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15. Vine and the Branches

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 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. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 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. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 These things I command you, that ye love one another. 18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. 23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. 26 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: 27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

1. I am the true Vine. The general meaning of this comparison is, that we are, by nature, barren and dry, except in so far as we have been engrafted into Christ, and draw from him a power which is new, and which does not proceed from ourselves. I have followed other commentators in rendering ἄμπελος by vitis, (a vine,) and κλήματα by palmites, (branches.) Now, vitis (a vine) strictly denotes the plant itself, and not a field planted with vines, which the Latin writers call vinea, (a vineyard;) although it is sometimes taken for vinea a vineyard; as, for example, when Cicero mentions in the same breath, pauperum agellos et vlticulas, the small fields and small vineyards of the poor Palmites (branches) are what may be called the arms of the tree, which it sends out above the ground. But as the Greek word κλὢμα sometimes denotes a vine, and ἄμπελος, a vineyard, I am more disposed to adopt the opinion, that Christ compares himself to a field planted with vines, and compares us to the plants themselves. On that point, however, I will not enter into a debate with any person; only I wish to remind the reader, that he ought to adopt that view which appears to him to derive greater probability from the context.

First, let him remember the rule which ought to be observed in all parables; that we ought not to examine minutely every property of the vine, but only to take a general view of the object to which Christ applies that comparison. Now, there are three principal parts; first, that we have no power of doing good but what comes from himself; secondly, that we, having a root in him, are dressed and pruned by the Father; thirdly, that he removes the unfruitful branches, that they may be thrown into the fire and burned.

There is scarcely any one who is ashamed to acknowledge that every thing good which he possesses comes from God; but, after making this acknowledgment, they imagine that universal grace has been given to them, as if it had been implanted in them by nature. But Christ dwells principally on this, that the vital sap — that is, all life and strength 7676     “C’est a dire, toute la vie et vigueur.” — proceeds from himself alone. Hence it follows, that the nature of man is unfruitful and destitute of everything good; because no man has the nature of a vine, till he be implanted in him. But this is given to the elect alone by special grace. So then, the Father is the first Author of all blessings, who plants us with his hand; but the commencement of life is in Christ, since we begin to take root in him. When he calls himself the true vine the meaning is, I am truly the vine, and therefore men toil to no purpose in seeking strength anywhere else, for from none will useful fruit proceed but from the branches which shall be produced by me.

2. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit As some men corrupt the grace of God, others suppress it maliciously, and others choke it by carelessness, Christ intends by these words to awaken anxious inquiry, by declaring that all the branches which shall be unfruitful will be cut off from the vine But here comes a question. Can any one who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? I answer, many are supposed to be in the vine, according to the opinion of men, who actually have no root in the vine Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel his vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The Church.

And every branch that beareth, fruit he pruneth. By these words, he shows that believers need incessant culture that they may be prevented from degenerating; and that they produce nothing good, unless God continually apply his hand; for it will not be enough to have been once made partakers of adoption, if God do not continue the work of his grace in us. He speaks of pruning or cleansing, 7777     “Il parle de tailler ou purger.” because our flesh abounds in superfluities and destructive vices, and is too fertile in producing them, and because they grow and multiply without end, if we are not cleansed or pruned 7878     “Repurgez et taillez.” by the hand of God. When he says that vines are pruned, that they may yield more abundant fruit, he shows what ought to be the progress of believers in the course of true religion? 7979     “Des fideles au cours de la vraye religion.”

3. You are already clean, on account of the word. He reminds them that they have already experienced in themselves what he had said; that they have been planted in him, and have also been cleansed or pruned He points out the means of pruning, namely, doctrine; and there can be no doubt that he speaks of outward preaching, for he expressly mentions the word, which they had heard from his mouth. Not that the word proceeding from the mouth of a man has so great efficacy, but, so far as Christ works in the heart by the Spirit, the word itself is the instrument of cleansing Yet Christ does not mean that the apostles are pure from all sin, but he holds out to them their experience, that they may learn from it that the continuance of grace is absolutely necessary. Besides, he commends to them the doctrine of the gospel from the fruit which it produces, that they may be more powerfully excited to meditate on it continually, since it resembles the vine-dresser’s knife to take away what is useless.

4. Abide in me. He again exhorts them to be earnest and careful in keeping the grace which they had received, for the carelessness of the flesh can never be sufficiently aroused. And, indeed, Christ has no other object in view than to keep us

as a hen keepeth her chickens under her wings,
(Matthew 23:37)

lest our indifference should carry us away, and make us fly to our destruction. In order to prove that he did not begin the work of our salvation for the purpose of leaving it imperfect in the middle of the course, he promises that his Spirit will always be efficacious in us, if we do not prevent him. Abide in me, says he; for I am ready to abide in you And again, He who abideth in me beareth much fruit. By these words he declares that all who have a living root in him are fruit-bearing branches

