by Thomas Goodwin
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taken away: and every beareth branch that fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.—JOHN. 15:1, 2.
The sum and division of the words, and subject of this discourse.
A FAIR and fruitful parable this is, spread forth into many branches, in which, under the pleasant shadow of a vine, (upon occasion they had but newly been real partakers of his blood in the fruit of the vine,) Christ elegantly sets forth himself in his relation to his visible church, and the estate of his apostles, and in them of all visible professors to the end of the world; shewing withal, under that similitude, what his Father meant to do with Judas, now gone out to betray him, as with all other unfruitful branches like unto him; even 'cut them off, and throw them into the fire:' but, on the contrary, encouraging them, and all other fruitful branches, that they should still continue to abide in him, with promise that they should yet 'bring forth more fruit.'
The parable hath three parts:—
1. A vine here is, of all the fairest, ver. 1.
2. A husbandman, of all the carefulest.
3. The end of planting this vine, fruitfulness.
1. First, this vine, as all vines else, hath two sorts of branches:—
(1.) Such us, though green, bring forth no true fruit, nought but leaves.
(2.) Such as bring forth fruit, ver. 2.
2. The husbandman hath answerably offices of two sorts towards them both: αἴρειν, καθαίρειν, which is a witty paranomasia, amputare et putare, to lop and cut off. First, clean to cut off those that are utterly unfruitful, which thereupon are 'cast out, do wither, and are gathered and cast into the fire;' so ver. 2, 6. And thus now he meant to deal with Judas. But, secondly, to purge and but lop off the luxuriancies and too much runnings out of the fruitful branches into springs, which they are subject to.
3. Thirdly, his end in all is, that fruit, and more fruit, might be brought forth. This is his end of planting this vine, this is the end of purging these branches of it, which he being frustrated of in those other is the cause why he takes them clean away.
And to exhort these unto fruitfulness was one main end of Christ's using this parable, and unto this tends all in the following verses, either as means or motives unto fruitfulness.
First, as means—
(1.) He assures them of their being in the state of grace, ver. 3. Assurance is a means of fruitfulness.
(2.) He speaks of purging them by his word in the same verse, 'Ye are clean through the word I have spoken to you.' This is a means he further useth.
(3.) He inculcates into them the sense of their own inability 'to do any thing without him,' ver. 5.
(4.) Therefore to 'abide in him,' and suck from him, ver. 5.
(5.) And to let his 'word abide in them,' by which himself 'shall also abide in them,' and by which they may still be purged, and so be fruitful.
The motives are—
(1.) If not, they know their doom; to the fire with them, ver. 6.
(2.) If they do, their prayers shall be granted, ver. 7.
(3.) Hereby his Father is glorified, ver. 8.
(4.) They shall shew themselves his disciples, ver. 8.
(5.) They shall continue in his love, who loves them as dearly as his Father doth him, ver. 9, 10.
And so you have the sum of all this parable.
The principal subject I aim at in this scripture is this main case of conscience, which useth to be the exercise and inquisition of many good souls, How a Christian may discern his growth, both in purging out corruptions and increase of grace, and the fruits of it.
Therefore whatever other spreading fruitful observations grow upon this stock, and this vine affords many, we will but shortly, and as men in haste, view and take notice of, but as in our way to that other which I principally intend, and only so far stay upon the observation of them as the bare opening this similitude here used doth give sap and vigour to them.
First observation—How Christ is a vine, and only the true vine.
First, Christ, he is a vine. To explain this:—First, Adam indeed was a vine, planted in paradise, to bear all mankind upon, but he turned 'a wild one;' he proved not the true vine. God planted him (to allude to that, Jer. 2:21) 'a noble vine, a holy and right seed,' but he degenerated, and so have all engraffed on him, and so bring forth nothing but 'grapes of Sodom,' as Isaiah speaks.
But, secondly, God the Father having many branches of chosen ones, that grew by nature on this cursed stock of Adam, whom yet, as ver. 16, 'he had ordained to bring forth fruit,'—that is, to spring and spread forth in the earth in all ages, and then to be transplanted unto heaven, the paradise appointed for them, the earth being but the nursery of them for a while,—hence therefore he did appoint his own Son to be a new root, as into whom he meant to transplant them, and ordained him to be that bulk, and body, and chief branch, which they all should grow out of, who is therefore called 'the Root of David,' &c., Rev. 22:16, and that 'righteous Branch,' Jer. 23:5.
Whom, therefore, thirdly, he planted as a root here on earth with us, and clothed with a human nature, a weak and mean bark and body, and a rind and outside such as ours is, that so both root and branches might be of the same nature, and homogeneal. Which nature of ours in him he likewise 'filled with his Spirit,' as with juice and sap, 'without all measure,' that so he might fructify and grow into all those branches appointed to be in him, by communicating the same Spirit to them.
And, fourthly, although he was of himself the fairest cedar that ever the earth bare, yet in relation to those multitudes of branches he was to bear, chooseth to be a vine, which is of all trees the lowest, the weakest, and of the meanest bark and outside of any other; only, because of all others it is the plentifulest of branches, and runs out and spreads its bulk in branches, and those, of all branches else of any other trees, the fruitfulest, it is therefore called 'the fruitful vine,' Ps. 128:3. And for that reason only doth he single out this comparison as suiting with his scope, shewing therein his love; that as he condescended to the lowest condition for our salvation, so to the meanest resemblances for our instruction, yet so as withal he tells us that no vine nor all the vines on earth were worthy herein to be compared, nor to be so much as resemblances of him.
For he, and he alone, is the true vine; that is the second observation.
For take those choicest excellencies in a vine, for which the comparison here is made, as, more particularly, that of fruitfulness either in boughs or fruit, and it is bat a shadow of that which is in him. As God only is I am that I am, and all thing else have but the shadow of being, in Christ alone hath only all the excellencies in him in the true real nature of all things to which he is compared. So in like manner he is said to be 'bread indeed,' John 6:55, and, ver. 32, 'the true bread from heaven.' Manna, and all other meat, and all that sweetness which is in meat, is and was but a shadow to that which he affords. He excels and exceeds all things he is compared to in what they have, and they are but shadows to him, Heb. 10:1.
First, therefore, never any vine so fruitful. 'All our fruit is, found in him,' Hos. 12:8. 'If you abide in me, you shall bring forth much fruit.' He hath juice to supply yon with every grace, to 'fill you with all the fruits of righteousness;' which if the branches want, it is for want of faith in themselves to draw from him, not want of sap in him.
Secondly, This he is at all times, hath been in all ages, thus flourishing; this root never withers, is never dry or empty of sap; it is never winter with Christ. 'Every branch,' saith the 2d verse,—that is, every one that hath borne fruit in any age,—beareth all its fruit 'in him;' branches in him fear no drought, Jer. 17:8.
Thirdly, For largeness of spreading, no such vine as this. He, as the Psalmist says, Ps. 80:11, 12, 'sends out his boughs unto the sea, and his branches to the rivers;' all the earth is, or hath been, or shall be, filled with them.
Use—Is to persuade us to take Christ alone, and make him our all in all, because in him all excellencies are supereminently found. All creatures are not enough to serve for comparisons to set him forth, and when they do in part, for some particular thing that is the excellentest in them, yet therein they are but shadows, Heb. 10:1. He only is the truth, he is 'the true light,' John 1:9, The Baptist, Moses, and all lights else were but as twilight, but a shadow. So he is 'the true bread,' 'the true vine;' he hath really the sweetness, the comfort, the excellencies of them all. The like may be said of all those relations he hath taken on him; so he only is a true father and husband, &c., and the love and sweetness in all other fathers and husbands are but a shadow to what is in him.
Second observation—How the Father is the husbandman.
As Christ is thus a vine, so his Father is the husbandman, and as strange a husbandman as Christ a vine. For—
First, He is the very root of the vine itself, which no husbandman is to any vine; therefore he that is the vine calls the husbandman his Father, 'My Father is the husbandman.' This vine springs out of his bosom by eternal generation, for this is the derivation of our offspring, chap. 14:20, 'I am in my Father, and you in me.' And, chap. 5:26, 'The Father, he hath life' original 'in himself, and gives it to the Son,' and the Son to us, and thence spring living fruits, the fruits of righteousness.
