“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” – John xv. 8.
“Being fruitful in every good work.” – Col. i. 10.
“Your fruit is found in Me.” – Hos. xiv. 8.
“Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” – 2 Cor. iv. 10.
“That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” – Phil. iii. 10.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” – Gal. ii. 20.
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” – 1 John i. 7.
PRACTICAL holiness is put before us in the Scriptures under the figure of fruit. But what is fruit? It is the deposit of the sap; it is the final result of all the inner activities of the tree – the outcome of the hidden life, which, beginning with the root, passes through the stem into the branch, and finally manifests itself in bud, blossom, and fruit. When the fruit is formed and ripened, the great purpose of the tree’s activity and growth is reached; the life has completed its cycle.
Fruit therefore illustrates that side of the spiritual life that is sacrificed for the good of others. Fruit is “the produce of the branch, by which men are refreshed and nourished. The fruit is not for the branch, but for those who come to carry it away. As soon as the fruit is ripe, the branch gives it off, to commence afresh its work of beneficence, and anew prepare its fruit for another season. A fruit-bearing tree lives not for itself, but wholly for those to whom its fruit brings refreshment and life. And so the branch exists only and entirely for the sake of the fruit. To make glad the husbandman is its object, its safety, and its glory” (Rev. Andrew Murray). “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John xv. 8).
Practical holiness therefore is not something that has to be manufactured. Something more than even a perfect pattern is needed in order to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, for holiness is no mere question of imitation.
“Christ’s life unfolded itself from a Divine germ, planted centrally in His nature, which grew as naturally as a flower from a bud. This flower may be imitated; but one can always tell an artificial flower. The human form may be copied in wax, yet somehow one never fails to detect the difference. And this precisely is the difference between a native growth of Christian principle and the moral copy of it. The one is natural, the other mechanical; the one is a growth, the other an accretion. Now this, according to modern biology, is the fundamental distinction between the living and the not living, between an organism and a crystal. The living organism grows, the dead crystal increases. The first grows vitally from within, the last adds new particles from the outside. The whole difference between the Christian and the moralist lies here. The Christian works from the centre, the moralist from the circumference. The one is an organism, in the centre of which is planted by the living God a living germ. The other is a crystal, very beautiful it may be, but, only a crystal; it wants the vital principle of growth” (Prof. Drummond).
So it is possible to perform duties and do good works and call them fruit. “If you were to tie half a dozen bunches of grapes on your old umbrella, that would not make a vine. You may tie them on very carefully, but they will not grow. But that is just what multitudes of people are trying to do” (Canon Wilberforce).
Practical holiness is not something that begins by doing, but by being. It is not something to be built up, as you build a house, by adding brick to brick. It is not “a mosaic of moralities, nor a compilation of merits, nor a succession of acts. It is a growth” (Bp. Huntingdon).
There may be a good deal of outward activity in work that is really good, and yet no “fruit.” What the apostle desired on behalf of the Colossian converts was that they might be “fruitful in every good work” (Col. i. 10); in other words, that their service should be the direct outcome of a Divine, indwelling, vital principle. It is possible to be zealous and active and busy in good works, and yet to continue unfruitful. Where there is real fruit the current of activity will flow from the centre to the circumference.
What then is the Source of all practical holiness? It must have a source. Every river has a spring. In vital union with all fruit there must be a root. What then is the source of our fruitfulness? Not our renewed nature. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John iii. 6). Through the operation of God the Holy Spirit a spiritual nature has been imparted. But “fruit” is not the outcome of our new nature, any more than in the vine fruit is the produce of the branch. The branch bears it, but the root produces it. It is the “fruit of the Spirit” – the Holy Spirit. A bad tree cannot yield good fruit. Regeneration is essential in order that the fruit should be good. But the new nature is not the source. It is Christ Himself. There is only one source of all holy living; there is only one holy life. “Your fruit is found in Me” (Hos. xiv. 8). “I am the life,” not simply because I am the pattern of a perfect life, or because I am the bestower of the gift of life, not because I am the vital principle itself. He is the Spring itself. “For with You is the fountain of life” (Ps. xxxvi. 9).
It is Christ living within us. “Not I,” says the apostle, though I am redeemed. “Not I,” though I am regenerate, and have eternal life. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. ii. 20).