5. Without me you can do nothing. This is the conclusion and application of the whole parable. So long as we are separate from him, we bear no fruit that is good and acceptable to God, for we are unable to do anything good. The Papists not only extenuate this statement, but destroy its substance, and, indeed, they altogether evade it; for, though in words they acknowledge that we can do nothing without Christ, yet they foolishly imagine that they possess some power, which is not sufficient in itself, but, being aided by the grace of God, co-operates (as they say,) that is, works along with it; 8080     “Cooperent, (comme ils disent,) c’est a dire, besongne avec icelle.” for they cannot endure that man should be so much annihilated as to do nothing of himself. But these words of Christ are too plain to be evaded so easily as they suppose. The doctrine invented by the Papists is, that we can do nothing without Christ, but that, aided by him, we have something of ourselves in addition to his grace. But Christ, on the other hand, declares that we can do nothing of ourselves. The branch, he says, beareth not fruit of itself; and, therefore, he not only extols the aid of his co-operating grace, but deprives us entirely of all power but what he imparts to us. Accordingly, this phrase, without me, must be explained as meaning, except from me.

Next follows another sophism; for they allege that the branch has something from nature, for if another branch, which is not fruit-bearing, be engrafted in the vine, it will produce nothing. But this is easily answered; for Christ does not explain what the branch has naturally, before it become united to the vine, but rather means that we begin to become branches at the time when we are united to him. And, indeed, Scripture elsewhere shows that, before we are in him, we are dry and useless wood.

6. If any one abide not in me. He again lays before them the punishment of ingratitude, and, by doing so, excites and urges them to perseverance. It is indeed the gift of God, but the exhortation to fear is not uncalled for, lest our flesh, through too great indulgence, should root us out.

He is cast out, and withered, like a branch. Those who are cut off from Christ are said to wither like a dead branch; because, as the commencement of strength is from him, so also is its uninterrupted continuance. Not that it ever happens that any one of the elect is dried up, but because there are many hypocrites who, in outward appearance, flourish and are green for a time, but who afterwards, when they ought to yield fruit, show the very opposite of that which the Lord expects and demands from his people. 8181     “Lesquels puls apres quand il faut rendre le fruict, monstrent tout le contraire de ce que le Seigneur attend et requicrt des siens.”

7. If you abide in me. Believers often feel that they are starved, and are very far from that rich fatness which is necessary for yielding abundant fruit. For this reason it is expressly added, whatever those who are in Christ may need, there is a remedy provided for their poverty, as soon as they ask it from God. This is a very useful admonition; for the Lord often suffers us to hunger, in order to train us to earnestness in prayer. But if we fly to him, we shall never want what we ask, but, out of his inexhaustible abundance, he will supply us with every thing that we need, (1 Corinthians 1:5.)

If my words abide in you. He means that we take root in him by faith; for as soon as we have departed from the doctrine of the Gospel, we seek Christ separately from himself. When he promises that he will grant whatever we wish, he does not give us leave to form wishes according to our own fancy. God would do what was ill fitted to promote our welfare, if he were so indulgent and so ready to yield to us; for we know well that men often indulge in foolish and extravagant desires. But here he limits the wishes of his people to the rule of praying in a right manner, and that rule subjects, to the good pleasure of God, all our affections. This is confirmed by the connection in which the words stand; for he means that his people will or desire not riches, or honors, or any thing of that nature, which the flesh foolishly desires, but the vital sap of the Holy Spirit, Which enables them to bear fruit.

8. In this my Father is glorified This is a confirmation of the former statement; for he shows that we ought not to doubt that God will listen to the prayers of his people, when they desire to be rendered fruitful; for this contributes very greatly to his glory. But by this end or effect he likewise kindles in them the desire of doing good; for there is nothing which we ought to value more highly than that the name of God may be glorified by us. To the same effect is the latter clause, that you may become my disciples; for he declares that he has no one in his flock who does not bear fruit to the glory of God.

9. As the Father hath loved me. He intended to express something far greater than is commonly supposed; for they who think that he now speaks of the sacred love of God the Father, which he always had towards the Son, philosophize away from the subject; for it was rather the design of Christ to lay, as it were, in our bosom a sure pledge of God’s love towards us. That abstruse inquiry, as to the manner in which the Father always loved himself in the Son, has nothing to do with the present passage. But the love which is here mentioned must be understood as referring to us, because Christ testifies that the Father loves him, as he is the Head of the Church. And this is highly necessary for us; for he who without a Mediator, inquires how he is loved by God, involves him in a labyrinth, in which he will neither discover the entrance, nor the means of extricating himself. We ought therefore to cast our eyes on Christ, in whom will be found the testimony and pledge of the love of God; for the love of God was fully poured out on him, that from him it might flow to his members. He is distinguished by this title, that he is the beloved Son, in whom the will of the Father is satisfied, (Matthew 3:17.) But we ought to observe the end, which is, that God may accept us in him. So, then, we may contemplate in him, as in a mirror, God’s paternal love towards us all; because he is not loved apart, or for his own private advantage, but that he may unite us with him to the Father.

Abide in my love. Some explain this to mean, that Christ demands from his disciples mutual love; but others explain it better, who understand it to mean the love of Christ towards us. He means that we should continually enjoy that love with which he once loved us, and, therefore, that we ought to take care not to deprive ourselves of it; for many reject the grace which is offered to them, and many throw away what they once had in their hands. So, then, since we have been once received into the grace of Christ, we must see that we do not fall from it through our own fault.

