Let us contemplate the grape vine

Let us contemplate the grape vine,
  From its life now let us learn,
How its growth is fraught with suff’ring,
  Midst environment so stern;
How unlike the untamed flowers
  Growing in the wilderness
In a maze of wild confusion,
  Making patterns numberless.
But the blossoms of the grape vine
  Without glory are and small;
Though they do have some expression,
  They are hardly seen withal.
But a day since they have flowered
  Into fruit the blooms have grown;
Never may they wave corollas
  With luxuriant beauty shown.
To a post the vine is fastened;
  Thus it cannot freely grow;
When its branches are extended,
  To the trellis tied they go.
To the stony soil committed,
  Drawing thence its food supply;
It can never choose its own way,
  Or from difficulty fly.
Oh, how beautiful its verdure,
  Which in spring spreads o’er the field.
From life’s energy and fulness
  Growth abundant doth it yield.
Till it’s full of tender branches
  Twining freely everywhere,
Stretching ’gainst the sky’s deep azure
  Tasting sweetly of the air.
But the master of the vineyard
  Not in lenience doth abide,
But with knife and pruning scissors
  Then would strip it of its pride.
Caring not the vine is tender,
  But with deep, precision stroke
All the pretty, excess branches
  From the vine are neatly broke.
In this time of loss and ruin,
  Dare the vine self-pity show?
Nay, it gives itself more fully
  To the one who wounds it so,
To the hand that strips its branches,
  Till of beauty destitute,
That its life may not be wasted,
  But preserved for bearing fruit.
Into hard wood slowly hardens
  Every stump of bleeding shoot,
Each remaining branch becoming
  Clusters of abundant fruit.
Then, beneath the scorching sunshine,
  Leaves are dried and from it drop;
Thus the fruit more richly ripens
  Till the harvest of the crop.
Bowed beneath its fruitful burden,
  Loaded branches are brought low—
Labor of its growth thru suff’ring
  Many a purposed, cutting blow.
Now its fruit is fully ripened,
  Comforted the vine would be;
But the harvest soon is coming,
  And its days of comfort flee.
Hands will pick and feet will trample
  All the riches of the vine,
Till from out the reddened wine-press
  Flows a river full of wine.
All the day its flow continues,
  Bloody-red, without alloy,
Gushing freely, richly, sweetly,
  Filling all the earth with joy.
In appearance now the grape vine
  Barren is and pitiful;
Having given all, it enters
  Into night inscrutable.
No one offers to repay it
  For the cheering wine that’s drunk,
But ’tis stripped and cut e’en further
  To a bare and branchless trunk.
Yet its wine throughout the winter
  Warmth and sweetness ever bears
Unto those in coldness shiv’ring,
  Pressed with sorrow, pain, and cares.
Yet without, alone, the grape vine
  Midst the ice and snow doth stand,
Steadfastly its lot enduring,
  Though ’tis hard to understand.
Winter o’er, the vine prepareth
  Fruit again itself to bear;
Budding forth and growing branches,
  Beauteous green again to wear;
Never murmuring or complaining
  For the winter’s sore abuse,
Or for all its loss desiring
  Its fresh off’ring to reduce.
Breathing air, untainted, heavenly,
  As it lifts its arms on high,
Earth’s impure, defiled affections
  Ne’er the vine may occupy.
Facing sacrifice, yet smiling,
  And while love doth prune once more,
Strokes it bears as if it never
  Suffered loss and pain before.
From the branches of the grape vine
  Sap and blood and wine doth flow.
Does the vine, for all it suffered,
  Lost, and yielded, poorer grow?
Drunkards of the earth and wanderers,
  From it drink and merry make.
From their pleasure and enjoyment
  Do they richer thereby wake?
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.
For the strength of love e’er standeth
  In the sacrifice we bear;
He who has the greatest suff’ring
  Ever has the most to share.
He who treats himself severely
  Is the best for God to gain;
He who hurts himself most dearly
  Most can comfort those in pain.
He who suffering never beareth
  Is but empty “sounding brass”;
He who self-life never spareth
  Has the joys which all surpass.

Copyright Living Stream Ministry. Used by permission.

Ana Lara

Storrs, Connecticut, United States

This hymn can be considered the representative hymn of Watchman Nee’s life. The life of the vine. Today it is the life of Watchman Nee in a song. Where did this song come from?

In 1951 there was a a revival sweeping across China in the Lord’s Recovery. Nee went through six long years of winter meaning six long years when he was stopped from carrying out his ministry. He could not minister. Bro. Nee started to minister in the early 1920s, the beginning of the Lord’s Recovery. Then he was arrested and sentenced 30 years later in 1952, and spent the rest of his life for the next 20 years all the way to 1972, in labor camp-prisons. The time of his public ministry was 30 years or less and of those three short decades, he was stopped multiple times, in some cases put aside, in others, excommunicated. The last instance was during World War II from 1942 to 1948. How old was he at that time? He was just in his 40’s but he had reached the height, the maturity of his ministry. He had been given such a commission of the age, not able to speak… talk about suffering!

