Let us contemplate the grape vine

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Ekaterina Zaborova

St. Petersburg, Russia

"Not by gain our life is measured,

But by what we’ve lost ‘tis scored;

’Tis not how much wine is drunken,

But how much has been outpoured."

(When we care about our own house instead of caring for God's house, He comes and breathes on our house, but even that is His mercy and special grace to us. We then appreciate these lines in a particular way.)


Elizabeth Del Grande

Auburn, California, United States

Reflecting on a walk through a vineyard last week, I wholeheartedly agree with the comments written above.

it is Our Dear Beloved's LOVE for us that we experience the depths of His caring pruning & delight in being His & His alone. An audience of one.


Isaiah Tor

Sydney, NSW, Australia

This hymn is the deepest exposition of what it means to abide in the Vine, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not merely concerned with suffering in itself, but rather in abiding in Him, we are conformed to His death in every way (Phil. 3:10). We cannot interpret this hymn individualistically, but rather most personally in our participation in and incorporation with Christ in all His experiences, particularly in this context as His one Body. Every verse describes both the crucified life, the resurrected life and the ascended life in and of Christ, whom we can participate in according to His Spirit. Our contemplation must extend first with the lack of luxuriant beauty of the Vine, a beauty that is common to the wild flowers of the field, significant of the fallen natural life versus the lowly appearance of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry, His mind whom we must now have in humbling ourselves(Phil. 2). To be dealt with even in that little outward majesty the Lord had, in that under the Father's sovereignty, He suffered persecution, defamation, slanders and despisings from His opposers; the apostles were the same, who were regarded as "deceivers" by those who opposed the gospel, but "true" to those who received their ministry. In such a context, even unto death the Lord in His resurrection bore fruit in His believers; we also must bear fruit. Yet fallen man still despises our ascended Lord, and the remainder of this hymn describes the continuing suffering of His members on earth, who like their Lord on earth, are continuously maligned and persecuted by the world-system, and yet they still bear fruit and convey the wine of the enjoyment of Christ as the Spirit to others. The crucial call of this hymn at the end, is that not only must we enjoy Christ, but passing through suffering in the Spirit, we are able to minister the same Spirit to others and live such a life that would draw others to be similar to us as ministers of the crucified Christ, even as these ministers patterned themselves after the Lord according to the transforming Spirit.

Joseph had the supply of life, the supply of food. According to our natural concept, Joseph should simply have given it away. But we should not bring our natural, worldly concept to the reading of the Bible. Joseph had the life supply, and the people needed it. They had to do something in order to get it. Before we see what the people had to do, we need to point out the reason Joseph became so rich and had the life supply. It was because of all his sufferings. From the time Joseph was seventeen years of age, he had been suffering. Even after he had been enthroned and was in power, he was still suffering because he was separated from his father. As we pointed out in the previous message, he had the power and the position to do everything necessary to have his father brought to him. But he refrained from doing so because he was in Egypt to fulfill God's will. In order for God's will to be fulfilled, Joseph had to suffer. Although he was the ruler, he suffered until the day his father was brought to him. Because of his suffering, he had the riches. It is the same today in the church life. It is those who suffer who are able to give others the supply of life. This thought is found in the hymn regarding the grapevine (Hymns, #635). The last two stanzas were arranged by Brother Nee:

...

If we do not suffer, we have nothing to give others. Because the grapevine undergoes many sufferings, dealings, cuttings, and breakings, it produces rich wine to cheer man. Brother Nee realized that the more we suffer, the more we have to give. Without suffering, anything we say is like tinkling brass. We may make noise, but there is no life in what we say. Therefore, as this hymn says, our life is measured not by gain, but by loss. Therefore, the reason Joseph could be so rich was that he had suffered. During the years of his suffering he stored up the riches.

Today we are mysterious people. Outsiders cannot understand us because we have a desire to be conformed to Christ's death. Furthermore, we have the capacity within us to do this, and this capacity is the power of resurrection. Even nature itself testifies to the fact of resurrection. Within a small seed there is not only life but also resurrection. If that seed falls into the earth and dies, a sprout will eventually rise up from underneath the earth. That is the power of resurrection. We are like small seeds. The more we are put into death, the more we have the expression of the power of resurrection. This is why we like to forgive people and forget their mistakes.

