Sermon preached Sunday morning, August 8th, 1909, at Kuling Convention
"Ye did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide; that whatsover ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." John 15:16.
The unfortunate division of the chapters in our version by which a break occurs between the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th, obscures the exquisite connection which it seems reasonable to suppose our Lord intended. He had been seated, as we know, in the upper chamber which was afterwards to become so famous in the history of the Church; and had instituted the memorial supper in words which will live as long as the heart of man shall throb. Then as the hour hand of His destiny was silently moving forward to the predestined moment, and with a certain knowledge that Judas was marshalling his band in some adjoining courtyard,He said to His friends,—"The time has come when we must cease our speech together and go forth to resolute action." It had always been His custom in His earthly life to associate with Himself His little band of disciples as when He said,—"We must work the work of Him that sent me while it is day." It was in this spirit that, classing them with Himself, He said,—"Arise, let us go hence."
As they passed out together into the moonlight which was flooding the city, the tendrils of the vine which were probably entwined round the verandah of the upper story, ﬂuttered in the night wind, and, turning to His followers He said,—"I am the true vine and ye are the branches." In using that word true, He meant us to understand that His thought had passed to the timeless age when creation lay in embryo as a thought in the mind of God. Before vines or plants, or earth or universe was created, the archetype of everything was hidden in the mind of the Creator, and when our Lord said,—"I am the true vine," He surely meant us to understand that He was the manifestation of those thoughts of God which were the patterns of all things that are made. In other words, He suggested that the connection between a vine and its branches reflected something in the nature of things, and that He, and His followers, would reveal in human life the same conception that this graceful and fruitful plant reveals in the world of vegetation.
The words He addressed to that little band that grouped itself around Him as He went forth to Gethsemane, to Calvary, the grave, the Easter dawn and the Eternal reign, He is always addressing to His Church, and therefore He is always summoning us to—"Arise, and go hence." It is as though He says,—"there are revelations of God you have never seen, there is work to be done you have never taken in hand, there are sufferings to be endured which we must bear together." Always, in every new century, in the opening of every new continent, in the baptism of every fresh persecution, in all the unfolding of Church History and in all the immeasurable aeons that lie before us, He is classing us together with Himself saying,—"you and I," "I and you," "I alone can save the world; but I cannot save the world alone—you are necessary to me, you are the branches through which I am to express myself." What a comfort it is that we can never stand on the threshold of a door of which He does not hold the key. If, during the coming months, it is your lot to experience absolutely new conditions of service or suffering, remember that the Shepherd when He puts you forth goes before you and you have simply to follow Him. He is bound to you by an indissoluble and eternal bond; ever and again He is saying,—"Arise, let us go hence."
There are preliminary thoughts that arrest us:
First, Christ's far horizon. This Gospel abounds in far horizons. There is that of John 3: 16, where we are told that God loved the world, and that the outlook of Calvary was a world's redemption. There is that of John 11, with its words of inﬁnite depth which tell us that the object of Christ's death was not simply to save a few elect souls, but to gather together in one the Church of God that are scattered abroad, as though the writer looked beyond the Hebrew fold to the other sheep that are scattered throughout all ages and lands. There is another in John 12, where we are told that when Jesus Christ is lifted up He will draw all men, of all shades and varieties of thought, of all countries and climes and ages, to Himself.
Throughout the whole of this book of far horizons however, there is no single outlook more resplendent than this which recalls the memory of Psalm 80, and certain other great predictions of Deuteronomy and Isaiah. Are we not told, for instance, that God would bring forth a vine whose fruit should cover the whole laud even to the furthest river and sea? It was as though our Lord intended to gather up the divine conception of the mission of the chosen people as he stepped forth with the representatives of His Church. What Israel might have been, had she not failed in the divine purpose, that would be affected by all the wonderful events which were to date from that night.
How remarkably that pre-vision has been fulfilled. Church History is the record of the gradual creeping of the branches of the vine planted in Hebrew soil and watered by the divine grace, as first Palestine, then Greece, then Rome, then Europe, and now practically the whole world have witnessed the irresistible advance of Christianity. Have not the elder missionaries amongst you watched, year by year, the extension of the boughs of that vine as they have passed through this great empire? Indeed there is hardly a land or shore where it is not possible to discover some tendril or branch of that vine. Under every sun rich clusters of grapes hang to refresh the thirsty lips of mankind. There is no limit to the further advance of the cause of Christ. It is destined to ﬁll not only earth but Heaven. It may even be that distant worlds and ages are to be refreshed by the fruit nourished by the dews of blood shed in Gethsemane and Calvary.
