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Christ is the vine
If this was a continuation of our Lord's discourse, the idea of a vine might arise from what he had just before said respecting the fruit of the vine: if it was spoken in his way to the Mount of Olives, it might be suggested by his passing through a vineyard. The representation respects Christ not personally, but as united to his Church.
In this view it fitly exhibits our union with him—
[This union is not natural to any. We are, by nature, plants of a degenerate vine: we are, however, separated from it by Almighty powerd, and are made willing to be united to Christ: we are then engrafted into Christ by the Spirit on God's part, and by faith on ours. Thus we become branches of the true vine; and the union, when formed, is intimate and inseparable.]
It expresses, moreover, our dependence on him
[A branch derives all its fructifying power from the root: so believers receive all their grace out of Christ's fulness h. Hence it is that Christ is so precious to themi: hence, too, they determine to live entirely by faith on him.] The Father is the husbandman
The husbandman has many offices to perform
[He engrafts the scions, digs about them and dungs them, guards them from the weather, prunes the luxuriant branches, &c.]
The Father performs these offices
[He chooses (but not for their superior goodness) what scions he will: he separates them from their stock by the means he judges best: he engrafts them, in his own time and manner, into the new stock: he continues to promote their good by his word, his Spirit, and his providence: he separates or combines, renews or changes, the various means of culture, as he sees occasion.]
His treatment of the branches is suited to their stateThere are "branches in Christ," which are so only in appearance
[They have never been thoroughly separated from their old stock: they have never been truly engrafted into Christ.
The change wrought in them has been only partial: they bring not forth such fruit as the living branches do.]
These the Father "taketh away"
[They are a disgrace to the vine, and to the husbandman himself: he, however, exercises forbearance towards them'. His culture of them, in the meantime, shews their unfruitfulness to be of themselves; but he will ere long separate them from the others. He will take them away, in order to burn them ". How fearful should we be lest we be found such branches at last! And how carefully should we examine our fruit, in order that we may not be self-deceived°!]
There are other branches, which are vitally united to Christ
[They manifest that they are so, by the fruits which they produce.]
These the husbandman purges and prunes― .
[Notwithstanding their fruitfulness, they need the pruningknife. Afflictions have a tendency to make them more fruitful. God therefore sends them afflictions of various kinds. This he does to " every one of themP:" he even promises affliction to them as a blessing.]
Let us then INQUIRE whether we be living branches of the true vine—
[Let us study to answer the ends of all his care. be indeed fruitful branches, let us welcome affliction as a blessing in disguise. Let us, above all, seek to be confirmed in our union to Christ, and our dependence on him1.]
OUR IMPOTENCY WITHOUT CHRIST.
John xv. 5. Without me ye can do nothing.
THE various systems of heathen philosophers were all calculated to confirm the pride of man: the tendency of the Gospel, on the contrary, is to humble and abase the soul. Its sublimest doctrines are by far the most humiliating. The sovereignty of God,
for instance, annihilates, as it were, our fancied greatness; and the atonement of Christ brings to naught our boasted goodness. Thus the mysterious doctrine of union with Christ proclaims our insufficiency for any thing that is good. Our blessed Lord declares this, first by a comparison, and then in plain terms, "Without me ye can do nothing."
In discoursing upon this assertion, I will, I. Explain it
In explaining the words of Scripture we must take care not to strain them beyond their obvious meaning. These must evidently be understood in a qualified sense:
They must not be understood in reference to things which come within the province of the natural man
[A natural man has the same faculties and powers as a spiritual man: his understanding is as capable of comprehending common subjects, or of investigating the depths of human sciences: his will and affections are as capable of being exercised on objects according to their quality, as much as ever they will be when he shall be converted to God: and his memory is as retentive as that of any other man. A spiritual man has no advantage over him in these respects. Consequently, our Saviour's assertion must not be interpreted as extending to things purely intellectual, or even moral: since, beyond a doubt, a natural man may either do or forbear many things which come under the designation of morals.]
They refer exclusively to what is spiritual
[There are different gradations or different kinds, of life, if I may so speak: there is a vegetative life, an animal life, a rational life, and a spiritual life: and the powers of each are limited to its own order: a thing which vegetates, is not capable of animal exertion; nor is an animal capable of exercising the faculties of reason; nor does the rational man comprehend or enjoy what is spiritual. If any one order of being will affect the offices of that above it, it must first attain the powers of that superior order: for without the powers suited to the object, its efforts will be in vain. There is indeed this point of difference between the different kinds of life. The three first differ in their nature: but the last differs only in the application of powers previously possessed. Yet is the last called a new nature, because it is produced in the soul by the
a ver. 4.
