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(For the Spiritual Magazine.)
A FEW SCATTERED THOUGHTS
On the 15th Chapter of the Gospel by St. John, the former part of the 5th Verse, “I am the Vine, ye are the Branches."
OH! what delightful words are these, proceeding from the lips of grace and mercy! The doctrine of union to Christ is fraught with sacred consolation. From hence arises the hope, blessedness, fertility, and security the church enjoys during her pilgrimage estate. The chapter from whence the above text is extracted, is a continuation of that gracious discourse our divine Immanuel delivered to his dear disciples 'ere he entered Gethsemane's garden, to endure the heart-rending pangs and intolerable anguish of crucifixion, which withdrew from his veins great drops of sweat and blood! The eventful season in which these precious words were uttered, seems to add an additional glory and solemnity to the subject matter of his discourse-it was at his last supper with his beloved disciples, he embraced the passing opportunity of proclaiming his love to them, in all the endearing accents of parental affection, accompanied with testimonials of his inviolable faithfulness, and gracious promises, and assurances of his continued affection in their behalf. We are told by the sacred and inspired historian, that at the conclusion of the supper, Jesus knowing his hour of departure was at hand, arose from supper, laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself therewith, and washed his disciples' feet! Oh what a pattern of humility this! He that is God over all for ever blessed, to lay aside the robes of his divinity, to assume human nature, and in that nature so far to humble himself as to wash his disciples feet, and to become obedient even to the ignominious death of the cross! Oh marvellous condescension! Oh magnanimous and unexampled love!
The favoured of our Lord, divinely wrought upon, were overwhelmed with deep affliction from what had dropped from the gracious lips of their sovereign Lord, namely," one of you shall betray me;" they were therefore most solicitously anxious to know who should act so base a part. Oh how peculiarly sweet and encouraging are the words of Jesus, after the absence of Judas the betrayer, to this select assembly, he embosoms his love unto them in the most engaging language; "My little children, yet a little while I am with you; ye shall seek me, and as I said unto the Jews, whither I go ye cannot come, so now I say unto you, a new commandment give 1 unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye love one another.'
The minds of these dear disciples were therefore peculiarly prepared to receive the last words of their master, with the most fixed and marked attention, as words of solemn import. Borne
down with sorrow as they were, the promise of another Comforter to bring all things to their remembrance was welcome news; and the legacy of peace he bequeathed them, (so unlike that the world giveth) was ground for heavenly tranquillity under their anticipated bereavement.
The doctrine of the mystical union subsisting between Christ the vine, and his redeemed, the branches in him, which, while prosecuting his journey with them to the dolorous scene of his last agony, Jesus delivered with so much appropriate energy, and with so divine an effect, appears to have been the chief subject inculcated and set forth in this chapter. The knell of his departure had resounded in their ears with a most imposing solemnity, which, but for the counteracting influence of the gracious smiles and welcome presence of their Lord, had buried their spirits in overwhelming sadness. Strange mixture this of love and grief, joy and sorrow! but joy succeeds sorrow as the bright and vivyfying beams of the sun arise and disperse the midnight gloom which obscured it-so these disciples possessing exhilirating consolation in the enjoyment of redeeming love, though that joy was mingled with sorrow from the unwelcome news they had heard of their Lord's intended departure, listened with sacred delight to the precious words of my text, “I am the vine, ye are the branches."
The subject is too full and copious for human language to pourtray; and the blessings couched in this most delightful declaration are so multifarious and weighty, as to beggar all finite description. Any attempt therefore at a full illustration must be futile and unavailing; yet amidst such innumerable beauties the subject exhibits, it will be truly refreshing to the soul, if in a review thereof, we are enabled by faith to cull the sweets, and to enter into the enjoyment of a gracious manifestation of our personal interest in so divine an union.
Christ is an ever-living vine, deeply rooted in his self-existence as a divine person in the Godhead, equal in glory, dignity, and power to the Father and Holy Ghost-the uncreated Jehovah —the eternal I Am; as such he is in himself an everlasting, ever-blooming, and immutable vine, and the underived fountain of consummate felicity. In the contemplation of this unfathomable mystery human wisdom feels the weakness and insignificance of her powers, shrinks back bewildered, lost and confounded in her own image.
But Jesus is not only an eternal source of ineffable glory as a fruitful vine, considered in his divine person, but in his mediatorial character he is also a source of perpetual fruitfulness to his church, who are, in the fulness of time, as the effect of his fore-appointed purpose, by the sole and irresistible power of regenerating grace implanted in him. Oh! what a blessed vine of unequalled and inexpressible luxuriance is here displayed in the
person of our surety! the fragrance of his righteousness yields the most exalted and uncontaminated delight, and is the spring of all true peace and gracefulness to all the branches in union to him.
In his assumption of human nature, as the root and offspring of Jesse, he became deeply rooted in unexampled humility, having veiled his Godhead in a robe of frail humanity, and in that robe, as by his own sovereign and special appointment, to suffer, to bleed, and to die, to effect a ransom for all his chosen race! Here we see with wondrous astonishment, how grace and mercy shine with superlative lustre in the well ordered covenant of peace, while all the claims of infinite and inexorable justice are satisfied, and the stipulated conditions of the compact are ratified and accomplished by the vicarious sufferings of the sin-atoning Lamb, prefigured as the vine, and the ever fruitful source of matchless love.