Secondly, He is the engraffer and implanter of all the branches into this vine. Isa. 60:21, he calls them 'his righteous people, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands.' Other husbandmen do but expect what branches their vines will of themselves bring forth, but God appoints who, and how many shall be the branches, and gives them unto, and engraffs them into his Son.
Thirdly, He appoints what fruit and what store of fruit those branches shall bring forth, and accordingly gives the increase, which other husbandmen cannot do: 'Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but God only gives the increase,' 1 Cor. 3:6. Though Christ merited, yet the Father decreed every man's measure of fruitfulness.
Fourthly, He is the most diligent husbandman that ever was, for he knows, and daily views, and takes notice of every branch, and of all their fruit; for, says the text, 'Every branch that brings not forth fruit, he takes away,' &c., therefore knows who beareth fruit, and who doth not. He knows their persons, who are his, and who are not, 2 Tim. 2:19; not so munch as one man could come in 'without a wedding garment,' but he spies him out.
Fifthly, The most careful he is daily to purge his vine; so says the 2d verse. And of all possessions, saith Cato, nulla possessio majorem operam requirit; vineyards need as much care, and more, than any other. The corn, when it is sown, comes up, and grows alone, and ripeneth, and comes to perfection, the husbandman sleeping and waking, he knows not how, saith Christ; but vines must be dressed, supported, sheltered, pruned, well-nigh every day.
And of all trees God hath most care of his vines, and regards them more than all the rest in the world.
Use 1—Is to honour the Father in all the works tending to our salvation, as much as we honour the Son. If Christ be the vine, his Father means to be the husbandman; and indeed it may teach us to honour all the three Persons in every work that is saving, for in all they bear a distinct office; the Father hath not only a hand in election, but also in sanctification, concerning which this parable was made. If Christ be the root that affords us sap, whence all fruit buds, the Father is the husbandman that watereth the vine, gives the increase, purgeth the branches, and is the root of that life which Christ affords to us; and then the Spirit also comes in to have a work and influence herein also: for he is the sap, though not here mentioned, yet which is implied, which lies hid in this parable of the vine, and appears in all the fruits that are brought forth, therefore called, Gal. 5, 'fruits of the Spirit.' None of the three Persons will be left out in any relation, or in any work, that is for our salvation. That ever three so great Persons should have a joint care of our salvation and sanctification, and we ourselves neglect it! That they should be so careful, we so negligent and unfruitful! If they do all so much for us, what should not we endeavour to do for ourselves!
Use 2.—Be careful of your words, thoughts, ways, affections, desires, all which are the fruits of your souls; for God takes notices of all, he walks in this his garden every day, and spies out how many raw, unripe, indigested performances, as prayers, &c., hang on such or such a branch, what gum of pride, what leaves, what luxuriant sprigs, what are rotten boughs and which are sound, and goes up and down with his pruning-knife in he hand, and cuts and slashes whore he sees things amiss; he turns up all your leaves, sees what fruit is under, and deals with men accordingly.
Use 3.—When the church is in any distress or misery, go to him that is the husbandman; such is the usual condition of this his vine, spread over the face of the earth. Complain as they, Ps. 80:12, 'Why hast thou broken down her hedges, so as all they which pass by do pluck her? the boar out of the wood doth waste it.' Complain to him that the hogs are in his vineyard, and do much havoc and spoil therein; and tell him that he is the husbandman who should take care for it. So they go on to pray, 'Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from Heaven, behold and visit this vine, and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted,' ver. 14, 15.
Third observation—Two sorts of branches in this vine, fruitful and unfruitful: and the difference between temporary and true believers, as they are laid down in the text.
We see this vine hath branches of two sorts, fruitful and unfruitful, which is the third thing to be observed.
And herein our Saviour followeth the similitude; for experience shews the like in vines. And writers of vines observe it, and accordingly distinguish the branches of vines into pampinarios, which bring forth bought but leaves, and fructuarios, which bring forth fruit.
The unfruitful, they are such as make profession of being in Christ to themselves and others, and receive some greenness from him, but no true fruit. For their profession they are branches; for their emptiness, unfruitful ones.
Quest.—The only question is, How such as prove unfruitful are said to be branches, and to be in Christ; 'Every branch in me,' &c.
Ans. 1.—Many comparisons there are of Christ, as he stands in various relations to his church; whereof some serve to express one thing concerning him, some another. That of a vine here presents him only as he was to spread himself into a visible church on earth, in the profession of him; and so considered, he may have many branches that are unfruitful. That other, of 'a head over all the family in heaven and earth,' imports his relation only to that invisible company of his church mystical, which together make up that general assembly spoken of in Heb. 12, which are his fulness, Eph. 1:23. And agreeable to this meaning—in comparing himself to a vine, in this large and common relation of a root to both sorts of professors, true and false—is that other expression also, whereby he sets forth his Father's office, when he calls him, not ἀμπέλουργος, a vine-dresser, or a tiller of a vineyard, in a strict sense, as Luke 13:7, but γεωργός, as it were at large, the husbandman. As thereby denoting out, not simply and alone that peculiar care that he hath to true believers only, that are branches of this vine, though including it, but withal importing that common care and providence which he bears to others of his creatures; and this because some of these branches of this vine are to him but as others out of the church, and of no more reckoning with him. The Father's relation herein answering to, and in a proportion running parallel along with, that which Christ bears towards them: those that Christ is head unto, those he is a rather unto; those whom Christ is but as a vine unto, he is but γεωργός, a husbandman unto, whose office is seen as well in cutting off such branches, as in pruning and dressing of those other.
Ans. 2.—These unfruitful ones are not, in Christ's account, reckoned as true branches here; for, in the 5th verse, he calls those disciples of his that were there and then present with him, (when now Judas was gone forth before, as appears chap. 13:30,) them only, the branches; and therefore repeats it there again, 'I am the vine,' with this addition, 'ye are the branches.' Implying hereby, that as he is the true vine, so that these only were the true branches. The other he calls but ὡς κλῆμα, as a branch, ver. 6, 'He is cast forth as a branch,' giving them the name of branches, thereby the better to express his Father's dealing with such, that as they that are dressers of a vineyard use to do with such branches, so my Father with them; but they themselves are but tanquams, quasi palmites, as branches—not really and in truth such.
Ans. 3.—That expression which seems most to make for it is that in the 2d verse, when he says, 'Every branch in me that beareth not fruit;' but those words in me may as well, yea rather, be understood to have reference to 'their not bringing forth fruit in him,' than to their being properly branches in him: so as the meaning should be, they are 'branches that bring not forth fruit in me.' Though they do some good, yet it is not fruit; if so, not in me, though from me, and from my assistance. And so his meaning is not so much to declare that they are branches in him, as that they bring not forth fruit in him, which indeed is one of the characteristical differences between true and unsound branches, and one main scope of the parable; and this the Syriac translation makes for also, and confirms it: Omnem palmitem qui in me non fert fructum,—'Every branch which in me bringeth not forth fruit.' And there is this reason that this should be his meaning, that he never reckoned them at all true branches; because that is the difference God puts between these and those other, that 'those that bring forth fruit his Father purgeth, that they may bring forth more fruit.' He lets them not run so far out into sin as to become altogether unfruitful; but these 'he takes away:' so as true branches were never unfruitful.
Use.—The use is to stir up all that profess themselves to be in Christ to examine whether they be true genuine branches of this true vine or no. Here in this kingdom, Christ is spread forth into a fair and pleasant vine in show, as this earth affords. But if we ministers were able, with this husbandman here, to turn up the leaves of formal profession, and look with his eyes, we should discern that there are but a few true branches indeed to be found in flourishing congregations, as Isaiah foretold there should be in Israel: chap. 17:6, 'Like the gleaning grapes, two or three in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outmost fruitful branches.'
