"Now Christ Himself is, first of all, the example of perfect fruitfulness.... The relation in which He stood to the Father, is that in which we also stand in the Father, through Him and in Him, and He brings to us from the Father, gathered up in Himself, fullness of life...."
“Without the vine the branch can do nothing. To the vine it owes its right of place in the vineyard, its life and its fruitfulness."
“Without the branch the vine can also do nothing. A vine without branches can bear no fruit. No less indispensable than the vine to the branch is the branch to the vine."
“We all know what fruit is—the produce of the branch, by which men are refreshed and nourished. The fruit is not for the branch, but for those who come to carry it away."
"He intends, surely, to live Himself, as it were, through us; but it must be our life coming from Him, as it is His life coming to us."
"Remember we cannot make fruit. In fact, fruit is never made—fruit is grown...."
"Our fruit must be fresh fruit if it is fruit at all."
"There is also such a thing as preserved fruit. Yes, that is fruit, too, if you like, but I do not think any one who can get plums will accept prunes, or will instead of grapes take raisins. Raisins have been grapes, but are grapes no longer. So there are people going about with tin boxes full of old fruit. That is not of much use."
"Fruit is just summed up in two words—love to God and love to man, and the two must go together."
"Just as truly as good seed bears fruit (and without good seed there is no good fruit) just as truly does good fruit bear seed."
"It is a great thing to have the rest of faith; but then there is the rest of obedience, the rest of service, the rest that the Saviour promises when He says: “If any man will do My will, I will manifest Myself unto him.” “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me, and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” That is true rest, that is lasting rest, in unity of purpose, in unity of work with the Lord. We have first to be converted; then we have to be consecrated to God; further, we have to be consumed on the altar of sacrifice; thus shall we be conquerors, and more than conquerors, bringing others with us to Him that loved us first."
We were told last night by our brother, Mr. Hopkins, that in a large factory the secret of power lies in the engine-house. Well, we will suppose that one of us goes into the engine-house and speaks to the man in charge of the engine. He asks first, “Is your engine secure? Does it stand well?” “Yes, it does. The engine makes but one with the masonry, and the masonry is of a piece with the foundations of the house.” “Is it safe from explosion, as far as one can make it so?” “Oh, yes, in that respect it is secure also.” You then inquire: “What is the power of your engine?” “Oh! 200 horse-power.” “Well, what comes out of it? What is produced by this factory?” He answers, “You want to know how much coal I use? Oh, heaps of coal; there it is.” “No, I don't want to know that; I ask what comes out of it?” “Ah, you want to hear the whistle—it is a tremendous whistle.” “My poor man, you must have whistled yourself deaf; I want to know what comes out of it?” “Oh, nothing in particular; it's a wonderful engine, most secure, most powerful, but it doesn't accomplish anything.” Now this is the very point—Fruitfulness, or what comes out of it? I might follow out this illustration. I need not do it. It has been done often enough. We have plenty of men whose foundation is secure, and they know where the power comes from, and they have a measure of power, but what are they doing? A friend told me last night (and I may as well tell you it was Mr. Hudson Taylor) of how he began his mission in China, and how he began to think and pray about it. But, said he, “Of course it would never do to pray and stop at praying.” I made a note of that. No, it will never do to pray and stop at praying, nor to sing and stop at singing, and it will never do to trust and stop at trusting. There is something further to be done, and that is to bear fruit. The Bible is full of that subject—fruit.
Take the first book and the first chapter. There we read, “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth.” We take the last book and the last chapter, and read: “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits.” You take the Law, and there you find fruit again; for instance, the grapes of Eschol, or the remarkable passage about the garments of the high priest (Exod. xxviii. 33, 34): “And beneath upon the hem of it thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about; a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe round about;” golden bells all round, but not only bells, and we might say somewhat as our children do:—
“Tinkle, tinkle, golden bell,
Cheerful sound, we love it well:
Only let there always be
Mellow fruit along with thee.”
See that you have the golden bells, but let there be the pomegranates also.
