Spiritual Meaning of
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THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to 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 you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: he that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. 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 you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you.
Jesus Christ here calls Himself the true vine in agreement with the language of correspondence, or the relation subsisting, because established at creation, between things natural and things spiritual, agreeably to which relation the vine is a representative figure of spiritual truth, and is, accordingly, so applied in the Book of Revelation, which is the Word of God. Thus, in the blessing which Jacob pronounces on his sons, it is said concerning Judah, Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass's colt to the choice vine (Gen. 49:11), in which words it is evident that the vine is spoken of according to its above spiritual signification. To the same purpose it is written in the book of Psalms, You have brought a vine out of Egypt; you have cast out the heathen and planted it, etc (Psalm 80:8), where it must be evident to every considerate person, that by a vine is not meant a vine, but a spiritual principle, or what is the same thing, a spiritual people, represented by a vine. It is for the same reason, that the Church, or people of God, are called a vineyard, because a vineyard implies a portion of earth allotted to the cultivation of vines, and since the Church, or people of God, are a Church and people by virtue of the reception of spiritual truth, they are accordingly called a vineyard, as it is written, The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant (Isaiah 5:7). Agreeably to the same idea, in the prophetic writings throughout, evangelical graces and virtues are constantly figured and described by different kinds of trees or plants answering to those graces and virtues. Thus it is written, I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fig tree, and the pine, and the box tree together (Isaiah 41:19), where it must again be evident to every reflecting mind, that some spiritual principles are signified, which are in agreement with the above trees, since it is written in the verse which immediately follows, That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it. Again, it is written, Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree; and then it is added, it shall be to the Lord for a name, and for an everlasting sign that there shall be no cutting off (Isaiah 55:13); from which words it is again manifest, that, in the language of Revelation, spiritual graces and blessings are figured and represented by different kinds of trees. Jesus Christ accordingly calls Himself the true vine, as being the Source and All of Spiritual Truth, by virtue of which His Church or people, are enabled to attain conjunction of life with Himself.
Jesus Christ further says of this vine, My Father is the gardener. Whenever Jesus Christ speaks of His Father, He speaks of the Essential Divine Principle which was in Himself, as His inmost soul and life, and which was distinct from Himself before His full glorification, and distinct in this, that the Father was the Divine Good in Himself, whereas He Himself, as to His Humanity, before it was fully united with the Divinity, was the Divine Truth. The Father, therefore, is called the gardener, or, as the original term might be better expressed, the vine dresser, inasmuch as the cultivation of the vine, or the growth and fruitfulness of heavenly truth, is always from the Divine Good of heavenly love and charity. It is not, then, to be supposed that Jesus Christ and His Father are separate beings, as they would appear to be from the above description in the letter, but that they are one and the same being, only with this distinction, that the Father is the inmost principle of that being, being its very Essential Life, whereas Jesus Christ, previous to the full glorification of His Humanity, was the external principle, here called the true vine, which is to be supposed as advancing gradually to a full union with its internal life or soul, until at length they were no longer two but one, on which occasion the Humanity became Divine, being fully incorporated with its Essential Divinity.
It is written, Every branch in me that bears not fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Every one who receives the Eternal Truth in his understanding is called a branch in the true vine Jesus Christ: the reason is, because by virtue of such reception he has communication with Jesus Christ in his understanding, and in consequence of such communication receives a degree of life from Him, in the same manner that a branch derives life from its parent stock.
The fruit, here spoken of, is charity, or an operative good-will towards men, producing all kinds of good and useful works; and not to bear this fruit is to have knowledge, but not a life corresponding to knowledge; in other words, it is to have truth in the understanding, but not the good of truth in the will, in which case the branch is entirely useless, and does not answer the purpose for which it was created, since the end of all knowledge is to conduct to the life of knowledge, and the end of all truth is to lead to the good of truth, which is the love and the life of good works.
Concerning this branch, it is said, that He (the Father) takes it away; but this is to be understood as spoken merely according to the appearance, since to those who are thus taken away, it appears to be the act and deed of the Almighty, whereas in truth and reality they take themselves away. For such is the case with every one who receives the knowledge of the Eternal Truth, and does not suffer himself to be conducted by that knowledge to its heavenly and blessed life, and thus to a living conjunction with its Divine Source, that he takes himself away from that Source, notwithstanding every effort of the Source itself to preserve him from separation. Thus every sinner brings his own destruction upon himself, although it appears to him that his destruction comes from God.
