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You will find the case to resemble that of a vine and its branches. If you are my disciples indeed, and throughout; if you always maintain your respect for ⚫ me, and consider my words as true and divine, the rule of your conduct, and the ground and measure of your hopes, you will abound in the practice of all virtue, and will be stedfast and unmoved. But if you neglect me, and my words, you will not any longer bear that good fruit, but will be like a branch, cut off and separated from the root.' "Without me:" is the same as separated from me. In the margin of some of our Bibles the phrase is rendered "severed from me." Which is the meaning of the expression; though the literal rendering may be," without me," or "out of me."
Ver. 6, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast out as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." 'If you cast off your regard for me, and for the. truth and simplicity of my doctrine, you will resemble a branch separated from the root, which soon withers, and becomes fit for nothing, 'but to be burned. So you, not bringing forth fruits of true holiness, or bearing nothing to perfection, will be ' worthless and contemptible.'
Which is agreeable to what is said in another gospel, under a different similitude. "Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men," Matt. v. 13.
"He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth fruit. For without me ye can do nothing."
The general meaning is: Whereas by a close adherence to me, and my words, you may excel in virtue, and persevere therein; if should forsake me, or abate in your respect for me and my doctrine, you will do nothing con'siderable, and may become destitute of all true worth.'
I shall now endeavour further to illustrate this text in some propositions; and then add two or three remarks by way of application.
I. The propositions for illustrating the text are these.
Prop. 1. Our Lord does not here intend to say, that without the knowledge of him and his religion, no man can ever do any thing that is good, or right, or virtuous, and acceptable in the sight of God.
Indeed it is hard to think, that rational and intelligent beings should be destitute of all power to do that which is good. It is not reasonable to suppose, that God should
form any intelligent beings destitute of such a power; or that he should suffer them to fall into such incapacity, whilst they are in a state of trial, and their everlasting interests are depending. And there are many things in scripture, either said occasionally, or on set purpose, from which we can conclude men to have this power.
Says St. Paul to the Romans: "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law; these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. Which show the work of the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness,—either accusing, or else excusing them," Rom. ii. 14, 15. They discerned some things to be good and right, others wrong and evil. When they did the one, they were well satisfied with themselves; when the other, their conscience accused them of evil. That text seems manifestly to teach, that heathens had knowledge of things praise-worthy, and otherwise; and that they had power to choose the one, and decline the other.
It is true, the apostle says in the same epistle, that "all the world was become guilty before God," ch. iii. 19. The meaning of which appears to be, that there was a great degeneracy in the world, both amongst Jews and Gentiles; that there was great need of the gospel, to reclaim and reform men; and that there are none perfectly righteous, and free from all sin; wherefore all stand in need of the pardoning mercy of God. But he does not say, I apprehend, of every individual among Jews and Gentiles, who had not the knowledge of Christ and his gospel, that there were none sincerely good and virtuous; none, who had that righteousness and integrity, which a good, and gracious, and holy God will accept and reward.
There are in the gospels instances of persons, not within the pale of the Jewish church, who gave proofs of a good disposition, and were commended, and accepted by the Lord Jesus. In like manner, it is not impossible, but that still some, not acquainted with the christian religion, may do what is good and virtuous.
A Roman centurion, quartered in one of the cities of Galilee, sent to Jesus, saying, "Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented," Matt. viii. 6. But when Jesus was coming toward him, recollecting that it had not been usual for Jews to converse with him, and persuaded of the great power of Christ, he sends him a second message, saying, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof. Speak the word only, and
my servant shall be healed. -When Jesus heard it be marvelled, and said to them that followed, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
The woman of Canaan is another remarkable instance. She cried, saying, " Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David. He answered, I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," Matt. xv. 22, 24. But at length her importunity was so great, and the truth of her faith so manifest, that our Lord said to her: "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Cornelius, after our Lord's ascension, is another Gentile, without the limits of the Jewish church, who performed commendably. "There was," says St. Luke, "a certain man in Cæsarea, called Cornelius, a centurion of the band, called the Italian band; a devout man, and one that feared God, with all his house; who gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway," Acts x. 1, 2. An angel appeared to him about the ninth hour of the day, or three in the afternoon, when day-light is clear, who said unto him: "Cornelius, thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God." This person, though still a Gentile, was approved of God. He was sincere and upright, according to the light which he had; and his prayers and alms were good works, which God accepted. And he is pitched upon to be the first Gentile, who, with his family, should have afforded to them the greater advantages of the knowledge of the gospel, or way of salvation through Jesus Christ, and be received into the christian church, or among the disciples of Christ, without subjection to the law of Moses; which had been hitherto the way of admission into the Jewish church, the only people who were professed worshippers of God.
