The Vine and The Branches

By John Brown of Haddington

The full “Evangelical Commentary” notes from John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible, at the Gospel of John chapter 15. John Brown (1722-1787) was a presbyterian minister in Haddington, Scotland, and Professor of Divinity for his denomination, the Burgher branch of the First Secession Church of Scotland.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 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 15.1-5).

In my peculiar relation to the church I am the fountain of spiritual influence, and the means of conveying it to her members; and my Father plants and takes care of me, and of all that are connected with me. Such members of the church as are united to me only in profession and appearance, without bringing forth the fruits of holiness, he, in his righteous judgment, cuts off as unprofitable and injurious. Such as, being spiritually and vitally unites to me by the Spirit and faith, bring forth fruits of righteousness, he, by the various methods of his word, ordinances, influences, and rods, purges from their remaining corruption, that they abound more in good works, and have their end everlasting life. Now, theefore, Judas being gone, ye are all my living and fruitful members, partakers of my Spirit, and inwardly purified by faith in my word, which works effectually in you: adhere more and more closely by faith and love to me, as your source of perpetual support and supply; for, whatever be your present attainments of grace, you cannot continue to perform holy obedience any otherwise than by continued union and communion with me. And the more abundantly ye cleave to me by faith and love, and have my Spirit dwelling in you, the more ye will abound in spiritual fruits, to the glory of God and to your own and others’ advantage; for, separate from me, and without my continual influence, even ye, my real members, can do nothing good or acceptable to God.

“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15.6-7).

Such church members as do not adhere to me by faith and love shall quickly be stripped of all relation to me or my church; and their gifts, profession, and specious appearances, shall wither and die; and they shall be gathered together at the last day, as fit fuel for divine wrath, and cast into everlasting burnings. But they who steadfastly cleave to me, and have me and my word dwelling in their hearts by faith, to guide, govern, quicken, and establish them, shall have everything which they request of God, for his glory and for their own edification and fruitfulness, granted them to the uttermost of their desires and wants.

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15.8-11).

By your thus abiding in me, and I in you, and having your petitions answered, my Father’s wisdom, faithfulness, and grace, are gloriously manifested; for thus he enables you to abound in holy tempers and works, by which he may be still furhter glorified; and ye may more plainly appear to yourselves and to the world as my true disciples, and be approved, esteemed, and owned by me as such. For, as my Father dearly loves and delights in me, not only as his eternal Son, but as the root and medium of all communications to you, so I dearly love and delight in you, as branches united to me, and deriving virtue unto all holy fruitfulness from me. Cleave, therefore, affectionately and steadfastly to me, that ye may be still further approved of and delighted in by me. And if, from a principle of faith and love, ye cheerfully obey my commandments as your Lord and Saviour, ye shall continue to be aproved and owned by me as my dearly-beloved friends, even as I, in the character of Man and Mediator, have cheerfully fulfilled all righteousness in obedience to my Father’s commandment, and am continually approved by him, and know that he loves me.—These things I have freely and plainly declared to you, that I may rejoice in you as my fruitful members; and ye may rejoice in your union with me, and in my abiding love to you; that, through the influences of my Spirit, ye may have fulness of joy to support you under all your troubles and losses; and all may issue in your complete and everlasting joy with me.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15.12-17).

The great command which I now insist on, as a proof of your sincere affection and discipleship to me, is, that you be affectionate, and ready to perform all kind offices one to another for my sake, in consideration and imitation of my fervent love to you in laying down my life for you. For greater love I cannot shew to you, who were naturally my enemies, than in dying for you, as though you had been my most important and endeared friends. And ye will manifest yourselves to be my true friends, and be esteemed and owned by me as such, if, from the sense of my love to you, ye make conscience of a ready and impartial obedience to all my commandments.—I neither have nor will use you as mere servants, who are kept ignorant of their master’s secrets, but as friends, to whom I have imparted, and will further impart by my Spirit, all the secret counsels of my Father, which are profitable for you to know or preach.—And not from any prior choice of yours, or obligation on me, have I chosen you either to salvation or to the apostleship, but by my own grace have I made you my servants and friends, that, by virtue derived from me, ye may bring forth the fruits of righteousness in your loves and ministrations, and persevere in them, to ye and your converts propagate my cause on earth and arrive safe in heaven: and that my Father my grant you everything you ask in my name, as your prevailing Advocate and Friend, to promote these holy purposes. These things I require of you, in order that ye, after my example, heartily love one another, as members of the same body, partakers of the same blessings, and as servants, disciples, and friends of the same Lord.

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me” (John 15.18-21).