Now for a general help to discern whether you be true branches, consider, that union with Christ is it that makes men branches; that is, men are accounted branches of Christ in regard of some union with him: and such as their union is, such also is their communion with him, and accordingly such branches are they, and such their fruit.
1. Some, and indeed the most, are united to him but by the external tie of the outward ordinances, such as their obligation made in baptism; and are knit to him thereby, no otherwise than many graffs are, that do not take or thrive in their stocks, only stand there as bound about by a thread. And suitable is their communion with him, even wholly external; they continuing to partake of the outward ordinances, but without any sap or inward influence derived, without any inward work of the Spirit, or stirring of affection. And answerable also is their fruit, when no other are found on them but such as you shall find grow in the waste of the wilderness among heathens, which ingenuity, and modesty, and natural honesty, and natural conscience do bring forth; but not any such as an inward sap from Christ useth to produce. Civil men are not true branches; for look on Christ, the root, and see what fruits abounded in him moat, as fruits of holiness did; and therefore if such were true branches, the same would abound in them likewise, for every tree brings forth according to its kind.
2. You have some, they living in the church, Christ begins to shoot some sap of his Spirit into their hearts, quickening them with many good motions, and stirring up some juiciness of affections in the administration of the word and sacraments, which causes them to bud forth into good inward purposes and outward good beginnings; but this being not the communication of the Spirit, as sanctifying and changing the branch into the same nature with the root, therefore it comes to pass they are still nipped in the bud, as the stony ground was, and the sap stricken in again, like rath ripe fruit, which looking forth upon a February sun, are nipped again with an April frost. Many, when young, and their affections are green and tender, are wrought upon, and bud, but the scoffs of men nip them, and their lusts draw the sap another way, as hopes of preferment, and the pleasures of sin, and so these buds wither and fall off, and the Spirit withdraws himself wholly in the root again. Again—
3. Some there are, as the thorny ground, in whom this inward sap communicated to them, though not spiritually changing and renewing them, yet being communicated in a further degree, abides in them longer, shoots up farther, and these prove exceeding green branches, and are owned for true, even by the people of God themselves, as Judas was by the apostles, and therefore are outwardly like unto them; for how else are they said to 'be cast out?' ver. 16, who therefore had once some fruit to commend them, for which they were accounted of by the people of God, and received amongst them, 'who judge of trees by the fruit.' Neither are their fruits merely outward, like Solomon's 'apples of gold, in pictures of silver,' merely painted; but they have a sap that puts a greenness into what they do, and by reason of which they bear and bring forth; for how else are they said 'to wither' also? ver. 6, which is a decay of inward moisture and outward greenness. And these also have some kind of union with Christ as with a Lord, 2 Pet. 2:1, he 'ascending to bestow gifts, even upon the rebellious also,' Ps. 68:18, so far to enable them to do him some service in his vineyard. They are not united unto Christ as unto an Head; neither is it 'the spirit of adoption' which they do receive from him. And such a branch was Judas, who was not only owned by the disciples, who knew him not to be false, but who surely at the first had inward sap of gifts derived from Christ, to fit him for the ministry, he being sent out as an apostle to preach; whom therefore Christ here aimed at in this place.
Now for a more particular differencing of these branches and their fruits, it is not my scope to engraff a large commonplace head of all the differences between temporaries and true believers upon this stock; this root is not big enough to bear them, those differences being many. Only I will explain those differences which the text affords, because they are in our way, and will further open the words.
Difference 1.—That which they do bring forth is not true fruit; the Holy Ghost vouchsafeth it not that name; they are said here not to bring forth fruit. That speech in Hos. 10:1 will give clear light to understand this, with the ground of it also; Israel is there called 'an empty vine, which brings forth fruit to herself.' It implies a seeming contradiction that it should be called an empty vine, and yet withal to bring forth any fruit. And these bring forth, not leaves, good words only, but good works, good actions, and those green; and therefore, Jude 12, their fruit is said to wither, as themselves are said to wither here, ver. 6. And as there Israel is said to be an empty vine, though it hath fruit, so here these are said 'not to bring forth fruit' at all. Now the meaning of both is one and the same; for a thing is said to be empty when it wants that which is proper to it, and ought to be in it, as wells are called empty when they are not full of water, they are full of air: for non datur vacuum. So they are called an empty vine, and these branches to have no fruit, because not such as ought to grow upon them, such as is proper to the root they seem to grow upon. Therefore, in Heb. 6:7, that epithet is added, 'meet herbs,' or fruit,—that is, such as should grow there. So Luke 3:8, they are to 'bring forth fruit worthy amendment of life,' or else they were to be cut down,—that is, such as became true repentants, as were answerable, suitable thereunto: as we say a man carries himself worthy of his place, when answerably to what is required of him in it. That place forecited out of Hosea further acquaints us with the true ground why their fruits, though green, which, chap. 6:4, is called goodness also, yet were not to be accounted meet fruit, and so not fruit at all; even because of this, that it brought forth all its fruit, whether good or bad, to itself,—that is, those ends that did draw up the sap, and did put it forth in fruit, were drawn but from themselves, they bring them not forth principally to God, and for him. All their prayers, all their affections in holy duties, if they examine the reason of them all, the ends that run in them all, and whence all the motives that do actuate all they do in these, they will find they are taken from themselves. And though the assistance wherewith they are enabled to do what they do is more than their own, yet their ends are no higher than themselves, and so they employ but that assistance God gives them wholly for themselves. Now the end for which a true branch brings forth fruit is, that God might be glorified. Thus, Rom. 7:4, when 'married to Christ,' they are said to 'bring forth fruit to God;' which is spoken in opposition to bringing forth fruit to a man's self. Thus also Christ here useth this as the great and main motive to fruitfulness in ver. 8, 'Hereby is my Father glorified, that you bring forth much fruit.' Now whom will this move? into whose affections will such an argument draw up sap and quicken them? None but those hearts who do make God's glory their utmost end; and so all true branches do, or else this motive should have been used by Christ in vain unto them. And as this end makes their performances to be fruit, so this being wanting, all that is brought forth deserves not the name of fruit, for it is not fruit worthy, as the Baptist says, not meet fruit for the dresser to receive, as was noted out of the Hebrews, not such as ought to grow on that tree. They should be 'trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified,' Isa. 61:3. Again, not fruit meet or suitable for the root it seems to grow upon,—that is, such as Christ did bring forth, for he did all that his Father might be glorified; and therefore, says he, exhorting them to fruitfulness, ver. 8 of this chapter, 'If you do likewise, ye shall be my disciples.' Again, otherwise it is not such as is meet for the husbandman's taste and relish, it being equal that 'he that planteth a vineyard should eat of the fruit of it,' 1 Cor. 9:7. And in fruit, you know, above till we regard the taste, and esteem the relish of it. Eve first considered the 'fruit was good for food,' then 'pleasant to the eye,' Gen. 3. It is not the sap that is in fruit only makes it acceptable; crabs are as full of sap as apples. Nor is it the greenness, or colour, or bigness, but the relish that is the chiefest excellency in it, though those other, when joined with a good relish, do make it more desirable. So though thy performances be full of life and affection, and green, and long, and many, yet if they relish and taste of none but self-ends, God regards them not, they are not ad gustum suum; it is the end that gives the relish, and makes them fruits, and acceptable to God.
