John 13:1-8; John 15:1-11.
J. S. B.
Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 322, vol. 18, 1891, p. 21, 44.
I desire, beloved friends, to say a few words tonight on the subject of fruit-bearing. Fruit is the great test of the tree, and it should be a matter of conscience for each one of us to see that we have borne something that answers to the wonderful ministry that God has given to us in these last days. Have we answered to the culture that has been bestowed upon us? That is the grand question before us tonight. I do not speak of salvation, I speak to those who know what it is to have salvation settled, because until salvation is settled God does not do anything in the way of cultivation, so that point must be settled first. In the first sight it would seem that the Lord Jesus brings in here a subject abruptly, and many times have I been puzzled to understand how the Lord Himself can turn away from the subject in chapter 14, and take up the subject in these first eight verses that seem so out of connection with that which has gone before. However, you will find that there is the most intimate connection between these three chapters; and I take up the subject of fruit-bearing, not confining myself to any particular line, because the Lord here does not speak of any particular line of ministry, and so setting aside the dispensational aspect of the chapter I desire to bring to bear on your conscience and my own too, the subject the Lord speaks of here - that of fruit-bearing. I say there is the most intimate connection; for in John 15 the Lord speaks very distinctly of the state of the soul. Fruit is the outcome of what is within, and so with us; the heart gets wrong, and everything is wrong. You see God produces a certain state of soul, and the outcome of that state of soul is fruit for the Father, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." You see it is not confined to any particular line of ministry. It is not the evangelist, the pastor, the teacher, etc., alone; but you will see that when the Lord speaks of fruit-bearing, He touches the soul and conscience of every one of His followers. This is an important point for each one of us, that in a day like this - a day of spurious imitations - we should desire that He would give us power to produce a distinctive colour to the fruit, a. distinct taste when eaten.
Now turn to Psalm 1, and there you will find in verse 1, surely a godly Jew, but still Christ in the distance. Verse 1 tells me what he does not do; he does not keep bad company to begin with; but in verse 2 he keeps very good company, and that is, his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in verse 3 he becomes like a tree producing fruit in its right season. The first three verses of Psalm 1 are important, giving us the principles of fruit-bearing; he does not sit in the seat of the scornful, he does not mix in bad company, but is occupied with God and His word, and the consequence is that he produces fruit, produces fruit in this barren world, where there is nothing of God except that which is seen from His saints. How important it is then for you and me to understand that we are each one responsible to God to bear fruit, responsible because we are connected with Christ, united to Him. I do not attempt to describe the fruit: your own soul and conscience before God must ever describe that; but ask yourself the question, Have I answered to the wondrous cultivation that God has bestowed upon me? Culture that saints have never received before although they had the blessings of God's Spirit and of God's word, yet never has God ministered His word in such a marvellous way as He has for many years past; and again I ask myself, and each one here, Have we answered to that which God has so bountifully bestowed upon us? Now if fruit be the outcome of what is within; it is the state of soul that I should desire to have. I find a tree in Psalm 92 planted within the house of the Lord, and flourishing in the court of the house of our God, and bringing forth fruit in old age; this shows that he was not walking in the world of sense, but in a higher sphere. It is to those who are inside, to those who know where the source and spring of power is, those who know the upper and the nether springs. The upper spring, Christ in, glory; the nether spring, the Holy Ghost on earth. And the question for us is, How have we used them?
Now I will return to John 13. This is a remarkable chapter in this way: we have the Lord commencing a new and distinct thing, a new and distinct ministry, There are three liftings up in John's Gospel. In John 3 it is the sacrifice, He is superior to the serpent; the serpent cured the bites where there was faith, but Christ raised up from the earth not only cures the bites - is made sin for us - but He has given to us eternal life. The serpent never could do that. Christ is made sin for us, and sets us in a new sphere - the sphere of fellowship with the Father, fellowship with the Father and with His Son. The knowledge of the Father, not simply God. The knowledge of the Father is what characterizes Christians, as the knowledge of the Almighty characterized Abraham.
Now, in John 8 you have the second lifting up, and I think it is to show the excellency of His person. "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me," is the third. (John 12). Here it is not so much a question of salvation, but of Himself becoming a new centre or base of work for God - lifted up from the earth, taken away from this scene.