Do not wonder if carnal and worldly men, the children and subjects of Satan, hate, oppose, and persecute you; for ye know that they began with me, and have been as full of rage and spite against me, your Head and Chief, as they can be against you.—If ye were of the same carnal temper and disposition with worldly men, encouraging them in their sinful courses, they would esteem you as persons of their own party and likeness; but because ye are not conformed to them in their corrupt principles, manners, and customs, but are by me distinguished from the world, and set apart, to exemplify and preach my spiritual and holy gospel, they have an irreconcilable antipathy at you. In order therefore to prevent murmering at the maltreatment that you must meet with, often consider that you are not worth of, not warranted to expect, better treatment than I your Lord and Master have found. If, then, these carnel men have reviled and persecuted me, ye may expect that they will do the same to you: and if, instead of receiving the truth in the love of it from me, they have carped and cavilled at my doctrine on account of its contrariety to their depraved sentiments, tempers and views, they will for the same reason set themselves against it when delivered by you.—And on account of your relation and likeness to me, and your zealous profession and publishing of my gospel, they will thus hate, oppose, and persecute you, as they have no true knowledge of God, nor of his sending me into the world to purchase the salvation of men.

“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (John 15.22-25).

If I had not in the plainest manner asserted and demonstrated my Messiahship among them, their sin, in refusing to believe in me, had been less; but, since they have had so long the enjoyment of the clearest evidence of the Divinity of my person, office, and doctrine, their sin is so highly aggravated that they can plead no excuse for it. And whoever hates and opposes me, is an enemy to my heavenly Father, who sent me, and hath given public testimony to me as his beloved Son. Nay, if I had not wrought among them such a multitude of merciful and public miracles as neither Moses nor any other man ever wrought, in such a sovereign and godlike manner, they might still have had some pretence of excusing their infidelity, or at least of lessening its guilt: but their persisting in it, notwithstanding their being eyewitnesses of all, must proceed from a rooted enmity at the holiness and authority of both me and my Father; and is, as the Psalmist David typically foretold, a hating me without any just provocation.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 15.26-27).

But notwithstanding their most furious and causeless enmity to my person, truths, and interests, they shall triumph over all opposition; for when the divine Counsellor, Advocate, and Comforter is come whom I have promised, and with my Father’s concurrence will send to you,—even the Holy Spirit, who is infinitely faithful, and the inditer of all inspired truth; and who in a divine manner proceeds from the Father as well as from me,—he will direct, encourage, comfort, and support you under all your difficulties and dangers, and will attest my dignity and character by further revelations which he will make, and the miraculous operations that he will enable you to perform; and will assist, own, and success you in confuting your enemies, and bringing vast multitudes of all nations to the obedience of faith. And under his conduct and influence ye shall be enabled to give a noble, plain, and courageous, an unexceptionable testimony to me, and my cause, in your doctrines, miracles, lives, and deaths, as persons who have, during the whole course of my public ministry, been acquainted with my discourses, miracles, sufferings, and behaviour, public and private, all along, till my ascension to heaven.

REFLECTIONS UPON CHAP. XV.—God has made the most abundant provision in Christ for the spiritual life, growth, fruitfulness, and happiness of believers, and for advancing his own glory in and by them. Intimate, beneficial, and endearing is their union with him, and effectual is his influence upon them. But without union to, and fellowship with him, there can be nothing in religion done in a spiritual or acceptable manner. While under the influence of his grace, received by faith through his word and ordinances, a most abundant production of good works may be expected. The more vigorously faith is exercised, the more will our holiness in all manner of conversation increase; and everything that we ask, for God’s glory and our own good, shall be graciously bestowed. But alas! Great is their folly and guilt to take up the external forms of religion instead of the vital union with Christ, and with dead works of formality and wickedness prepare themselves for infernal flames.—Infinite is his love in dying for us his enemies, and in constituting us his dear friends. But we cannot have the evidence of our union to him or friendship with him, but in cleaving to him. Nor can we expect the manifestations of his love, but in believing his promise, and in gratefully keeping his commandments, without reserve. His love to us, and ours to him, ought to make us obey and imitate him in a sincere, affectionate, and active love to our bretheren. Thrice happy is it when he grants us his Spirit to attest his truths, and, as our Advocate, Guide, and Comforter, to animate us with holy courage in our profession of his name, and to support us under all the tribulations which we endure for his sake. And never should we wonder at, or be discouraged by, the hatred, reproach, contempt, and persecution, we may be called to suffer, from carnal men for the sake of Christ, when he, our great Lord, has undergone all and much worse for us. All that will live godly will suffer presecution: and the more faithful professors are, especially ministers, the more must they expect of it. But inexpressible will be our guilt if we pervert the clearest revelations of Christ, and render them the occasion of greater enmity and opposition to him and his gospel, his servants and followers. It is to quarrel with our own mercies, and become our own worst adversaries; and whatever we may pretend, it is all owing to our ignorance of, and enmity against, God himself.