It was this that Christ promised in the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. “The water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John iv. 14). There is no progress in our apprehension of Christ as the life: a progress in our heart-knowledge of that fact. We see first the life in its source (John i. 4), then in its bestowal (John iii. 16), then in its indwelling (John iv. 14), and then in its practical outflow (John vii. 38). It is in this last stage we have the “fruit,” the outcome of an indwelling Christ.
Here then is the source of all practical holiness. It is important to lay the emphasis on that word “lives.” “Christ LIVES in me.”
What then is needed in order that this indwelling life should bring forth fruit abundantly unto God?
It is clear that Divine life can need nothing from man to increase its vitality. It does not need our efforts to make it live. Think what it is we really possess, if Christ is in us. It was no mere figure of speech that the apostle employed when he declared that Christ was living in him. And what was true of him may be equally true of us. What then is it we possess? We have Him, in whom all fullness of life actually dwells, in whom infinite resources are stored up for our use. Everything needed for continual growth, for perpetual freshness, and for abundant fruitfulness are found in Him. All power, all grace, all purity, and all fullness, absolutely everything to make all grace abound towards us, in us, and through us, are stored up in Him who verily dwells within us.
Since this is so, what then is needed? Shall we try to help Christ to live in us? shall we try to make Christ more living? shall we help Him to put forth His own power in us? shall we try, in other words, to grow – to produce fruit? Surely not. And yet is not this the grand mistake multitudes are making? Something however has to be done. Something is needed to deepen our spiritual life. All Christians have Christ, and possess therefore all the resources of spiritual power and abundant fruitfulness; and yet all Christians are not abounding in fruit unto God. What is the reason for this?
It is here: though we cannot make Christ more living, though we cannot add to His infinite fullness of life and purity and power, we may be hindering the manifestation of that life.
One of the most serious hindrances is unbelief. This lies at the root of every other hindrance. But it may be urged that Christ has power to overcome this hindrance, that He is able to break through this obstacle. And we know, of course, that He is able, that He could sweep away the barrier of all human unbelief. But is this the method of His working? Is it the law of His dealing with men?
We see Him entering a certain village. There were multitudes. of poor and needy ones there. And He was ready to bless them. The sick and maimed were brought in crowds to His feet. But what do we read? “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. xiii. 58). Not that there was no manifestation of His power. “He laid His hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.” But “He could do there no mighty work” (Mark vi. 5). “His power was omnipotent, but it conditioned itself, as infinite power always does in the world; and by this limitation it was not lessened, but was glorified as moral and spiritual power.”
But the incident throws light on many a passage in our own spiritual experience. The weakness and failure we have known arose, not from want of power in Him who has made us His dwelling-place, but from the lack of trust and confidence in Him, which He is ever demanding of us.
We have limited the Holy One by our unbelief. We have “set a mark” on the extent of His power to overcome and deliver, to keep and to save.
What then is wanted for the deepening of our spiritual life is the removal of every hindrance; and when we begin with unbelief, we lay the axe at the root of every other hindrance.
But it is just here that the difficulty lies. It may be answered:
“By showing that it is a question of faith and not of effort, you do not remove the difficulty, you only shift it to another platform. How can I make myself more believing? I know it is because of my unbelief that I fail; but how am I to get more faith?”
This brings us to the main point of this chapter. The truth is, we need two powers: a power to remove the hindrances, and a power to produce the fruit; a power to separate us from the evil, and a power to transform us into the good.
This twofold power is found in Christ. There is the power of His death, and the power of His life. We do not bid goodbye to the first because we have been brought to live in the second. Nay, the condition of knowing the power of His resurrection lies in “being made conformable unto His death” (Phil. 111. 10).
The true life, that which triumphs over sin and “does not cease from yielding fruit,” is a life that springs up out of death.
There is a deep spiritual meaning in those words of the apostle, which we fail to grasp at first sight, “always carrying about in the body the dying” – or the putting to death – ” of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. iv. 10, νµºÁÎÃιν).
Death is here put before us as the condition of life. The continual manifestation of the life depends upon the constant conformity to the death.
