Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The union of Jesus Christ with his followers, represented by the parable of a vine and its branches, Joh 15:1-11. He exhorts them to mutual love, Joh 15:12. Calls them his friends, and promises to lay down his life for them, Joh 15:13-15. Appoints them their work, and promises them success in it, Joh 15:16. Renews the exhortation to mutual love, Joh 15:17, and foretells the opposition they would meet with from the world, Joh 15:18-21. The sin of the Jews in rejecting Christ, Joh 15:22-25. The Holy Spirit is promised as a witness for Christ, and the Comforter of the disciples, Joh 15:26, Joh 15:27.
I am the true vine - Perhaps the vines which they met with, on their road from Bethany to Gethsemane, might have given rise to this discourse. Some of the disciples were probably making remarks on the different kinds of them, and our Lord took the opportunity of improving the conversation, according to his usual manner, to the instruction of their souls. He might here term himself the true vine, or vine of the right sort, in opposition to the wild and barren vine. Some MSS. and several of the fathers read the verse thus: I am the true vine, ye are the branches, and my Father is the husbandman. Some think that, as this discourse followed the celebration of the Eucharist, our Lord took occasion from the fruit of the vine, used in that ordinance, to introduce this similitude.
Every branch in me - I stand in the same relation to my followers, and they to me, as the vine to the branches, and the branches to the vine.
He taketh away - As the vine-dresser will remove every unfruitful branch from the vine, so will my Father remove every unfruitful member from my mystical body - such as Judas, the unbelieving Jews, the apostatizing disciples, and all false and merely nominal Christians, who are attached to the vine by faith in the word and Divine mission of Christ, while they live not in his life and Spirit, and bring forth no fruit to the glory of God; and also every branch which has been in him by true faith - such as have given way to iniquity, and made shipwreck of their faith and of their good conscience: all these he taketh away.
He purgeth it - He pruneth. The branch which bears not fruit, the husbandman αερει αυτο, taketh It away; but the branch that beareth fruit, καθαιρει αυτο, he taketh away From it, i.e. he prunes away excrescences, and removes every thing that might hinder its increasing fruitfulness. The verb καθαιρω; from κατα, intens. and αιρω, I take away, signifies ordinarily to cleanse, purge, purify, but is certainly to be taken in the sense of pruning, or cutting off, in this text, as the verb purgare is used by Horace, Epist. lib. i. ep. vii. v. 51.
Cultello proprios purgantem leniter ungues.
"Composedly Paring his own nails with a penknife."
He who brings forth fruit to God's glory, according to his light and power, will have the hinderances taken away from his heart; for his very thoughts shall be cleansed by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
Now ye are clean - Καθαροι εστε, Ye are pruned. As our Lord has not changed the metaphor, it would be wrong to change the expression.
Through the word - Δια τον λογον, Through that word - that doctrine of holiness which I have incessantly preached unto you, and which ye have received. Perhaps our Lord more immediately refers here to the words which he had spoken concerning Judas, Joh 13:21-30, in consequence of which Judas went out and finished his bargain with the chief priests; he being gone off, the body of the apostles was purified; and thus he might say, Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me - Hold fast faith and a good conscience; and let no trials turn you aside from the truth. And I will abide in you - ye shall receive every help and influence from me that your souls can require, in order to preserve and save them to eternal life.
These two things are absolutely necessary to our salvation:
1. That we continue closely united to Christ by faith and love, and live in and to him.
2. That we continually receive from him the power to do good; for as the branch, however good in itself, cannot bear fruit from itself, through its own juice, which it has already derived from the tree, and can be no longer supported than it continues in union with the parent stock, neither can ye, unless ye abide in me. As the branch partakes of the nature of the tree, is nourished by its juice, and lives by its life, so ye must be made partakers of my Divine nature, be wise in my wisdom, powerful in my might, and pure through my holiness.
Without me ye can do nothing - Χωρις εμου ου δυνασθε ποιειν ουδεν - Separated from me, ye can do nothing at all. God can do without man, but man cannot do without God. Following the metaphor of our Lord, it would be just as possible to do any good without him, as for a branch to live, thrive, and bring forth fruit, while cut off from that tree from which it not only derives its juices, but its very existence also.
Nearly similar to this saying of our Lord, is that of Creeshna (the incarnate God of the Hindoos) to his disciple Arjoon: "God is the gift of charity; God is the offering: God is the fire of the altar; by God the sacrifice is performed; and God is to be obtained by him who maketh God alone the object of his works." And again: "I am the sacrifice; I am the worship; I am the spices; I am the invocation; I am the fire; and I am the victim. I am the Father and Mother of this world, and the Preserver. I am the Holy One, worthy to be known; the mystic figure Om; (see on Joh 1:14 (note)) I am the journey of the good; the Comforter; the Creator; the Witness; the resting-place; the asylum, and the Friend. I am the place of all things; and the inexhaustible seed of nature; I am sunshine, and I am rain; I now draw in, and now let forth." See Bhagvat Geeta, pp. 54 and 80. Could such sentiments as these ever come from any other source than Divine revelation? There is a saying in Theophilus very similar to one of those above: Θεος ου χωρειται, αλλα αυτος εστι τοπος των ὁλων. - God is not comprehended, but he is the place of all things.
