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Great Christian Works:     Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life   By A. B. Simpson

A. B. Simpson

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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson

The Vine And Its Branches

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 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. Now ye 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; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 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."   John 15:1-5

LET us look at some of the reasons why the vine is a chosen emblem of the Christian life and character of God's individual and collective people.

First, it is the most abused thing of anything that is made, and perhaps the most fatal. It is the chosen symbol of the thing that is dearest to God's heart, and yet it has become an accursed thing. The devil would not be bothered with spoiling that which is of no value. No one would think of counterfeiting a copper penny; but a bank-note is often counterfeited because it is worth something. So the devil loves to defile that which is of value to God, and has made the vine his chosen instrument of mischief to the human family for the very reason that God prizes it so highly, both in the physical and typical world. The time will come when God will restore it to its original beauty and meaning.

In ancient times the fruit of the vine was used without fermentation. It is the mixture with leaven and corruption which has made it such a curse. The devil does not use evil things to harm the world, but good ones. He has taken the vine and cursed the world with it, and so he has done with religion. Evil always comes in the form of good. The great apostasies that are cursing the world came in the form of good.

I believe he is not working so hard today in the drinking-saloons of this city as he is in the Church of God and among the people of God turning their eyes away from Him to fashion and style, and human culture, and trying to turn every good thing to some evil use, that he may dishonor God and curse man. As he has turned the beautiful vine into accursed alcohol, so he has turned the beautiful religion of Jesus Christ into Romanism, Mohammedanism and Mormonism, introducing into it as complete corruption as that which has changed the fruit of the vine into the very wine of hell.

I.

There are many beautiful ways in which the vine is an emblem of God's people.

I. It is good for nothing if it does not bear fruit. You cannot make lumber of it nor turn it into firewood, nor can you carve it into ornaments. It is absolutely good for nothing but fruit-bearing. Ezekiel gives a pretty picture of its worthlessness for any other purpose:

"Son of man, what is the vine tree more than any other tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest?"

"Shall wood be taken thereof to do any kind of work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?"

"Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it and the midst of it is burned? Is it meet for any work?"

The Christian, too, is not good for anything if he is not bearing fruit for God. If you are disjointed and out of adjustment to everything around you, you cannot be fruitful, and are to be most pitied of all creatures. You are losing both worlds. Many Christians are in this deplorable state. Dear friends, God has but one work for you to do, and that is to bear fruit. The unfruitful branches are taken away and cast into the fire and burned.

2. The vine is dependent for its sources of supply upon the earth and the sky. It takes in sustenance by means of its leafage and rootage. Its porous leaves drink in nourishment from the surrounding air, and its long roots extend hundreds of yards, taking in nutriment from the soil. So the Christian is dependent for his sustenance upon his leafage and rootage. He must be deeply rooted in Christ, and he must draw in strength from a constant atmosphere of prayer. The same susceptibilities and nature are given to him in this respect as to the vine. This plant has been known to reach out its long rootlets and feel its way to some old bone and feed upon it and grow strong. So, dear friends, should we be able to feel our way to Christ and feed on Him and grow up in Him in all things. So, too, when we are in a dry atmosphere, we should be able to draw refreshment and cheer from Him. A vine is not dependent for its life on the situation it is placed in. It can grow and flourish on a sand-bank if its roots can only reach out to the streams of water. It does not matter where it is; if the springs are near the fruit will come. Dear ones, are you living in this way?

3. The branches grow out of the vine. They are the trunk extended. So we are a part of Christ. We are nothing unless we are united to Him. It is our privilege to be partakers of the Divine nature.

4. The vine does not bear any fruit. The leading trunk and stems never have any bunches of grapes on them. They are always borne by the little twigs that branch out from them. Our business is to support the branches, and they bear the fruit. Jesus does not say, "I will bear the fruit," but, "I will bear you." He might have done it and done it a great deal better than we can, but He has given this work to us. He does not speak audibly to the unconverted, or call the brethren nearer, or send His voice out to the nations. You do that. What an honor! what a trust it is to have this fruit-bearing committed to you! What a beautiful sight a vine is in fruit-bearing time. There are no blossoms on it, but great clusters of luscious grapes, and they are all borne by the young, tender branches. So the young, tender branches in the Church are doing this work, and His life is supporting them while they do it, the rich purple bunches covering them to His praise and glory.

5. The branches of a vine are dependent on the parent stem for their life. Cut one off and it will die. You cannot propagate them by cutting off a slip and planting it. The connection must be maintained. Sometimes a branch will grow by half cutting it and then planting it, and after a while it will sprout and can then be severed from the stem. The meaning is very plain, beloved. A Christian separated from Christ dies. He hath told us, "Apart from Me ye can do nothing." We must keep up this vital union with Him. He is the vine and we are the branches.