Death means separation, and life means union. By being brought more and more into sympathy with Christ’s death unto sin, we become more and more thoroughly separated from its service and defilement. It is not merely separation from sinning, it is a separation from the old self-life. The great hindrance to the manifestation of the Christ-life is the presence and activity of the self-life. This needs to be terminated and set aside. Nothing but “the putting to death of the Lord Jesus Christ” can accomplish this. Conformity to His death means a separation in heart and mind from the old source of activity and the motives and aims of the old life.
This “conformity” is the condition of the manifestation of the Divine life. As we have already observed, “the life of Jesus” does not need our energy or our efforts to make it more living. All that God requires is that we should fall in with those conditions which are essential for the removal of the hindrances. Let those conditions be complied with, and at once the life springs forth spontaneously and without strain or effort. Though we can neither originate nor strengthen it by direct efforts of our own, we may indirectly increase its manifestations by complying with the Divinely appointed conditions.
Our part consists in getting down into the death of Christ; His part is to live out His own life in us, just as the waters spring forth from the fountain. Then we shall know what the apostle meant when he said, “Christ lives in me.” Where Christ thus dwells in unhindered activity, there will be steady growth, perpetual freshness, and abundant fruitfulness; and the life will be marked by ease and spontaneity, because it will be natural.
From this we see that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of understanding the meaning of His death. We must see that He not only died “for sin,” but “unto sin.” In the first of these senses He died alone; we could not die with Him. He trod the winepress alone; as the sin offering, He alone became the propitiation for our sins. But in the second we died with Him. We must know what it is to be brought into sympathy with Him in His death unto sin. Oneness with Christ in that sense is the means of becoming practically separated, not only from sinful desires, but also from the old self-life. And this assimilation to the dying Christ is not an isolated act, but a condition of mind ever to be maintained, and to go on deepening. “Arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Pet. iv. 1).
Identification with the death of Christ is the great truth we learn in the Lord’s supper. In the broken bread and the poured out wine, what have we but the symbols of His death? What is it that we especially dwell upon and make prominent in that sacrament? “You proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” And by partaking of those elements we become identified with Him in that death. We become practically partakers of His life in proportion as we enter into His death, as we are made conformable in heart and mind to His death.
Wherever the blood of Christ is referred to in the Scripture, it means invariably His blood shed. The “blood,” we learn from the Old Testament (Lev. xvii. 10, 11), is the life. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” In consequence of possessing this character it could not be eaten; it was to be reserved “to make an atonement for your souls upon the altar.” The clause, “for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul,” may be more correctly rendered, “for the blood makes atonement by means of the soul”; i.e. by means of the life which the blood contains. The blood is the vehicle of the animal’s life; it represents that life. When it is shed – poured out – it represents that life as sacrificed: in other words, the death of the animal. The shed blood stands for the death of the victim.
Now when we speak of the blood of Christ,” we mean the life poured out, sacrificed; i.e. His death.
There is a power in His death to separate us from sin. All cleansing is separating; when a garment is cleansed, it is separated from that which defiled it.
So the “blood of Christ cleanses,” – i.e. the death of Christ separates – “from every sin.” The more thoroughly we are brought into oneness with that death, the more fully shall we know what it is to be “cleansed from all unrighteousness.”
In the consecration of Aaron and his sons we see these great principles shadowed forth with wonderful clearness.
God commanded Moses: “Then you shall kill the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tip of the right ear of his sons, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot, and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar. And you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and on his garments, on his sons and on the garments of his sons with him; and he and his garments shall be hallowed, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him” (Exod xxix.20, 21).
We see here in type that which may be true in the experience of God’s children. The ear, the hand, and the foot are all to be consecrated to God. Conformity to the death of Christ – contact with the blood – makes that consecration a reality. Because when we are in heart brought into oneness with that death, we become, not only set apart unto God, but separated from every hindrance to our hearkening to the voice of God, to our doing the work of God, to our walking in the will of God. These “members” (Rom. vi. 13) are not only dedicated, yielded to His service, because of the separation which the blood effects, they are “cleansed” from defilement, and anointed with the oil, the life of the Spirit; they are “meet for the Master’s use.” The sprinkling with the blood and the oil puts before us both the death and the life; which, as we have seen, are needed all along our earthly course.