Shall we open the Book of Psalms? In the very first Psalm, we read: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season.” In the prophets, we find, among many other passages, that beautiful one of Hosea (xiv. 8), “From Me is thy fruit found,” and we might quote many another. We open the New Testament and hear the greatest of the prophets (so Christ calls him), John the Baptist, saying to the people: “Bring forth fruit therefore worthy of repentance.” We have the teaching of the Lord Himself, I need not repeat it, though we cannot lay it too much to heart. Besides the words in John xv, you remember those in Luke xiii. about that fruitless tree, that has been alluded to. “If it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” We have another remarkable word of Christ, Matt. xxi.: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” That is what the Lord wants. And again, after the Gospels, the Epistles. Rom. vii. 4 furnishes another illustration: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Then that wonderful verse in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is life, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith, temperance.” That is fruit. That is not talking, or wishing, or singing, or thinking. And again in Col. i. 10, “That ye might walk worthy of the law unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” The Bible, then, is all about fruit from beginning to end, and Christ says that we shall know people, not by their talking or feeling, but by their fruits. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
And observe, that wishing for fruit, and speaking of fruit, won't make up for lack of fruit, and still less will lamentation about the fact that we are unfruitful. I am afraid that many Christians imagine that they have been bearing fruit when they have merely said, “I am a fruitless branch, I am a dry stick, I have neither bud nor blossom, nor fruit, nor anything.” If such be the fact, it is well to acknowledge it, but it is better and it is needful, that you should alter the fact, and by the grace of God become a fruit-bearing branch, for Christ says, “so shall ye be”—not exalted Christians, but simply—“My disciples.” It is by bearing fruit, and bearing much fruit, that we have the only evidence of being His disciples.
Now Christ Himself is, first of all, the example of perfect fruitfulness. How did Christ bear fruit? He placed Himself in the position of a man. He became man. Christ said of Himself in respect to the Father the very words He says of us in respect to Himself, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” “I can of Mine own self do nothing “ (John xv. 5; v. 30). And He said, in John vi. 38, “I came from Heaven not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” Therefore not of Himself but of God; not for Himself but for God. And again, “As the loving Father hath sent Me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” Christ is the example of fruitfulness in the very manner in which He bore fruit. The relation in which He stood to the Father, is that in which we also stand in the Father, through Him and in Him, and He brings to us from the Father, gathered up in Himself, that fullness of life of which we have been told, and on which I need not dwell again.
Only let me give you a very few words on the subject from a book which it would hardly do to advertise from this platform, but which I may be allowed to quote from. It is called “Abide in Christ; Thoughts on the Blessed Life of Fellowship” (London: Nisbet). by A.M. (Andrew Murray). The author is away in South Africa, and won't hear what I am telling you—at least not to-day I beg leave to recommend that little book to you. It says almost all that can be said on the subject, in the simplest, strongest, soundest, deepest most winsome and most practical way. He speaks thus: “Without the vine the branch can do nothing. To the vine it owes its right of place in the vineyard, its life and its fruitfulness, And so the Lord says, 'Without Me ye can do nothing.'
“Without the branch the vine can also do nothing. A vine without branches can bear no fruit. No less indispensable than the vine to the branch is the branch to the vine. Such is the wonderful condescension of the grace of Jesus that, just as His people are dependent on Him, He has made Himself dependent on them. Without His disciples He cannot dispense His blessings to the world.”
There is another chapter entitled, “That you may bear much fruit.” “We all know what fruit is—the produce of the branch, by which men are refreshed and nourished. The fruit is not for the branch, but for those who come to carry it away. As soon as the fruit is ripe the branch gives it off, to commence afresh its work of beneficence and anew prepare its fruit for another season.”
These are suggestive words and fruitful words. If we thus abide in Christ we shall be kept fruitful, full of love to God and man, strong and humble, “ever ready and therefore ever used,” as Dr. MacDonald, of Leith, said at this Conference three years ago, speaking of Robert M'Cheyne. If we would be ever ready and ever used, what have we to do? “Abide in Christ.”
There is one word that is often overlooked, I think, in that parable of the vine (if one may call it a parable. It is rather the vine itself that is the parable. Christ is the true vine, and the whole of the natural world might be regarded as a parable to make us understand spiritual things). Christ says: “I am the Vine, and ye are the branches.” Now, why don't we read that verse simply as it stands? Christ does not say, “I wish I were the vine.” It seems absurd and almost blasphemous to read it that way. Or, “I ought to be the vine.” But He says: “I am the Vine.” And what next? “Ye are the branches.” Well, if I am a branch, then I will be a branch. If I am a branch I will live as a branch; I won't contradict Him. I won't say to Christ: “Thou art the Vine, but I am not the branch.” If He made Himself one with us, it was for the very purpose that through Him we should be made one with God— one in desire, one in purpose, one in power. He is the root, and we the fruit.
