"Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:2)
There are two remarkable things about the vine. No other plant bears fruit which has so much spirit in it - spirit which can be abundantly distilled. And, no other plant runs so quickly into wild wood, hinders its fruit, and therefore needs the most merciless pruning. I look out of my window here on large vineyards, and see that the chief care of the vine-dresser is the pruning. You may have a trellis vine rooted so deeply in good soil that it does not need digging, manuring, or watering. But, it cannot dispense with pruning if it is to bear good fruit.
Some trees need occasional pruning. Others bear perfect fruit without any. The vine must have it. And so our Lord tells us, at the very beginning of the parable, that the one work the Father does to the fruit-bearing branch is "He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Consider for a moment what this pruning or cleansing is. It is not the removal of weeds or thorns, or anything from without that may hinder the growth. No, it is the cutting off of the long shoots of the previous year. It is the removal of something that comes from within, that has been produced by the life of the vine itself. It is the removal of something that is a sign of the vigor of its life. The more vigorous the growth has been the greater the need for the pruning.
The honest, healthy wood of the vine has to be cut away. And why? Because it would consume too much of the sap to fill all the long shoots of last year's growth. The sap must be saved up and used for fruit alone. The branches, sometimes eight and ten feet long, are cut down close to the stem. Nothing is left but just one or two inches of wood, enough to bear the grapes. It is only when everything that is not necessary for fruit-bearing has been relentlessly cut down, and when as little of the branches as possible remain, that full, rich fruit may be expected.
What a solemn, precious lesson! It is not to sin alone that the cleansing of the Husbandman refers to here. It refers to our own Christian activity, as it is developed in the very act of bearing fruit. It is this that must be cut down and cleansed away. We have, in working for God, to use our natural gifts of wisdom, eloquence, influence, or zeal. And yet, they are in constant danger of being unduly developed, and then trusted in. And so, after each season of work, God has to bring us to the end of ourselves. He must make us conscious of the helplessness and the danger of all that is of man. He must help us to feel that we are nothing.
All that is to remain of self is just enough to receive the power of the life-giving sap of the Holy Spirit. What is of man must be reduced to its very lowest measure. All that is inconsistent with the most entire devotion to Christ's service must be removed. The more perfect the cleansing and cutting away of all that is of self, the less there will be to interfere with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then, the consecration of our whole being can be more intensely and entirely at the Spirit's disposal. This is the true circumcision of the heart - the circumcision of Christ. This is the true crucifixion with Christ, bearing about the dying of the Lord Jesus in the body.
Blessed cleansing, God's own cleansing! How we may rejoice in the assurance that we will bring forth more fruit!
O our holy Husbandman, cleanse and cut away all that there is in us that could become a source of self-confidence and glorying. Lord, keep us very low, so that no flesh may glory in Your presence. We do trust You to do Your work. Amen