Now, in John 13 He commences a new and distinct order of ministry. Many souls would rather look back and contemplate the Saviour dying on the cross. How many are occupied today with the cross? Well for them to know, that if they are occupied with the cross they are not occupied with Christ in glory, the One who said, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." That is, He set Himself apart on high, in order that we might be set apart for Him here on the earth, and so He says, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The prince of this world judged, the system of this world set aside, and a new order of things introduced, and every believer here tonight is in that new sphere. Are you conscious of it? Conscious of sitting down in the presence of the Father and Christ, and of understanding that it is possible for believers also to be introduced into this blessed intimacy; and thus do you know what it is to sit inside? Many sit outside, and so never know the warmth of the glorious presence of the Christ of God. But chapter 13 commences the service that is in keeping with the new order, the present ministry of Christ. Do you understand that? Well, it is not the past, nor is it the future, but it is the present ministry of Christ. It is divided into two distinct offices. He is High Priest for our weakness and infirmity, and He is the Advocate for our sins. "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father." They are distinct one from the other, and distinct from the cross; the cross it is that brings us into the place, and then it is that we have the Lord Himself as the High Priest and Advocate; two distinct offices.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, which brings before us the wilderness journey of the saints of God in contrast, to the wilderness journey of the children of Israel that brought them into the land of Canaan, we have the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the High Priest, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, the One who sustains us in the path, the Word of God that directs, and the priesthood of Christ to support. What a wonderful person the priest is! It was the priest Aaron who carried the children of Israel through the wilderness. Now, there are three very distinct aspects of the priesthood. In Exodus we have the man who maintains the people in relationship with God. You recollect the breastplate and ephod, they were connected together by the ring of gold and the lace of blue, that is secured by what is divine and heavenly; the link was typically with the High Priest, above; and the High Priest there supported the people. And in Exodus 28 we find that the breastplate must not be loosed from the ephod, that the one could not be separated from the other. Aaron wore the names of the children of Israel before Jehovah, their names were on the breastplate, and this is the part of our priesthood, that we try and support the saints of God; we cannot make the link, that is already formed, but as priests we must support the children of God. Now, the Leviticus priest helped in worship and the Numbers priest helped in service, and did you ever remark the wording of the scripture in Numbers 18:12? All the best of the oil, all the best of the wine and of the wheat, etc., was to be given to the priest. Why? Because he had to support the people in service. Now, these are three very distinct aspects of the priesthood, and we are all responsible to the Lord Jesus to manifest these characteristics of priesthood, sisters as well as brothers, it applies to all alike. Now ye are a "holy priesthood," says the apostle, and our bounden duty is to exercise priesthood; and if we understood our responsibilities, and undertook our responsibilities, there would be more power and buoyancy in the meetings, because every one would help and sustain the one who was taking the leading part; because that God has so tempered the body together that one part is dependent upon the other, and so as we are priests God would have us exercise our priesthood; whether as Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers priests, He would have us holding together, each one feeling that although "I am not a preacher, I may not be anything of that sort, but you cannot get on without me." And why? Because if you have a crooked limb you are not perfect, so the meeting is dependent upon every one, and if we only realized this more, we would have happier gatherings together.
Now let us look at the other side for a moment, and that is the advocacy. In John 13 I do not believe it is priesthood but advocacy we get. But, you see, I was careful to speak of the position of Christ, and not of the office only. He rises from supper, takes a towel, and girds Himself. The girdle is used in Scripture as a figure for service and judgment: we find the latter view in the Revelation. The Lord in the midst of the seven churches, "girt about the paps with a golden girdle," judicial attire; but here in John 13 He is manifesting Himself in grace, so we have the Lord adapting Himself to this new ministry. He has begun a new service. I do not think we understand John 13, unless we understand that it is a change of position of Christ from the cross to the glory. That is, He has finished one work completely, and has gone into a new service to adapt Himself to those now to whom He adapted Himself on the cross.
"He poureth water into a basin." Feet and water go together, as souls and blood go together. He has "washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father"; for it is always His Father in the Book of Revelation. So here we have the ministry of Christ, not His past work, but His present work; He takes a towel, girds Himself, and pours water into a basin. I dwell on chapter 13 because here we find the way in which He prepares that state of. soul, the outcome of which is fruit in chapter 15. Thus we have a series of chapters connected with the present ministry. He pours water into a basin, and washes the disciples' feet. Why feet? Because, - "How beautiful are the feet of them which preach - the gospel of peace," originally the feet of Him (Christ); and feet, you see, are always in connection with the ground on which we travel. It is as though the Lord Himself said, I would not only cleanse you from your sins, but I desire to have your feet so clean that you and I can ever be in company and fellowship together, though I shall be at the right hand of God, and you for a time down here. That is the heart of Christ. He says, I am going away in order to adapt myself to the service that will keep you in continual fellowship with me. Now, it is an important point, because Peter refuses the ministry. He says, "Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet." Now mark the words of the Lord Jesus, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." He did not say no part in me, that was settled for ever in the cross, but no part with me; you will not have fellowship with me unless you have clean feet. Of course, it is moral here; but I refer for a moment to Revelation 4, where I find the basin, as it were, stereotyped, I find the sea of glass like unto crystal; it is the figure, or rather the substance of what we have hereof what indeed the laver in the Old Testament typified.