Hence we see that we need as much the power of Christ’s death every day, as we do the power of His risen life.
Let us see that we are not seeking to partake of the life without going down into His death. May not our mistakes in the past, and our lack of spiritual vigour, have arisen from failing to see the power of the Cross in the matter of sanctification? Perhaps we have been tempted to think that the death effected our justification only, and that our sanctification was entirely in His life. And this may have led to the idea, more or less prevalent in the minds of many, that having come to the crucified Christ, having seen the Cross in its atoning and justifying aspect, we have now passed beyond it, and have left it behind, because we have entered into living union with the risen Christ.
But if we have succeeded in making our meaning intelligible, we now see that this “putting to death of the Lord Jesus” – the essence of His Cross, if we may use the expression – is that which we have to carry about within us always, as an abiding condition of mind, since we need a constant and maintained separation from our old self-life. This is not a matter effected once for all.
His death unto sin has therefore a most important and intimate connection with our practical holiness. The condition of all real progress will consist therefore in the being made conformable to that death. Willingness to die to sin with Christ is a truer evidence of the soul’s advance than anxiety to be filled with His life.
It is only thus we are brought to understand the true significance of both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In the one we are buried with Him into death once for all; in the other we become assimilated to that death more and more – we are brought into closer fellowship with the mind of Christ crucified.
The cross of Christ is therefore not only the place where we find the new life, but also the place where we lose our old life. “The putting to death of the Lord Jesus” was the termination of that life which is “after the flesh,” because “our old man” – that is our old unconverted self – “was crucified with Him.” To be brought into oneness with that death, to be so identified with it that we, so to speak, always carry it about, is to be walking in a condition of continual deliverance from the self-life, and to find that the life of Jesus is being manifested in our daily walk.
All spiritual privileges are conditional. The condition of the “life abundant” lies in becoming a partaker of the mind of Him who died unto sin, to be armed with that mind. This is not an isolated experience, a single act, it is a mind – that is, a spiritual condition to be ever maintained, and becoming more and more deepened.
We have not therefore to strain our energies in order to live, or increase our strength. The living Christ within us will put forth His own power and manifest His own life; there shall be no lack of vitality. But what we are required to do is to voluntarily submit to die; and this, not by direct efforts upon ourselves, but by a participation of the mind of Him who died unto sin once, and now lives unto God.
The apprehension of the fact that we were identified with Christ when He died on the cross unto sin often produces most sudden and decisive results in the experience and practical walk of the believer. It cuts us away abruptly from our former course of life, and we find a glorious emancipation from sin’s power and service. But this effect, though sudden and immediate, is followed by a work which is progressive and continuous. Following the first apprehension of the believer’s death with Christ, and its results, there is now a deepening work of assimilation of heart and mind to the crucified Christ, a more perfect bringing into sympathy with Him in His death unto sin.
And as this work deepens, as oneness with the dying Christ becomes more and more an experimental reality, so the life increases – the living, risen Lord manifests His power, and fills the soul with His fullness. The believer’s true life – that is, the life of Christ in him – is a life then that is ever springing up out of death. “I die daily,” is a declaration that is fraught with deep meaning, whatever may have been the sense in which the apostle used the words.
It is as we become practically identified with Christ in His death, that all the hindrances to the manifestation of His life are removed. In no other way can they be set aside. Our own efforts cannot accomplish it; our resolutions will utterly fail in effecting it, and leave us in despair.
But God has provided us with a power by which every obstacle may be taken away. That power is the death of Christ. To get the benefit of that power we must submit to be conformed to that death, to be brought into actual sympathy with Him who died unto sin. Just as in the Cross we find the power which sets us free from the authority of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, so in that death also we possess the power that separates us from the self-life and keeps us in a condition of deliverance.
Taking the “blood of Christ” as equivalent to His death, and the effect of the death to be separation, we can understand how it is that the Blood is continually cleansing us from every sin. Walking in the light, as He is in the light, the necessity of this constant separation from sin is felt more deeply continually. But the need is met by the Divine provision, and we become more and more conscious of the power of that death to separate from sin of every kind; and thence the fellowship between the believer and God is maintained, and becomes a greater reality in his experience.
This gives us another aspect of “the law of liberty” in the spiritual life.