"As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me" (John 15:4).
We all know the meaning of the word "except." It expresses some indispensable condition, some inevitable law. "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself, "except" it abide in the vine; no more can ye, "except" ye abide in me." There is only one way for the branch to bear fruit, there is no other possibility - it must abide in unbroken communion with the Vine. Not of itself, but only of the vine, does the fruit come. Christ had already said, "Abide in me." In nature, the branch teaches us the lesson so clearly.
It is such a wonderful privilege to be called and allowed to abide in the heavenly Vine. One might have thought it needless to add these words of warning. But no - Christ knows so well how much a renunciation of self this "Abide in me" implies. He knows how strong and universal the tendency would be to seek to bear fruit by our own efforts. He realized how difficult it would be to get us to believe that actual, continuous abiding in Him is an absolute necessity! He insists upon the truth: Not of itself can the branch bear fruit; except it abide, it cannot bear fruit. "No more can ye, except ye abide in Me."
But must this be taken literally? Must I, as exclusively, manifestly, unceasingly, and absolutely as the branch abides in the vine, be equally given up to find my whole life in Christ alone? I must indeed! The "except ye abide" is as universal that the "except" it abide. The "no more can ye" allows no exception or modification. If I am to be what Christ as Vine wants me to be, my whole existence must be as exclusively devoted to abiding in Him as the natural branch is to abiding in its vine.
Let me learn the lesson. Abiding is to be an act of the will and the whole heart. Just as there are degrees in seeking and serving God, "not with a perfect heart" (2 Chronicles 25:2), or "with the whole heart" (Psalm 119:2), so there may be degrees in abiding. In regeneration, the divine life enters us. But, it does not all at once master and fill our whole being. This comes as a matter of command and obedience.
There is unspeakable danger of our not giving ourselves with our whole heart to abide. There is unspeakable danger of our giving ourselves to work for God - to bear fruit - but doing so with little of the true abiding, the wholehearted losing of ourselves in Christ and His life. There is unspeakable danger of much work, but little fruit, for lack of this vital relationship. We must allow the words, "not of itself", "except it abide," to do their work of searching and exposing. They must prune and cleanse all that there is of self-will and self-confidence in our life. This will deliver us from this great evil, and so prepare us for His teaching, giving the full meaning of the word in us: "Abide in me, and I in you."
Our blessed Lord desires to call us away from ourselves and our own strength, and draw us to Himself and His strength. Let us accept the warning, and turn with great fear and self-distrust to Him to do His work. "Our life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3)! That life is a heavenly mystery, hid from the wise even among Christians, and revealed to the babes. The childlike spirit learns that life is given from heaven every day and every moment to the soul that accepts the teaching: "Not of itself," "Except it abide," and seeks its all in the Vine. Abiding in the Vine then comes to be nothing more nor less than the restful surrender of the soul to let Christ have all and work all - as completely as in nature, the branch knows and seeks nothing but the vine.
Abide in Me, I have heard, my Lord, that with every command You also give the power to obey. With Your "rise and walk," the lame man leaped. I accept Your word, "Abide in Me," as a word of power, that gives power. Even now I say, "Yea, Lord, I will, I do abide in You. Amen