17. Pruning The Vines. John 15:2

Only A Prayer Meeting by C. H. Spurgeon

“Every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth (or, pruneth) it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” – John 15:2.

The prayer of one of our brethren, just now, made me think of something upon which I will say a few words to you. I have recently watched, more carefully than ever I did before, the treatment of vines; and I have observed how true are the Saviour’s words: “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth (or, pruneth) it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” All fruit-bearing trees, or all that I am acquainted with, more or less need the knife to cut away the superfluous shoots from the wood; but the vine is probably selected by the Saviour, among other reasons, for this fact, that it has to endure the pruning-knife more than any other tree. When I saw the vines, the gardeners had cut them back dreadfully; there seemed to be nothing left but old, dried stems, with a few knuckles, as it were, sticking up here and there, like swans’ necks; but to all appearance hard, and withered, and dead. As I looked at them, I thought they were just like myself, I have been cut back terribly. (This address was delivered at the Tabernacle, after the Pastor’s recovery from one of the many illnesses from which he suffered.) I hoped to have had many branches, from which there might have come large clusters of luscious fruit for my blessed Master; but, instead of that, the knife has been used upon me, and there has been the cutting-away of a shoot here, and a branch there, until I wondered what would be left when the Vine-dresser had finished His pruning.

While a vine is being pruned, or after the pruning process is over, there is a wonderful change in its appearance. You would hardly know it to be the same as when it was covered with leaves, and laden with fruit. On our journeys to Mentone, we pass through some of the principal vine-growing districts of France, and the view of the vines that we get in the winter is by no means charming. As we look at them, we understand why the Saviour was likened to “a root out of a dry ground,” of whom many say, “He hath no form nor comeliness; . . . no beauty that we should desire Him.” I was told, when at Mentone, that the best vines were cut back the most. The vine-dressers pruned them until I thought they might as well root them up out of the ground, they seemed quite destroyed. But the men told me that they would not yield one-half such sweet and choice grapes if they were not thus cut. They said that there are coarser vines, which can grow upon trellis-work, and climb over arches; but that the grapes they produce are very poor, compared with those that are brought forth upon the other vines. The scenery gains in beauty; but the fruit loses in sweetness and flavour. The best vines must be cut back most. I am sure this is a rule which applies both in nature and in grace. I do not say that it is a proof that we are the best Christians because we suffer most; but I do say that we ought to try to be the best branches of the true and living Vine if we have been the most cut back.

Notice the exact words of our Lord: “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” This pruning must be personal: “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it.” The pruning of any other branch will not avail; the knife must be used upon this particular branch. This pruning process must be applied to you, my brother, and you, my sister, who are in Christ, and who are bringing forth fruit because of your union to Him. It is not sufficient to be a member of a fruitful church, or class, or family; each one must be fruitful if we are to accomplish the end for which we were elected by our Lord. He said, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”

And note, that it is the fruit-bearing branch that is to be pruned. Fruitless branches are cut off; but those that bear any fruit are cut, that they may bring forth “more fruit” (verse 2), and “much fruit” (verses 5 and 8). The heavenly Husbandman takes away the fruitless branches, and He takes away from the fruit-bearing branches everything that would hinder them from being full of fruit. The clinging tendrils of self-conceit, the too-luxuriant foliage of outward profession, or anything that would prevent the fullest possible production of fruit, must be pruned with unsparing hand. “He purgeth it.” However sharp the knife may be, it is held in the hand of unerring wisdom and infinite love. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Ay, that He will, even though the pruning makes the branch to bleed, as if its very life were being taken away. He will not prune either too much or too little. Be thankful if the Vinedresser thinks you worth pruning, and does not cast you away with the fruitless branches that are thrown aside for burning.

“He purgeth it.” The Revised Version has it, “He cleanseth it.” In speaking to His disciples, our Lord explained how the purging or cleansing is effected. “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” Many godly people speak of affliction as the Lord’s pruning-knife; and, doubtless, the Vine-dresser often uses it for that purpose; and if He wills it to be so, it is a most efficient instrument for effecting His Divine purposes. I bear my willing testimony to the blessing that affliction and trial have been to me. I owe more to the fire and the file than I can ever describe. Still, the teaching of this passage is, that it is the Word of the Lord which is to purge and cleanse believers. Affliction may be the handle of the pruning-knife, or the ladder by which the gracious Gardener reaches every branch of the vine; but it is the Word itself which is used to accomplish the needed purging or cleansing.