Difference 2.—The second difference this text holds forth is, that they bring not forth their fruit in Christ; for so the Syriac translation reads it, as making the sense to be that 'they bring not forth fruit in me:' and so this particle in me referreth not so much to their being branches in him as to not bearing their fruit in him. Which indeed seems to have been Christ's meaning, for his scope in this parable is to shew how that he is the root of sanctification; and how not the habitual power only, but every act of grace, and the performance, comes from him: 'Without me ye can do nothing,' ver. 5. And thereupon he exhorts his disciples to fetch all from him, and to 'abide in him;' and therefore, also, when he speaks of these unfruitful branches at ver. 6, that which here he calls 'bearing not fruit in me,' he expresses there by 'not abiding in me,' as the cause of their not bringing forth fruit in him. Yea, and the principal scope of that phrase, 'Abide in me,' is, (as evidently appears by ver. 4, 5,) to depend upon him for bringing forth of fruit, and to fetch strength from him by faith. There is therefore this essential defect in the work that is upon such, that they do not do all in that dependence upon Christ, such a dependence as a branch hath upon the root in bringing forth its fruit. For, my brethren, this you must know, that as it is essential to evangelical sanctification to do all for another, as your end, namely, to God; so to do all in the strength of another as your sole assistant, namely, Christ, who works all in you, and 'through whoso strength,' saith Paul, 'I am able to do all things,' and nothing without it. 'The life we lead is by faith,' and it is 'not I, but Christ who lives in me.' Therefore we find both these joined, Phil. 1:11, 'The fruits of righteousness by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.' The latter, to the glory of God, is mentioned as the final cause; the other, by Jesus Christ, as the efficient cause. Both these are necessary unto true sanctification. For as we are to honour the husbandman by making him our end, so also the root, by doing all in him and from him. Now temporary believers, as they do all principally for themselves, so also all as from themselves; and as they do not make God their end, so nor Christ their root. And so some expound that phrase in the parable of the stony ground, Luke 8:13, when it is said they 'have no root,' (though I think he means also inherent habit of grace infused, for it is added, 'no root in themselves,' which Job calls the root of the matter which was in him,) it is because they fetch not their strength to do all they do from Christ by faith, and from their union with him. And the reason is this, because they are never emptied of themselves, which is the root we all do grow upon, either in regard of their own ends or of their own efficiency of working. Whereas we must all be brought to nothing in ourselves, both in regard of self-aims and also abilities of working; and till our hearts are inwardly taught that lesson, that 'we are not sufficient as of ourselves,' we will not go out of ourselves to do all in Christ; and therefore there was nothing which Christ endeavoured more to engraff upon their hearts than this principle, now at his departure, as it is ver. 4, 5. And indeed it is as hard a thing for nature to live out of itself and fetch all from another, as not to live to itself but to another. We are full of our own strength as well as of our own ends. And although these unfruitful branches they do indeed receive all their strength from Christ, and so all they do in what is good is from him; yet they do not honour Christ in receiving it by doing all as in his strength, and so do not do it as in him. But though they receive all, yet they work with it as if it were their own stock, and so 'glory,' as the apostle says, 'as if they had not received it.' And thus though the sap and liveliness which stirs them is really and all efficiently from Christ, yet they may be said to bring forth fruit in themselves, because both they neither fetch nor receive it by faith, nor act by faith that strength received, as men that were acted by Christ, and as working all in Christ; but they do all as if all proceeded from their own root. Even as the ivy, though it clasping about the oak receives much sap from it, which it digesteth and turneth into itself, yet it brings forth all its berries by virtue of its own root, rather than as in the oak, which yet sustain and supplies it with juice and sap. Whereas a true believer bring forth fruit in Christ, as a branch that is in and of the oak itself, as its own root, and so 'from him all their fruit is found,' Hos. 14:8. He fetcheth his assistance from him; whereas the inward assistance of another unsound branch is strengthened and supported by pride, and self-sufficiency of gifts and parts, and not derived by faith, and maintained by confidence in Christ's strength to act all in them. So that, as it is said of the Corinthians, that they 'reigned, but without us,' says Paul; so I may say, temporaries perform duties, and pray, but as without Christ. But all true believers are emptied first of their own strength and ability, and so walk as those who can 'do nothing without Christ,' as those who are not able to love, believe one moment more without him. So Phil. 4:13, 'I am able to do all things,' but 'through Christ that strengtheneth me.' And this they lay for a principle in their hearts which they walk by, which therefore Christ presseth upon his disciples here, as the main requisite and fundamental principle evangelical sanctification, 'Without me ye can do nothing.' And therefore such a one is sensible of that cursed self-sufficiency in him, and humbleth himself, checks himself for it, as for as great and foul a sin as any other; and humbleth himself not only for the want of what life and stirring, &c., should have been in the duty fallen short of in performing it, but also for that he sanctified not Christ in the strength he received to do it with. But another doth not so; if he finds strength, and power, and vigour to perform, and quickness in the performance, he looks no farther. That poor man in the gospel, as he acknowledged his want of faith, that he had much unbelief in him, so he goes out to Christ for the supply, 'Lord, help my unbelief,' for he knew that it was he was to be the worker of every degree of faith in him. And again, a true believer being thus sensible of his own inability, doth, when he is anything assisted, attribute all to Christ when he hath done; and honours him as the author of it in himself; confesseth in his heart, between Christ and himself, that it was not he, but Christ that strengthened him. 'It is not I,' says the Apostle, 'but the grace of God in me, though I have laboured more than they all.' But another, though he receives all, yet not being emptied of himself, 'boasteth as if he had not received it.' As the Pharisee, though he thanked God in words, yet in his heart attributed all to himself. Such a one is the more full and lift up when he hath done, but the true branch more empty and humble. A true believer glories not of himself as in himself, but only as he is 'a man in Christ;' and that as a man in Christ, he did thus or thus: as Paul did, and no otherwise. So, 2 Cor. 12:2, 'I knew a man in Christ,' &c. 'Of such a man I will glory, but of myself I will not glory.' And yet it was himself he spake of, but yet not in himself as of himself, but as he was in Christ.
Quest.—And if it be asked, Whether in every act a Christian doth thus?—
Ans.—I answer, it is in this as in that other parallel to this, the making God a man's end. Now, as it doth not require that in every action a man should actually think of that his end, whilst yet habitually he makes it his aim;—as a man in his journey doth not think of the place he goes to in every step he takes, yet so habitually hath it in his thoughts as he keeps in the way to it;—parallel to this is it in doing all in Christ: it cannot be supposed that in every act a man hath such a distinct thought of recourse to Christ; but at the beginning and entrance of greater actions, he still hath such actings and exercise of faith; and also often in the progress he reneweth them; and in the conclusion, when he hath performed them, he doth sanctify Christ in his heart, by ascribing the praise of all unto him.
Quest.—If, in the second place, the question be, Whether every true believer doth from his first conversion thus distinctly and knowingly to himself fetch thus all power from Christ, and do all in him?—
Ans. 1.—The answer is, that to all believers this principle of having recourse to Christ for acting their sanctification may haply not presently be so distinctly revealed as it hath been to some. This indeed is common and absolutely necessary to all believers, to constitute and make them such,—namely, that their faith should have recourse to Christ, and to take him for their salvation, in the large and general notion of it, as it enfolds all under it that is to be done to save them; and thus many more ignorant do, when yet they have not learned explicitly in every particular that concerneth their salvation, to have frequently a distinct recourse unto him. It is probable that these very disciples of Christ, who yet savingly believed, had not this particular principle of bringing forth all their fruit of holiness in Christ as their root, until this very time and sermon whereby Christ informed them in it, so clearly revealed to them, nor till then so clearly apprehended by them. For ignorant they were of, and negligent in having recourse to, Christ in many other particulars, and making use of him therein, which are of as much concernment as this. They had not so distinctly and explicitly, as would seem, put their prayers up in Christ's name: 'Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name,' John 16:24. Neither had they so frequently exercised faith on Christ in all things as they had upon God. Therefore, John 14:1, he calls upon them, 'Ye believe in God, believe also in me.'
Ans. 2.—Many sorts of principles believers' hearts may secretly have been taught, which also habitually they practise, and yet they may be exceeding hidden and latent in them in respect of their own discerning them; as was the case also of these disciples. John 14:4, says Christ, 'The way,' namely, to heaven, 'ye know;' and yet, ver. 5, Thomas says, 'How can we know the way?' and then, ver. 7, Christ says of them again, that 'they knew him and the Father;' and yet, ver. 8, Philip again saith to him, 'Lord, shew us the Father,' speaking as if they were ignorant of him, for Christ rebukes him, ver. 9, and tells him he had 'both seen him and his Father.' Those principles of atheism and unbelief,—as those sayings in the heart, that there is no God, &c.,—of which the Scriptures speak so much, they are the principles that act and work all in men that are wicked and carnal, and are the encourages and counsellors to all the sins committed by them; and yet they are least of all discerned by them of all other corruptions, for they are seldom or never drawn forth into distinct propositions, or actually thought upon, but do lie as common principles taken for granted, and so do guide men in their ways. And thus it is, and may be long, with some of the contrary principles of faith; they may act all secretly in the heart, and yet not be discerned, until called forth by the ministry of the word, or some distinct information, when it comes more distinctly to clear such a practice to them.