If a man abide not in me - Our Lord in the plainest manner intimates that a person may as truly be united to him as the branch is to the tree that produces it, and yet be afterwards cut off and cast into the fire; because he has not brought forth fruit to the glory of his God. No man can cut off a branch from a tree to which that branch was never united: it is absurd, and contrary to the letter and spirit of the metaphor, to talk of being seemingly in Christ - because this means nothing. If there was only a seeming union, there could be only a seeming excision: so the matter is just where it began; nothing is done on either side, and nothing said to any purpose.
He is cast forth - Observe, that person who abides not in Christ, in a believing loving, obedient spirit, is -
1. Cut off from Jesus, having no longer any right or title to him or to his salvation.
2. He is withered - deprived of all the influences of God's grace and Spirit; loses all his heavenly unction; becomes indifferent, cold, and dead to every holy and spiritual word and work.
3. He is gathered - becomes (through the judgment of God) again united with backsliders like himself and other workers of iniquity; and, being abandoned to his own heart and Satan, he is,
4. Cast into the fire - separated from God's people, from God himself, and from the glory of his power. And,
5. He is burned - is eternally tormented with the devil and his angels, and with all those who have lived and died in their iniquity. Reader! pray God that this may never be thy portion.
If ye abide in me, etc. - "Those," says Creeshna, "whose understandings are in him, (God), whose souls are in him, whose confidence is in him, whose asylum is in him, are by the inspired wisdom purified from all their offenses, and go from whence they shall never return." Geeta, p. 59.
Observe, in order to have influence with God, we must -
1. Be united to Christ - if ye abide in me.
2. That in order to be preserved in this union, we must have our lives regulated by the doctrine of Christ - and my words abide in you.
3. That to profit by this union and doctrine, we must pray - ye shall ask.
4. That every heavenly blessing shall be given to those who continue in this union, with a loving, obedient, praying spirit: - ye shall ask what ye will, etc.
Herein is my Father glorified - Or, honored. It is the honor of the husbandman to have good, strong, vigorous vines, plentifully laden with fruit: so it is the honor of God to have strong, vigorous, holy children, entirely freed from sin, and perfectly filled with his love.
If ye keep my commandments, etc. - Hence we learn that it is impossible to retain a sense of God's pardoning love, without continuing in the obedience of faith.
That my joy may remain in you - That the joy which I now feel, on account of your steady, affectionate attachment to me, may be lasting, I give you both warnings and directions, that ye may abide in the faith.
That your joy might be full - Or, complete - πληρωθη, filled up: a metaphor taken from a vessel, into which water or any other thing is poured, till it is full to the brim. The religion of Christ expels all misery from the hearts of those who receive it in its fullness. It was to drive wretchedness out of the world that Jesus came into it.
Bishop Pearce, by joining εν εμοι to χαρα, and not to μεινῃ, translates the verse thus: These things have I spoken, that my joy in you may remain - which is according to the meaning given to the first clause.
That ye love one another - See on Joh 13:34 (note). So deeply was thus commandment engraved on the heart of this evangelist that St. Jerome says, lib. iii. c. 6, Com. ad Galat., that in his extreme old age, when he used to be carried to the public assemblies of the believers, his constant saying was, Little children, love one another. His disciples, wearied at last with the constant repetition of the same words, asked him, Why he constantly said the same thing? "Because (said he) it is the commandment of the Lord, and the observation of it alone is sufficient." Quia praeceptum Domini est, et, si solum fiat, sufficit.
That a man lay down his life for his friends - No man can carry his love for his friend farther than this: for, when he gives up his life, he gives up all that he has. This proof of my love for you I shall give in a few hours; and the doctrine which I recommend to you I am just going to exemplify myself. There are several remarkable cases, in heathen antiquity, where one friend offered his life for another. The two following will not stand dishonorably even in the book of God; became every thing loving and pure, in heathen, Jew, or Christian, must come from the God of love and purity.
When Cyrus had made war on the king of Armenia, and had taken him, his wife, and children, with Tigranes his son, and his wife, prisoners; treating with the old king concerning his ransom, he said, How much money wilt thou give me to have thy wife again? All that I have, replied the king. And how much wilt thou advance to enjoy thy children again? All that I can produce, answered the king. By reckoning thus, said Cyrus, you prize these at twice as much as you possess. Then, turning to Tigranes, he said, How much wilt thou give as a ransom, that thou mayest have thy wife? (Now Tigranes had been but lately married, και ὑπερφιλων την γυναικα, and loved his wife exceedingly.) He answered, I will indeed, O Cyrus, και της ψυχης πριαιμην, ransom her even with My Life, that she may be no longer in thraldom. See Xenoph. Cyrop. lib. iii. c.
