The True Vine
C. H. Darch, Taunton, England
There has been much disagreement over the branches of the Vine which are taken away, as mentioned in John 15. 2. Are they taken away from the Vine? Do they illustrate those who are true believers in Christ? Many other such questions have been asked from time to time.
To obtain a clear picture, we need to go back to Psalm 80, to which the Lord was undoubtedly referring and to which the minds of the disciples would naturally go, for the Psalm was to them a well-known hymn.
Psalm 80. 8 says, "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it". This is a very definite reference to the fact that God brought Israel out of Egypt and placed them in the land of Canaan. Then the questions are asked, "Why hast thou then broken down her hedges"? and why allow the wild beast of the field to devour it? The answer to these questions is found in Isaiah 5. 4 where the Lord says, "I looked that it should bring forth grapes", and adds that it brought forth "wild grapes". Instead of righteousness Israel brought forth sin: therefore He adds, "I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up". Daniel describes the nations as wild beasts, so God allowed them to invade and to impoverish Israel.
The scene in Psalm 80 changes with a prayer for a "branch that thou madest strong for thyself", and this branch is also called "the son of man", which is none other than Christ, w.
15. 17. How clear this scene must have been to the disciples, who
had only to look at the Roman army to see the truth of this Psalm; yet how strange, that a man should say, I am about to be crucified and declare in almost the same breath, "I am the true vine". The One whom God had made strong for Himself was none other than the Son of man who was to reign over the whole earth. Just as when He claimed to be the Good Shepherd He was clearly claiming deity as the first verse of this Psalm plainly shows, in His discourse in John 15 He claims to be the Vine of Psalm 80. 15.
But how much more astonished they must have been when He continued, "ye are the branches", John 15. 5. He added also the statement, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away". This is the statement which has caused such differences of opinion in this country, but in the land of Israel no such divergence exists because there the people understand the vine better than we do. The vine is a plant that has long branches which are so weak that they cannot carry their own weight; therefore they fall to the ground. When they touch the ground, they begin to throw out roots into the soil and so become earth bound and fruitless. Therefore men called lifters are kept in large vineyards to visit the vine constantly and lift its branches away from the ground. Then the branch needs cleansing in order that it may bear fruit.
The word translated "taketh away" is translated in the New Testament thirty-six times "taketh up" and "lifteth up"; it is used of a man lifting up his hands in blessing, so we may well believe the Lord was referring to its being taken away from the ground and not to its being taken away from the vine. We all know how easy it is for us to become worldly or earthbound and thus denied with the filth of this world; so our Lord who cares for the vine drags us away by various means from this world, that we may dwell in heavenly places in Christ, Eph. 2. 6. A friend who lived for twenty-six years in Palestine said, "No one there thinks of the branch as being taken away from the vine, but always as being taken away from the ground". Again verse six has caused difficulty because it is assumed that this has to do with a man who is in Christ and is a branch: observe first he is never called a branch but the simile "as a branch" is used and note also that he is not in Christ because it plainly states that he is not abiding in Christ, and therefore "he is cast forth as a branch . . . and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned", v. 6. Newberry translated it: "they gather them", which seems to be a reference to the angels who gather the tares from the wheat, Matt. 13. 39. In Psalm 80, such branches were covering the land; and when our Lord was on earth many were boasting of the fact that they were Abraham's seed, but they were far from Christ and trampled down by the Gentiles. So today, crowds who have never experienced the new birth would be insulted if told that they were not Christians.
God's great purpose is that we should bear fruit for His glory! This means we must be in Christ and not become earthbound, or unclean. Then finally we are told in Isaiah 27. 1-3 that the beasts are to be destroyed and the vine established: "In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent: and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea". So God strikes at the root of the trouble by destroying the Leviathan, Satan, who is king over all the children of pride, Job. 41. 34, the Leviathan who is stirring up the wicked and making them like the troubled sea, Isa. 57. 20, and making the nations war with each other and Israel. Like the beast of the field - if left they would still trample down the vineyard. But no; God's promise is "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment", 27. 3. So the vine spreads across the earth in spite of all opposition and one day "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea", Isa. 11. 9, and He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, Joel 2. 28, so the earth will bring forth its fruit to God, and Christ will have triumphed for ever.