But if you hold fast to the organic idea, then all the difficulties disappear. Then you have here the one people which is nevertheless twofold; one vineyard which nevertheless brings forth a twofold fruit. From the viewpoint of its good kernel, that vineyard is the object of God’s favor. For the sake of that good kernel the Lord cultivates that vineyard. He does all that there is to be done to a vineyard. Thus the Lord did with Israel. Therefore He also expected good fruits. Nor was He disappointed in that expectation by that good kernel. But at the same time there grew in that vineyard a great many bad branches, which grew so luxuriantly that it sometimes appeared as though there was nothing good in the entire vineyard. Thus it was in the time of Isaiah. From that viewpoint now—not from the viewpoint of that good and elect kernel—but from the viewpoint of that reprobate element, the vineyard is here addressed. Also that evil element in Israel, along with the good kernel, was cultivated. In the outward sense of the word they had together received the same labor. They had the same sign of the covenant; they were in the same manner delivered from Egypt; they had the same giving of the law, the same fathers, the same covenants. They had the same temple, the same altars, the same offerings. They dwelt in the same land and they enjoyed the same benefits of the land. The same prophets were sent unto them, and the same word was directed to them. And all these things caused the same outcome to be expected: the bringing forth of good fruits of righteousness. But that reprobate element in Israel brought forth the wild grapes of unrighteousness. Therefore the Lord shall presently destroy and curse His vineyard, considered now from this viewpoint. But when all this has happened, has God then cast away His people? Indeed, you know better. God never casts away His people. The vineyard may be pruned and sometimes apparently wholly destroyed; the remnant according to the election of grace is always preserved. And the Lord receives the expected fruit from His own work.
Nor do you find it to be different with the presentation of Holy Writ in the New Testament. You find this presentation in John 15:1, 2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 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.” Surely, there is a broader view of this passage possible. Yet there can be no doubt that the Savior here has in view His people as it exists in the world and manifests itself outwardly. And how will you escape Arminianism, if, when reading these words, you do not hold fast to the organic idea, if you do not constantly apply to God’s covenant people the proper figure of the vine and the branches as it actually manifests itself to you in nature? Are there then living and good branches in Christ which shall nevertheless be cut off presently? Are there then those who were once ingrafted into Christ by a true faith and who nevertheless shall be rejected because they did not bear fruit in Christ? You do not get one step farther away from Arminianism by clinging to the idea that the covenant is according to its essence nothing else than a promise, and that it now depends upon those who are born and raised in the covenant historically to appropriate that promise. After all, that entire presentation is, in the first place, itself Arminian. But, in the second place, along this line you do not explain the fact either that there are branches in Christ, the vine, which are cut off and cast into the fire. But that is precisely what you find in the natural vine. You have branches there which are indeed in the vine; which also draw their life-sap out of the vine, and which nevertheless bear no fruit. Now thus you find the situation also with God’s people in the world. It is one organism. But in that one organism you always have the good kernel and the rejected shell. In what sense also those covenant children which never bear fruit are nevertheless in the organism of the body of Christ here on earth and therefore may be called branches in the vine; and what influence proceeds from that organism upon the nonfruit-bearing members;—these are questions for later consideration. For the moment, let it be sufficient to remind you that Scripture indeed makes proper mention of such an influence, and that the children of the kingdom who are cast out are not to be placed on the one line with the heathen. But fact is that only thus can you understand the Lord’s figure of the vine and its twofold branches. There are in the one organism branches which bear fruit and branches which bear no fruit. Thus there are in the one people of God also Israelites according to the flesh and Israelites according to the Spirit and of the promise.
Scripture offers the same presentation in Romans 11:17-21: “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, ‘that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” Also here you have the same presentation. The olive tree is the people of God’s covenant, the church. From a natural point of view that olive tree was Israel of the old dispensation as a nation. Israel was the historical manifestation of that covenant people in Old Testament times. From that point of view the apostle here calls the Israelites even the natural branches of that olive tree. But in that olive tree not all is genuine and fruit-bearing. There were also in that tree branches which never bore fruit. Therefore God cut off those natural branches which were not spiritual, fruit-bearing branches. The tree indeed remained. The root was never rooted out. For God cares for His church. And out of all nations there are now ingrafted in the tree others in the places where other and natural branches were cut off. But also thus there always remain branches in that tree which are nevertheless again cut off. From thence arises the very appropriate admonition not to boast, understanding well that since God spared not the natural branches, He also could indeed not spare us.
That this is so finds its reason in this, that it has pleased God to have His covenant upon earth run in the line of fleshly generations, while there are nevertheless those among the children of believers who were not elected. Surely, there are also other reasons, but in this lies the chief cause. If God had seen to it that only the elect were members of the church on earth, this figure of God’s people in the world would not have been possible, could not have been used. But now God, according to His own purpose, takes up into His covenant according to its outward form all the fleshly children, while nevertheless only a remnant is saved. From thence arises this duality in that unity.
From this same viewpoint also, the kingdom of heaven on earth is likened unto a net which is cast into the sea and which gathers all kinds of fish, according to our Savior’s parable. That net cannot be a figure of the preaching of the Word. That preaching just exactly does not gather all who come into contact with it; on the contrary, the preaching makes separation, and it makes more separation according as the Word is more purely proclaimed. But this is indeed the case with the historical development of God’s covenant in the line of successive generations. Such a net was not only cast into the sea, but was drawn through the sea, made a path through the sea. Naturally, then, everything that was in the path of that net was also gathered in the net. Thus it is also with God’s covenant. And just as there are bad and good fishes that come into the net, just as it is unavoidable with that manner of fishing that good and evil fishes are gathered, so it is also unavoidable that when the Lord lets His covenant run in the line of successive generations, while not all in those generations head for head, are elect children of the covenant,—it is unavoidable that a reprobate element is gathered along with the elect kernel. Presently, at the shore of eternity, the angels will separate those two elements finally and forever. But here on earth they are found together in the same sphere; and they have everything, in common, except grace.
(to be cont.)