The second example, which is too long to be inserted, is that affecting account of the friendship of Nisus and Euryalus, given by Virgil, in the ninth book of the Aeneis. These two friends, leagued together, had slain many of the Rutulians in a night attack: at last Euryalus was taken prisoner. Nisus, concealed in a thicket, slew several of the enemy's chiefs with his javelins: Volscens, their general, not seeing the hand by which his officers were slain, determines to wreak his vengeance upon his prisoner. Nisus, seeing his friend about to be transfixed with the sword, rushing out of the wood where he lay hidden, suddenly cries: -
Me! Me! adsum qui Feci! in Me convertite ferrum,
O Rutuli! MeA fraus omnis: - nihil Iste - nec ausus,
Nec potuit - Caelum hoc, et conscia sidera testor!
Tantum infelicem Nimium Dilexit Amicum.
Aen. lib. ix. l. 427, etc.
"Me! Me! he cried, turn all your swords alone
On Me! - the fact confess'd, the fault my own.
He neither could, nor durst, the guiltless youth;
Ye moon and stars, bear witness to the truth!
His only crime (if friendship can offend)
Is too much love to his unhappy friend."
Those who understand the beautiful original will at once perceive that the earnestness, confusion, disorder, impatience, and burning love of the Friend, are poorly imitated in the above tame translation.
The friendship of David and Jonathan is well known: the latter cheerfully gave up his crown to his friend, though himself was every way worthy to wear it. But when all these instances of rare friendship and affection are seen, read, and admired, let the affected reader turn his astonished eyes to Jesus, pouring out his blood, not for his friends, but for his Enemies; and, in the agonies of death, making supplication for his murderers, with, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! - and then let him help exclaiming, if he can,
"O Lamb of God, was ever pain,
Was ever Love like Thine!"
Henceforth I call you not servants - Which he at least indirectly had done, Joh 13:16; Mat 10:24, Mat 10:25; Luk 17:10.
I have called you friends - I have admitted you into a state of the most intimate fellowship with myself; and have made known unto you whatsoever I have heard from the Father, which, in your present circumstances, it was necessary for you to be instructed in.
Ye have not chosen me - Ye have not elected me as your Teacher: I have called you to be my disciples; witnesses and depositories of the truth. It was customary among the Jews for every person to choose his own teacher.
And ordained you - Rather, I have appointed you: the word is εθηκα, I have Put or placed you, i.e. in the vine.
Theodorus Mopsuensis, as quoted by Wetstein, observes that εθηκα is here used for εφυτευσα; (I have planted); "and, in saying this, our Lord still makes use of the metaphor of the vine; as if he had said: I have not only planted you, but I have given you the greatest benefits, causing your branches to extend every where through the habitable world."
The first ministers of the Gospel were the choice of Jesus Christ; no wonder, then, that they were so successful. Those whom men have since sent, without the appointment of God, have done no good. The choice should still continue with God, who, knowing the heart, knows best who is most proper for the Gospel ministry.
To be a genuine preacher of the Gospel, a man must -
1. Be chosen of God to the work.
2. He must be placed in the true vine - united to Christ by faith.
3. He must not think to lead an idle life, but labor.
4. He must not wait till work be brought to him, but he must go and seek it.
5. He must labor so as to bring forth fruit, i.e. to get souls converted to the Lord.
6. He must refer all his fruit to God, who gave him the power to labor, and blessed him in his work.
7. He must take care to water what he has planted, that his fruit may remain - that the souls whom he has gathered in be not scattered from the flock.
8. He must continue instant in prayer, that his labors may be accompanied with the presence and blessing of God - Whatsoever ye shall Ask.
9. He must consider Jesus Christ as the great Mediator between God and man, proclaim his salvation, and pray in his name. - Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, etc. See Quesnel.
If the world hate you - As the followers of Christ were to be exposed to the hatred of the world, it was no small consolation to them to know that that hatred would be only in proportion to their faith and holiness; and that, consequently, instead of being troubled at the prospect of persecution, they should rejoice, because that should always be a proof to them that they were in the very path in which Jesus himself had trod. Dr. Lardner thinks that πρωτον is a substantive, or at least an adjective used substantively, and this clause of the text should be translated thus: If the world hate you, know that it hated me, your Chief. It is no wonder that the world should hate you, when it hated me, your Lord and Master, whose lips were without guile, and whose conduct was irreproachable. See the doctor's vindication of this translation, Works, vol. i. p. 306.