It is declared of the branch that bears fruit, that He purges it that it may bring forth more fruit. By this is to be understood the purification effected by the Supreme Good with all those who have attained to any state of conjunction of heavenly good and heavenly truth in their own minds and lives, by abiding in Jesus Christ the true vine. In regard to such purification, the case is this, that no good or truth received by man or angel can be absolutely pure, so as to be incapable of receiving any higher degree of purity. Nevertheless, every good and truth, whether received by man or angel, is capable of an indefinite advancement in purification, which advancement is effected successively in the progress of regeneration, both during man's abode in this world, and afterwards in the eternal world. It is further to be noted, that this purification is generally accomplished under some state of trial or temptation, it being the end and tendency of every such trial and temptation, to lead man into humiliation, and by humiliation into closer conjunction with his Heavenly Father, or the Supreme Good, and of course into a higher state of purification from the inordinate love of himself and the world, which love is the grand source of all defilement.
From what has been said concerning the progress of man's purification, it is evident, that as he advances in it, he attains at the same time to some new state of heavenly good and truth, which is the more fruit spoken of, when it is said That it may bring forth more fruit. It is, therefore, an eternal law of the divine order, in regard to man's regeneration, that he should never stand still in any present attainments, let them in themselves be ever so excellent, but should always be pressing forward to the possession of some new and higher good, and to the illumination of some new and higher order of truth. Every present attainment, therefore, is only to be considered as preparatory to some new attainment, and thus it is that man enters into a career of gradual approach towards the Eternal, ever bringing forth more fruit to the glory of the Divine Vine-dresser, and to his own eternal happiness and comfort.
It is added, Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you. To judge from appearance, these words seem to be quite unconnected with what goes before. The want of connection, however, is only apparent, and not real, for in the preceding words mention had been made of the purification of the branch which bears fruit, that it may bring forth more fruit, and Jesus Christ now explains the manner in which that purification is effected, as well as the principle by which it is effected. For He now teaches that this purification is accomplished by and through His Word, as it is received in the hearts and understandings of those to whom it is addressed, and, further, as it is seen to be in connection with Himself, the only Divine Source of all truth. For such is the nature of man's purification from his natural evils and errors, that it cannot be worked without the reception of truth, and that truth cannot be received unless it be received conjointly in the will, the understanding, and the works of the true penitent; neither can it still be purifying, unless it be seen and acknowledged in its continual connection with its Divine Source, and that Source be seen and acknowledged to be Jesus Christ in His Divine Humanity, and Him alone. When Jesus Christ, therefore, said, Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you, He meant to explain more particularly the purification of which He had been before speaking, and to show that it was effected by and through the Eternal Truth in its everlasting union with Himself.
Jesus Christ continues his discourse in these words, Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me.
He is here speaking of the conjunction between Himself and His Church, thus between Himself and every individual member of the Church; and He would teach, that this conjunction cannot be effected unless it be mutual or reciprocal, thus unless there be an uniting love in both the parties. For the case with this conjunction is like that of all other spiritual conjunctions whatsoever, it being very well known that the spiritual conjunction subsisting between two friends cannot take place unless it be mutual; in other words, unless each friend be attracted to the other by mutual love and interest. This is especially the case in regard to that highest and most important of all spiritual conjunctions which is here spoken of, namely, the conjunction between Jesus Christ and His Church, in effecting which it is not sufficient that Jesus Christ, on His part, loves His Church, but His Church, on her part, must also love Him in return, by accounting Him as her greatest and sovereign good. It is however to be understood that the Church cannot thus mutually love her Divine Lord by any love properly her own, or which she derives from herself alone, but a love which she receives continually from her Lord, and which she humbly and gratefully acknowledges to be so received. In this respect, therefore, Jesus Christ is to be regarded as the alone active principle of love, whilst the Church exercises only a passive principle; but then it is to be considered, that this passive principle is intended to become, in its place, an active one, in submission to, and continual dependence on, the Supreme Activity of her Divine Lord.
Jesus Christ says, As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me.
He teaches by this plainest and most significant of all figures, that His Church, or the individuals who compose it, cannot attain to any state of heavenly life and love, with its consequent operation, unless by faith and love they attach themselves to their Divine Lord, and to His essential mercy and truth. For it is obvious to every one, that the branch of a tree cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the parent stock; and since the connection between Jesus Christ and His Church, as has been already shown, is like that which subsists between the vine and its branches, therefore it follows, of necessity, that no member of the Lord's Church can possibly bear the fruit of saving-life, which is the life of love and charity, unless they have perpetual conjunction with the parent stock of love and charity, that is to say, with Jesus Christ.
