Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
[(2) THE LAST WORDS OF DEEPEST MEANING TO THE FAITHFUL FEW (continued).
(e)Relation of Jesus and His disciples to each other; and to the world (John 15:1-27).
(α)Their union with Him. The True Vine: union from within (John 15:1-11)—comp. the Good Shepherd (John 10); union from without.
(β)Their union with each other (John 15:12-17).
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.(1) I am the true vine.—For the word “true,” comp. Note on John 1:9. The ideal truth, of which the natural vine is a figure, is fulfilled in Him. The thought is introduced suddenly, and with nothing in the context to lead up to it. The natural explanation of this is, that here, as in other instances, it was suggested by some external object which met the eye. If we suppose (comp. Note on John 14:31) that they were crossing the valley on the way to Gethsemane, there is reason for the idea that they passed a vineyard, that supplied the form in which our Lord’s thoughts are expressed; but the journey itself, during the discourse, is improbable; and the sight of a vineyard is the less likely, as it was night. On the supposition that they were still in the room where they had eaten supper, a vine whose tendrils grew into the room, or the vine carved on the doors of the Temple (Jos. Wars, v. 5, § 4; Ant. xv. 11, § 3), or the vineyards seen in the distance by moonlight, or the vine suggested by “the fruit of the vine” of which they had drunk, have been suggested. Of these the last has most probability, as bound up with the significance of the cup of which they had drunk that night. We cannot say more than this. The imagery may have followed from some incident, or custom, or remark, now wholly unknown to us. It was, as in the case of the Good Shepherd, familiar to them from the Old Testament, and would have come to their minds from any slight suggestion. (See, e.g., the following passages: Psalm 80:8-19; Isaiah 5:1 et seq.; Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 19:10.) It seems to have been expressed also in Rabbinic precepts, e.g., “Whosoever dreameth of a vine-branch shall see the Messiah.” (Berachoth, fol. 89.)
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.(2) Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.—The two chief duties of the vine-dresser, cutting off all fruitless tendrils, and cleansing those that bear fruit, supply illustrations of the training of human souls by the Divine Husbandman. We are not to interpret these words, as they frequently have been interpreted, of the unbelieving world, or of the Jews; but of Christians in name, who claim to be branches of the true vine. These the Husbandman watcheth day by day; He knoweth them, and readeth the inner realities of their lives, and every one that is fruitless He taketh away.
And every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it.—Better, he cleanseth it. (Comp. Hebrews 1:3.) This means in the natural vine the cutting off of shoots which run to waste, and the removal of every excrescence which hinders the growth of the branch. It means in the spiritual training the checking of natural impulses and affections, and the removal of everything, even though it be by a pang sharp as the edge of the pruner’s knife, which can misdirect or weaken the energy of the spiritual life, and thus diminish its fruitfulness. A vine which has been pruned—here a tendril cut off, and there one bent back—here a shoot that seemed of fairest promise to the unskilled eye unsparingly severed by the vine-dresser, who sees it is worthless—here a branch, in itself good, made to yield its place to one that is better, and itself trained to fill another place—such is the familiar picture of the natural vine—such, also, to a wisdom higher than ours, is the picture of human life.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.(3) Now ye are clean.—Better, Already are ye clean. The pronoun is emphatic. “Already are ye, as distinct from others who will become clean in the future.” (Comp. Note on John 13:10.)
Through the word which I have spoken unto you.—Better, on account of the word which I have spoken unto you. The word was the revelation of God to them, and by reason of its moral power they had been cleansed. We are not to limit the reference to John 13:10, but are to understand it of our Lord’s whole teaching. (See John 5:24; John 8:31-32; John 12:48; John 17:10; and comp. Note on Ephesians 5:26.)