Ye are not of the world - therefore, etc. - On this very account, because ye do not join in fellowship with those who know not God, therefore they hate you. How true is that saying: -
"The laws of Christ condemn a vicious world,
And goad it to revenge!"
If they have kept my saying - Or, doctrine. Whosoever acknowledges me for the Christ will acknowledge you for my ministers.
Some translate the passage thus: If they have Watched my sayings, i.e. with an intent to accuse me for something which I have said, they will Watch yours also: therefore be on your guard. Παρατηρειν has this sense, as we have had occasion to observe before; and perhaps τηρειν has the same sense here, as it is much more agreeable to the context.
Because they know not him that sent me - This is the foundation of all religious persecution: those who are guilty of it, whether in Church or state, know nothing about God. If God tolerates a worship which professes to have him for its object, and which does not disturb the quiet or peace of society, no man has the smallest right to meddle with it; and he that does fights against God. His letting it pass is at least a tacit command that all should treat it as he has done.
But now they have no cloke for their sin - (margin: Or, excuse) They are without excuse. See the note on Joh 9:41. Christ had done such works as demonstrated him to be the Messiah - yet they rejected him: here lay their sin; and this sin, and the punishment to which it exposed them, still remain; for they still continue to reject the Lord that bought them.
Written in their law - See on Joh 10:34 (note). These words are taken from Psa 69:4. This psalm is applied to Christ, Joh 2:17; Joh 19:28; to the vengeance of God against Judea, Act 1:20. The psalm seems entirely prophetic of Christ. His deep abasement is referred to, Psa 69:2-5; his prayer for his disciples and followers, Psa 69:6; that for himself, in the garden of Gethsemane, Psa 69:15-19; his crucifixion, Psa 69:20-22; the vengeance of God against the Jews, from Psa 69:23-29; the glorious manner in which he gets out of all his sufferings, Psa 69:30; the abolition of the Mosaic rites and ceremonies, Psa 69:31, compared with Isa 66:3; and, finally, the establishment of the Gospel through the whole world, in Psa 69:33 and following verses. The reader will do well to consult the psalm before he proceeds.
But when the Comforter is come - See on Joh 14:16 (note).
He shall testify and ye also shall bear witness - He shall bear his testimony in your souls, and ye shall bear this testimony to the world. And so they did, by their miracles, their preaching, their writings, their lives, and by their deaths. Our Lord appears to reason thus: In every respect the unbelief of the Jews is inexcusable. They believe not my doctrine, notwithstanding its purity and holiness. They believe not in the Father who sent me, notwithstanding I have confirmed my mission by the most astonishing miracles. One thing only remains now to be done, i.e. to send them the Holy Spirit, to convince them of sin, righteousness, and judgment; and this he shall do, not only by his influence upon their hearts, but also by your words: and when they shall have resisted this Spirit, then the cup of their iniquity shall be filled up, and wrath shall come upon them to the uttermost.
But in what sense can it be said that Christ wrought more miracles than any other had done, Joh 15:24? - for Elijah and Elisha raised the dead; cured diseases; and made fire to come down from heaven. Did Christ do greater miracles than Moses did in Egypt - at the Red Sea - at the rock of Horeb, and at the rock of Kadesh? Did Christ do greater miracles than Joshua did, in the destruction of Jericho - in the passage of Jordan - in causing the sun and moon to stand still? To all this it may be answered, Christ's miracles were greater:
1. As to their number.
2. As to their utility - they were wrought to comfort the distressed, and to save the lost.
3. Christ wrought all his miracles by his own power alone; and they wrought theirs through his power only.
4. Christ wrought his numerous miracles in the space of three or four years, and in the presence of the same people; and the others mere wrought from time to time in different centuries.
Some critics have confined the whole of this chapter to the apostles of our Lord, and the work of propagating Christianity to which they had been called. The whole comment of Rosenmuller on this chapter proceeds on this plan; and at once shows how nugatory it is. What learned labor has there been in the world, to banish the spirit of Christianity from the earth, while the letter was professed to be scrupulously regarded!
1. The spiritual union spoken of by Christ is not merely necessary for his primitive disciples, but also for all who would be Christians on earth, and beatified spirits in heaven.
2. The brotherly love here inculcated is the duty and interest of every Christian soul on the face of the earth.
3. The necessity of adorning the Christian profession, by bringing forth corresponding fruits, is the duty of all who name the name of the Lord Jesus.
4. The appointment to, and preparation for, the work of the sacred ministry, must ever be primarily with Christ: for those who have no higher authority than that which they derive from man are never likely to be useful in Christianizing the world.
5. The persecution to which the apostles were exposed has been the common lot of Christians from the foundation of Christianity.
6. The consolations and influences of Christ's Spirit have not been the exclusive privileges of the apostles; they are the birthright of all the sons and daughters of God.