Second.—There is in this chapter a sure profession on the part of Christ of the inevitable suffering through which His Church should pass. Mrs. Hamilton King in her poem entitled "The Disciples," which tells the story of Garibaldi's emancipation of modern Italy, describes a sermon which was preached in the hospital, by Hugo Bassi. He took this chapter for his text. He reminded his hearers, who were gathered from the plains of sunny Italy, that the vine was the most suffering of all the vegetable kingdom. In the Springtime her branches are ruthlessly pruned so that her shoots bleed at every pore, in the Autumn her fruit is crushed by the feet of the treaders of the grapes which are dyed in the red blood of the fruit. All through the long Winter the vine stock sits solitary amid the reign of Winter, until again the sap of Spring renews its beauty. So our Lord foresaw that His Church was to suffer, that in every period of her growth there would be pain and that her most luscious clusters would be ruthlessly crushed. Only a few years ago, as you know to your cost, in this country, it seemed as though the wine presses were trodden in every province and hundreds of noble souls yielded up their blood and the whole land was bespattered with the ruddy juice.
"He never contemplated uniformity but the variety which is suggested by the vine in which branch and tendril, leaf, blossom and fruit, differ from each other, and yet are united by the possession of a common life."
Third.—Notice the Lord's conception of the essential unity of His people. He never contemplated uniformity but the variety which is suggested by the vine in which branch and tendril, leaf, blossom and fruit, differ from each other, and yet are united by the possession of a common life. In the Church of Christ there may be, there must be, inﬁnite variety of shades of thought and activity, but notwithstanding all the variety of function, there may be a profound oneness of spirit. Each believer is in Christ; in Christ's heart; loved with everlasting love; in Christ's Book, enrolled on its memorial pages; in Christ's hand, from which no power shall ever pluck. Trembling soul! in Christ's grace rooted as a tree in exuberant soil, or a house in a foundation of rock; but above all, in Christ's Person, for He is the Head,—"from whom the whole body is fitly framed and knit together by that which every joint supplieth." You may be a very obscure branch, but be sure of this, if you are a true Christian you must be in Him as the eye is in the socket, the arm in the shoulder joint and the branch in the trunk.
Also Christ is in each believer. The texts that teach Christ's real presence in the believer are as numerous as the books of the New Testament. "Know ye not that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobate?" “Christ liveth in me." "Ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." The Lord Jesus is in the heart that makes him welcome, as the steam is in the piston, as the sap is in the branch, as the blood is in the heart, as the life is in the body. It would be impossible therefore for words to describe a more intense unity than that which is here represented. All who are one with Christ must necessarily be one with each other. The members of the same body must be members one of another. Children of the same parents must be brothers and sisters. Branches of the same vine must belong not only to it, but to their fellows.
Theologians of every age have tried to secure unity on the basis of a common dogma. They have also sought to embrace Christendom in one vast ecclesiastical system. Just before the dawn of the Reformation, it seemed as though their effort had succeeded. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, worship reposed in the monotony of almost universal uniformity. But what was the result? There is but one answer—the deep sleep of spiritual death. Whenever you try to force life into one stream you not only destroy its course and beauty but kill it. The Christian Church is a vine. However different its constituent members, and however far separated by time and space, on earth or in heaven, because the life of Jesus throbs throughout the entire organism, it is one.
"The word appointed, might be rendered placed, so that the whole verse would read,—"Ye did not choose me but I chose you and placed you that ye should go and bear fruit."
Now let us turn to the text, which I trust will live in your heart and memory and help you in many a dark hour, when once you perceive its meaning. It will come back to you like the music of the bells of your childhood stealing over the fevered landscape of your life. The word appointed, might be rendered placed, so that the whole verse would read,—"Ye did not choose me but I chose you and placed you that ye should go and bear fruit."
Does not some such scene as this come back to your mind whilst I speak? You are again a child in the old fashioned garden belonging to your grandparents or your fathers. You remember the vinery with its wealth of variety in the Spring and fruitage in the Autumn. Again, the white and black clusters of grapes hang from the roof. Standing there as an eager silent child you watch the old gardener in the Spring as he brings pieces of old cloth, gathered from disused garments, and a few large clumsy nails. Again, you see him ascend the steps of the ladder and stand against some bare piece of wall where the sunshine lingered all the day. With strong hand he laid hold of a reluctant tendril accustomed to follow its wayward wandering will, and fixed it with the nail and cloth just where he chose ; but the place which he chose for it was the identical spot which it would have chosen for itself had it known the wealth of fruit which would repay its suffering when the Autumn sun had done its work.
"God wanted you where you are; He chose you for that very reason. He knew that he could trust you with suffering, loneliness; with the weight of other souls."