We are not machines. We spoke of engines just now. All these illustrations are good as far as they go, but they do not go far enough, and even when we speak of a vine or plant, we must still go a little further. We are not simply plants, and we do not simply thrive as a plant does. God has made us in His image. God has given us thought, and affections, and will, and conscience. He intends, surely, to live Himself, as it were, through us; but it must be our life coming from Him, as it is His life coming to us. He has not come to destroy us, He has come to make Himself one with us in order to make us one with Him. He has come to teach man that he should be truly himself, and should verily have a heart of his own, or how could he love God as he is bidden to do, “With all his heart and soul, and mind, and strength”? It is all from Him, and yet through us, and the Apostle sums it all up in these words: “I labour, striving according to His working which worketh in me mightily” (Col. i. 29). It is His working, and it is my striving, and my labouring, just because it is His working. Whether you can put it together or whether I can, and find a formula for it, that is no matter at all. We cannot formulate it; but we must stand to it, that it is God's life, and that it is God's life through us. It is, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.” It is not—I have nothing to do, because Christ does it all.
The only time I had the honour of meeting with the venerated Mr. Samuel Martin, of Westminster Chapel, we were talking on this subject. He said, “I once received a visit from a dear young girl, who was full of joy, and surely I would not damp her joy. She exclaimed, 'I am so happy, because Christ does everything for me.' I knew what she meant, but still I went on and said, 'Does He read your Bible for you?'” Now that puts it, I think, in a very definite form. He does it all, but He sets us doing it. He sets us working, and willing, and praying, and using the means He has appointed; and then God is the Husbandman, and He does (as we heard) the purging and the pruning, and then it all comes to the ripe fruit.
Not Old or Preserved Fruit, But Fresh Fruit is Grown
Oh! remember we cannot make fruit. In fact, fruit is never made—fruit is grown. I read in a religious paper a while ago this word, that must have, of course, escaped accidentally from the writer or speaker. He said, “We manufacture sinners into saints.” Ah! I thought—manufacture! that must be a poor kind of saint—a manufactured saint. I have read how Whitfield was one day met by a man staggering through the street, who came up to him laughing, and said, in the presence of several bystanders, “Ah! Mr. Whitfield, I'm one of your converts.” “Ah!” said Whitfield, “I thought as much; if you had been one of the Lord's converts you would not be in the state in which you are.” No, you cannot manufacture saints, and you cannot manufacture one fruit. To be sure we can manufacture fruit in a sense. In Paris we have manufactories where they make fruit in pasteboard and wax, very pretty,—in fact, prettier than the real fruit, I think; but somehow that fruit has no fragrance, it has no taste, it has no growth, and, most of all, it has no seed.
Further, our fruit must be fresh fruit if it is fruit at all. Some Christians, I am afraid, hardly understand this. If you went to a greengrocer and asked for strawberries, and he should call to the helper, “Give this gentleman some strawberries of 1881—that was a very good year,” you would say, “I don't want those.” And if he said, “There are a few left of 1882.” “Oh, no, I don't want those.” “Well, these are all I have.” I fancy you would not give him your custom. In the same way there are Christians whose peace bears the date of 1859, and whose joy, they will tell you, is of the year 1876. “Oh, indeed! but where is your peace to-day, and where is this morning's joy? “ They have no answer to give you.
One may say that there is also such a thing as preserved fruit. Yes, that is fruit, too, if you like, but I do not think any one who can get plums will accept prunes, or will instead of grapes take raisins. Raisins have been grapes, but are grapes no longer. So there are people going about with tin boxes full of old fruit. That is not of much use. We want the fruit fresh from the vine; we want to go into the orchard itself and pluck the fruit from the branch. Children like this, and everybody does. Don't you think the world can see the difference between real fruit and false fruit; between fresh fruit and dried fruit; between the means of grace and grace itself; between a spade and a peach-tree; between sermons and holy living? They are sick of talk. So are we. And most of all those who have to do much talking. We wish to have less talk and more fruit. There is so much said and written, so many “nice “ illustrations and “sweet” addresses and spiritual sugar-plums, that we want something else. We feel the time has come when we must have something more to show, and that is fruit.
Now the fruit is just summed up in two words—love to God and love to man, and the two must go together. That is the great want at this time. You have some very good people as far as they go, who are full of philanthropy, and that is a word not to be sneered at. The Scripture speaks of the philanthropy of God (Titus iii. 4). Love to man is a great thing, but they do not see that they must begin by knowing the living, loving God. They go about and try to do something, but there is not much sap and life in it. There are others who speak so much about love to God that they do not seem to care much for their fellow-men, and all but themselves perceive the fact. It is high time that true spirituality and true philanthropy should meet in one.