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.(4) Abide in me, and I in you.—The clauses are here connected as cause and effect. The second is the promise, which will not fail if the command of the first be observed. The union then, and all that follows from it, is placed within the power of the human will. All is contained in the words, “Abide in Me.” He who obeys this command has Christ abiding in him, and is a fruitful branch of the true vine.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself.—The branch regarded of itself, apart from (“except it abide in”) the vine, has no original source of life. The sap flows from the vine to branch and tendril and leaf and fruit. The branch of itself is a lifeless organ, and only fulfils its functions when it is connected with the vine. So in the spiritual life, men apart from Christ have no original source of life and fruitfulness. The true life flows from Him to every branch that abides in Him, quickening by its power the whole man, and making him fruitful in good. The man who lives without faith in God may be said to exist, rather than to live, and misses the true aim of his being.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.(5) I am the vine, ye are the branches.—The first clause is repeated to bring out the contrast with the second. It has been implied, but not directly stated, that they are the branches. It may be that there was a pause after the end of the fourth verse, accompanied by a look at the disciples, or at that which suggested the imagery of the vine. His words would then continue with the sense, “Yes, it is so. That is the true relation between us. I am the vine, ye are the branches. The fruitful branches represent men that abide in Me . . .”
For without me ye can do nothing.—Better, separate from Me, or, apart from Me. (Comp. margin.) The words bring out the fulness of the meaning of the fruitfulness of the man who abides in Christ. It is he, and he only, who brings forth fruit, for the man who is separate from Christ can bear no fruit. The words have often been unduly pressed, to exclude all moral power apart from Christ, whereas the whole context limits them to the fruit-bearing of the Christian life. The persons thought of all through this allegory are true and false Christians, and nothing is said of the influence on men of the wider teaching of God, the Light of the Logos ever in the world. A moral power outside the limits of Christianity is clearly recognised in the New Testament. (Comp., e.g., Romans 2:14-15, Notes.)
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.(6) If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch . . .—The thought passes from the fruitful to the sterile branch, from the man who abideth to the man who will not abide in Christ. In the natural vineyard such a branch was cast forth, and then withered, and was gathered with others into bundles, and burned. The vivid picture illustrates the fearful history of a man who willeth not to abide in Christ.
And they are burned.—Better, and they burn. The tenses of this verse should be carefully observed. The burning of the withered branches of the natural vine suggests the final judgment, and the whole is thought of from that time. Hence the earlier verbs are in the past, and the later in the present tense.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.(7) If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you . . .—He is now passing from the figure, which recurs again only in John 15:8; John 15:16. We should have expected here, “and I abide in you” (John 15:4); but His abiding in them necessarily accompanies their abiding in Him. The abiding of His words in them is the means by which, and the proof that they do abide in Him. (Comp. John 14:15; John 14:23-24.)
Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.—The reading is not certain, but the first verb should probably be imperative, “Ask what ye will . . .” The promise in all its width is the same as that in John 14:13-14 (see Note there), and it is attended by the same condition, for they who abide in Christ, and in whom Christ’s words abide, cannot pray otherwise than in His name.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.(8) Herein is my Father glorified.—This clause is generally understood of the words which follow as it is taken in our English version, but the rendering is liable to the objection that it gives a forced meaning to the word “that” (Ἱυα), which is properly used to express purpose. We may here (as in John 4:37; John 16:30) take “herein” to refer to the words which have gone before. By so doing we give a natural meaning to the words, and get a satisfactory sense for the sentence. The thought then will be, “In this doing whatever ye ask, my Father is glorified, in order that ye may bear much fruit, and that ye may become my disciples.”
So shall ye be my disciples.—Better, and may become My disciples. The pronoun is strongly emphatic. The living union with Christ, which made all their prayers, prayers in His name, and prayers which He would answer, and made them abound with fruit to the glory of God, was the characteristic which marked them as His true disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.(9) As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.—Better, As the Father hath loved Me, I have also loved you. He had passed from the thought of their discipleship to the foundation of their union with Him and with God. It was in the eternal love of the Father, ever going forth to the Son, and from the Son ever going forth to all who would receive it. The Father’s love and presence was ever with the Son, because the Son ever did those things which were pleasing to Him. (Comp. Note on John 8:31.) The love of the Son is ever present wherever willing heart of obedient disciple is open to its power.
Continue ye in my love.—Better, abide ye in My love. The word “continue” misses the connection with the context. By “My love” is meant, not “love to Me in your hearts,” but, “My love towards you.” The one produces the other. “We love Him because He hath first loved us;” but that which is prominent in the thought here is His love to the disciples, which He has just compared to the Father’s love to Himself.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.(10) If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.—Comp. John 14:21; John 14:24. keeping of His commandments is the outward proof of love towards Him; so that the love of the human heart towards Christ, which itself flows from Christ’s love to us (see Note on previous verse), becomes the condition of abiding in that love. While we cherish love for Him, our hearts are abiding in that state which can receive His love for us.