6. A vine runs to leaves if it is let alone, and is of no value. So Christian life, if uncultivated and unpruned, becomes vain, conceited and showy. Knowledge puffeth up unless God holds us back. The chief work the gardener has with the vine is to train and prune it. It has seemed to me sometimes as I have looked at him that he would mutilate and hack it all to pieces. The poor vine was stripped almost bare, and the trellis seemed naked. But he knew what he was about. He left leafage enough for the fruit. Dear friends, God would not have you grow luxuriantly. It is necessary to keep you down. That is why He has the knife in hand so much. One of the greatest lessons we have to learn in life is to know our own worthlessness. It is no loss to us to have a constant knowledge of this.

There should be nothing but a deep disappointment at the self within us, and a consciousness, which should not be discouraging, of our own nothingness. Moses had to fail in his work before he could succeed in it. Joseph was kept down many years before he was able to do God's work. His self-life had to perish in the dungeon before he could come to the throne. God kept Moses for forty years in the wilderness before he could get the Moses out of him. And so it has been all the way down to Simon Peter and you. The Lord has been cutting off the luxuriant self-growth before the vine could bear rich fruit.

7. The fruit of the vine is typical of Christian life. Wine in the Bible represents the glad, full life of God, and so it is the type of the higher, richer and more joyous things of Christian life. Christ would have every one of us full of the red wine of the kingdom. There must be some taste in our Christian life. He would have us have more joy and spring and gladness, more fresh, exhilarating life. It was not only life, but life more abundantly, that He came to bring.

8. The fruit of the vine is always found in clusters. You never find one grape ripening alone. These beautiful clusters picture forth Christian fellowship. Jesus saves people together, in clusters, you might say. There are not one or two, here and there, but there are great vines of them. Christians should not only be joined to Christ, but united to each other, and so grow up into a holy temple in the Lord.

II.

What is the spiritual teaching of this whole parable? I think we may learn three simple and beautiful lessons from it: The necessity of union with Jesus Christ, the necessity of abiding in union with Him, and the glorious results of so abiding. It is a simple alphabet of Christian faith. There is no art about it, therefore it takes no art to learn it. There is not a great machinery of thousands of wheels to watch, but one central point only to look after, and the rest is God's work. Keep track of that one important point and all the belts and wheels will do their work perfectly. There is one simple thing only to learn in our blessed religion. The religion of Confucius was so cumbrous that it takes an intelligent Chinaman twenty years to learn it. Brahminism and Buddhism are just the same.

The details of Masonry, which some people pretend to think a religion, are endless. It is almost the same with Judaism. There are not only the ten great commandments, but there are numerous directions and subordinate laws to be learned. How different is the religion of Jesus Christ. It has reduced the decalogue from ten to two commandments, which are kept by having a heart full of love to God and our neighbor. So faith means just abiding in Christ. We have not to watch this or that spirit within us, we have not to be always doing this or that work for Him. There is no drudgery about it. We are responsible for being in Him and abiding in Him. It is profoundly simple, it is capable of being understood by the simplest child. By thus abiding in Him we abide in love and fellowship with all His children, because they with us are dearly loved by our common, infinite Friend.

We must begin this life by being established in right relations to Him:

1. Our union with Christ is the beginning, and this must be consummated at a definite point. Is He yours, and are you His? There are two sides to it. We must know of both being true for us. "Abide in me, and I in you," is His command. It is not, Are you with Christ and is Christ with you? The meaning is different altogether. Are we in Him? is He in us? How can we be in Christ? We can understand it better, perhaps, by a few illustrations from human affairs. We have an ambassador who represents our country at the Austrian court. In some sense we are in him, for we are represented by him. We have a legislator at Congress; in the same sense we are in him. If he declares war, the nation declares war. If he passes a statute, we pass a statute, for he is representing us. A father acts for his family, for he is their representative. When Adam fell we all fell. He represented us and we were in him. "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." That is, all who were in Adam died, so all who are in Christ shall be made alive.

Adam was the federal head of the human race, and in him all die. Christ is the federal head of the new creation, and in Him all are made alive. If we are in Him, He acts for us. We are offered freely whatever belongs to Him. He stands with outstretched hands calling us to Him, and as many as receive Him, to them gives He power to become the sons of God. He stands, then, ever for them. It is a glorious place. All that Christ does is the same as if you do it. He passes over to us all the consequences of His great work. He kept the law without failure, and He passes that over to you. He redeemed man on the cross, and He passes that over to you. You died on the cross in Him. He passes, up into heaven, and as we acted in Him, He carried us along with Him. How close the relationship.

