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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The True Vine.

The solemnity of the moment, when the Redeemer rose to leave the Upper Room where he had eaten the Passover, must have produced a powerful effect upon the hearts of his disciples. Up to this period they had been a united and a peaceful band, and the beloved Master was yet with them; what a separation awaited them in a few hours! The anticipation of this arrested their steps; the assembly broke up but no one moved; they stood in silence around their Lord. Then it was that he again opened his lips, and delivered the following discourses, which made an indelible impression on the mind of the beloved disciple. It may be that some incidental circumstance led Jesus to begin the comparison; perhaps a twig stretched through the window into the room where he then was, or the apartment was decorated with the foliage of the vine. According to Josephus, on the door, 70 cubits high, which led into the Holy Place of the temple, an artificial vine was spread out, the branches and leaves of which were made of gold, and its clusters of diamonds and pearls. Rosenmuller thinks that it was this that led Jesus to institute the comparison before us. -- Olshausen. I am of the opinion rather that the comparison sprang from the juice of the grape which had just been used to represent his blood. After the Lord choosing and distributing the fruit of the vine to represent the blood that should cleanse from all sin, and declaring, |I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God is come,| what more natural than for him to say, |I am the true vine?| As before stated, the Lord did not pass out over the Kedron, until after the discourses of the 15th and 16th chapters and the prayer of the 17th. It is, then, almost certain that these were spoken in the Upper Room. It then becomes probable that the feast was broken up with the words that close chapter 14, the preceding discourse having been at table; that with the command, Arise, all arose from table to prepare for departure, but as they were standing the Savior, out of his full heart, spoke the words that are contained in the three chapters, closing with the 17th. The student is then to picture to himself the Master with the eleven apostles, in the dimly-lighted chamber, standing, girt for departure; and they, eagerly watching every look and gesture, and drinking in every word, while he begins, |I am the true Vine.| (Joh 15:1)

1. I am the true vine. On the table from whence they had just risen was the |fruit of the vine,| and the Lord had said that he would never drink it again upon the earth. That may have been the occasion of the striking figure that he now uses, in which he exemplifies union with Christ. In the Old Testament the Vine is often used as the type of Israel, planted and tended by the Almighty as the husbandman. See Isa.5:1; Ps.80; Jer.2:21. Israel, however, had proved a wild and fruitless Vine. Instead of it, therefore, Christ had now been planted by the Father as the True Vine. He is the true Bread, the true Light, as well as the Good Shepherd. All these figures fitly express some of his relations to his people and the world. The Vine stands in a much closer relation to the branches than the Shepherd to the sheep. The latter cares for the sheep, but the Vine imparts its life to the branches and there is one life in the whole, the branch having no life except as it draws it from the vine. The relation is similar to that expressed by Paul when he describes Christ as the Head of the body, and the servants of Christ as the various members of that body, all pervaded by the life and will of the Head. See Eph.5:23, and Col.2:19. My Father is the husbandman. God had planted the old Jewish Vine, which was not the True Vine, but |a figure of the true,| Heb.9:24, and God had also sent his Son, the True Vine, into the world, or |planted| him, and his care was always over the Son and has been ever since the Vine was left to grow and fill the earth. |God giveth the increase.| (Joh 15:2)

2. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away. As the husbandman cuts off the unfruitful branches of the vine, so the Father severs the unfruitful branches from his Son. Judas, an unfruitful branch which did not have in it the life of the Vine, had just been severed and had gone forth. So any branch that ceases to have the life of the true Vine and bear fruit, that becomes lifeless and barren, is cut off. It often dies and drops off from the Church, which is the earthly representative of the True Vine, of its own weight and is lost sight of. Sometimes it is needful to cut it off lest it injure the other branches. Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it. The husbandman prunes and dresses the branches in order that they may be more healthy and fruitful. The Father cleanses, purifies, frees from sin, all who become branches of the True Vine. This is done, not merely for their own sake, but that they may be fruitful branches. The means employed to cleanse them from sin and impurity is next described. (Joh 15:3)

3. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. The spoken word is the instrument appointed by God for the cleansing of the soul. He who hears the word, believes it, receives it into his soul, obeys it and makes it the rule of his life, is |cleansed,| or freed from sin. The |Word| tells the sinner what to do in order to the remission of sins. See Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38. It is God in Christ who cleanses, but the means employed is the |Word,| which must be received in obedient faith. (Joh 15:4)

4. Abide in me, and I in you. The idea is, Abide in me that I may abide in you. Christ abiding in us is dependent on our abiding in him. We abide in him by keeping his words, or having his |word abide in us| (verse 7), and all who |keep his sayings| (chap.14:23) will have Christ abide in their souls. We must prepare for the presence of Christ by loving him, for he can find no congenial home in any heart that does not love him, but he says, |If a man love me he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him.| See the steps: 1. Love of Christ; 2. Keeping the words of Christ; 3. The Father's love; 4. The Father and Son come to abide with the one who loves and obeys. To abide in Christ and to have his life in us is needful, because |As the branch cannot bear fruit without the vine,| as an its life and strength and fruitfulness comes from the vine, and it dies if severed, so No more can ye, except ye abide in me. We are dead, fruitless branches, without the Christ-life. The whole history of the world demonstrates that fruitfulness is only found in union with Christ. Where are the colleges, hospitals and benevolent institutions that have been reared by infidelity? What fallen and savage race has infidelity lifted up? What has it done for mankind? Where are its fruits, or the benevolent fruits of heathenism or false religions? There was not a hospital or benevolent institution in Rome, the capital of the world, when it was visited by Paul. The fruit of pure, holy, sweet lives, full of helpfulness to the race, is borne by abiding in Christ, living with his life, being moved by his Spirit. (Joh 15:5)

5. I am the vine; ye are the branches. He has already declared (verse 1) that he is the True Vine, but he had not yet declared that every disciple is a branch of the Vine. Had he not declared, |Ye are the branches,| they might have concluded when, a little later, separate congregations were organized in various portions of the earth, that these were the branches; or denominationalism might have a little warrant for speaking of |branch churches of Christ;| but the relation is a much nearer, sweeter one. Every Christian is a branch of the Vine. His life is drawn directly from the Vine. If he clings to the Vine, keeps Christ's words, so that Christ abides in him, and has the life of the Vine, the same bringeth forth much fruit. But the branch that is severed from the vine is not only fruitless but dies. So the disciple, without Christ, can do nothing. Paul declared, |I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.| (Joh 15:6)

6. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered. The lifeless, fruitless branches in the vineyard are lopped off and carried out, and wither and are burned. So, too, any one who does not abide in Christ, is severed from the Vine, and they (the angels at the great day, not men as in the Common Version. See Revision.) cast them into the fire and they are burned. The Lord sweeps on over time to the eternal judgment and fate of the dead branches. Note 1. These have been branches of the Vine; 2. They did not |abide| in the Vine (Greek remain); 3. Hence they were cast forth; 4. Hence at the end they are gathered, by the angels, to be burned. Hence there may be a falling away by those who have been branches of the Vine, or |a falling from grace,| and hence the need of watchful, prayerful diligence that we may abide in the Vine. (Joh 15:7) (Joh 15:8)

7, 8. Ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. The condition of this blessed promise is that we abide in the Vine, by having Christ's words abide in us. If we maintain thus the life union so that we are alive with the Christ life, from his presence in us, then whatsoever we ask will be granted. Do you ask whether God hears prayer? I answer, |If we abide in Christ and he in us.| Has he heard your prayers? Are you thus united to Christ? But this |effectual prayer| is needful to our fruitfulness in Christ and the glorification of the Father. For herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. The best comment on this is the Savior's injunction, |Let your light so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, shall glorify your Father who is in heaven.| Those who are fruitful show that they have the life of the Vine and thus demonstrate that they are true disciples. |So shall ye be my disciples.| (Joh 15:9)