Ans. 3.—Neither is union with Christ presently cleared up to all believers; I which, whilst it is darkly and doubtfully apprehended by them, Christ's communication of his grace and strength to them in every action remains doubtful also, and is not discerned by them. Of these disciples Christ says, John 14:20, 'That in that day'—namely, when they received the Comforter more fully, of the promise of whom he there speaks—'they should know that they were in him, and he in them.' But not so clearly was this as yet apprehended by them. And so likewise that intercourse betwixt Christ and them, both for grace and comfort, &c., was not so clearly discerned by them, though continually maintained by him in dispensing all grace and power to them.
Ans. 4.—And yet, in the meanwhile, take the lowest and poorest believer, and he doth these five things, which put together is really and interpretatively a bringing forth their fruit in Christ, though not in their apprehensions:—
(1.) In that their hearts are trained up in a continual sensibleness of their own insufficiency and inability for any good thought or word, as of themselves; for 'poverty of spirit,' to see their own nothingness in this respect, is the first evangelical grace, Matt. 5:3. And if the contrary would arise in them, to think, through habitual grace alone received, they were able of themselves to do good, it is checked soon, and confuted by their own experience, both of their own weakness, being sure to be left to themselves, as Peter was when confident in his own strength; as also by those various 'blowings of the Spirit' in them 'as he pleaseth,' with which, when their sails are filled, they are able to do anything, but when withdrawn they lay wind-bound, though all habits of grace be hoist up and ready, and not able to move of themselves. Now this principle of self-emptiness, habitually to live by it, no carnal heart in the world hath it, or doth live by it. And—
(2.) For this assistance they are trained likewise up, from the first, to have a continual dependence upon a power from above, without which they find they are able to do nothing, to come from God and from the Spirit of Christ, with a renunciation of themselves; which implicitly is the same with this immediate intercourse with Christ, and is really equivalent thereunto, though they hit not at first haply on the right explicit notion thereof, as having not been taught it by the ministry of the word, or other ways, in that distinct manner that others do. And yet in honouring the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them, they honour Christ, who sends that Spirit into their hearts, even as in 'honouring the Son' Christ says that 'we honour the Father also,' although our thoughts may sometimes more distinctly be exercised towards one of the three Persons more than to another.
(3.) And, thirdly, when they are once taught from the word that it is the duty of a Christian, and part of the life of faith, to live thus in Christ, and to bring forth all in him, and so come distinctly to apprehend this as requisite to a right bringing forth of fruit, then their hearts instantly do use to close with the truth of it, as being most suitable and agreeable to that holy frame of their own spirits, which are evangelically wrought to glorify Christ all manner of ways that shall be revealed. There is an instinct, a preparedness in their faith to make Christ their all in all, as any particular comes to be revealed to them, wherein they ought to exalt him in their hearts; and so this being once revealed to be one way whereby they are to honour him, if they have gone on before in a confidence on their own graces, 'henceforth they do so no more;' yea, they humble themselves as much for so robbing Christ of glory, or neglecting of him, in not having had that distinct recourse to him, as for any other sin. And—
(4.) Though haply after all this, yet still their union with him is not cleared to them, and so their communion with him herein, as must needs, doth still remain dark also. They therefore neither discern that they have any true communion with his person, nor can say how strength comes from him; yet having been thus taught to fetch all from him, as was formerly explained, they do, in a continual renunciation of their own strength, deny all offers of assistance from any other strength,—as, namely, that which their gifts and parts would make,—even as they deny unlawful lusts or by-end, and they still have their eyes upon Christ to work in them both the 'will and the deed;' and so by a faith of recumbency, or casting themselves on him for strength in all, such as they exercise towards him for justification, Gal. 2:16, 'they live by faith on the Son of God,' and have thereby such a kind of faith, a continual recourse unto him. Upon which acts of true faith being exercised by them towards him, he, as he is pleased to dispense it, moves them, and works and acts all in them, although still not so sensibly unto their apprehensions as that they should discern the connexion between the cause and the effect; nor can they hang them together, that is to say, know how or that this virtue doth come from Christ, because their union with him is as yet doubtful to them, and also because the power that worketh in believers is secret, and like that of the heavens upon our bodies, which is as strong as that of physic, &c., yet so sweet and so secretly insinuating itself with the principles of nature, that as for the conveyance of it, it is insensible, and hardly differenced from the other workings of the principles of nature in us: and therefore the Apostle prayeth for the Ephesians, 'that their eyes may be enlightened to see the power that wrought in them,' Eph. 1:18, 19. Yet so as—
(5.) Their souls walk all this while by these two principles firmly rooted in them, both that all good that is to be done must and doth come from Christ, and him alone; and that if any good be done by them, it is wrought by him alone, which do set their souls a-breathing after nothing more than to 'know Christ in the power of his resurrection.' And having walked thus in a self-emptiness and dependence upon Christ by way of a dark recumbency, when once their union with him comes to be cleared up unto them, they then acknowledge, as they, Isa. 26:12, that 'he alone hath wrought all their works in them;' that they are nothing, and have done nothing. And though before this revelation of Christ, as Christ said to Peter, 'What I do now thou knowest not, but thou shalt know,' so they knew not then that Christ had wrought all in them, yet then they know it; and when they do know and discern it, they acknowledge it with the greatest exaltation of him, they having reserved, even during all that former time of their emptiness, the glory for him alone, staying, as Joab did for David,* till Christ come more sensibly into their hearts, to set the crown of all upon his head.
This I thought good to add, to clear this point, lest any poor souls should be stumbled.
Fourth observation.—In the most fruitful branches there remain corruptions unpurged out.
The fourth doctrine is, That in the most fruitful branches there remain corruptions that still need purging out.
This is taken but as supposed in the test, and not so directly laid down, and I shall handle it but so far as it makes way for what doth follow. What shall I need to quote much Scripture for the proof of it? Turn but to your own hearts, the best will find proofs enough of it.
Reason 1.—That God might thereby the more set forth and clear unto us his justifying grace by Christ's righteousness, and clear the truth of it to all our hearts. When the Apostle, long after his first conversion, was in the midst of that great and famous battle, chronicled in that 7th of Romans, wherein he was led 'captive to a law,' and an army of sin within him, 'warring against the law of his mind,' presently upon that woful exclamation and outcry there mentioned, 'O miserable man that I am,' &c., he falls admiring the grace of justification through Christ,—they are his first words after the battle ended,—'Now,' says he, 'there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ.' Mark that word now; that now, after such bloody wounds and gashes, there should yet be no condemnation, this exceedingly exalts this grace; for if ever, thought he, I was in danger of condemnation, it was upon the rising and rebelling of these my corruptions, which, when they had carried me captive, I might well have expected the sentence of condemnation to have followed; but I find, says he, that God still pardons me, and accepts me as much as ever upon my returning to him, and therefore I do proclaim with wonder to all the world, that God's justifying grace in Christ is exceeding large and rich. And though there be many corruptions in those that are in Christ, yet there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, that walk after the Spirit, though flesh be in them. And this at once both clears our justification by Christ's righteousness alone, and also magnifies and extols it.
It clears it; therefore how doth this remaining of corruptions afford to our divines that great demonstration against the Papists, that we are not justified by works, nor are those works perfect, which they so impudently affirm against their own experience, even because corruption stains the best, and 'our best righteousness is but as a menstruous cloth.'
And as it clears it, so likewise it extols it; for bow is grace magnified, whenas not only all the sins and debts a man brought to Christ to pardon at first conversion are pardoned, but after many relapses of us, and provings bankrupt, we are yet still set up again by free grace with a new stock; and though we still run upon new scores every day, yet that these should still be paid, and there should be riches of love enough and stock enough, that is, merit enough to hold out to pardon us, though we remained in this mixed condition of sinning to eternity, this exceedingly advanceth the abounding of this grace.