John carries it a little further when he says: "As He is, so are we in the world." In Christ shall all this be fulfilled. Now see what follows from this: If you come to God in prayer, how do you come in your own name? The best individual who comes in that way must come only in the character man gives him. He can come only in his own name and worthiness. But if you go in Christ's name, you are at once received as Christ would be received. Your petition is not, "Father, I want this; give it to me and I will become worthy of it." Oh, no! It is, "Father, Christ wants this; Christ bought this; He is worthy of it and I am in Him." That is what it means to be in Christ. We are standing in His standing. We go in His character and claim whatever belongs to Him. It brings us up to high, exalted places. It puts us on the throne with Him and allows us to reign with Him. It is a glorious privilege.

There is another side to this thought also. We are not only in Christ, but Christ is in us. He brings into our life and experience all that there is in Himself. He not only takes us up where He is, but He comes down where we are and dwells in us as an actual personality. It would fill us with awe if we understood it. It is just as if we could see the Son of God walk into this house this morning and stand here with His robes of dazzling whiteness and eyes like a flame of fire. It is as real a Christ who comes to live in us as any person is real who comes and makes his abode with us. The Lord Jesus does indeed come to dwell in His people. This is not a beautiful figure of speech, but it is a real visitation of God. I wonder if we know what this means. Does it seem an awful thing to have God visit us? My idea of it used to be that it would kill a person. It would be more than he could stand. And yet it is represented in God's Word as an actual visitation.

Christ is not to be an outside influence which moves on our emotions and feelings and elevates us into a sublime idea of God, but the real presence of Christ has come within us to remain, and He brings with Him all His resources of help and love and mighty power. Do you understand what this means, dear friends? If you do, it seems to me you must feel like falling before Him in adoring wonder for His goodness. If you have God within you, how it should make you walk in holy reverence always, for you carry within your breast a jewel of infinite value. I go back in memory this morning to the time when He first came to me in this way and taught me to trust His presence, and lean in prayer upon Him every moment. I came to realize it quietly, for there was nothing startling about it. Day after day the consciousness, became clearer that God was here. I did not have to mount up to the sky to find Him. I never whispered to Him but He answered, "Here am I." Oh, how precious it is to be overshadowed thus by the cloud of His presence.

Do we know that the mighty God is walking in the midst of us this morning? The Bible has always held out two great promises respecting Him. First I will come to you, and second, I will come into you. For four thousand years the world looked forward to the fulfillment of the first. The other is the secret which Paul said has been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to His saints, which is Christ in you the hope of glory. This is just as great a revelation of God as the incarnation of Jesus, for it makes you like Christ, and free from sin as He is. If Christ is in you, what will be the consequences? Why, He will put you aside entirely. The I in you will go. You will say, "Not I but Christ." Christ undertakes your battles for you. Christ becomes purity and grace and strength in you.

You do not try to attain unto these things, but you know you have obtained them in Him. It is glorious rest with the Master. Jesus does not say, Now we must bring forth fruit, we must pray much, we must do this or that. There is no constraint about it except that we must abide in Him. That is the centre of all joy and help. If the springs are full there will be no trouble about the delta down by the ocean, or the channel down in the valley.

2. There is great need to abide in this union with Christ. Many enter into it but do not stay, and their peace of course is interrupted and their experience unsatisfactory. They have received the first word and have come to Christ. They need the second word to abide in Him. We greatly need this fixed habit of staying where God places us. It is a word expressing choice, and is a word of trust. It means staying in God. When the dear Lord led me into this place I entered it without any feeling whatever, and simply trusted Him for everything, but after several months I found there was a great change in my feelings. Then I immediately turned round and trusted the change and became happy and buoyant because I was changed. It completely rooted up my faith.

I had taken up the little plant of trust from the soil God meant it to live in, and planted it in the hotbed of my own preparing, and of course it died. Ah! how many trust in their own feelings or their own altered circumstances. It is not abiding in Christ. Answers to prayer often prove a great snare to Christians, for they sometimes lead them to depend on their faith rather than on the simple word of God. God would have us know that word is as true now as it was six months ago, even if it does not seem so. He wants us to ask in simple dependence on His word, and claim its fulfillment, and then believe we have it. If the answers always came immediately we would soon begin to look on them very complacently, and they would not increase our real faith. Strong Christians are often hurled back into failure because they are not abiding in Christ, but in themselves. God says, "You are dependent on me now as at the beginning." When we have learned this lesson, then God can bless us.

