Yielding Our Fruit To The Husbandman
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (John 15:1-2).
The soul that expects to be fruitful must be prepared to submit to pruning, and that means sorrow, heartbreak, heartache, and all that goes along with pruning. If the vine could feel, its life history would be one of suffering. If the vine had sensations, it would doubtless be able to tell a story of deep, deep sorrow. And in this parable of the Vine and the Branches, the outstanding lesson that God is trying to teach us is that if we expect to bear fruit we must submit to the pruning knife.
Let me ask you this question: Do you want a life of ease or do you want a life of fruitfulness? If you wish a life of ease – then God will give it to you, but you cannot have both a life free from suffering and a life of fruitfulness. The vine that does not feel the pruning knife will not bear much fruit. I do not say that it will bear none, but it will not bear much and the quality of the fruit will not be good.
Compared with many other trees and plants of nature, the vine is unattractive. In the spring when the fields and the orchards are clothed with beautiful blossoms and foliage, a vineyard by contrast is somber and shabby. This corresponds with Isaiah’s prophetic description of the true Vine. "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isa. 53:2). And the branch that abides in the vine will surely share its drab and unattractive appearance.
Luxuriousness Means Fruitlessness
The vine cannot be luxuriant and beautiful and at the same time fruitful. If the strength and life of the vine is permitted to luxuriate into an abundant and attractive foliage, it cannot bear much fruit. The vine must either give up its beauty or its fruitfulness. It must give up its beauty in order to be fruitful.
Here is a deep lesson for us all. If we cannot suffer the pruning knife to lop off our flaunting and gorgeous self-life, if we must revel in our own inclination and fleshly and undisciplined growth of nature, we must be prepared to sacrifice fruitfulness. If we must be attractive so far as ourselves is concerned, then we cannot bear fruit.
The blossom of the vine is insignificant compared with many other plants. As you drive through the vineyard country some day in the early summer it is said that you may suddenly become aware of an unusual fragrance in the air. You may not be able to see any flowers that could give forth such an exquisite odor. But you will find that there is a vineyard near and if you will take the trouble to look under the protecting leaves, you will discover that this fragrance comes from the tiny shy blossoms hidden away like gentle souls that shrink from drawing attention to themselves. They are nevertheless pouring forth that rich fragrance that is the essence of their life of heavenly self-sacrifice.
Showmanship Fatal to Fruitfulness
Showmanship in spiritual things is fatal to fruitfulness. Flaunting and gorgeous flowers arrest the attention today – but tomorrow they are but withered rubbish. So pass the glories of the world and of the flesh. They have lived for pomp and splendor and have spread themselves in the sunshine, demanding admiration but producing no fruit to nourish a hungry world. However, when the world’s wild vines are useless but for firewood, the life that has yielded its flaunting foliage to the Divine pruning knife and to the winepress of pain, will bless souls.
To the degree that we increase, Christ decreases. You know what John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
How much of our so-called Christian work is carried on today on the basis of showmanship. We put on a religious show. We exalt human personality. We emphasize program. All such is certainly going to rob Christ. Some of you may not believe this, but let me repeat again; flaunting and gorgeous flowers arrest the attention today, but tomorrow they are but withered rubbish.
I had rather have the privilege of helping to influence a few Gospel workers, ministers and missionaries in the direction of much fruit bearing, than to appeal to a vast audience on superficial lines. After all, it is through a disciplined minority that God’s great purposes are brought to pass. It is true that God accomplishes His work, not through the great majority who enter only superficially into His life and into His Cross, but through those who yield to His disciplining hand and who go deeply into fellowship with His suffering.
Someone wanted to know what we mean by fruit, whether we mean the winning of many souls or the bearing of the fruit of the Spirit. Let me say that first and foremost, we are talking about the fruit of the Spirit, for this is a scriptural definition: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22-23). Perhaps that may be disappointing to someone because you have had the idea that fruit bearing, in the scriptural sense of the Word, had to do with soul-winning in a direct way.
The flesh loves showmanship. The flesh loves sensation. The flesh loves that which you can taste and see and feel. But the things of the Spirit are the things which, to the natural man, seem to be unattractive. God carries on His great work in the world usually through humble people, unobtrusive people: people who have died out to self and to selfish aggrandizement; people who have died out to the use of sensational methods; people who have become identified with the meek and the lowly Nazarene.