As there is naturally an inseparable union between root and branch, so there is spiritually an inseparable union between Jesus the root of David, and his people, who are so fitly described as branches in him, who partake a common interest in all concerning him. These branches, lopped off the old Adam stock, and by a divine power ingrafted in Christ the living vine, participate of the same nature with the root; and by virtue of their indissoluble oneness with him, are interested in all he has done and suffered for their ransom. And as a consequence of this vital union, Jesus bears all the branches implanted in him by sovereign grace through all the storms in life, until they reach the blissful abode appointed for them; in all their afflictions he is afflicted; he feels a kind sympathy in all their sorrows, hears all their sighs under the smarting rod, and becomes their burden bearer through all their journies, for on him they roll their sorrows, and in him alone they find peace through the blood of his cross.
The disciples of Jesus are branches in him as the fruit of covenant love, and by covenant engagements-first, by the Father's gift secondly, by the Son's purchase-and thirdly, by the Holy Spirit's influence and work. This blessed compact being without date, and its stipulations viewed as already accomplished, the whole election of grace are beheld as constantly subsisting, by virtue of their eternal union to this immutable vine.
Christ, in his mediatorial transactions, may well be called a fruitful vine. If we view his whole life from the day of his incarnation, when he lay extended in a manger for his cradle, through its various stages to the cross, the scene of his last sufferings, we shall view him eminently fruitful in all holy obedience to the righteous law of God; fulfilling in behalf of his chosen seed all its inflexible requirements; and on the cross too he made an end of sin by his victorious consummation of its
every demand, by his enduring all its penal consequences to appease the wrath of incensed justice, and to affect by the shedding of his precious blood a divine reconciliation.
In the finished work of Jesus we have a transcendently lovely portrait of the beauty, fertility, and strength of this ever blessed vine, as the foundation for the branches to rest on. Jesus having married our nature, becoming bone of our bone, &c. and the members of his mystical body being branches in him by an eternal and indissoluble union, are in the fulness of time, evidentially severed from the tree of death, new created and ingrafted by the sovereign and irresistible power of the Holy Spirit into this living vine, and by faith they live in Him. God the Holy Ghost maintains, supports, and carries on by renewed power, that life of mercy first given them in Jesus their root. From this never-failing root they receive all their life, sap, moisture, and nourishment; from whence arise fruits of the choicest and most divine qualities, even the fruits of righteousness and peace, which render them so comely in the sight of infinite purity. Separate from the vine they had no vital principle of life, no spring of action, and no hungering and thirsting after righteousness:-but, by grace united to the vine, they are kept dependent on their root, and on renewed influence for preservation. The root sustains the branches, and the branches claim a near affinity to the root; so that whatever the root is as a source of righteousness and consummate worth, as beheld by our divine Jehovah, so are the branches in Him. Oh! the incomprehensible blessedness and harmony of this union!-its rise, its progress, and its consummation are all the result of the richest covenant love.
In the warm climate of Judea the vine flourishes with a perfection peculiar to that country; consequently, it was a fit emblem, as far as fitness can be ascribed to exterior objects, to prefigure the surpassing beauty, gracefulness, majesty, and glory of its antitype; but
"The whole creation can afford
But some faint shadows of my Lord :
How overwhelming must have been the conflict Jesus had to endure at the conclusion of this his dying testimony! And no doubt the knowledge he possessed of the exceeding bitterness of the cup of his Father's wrath, which he had shortly to drink, constrained him in the most solemn and collected manner to address his companions in affliction with unequalled fervour.
Deeply rooted as Jesus was in his own existence, it was not possible for any foe to vanquish him, or to baffle his designs of mercy, either by intrigue, fraud, or force. In vain did the combined storms of earth and hell vent their implacable fury; this
root of Jesse abides immoveably firm and lasting "above their utmost rage." At length the last tremendous storm arose, and billows of unspeakable anguish rolled over his soul; the vials of divine wrath, due to our transgressions, were poured on his sinless head, enough to sink a million worlds to hell; but our divine Immanuel endured it to the full; and amidst his agonizing pains he exclaimed, "it is finished!" Thus was completely finished the work of righteousness, active and passive, which his Father gave him, and which he undertook to accomplish as the Surety and Mediator of his people. As a consequence therefore of their marriage union to him, and by virtue of the debt their divine Lord has paid to justice in behalf of his spouse, the church, she possesses a judicial claim to eternal life and endless fruition.
Jesus is an all-supporting stem, around which the feeble arms of his adopted children, the members of his mystical body, are closely entwined; they live always with and upon him, and are never for a moment separated from his embrace. It is to the glory of his rich eternal grace also, that they are kept totally dependent upon him and divine influence for the continuance of that life given, though that continuance is not dependent on, but rather a cause of their fruitfulness. It is alone from this source those who have not an atom of their own, but from necessity hang upon, cleave unto, and rest upon him, as feeble branches, deriving all their sap and vigour. In themselves more weak than infancy, they lean on Almighty strength, and are frequently made fruitful in the exercise of godly sorrow on account of sin, and of faith, and hope, and love to their divine Master, while they become rooted and grounded in humility. During their pilgrimage they are taught by experience the salutary lesson, "Without me ye can do nothing," and they are well aware that only as they are nourished and watered from the upper springs can they bud and blossom, and become fruitful in true obedience; since experience exemplifies the fact, that though every grace is planted in their hearts as a principle, the exercise must be all of grace, by the same power to whom they are indebted for their new creation. Where then is boasting? it is excluded by the law of faith. The axe is laid to the root of pride, and every twig thereof is levelled with the dust.
The leaves of these branches may at seasons become parched by the oppressive heat of fierce temptations, which tends to make them faint and weary; they may be nipped by the chilling blast and frosty winds of wintry dispensations, so as to threaten their annihilation; but by virtue of their union to the vine they shall again and again experience refreshing dew, gently distilling on their spirits to revive them in their withered barren state. And, although to outward appearance in this their wintry state, they are not evergreen and fruitful in the exercise of all the graces, which have been divinely implanted by an all-efficient power, VOL. II.-No. 14.