George Everard, 1884
"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing!" John 15:5
Not bearing evil fruit as a corrupt tree;
not covered with leaves, but having no fruit, as the barren fig-tree;
not bringing forth fruit unto himself, as Ephraim (Hosea 10:1);
not a bough with a handful of fruit or a single specimen, only enough to show the character of the tree.
No, not such should the Christian be — but as a branch laden with good fruit, weighed down with ripened clusters, sweetened by the glorious sunshine, and gladdening the heart of the Great Gardener, as He sees in it a rich reward for His toil and pains!
It is worth striving for. It is the noblest aim the Christian can cherish. Listen to the words of Christ, "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." John 15:8. That they should bear abundant fruit, is one great purpose of all God's dealings with His people. He wills not simply that they should be forgiven and saved, but that they should glorify Him by being fruitful in every good word and work. No created being can rise higher in aim and spirit than this. To bring glory to the name of Jehovah is the very highest object of angel and archangel before the throne.
To bring forth much fruit is, moreover, a sure pledge of discipleship. If the Christian does this there can be no room for doubt as to his hope in Christ. It will be manifest both to himself and to others that Christ is in him of a truth.
Nor should we forget that all true fruit is seed. In most cases the fruit but encloses and guards the seed which it carries within. This is true in the natural world, and it is no less so in the spiritual realm. That which we look at as fruit today, tomorrow will prove to be a seed of further fruit yet to be brought forth. Stephen's prayer for his enemies, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge!" was the most precious fruit of Divine grace in the soul, reflecting the very spirit of His Master; but it became also a precious seed, bringing salvation to Saul of Tarsus and affording a blessed example to persecuted believers in all ages of the Church's history.
And there is still one further encouragement to Christians as to their fruitfulness. "Much fruit" brings much reward. A large and abundant recompense invariably follows. The soul is open to receive more of Heaven's richest treasures. It is gladdened by the ingathering of those who might otherwise have been left to perish. It has in the future the promise of a bright crown and of a more glorious inheritance!
Shall such then be our aim all through life? Shall it be our great desire to be like Joseph, "a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall;" to be such as Paul prayed that the Philippians might be, "filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God!" (Philippians 1:11)
It should be our effort day by day to bring to the Master, our basket of ripe fruit, and such as will glorify Him and receive His gracious approval. Shall we persevere in doing this through each successive month and year, so that when life closes we may praise Him for the grace that has made it blessed and useful indeed?
But how may this be? Bearing in mind the hindrances in the way, my own fickleness and proneness to turn aside, the temptations that surround me, the impediments in doing good which meet me at every turn — how may I still succeed in fulfilling the will of Christ, that I should bring forth much fruit?
I must ever remember that it is fruit which God seeks. It is fruit, and not merely toil or work in His service. There is something of a Divine perfection about fruit that is very different from that which comes merely of man's labor. It may be the peach with its exquisite bloom, or the cluster of grapes from the hothouse, or the bunch of berries from the garden. But it is God's own handiwork, and examined even beneath the microscope, it has a rare beauty and perfectness that is quite unlike the finest workmanship of man's hands. Thus is it with all true fruit in the kingdom of God. It is the outcome of the spiritual life which has been granted to the soul. It is the outgrowth of inward spiritual grace. It is an external manifestation of the Spirit of God abiding within.
Hence the main point always to keep steadfastly before me is the absolute necessity of a living union with Christ. It is the branch abiding in living union with the stem and root that alone can bring forth fruit. There is no possibility of any fruit at all without this.
One of the great leading truths of the Gospel is the word of the Savior, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5
Let there be the least separation between the branch and the stem, let it be but the hundredth part of an inch, and at once the sap ceases to flow into the branch — and there can be nothing but withering leaves, fading bloom, decay and death!
Let us each put to our own hearts the following questions:
Am I indeed and in truth one with Christ?
Am I knit to Him in heart and spirit and life?
Am I so joined to Him by a living faith, that I can say, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His?"
Am I exercising a soul-reliance upon Him?
Am I trusting Him for pardon, strength, peace, and grace day by day?
Am I clinging to Him with all "the five fingers of my faith?"
Am I . . .
walking in fellowship with Him,
conversing with Him by prayer,
hearkening to His voice,
delighting to be near Him,
happy when doing His will?
In fact, is Christ a reality to me — my Savior, a Friend, my Shepherd, my Refuge, my Everlasting Portion?
Here is the central point in true religion:
In Christ — or out of Christ?
One with Him — or a stranger to Him?
A Christian in His sight — or only such by outward profession?