A Meek and Quiet Spirit, Which Is
in the Sight of God of Great Price
1 Peter 3:4
Do you know what it says about the Lord Jesus in that wonderful 53rd chapter of Isaiah? It reveals the principle upon which Christ works. We read, "He (the Messiah) shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (v. 2). "He shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench..." (Matt. 12:19-20).
Thus, God’s work is carried on through meekness. "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). It is in people in whom God has wrought deeply the work of the death of the Cross, and the graces of the Spirit, that God carries on His greatest work. Unseen by man, that is true. Unnoticed by man.
The world looks at some large work, some work that is great in numbers. They look at that and say, "There is the great thing." But God works behind the scenes and it is often through those who are largely unnoticed that God carries on His greatest work. Eternity will reveal it, beloved.
God Is Looking for Holy Ghost Fruit
If a vineyard is to be fruitful, the soil around the plants must be kept free from weeds and grass in order that all the nourishment in the soil be devoted to the one purpose of producing the finest fruit. This suggests that all other interests, good as well as bad, must be uprooted and eliminated from the life that would be fruitful.
Not only do the obnoxious weeds sap the life of the soil from the vine, but even the beautiful grass or beautiful flowers, beautiful as they are and right in their place, are out of place in the vineyard, because they absorb strength from the vine. And so the harrow comes along and tears them out, the obnoxious weeds, grass, and even the beautiful flowers, that all the strength in the soil might be devoted to the purpose of producing fruit.
There is not fruit bearing without suffering. Not that there is any particular merit in suffering. No. But it is impossible to bear fruit apart from the pruning which lops off many things beautiful in themselves but which sap the energy of the vine and prostitute the strength of the soil from fruit bearing to luxurious foliage and beauty, rather than fruit bearing. Hence the vine can not be both beautiful and fruit bearing; that beauty must be sacrificed in the interest of the bearing of fruit.
There are many things which may not in themselves be sinful, which those who are to bear much fruit must suffer to be pruned out of their lives. There are many things which they must forgo.
I know there are some people now that are arguing with the Lord about this matter. The Spirit has laid His finger upon something in your life. You have argued back and said, "Well, there is not anything wrong about that. It just is not necessary to live such a stern and strict standard as this." There may be a good many things that you can do and get to heaven that still interfere with fruit bearing. There may be some things which may not in themselves be sinful, which the fruit bearing Christian must allow to be cut out of his life.
I am entreating every one of you who really wants to be at your best for God to give these things your fullest consideration. Many things that may be legitimate in themselves, God will ask you to cut out of your life in order that you can devote your time, your energies, your thoughts to those things which are most essential. There are things which take the place of prayer. You may indulge in some occupations or amusements that may not in themselves be sinful, but which sap your spiritual vitality and lessen your taste for the Word of God.
Many pastimes may be legitimate, but they absorb energy of our lives which ought to go into fruit bearing. To cut away all the superfluous growth that might absorb strength from the vine, the keen shining edge of the plow is frequently seen turning over the earth and the sharp, cruel teeth of the drag harrow follows, tearing up every clinging root of the grass. Not only weeds, but even flowers must go that the one objective of fruitfulness may be obtained. Will you say "yes" to it?
But if the branch becomes unfruitful, then it is going to be cut away and it will wither. This is a very solemn warning to those that think that they can live carelessly, without jeopardizing their religious experience and their relationship with God. Let me say this by way of caution: only the Divine eye can say whether one branch is fruit bearing and another is not.
There may be fruit bearing which is seen only by the all-seeing eye of God. We are unable to sit in judgment on this point. However, let me say this: never settle down with the idea that you can serve the Lord with one hand behind your back, that you can give Him a part of your effort only. You must give Him all or you jeopardize your relationship with Him. There is a difference between being in Christ and the "abiding" which He speaks of here as the condition of fruit bearing. Therefore, fruit bearing "abiding" is impossible for the soul that is walking behind light received.
As soon as we cease to grow, we cease to bear fruit. It is only the new portion of the branch upon which fruit is borne. Full surrender and perfect faith are prerequisites to abiding. There can be no faith without surrender.