Reason 2.—It serves exceedingly to illustrate the grace of perseverance, and the power of God therein; for unto the power of God is our perseverance wholly attributed. 1 Pet. 1:5, 'Ye are kept,' as with a garrison, as the word signifies, 'through the power of God unto salvation.' And were there not a great and an apparent danger of miscarrying, such a mighty guard needed not. There is nothing which puts us into any danger but our corruptions that still remain in us, which 'fight against the soul,' and endeavour to overcome and destroy us. Now, then, to be kept maugre all these, to have grace maintained, a spark of grace in the midst of a sea of corruption, how doth this honour the power of God in keeping us! As much in regard of this our dependency on him in such a condition, as he would otherwise be by our service, if it were perfect, and we wholly free from those corruptions. How will the grace of God under the gospel triumph over the grace given Adam in his innocency; when Adam having his heart full of inherent grace, and nothing inwardly in his nature to seduce him, and the temptation that he had being but a matter of curiosity, and the pleasing his wife, and yet he fell; whenas many poor souls under the state of grace, that have but mites of grace in comparison, and worlds of corruption, are yet kept not only from the unnecessary pleasures of sin in time of prosperity, but hold out against all the threats, all the cruelties of wicked persecutors in times of persecution, which threaten to debar them of all the present good they enjoy! And though God's people are foiled often, yet that there should still remain 'a seed within them,' 1 John 3:9, this illustrates the grace of Christ under the gospel. For one act in Adam expelled all grace out of him, when yet his heart was full of nothing else. Were our hearts filled with grace perfectly at first conversion, this power would not be seen. The angels are kept with much less care, and charge, and power than we, because they have no bias, no 'weight of sin,' as the Apostle speaks, hung upon them to draw them aside and press them down, as we have.
Reason 3.—Neither would the confusion of the devil in the end be so great, and the victory so glorious, if all sin at first conversion were expelled. For by this means the devil hath in his assaults against us the more advantages, fair play, as I may so speak, fair hopes of overcoming, having a great faction in us, as ready to sin as he is greedy to tempt; and yet God strongly carries on his own work begun, though slowly, and by degrees, backeth and maintains a small party of grace within us to his confusion. That as in God's outward government towards his church here on earth, he suffers a great party, and the greater still by far, to be against his church, and yet upholds it, and 'rules amongst the midst of his enemies,' Ps. 110:2, so doth he also in every particular believer's heart. When grace shall be in us but as a spark, and corruptions as much smoke and moisture damping it, grace but as a candle, and that in the socket, among huge and many winds, then 'to bring judgment forth to victory,' that is a victory indeed.
Reason 1.—Lastly, as God doth it to advance his own grace, and confound the devil, so for holy ends that concern the saints themselves; as—
(1.) To keep them from spiritual pride. He trusted the angels that fell with a full and complete stock of grace at first, and they, though raised up from nothing a few days before, fell into such an admiration of themselves that heaven could not hold them,—it was not a place good enough for them: 'They left,' the test says, 'their own habitation and first estate,' Jude 6. 'Pride was the condemnation of the devil,' 1 Tim. 3:6. But how much more would this have been an occasion of pride to a soul that was full of nothing but sin the other day, to be made perfect presently? Perfectly to justify us the first day by the righteousness of another, there is no danger in that, for it is a righteousness without us, and which we cannot so easily boast of vainly; for that faith that apprehends it empties us first of ourselves, and goes out to another for it. But sanctification being a work wrought in us, we are apt to dote on that, as too much upon excellency in ourselves. How much ado have poor believers to keep their hearts off from doting upon their own righteousness, and from poring on it, when it is, God wot, a very little! They must therefore have something within them to pull down their spirits, that when they look on their feathers they may look on their feet, which, Christ says, are still defiled, John 13:10.
(2.) However, if there were no such danger of spiritual pride upon so sudden a rise,—as indeed it befalls not infants, nor such souls as die as soon as regenerated, as that good thief,—yet, however, God thinks it meet to use it as a means to humble his people this way; even as God left the Canaanites in the land to vex the Israelites, and to humble them. And to have been throughly humbled for sin here will do the saints no hurt against they come to heaven; it will keep them nothing for ever, in their own eyes, even when they are filled brimful of grace and glory. For—
[1.] Nothing humbles so as sin. This made him cry out, 'O miserable man that I am! 'He that never flinched for outward crosses, never thought himself miserable for any of them, but 'gloried in them,' 2 Cor. 12:10, when he came to be 'led captive by sin' remaining in him, cries out, 'O miserable man!' And—
[2.] It is nut the sins of a fore-past unregenerate estate that will be enough to do this throughly; for they might be looked upon as past and gone, and some ways be an occasion of making the grace after conversion the more glorious. But present sense humbleth most kindly, most deeply, because it is fresh; and therefore says Paul, 'O miserable man that I am!' And again, we are not able to know the depth and height of corruptions at once, therefore we are to know it by degrees. And therefore it is still left in us, that after we have a spiritual eye given us, we might experimentally gauge it to the bottom, and be experimentally still humbled for sin. And experimental humbling is the most kindly, as pity out of experience is. And—
[3.] God would have us humbled by seeing our dependence upon him for inherent grace. And how soon are we apt to forget we have received it, and that in our natures no good dwells! We would not remember that out nature were a step-mother to grace, and a natural mother to lusts, but that we see weeds still grow naturally of themselves. And—
[4.] God would have us not only humbled by such our dependence on him, but by a sense of our continual obnoxiousness to him, and of being in his lurch; and therefore leaves corruption still, that we might ever acknowledge that our necks do even lie on the block, and that he may chop them off; and to sec that 'in him we' should not only 'live and move' as creatures, but further, that by him we might justly be destroyed every moment, this humbles the creature indeed, Ezek. 36:31, 32.
(3.) As thus to humble them, so that they might have occasion to deny themselves; which to do is more acceptable to God than much more service without it, and therefore the great promise of 'having a hundred-fold' is made to that grace. It was the great grace which of all other Christ exercised. Now, if we had no corruption to entice and seduce us, what opportunities were there for us thus of denying ourselves? Christ indeed had an infinite deal of glory to lay down, not so we. Unless there be a self in us to solicit us, and another self to deny those solicitations, we should have no occasions of self-denial or the exercise of any such grace. Therefore Adam was not capable of any such grace, because he had no corruption to seduce him. And therefore a little grace in us, denying a great deal of corruption, is in that respect, for so much as is of it, more acceptable than his obedience. Though we have less grace, yet in this respect of a higher kind in the exercises of it.
Use 1.—To be meek and charitable to those who fall into sin, as knowing corruption is not fully yet purged out of thyself. This is the Apostle's admonition upon this ground, Gal. 6:1, 'If a man be overtaken in a fault,'—he speaks indefinitely, that any man may,—if it be but an overtaking, not a sinning wilfully and obstinately, but a falling by occasion, through rashness, suddenness, and violence of temptation, &c.; 'ye which are spiritual, restore such a man with the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.' He would have every man be meek in his censure, and in his reproof of such a one, and restore him, and 'put him in joint again,' as the word signifies: for still he may be united to Christ, as a bone out of joint is to the body, though for the time rendered thereby unuseful. And do this, says he, with tenderness and pity, 'with the spirit of meekness,' which a man will not do unless he be sensible of his own frailty and subjection to corruption, unless he reflects on himself, and that seriously too. Considering, saith the Apostle there, as implying more than a slight thought,—I may chance to fall also; but the seeing and weighing what matter of falling there is in thine own heart, if God but leave thee to thyself a little while; this works a spirit of meekness towards such a one. For meekness and pity is most kindly when we are sensible of the like in ourselves, and make it our own case. And this he speaks to the most spiritual Christians; not to those who are as yet but as carnal, as he speaketh of the Corinthians, Christians newly converted, who—finding their corruptions at the first stounded with that first blow of mortification given them, and though but in part killed, yet wholly in a manner for a while laid asleep, and having not as yet, after their late conversion, had a fresh experience of the dangers and temptations a man after conversion in his progress is subject to—are therefore apt to imagine they shall continue free from assaults, and think not that their lusts will get up again, and so are prone to be more censorious of the falls of others. But you, who are more spiritual, to you I speak, says the Apostle, for you are most meekened with a sense of your own weakness; and even you, says he, if you 'consider yourselves,' and what you are in yourselves, have cause to think that 'you also may be tempted.'
