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because He and His disciples might be seated together under the shelter of a vine, or because many might be flourishing around them. And he makes use of the example, to show what He was to the disciples, and the disciples to Him, and the Father to both. I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
The business of the husbandman is to plant the vine, and dress and tend it. He first places the tree in the spot where he designs that it should grow and afterwards he continues to watch the branches and treats them as they require. Some he prunes, and some he takes
The first work, the planting of the vine, God had now performed. The soil had been long preparing under the cultivation of the law and the prophets and now the tree was set in the ground, planted in Judea, whose branches should extend into all lands, and whose "leaves should be for the healing of the nations."
Let all contemplate it as a "tree of life" growing within their reach, and in their own country; and having in itself the blessings of everlasting happiness. For such is the true vine, which the love of the heavenly husbandman has provided for the world.
Observe now the husbandman's treatment of the branches of this vine. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away. This is the Father's purpose, that they who belong to Christ, should bear the fruit of "love, and joy,
and peace, and long suffering, and gentleness, and goodness, and meekness, and temperance.' And if they bear them not, the purpose of the husbandman is disappointed, and such an unfruitful branch is set aside as useless and left to wither. Perhaps it may be retained for a while; that takes place, which is spoken concerning the barren fig-tree: the husbandman "digs about it, and dungs it: and if it bear fruit, well;" and if not, it is at last cut down, and allowed to "cumber the ground" no longer. Should any who profess to be united with Christ as the true vine, either be producing evil fruit, or not producing any fruit at all, that very barrenness is a proof that they no longer make part of the vines they receive no nourishment from the stem: "whoso abideth in Christ, and Christ in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." But every branch" which beareth not fruit, is rejected, and nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned." 2
We turn now to the branches which are of a different sort; and what is said of them deserves our best attention. Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth3 it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
This still describes the work of the husband
The branch on which he bestows his care and labour is the bearing branch. And this he
Luke xiii. 8.
2 Heb. vi. 8.
3 KalaιρEι, cleanses, or clears by pruning.
diligently prunes: removes useless shoots and leaves, clears away whatever is likely to injure the produce; employs his knife; sometimes to appearance roughly, but in truth discreetly, and to a wise end. Such is also the care of our heavenly Father over the branch in Christ which beareth fruit. He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. And various are the means employed by Him. He tries His people in different ways; sometimes, it might seem, severely, but ever with a merciful design. How little could it be discerned by their outward condition in this life, who those are whom God really regards with most favour! Often they are rather distinguished by their pre-eminence in affliction. Illness preys upon their strength; cuts short their active usefulness. They suffer under some painful and lingering disease. Their nearest and dearest connexions are in distress, or are taken from their side, and every source of earthly enjoyment is taken with them.
This may be sometimes a chastisement, especially if the blessings of a more prosperous course have not been rightly used: if they have made the Christian careless, instead of thankful; luxurious or covetous, instead of temperate and liberal; indolent and self indulgent, and not "zealous of good works." In such case, if God does not cast him forth as a withered branch altogether, he will prune him with the knife of adversity; He will cut off "the desire of his eyes," which has been loved more than the
Author of every good: will take away his earthly treasure, which he is preferring to treasure in heaven. But afflictions are not always chastisements. We do not read that Job, in his prosperity, was either proud, or sensual, or uncharitable: we know the contrary, yet he was sorely tried. And there is a reason; because "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." It strengthens the character, completes the qualities, and realises the graces of the Christian. Therefore, said St. Paul, "we joy in tribulation also;" we joy in it, not because in itself it is delightful, but because we know it is sent for a good end, that we may bear more fruit, and receive a greater reward. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
How great the comfort, when we can thus regard our present life! Altogether as a state of preparation, in which our Father, as a husbandman, places us, and watches and tends our progress, whether towards good or evil. How precious in his eyes must that plant be, which he cultivates with so much care! What great things must be laid up for those who answer the culture which He bestows on them! And what a blessing, to be assured that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God, who are called according to His purpose, " first to be grafted upon Christ, the true vine, and then to bear
* Rom. v. 3, 4.
Rom. viii. 28.
"fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life!" 6
This world, and our passage through it, wear a new aspect as soon as it is thus contemplated. Let us learn more and more to consider it in this view. Such faith will render blessings doubly blessed, because it will sanctify them. Such faith will render afflictions not only tolerable, but easy. We shall be able to say, It is my Father's hand. "Let Him do what seemeth Him good:" "herein is the Father glorified, that we bear much fruit:" and He is enabling me to bear more fruit. Nay, He is rewarding the little fruit of holiness which I have yet rendered Him, by giving me more means and opportunities of serving Him, and conforming to His will.
While we encourage thoughts like these, we shall derive fresh sufficiency from Him, to whose body we belong. The strength of a branch is not derived from itself, but from the virtue of the parent stem. And so the Christian, weak in himself, is strong in the strength of Christ : he "can do all things, bear all things, hope all things, suffer all things, through Christ who strengtheneth him."
Rom. vi. 22.