil habits and customs. The other is a natural, and this is a contracted impotency. The habits of sin being added to our natural impotency, are like so many diseases superinduced upon a constitution naturally weak, which do all help to increase the man's infirmity. Evil habits in Scripture are compared to fetters, which do as effectually hinder a man from motion, as if he were quite lame, hand and foot. By passing from one degree of sin to another, men became hardened in their wickedness, and insensibly bring themselves into that state, out of which they are utterly unable to recover themselves.
3. The inconstancy and fickleness of human resolution.
4. The malice and activity of the devil.
IV. THIS SUPERNATURAL GRACE AND ASSISTANCE DOES NOT EXCLUDE, BUT SUPPOSES THE CONCURRENCE OF OUR ENDEAVOURS. The grace of God strengthens and assists us. Our Saviour implies that by the assistance of grace we may perform all the duties of the Christian life; we may bear fruit, and bring forth much fruit. When the Apostle says, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me," he does not think it a disparagement to the grace of Christ to say, he could do all things by the assistance of it (Philippians 2:12, 13).
V. THIS GRACE IS DERIVED TO US FROM OUR UNION WITH CHRIST. Inferences:
1. If the grace of God be so necessary to all the ends of holiness, obedience, and perseverance, then there is great reason why we should continually depend upon God, and every day earnestly pray to Him for the aids of His grace.
2. We should thankfully acknowledge and ascribe all the good that is in us, and all that we do, to the grace of God.
3. Let us take heed that we resist not the Spirit of God, and receive not the grace of God in vain.
4. The consideration of our own impotency is no excuse to our sloth and negligence, if so be the grace of God be ready to assist us.
5. The consideration of our own impotency is no just ground of discouragement to our endeavours, considering the promise of Divine grace and assistance.
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