Use 2.—Never set thyself any stint or measure of mortification, for still thou hast matter to purge out. Thou must never be out of physic all thy life. Say not, Now I have grace enough, and health enough; but as that great Apostle, 'Not as if I had as yet attained,' for indeed thou hast not; still 'press forward' to have more virtue from Christ. If thou hast prevailed against the outward act, rest not, but get the rising of the lust mortified, and that rolling of it in thy fancy; get thy heart deaded towards it also; and rest not there, but get to hate it, and the thought of it. The 'body of death,' it must not only be 'crucified with Christ,' but 'buried' also, and so rot, Rom. 6:4, 6; it is 'crucified to be destroyed,' says the Apostle there,—that is, to moulder away more and more, after its first death-wound.
Fifth observation—That branches that have brought forth true fruit, God takes them not away.
The fifth doctrine is, That those who are true branches, and bring forth any true fruit pleasing to God, though they have many corruptions in them, yet God takes them not away, cuts them not off. The opposition implies this, he speaks of 'taking away' the other; not so of these, but 'purgeth them.' It is an elegant paranomasia, αἴρει, καθαίρει, which the Holy Ghost here useth.
For an instance to prove this, wherein I will also keep to the metaphor here used, I take that place, Isa. 27, where this his care of fruitful branches, with the very same difference put between his dealing with them and the unfruitful that is here, is elegantly expressed to us. God professeth himself the keeper of a vineyard, his church, ver. 2, 3, 'I the Lord do keep it;' and, ver. 6, 'He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the earth with fruit.' But Israel having corruption in him which would hinder his growth, he must be lopped and cut. And so, in the next verses, God is said to deal with him; but not so as to cut them off, as he doth others that are both his and their enemies. 'Hath he smitten them as he smote those that smote him?' No. For 'in measure when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it.' When Israel is but a tender plant, and first shooteth forth, he doth but in measure debate with it, that is, in such a proportion is not to destroy it, or cause it to wither; but that it may blossom more, lie measures out, as it were, afflictions to them, but 'stays his rough wind,' as it follows, that is, such afflictions as would shake that his plant too much, or quite blow it down; but such a wind as shall make it fruitful, and blow away its unkindly blossoms and leaves, so much, and no more, will he let out of his treasury, even he who holds the winds in his fists, and can moderate them as he pleaseth. For his scope and purpose is nothing less than to cut off Jacob, both root and branch, because of corruptions and sins that do cleave to him. 'But this is all the fruit to take away the sin,' says he, ver. 9,—that is, this is the fruit of that wind, and of all these his dealings with them; and it is all the fruit,—that is, all that he intends thereby, even to purge them.
But doth he deal so with others? No; for 'the boughs of the most fenced city wither, and are broken off and burned,' ver. 10, 11.
Reason 1.—First, because in Christ God accepts a little good, and it pleaseth him more than sin in his doth displease him. And therefore, as in nations he will not destroy the righteous with the wicked, so nor in men will he cast away their righteousness that is in them for a little wickedness' sake, but will rather purge out the one, and so preserve the other, This we have expressed under the same metaphor, Isa. 65:8, we have in hand:' Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it;'—that is, look as when a man is about to cut down a vine, and his axe is even at the root of it, and one standing by spies a cluster upon it that hath new wine in it, (which also argues there is sap still in the roots, which may yet bring forth more,) Oh, says he, destroy it not: even so says God of nations and men that fear him, of nations where he hath many holy ones. So there it follows, 'So will I do' with Israel, 'for my servants' sake I will not destroy them all:' so it follows there; and thus he likewise says of particular men, There is a blessed work in such a man's heart, though mingled with much corruption, 'Oh, destroy it not.' Take away the sin if possible, but cut not off the man. Why should his grace perish with his wickedness? Every dram of grace is precious; it cost the blood of Christ, and he will not suffer it to be destroyed.
Reason 2.—Because he hath ordained that all the fruits of his children should remain, John 15:16. Now, if they should be cut off, their fruit would wither, their work must perish with them. Now, no man's work shall' prove in vain in the Lord,' 1 Cor. 15:58. But though the world, and all works and lusts of the world, will, with their makers, come to nothing, 'yet he that doth the will of God endureth for ever,' 1 John 2:17. As the works of Christ in himself are eternal, so his works in us are eternal also, because they are the fruits of what he did: 'He that soweth liberally, and gives to the poor, his righteousness remains for ever.'
Reason 3.—Because he loves the person, and hates only the sin; therefore he preserves the one, destroys only the other. 'This is all the fruit, to take away the sin.' Thus, Ps. 99:8, 'He forgave the persons, and took vengeance only on their inventions.' The covenant that is made with us in Christ is not a covenant made with works, but with persons; and therefore, though the works be often hateful, yet he goes on to love the persons; and that he may continue to love them, destroys out of them what he hates, but cutteth not them off. A member that is leprous or ulcerous, a man loves it as it is 'his own flesh,' Eph. 5:29, though he loathes the corruption and putrefaction that is in it; and therefore he doth not presently cut it off, but purgeth it daily, lays plasters to it to eat the corruption out: whereas a wart nr a wen that grows to a man's body, a man gets it cut off, for he doth not reckon it as his flesh.
Reason 4.—Therein God shews his skill, that he is able to deal with a branch which hath much corruption in it, so artificially as to sever the corruption, and let the branch stand still. Utterly to cut down, and make spoil of all, there is no great skill required to it; but to lop the branches in the right place, and due time and season, so as they may become fruitful, this is from the skill of the husbandman. Come to unskilful surgeons with a sore leg or arm, and they seeing it past their skill, they talk of nothing but cutting it off, and tell you it is so far gone that there is no way else; but come to one that is skilful indeed, that discerns it is not so perished but it may be cured, and he will try his art upon it. And so doth God with branches and members that have much corruption in them: he tries his skill upon them, makes a great cure of a leg or an arm where he discerns some sound flesh, though much corrupted; he can cut out the dead flesh, and let the sound remain, and so makes it whole in the end.
Use 1.—Of comfort to those who are true branches, and continue to bring forth fruit in the midst of all the trials that befall them, that God will not suffer them to be cut off by their corruption. If anything in them should provoke God to do it, it must be sin. Now for that, you see how Christ promiseth that God will take order therewith, and will purge it out of them. In Ps. 89:28–30, this is the covenant made with David, (as he was a type of Christ, with whom the same covenant is made sure and firm,) that 'if his seed forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments,'—What! presently turn them out of doors, and cut them off, as those he meant no more to have to do with? What! nothing but utter rejection? Is there no means of reclaiming them? Never a rod in the house? Yes,—'then will I visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes,' whip out their stubbornness and sinfulness; 'but my loving-kindness will I not take from him' as I did from Saul, as it is 1 Chron. 17:13.
Let the saints consider this, that they may return when they are fallen, and submit to him and his nature, and suffer him to do what he will with them, and endure cutting, and lancing, and burning, so long as he cuts them not off; endure chastening, and all his dealings else, knowing that all the fruit is but to take away the sin, to make them 'partakers of his holiness;' and 'if by any means,' as Paul speaks of himself, as Phil. 3:11, be the means what it will, it is no matter. And God, if at any time he seems to cut thee off, yet it is but as the incestuous Corinthian was cut off, that 'the flesh might be destroyed, and the spirit saved.'