In a proper sense, we want to suffer loss so that we can gain Christ (Phil. 3:7-8). There are some hymns in our hymnal which speak about loss and gain (see Hymns, #631 and #635—stanzas 15 and 16). Loss and gain is the significance of the cross. The cross is a means to bring us loss and then gain. To live and walk under the crucifixion of Christ is to be conformed to Christ's death by the mysterious power of resurrection. Just as life and resurrection are hidden within a seed, Christ as life and resurrection is hidden within us. Within us we have Christ as our life and resurrection.

John 15 is a very valuable and deep chapter in the Bible. A number of Bible teachers teach only the abiding in the Lord from this chapter. Actually, however, John 15 stresses the bearing of fruit. Abiding is not for the sake of abiding; abiding is for the sake of fruit-bearing. If you abide in the Lord for your whole life and do not bear any fruit, your abiding means nothing. The stress in John 15 is not on abiding. The key is abiding, but the stress is fruit-bearing. We can have the fruit-bearing by abiding.

For the branch to abide in the vine is the living of a life under all kinds of conditions—the sunshine, the blowing wind, the rain, the heat, and the cold. In other words, to abide in the Lord is to live a life in Him under all kinds of suffering. Actually the vine tree suffers day and night for and until the season when it will produce its fruit (see Hymns, #635).

In 1942 in the church in Shanghai, there was a big disturbance concerning [Watchman Nee]. He did not say a word to vindicate himself; neither did he take any steps to appease the situation or reduce his suffering. Again, he was learning the lesson of the cross, living the crucified life by the Christ who was living in him.

Because of that disturbance he was frustrated from continuing his ministry for six years. During that six-year period of suffering, he did nothing to attempt to recover his ministry, nor did he attempt to start any other kind of work. He remained fully silent, under God's sovereign hand, learning the lessons of the cross. He kept himself fully in the confinement of Christ's death and experienced Christ as his life during that long trial. Following that long dark night of six years, when the day dawned and the Lord came to recover his ministry in 1948 through a revival in Shanghai, he asked us to sing the following hymn on the life of the grapevine. This hymn portrays how the grapevine is continually under certain kinds of hardship and dealing, yet it still continues to bear fruit and to cheer others. Three stanzas of the hymn say:

...

This hymn indicates that Watchman Nee was continually under hardships and dealings in order to produce spiritual fruit for cheering others. After that long winter, he prepared himself to bear fruit, not murmuring or complaining about anyone's abuse nor desiring to reduce his fresh contribution. Yet he was still willing to face any sacrifice by being pruned once more, as if he had never suffered any strokes before.

He told those of us who were his close co-workers that when criticized in our behavior and character, we should not vindicate ourselves, although we must without hesitation contend for the truth.

In Shanghai in 1948 there was a brother in the church who opposed Watchman Nee, because this brother's longstanding ambition for position in the church was not fulfilled. This brother gave financial assistance to a traveling preacher who wrote a long article criticizing and accusing Watchman Nee on a number of counts. The article was widely circulated, but Watchman did nothing to vindicate himself concerning this article.

In 1950 we were both in Hong Kong. One evening after the meeting, two young men standing at the front gate of the meeting hall were distributing flyers criticizing him. These two young men were standing directly in front of us, yet he did not react. He only smiled a little at them and walked away.

During my long association with him, I never once saw him quarrel, dispute, or fight with anyone. One always received the impression that he was following in the footsteps of the Lamb and living under the putting to death of Jesus in order that the life of Jesus might be manifested in him (2 Cor. 4:10).

An apple tree does not come into being overnight. The apples produced by the apple tree come from the growth in life, and the growth in life is experienced through sufferings. I would encourage all of us to pray-read Hymns, #635. This hymn tells us how the grapevine produces grapes through sufferings. That producing of the grapevine is its ministry. It is not a gift, but a ministry. A gift is some ability, some talent, you can get overnight, but a ministry is a lifelong matter.

The hymn "Let Us Contemplate the Grape Vine" (Hymns, #635) climbs higher and higher with each stanza. At the end it shows us that the more we sacrifice, the more we can give to others. If we are not a sacrificing one, we have nothing to give to others, and we cannot be a minister of the word. The ministry of the word is a speaking that issues from one's depth. This is the source of our speaking. Without this, there is no speaking.