Even as I have kept my Father’s commandments . . .—Comp. Note on John 15:9 and reference there. This is again an appeal to His perfect sinlessness, and willing subordination as Son to the Father. We should notice also that the keeping of the commandments is not an arbitrary condition imposed upon human love; but a necessary result of love itself, and therefore as true in the relation of the Son to the Father as it is in our relation to Him. Because the Son loved the Father, therefore He kept His commandments, and in this love He abode in the Father’s love. Because we love God we necessarily keep His commandments, and in this love is the receptive power which constitutes abiding in the divine love.
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.(11) These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you.—The better reading is, . . that My joy may be in you. The joy thought of is that which Christ Himself possessed in the consciousness of His love towards the Father, and of the Father’s love towards Him. The brightness of that joy lit up the darkest hours of His own human life, and He wills that it should light up theirs. In the consciousness of their love to God, and of God’s love to them, there would be in them, as part of their true life, joy which no sorrow could ever overcome. They were as men with troubled hearts. He has told them of the true source of peace. His own peace He has given to them. He tells them now of the source of joy, and has spoken the word that they may possess the very joy which was the light of His own heart.
And that your joy might be full.—Comp. the words of the Intercessory Prayer in John 17:13, and the same phrase in John 3:29; John 16:24; 1John 1:4; 2John 1:12. The state of which He has spoken to them—the loving and being loved of God—is the ideal perfection of human life. It supplies satisfaction for all the deepest desires of our being. The capacities of the whole man are fulfilled in it, and the result is fulness of joy. They have learnt little of the true spirit of Christianity whose religion does not impart to them a joy which sheds its light over the whole of their lives.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.(12) This is my commandment.—Comp. Note on John 13:34. In John 15:10 keeping of His commandments was laid down as the means of abiding in His love. He now reminds them that that which was specially the commandment to them was love to one another. Love to God is proved by love to mankind. The two great commandments of the law are really one. “If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.(13) Greater love hath no man than this.—Better, . . . hath no one than this. (Comp. Note on John 10:18; John 10:29.) Nothing greater is conceivable in the thought of love. He has spoken of His own love for them as the measure of their love for each other. The thought of this verse dwells upon what His love really was and what theirs should also be. (Comp. especially Note on 1John 3:16.)
That a man lay down his life for his friends.—Better, that any one . . . For the phrase “lay down his life,” comp. John 10:11. The term “friends” is here used because those whom He is addressing were His friends. There is no opposition between this passage and Romans 5:6 et seq. The point dwelt upon is the greatness of the love, and the highest reach of love is the self-sacrifice which spares not life itself.
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.(14) Ye are my friends . . .—Stress is to be laid upon the pronoun, “Ye are My friends . . .” “Ye are those of whom I have just spoken, and for whom I am about to give the greatest proof of love.”
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.(15) Henceforth I call you not servants.—Better, I call you no longer, or, I do not still call you, servants. (Comp. John 14:30.) For the word “servant,” as applied to them, comp. John 12:26; John 13:13. It is used again in this discourse (John 15:20), but with reference to an earlier saying. In John 20:17, he calls them brethren. The word here rendered “servant” means literally “bond-servant,” “slave.” He will not apply this to them, but the foremost Apostles felt that His service was perfect freedom, and it became the common title which they applied to themselves. (Comp., e.g., Romans 1:1; James 1:1; 2Peter 1:1; Revelation 1:1.)
For the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.—The part of the slave is mechanical obedience, without any principle of love between his master and himself. He knows nothing of the purpose or aim of his master, and although he sees the deeds which are done, he knows not what his master doeth. There is no occasion to read the word “doeth” as though it were “will do” (future), which has not unfrequently been accepted as the explanation.
