Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
This last discourse of Jesus is secret.
It is one Friend talking to friends. It is between Jesus-Friend and His disciple-friends alone. There are no miracle-seeking crowds. There are no antagonists. Even Judas, once in the company of the true friends of Jesus, is now gone—sent away to do his dastardly, devilish double-cross. Only true friends of God may and can and want to hear what Jesus will say. The eleven. And you?
This last discourse is the secret of the covenant, of God befriending sinners. Jesus speaks about this covenant truth. But more. In the speaking there is truth come to pass! There is actual covenanting! The divine Friend is making and loving the friends of His good pleasure. And friends are loving the Friendship-Maker.
Listen to the psalmist: “The secret of the Lord (Jehovah) is with them that fear him; to them he will show his covenant (Ps. 25:14).”
Jesus-Friend is fulfilling the psalm. I do believe.
Especially does the Friend whisper things of a new covenant. He speaks of the Friend laying down His life for the friends to establish this new thing. He speaks of a Spirit who will come down. He speaks of a fellowship of God and His own that will be closer than ever. He speaks of what this will finally mean: poor friends, wandering friends, humble friends being taken to dwell in Father’s heavenly mansions, given a home at last, exalted.
In the friendship, in the covenant of grace, there will be fruit. John 15 reveals this secret of Jehovah, the secret of fruit. God is with His own in Jesus Christ in the covenant friendship-relationship so that they bear the fruit of His divine presence and virtue. In God’s friends there will be light; there will be good; there will be joy; there will be all kinds of heaven’s delectables and glories—all because of God with them, and the covenant secret with them.
Jesus speaks of this covenant fruit-bearing first by way of the analogy of a vine and its branches. Perhaps Jesus, when He speaks of this, is pointing to a vine that the disciples are walking past. It seems, by now, that they have left the upper room where Jesus had had the last Passover and the first new covenant Supper with the disciples. For the Master had said: “Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). They could, therefore, have been walking or standing by a vine. Whatever, the Master-teacher compares spiritual fruit-bearing to the fruit-bearing of a vine. He will tell many secrets about this fruit-bearing, so concerned is Jesus that His church be a living and God-glorifying, fruitful church. One secret of good fruit is good doctrine. This needs to be stressed. Because can’t you hear it now?
“Doctrine is superfluous. Just give me Jesus, and let us end the endless debates about the doctrine of Jesus. Doctrine is dull. It is divisive. It is detrimental to our getting on with discipling the nations, feeding the poor, and gassing the abortionists. Jesus here tells us to abide in Him. He did not tell us to abide in it (doctrine). So let us not get all hung up about such things, especially the finer points of doctrine. Let us just do Christianity—believe and do. Who cares whether one is Calvinist, Arminian, or Calminian? Let us abide in the vine. Have fruit. And hang doctrine.”
I do not know how many times I have heard the likes of the above sermon on doctrine. One time was while chatting with an old Dutchman on the fifth floor of Calvin library. He’s the one who asserted he was unashamedly Calminian. Another time a woman weeding flowers at a church on the corner of the street where I lived declared her disgust with doctrine. Her church was the one, I recall, with the sign out front: “Big enough to serve you … small enough to know you.” If her speech was representative of the whole lot, the words could be added to the sign: “broad-minded enough to accept you, regardless of doctrine.”
Ironic that the church was on “Vine Street.” Pathetic and preposterous! For the church and the people who truly abide in the Vine, Jesus Christ, will also be concerned for doctrine: much doctrine, and true doctrine! They will know and appreciate that abiding personally in the Vine, relationally with Christ, is abiding in sound doctrine, and longing for more and more and more doctrine! They will know and appreciate that doctrine is the first-fruit and profit of the Scripture (II Tim. 3:16), the “all truth” into which the Spirit of Christ leads His own (John 16:13).
No doctrine? Little doctrine? Less doctrine? Dumbed-down doctrine?
