The Vine and the Branches
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit — He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit — He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. Now you 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; neither can you — except you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him — the same brings forth much fruit: for without Me you can do nothing.
If a man abides 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.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you — you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit — so shall you be My disciples."
In this parable our Lord teaches us that all our spiritual life and all our fruitfulness in good works, are drawn from Him. It is a very plain parable. In that eastern country vines were more common than they are with us, but even we know enough about them to be able to enter into the meaning of the parable.
All our spiritual life is drawn from Christ. "I am the vine, you are the branches." A branch could not live if it were not joined to the vine. In the same way, a soul can have no spiritual life, if it is not joined to Christ by faith. The sap, which is the life of the tree, flows naturally from the vine into the branches and keeps them alive and makes them bring forth buds and leaves and fruit. In like manner, the grace and life that are in Christ Jesus flow spiritually from Him into the hearts of believers, causing them to live and grow and bear fruit, to the glory of God.
The life and fruitfulness of the soul, therefore, depend on its abiding in Christ. So our Lord says, "Abide in Me" — that is, remain, or stay, in Me. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine — no more can you bear fruit — except you abide in Me." And afterwards He says, "Without Me you can do nothing." "Without Me," that is, apart from Me, separated from Me. We must cleave to Christ — we must watch and pray against everything that might come between us and Him and break or loosen our communion with Him. We must be much with Him in private; we must often hold secret communion with Him; we must diligently use all the means of grace, with the earnest desire that they may bring us into a closer union and communion with Him.
Observe, our Lord thinks nothing of any spiritual life that does not produce fruit. In grace, there is no real life unless it produces fruit — though there may be in nature. We do sometimes see a fine flourishing branch bearing nothing but leaves — but we never see a true Christian without the fruits of holiness. A fruitless branch or a fruitless tree is worthless in the sight of Him, who is the Gardener of souls. The barren fig-tree in the vineyard was perhaps a fine-grown tree, well covered with leaves; but because it bore no fruit, it was to be cut down.
In this parable, God the Father is the Gardener, and what does He do to every branch which bears not fruit? He takes it away. Just what a common gardener or gardener would do to a fruitless branch — God does to a barren professor. He may let him remain, perhaps, for a time — but at last He takes him away.
But a gardener does something to the fruitful branch also. "While every branch that does bear fruit — He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." He is not content with a little fruit from it — he wants more. So he takes his knife and prunes it — and that not once only, but again and again. Not roughly or hastily — but with great skill and care, that it may bear as much fruit as possible.
Does not this show us the meaning of our afflictions? God is the Gardener of souls. What is He doing when . . .
He sends sore trouble on the Christian,
or lays him on a bed of sickness,
or takes away comforts,
or removes some who were very dear?
What is the meaning of this? God has taken the pruning-knife in hand and is pruning the branch, that it may bring forth more fruit.
People are sometimes surprised at seeing trouble fall on the godly and not on the wicked. But this parable makes it quite plain. The godly man is a fruit-bearing branch; he is joined by faith to Christ, the true Vine, and does already bear fruit. But God, the heavenly Gardener, desires more fruit, and therefore prunes him by means of affliction.
It may be a sharp pruning knife that He makes use of; but He has sharpened it for the very purpose. It is not too sharp. In His wise and gracious hands, it will do its work well. The Christian will rise from his sick-bed, or come forth from the house of mourning — all the better for God's dealing with him — more humble, more spiritually-minded, more sober-minded, more zealous and in earnest. Henceforth the world will be less to him — and his Savior more.
Cannot every Christian, who has been under God's pruning-knife, bear witness to the gentle firmness with which it has been used? There is no weakness or wavering in God's dealings — yet no roughness. There is no lack of decision, no half-work — yet no rashness, no mistake.
The gardener's hand may make a slip, and he may cut too deep or cut where he did not mean to cut. Not so with the hand of God. When He takes the knife, He uses it . . .
with perfect firmness,
with unerring wisdom, and
with tender and compassionate love.
He will make no slip.
He will not cut too deep.
He will give no needless pain.
He will take away no comfort that would better have been left.
Sometimes, though not in general, the gardener puts an ointment to the place where the cut has been made, lest the branch should "bleed" too much, as they say.
Just so, God is always ready to apply a healing ointment to the wounds which He makes.
Oh, what comfort He sends in trouble!
Oh, what soothing, happy thoughts!
Oh, what a sense of His love!
Oh, what answers to prayer!
Oh, what grace and peace, what thankfulness and love!
These are His precious ointments. This is how He binds up the wounds which He has made.
It is for God's glory that we should bear much fruit. Our Lord says so: "Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." But how can a poor, suffering creature do anything for the glory of God? In many ways. By the grace of God, by a close union and communion with Christ — he may even now, in the midst of suffering, bear fruit, much fruit; and all the fruit he bears will promote God's glory.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Even while he lies on his sick-bed, cannot he through grace be meek and gentle and patient? Cannot he exercise faith? Cannot he love? Cannot he rejoice? Cannot he have peace within?
The gardener prunes the branch, that it may bring forth more fruit hereafter — but the spiritual branch, unlike the natural branch, may show an increase of fruit already, even while the knife is being applied.
"So shall you be My disciples." This is to be the mark — not fruit merely — but increasing fruit, more fruit. God is always dealing with us in various ways for the good of our souls, for our growth in grace, for our greater fruitfulness. How are we thriving under His hand? What effect do His dealings produce? Are we proved more and more to be real disciples of Christ — living and fruitful branches of the true Vine?
There is something here also bearing upon prayer, which is the chief comfort of the Christian, especially in affliction. Our Lord says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you."
We must understand this by what has gone before. Abiding in Christ means here abiding or remaining closely joined to Him by faith, as a branch is to the vine. If we do thus abide in Him, then He assures us that our prayers shall be granted. There are many other such promises in Scripture, but this is a special one.
This then is the happy state of the suffering believer. He is joined to his Savior — his loving Father is even now chastening him, and every prayer that he makes, will be heard and answered.
"So shall you be My disciples," said our Lord. And to be His disciples, taught and trained and owned and loved by Him — is the happiest lot on earth. Do not fear anything that may come to you as His disciple. Do not shrink from your Father's hand — even though the knife is in it. Trust Him, love Him. He will do all wisely, tenderly, faithfully. Let it be your heart's desire to abide more closely to Christ, and to bring forth more fruit to the glory of God.
Let this be your desire and your prayer. If our blessed Lord said, "You shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you," surely this will not be withheld.