For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you—i.e., He had treated them as friends and sharers in their common work. He has revealed to them the character and attributes of the Father, and kept back from them no truth of which they could understand the meaning. There is no contradiction with John 16:12. The reason He had not told them more was not on His part, but on theirs. They could not then receive more, but in the future He would by the Holy Spirit declare to them all truth.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.(16) Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.—Comp. Luke 6:12 et seq., and in this Gospel John 6:70; John 13:18. The thought of His love for them, which had exalted them from the position of slaves to friends, from fishermen to Apostles, is made to remind them again (John 15:17) of the duty of love to each other. In John 15:20 he reminds them of the words which accompanied His own act of humility in washing their feet (John 13:15-16). The chiefest Apostle owed all to His gift and election, and should be ready to sacrifice all for his brethren, as He Himself was.
And ordained you.—The word “ordained” has acquired a special sense in modern English which is here misleading, and it will be better, therefore, to read appointed.
That ye should go and bring forth fruit.—Comp. Matthew 13:44; Matthew 18:15; Matthew 19:21, for the idea of going away and doing something. It implies here the activity of the Apostles as distinct from that of Christ. Each one as a branch ever joined to Christ was to grow away from Him in the development of his own work, and was to bring forth his own fruit. The margin compares Matthew 28:19, probably, with the thought of their fulfilling the Apostle’s missionary work. This view has been commonly adopted, but it gives to the word “go’” a fulness of meaning which is scarcely warranted.
That whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father.—Comp. Notes on John 15:7-8.
These things I command you, that ye love one another.(17) These things I command you—i.e., the things of which He has spoken from John 15:1 onwards, and especially from John 15:12-16. After speaking them He comes back to the purpose from which this section started, “that ye love one another.”
We must beware of the not unfrequent mistake of interpreting “these things” of the words which follow, as if it were, “I command you this, viz., to love one another.” The thought is, “I am giving you these precepts that you may love one another.”
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.(18) If the world hate you.—He has spoken of their close union with Himself, and of their love to each other. He proceeds in the remainder of the chapter to speak of their relation to the world. There is a striking contrast between the “love” in the last verse, and the “hatred” in this. There was the more need for them to be close bound to each other, and to their Lord, on account of the hatred which awaited them in the world.
Ye know that it hated me before it hated you.—It is better to take the first word as an imperative, “Know that it hated . . .” The very hatred, then, is a bond of union with their Master, and this thought should supply strength to meet it, and joy even when suffering from it (John 15:11). (Comp. 1Peter 4:12-13.)
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.(19) If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.—The force of the expression indicates the utter selfishness of the world’s love. It would love not them, but that in them which was its own. (Comp. Note on John 7:7.)
I have chosen you out of the world.—Comp. John 15:16, and Note on John 7:7. There He had told them that the world could not hate them. The very fact of its hatred would prove a moral change in them, by which they had ceased to belong to the world, and had become the children of God. Both thoughts are repeated in 1John 3:13; 1John 4:5.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.(20) Remember the word that I said unto you.—Comp. John 13:16, where the saying is used in a different sense; and Matthew 10:24, where it is used in the same connection in which we find it here.
If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying . . .—The meaning is exactly that which is expressed in the rendering of the English version. The two things are necessarily united, as Christ and His disciples are united. His word is their word. The relation of the world to the one would be that which it had been to the other.
But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.(21) But all these things will they do unto you.—These words are themselves an interpretation of the previous verse. They suppose the persecution and hatred to take place, and find the true consolation in the fact that this would be done to them as representing their Lord. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles are a commentary on this text. (Comp., among numerous passages, Acts 4:17; Acts 9:14; Galatians 6:17.)
Because they know not him that sent me.—The hatred is here traced to its true cause, which is ignorance of God. The Apostles were those sent by Christ. He Himself was the Apostle of the Father. They would hate His messenger, and hate Him, the messenger of God, because they knew not God.
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.(22) If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.—In this and the following verses (John 15:22-25) our Lord shows the sinfulness of the world’s hatred, because it was in the face of His revelation to them by both word (John 15:22) and work (John 15:24). Apart from this revelation, their sin would have belonged to the times of ignorance, which God overlooked (Acts 17:30-31). It would have been the negative evil of men who know not. It was now the positive evil of men who, knowing the truth, wilfully reject it.
But now they have no cloke for their sin.—Better, as in the margin, they have no excuse for their sin. The Greek phrase occurs only here in the New Testament. The word “cloke” as used with sin is familiar to us from the exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer. The idea is rather to cover up, to hide as with a garment, so that they may not be seen; whereas here the idea is of excuse for manifest sin.