We might further argue from things said by our Lord to the Jews." Jesus answered them; My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii. 16-18. Where our Lord speaks of men doing the will of God before they believe in him. And his intention is, that upright and honest men, who have an unfeigned regard to the will of God, so far as they are acquainted with it, and have an opportunity of knowing it, according to the dispensation they are under, will be disposed to believe in him. They who at that time were free from prejudices would soon discern, that divine attestations were afforded to him; and would own, that the doctrine taught by him was true, and from heaven.
Prop. 2. I would observe, secondly, that our blessed Lord does not intend to say, that no men, not even his disciples, can do any good thing without immediate and effectual impulses and impressions from him; but the ability to do good, which he here speaks of, is to be understood as ascribed to his word and doctrine, or the principles taught by him; without a regard to which, he says, men would do nothing.
God may give special aids to men, whenever he thinks fit; but they are not always necessary, nor always to be expected. And that our Lord rather speaks of his word and doctrine, than of himself personally considered, is evident from his manner of speaking in many places.
Our Lord in this context does several times speak of his disciples" abiding in him, and he in them," as necessary to their bearing fruit; but he chiefly intends a strict and steady regard to his word, and the influences of that upon their minds. This appears from many texts. Ver. 3, "Now ye are clean through the word, which I have spoken unto you." Ver. 7, " If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
66 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you." This latter expression explains the former; or it may be taken a little otherwise, as if he had said, If you continue to believe in me, and to pay a steady regard to my doctrine, 'you will be highly acceptable to God.'
Again: "I have manifested thy name unto the men, which thou gavest me out of the world :—and they have kept thy word," John xvii. 6. "I have given them thy word. Sanctify them through thy truth. Thy word is truth," ver. 14, 17. In the word of God are contained those sanctifying, strengthening influences which are needful for us, and are so powerful and effectual.
To which we might add other texts from the same gospel. Verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from death to life," John v. 24. "Then said Jesus unto those Jews which believed on him; If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples," ch. viii. 31. In this chapter, where in the text, he speaks of "abiding in him." There it is, "if ye continue," or abide, " in my word." They are both one and the same, as is manifest; and may also appear further by comparing a place in St. John's first epistle: "But whoso keepeth his word, in him, verily, is the love of
God perfected. Hereby know we, that we are in him,” 1 John ii. 5.
Our Lord having spoken of himself as the living bread that came down from heaven, says, "He that eateth me, shall live by me," John vi. 51. But afterwards, for preventing offence, and making himself clear, he explains the meaning of those expressions. "When Jesus knew in himself, that his disciples murmured at it, he saith unto them, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life," ver. 61, 63.
This shows, that when our Lord speaks of himself, he often means the word taught by him. And we need not suppose him to say, that no man can do any good thing, without immediate impulses from him. Nor have we reason to think that this is the ordinary way of inducing men to that which is good, or that such impulses are always ne
That men may be good and virtuous, it must be their own choice. So far as men are passive, and are acted upon, they are not agents.
Without power to do good or evil, men cannot be moral and accountable beings, and be brought into judgment, or receive according to their works.
If you should say, that men cannot improve the outward advantages afforded to them, nor hearken to the divine calls, nor act according to the light vouchsafed to them, you would justify them, and lay the blame of their wrong conduct upon God himself.
God, in the prophets, laments the refractory temper of the Jewish people, and reproves them for it: "Now because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord: and I spake unto you, rising up early, and ye heard not; and I called, but ye answered not, therefore I will do unto this house, which is called by my name,- -as I have done unto Shiloh," Jer. v. 13, 14; see also ver. 25, 26.
But if they had no ability to do good, they might have said, We would have answered thee, when thou calledst, and would have obeyed thy statutes; but we had no power of our own, and thou didst not work effectually in us, and upon us.'
But that is a vindication which no man can bring to God. For our Lord says to the Jews: "Ye will not come
"I can do all these things through Christ who strengtheneth me," [Phil. iv. 13.] that is, through the directions of Christ, and through the arguments and motives of the christian doctrine' Dr. Jer. Hunt's Sermons, Vol. III. p. 188.