In Revelation we have reached the place where no defilement can be contracted; the streets are of gold, and hence no necessity there for the towel and the basin and the water; but still we have kept before us that which has cleansed our feet as we passed through the wilderness. Like the golden pot of manna laid up as a witness of how God sustained His people as they passed from the Red Sea to the land of Canaan, where they ate manna no more. And it is thus the advocacy of Christ keeps our feet clean here, in order that we may walk with Him and serve Him, for remember it is always a matter of feet when it is a question of service. It is of no use preaching well if you cannot walk well. We have an illustration of the advocacy in the case of Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee; that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
Now, you have in John 13 the way the Lord produces the state of soul of John 14; that is the point now. I ask every one of you, How do you like the present ministry of Christ? I find it is not generally liked; but if you refuse the present ministry of Christ, you need never expect to be a fruit-bearer. And as we are believers, we should be exercised believers, not content to go on day after day in ease and indifference, but as those who at the end of the day say, What have I learned of Christ today? Is there any fruit gone out today? Have I produced any fruit for God? How careful that vine-dresser was. He said, "Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bring forth fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." And the tree was chopped down. Let us mind we do not get cut down because we do not produce fruit, and only cumber the ground. Many have been. "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." The time of fruit-bearing is now, and the place is here: if we are taken away the time of fruit-bearing will be over. Hear the words of the vine-dresser, "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" I believe this was with a very distinct view to believers, and that many a tree has been cut down. Remember, I am not speaking of salvation, but of fruit-bearing.
Well, I return to the chapter, and at the end I find John so near the Lord, that he could ask Him the question which Peter could not, and I believe that there is a ministry of Christ to the soul outside of failure. He works in the soul by His word, by the Spirit, so that I become an instrument ready to be used. I take the Lord Himself as an example. In Isaiah 49 He says, "In the shadow of His hand hath He hid me, and made me a polished shaft: in His quiver hath He hid me." We must be in the "hand" - that is, the place of formation - before we are in the quiver ready to be used. And He comes forth brightly burnished, we might say, proclaiming, "I delight to do thy will, O my God." That is the pliability of the servant which we have in Christ, who adapted Himself to every service upon earth. He could take a child in His arms and bless him, or call Lazarus forth from the grave.
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Now turn to the Old Testament Scriptures for a few illustrations; for the Old Testament is like the log-book aboard ship; in it we find all the way in which the Old Testament saints have failed - run against this rock, grounded on that shoal. Abraham went down into Egypt, Isaac wanted to go. David and Solomon failed, and so on, one after another; that is the log-book. But in the New Testament we have the chart that goes straight away and leads into the glory. Turn to David. He comes forth as the deliverer of the children of Israel out of the hand of Goliath. He refused to go in man's strength and power, but he went to the brook, and from the brook he took five stones, and they were smooth ones. He knew where to go to get a usable weapon. Why smooth? They had been under the action of the water, the water had played upon them and rubbed off every rough edge until they were usable. Do you like the rubbing? You will never be smooth without it. I do not know how long they had lain in the brook, some stones take longer to smooth than others; for if you will not submit, but will be obstinate and crooked, He will keep you under the action of the water until you are ready to be used. Oh that we might sit down, as it were, and allow the water to play over us, rubbing off the edges! You never see a square stone on the sea-shore. How often have we admired the round pebbles there! A stone fresh cut from the quarry is rough, and has jagged edges; but put it on the sea-shore, and, perhaps not in a day, or a week, or a month, but after a time it will lose all the roughness. I only use this as an illustration to show that if you and I submitted more to the water (the present ministry of Christ), we should be more usable in His hand; but if you refuse to go under the water, you will never be a smooth stone. David knew where to get the stones, and one stone did the whole thing. That is power. And if we are ever to be burden-bearers, or weapons in the hand of Christ, we must have the water of the Word playing on our hearts; and the man who will not submit to John 13 never has the condition of John 14, John 14 is the state produced by the power of the present ministry of Christ. If we are not in a good state God cannot use us, but the devil can; and do you know the devil's device? He never thrusts a man down all at once, he works insidiously until he has changed the state of soul, and corrupted him, and then he trips him. A fall arises from a bad state of soul, caused by not subjecting ourselves to the present ministry of Christ.