He that hateth me hateth my Father also.(23) He that hateth me hateth my Father also.—Comp. Note on John 5:23, and John 15:18 in this context. Again the darkness of the world’s hatred is drawn in the successive degrees of sin. Hatred against the disciples is hatred against the Master whom they represent. Hatred against the Son is hatred against the Father whom He represents. Hatred of the Father! There can be no greater darkness. The sinfulness of sin has in this thought reached its limit. God is love. The heart that can hate love has hardened itself, and cannot be loved.
If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.(24) If I had not done among them the works.—Comp. Note on John 15:22, and for the evidence of our Lord’s works, see John 5:36; John 9:3-4; John 9:24; John 10:21; John 10:37; John 14:10. They met the evidence of works by the assertion that He was a sinner, and possessed a devil. Their hatred led them to ascribe the highest good to the power of evil. To such hearts there are no channels by which goodness can approach. (Comp. especially Notes on Matthew 12:31-32.)
But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.(25) But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled . . .—The words in italics are not found in the original, but they rightly complete the sense. For the phrase, “might be fulfilled,” comp. Notes on John 12:38; John 13:18.
That is written in their law.—Comp. Note on John 10:34.
They hated me without a cause.—The passage immediately referred to is probably that of the Messianic Psalm (69:4). The words are found also in Psalm 35:19 (see marg. ref.), and less distinctly in Psalm 109:3; Psalm 119:161. (Comp. especially Note on the quotation from this same Psalm in John 2:17.)
The words, “without a cause,” rightly express the meaning of the Hebrew word in the Psalm. The Greek follows the LXX., which expresses the thought “to no purpose,” or “in vain.” This is, however, not the idea of the context here. They had no reason for their sin, and therefore they hated Him without a cause. True were these words of many an earlier sufferer; but they were in their fulness true, they were “fulfilled,” only in the one sinless Sufferer.
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:(26) But when the Comforter is come.—Better, But when the Advocate is come. (Comp. Excursus G.)
Whom I will send unto you from the Father.—Comp. John 14:16, and Note on John 15:26. The pronoun is here emphatic. “Whom I will send . . .” The mission by the Father in answer to the Son’s prayer, and the mission by the Father in the Son’s name, and the mission by the Son Himself, are thought of as one and the same thing.
Even the Spirit of truth.—Comp. Note on John 14:17.
Which proceedeth from the Father.—The force of these words is to give weight to the witness which the Spirit shall bear of the Son. He is the Advocate whom the Son will send from the Father, but He is also and emphatically the Spirit of Truth proceeding from the Father, and His witness therefore will be that of the Father Himself. These two clauses (“whom I will send unto you from the Father,” “which proceedeth from the Father”) are to be regarded as parallels; and both of them probably refer to the office of the Holy Spirit. The Vulgate renders the verb in the latter clause by the word “procedit,” and the older expositors generally understood it of the person of the Holy Ghost. The Eastern Church, from the days of Theodore of Mopsuestia downwards, have claimed this text as proving the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father only, and have quoted it as decisive against the addition of the “filioque clause” in the Nicene Creed. The Western Church, comparing it with John 16:15, and such texts as Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; Philippians 1:9; 1Peter 1:11, have held that it includes the procession from the Son. If it refers to the person of the Holy Spirit, it must be granted that the ipsissima verba of our Lord are in favour of the interpretation of the Greek Church; but if it refers, as with much greater probability it does, to the office of the Holy Ghost, then these words have no bearing upon the doctrinal question at issue. The student should read on this subject, Pearson On the Creed, Art. viii., more particularly his invaluable collection of notes.
And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.(27) And ye also shall bear witness.—The tense is present, and ye also bear witness; or, and ye also are witnesses. (Comp. Notes on Luke 24:48-49.) The Apostles themselves distinguished between their own witness of things which had come within their own experience and the witness borne by the power of the Holy Spirit, of which the Day of Pentecost was the first great instance. (Comp. Acts 5:32.)
Because ye have been with me from the beginning.—Comp. John 1:7; and Notes on Acts 1:21-22. The “beginning” of course means the beginning of the Messianic teaching and works of which they were to be witnesses.