The true value of ordinances depends entirely upon this. Very precious are they when they are the expression of a living faith which unites me to Him who was once crucified but is now exalted, as my living Head, to the Father's right hand. In this case, they strengthen faith, and draw the believer nearer and nearer to Him he loves.
But very perilous are they when men put them in the place of faith; when men strive to satisfy conscience by the external rite or service — when secretly they know they are living far from Him. It is one of the great dangers of the present day.
A young person seeks all her happiness in the world. The theater, the society of the light and frivolous, the world in its various forms, is her idol — and there is no room for God, no room for Christ, no room for true, earnest piety.
But conscience demands a salve. So certain religious services are attended, and often Holy Communion is received; but all the time the door is locked against the Savior, and spiritual worship is utterly disregarded.
If I would bear fruit, it must not be thus with me — my religion must go heart-deep. Christ must be all my salvation and all my desire.
"Lord, let me live in Christ by saving faith,
Let me be His for yes, in life or death;
Oh, be it mine, as time's swift chariot flies,
Clearer to read my title to the skies!
Fully to follow You, from grace to grace,
Until You have made me meet to see Your face."
In bearing fruit, the first essential is to be in living union with Christ. And from this, follows the second, which is the constant, daily, hourly abiding in this union.
I would urge this upon myself and upon every believer. I must abide in Christ. I must not begin with Christ — and then trust in good resolutions. I must not take Christ as my Righteousness and my Atoning sacrifice — and then hope to become holy or fruitful in my own strength. I must not aim at doing anything whatever by my own natural abilities.
In Christ I must begin,
in Christ I must continue,
in Christ I must complete all that I undertake.
On Him I must exercise entire, unlimited, perpetual dependence!
I must rely upon Him for daily mercy, daily grace, daily keeping, daily upholding, daily power to think and will and work as I ought in His service.
I suppose Paul was one of the greatest fruit-bearers, perhaps the greatest, that the Church of Christ has ever seen. And what was the secret of his abundant work and labor of love? He rested upon the word of promise, "My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). He drank in motive and zeal and perseverance in toil — from Christ Himself. "I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me!" (Galatians 2:20).
Here was the key-note of his whole life. From first to last, he lived on Christ by faith. He . . .
fed continually on the Living Bread,
drank evermore from the Living Fountain,
abode in the love of Christ, and
dwelt beneath the shadow of the Rock of Ages.
Nor can we otherwise be fruitful branches. We must ever by faith abide in Christ, and receive out of His fullness.
To maintain and strengthen this dependence, I must abide in Christ's Word. Each promise, each precept, each revelation of Himself or the Father, of sin or the world — I must reverently ponder.
I must abide in His love. I must not hide away from its bright beams in some dark chamber or cavern of world-hunting, or money-hunting, or pleasure-hunting. I must not let other things come in and make me forget that love which is the spring of all the peace that I enjoy. I must dwell upon it more and more until I can comprehend something of its height and depth and breadth and length!
I must keep Christ's sayings, and surrender my will entirely to His. He must be my Head of direction, as well as my Head of supply. I must obey Him implicitly, as well as trust Him to the uttermost. Anything of reserve or disobedience, or of rebellion against His will, or of grudging service — must interrupt the sweet harmony of faith and love, and hinder the closeness of fellowship with Him.
But while the main essential as to abundant fruitfulness is abiding in Christ, there are other PRACTICAL HINTS which ought to be remembered. Here is one.
The richest fruit is often found on low ground.The vines do not grow on the Alpine heights — but in the fruitful valleys of Italy that lie beneath.
In the fruitage of Christ's kingdom, the parallel is always true. You find the full supply, not on the hill-tops of pride and self-sufficiency, on the lofty summits of souls that glory in their own gifts or powers — but on such as have learned to be nothing and to glory only in the love and grace of the Redeemer. Where there is much humility — there will be much grace, and where there is much grace — there will be much fruit.
This fruit may be hidden from the eye of man. It may be a life of patient submission to the will of God in a very quiet sphere. It may be the meek endurance of pain during a long and wearisome illness. It may be a constant effort to do good in some difficult position, where few are the least aware of it. But wherever the Christian course is run in lowliness and humble dependence upon God — the Father's eye discerns the fruit, and He will not be slow to accept and own it.
