I AM the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). Severed from the vine, the branch is worthless, powerless, and will wither and die. What better illustration have we of the total dependency of the soul upon Christ for life. This text is uncluttered with high theological terminology that might confuse rather than clarify. It states the case clearly without the usual Biblical labels such as imputed, imparted, justification, and sanctification, though this simple comparison embraces them all. The Master's pronouncements are all master statements, infinitely profound, yet marvelously simple. His meaning is clear: I am your spiritual life. Attached to Me, your life is clean and your witness faithful. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. The implications of this sweeping statement are many. We can only deal with three of them.
1. Attachment to the Vine
Our first concern is the relationship between the vine and the branch. All else hinges here. The life of the vine is the life of the branch. The branch has no life of itself. Its growth and service is determined by the strength of its attachment to the vine. Where the branch meets the vine, the strength or weakness of the branch is determined. The more perfect that attachment, the stronger the branch and the more perfect the fruit. The first work of the Christian is to guard that point of attachment with the Vine, his Lord. He must maintain a clear inner channel so that the flow of grace will not be hindered—in the language of Scripture, that the branch may partake "of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (Rom. 11:17). This relationship is guarded through repentant faith, prayer, and the daily study of the Word of God.
2. Spiritual Dividends
Attachment to the vine does for the branch what nothing else can. It must be remembered that the sinner is described as a "wild olive tree" (Rom. 11:17). It is this "alien" who becomes a son through faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. He needs his past atoned for, and new status in the household of faith; not to mention freedom from guilt for past transgression, or how else can he have peace of mind? All of this the Vine provides His dependent branches according to Romans 5:9: "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." Christ became man's substitute at Calvary, and is his surety now. Christ is man's righteousness before God the Father. Man's sinful nature precludes any possibility of self-representation. Man has status with God through Christ alone! Man's very approach to God in prayer must therefore be through Christ.
No less is man in need of spiritual strength to meet temptation, present and future. This too, the Vine provides. "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness" (Isa. 41:10). This text takes into account the weakness of man, "Be not dismayed." How often we disappoint ourselves and our Lord in the exercise of faith. There is imperfection in all of human experience and not all of it without premedi-tation. It is premeditated sin that we must overcome. Our lives must be spent in "practice-yielding." This art must be perfected before the close of world probation or our own. This under God is attainable, though not in a day. Paul's "daily dying" was progressive, and ours must be also. Motive and effort weigh heavily in God's evaluation of our rate of growth.
Back to Isaiah 41:10: "I am thy God." Occasional misdeeds do not destroy son-ship if they are repented of sincerely. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). Fortunate provision! And who among the readers of this article has not grasped this life line often, in desperate hope of full and complete deliverance? Our wise heavenly Father knew that the clash of good and evil within man would not always end in Heaven's favor, and that the experience of the best of His children would not be one endless string of victories. Hence this merciful provision, and the additional assurance, "I am thy God." His compassion fails not in the face of transgression (repented of) on the part of His children. It is just this fact that makes His love unsearchable. For hundreds of years God Himself owned the house of Israel as His chosen. To be sure, one wonders in amazement at the long-suffering of God toward this backsliding nation. But when one in deep humility considers his own experience, he understands, for human nature is ever the same.
However, we must not take advantage of God's long-suffering. No man knows just when the Holy Spirit will silently steal away. There is no known number of deliberate sins that one can safely commit and be sure that he can thereafter find grace. Of this we may be sure: "Mv spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh" (Gen. 6:3). Any transgression could become the mortal wound of the soul. Add to this the danger that man by repeated, deliberate transgression may harden his own will, and this fearful risk constitutes its own warning. This fact alone should lead us to trust more fully in the power of Christ, and in His strength fight the good fight of faith.
3. The Fruit of the Branch
One of the great mysteries of our time is the imaginary conflict between the grace of God and the law of God. This has contributed greatly to the moral laxity of our times. The law of God is the verbal expression of the righteousness of God in terms of human behavior. "My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness" (Ps. 119: 172). God's commandments teach man the righteous way to live. The law of God guides the son of God in righteous paths. Power to walk in right paths must be within as the law has no power to restrain or encourage. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. The grace of God does not nullify the office of the law, rather it complements it. Inner grace is not contrary to the revealed will of God. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Rom. 3:31). It is indeed by faith in Christ that the law is obeyed. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8: 3,4).
That men who claim the righteousness of Christ should shy away from His righteous law is an experimental impossibility. It is so remote from logic as to constitute a monstrous attack on God's own consistency. How can man be just before a just God and willfully reject the law called "holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7:12)? There seems to be a fear that a command destroys liberty in the spirit. But is not the new covenant a covenant of grace, and under its terms is not the law written in the heart (Jer. 31: 33; Heb. 8:10)? It is then clear that obedience to the law that springs from a converted heart, is itself an outward expression of inner grace. The law says, Stop. Grace halts the soul. The law requires, grace obeys. What the law condemns, grace reforms. The law is the signpost, grace the guiding light. Grace is the great power of God that disciplines the soul. The law of God challenges the soul to new standards of spiritual achievement. The law is not a cold, legal document imposed upon unwilling subjects. The soul, saved by the grace of God, is in joyful compliance with its broad provisions. The Christian who loves his Lord has no more right to resent God's law than a child has to resist the righteous commands of parents.
E. E. C.