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Warnings or Promises
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman...And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:1-27)
On that solemn night before the Lord of life and glory was delivered into the hands of wicked men, he gave his disciples everything that might be needed to comfort their hearts, as he anticipated the trouble that was before them. His final discourse and his final actions, recorded by divine inspiration in John 13-18, are filled with things that are intended by him to encourage our faith in him, to give us confidence and assurance in him. Throughout these chapters, his word to us is, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” If ever there was a time during the whole of our Savior’s earthly ministry in which he wanted to minister comfort and peace to the hearts of his beloved disciples, it was on that solemn night before his sin-atoning death as our Substitute. Like the 23rd Psalm, these chapters are recorded in the Book of God to minister to our souls in times of greatest trouble.
On that solemn night, he said to those disciples, whose faith he knew must soon be greatly tried, “I have chosen you” (13:18; 15:16, 19). How sweet a pillow that is for our aching hearts! He told them that one of them was a betrayer who would deliver him up to be crucified. He did so that, when it came to pass, their faith might not be shaken by it (13:18). He told them again of his impending death, assuring them that, by that which he would accomplish in his death, God would be glorified in him and he would be glorified by the Father (13:31-33). Then, he told them that Satan desired to have them, that he might sift them as wheat, and assured them that their faith would not fail, because he had prayed for them (Luke 22:31-32). After that, he turned to Peter and told him plainly that before the night was over he would deny him three times. That assertion was immediately followed by the assurance that his faith would not fail, that he would be recovered (converted) from his horrible fall, and encouraged still to believe him. — “The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (13:38-14:1).
Throughout the night, he said to these disciples, all of whom would forsake him, as he anticipated their great fall, “Believe me! Believe me! Believe me!” He did not say, Believe in me. He did not say, believe my doctrine. He said, “Believe me!” And he assured them that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven, and that he would bring them to that place, in spite of all that they would be, and do, and experience in the next few hours (14:1-3).
I remind you, again, that the difference between Judas’s sin, which was for him sin unto death, and the sin that would be committed by Peter and the rest of the disciples (as well as yours and mine) was not their deeds, or the extent of their guilt, or the aggravating circumstances of their crimes, or even that one sinned against greater light or more persistently than the other. — The only difference between Judas’s fall and Peter’s, between these disciples forsaking the Lord and Judas betraying him was this: — The Lord Jesus prayed for Peter, those disciples, and us, that their faith and ours fail not; but he did not pray for Judas.
He assures us, though we must ever be kept aware of our sinfulness, that we might ever trust him that he would hear and answer our prayers and give us our hearts’ desire (14:13-14). As he anticipated all the weakness, failure, and sin that those beloved disciples would display in just a few hours, as he anticipated all the weaknesses, failures, and sins we would experience and display in this world, the Lord Jesus assured them and assures us that he will never leave us comfortless, that he will come to us, and that he, and his Father, and his Spirit will abide with us forever (14:16-20). What? Does the Son of God intend for sinners saved by his grace to be assured of his grace even when we fall? Indeed, he does (1 John 2:1-2).
Then, he assures us of his abiding love and tells us that he will manifest himself to us (14:21). Repeatedly, he promised that he would give us his blessed, Holy Spirit to be our Comforter, assuring us that he will teach us all things. Again, he says, I tell you all these things “that ye might believe,” that your faith not be shaken, that your confidence and assurance of my mercy and grace may never be shaken.
Vine and Branches
Then, in chapter 15, the Lord Jesus gives us this wonderful description and assurance of our everlasting union with him. — “I am the vine, ye are the branches.”
“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. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I 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. 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” (vv. 1-6).
The first thing to be learned from this passage is the fact that there is a blessed union between Christ and his people that can never be broken. The Word of God is filled with illustrations of the eternal union of Christ and his Church. This union of Christ and his elect is both eternal and vital. It is vital to us, because without him we cannot live. It is vital to him as our Mediator, because without us he would not be complete (Ephesians 1:23).
In the Song of Solomon, when the Bride sang her nuptial love song, she refers to her Beloved as the Vine. — “My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi” (Song of Solomon 1:14). Our blessed Savior is not just a blessing, but a cluster of blessedness (Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31). The word here translated “cluster” means “the man that is all things,” or “the man that has atoned and is all things of blessing.” That is what Christ is to us. — “All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s!”