All rebellion will have to go, whether it is rebellion against people, circumstances or conditions. Faith must take everything that comes as coming from God, whether it seems to be good or bad, whether it is joy or sorrow. Until faith reaches the point where it can see God in everything, there can be no true abiding in this sense of the word. For there can be no true abiding without suffering.
There can be no true practical identity with Christ without suffering. This is the teaching of the Word. Those who are taking the easy way, those who will not permit the Cross to do its work in their lives, those who accept the Cross as a substitute only and not as an example – can never enter into this experience set forth by Jesus as abiding. "If we suffer, we shall reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12).
Paul, in that wonderful third chapter of Philippians said, "I want to know the fellowship of His sufferings. My soul is on the stretch, I do not want to shirk." How many shirkers there are. Yes, we can take the easy way if we wish, but we will have barren lives. "Oh," you say, "I know a good many people who do not take the way of the Cross and do not agree with this gloomy religion that you preach, and still they seem to be doing a great deal more than those who take the way of the Cross."
It may be there is much more visible result from human promotion and from human psychology than from the method of the Cross, but remember, all the work that we profess to do for Christ must stand the fiery test of the Judgment; and only that which is pure, precious metal will stand the test of that fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Without being identified with Christ in His sufferings, we may never enter into this experience of abiding which is the basis of much fruitfulness.
The Word says that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him. This teaching about identification with Christ in His sufferings as a condition of fruit bearing is foolishness to the natural man. We are reconciled to be misunderstood in our emphasis upon death to self and life in God as the prerequisite of fruit bearing. We know that only a few will be able to enter into this. We know that only a few will be able to comprehend.
The difference in those who bear only a little fruit and those who bear much fruit can be traced to the depths of abiding. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit" (John 15:5). There can be no real abiding in Christ apart from identification with sufferings because there can be no practical identity with Christ without suffering. This is distasteful to the natural man.
"If we suffer, we shall reign with Him," Paul says (2 Tim. 2:12). He longed to know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings. Here is the real touchstone of "abiding" which is the condition of much fruitfulness, sharing His sufferings. We may share the joys of salvation without "abiding."
Not the Prancer but the Puller
Few lighthearted people are fruitful. Now by that I am not urging gloominess, but I am discouraging lightness, frivolity, chaffiness and even a certain kind of emotionalism. Many will disagree with me, but very few people to whom the touchstone of spirituality is emotionalism are highly fruitful. It is not the prancer, but the puller that God uses the most.
We believe that there is a difference between a happified state and the real joy of the Lord. The joy of the Lord is something that does not fluctuate. It is deep, uninterrupted and abiding. A happified condition may be like a volcano; it bursts out one day and the next day it is all gone down again. We may share ecstatic emotions without abiding.
A missionary interpreted the Scripture, "Lovers of pleasures, more than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:4), as applying also to believers. She was referring to the class of people who love the emotional, the joys of salvation, love the happified state, the good feelings, more than they love God, and who live for that primarily. Some of them are in love with emotional ecstasies even more than with Christ Himself.
"Lovers of pleasures." They serve the Lord for the joy they get out of it. While that may be a state of grace beyond the ordinary standard of Christianity, it is not God’s ideal by any means. There is something deeper than the shouting blessing. I like to see people get far enough along with God that they are at liberty in their emotions, but there is something far beyond that, and that is grace to do without great emotional blessings without going down in a heap, grace to serve the Lord whether you feel good or not.
Life in God
"Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain" (John 15:16).
All that the vine possesses belongs to the branch. The vine does not live for itself but for the branches that are dependent upon it. To know that the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He is and does is available to us and that He lives for the sake of those who depend upon Him – should thrill the heart of every believer. And then let us remember also that the branches possess nothing which does not affect the vine. There is an interrelation here.
Not only are we dependent upon Him, but, awe inspiring as the thought is, He, too, is dependent upon us. What a responsibility this lays upon us! Maybe you had never thought of it that way before, that the Lord Jesus is dependent upon you as truly as you are dependent upon Him. The branch has no reason for existing but to proclaim the excellence of the vine, and to enable the vine to minister to the world.
The branch has no right to live for itself. There is no room for self-will, self-pleasing, or self-direction on the part of the branches. They are dependent utterly for their life upon the vine and, therefore, they are under obligation to live wholly to proclaim the excellence of the vine, and to be the means through which the vine may bear its fruit.