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Now turn for another illustration to Joshua 5. The Lord brought Israel into the land of Canaan without their being circumcised. They had not circumcised them by the way, and there were three things that took place in Joshua 5. They were circumcised - the power of the flesh set aside. They kept the passover, and they ate of the old corn of the land; and then, after that, the Captain of the Lord's host joined them, for He never joined them before they were circumcised. Joshua sees a man with a drawn sword in his hand, and he goes to him and says, for faith knows no neutrality, "Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?" "Nay," he said; "but as Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come . . . . Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy." Now, the Captain of the Lord's host only came after they were circumcised, kept the passover, worshipped and fed on the figure of the heavenly Christ, and then the result is, the victory of Jericho in chapter 6. And if you and I want the company of the Captain of the Lord's host we must be circumcised; then we must submit not only to the application of the cross, but to the exercise of Christ's present ministry to the soul. That is what fits the servant now. Everything comes from within. If the within is right, all will be right; and if the within is wrong, all will be wrong.
Now let me ask you, Does your state trouble you? Your standing should be a joy, for the standing is Christ's work. But how about your state? Our state should correspond with our standing. Perhaps you are concerned about circumstances, but do not let them stand between your soul and God; for the present ministry of Christ enables us to pass over these present things, producing the state of chap. 14, and the outcome of that is fruit. I desire to press this; first, that the power is in chapter 13, the state produced is in chapter 14, and the outcome of that is fruit for the Father in chapter 15. Now in chapter xi 5 the Lord speaks of His return. "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." He counted upon their affection in His absence. Now in chapter 14 there is a peculiar state of soul, it is communion - the abiding of chapter 15 And you will not produce fruit until you understand what the abiding is, and the communion is produced by chapter 13, where I get my defiled feet washed.
The Lord Himself acts as the advocate, and when I sin I confess my fault, and He restores again to fellowship; but you have lost today, you have lost a day's earnings, a day's wages. Peter, you know, walked on the water, but he went down; but he was not drowned, the Lord picked him up, the Lord rebuked him at the same time that He helped him. You have in Ephesians: "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." And why? The next verse gives the answer, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." If you do not walk circumspectly you will fall down and lose time, and we often think little of the loss of time; but we shall not think little of it at the judgment-seat of Christ. We shall not think lightly of losing a day's wages then, when all our works are inspected. In the diamond - fields in South Africa, they bring the earth up from the pit, and one man throws a whole bucketful out upon the table, and they all work their fingers through it feeling for the diamonds, and throw aside everything else. So at the judgment-seat of Christ, every work shall be picked out; works that you and I have thought lightly of, the Great Valuator will gauge at a different value.
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But now for verse 12 (chap. 14) for a moment: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do . . . because I go unto my Father." Now you know it is not the man that did believe, but He is speaking of the present activity of faith - he that believeth. We have two points in verse 12. He speaks of His own present position like Elijah and Elisha. Elisha had a double portion of Elijah's spirit, for in 2 Kings 2 we read, that is the correct reading, "If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so." What was that? It was a figure of Christ in the glory. The power for service upon the earth - that is the figure for us today - is in having our eye fixed upon Christ in heaven. Now, the two points, dependence and obedience, are the two conspicuous characteristics seen in the Lord Himself. Turn to the perfect Man in Psalm 16: "Preserve me, O God"; and verse 8, "I have set the Lord always before me." The very description of the perfect Man upon the earth and in contrast to Adam in the garden, for he was neither obedient nor dependent. In chapter 14 He said, "If ye shall ask anything in my name." (v. 14.) That is dependence. And in verse 23, "If a man love me, he will keep my word." He did not say keep my commandments. It is keeping the word of the Lord. It is being near Christ. How near the mighty men were to David. David never told them to go and get him water from the wells of Bethlehem, but he expressed a wish: "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem!" And the three mighty men broke through the host of the Philistines and got it; and then David would not drink the water, for he said, It is the life of these men. But mark you, he never told them to go. Are you waiting for some word from the Lord to tell you to go? I do not think you will get it, then; for if you are a smooth stone you are ready to be used. If you have been long enough in the "shadow of His hand" to be fashioned, He will then pass you into the quiver to wait the time He will use you. The secret is, these men were so near to David that they knew what David wanted. Are you and I so near to Christ as to know what He wants?
Now just a parting word from Luke 12:37: "Blessed are those servants . . . . . Verily I say unto you, that He shall gird Himself - and will come forth and serve them." Here we have the saints of God in glory. It is beyond John 13 Here we are in the Father's house, led in by Christ. Christ setting us down to the Father's table, and He deigning to serve His people still. May our hearts be attached to Him more. Waiting for Him, He is waiting for us, and we are in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. We wait His time, He waits the Father's time, and in the meantime may we see to it that we submit to the present ministry of Christ.
J. S. B.