This leads us to another point. The Christian must be well content to let the fruit he bears, be according to the will of God. I must not choose my own position, or murmur because my lot may be ordered of God very contrary to my own will. I might wish the fruit to be of a more showy kind. I might wish to occupy a prominent position, like a branch in a royal vinery or a wide-spreading mulberry-tree on a nobleman's lawn. I might wish to be a great preacher, or to build a Church, or to do something which would attract the world's attention. But God's will puts me aside — out of sight, as it were, in the back garden, in some quiet nook, unnoticed by the busy throng — and yet able there to be useful and to do something or be something which will not be without effect in the great battle between God and the devil.
If it is my supreme desire to he fruitful, I must not repine at the gardener's pruning-knife.The branch that bears fruit needs pruning, that it may bring forth more fruit. And very various in this respect may be the dealings of the gardener with the different trees, or branches, or fruit-producers in his garden. Unsparingly he may cut away the runners on his strawberry bed; or a whole armful of shoots he may cut away from the vine growing on the wall. While from other trees he may take away a portion of the new wood, or cut out a large branch to give air or room, or possibly dig around one of luxuriant growth and lop off some of its roots. But in wisdom and ripe experience, he deals with each as it needs.
So the great Gardener acts in His Church. The most precious of His trees and the most fruitful branches, often receive the most of His care, and the chastening may seem more frequent and severe. From some of His people, the little ones are taken away, and the domestic hearth left desolate — that out of the sore trial, the parents' hearts may learn more of Divine love.
With others, financial means are lessened, and losses in business come thickly — but the treasures in Heaven are rapidly increasing.
Then others know the burden of sorrow about an afflicted partner, or the anxiety to find work, or the lack of strength to do the work which lies ready at hand.
Ah, there is a great deal of root-pruning in the Lord's vineyard! Every fiber of the heart cries out in its misery and anguish — yet all the while He who wounds, waits to heal. Not joyous, but grievous is the trial: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!" Hebrews 12:11. "He is the LORD — let Him do what is good in His eyes." 1 Samuel 3:18.
Would I be very fruitful? Then I must watch against the enemies that would rob me of the fruit!
If I forget to cover the peach-blossom, a frosty night may do mischief beyond remedy. The birds may nip off the young buds of the fruit-bushes. Insects may quietly mar and destroy the toil of many days. So that care and skill are needed to counteract these crafty little foes — or, in spite of all my pains, July and August may mourn instead of rejoice.
Just so in my service of Christ — there are perils round about me against which I need constantly to watch.
The chilling blast of a worldly spirit,
the frost of doubt and unbelief,
sloth and self-will,
selfishness and self-indulgence,
the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eye,
the pride of life,
fretfulness and murmuring under trials,
over-anxiety about the future,
irritability and hastiness of temper,
love of man's praise — or fear of his displeasure
— any or all of these may come like the birds and insects in the garden and may spoil my pleasant fruits!
"From the by-ways of temptation,
Keep us, Savior, lest we stray;
Oh preserve us from the evil
Ever lurking round our way!
Let our path grow brighter, clearer,
Until it ends in perfect day!"
I must aim at using well each instrumentality of fruit-bearing. Each ability, each talent, must be carefully employed in the Lord's service.
And here one great principle comes in. The secret and hidden fruits, the virtues and graces that have their seat in the heart — are far the most precious in the sight of God!
"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." When Christ speaks, in the Sermon on the Mount, of those fruits which bring with them such blessedness — how does He describe them? He refers mainly to those which have their root within. Blessed are "the poor in spirit," "the meek," "the pure in heart," "those who hunger and thirst after righteousness," etc.
And when Paul describes the fruit which marks the followers of Christ, it is mainly that which only the eye of God can fully discern. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23
Let these secret graces be most fervently sought and diligently cultivated. Let each believer long for the blessed Spirit, the Comforter, to work mightily within him, and to manifest His power in such a spirit of love, faith, meekness, holiness, patience and zeal — that he may be filled with all the fullness of God. For this let him wait and pray perpetually. Where this is granted, the fruit in God's sight will abound. Besides, all else will be sure to follow. No true fruit will be lacking, where the heart is as a garden watered by the Lord.
Then with this, every other gift is to be exercised. There is no doubt the inward and the outward life act and react one upon the other. Just as the trees are nourished in part by that which is taken in through the foliage — so the inner graces are strengthened by those good works which manifest them.
There must be the fruit of the eye. How mighty a power is this for strengthening and manifesting Divine grace! The books we read may greatly help us. Then the eye may convey a look of reproof that may check sin, or a look of kindness that may comfort one ready to faint. It may take in the need of a poor brother or sister, and thus a heavy burden may be removed.
There must be the fruit of the lips. Sweet in God's ear is the voice of prayer, praise, adoration, intercession. Precious in His sight is the faithful testimony borne to His truth, the pleading with sinners to turn from their evil ways, the tender considerateness which utters words of honey — healing balm, to soothe an anxious heart or guide a troubled one to Christ, the Fountain of life and peace.