Use 2.—Of encouragement to go on still to bring forth more fruit to God. For if you do, God will not cut you off; 'he will spare you as a man spares his son that serves him;' he will not take advantage at every fault to cast one off. It was his own law, Deut. 20:19, that such trees as brought forth fruit fit for meat, they should not destroy when they came into an enemy's country. 'Doth God take care of trees?' No, it was to teach us that if we bring forth fruit, he will not destroy us, if it be fruit indeed fit for meat. Oaks bring forth apples, such as they are, and acorns, but they are not fit for meat; such trees they might cut down. So, if thou bring not forth such fruit as is for God's taste and relish, wherein thou sanctifiest not God and Christ in thy heart, thou mayest and wilt be cut down, but else not. If thou beest betrothed to Christ, and he hath begotten children on thee, fear not a bill of divorce, he will not lightly cast thee off. And it is a good argument to use to him, desire him to spare thee by all the children he hath begotten on thee. Children increase love between man and wife; so between Christ and us.
Sixth observation—That unfruitful branches God in the end cuts off, and the several degrees whereby he cuts off professors that are unfruitful.
That unfruitful branches God in the end takes away,—as he did Judas, who was here especially aimed at,—for proof take Ps. 125. It is a psalm made of purpose to shew the different estate of the professors of religion. Those that are 'upright,' ver. 4, he saith, God will continue to do them good, and 'they shall be us Mount Zion,' and all the gates of hell shall not be able to remove one of these mountains. But because there are many that like planets go the same course with the other orbs, and yet have some secret byway besides of their own, of these he says. 'Those that turn aside into crooked ways, God will lead them forth with the workers of iniquity,'—that is, in the end he will discover them to be what they are. And though they go amongst the drove of professors like sheep, yet God will detect them, either in this life or in the life to come, to be goats. Though they did not seem to he workers of iniquity, yet God will lead them forth with them.
Reasons why God dealeth thus with them:—
Reason 1.—Because they dishonour the root which they profess themselves to be graffed into. They profess themselves to be in Christ. Now, he is a fruitful root, full of sap, and for any to be unfruitful in him is a dishonour to him. When yon see unfruitful branches upon a tree, you blame the root for it; so doth the world blame the grace of Christ, the profession of Christ, yea, even the root itself, for the unfruitfulness of the branches. Therefore, that they may dishonour the root no more, he takes them away, cuts them off from that root they seemed to stand in, and then they run out into all manner of wickedness.
Reason 2.—Because the husbandman hath no profit by them: Heb. 6:8, 'The ground that bringeth forth thorns, and not fruit meet for him that dresseth it, is nigh to cursing.' In the 8th of the Canticles it is said, 'Solomon had a vineyard, and he let it out to keepers,' &c. He speaks this of Christ, of whom Solomon was a type, and of his church; and his comparison stands thus: Solomon being a king, and having many vineyards for his royalty,—for the riches of ancient kings lay much in husbandry,—he let them out to vine-dressers, and they had some gain by them; but 'Solomon must have a thousand,' and they 'but two hundred;' the chief gain was to come to Solomon. So the vineyard that God had planted here below, he lets it out to men, and they shall have some profit by it, you shall all have wages for the work you do, yet so as the chief gain must return to God; he must have a thousand for your two hundred. But when men will have all the gains that is in what they do, set up their own ends only, and the husbandman shall have none, such branches he takes away, because they are not for his profit, for it is made a rule of equity, 1 Cor. 9:7, 'that he that planteth a vineyard should eat of the fruit of it.'
Reason 3.—Because of all trees a vine is good for nothing else but to bring forth fruit, as we see it expressed to us, Ezek. 15:4; it is good for nothing but the fire when it becomes unfruitful. Other trees are good for building, to make pins of, but not the vine. And this similitude God chose out to shew, that of all trees else, professors, if unfruitful, are good for nothing; their end is to be burned.
Now if you ask, How God taketh them away? the degrees he doth it by are set down here, ver. 6, 'If a man abide not in me,' &c.,—that is, fall away,—then, 1. They are cast out; and, 2. They wither; 3. They are gathered; 4. They are burned.
1. They are cast forth,—that is, out of the hearts of God's people, out of their company, out of their prayers, yea, and out of their society by excommunication often; and many times they cast out themselves, being given up to such errors as discover them to be unsound. As Hymenæus and Philetus, they were forward professors, so that their fall was like to have shaken many of the fruitful branches, insomuch that the apostle was fain to make an apology about their fall: 'Nevertheless the foundation of God remains sure,' 2 Tim. 2:19. God gave them up to such opinions and heresies as discovered their hearts to be rotten and unsound. So also he gives these carnal professors up to such sins as will discover them. This was the case of Cain; he brought forth some fruit, for he sacrificed; yet because not in sincerity, he envied his brother, and was given up to murder his brother, upon which it is said that 'he was cast out of the sight of the Lord,' Gen. 4:16,—that is, cast out of his father's family, and from the ordinances of God there enjoyed, and made a vagabond upon the face of the whole earth, which of all curses is the greatest. Or else, as was said, they of their own accord 'forsake the assembly of the saints.' The Apostle makes this a step to the sin against the Holy Ghost, Heb. 10:25. He saith, that when men forsake the assemblies and company of the people of God, public and private, and love not to quicken and stir up one another, or begin to be shy of those they once accompanied, they are in a nigh degree to that which follows in the next verse, 'to sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth.'
2. Being thus cast forth, they wither,—that is, the sap of abilities which they once had begins to decay; that life in holy duties and in holy speeches begins to be withdrawn, and their leaves begin to fall off; they cannot pray nor speak of holy things as they were wont. Thus it is said of such professors, Jude 12, that 'their fruit withereth,' even here in the eyes of men; for when God casteth them out, then he withdraws his Spirit from them; and then, although they come to the ordinances, yet they have no breathings. They come to prayer, and the Spirit of God is departed; and so by degrees God withdraws sap from them till they be quite dead. Thus he dealt with Saul; when he had discovered himself, by sparing the Amalekites and by persecuting David, it is said, 'the Spirit of God departed from him,' and he withered ever after, all his gifts vanished, and the spirit or frame of heart he once had departed from him. So likewise they that had not 'gained by their talents,' Matt. 25:26, their 'talents were taken from them,' even in this life, and the Spirit of God, which rested upon them, rested upon some other that were more faithful.
3. Lying long unfruitful, in the end it is said they are gathered. Our translation hath it, 'men gather them,' which either respects a punishment in this life, that when they are cast out from the society of God's people, wicked men gather them, they fall to those that are naught. Popish persons or profane atheists take them, as the Pharisees did Judas, when he cast himself out of the society of the apostles. Or else it may in a metaphor refer to the life to come; the angels, they are the reapers, they 'gather them in the last day,' and bind them in bundles for the fire.
4. So, lastly, it is said, they are cast into the fire, and they burn. A man would think he needed not to have added that, for being cast into the fire they must needs burn; but his meaning is, that of all other they make the fiercest, hottest fire, because they are trees most seared, and 'fuel fully dry,' as the prophet speaks.
Use.—You, then, that profess the name of Christ, take heed that you he fruitful branches indeed. I say to you, as the Apostle saith, Rom. 11:19, 20, 'Because of unbelief they were broken off thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.' Take heed that it be fruit that you bring forth: do all for God, make him your end in all, bring forth more fruit every day, let your fruit be riper and more spiritual daily, labour to spread and root yourselves as much downward in inward holiness as you do upward in outward profession, and purge yourselves continually, lest that which is threatened here befall you, which are fearful things to be spoken, and yet concern many a soul. The Apostle compares such to 'trees twice dead, and plucked up by the roots.' You were born dead in Adam; since that you have had perhaps some union with Christ by common graces; if you wither again, then you are 'twice dead,' and therefore fit for nothing but to be stubbed up and cast into the fire. And if any soul begin to forsake the assemblies of the saints, or be cast out from them, let him look to himself lest he wither in the end, and be twice dead, and so he never come to have life put into him again; that is, repent and return again. And know this, that if you, being cast out by the church and people of God, break your hearts, so that you mourn for your sin, as the incestuous Corinthian did, it is a sign you are such branches as God will yet make fruitful; but if, being cast out, you begin to wither, as here, the end will be burning.
Source The Trial of a Christian's Growth (eBook) by Thomas Goodwin