Nee said:

“I’d like to introduce a hymn that we have recently worked on; hymn 635. It describes the life of a vine as a depiction of the life of Christ, and of the believers in John 15. Really the ultimate vine tree or grapevine is Christ. It was first given in the form of a sermon back in the 19C, in Italy, by a certain Italian-priest who worked in a hospital. This song is not only a depiction of Christ, but also of His believers. ”(Many of the Lord‘s believers did not follow the Lord in this life. And there are some who did, and in this case, it’s Watchman Nee. ) It originated from Hugo Basey, this is the name of the Italian priest born in the beginning of the 19C. He gave a sermon to patients in the hospital during some kind of war at that time in Europe. It was just one sermon and that sermon was put into verse using John 15 as a backdrop to speak about the life of a vine. The vine tree grows out of dry ground. Every tree has 3 to 5 trunks. When it grows to be a foot or so, it is tied to poles. Any additional branches are pruned away. The life of a vine is one of suffering: Tied, put into hard soil, pruned until it’s bared, under the beating of the hot sun. The grapevine needs heat to grow; intense sunshine. As soon as its flowers blossom, they wither away quickly because the vine tree does not exist to give forth beauty. They wither away to give way to juicy grapes. As soon as the fruit ripen, they are plucked from the tree and thrown onto threshing-floors and there they crush them, step on them, trample them, press them until the juice comes out and that juice would become wine for man’s enjoyment.

In the winter, after all of this, the gardener proceeds to do another round of cutting and pruning. All the branches that have grown fruit and leaves are left to a bare trunk. Another round after one year, and another round.

Watchman Nee:

“I first heard this from a sermon in 1923. (That’s the time when he began to pursue the Lord and serve Him. ) Later I received a copy of the prose that was based upon that sermon by an Italian-Christian priest. It was written by an English poet named Harriett Eleanor Hamilton King whose work is ranked among the best of English prose. Today we have translated her prose into Chinese and edited it into a hymn. ” That sermon was turned into prose by King and then Bro. Nee translated it into Chinese in hymn-form. This happened in China. Nee treasured this hymn as a youth, even before he had gone through so many sufferings in his life, in the ensuing years. It was in these years after his ministry resumed, he often asked the saints to sing it in Chinese— Bro. Nee’s own translation. Today we have 2 volumes of Watchman Nee’s Resumption Ministry. This hymn may be found in there somewhere. During those years, he sang that hymn and he had the saints sing that hymn. Witness Lee received a lot of help from this hymn and realized the hymn was about Watchman Nee’s life; A life of suffering.

Fellowship of MC to sisters TX

Paraphrased by AL

Benjamin Lee

New York City, New York, United States

“His desire after so many years of suffering was to express his spiritual sentiment through the singing of that prose. ”


Lagos, Lagos State, Nigeria

It's interesting


Louisiana, United States

In praying & reading this hymn this morning I was seeing that this hymn is all about the life Jesus lived. I also realized it is the believer’s life too. I never wanted to get too much into this hymn for years now. I don’t like suffering. But after years of the Christian life having suffered some & suffered loss I am now enjoying the experience of this song. I appreciate much more now those brothers & sisters who have suffered so much loss and now pour out wine from their experience of Christ in those times of suffering. Their wine cheers God & man. Praise the Lord. We love Him.

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.

I asked Brother Nee to polish the second volume of the Chinese hymnal, which I compiled and composed. He edited the hymns very well. The hymn "Let Us Contemplate the Grape Vine" (Hymns, #635), or "The Life of the Grape Vine" in the Chinese hymnal, was composed in English and then translated from English into Chinese by Brother Nee. After he resumed his ministry in Shanghai, I received much help from his speaking about this hymn. Many of the saints who sang the hymn did not understand Brother Nee's intention, but when I read the hymn, I knew that the grape vine applied to his experience. The life of a grape vine is a life of suffering in order to bear fruit. The hymn says, "Winter o'er, the vine prepareth / Fruit again itself to bear" (stanza 12). Brother Nee implicitly realized that "winter" (the six years when his ministry was suspended) was over. Now he again needed to be fastened to a post, against his will, in order to bear fruit (stanza 3); and he needed to be pruned in order to bear clusters of abundant fruit (stanza 7). Finally, he needed to be pressed in order to become wine to give joy to man and enjoyment to God (stanza 9). I knew that Brother Nee's inward feelings were expressed through this hymn. It was not easy for me to compose this prose into twelve stanzas. When Brother Nee polished the hymn, he added three more stanzas. [Editor's note: The hymn as it was originally published in the second volume of the old Chinese hymnal had fifteen stanzas only. The sixteenth stanza in the current hymnal is a later addition. ] The first half of stanza 15 reads, "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." Brother Nee polished this hymn beautifully.

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.