Our Lord Jesus, when he would sing his nuptial love song to us, his Bride, his Beloved, uses the very same imagery. — “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” So real and absolute is this union of our souls and our Savior that we are spoken of in the Book of God as the vine (Psalm 80:8-19; Song of Solomon 7:11-12; 8:11-13). As the vine and the branches are one, so Christ and his people are one.
The union between Christ and believers is just as close and just as real as the union of the vine and the branches in the vine. In ourselves we have no life, or strength, or spiritual power. All we are and have comes from Christ. We are what we are, and feel what we feel, and do what we do, because we draw a continual supply of grace and help from him. Being grafted into Christ by grace, joined to him by faith, and united in mysterious union with him by the Spirit, we live, drawing the sap of life from him.
And, because we are one with him, vitally joined to him, we bring forth fruit from him and by him. Grace is not a self-operating principle, but the continual operation of God (Hosea 14:8). Of Christ’s fulness we continually receive grace for grace. He declares, — “From me is thy fruit found” (Hosea 14:8).
The picture before us is delightful and comforting. Believing sinners never have reason to be in doubt of eternal salvation. Our Savior will never leave us to ourselves, to our own strength, or to our own ability. It is God who works in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Our root is Christ; and all that there is in the Root is for the benefit of the branches. Because he lives, we shall live also. Weak as we are in ourselves, our Root is in heaven, and never dies. “When I am weak,” Paul said, “then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). And his strength is demonstrated to be perfect through our weakness.
In the second verse we see that there are many, like Judas, who are in Christ the vine by profession only. They are fruitless branches that appear to be in the vine, but they are not. They do not abide in the Vine. They have not been grafted into the Vine, but are only attached to the Vine in outward appearance. Consequently, they bear no fruit and are useless. They shall be cast forth and burned as useless debris that is found in the vineyard. Are you like that, attached to the Vine, but not in the Vine, attached to the Vine by ritual, but not in the Vine by regeneration, attached to the Vine by profession, but not in the Vine by power, attached to the Vine by a creed in Your Head, but not in the Vine by circumcision of the heart? Let each answer for himself. — Am I merely attached to the Vine? Believers are in Christ the true Vine. We are branches growing out of the Vine. Are you in Christ? If you trust him, you are in him.
Look at the sweet assurances given to us in this tremendous, instructive passage of Holy Scripture. — “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (v. 3). — “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (v. 9). — “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (v. 11). — “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). — “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (v. 15). — “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: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (v. 16). — “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (v. 26). — “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (v. 27).
Warnings or Promises
Those sweet assurances are commonly overlooked, because there are several things in this chapter that are commonly interpreted as great, fearful warnings. — “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” (v. 2). — “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (v. 4). — “I 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” (v. 5). — “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” (v. 6). — “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (v. 7). — “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (v. 8). — “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” (v. 10). — “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (v. 14).
Are we to understand these statements by our Savior as conditions that must be met by us? Are we to understand that if we fail to meet these conditions we will perish at last? Not hardly! Pastor Rupert Rivenbark made this tremendously helpful observation about such passages as these. He said, “If all the ‘ifs’ in the Bible hang on Christ, the believer can claim them all as promises.” That helps, doesn’t it?
When our Savior says, “Abide in me, and I in you,” and these other things commonly interpreted as conditions that must be met by us if we are to be confident of our union with him, he is not giving us precepts of conditions, but blessed promises of grace. We abide in him because he abides in us. Our Savior is assuring us that we shall, by the sealing of his blessed Spirit, as our Comforter, abide in him. When our Lord Jesus “breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22), he was not giving a command to obey, but communicating grace. And here, he is telling us that he will continually communicate grace to us by his Spirit, our Comforter, who will continually testify to the believing soul the things of Christ, constantly affirming them to us and in us.
When he says, “Abide in me and I in you,” the Lord Jesus assures us that he undertakes for us, that we shall abide in him, and he in us. How else could we ever hope to abide in him? It is as much as if he had said, “Ye shall abide in me; and I shall abide in you.” And all this is in perfect conformity to that everlasting covenant of grace of which he is the Surety (Jeremiah 32:38-41). This is blessed, absolute, indestructible security. Our Savior says, “I will not and they shall not.”
Perhaps, you ask, “But are we not to look to our evidences for assurance?” Be sure you get the answer. — NO! Never! The anchor of our souls is altogether outside ourselves (Hebrews 6:16-20; 11:1). Our hope is in the Vine! Only in the Vine. Be sure you are joined to the Vine.