When Jesus Christ said to His disciples, I am the vine, you are the branches, He meant to declare to them, and through them to all future disciples, the sacred and distinguishing relationship which subsisted between Himself and them. He meant, therefore, to announce to them the important truth, that they received life continually from Him, even the ever-blessed life of love, of wisdom, of charity, of faith, and of every other heavenly grace and blessing. He meant, further, to instruct them, that if they were wise, to regard Him with mutual affection, by acknowledging gratefully the all of their life to be derived from Him, they would then bring forth much fruit; in other words, there would be a continual multiplication and increase of all heavenly graces and virtues, and this successively, one state of grace and virtue ever giving birth to a new one, and this new one to another and another in endless generations. Lastly, He meant to warn them of the great danger to which they were exposed of separating their life from His life, or, what is the same thing, their love from His love, by informing them, that without Him, or apart from Him, they can do nothing; in other words, they can produce no grace or virtue; they can bring forth no fruit either of love towards God, or of charity towards men; and, of course, they must remain barren and unprofitable branches.
It is afterwards written, 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.
It has already been shown what is meant by abiding in Jesus Christ, and consequently by not abiding in Him. Jesus Christ, therefore, teaches in these words the several effects of not abiding in Him; first, that he who does not abide in Him, is cast forth as a branch, by which is signified, that he has no longer any fellowship, communion, or conjunction of life with Jesus Christ; secondly, that he is withered, by which is to be understood, that he is deprived of all spiritual love and spiritual wisdom, thus of all spiritual life; thirdly, that men gather them, to denote, that when they are thus cast forth and withered, they are brought into association with those in the spiritual world who are in a similar disposition with themselves; fourthly, that they are cast into the fire, by which is represented, that they are delivered up to the fire of their own cravings, which are nothing else but the inordinate love of themselves and of the world; fifthly, that they are burned, by which is further represented, that they are left to perish in those cravings. It is, however, well to be understood, that all these effects are the necessary results of not abiding in Jesus Christ, and thus that they are not to be regarded as punishments inflicted by what is commonly called the wrath and vengeance of the Almighty, but rather as the natural consequences of the sinner's rejection of all heavenly love and wisdom for government and for guidance.
Jesus Christ adds, further, If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you.
By the words of Jesus Christ, abiding in man, is to be understood, that man endeavours to form his whole life, both of will, of understanding, and of work, in agreement with the life and spirit of the precepts of Jesus Christ, the result of which abiding is here declared to be, that he shall ask what he will, and it shall be done to him, for in this case it will be impossible for him to ask or desire anything but what is agreeable to the will of God his Saviour, and, therefore, he is sure to have whatsoever he asks or desires, since it is connected with Omnipotence, and inspired by that Divine Being of whom it is written, He shall fulfil the desire of them that fear Him. Thus man comes into possession of all that he can will or wish, since the whole of his will and wish is, that the designs of the Almighty may be accomplished, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We learn, first, from this parable, the near and holy connection subsisting between Jesus Christ, ourselves, and all His creatures, by virtue of the reception of the Eternal Truth, of which He is the Divine Source and Only Fountain. We learn, further, that this connection includes two very different descriptions of people; first, of those in whom it produces its proper fruits; and, secondly, of those in whom it produces no fruits. Under the first class are included all those who to the knowledge of the Eternal Truth join the love and the practice of it, and thus attain conjunction of life with Jesus Christ in His own ever blessed spirit of love and charity. Under the second class are included all those who receive the knowledge of truth in their understanding, but do not suffer that knowledge to influence their wills, their love, and their operation, consequently, who never attain any conjunction of life with their God and Saviour, but only what may be called connection with Him by virtue of the knowledge which they have admitted into their understandings. We learn, further, that with all those who are wise to unite knowledge with the life of knowledge, a continual purification takes place in all the principles of their lives, by virtue of their conjunction with the Supreme Good, so that a continual separation is effected of all the powers of evil, of error, and of misery, and they are gradually elevated to nearer and nearer communication with all that is good and wise in the Kingdom of Heaven. Lastly, we learn the terrible effects of disjoining knowledge from the life of knowledge, as also the happy effects of uniting them together, since, in the first case, man is left to perish in the fire of his own cravings, being cast out and separated from all communication with heaven and its God; whereas, in the latter case, he obtains the full gratification of all his desires, since, being submitted in all things to the divine will and wisdom, he has nothing to wish or ask but that that will and wisdom may in all things be accomplished. Let us resolve, therefore, from now on to take heed to ourselves, that we may always be found abiding in Jesus Christ, and having His Word abiding in us, and that thus escaping all the mischief's arising from the knowledge of truth unpractised and unobeyed, we may finally attain to all that infinite happiness resulting from the conjunction of knowledge with the life of knowledge, or, what is the same thing, of truth with its good, or, what is still the same thing, of faith with charity, or, what is still the same, of ourselves with our Heavenly Father. Amen.