The great end that the Vine-dresser has in view, in pruning the fruit-bearing branch, is “that it may bring forth more fruit” Other trees may be useful for various purposes; but the vine exists that it may bear “fruit.” Before we were converted, we brought forth evil fruit; but now, by the grace of God, we bear “fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Writing to the Galatians, the apostle Paul makes a catalogue of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Men are not to be judged by their profession, or by their appearance; the Lord’s test is, “The tree is known by his fruit.” If we are bearing fruit, it is an evidence that we are abiding in the true Vine. Our Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.” The purging, pruning, cleansing, is only to make us abide still more closely in the Vine, that all the vital sap flowing into us may be used in the formation of fruit. “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me (margin, severed from Me,) ye can do nothing.” The more fruit we bear, the more will God be glorified, and the more shall we prove that we are Christ’s followers, to whom He can say, “I am the Vine, ye are the branches.”

This is just what has happened to the vines that I have watched. If I had not seen it so often, I could not have believed that such a change could have been wrought. The vines, that were cut back so terribly before my illness, are now adorned with lovely leaves, and, better still, there are flowers from which the clusters will come, and the branches have grown marvellously during the time that I have been laid aside. It looked like a miracle to see the poor dried vine again springing up, and throwing out hopes of abundant fruitage by-and-by. This ought to encourage all of us who are being pruned. If we have been cut back by the Lord, it is only that we may gather strength that shall not be spent to waste in producing wood and leaf, but that shall be used in bringing forth fruit for our dear Lord and Master. That ought to be the case, and will be the case, with each branch of the living Vine.

Our friend prayed that, now that I am better, I may have strength I never dreamed of. I hope every one of you will have strength you never dreamed of. It would be a blessed thing if every branch in the true Vine should bear clusters as large as that which came from Eshcol. Oh, to bear for King Jesus such fruit, to abide in Him so closely, and to glorify Him so completely, that no more could have been done by us! I fear we do not, any of us, reach that standard; but let us all seek to get as near to it as we possibly can.

You must have noticed, in reading the lives of men who have been very fruitful unto God and His Church, how much they have been cut back. You remember how it was with Martin Luther. At the very time that he seemed to be most wanted in the world, when he was returning from the Diet of Worms, and hoping soon to be again preaching in his beloved Wittenberg, he was surrounded by a band of soldiers, and carried off to the castle of the Wartburg, and there he was shut up for a while, and unable to mix with men, as he longed to do. He was not confined as a prisoner, for he went out hunting and riding; but he was always attended by guards; and the rest of his time he spent in reading and studying. He wanted to be preaching and thundering away against the evils of the Papacy; and he said that he believed it was the devil who had come and shut him up just when he wanted to be in the thick of the fight. It was, however, the act, not of Satan, but of his faithful friend the Elector Frederic, who knew that, at that time, his life would be in great danger if he were out abroad; so he kept him out of the way of harm, and in that castle of the Wartburg he was able to do more for the cause of God and truth than if he had been at liberty. It was there that he threw the inkstand at the devil’s head, and it was there that he began to throw the inkstand at the devil’s head in another sense by his translation of the Bible, and by his other writings. It was a good time for Luther, and it was a good time for the whole world. He was able to take active exercise, and also carefully and prayerfully to study the Scriptures, thus preparing himself for future service.

Luther was also cut back in another fashion. That faithful servant of God – the bravest of the brave, I think I might call him; one who seemed dauntless as a lion before the Lord’s enemies,- was throughout his whole life tormented by such doubt, unbelief, and horrible attacks of Satan, that I suppose there has scarcely existed a man who has gone through a more trying experience. No barque that ever rode the waters endured fiercer tempests than Martin Luther when he was driven before the blast of Satanic assaults. He would get down his violin, and play, in the hope of driving away the foul fiend; he would talk with Catherine von Bora, his wife,- his queen, his empress, as he called her; and she would reason with him, and sometimes scold him. But it was no use: poor Martin went down, down, down, till he cursed the day of his birth, and wished himself in his grave. Imagine, if you can, what he would have been without all these trials. With such a spirit as he had, he would have been like a wild boar, rooting up everything that was growing in his pathway; and he would have acted towards a great many people in a way that would not have been for their comfort, or his own good name. So he was cut back, and was not allowed to grow according to the vigour of the sap that was in him, and thus he was enabled to render such noble service to the great Protestant Reformation, with which his name will be eternally associated.

I have spoken thus in the hope of cheering any of you who are being tried, you that have been doubting, you that have been troubled in your minds. Cry to God that this pruning process may make you fruitful in every good work, and cheerfully submissive to the will of the Lord. Do not so much ask for deliverance from trouble as for the sanctified use of it; and may the Lord bless you all, and save any unsaved ones who may be present! Amen.