One of the striking lessons brought out in this Scripture is that union with Christ is not identical with the "abiding" that is here set forth as the condition of fruitfulness. He says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." That is union. "He (one who is already a branch) that abideth in Me and I in Him," that is something else.
Union with Christ assures salvation, but abiding in Christ assures victory and fruitfulness. Union with Christ refers to initial salvation. Abiding in Christ refers to maturity. Union with Christ is a crisis. Abiding in Christ is a process, a continuous and an ever increasing one. Remember that fruit is borne only upon the new branches, not upon the old growth, even last year’s growth. If we are going to be fruit bearing Christians, there must be constant growth. This shatters the idea of careless, loose-braced Christianity which is so prevalent today.
He Prunes Because He Loves
Why is it that the husbandman prunes his vine or his fruit tree? Is it because he hates them? When you women who are such lovers of flowers, go into your flower gardens and among your roses to prune them, is it because you hate them?
It ought to be a comfort to us to know that it is love that guides the knife, the shears, and the spade. Let us ask ourselves whether the Master has sent this sharp pain or this deep wound of sorrow because He hates us or because He loves us. Let us remember the words of the Hebrew writer, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth" (12:6). Remember also the words of our text, "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit" (John 15:2).
It is love oftentimes that permits the sharp blow of pain to fall, the deep wound of sorrow. It takes us a lifetime to learn and really believe in our hearts that there is sometimes something better than release from pain or sorrow, and that is a deep likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ which means much fruitfulness.
Ripeness Means Humility
The grace of humility is not only one of the conditions of fruitfulness, but also one of the evidences of fruitfulness, for as the fruit ripens it sinks lower and lower, getting more and more out of sight. The great bunches of grapes sag more and more on the vine as they swell with the rich, sweet juice that is to offer refreshment and strength to the sick and the weary. More and more we must withdraw deeper and deeper in Christ if we expect to bear fruit. "Only if we are content to be hidden behind Christ and to glorify Him alone will we be able to fulfill the condition of fruitfulness."
Purity of Motive
J. R. Miller has said, "We mistake when we fancy that we are in this world to make a reputation for ourselves. We need not give ourselves the slightest concern upon this subject. Indeed, any thought of name or fame for ourselves detracts from the purity of our motive and spirit as disciples of Christ. We have nothing whatever to do with the honoring of ourselves before men, with looking after our reputation. If we honor Christ, He will honor us. If we exalt His Name in our life, He will exalt our name before the angels and His Father.
The fruitful vine has yet a deeper and sorer trial to face if it could feel, and that is the taking away of the fruit from the branches. This is probably the deepest death of all. Many who are willing to be pruned of other things and who triumph up to this point, fail here at the point where the very fruit and crown of all endeavoring and suffering is taken away, but this is the common experience of the vine. The grapes are taken from it and it never sees them again.
What does the vine do under those conditions? Why, it starts all over again. Here are some most significant lines: "And next year blooms again, not bitter for torment undergone; not barren for the fullness yielded up – As fruitful towards the sacrifice, as if no touch had ever come to it, but the soft airs of heaven and the dews of earth, and so fulfills its service in love once more."
Winepress Speaks of the Cross
We come to the final step of the life cycle of the vine – the winepress. Here is where the very heart is crushed that the life blood may pour forth to satisfy the thirst of both God and man. Christ came into the world for one great purpose – to die. So the vine lives for the hour when it pours forth its life from the winepress. As Christ lived for the Cross so the vine lives for the winepress.
It is not in the fruit, nor more fruit, nor even in much fruit – but in the winepress that the vine reaches its highest and its fullest purpose. When the crushing sorrows come which seem too terrible for endurance, remember that this is God’s winepress and the Master of the vineyard is seeking His wine.
"Out of the presses of pain,
Cometh the soul’s best wine,
And the eyes that have shed no rain
Can shed but little shine."
Lines from a descriptive poem on the vine express the thought in the following:
"The vine from every limb bleeds wine,
Is it the poorer for that spirit shed?
Measure thy life by loss instead of gain,
Not by wine drunk, but by wine poured forth,
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice,
And whose soul suffers most, has most to give."