Such people and churches who are content with a kindergarten, as-little-doctrine-as-possible Christianity will indeed bear fruit. It will be strange. There will be strange doctrinal fruit. For people and churches content with as little doctrine as possible will as sure as the Pope is Roman Catholic not know the difference between true and false doctrine. And then, as sure as Mary was not, they will themselves tolerate false doctrine. And then, as sure as mosquitoes breed in swamps, they will themselves teach the lie and breed liars. There will be, for example, the heresy of the “God helps those who help themselves” gospel. According to one poll of the evangelical vineyard, 87% of the Christian community believes this. Or there will be the poisonous hybrid Calminia, or the deadly doctrine of free-willism—both of which make salvation, in one way or another, depend on man. Doctrinally deficient Christians will bear strange behavior-fruit as well. People who care little or could not care less about doctrine start to walk funny. Soon they go on all fours. They begin to see ninety-foot visions of Jesus. They start predicting Jesus will come in this year or the next, over here or over there. They welcome sweet transvestites. They divorce and remarry—once, twice, and some heading toward sixty-one.
And they start thinking gassing abortionists is righteousness.
Tell me: where do these people really abide? And what will become of the generation-branches? Strange evangelical doctrineless vineyard in 1998!
But truly doctrinal Christians bear good fruit. Jesus is the Vine and the source of the fruit. He leads His people further and further into the true knowledge of Himself. The Holy Spirit is His Agent for this—Christ’s doctrinal Spirit. And, being spirited into more and more truth, the people of God are sanctified (John 17:17). Where the Vine is, and the Spirit is, there are a people of truth and righteousness, of God-pleasing confession and life.
The secret of doctrine. That is one secret of the fruit of the Vine. There are many more. We will consider them in a future article. For now, let us focus on doctrine, and be found engaging in doctrinal, searching, humble, and thankful Bible study! As friends of God! To bear fruit!
For Study, Meditation, Discussion, and Doctrine!
1. What is the difference between the Word of God and Christian doctrine?
2. Is it possible to have too much doctrine?
3. How does one grow in the knowledge of sound doctrine?
4. What is the place of creeds in the development and defense of sound doctrine?
5. In preaching, what is the right “mix” of doctrine and application of the doctrine to the lives of the people? Consider a passage or verse in the Bible. What would be the doctrine and application in a sermon on this text? Say a minister were to preach from the same text once every year. How would it be the same every time? Why must it be different every time?
6. Is it proper to criticize false doctrine and/or preachers off the pulpit or in our conversations with others? What would be a tactful, wise, and compassionate way of defending the truth of the Lord’s Day against a Seventh Day Adventist?
7. Principles (doctrine) work through, into our life. What we believe influences what we do. Give examples of how good doctrine produces good fruit, and bad doctrine produces bad fruit. Make a list of ten doctrines and cite ways these truths influence your life. Give examples of how the Lord Jesus or the apostle Paul or others apply truth to the lives of the people of God. (Think, for example, of Jesus teaching the woman at the well [John 4], or of how Paul draws practical conclusions from the doctrinal part of Romans [chapters 1-11] in chapters 12-16!).
8. What are the “spirits” of this age which influence men, women, young people, and children so that they will not endure sound doctrine (II Tim. 4:3), so that after their own lusts they heap to themselves
teachers, having itching ears…? Is it the spirit of “if it feels good it’s right”? Is it the spirit of pluralism (all religions are equally valid)? Is it the spirit of worldliness? How can “things,” such as television, and sports, and affluence affect our appreciation of doctrine?9. Loving doctrine and truly growing in the knowledge of the truth require digging, studying, pondering, and continual examination of the Scriptures. Make a study of just one doctrine, say the doctrine of God. List several of His attributes and what the Bible says of them. Then describe some of His works. Write down just one thing you learned that you had never thought of before, or that impressed you this time as you thought on the God of our salvation. Then tell at least one other person—a believer or unbeliever. It’s called sharing treasure. It’s called building up the church.