There is many a sunny, happy life that is not a trusting life. The fig tree was not blessed because it was not abiding, though it had many beautiful leaves. When we come into this blessed place, then God can afford to give us blossoms and fruit too. A Christian who has been twenty-five years in the way is as weak as he was twenty-five years ago. He is good for nothing in stability of experience, if he does not understand the art of abiding in Christ. He is like a water pipe which held an inch of water when it was first laid, and still holds it today. It is filled and emptied, filled and emptied constantly.

The law of habit is one of the great natural channels of God's working. A thing that is repeated and repeated again and again, after a while comes to be natural. This will help us to learn the lesion of abiding. At first it will be a little difficult. We may sometimes forget and look back at self again, but after a little time the habit becomes fixed, and it is just as natural for us to take Christ for this or for that as it is to breathe. A drowning man is sometimes restored by pumping air into him a while till the spark of life in him catches the motion and establishes the habit of breathing again. So it should be with the habit of trusting for one thing after another. Salvation was settled long ago. Spiritual keeping perhaps is settled too. Then may come up particular temptations which cannot be settled in a general way. We must believe for them separately as they appear. And so before long the habit of trusting for them also will be established.

A dear friend came to me a while ago; I am sure you would not dream who she is, so sweet and earnest is her Christian life. But she told me a little of the trial she was having with her temper. She said "she had often been completely broken down for days through mortification at some sudden yielding to it." I gently encouraged her to take time to trust for it. The next time I met her she told me she had been kept almost entirely from giving way to it, and little by little the habit of trusting for it became so established that now it gives her no trouble whatever. Then she was ready to go on to something more. So little by little we can acquire the fixed habit of trusting for every need. You can trust God wholly for your body, and all its weakness. You can trust Him for money matters and business perplexities. You can trust Him about other people; you can trust Him about all the circumstances of life. Are you doing this, dear friends? Is this matter of trusting God really a habit with you?

It will take you a little time to get firmly rooted in it. You will not acquire it the first day you try it, nor the second day, but patiently persevere in it and you will get it. Learn, too, to bring very trifling things to Him. The habit of abiding is formed more by many little links than in any other way. Suppose our garments were made with only a few long stitches in them. It wouldn't be long before we should be dressed like New Zealanders. It is the little stitches that count. Many people take a big stitch in their Christian experience and then leave a space. They need a big thing occasionally because they come so seldom. They have to be lifted up again and again. God puts a pry under them once in a while and lifts them up, and they think they have had a wonderful experience. It is not wonderful at all. They have not learned to abide in Christ.

Before you leave this church today you may need to trust Him for a dozen things in going up the aisle. You will find twenty things you ought to lay over upon Him before night. You may hear things at the dinner table today for which you should trust Him. When Spurgeon was a young man he once stood with some friends on the platform of Crystal Palace, which was just then completed, and his friends wondered if his voice would fill the great hall. He stepped forward to try it, pausing just a moment to think what he should say when he did speak. It was not a verse of poetry, nor a quotation from some great author he gave, but he sent ringing through that vast building this simple verse from the Bible: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Then he left the verse with God.

Twenty-five years afterward he visited a dying man who told him that long ago he was working in Crystal Palace, and thinking about his soul, when suddenly, it seemed to him from heaven, a voice repeated a verse from Scripture, and he felt that God had spoken to him, and right then and there he gave his heart to Him. If we are really abiding in Christ everything we do will be blessed by Him. We may not know how, but God will take care of it.

3. What are the effects of thus abiding in Christ? We have not time this morning to speak at much length about them, but we will look at a few before we close.

We shall be kept from sin. "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."

We shall bring forth much fruit. The Spirit will bring the life of Christ constantly to us, and fruit must be borne, and that without effort, as the grapes come naturally in the vine when the sap distributes the life of the vine to every part.

We shall ask what we will, and it will be done for us. Our prayers will be Christ's prayers, and they cannot fail to be heard.

His love will abide in us. How precious to be living constantly in the love of God.

His joy will remain in us. Our life will be full of the rich, red wine of holy gladness. We shall be always victorious, always large-hearted, always like a garden full of sweetness, and our constant happiness will carry others along by the power of its very joyousness.

Our fruit shall remain. It will be permanent, laid up in heaven forever. Our life will he one continuous series of everlasting help to the hearts of men, and the record will be found in eternity upon the books of God, and perhaps upon the walls of our mansion there by-and-by.

This is all to be obtained by abiding in Him. We need to get way down into the heart of God, and stay there, then, like the river in Ezekiel's vision which ran down to the sea in the east, and down to the sea in the west, and sweetened the wild places wherever it went, so we shall carry a blessing wherever we go. Is it selfish to wish to be so used by God? Selfish! Why, it is for His glory. He wants you to have this power. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit." Rise up in victory this morning, dear friends, and take all this glory of Christ, and give it out to a starving world for Jesus' sake.

Chapter 6  

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