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When our Lord likens himself to a vine, and his disciples to the branches, he means to show us the state of the Church of Christ. In this vine, there are some living branches, and some dead ones. So, in the Church of Christ, there are some Christians truly alive unto God; while there are many, who only have a name to live, but are dead.
Now believers, who are the true branches, are joined to Christ by faith in Him. Thus He, together with them, makes one true vine. He makes them his, first, by pardoning all their sins; then, by giving to them his own holy nature. He sheds abroad his Holy Spirit into their hearts, and fills them with life. Just as the juice or sap flows from the root and stem into the branches, so does grace flow from Christ into the hearts of true believers. And they need this grace fresh every day; "for without Him they can do nothing." If they leave him for a moment, they become weak and helpless. Having, therefore, began to believe in him, they continually pray for more grace. And this he freely gives them: so that the more they pray, the more their faith increases; and the more their faith increases, so much the more life they have in their souls. They become strong branches, and bear good fruit. They grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is the happy state of true believers.
Our Saviour, moreover, has said, "A tree is known by its fruits." A living branch of the vine is known by the excellent grapes that grow on it:
thus also true believers are known to be such, both by themselves and others. It is felt, and seen, by the inward joys which they experience; by their excellent tempers; and by the good works which they bring forth. In the beginning of their Christian life, old and sinful habits trouble them much: indeed, they are always much troubled with sin, even to their dying day. Still, as the branches grow older, they generally grow longer and stronger; and when the true believer keeps near to Christ, he grows more and more in faith, even that "faith which worketh by love." At first, perhaps, he loved his Saviour a little; but now, as he grows in Christ, he loves that Saviour much. first, he had not made up his mind to love all his fellow-creatures: some he loved, and some he disliked; but now he loves all, even his enemies, and prays for all. Once he loved to have his own way, and was very impatient if any thing crossed him; but now he is constantly saying, The will of the Lord be done.' Once, he was all for enjoying this world: perhaps he fell into the grossest sins: but now he strives to be temperate in all things, and aims at heaven, as his portion. Once, he cared for nobody but himself: but now he desires to do as much good as he can unto all men.
Are not these good fruits? Is not this a fruitful branch, to the glory of God, and for the comfort of the Church? But let us stop for a moment; and see how God deals with such believers, in order to make them more and more fruitful.
Christ says, "My Father is the Husbandman.". Now, if you observe the gardener pruning a fruittree, you will see that he cuts away a great number of long shoots and young boughs, and throws them on the ground, as of no use. You would almost think that he was spoiling the tree; but this is the proper way to make the branches, that remain, fruitful. So also does our Heavenly Father send many sorrows and temptations, in order to make grace more fruitful in us. Affliction is his pruningknife. When the true believer is much afflicted, he should not think that God is cutting him down to nothing. No; he is only cutting away useless branches, in order that the tree may really become more fruitful; that there may be more humility, more diligence and devotion, more resignation, and more love.
But, in this vine, there are some branches which are dead. They stand in their place, and seemingly belong to the vine; but they really have no life in them. So there are many who call themselves Christians, but to whom Christ will say, in the last day, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." O, then, search your heart and life, to see whether you are a true, or a false Christian! Judge by the fruits. And do not flatter yourself for some good actions that you perform: for you may hang a few bunches of grapes upon a thorn-bush; but these do not make a brier, a vine. A few good works, put on now and then, are only an outside religion. Look into the real state of
your heart and may the Spirit of God show what is your true character, and bring you to Christ!
We thank thee, O Lord, that thou hast, by thy good providence, caused us to be born in a Christian land, where we are surrounded by so many means of grace. Yet, suffer us not to deceive ourselves with the name of Christian, if we have not known the power of Christ dwelling within us. O graft us into the True Vine, as living branches of the same. Unite us to Jesus by a true and living faith, that we may bring forth fruit unto holiness. Pardon our past unprofitableness; and cause us to abound in every good word and work. Sanctify all our trials and afflictions, drawing our souls from earthly things, and filling us with pure and heavenly affections. Effectually incline us, by thy Spirit, to choose Thee, as our present and our eternal portion; and enable us to continue in thy love, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
THE OPENING OF THE HEART.
ACTS xvi. 13-15.
And on the Sabbath, we went out of the city, by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
It is a thing most necessary, to have our hearts opened to receive the word of the Lord. And yet it is impossible for a man, by himself, to open either his own heart, or the heart of another. This is the work of Almighty God, and of Him alone. openeth, and no man shutteth.”
Generally, however, God employs certain means in doing this. For example: He sends forth pious Ministers, to preach the Gospel in the ears of the people. It is through His goodness, that places of worship are built, "where prayer is wont to be made." He is well pleased to behold worshippers assemble in such places. In this manner, Lydia, and other women, resorted to a quiet place of worship, which was a little out of the city, by a river side. Here the Apostle Paul found them, and worshipped together with them. Seeing them inclined to listen to his preaching, he discoursed to them concerning Jesus Christ. This was his favourite subject; because it was the most needful, the most glorious one. This was the message which he had everywhere to deliver; namely, this “faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." By public preaching, and by visiting people at their dwellings, and by pious conversations, Christ the Saviour is to be made known.
Perhaps most of the women, who heard Paul