The second commandment, Christ says, is like unto the first; and if we do not practice the second, if we have not a heart for the woes of our fellow-men and a helping hand to extend to them, whether they belong to our church or not, or to any church or not, we may well question whether we are fulfilling the first commandment, since the second is like unto it. This is the only evidence our generation will find time to read; men must see that kind of fruit growing in abundance wherever people call themselves Christians. If not we will have them saying, as one said, we have just been told, when he heard that Union with Christ was to be our theme at this Conference, “You had better talk of Christian honesty.”
There was in a late number of Woman's Work a long article entitled “A Sad Charge.” What do you think it was? I will read you one sentence. A lady said, “I was first led to consider the accuracy of this sad charge by a remark made by a lady, a most upright and honourable person, though very worldly. She was told of the conversion of an old friend, and remarked, ' I am very glad she is converted, because I think she will act out her religion in a different way from most people, whom it does not seem to me to make a bit less unselfish, better tempered, or less ready to tell little fibs when it suits them.'“ Now that is just what we want to get rid of. That is the reproach of Israel, that others can say, “With all your mystical notions, you are not more honest, straightforward, or self-denying, perhaps less so, than some of us.”
Now mark, before we close, that just as truly as good seed bears fruit (and without good seed there is no good fruit) just as truly does good fruit bear seed. That is what we read in the book of Genesis. Fruit “whose seed is in itself.” While thinking about this address, I looked into a recent book on botany, just to see whether I could not find an idea. Sometimes we fall upon the best things in that way, and I met with this sentence, which astonished me, I confess. I am no botanist, but this gentleman says, “Scientifically speaking, the fruit and the seed are identical.” What we call fruit, and what we eat, is just the wrapping round of the seed. Its shape and texture are much diversified. Its position in relation to the seed is greatly varied, but the real fruit is the seed. And then he goes on to say, “The seed is the terminal result of the plant. In the seed it all comes to a point, to an end. In the seed, also, it makes a new beginning.
The author appears to be an atheist, but he preached a good sermon there. The ultimate result, the real fruit is— seed. Did Stephen bear fruit? Was the fruit a seed?— if only in the heart of “a young man whose name was Saul?” Did Paul, in his turn, bear fruit? And what seed that fruit has borne! Or take the example nearest to us at this moment. Is this Annual Conference a fruit of faith and love, watered by much prayer? Is it likewise a seed bringing forth fruit in its turn? Our chairman was telling us of his conversion twenty-seven years ago to-day, under the ministry of the sainted William Pennefather. Was that a fruit? Has it been a seed? I was told yesterday of a revival that began in a small town, and when some of the people were asked what made them request prayer on their behalf they answered, “It is such-and-such a family that settled here a few months ago. They all seem so happy, and we want to be as they are.” Did that family bear fruit? Did the fruit bear seed? We come to this conclusion, then—that the only test of fruitfulness is life-giving power.
Now that is what we have to learn. You have the seed first in the ground—the root, the stem, the branches, the flowers, the fruit—yes, and then you begin again. Another seed from the fruit, another plant, and so on. Just as the generations of man, father and son, the son in his turn being father, and the genealogies going down. Thus a converted man must be, in his turn, a man converting others, through the Holy Ghost. If we are in fellowship with the Holy Ghost, how can we but have that power, when the Holy Ghost's purpose and mission is to awaken sinners and bring them to the Saviour? If we have fellowship with the Good Shepherd, how can we but seek for the lost sheep? If you remain in the fold at rest whilst the Shepherd is going after the lost sheep, it is just as if you parted from Him. You let Him go forth and you remain behind. Some are finding this out. I wish I had found it out much more than I have begun to do.
A friend was telling me that he has had more gladness in his ministry in three months than during the twelve previous years. How is that? Did not he know of “the rest of faith?” Yes, years ago. What then? Ah! now he knows the joy of bringing souls to the Lord, and his strength and youth are renewed. It is a great thing to have the rest of faith; but then there is the rest of obedience, the rest of service, the rest that the Saviour promises when He says: “If any man will do My will, I will manifest Myself unto him.” “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me, and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.” That is true rest, that is lasting rest, in unity of purpose, in unity of work with the Lord. We have first to be converted; then we have to be consecrated to God; further, we have to be consumed on the altar of sacrifice; thus shall we be conquerors, and more than conquerors, bringing others with us to Him that loved us first.
Theodore Monod, Report of the Mildmay Park Conference of 1883, (London: John F. Show, 1883), pp. 96-105.