Spirit of God, who "opens the eyes of the understanding," constrains the will, and purifies the affections, and thus, in fact, makes the person so changed, "a new creature"."
But our Lord's illustration will place the matter in the clearest light.
"Christ is a vine: his people are the branches;" and by virtue derived from him they are enabled to bear fruit. If a branch be broken off from a vine, it can no more bear fruit: it has nothing in itself independent of the stem; and, if separated from the stem, it must wither and die. So we, if separated from, or not united with, the Lord Jesus Christ, are incapable of bearing fruit; because we have nothing in ourselves independent of him, and have no means of deriving grace and strength from him. In respect of natural actions, we can effect all which nature qualifies us to effect: but in respect of spiritual exertions, we are incapable of them; because, in consequence of our separation from Him, we are destitute of all spiritual life and power.]
This is, as clearly as I can state it, the import of our Lord's assertion, I shall now proceed to, II. Vindicate it—
I grant, that in itself the assertion is very broad and unqualified: but in the sense in which it has been explained, it may be fully vindicated:
1. From Scripture
[Throughout all the Holy Scriptures man is represented as dependent upon God for the communications of his grace. In himself he has nothing but evil: his whole soul is corrupt": and he must have " the heart of stone taken away, and an heart of flesh given him," before he can keep the commandments of his Gode. So far is this carried, that the natural man is declared to be incapable of performing a good act, or uttering in a becoming manner a good words, or entertaining with real approbation a good thought". And with this statement our Church fully accords, when, in addressing Jehovah, it says, "O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed." As far as the Scripture testimony therefore is admitted, the point is clear; and our Saviour's declaration is fully justified.]
2. From experience—
b 2 Cor. v. 17.
d Jer. xvii. 9.
1 Cor. xii. 3.
h 2 Cor. iii. 5.
with 2 Pet. i. 4.
e Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. Matt. xii. 34.
with 2 Cor. viii. 16.
c Gen. vi. 5.
f Jer. xiii. 23.
[Where shall we find one from the beginning of the world to this hour, who ever served God but by a power derived immediately from Godi? If any one think he have a power in himself to do good works, let him consult the tenth Article of our Church, which says, "The grace of God by Christ prevents us, that we may have a good will; and worketh with us when we have that good will." Or let him rather try what he can effect by any power of his own. Go, and get your soul filled with love to God; or with hatred of sin; or with a contempt for this present evil world and all that is in it: go, determine to do these things; and then carry them into effect: and then we will confess that what our Saviour has affirmed is not true. There is not any one, I apprehend, who will not acknowledge three things necessary to the salvation of his soul; namely, repentance, faith, and obedience. Go then, and repent with real contrition, and unfeigned self-lothing and self-abhorrence. Go, and work up your soul also to faith in Christ, so as to flee to him, and rely upon him, and cleave to him, and glory in him as all your salvation and all your desire. Go too, and get your whole soul cast into the mould of the Gospel, so as to delight in every part of God's revealed will, and to find all your happiness in the performance of it. Do any one of these things, and we will confess, either that the word of God is altogether false, or at least that it is so expressed, as to mislead every person who endeavours to understand it. But I will not require so much at your hands. Only go home from this place, and fall upon your knees in your secret chamber before God, and for one half hour pour out your soul before him in fervent supplications for mercy, and in devout thanksgivings for all the blessings of redemption as set before you in the Gospel. Put this matter to a trial: see whether you can effect even this small matter by any power of your own. I am not afraid to abide the test of this experiment, and to constitute this whole assembly judges in their own cause. If then not so much as one amongst you is able to do this small thing, know every one of you that the declaration in my text is true.]
1. Those who are yet without Christ
[Truly, whilst you are "without Christ," you are "without any scriptural hope" of salvation. Renounce therefore, I pray you, brethren, all confidence in yourselves. That you have brought forth fruit, I confess; but it has been "only wild. grapes." But it is a far different fruit that God looks for: and in order to bring forth that, you must be cut off from the stock on which you have hitherto grown, and be graffed into k Eph. ii. 12. 1 Isai. v. 2-4.
i Hos. xiv. 8.