The conclusion which some draw from these words, that there is no efficacy in the grace of God. unless it be aided by our steadfastness, is frivolous. For I do not admit that the Spirit demands from us no more than what is in our own power, but he shows us what we ought to do, that, if our strength be deficient, we may seek it from some other quarter. In like manner, when Christ exhorts us, in this passage, to perseverance, we must; not rely on our own strength and industry, but we ought to pray to him who commands us, that he would confirm us in his love.

10. If you keep my commandments. He points out to us the method of perseverance. his, to follow where he calls, for, as Paul says,

They who are in Christ walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit,
(Romans 8:1.)

For these two things are continually united, that faith which perceives the undeserved love of Christ toward us, and a good conscience and newness of life. And, indeed, Christ does not reconcile believers to the Father, that they may indulge in wickedness without reserve, and without punishment; but that, governing them by his Spirit, he may keep them under the authority and dominion of his Father. Hence it follows, that the love of Christ is rejected by those who do not prove, by true obedience, that they are his disciples.

If any one object that, in that case, the security of our salvation depends on ourselves, I reply, it is wrong to give such a meaning to Christ’s words; for the obedience which believers render to him is not the cause why he continues his love toward us, but is rather the effect of his love. For whence comes it that they answer to their calling, but because they are led by the Spirit of adoption of free grace?

But again, it may be thought that the condition imposed on us is too difficult, that we should keep the commandments of Christ, which contain the absolute perfection of righteousness, — a perfection which far exceeds our capacity, — for hence it follows, that the love of Christ will be useless, if we be not endued with angelical purity. The answer is easy; for when Christ speaks of the desire of living a good and holy life, he does not exclude what is the chief article in his doctrine, namely, that which alludes to righteousness being freely imputed, in consequence of which, through a free pardon, our duties are acceptable to God, which in themselves deserved to be rejected as imperfect and unholy. Believers, therefore, are reckoned as keeping the commandments of Christ when they apply their earnest attention to them, though they be far distant from the object at which they aim; for they are delivered from that rigorous sentence of the law,

Cursed be he that hath not confirmed all the words of this law to do them,
(Deuteronomy 27:26).

As I also have kept my Father’s commandments. As we have been elected in Christ, so in him the image of our calling is exhibited to us in a lively manner; and therefore he justly holds himself out to us as a pattern, to the imitation of which all the godly ought to be conformed. “In me,” says he, “is brightly displayed the resemblance of those things which I demand from you; for you see how sincerely I am devoted to obedience to my Father, and how I persevere in this course. My Father, too, hath loved me, not for a moment, or for a short time, but his love toward me is constant.” This conformity between the Head and the members ought to be always placed before our eyes, not only that believers may form themselves after the example of Christ, but that, they may entertain a confident hope that his Spirit will every day form them anew to be better and better, that they may walk to the end in newness of life.

11. These things I have spoken to you. He adds, that his love is far from being unknown to the godly, but that it is perceived by faith, so that they enjoy blessed peace of conscience; for the joy which he mentions springs from that peace with God which is possessed by all that have been justified by free grace. As often, then, as God’s fatherly love towards us is preached, let us know that there is given to us ground for true joy, that, with peaceable consciences, we may be certain of our salvation.

My joy and your joy. It is called Christs joy and our joy in various respects. It is Christs, because it is given to us by him; for he is both the Author and the Cause of it. I say that he is the Cause of it, because we were freed from guilt, when

the chastisement of our peace was laid on him, (Isaiah 53:5.)

I call him also the Author of it, because by his Spirit he drives away dread and anxiety in our hearts, and then arises that calm cheerfulness. It is said to be ours for a different reason; because we enjoy it since it has been given to us. Now since Christ declares that he spake these things, that the disciples might have joy, we conclude from these words, that all who have duly profited by this sermon have something on which they can rest.

That my joy may abide in you. By the word abide he means, that it is not a fleeting or temporary joy of which he speaks, but a joy which never fails or passes away. Let us therefore learn that we ought to seek in the doctrine of Christ the assurance of salvation, which retains its vigor both in life and in death.

That your joy may be full. He adds, that this joy will be solid and full; not that believers will be entirely free from all sadness, but that the ground for joy will be far greater, so that no dread, no anxiety, no grief, will swallow them up; for those to whom it has been given to glory in Christ will not be prevented, either by life, or by death, or by any distresses, from bidding defiance to sadness.

12. This is my commandment. Since it is proper that we regulate our life according to the commandment of Christ, it is necessary, first of all, that we should understand what it is that he wills or commands He now therefore repeats what he had formerly said, that it is his will, above all things, that believers should cherish mutual love among themselves. True, the love and reverence for God comes first in order, but as the true proof of it is love toward our neighbors, he dwells chiefly on this point. Besides, as he formerly held himself out for a pattern in maintaining the general doctrine, so he now holds himself out for a pattern in a particular instance; for he loved all his people, that they may love each other. Of the reason why he lays down no express rule, in this passage, about loving unbelievers, we have spoken under the former chapter.


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