9. As the Father hath loved me, so I have loved you. The Father loved the Son and dwelt in him as the Son in the Father, because of their mutual love. Love opens the heart of the disciple to Christ that he may abide there (chap.14:23) and hence the union of the disciple with Christ may be as close as that of Christ with the Father. Hence he enjoins: Abide ye in my love. This is the Revision and is better than the Common Version, the Greek word being that before rendered abide. The Lord next tells how they shall |continue| or abide in his love. (Joh 15:10)

10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love. He abode in the love of the Father by a life of perfect obedience. So we must abide in his love. The wilful, disobedient disciple cannot dwell there. Only he in whose heart Christ is enthroned as King and who has an absolute empire over the soul. To keep Christ's commandments is, not to obey those that suit us, but to follow him and obey all he says. Some set aside his commandment to be baptized. Such do not keep his commandments. Some obey it faithfully, but fail to observe the other things he has commanded, and especially the great law of love. Such do not keep his commandments. (Joh 15:11)

11. These things have I spoken . . . that my joy might remain in you. Strange words, that one about to be crucified should speak of his joy! His joy was union with and the presence of the Father. He had |anointed him with the oil of gladness above his fellows.| He desired his disciples to have that joy, the constant consolation of the sense of the presence of Christ. If Christ abode in them, his joy would remain in them. All spoken above was that they might have this joy. If this is realized their joy will be fulfilled. They |shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.| The soul that has Christ in it is |full.| (Joh 15:12)

12. That ye love one another, as I have loved you. The greatness of his love for the disciples has been shown. Thus they must love one another. The thought developed is, 1. Love the bond that unites Father and Son.2. Such love the bond that unites the Son and the disciples.3. How much love must also exist between the disciples in order to unite them? Mutual love, instead of an iron chain of commands, binds them together. (Joh 15:13) (Joh 15:14)

13, 14. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The highest human exhibition of love that earth has ever seen was this. Damon had been ready to die for Pythias; fathers had died for their families; mothers for their children. Christ was about to exhibit this highest human type of love by dying for his friends. He did even more, as Paul shows us, Romans 5:6; he died for enemies, something that man had never done. The Lord here, however, points his disciples to his love for them. They are his friends, if they obey him. That is the condition. One may |lay down his life for another| without dying. If he lives to consecrate his life to his welfare, he gives, if possible, a higher proof of love. (Joh 15:15)

15. I call you not servants . . . I have called you friends. Christ's disciples serve him, but their service is not bondage, but that of love. Hence, they are friends instead of servants. They have his presence abiding in them and the will of the Father is made known to them. (Joh 15:16)

16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you. Each one of the eleven apostles present had been chosen, called, by the Lord, from among his disciples. They did not choose him, but he them, in order that they might bring forth abundant fruit in the conversion of the world. The same is true, in part, of each disciple. Christ calls them by the gospel, and if they hear and obey, then they are called and chosen to his work. These words, however, have a special, rather than a general signification. The Lord selected every apostle, and called them to become his representatives in the church when he had ascended his heavenly throne. Peter, Andrew, James and John were taken from their boats and nets at the Sea of Galilee; Matthew from his place at the receipt of custom, the rest of the eleven from their various callings, and, last of all, Saul of Tarsus was arrested by the Lord himself on the way to Damascus and told that he was to become |a minister and a witness| to the Gentiles. As God chose Noah to build the ark, Abraham to found the Jewish nation, Moses to be its law-giver, David to leave his flocks and be its king, the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ, so the Lord chose out the apostles and ordained (appointed) them to their special work. So, too, I cannot doubt that he chooses servants in all ages to become the leaders in great works which are called for by the interests of his kingdom. Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name. They were ordained to |go forth and bring forth fruit.| While engaged in that work they are promised the divine help. If at any time their own arms are too short they are authorized to call for the help they need in Christ's name. This help is to the end that they may bear fruit, or be efficient in the work of converting men. The principle that underlies the promise is of general application. The men of prayer have in all ages been those that have been most abundantly fruitful in their labors.

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