There must be the fruit of the hand. It is no lost labor to perform deeds of self-denying toil, to work for those who cannot work for themselves, to ply the needle in making garments for the sick, to do a bit of household work to spare one whose health is weak.
Let the hand be stretched out in free, liberal, substantial gifts to the Lord's treasury. It was well said to some who were studying the anatomy of the hand, "The most beautiful hand, is the hand that gives." What endless good might be done, what waste places might be reclaimed both at home and abroad — if all Christians gave of their income a fair proportion of that which God has given them. Look down the lists of the annual report of any congregation — and what a slender, pitiful measure of help to Christian objects of the greatest importance is often rendered by those who could give ten times the amount without feeling it. Where the heart is warmed with the love of God and man — the hand and the purse will be open when the calls on every side are so great and urgent.
So too should every other power become fruitful in the Lord's service. There is none who need be idle. There is not a gift you possess, but may in some way be utilized in Christ's cause.
We need, too, more and more careful efforts to train the young of all classes in Divine truth. One of the most appalling calamities of the last few years was the trampling down of about two hundred little children in a public building at Sunderland. But to my mind there is something far worse even than this. It is the multitudes of little children in our land, who are in danger of being trampled down beneath the hoof of a cruel unbelief which will rob them of all the hope of a happy, holy, and useful life.
In our churches and in our mission rooms, in tents and in the open air, in workshops and by the wayside, by printed messages and by the spoken word, let us carry everywhere the Master's message, and while the door stands open, do our best to save the souls of our fellow-men.
Hence will arise fruit, the fruit of gathered sheaves, that we shall be able to bring to our Lord in the day of His appearing.
"Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit." But how has it been with you?
What fruit has there been in the years that have passed?
What victories over old sins and temptations?
What breathings of true prayer?
What growth in the Divine life?
What increase of faith, hope, and charity?
What gifts laid upon the Lord's altar, which have cost you some actual sacrifice?
What earnest intercessions on behalf of friends or neighbors?
What deeds of kindness and tramplings upon self-will and self-indulgence in your own home?
What acts of thoughtful benevolence done for the sick or sorrowful? What habits of evil broken off?
What new habits of good by grace formed?
What resolutions made and fulfilled?
What souls brought back to the fold of the good Shepherd?
Then what about the future? If this present year is your last for fruit-bearing on earth — will it bring its testimony on your behalf? Shall it be the best and holiest you have ever spent, because begun and continued in lowly dependence on the great Helper?
When the book of your life is closed, never to be reopened until the great white throne is set — what will be its witness as to your profession of being a follower of Christ?
Among all the pictures in the Royal Academy of 1883 there was one home-scene that spoke most to my heart. It was called "The Last Look." A widow with her five children were gathered around an open coffin. For the last time they were looking upon the face of the one so dear to them all. No more will that sorrowing widow look on her husband's face, no more will those little ones look upon a father's countenance — until that great day when the grave shall give up its dead.
But unless Christ comes soon, the same position will be yours and mine, before many months or years have come. And when it is, when those who have dearly loved you gather around your coffin to take their last look of you — what witness will your life have left behind? Among any who have spiritual discernment, will there be a blessed certainty that you had indeed truly followed the Master? Will the remembrance of your whole course, be fragrant with a thousand evidences of the reality of your faith and love? Shall you leave behind in many a heart, a life-long witness in the truths they have heard from your lips? Will the whole spirit of your daily walk, be remembered as an unmistakable proof that your life was hid with Christ in God? Shall you still live on in . . .
the good you have done,
the souls you have evangelized,
the prayers you have offered, and
the blessings you have scattered around you?
As in the sight of that open coffin in which lies your own frame when the pulse has ceased to beat, and "Finis!" is written upon all you have ever purposed or performed — be honest with yourself, and be honest with God. Am I . . .
living for self — or for God,
fruitful — or unfruitful,
a champion in the Lord's army — or a lukewarm follower,
a diligent worker — or a drone in the hive,
a little spring of living water — or a spot of barren sand?
What are you?
What will you be?
Settle the question now, and walk worthy of your Christian name.
"Lord, let me live for Christ, and to His praise,
Spend and be spent for Him through all my days;
Oh, let each power of body and of mind
Some sweet employment, in His service find.
Oh, to be given wholly unto Him
Whose life-blood flowed the guilty to redeem!
Bought with so costly, with so rich a price,
My all should be His willing sacrifice."