Let every weary soul and every lonely heart bow itself before the great Father who, our Lord says, is the vine-dresser.—"My Father is the husbandman." His hands have found us, withdrawn us from our own devices and desires, and placed us where we are. Placed on that little bit of bare wall of China; placed in some distant Chinese city or remote inland town; placed in contact with fellow workers who may fret and irritate; —God has placed you. It would have been far easier to have been where the vine branches are more numerous, but if you were more happily circumstanced remember, there would have been no possibility of thirsty souls receiving the product of the Gospel, if the place which you now occupy had been vacant. God wanted you where you are; He chose you for that very reason. He knew that he could trust you with suffering, loneliness; with the weight of other souls. Before you were born; when you were a headstrong boy at school; or a tiny girl helping your mother in the home, God had His eye on you; loved you; followed you through college days; the ordeal of opening life; and shut you up to this land,—this work,—this sphere,— to be content.
"You must be content to be trampled under foot and forgotten; to bleed at every pore as the branch does when it is pruned; it is enough that you bear much fruit."
The Past.—"Ye did not choose me." It is all too true, we saw no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him. To us He was a root out of a dry ground, without form or comeliness. If we had been left to ourselves we might have made the fatal choice of choosing the shadow and missing the substance. Notice that we are not chosen to eat fruit, but to bear it. Election does not primarily secure that we should sit at God's table and be served with His richest provision, but that we should go and bear that provision for those who are dying of hunger. You must be content to be trampled under foot and forgotten; to bleed at every pore as the branch does when it is pruned; it is enough that you bear much fruit. What do men think of a branch so long as their lips are moistened with its delicious product? Is it not good that you were chosen by God, rather than you chose God? He knew well what you would be. And when the product of your life is all unﬁt, we shall always be able to turn to Him and say,—"Heavenly Father, thou must have known from the ﬁrst of my failure and sin, my unfruitfulness and the bitterness of my soul, but Thou art prepared to assume the entire responsibility, to make good my lack."
The Present,—It is after all not what we do for Christ which will live in all coming time, but what He does through us. Paul said, "I will not speak of anything save those which Christ wrought through me to make the Gentiles obedient." Hudson Taylor tells, that at the beginning of his life it seems as though God said to him,—"I am going to evangelize inland China, and if you will walk with Me, I will do it through you." Let us remember, therefore, to abide in Christ and to seek that he should abide more fully and mightily in us. We are in the risen Christ as to our standing, and in our failure and incompetence cannot break that sacred fellowship; but He is in us as a spring of our character and usefulness. The intimacy between Him and us does not destroy our individuality or personality, but uses this as the medium through which the living Christ sheds Himself on the world.
You will find, therefore, a great help each morning as you awake, to address our Lord saying, "Son of God, I believe thou art in me as my life power, as my life bringer, as the fountain of perfect love." See to it that your self-life is kept nailed to the cross and that the Spirit of Christ substitutes the Word that was with the Father before the worlds were made. The sap of God is the living Christ. Through Him the very nature of God passes to us bringing with it the ingredients which His life derived from the thirty years of silence, from the things which He suffered and from His victory over the dark powers. It would seem as if the current of the divine life passing through our Lord came impregnated with properties acquired during His residence amongst men. All this is yours since you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Whenever, therefore, you come face to face with duties, or sufferings that baffle you, be sure you turn inward and say,—"Rise up, oh! well." Let the Christ who is in you ﬂow from you in rivers of living waters.
"Never a tear falls but what God catches it and transforms it into a pearl of imperishable value. Never a word is spoken truly and humbly that does not become a seed corn. Not a prayer is offered that will not return as a cloud laden with blessing! All that is done in God and of God abides"
The Future.—"That your fruit should remain." Never a tear falls but what God catches it and transforms it into a pearl of imperishable value. Never a word is spoken truly and humbly that does not become a seed corn. Not a prayer is offered that will not return as a cloud laden with blessing! All that is done in God and of God abides; He will establish the work of our hands upon us, and in addition, you will come to be on terms of such intimacy with God, that whenever you ask the Father you will receive, because you ask in the name of Jesus Christ.
Christ on the throne repeats Himself as Christ in our hearts, and in the answers of our prayers we have the return tide of the Christ Spirit to the Father.
He says,—"Go and bring forth fruit." Go back to your mission; go far hence to the heathen; go to the rough plowing or the tearful sowing and remember, however far the tip of the branch is from the roots, the sap will travel thither. "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" "until the end come." And He who now says,—"Let us go hence," will say,—"Come ye blessed of my Father, sit down with Me on my throne as I have overcome, and sit down on the Father's throne."—F. B. Meyer, The Chinese Recorder, 1910