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For without me ye can do nothing.—John xv. 5.

IN the beginning of this chapter our Saviour compares his mystical body, that is, his church, to a vine, which his Father, whom he compares to a husbandman, hath planted. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” To represent to us the union that is betwixt Christ and all true Christians, and the influence of grace and spiritual life, which all that are united to him do derive and receive from him, he sets it forth to us by the resemblance of a vine and branches. As there is a natural vital union between the vine and the branches, so there is a spiritual vital union between Christ and true Christians; and this union is the cause of our fruitfulness in the works of obedience and a good life. There are some, indeed, that seem to be grafted into Christ by an outward profession of Christianity, who yet derive no influence from him, so as to bring forth fruit, because they are not vitally united to him; these the husbandman will lop off, and take away, as unprofitable and dead branches; (ver. 2.) “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away;” that is, they who only make an out ward profession of faith in Christ, but do not bring forth the fruits of obedience and a good life, shall finally be separated from him; “and every branch 486that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” And because all our fruitfulness depends upon our union with Christ, as the fruitfulness of the branches depends upon their union with the vine, therefore he bids us be careful, that this union be preserved and continued; (ver. 4.) “Abide in me, and I in you.” We are planted into Christ by faith, and the belief of his doctrine; and we abide in him by a firm purpose and resolution of obedience. So they are said to abide and continue in Christ’s word, who obey and practise his doctrine: (John viii. 31.) “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.” So St. James explains it: (James i. 25.) “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty,” that is, the Christian doctrine, “and continueth therein;” how is that? “he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” And (1 John iii. 6.) “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not.”

“Abide in me, and I in you.” Christ is said to abide in us, by the continual aids and influences of his grace and Holy Spirit; and if we k abide in him,” by the resolution of obedience, his grace and assistance will be continually derived to us, to bring this good resolution to effect, and to enable us to bring forth fruit. “For as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 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,” κωρὶς ἐμοῦ, “out of me,” being separated from me, “ye can do nothing.”

There are two things to be explained in the words, 487and then I shall come to the assertion or proposition contained in them .

First, What is here meant by being without Christ, or out of him.

Secondly, In what sense and with what limitations we are to understand that expression, we “can do nothing.”

First, What is here meant by being without Christ, or out of him. “Out of me ye can do no thing;” that is, unless we be united to him, and by virtue of that union derive from him the supernatural aids and influences of his grace, we can do no thing. It is true, indeed, that without God we can do nothing; we cannot think, or speak, or do any natural action, without the common assistance and concurrence of his providence; “for in him we live, and move, and have our being.” But this assistance is natural and ordinary, and commonly afforded to every man in the world: but the grace and assistance of Christ, signifies something extraordinary and supernatural, that which divines mean by supernatural grace, in opposition to the ordinary concurrence of Divine providence to all the actions of men.

Secondly, In what sense, and with what limitations we are to understand that expression, we can do nothing: “Without me ye can do nothing.” And this is necessary to be limited to such effects as our Saviour was speaking of; viz. the proper acts of a Christian life, obedience to the laws and precepts of the gospel, which our Saviour here, in pursuance of the allegory, calls “bearing fruit, and bringing forth much fruit.” For if it be not thus limited, but extended to all kind of actions, natural or civil, it is not true that we cannot do these without 488supernatural assistance, and the grace of Christ. For these we may do by the common and natural assistance and concurrence of God, equally afforded to men: nay, more than this, we may by this common assistance do those actions which tend to make us spiritually good, and are the means appointed by God for that purpose. We may go to church, we may read and hear God’s word, and upon the hearing of it may reflect upon the actions of our lives, and may be convinced of our sin and danger, and, upon this conviction, may beg God’s mercy and grace to reform and grow better. But then we cannot effect this without supernatural grace and assistance. So that this assertion here in the text, is to be limited to the purposes of regeneration, and sanctification, and perseverance in holiness; that a man cannot make himself good, he cannot convert and change himself, nor by his own strength continue and hold out in a good course; we can do nothing of this, without the grace and assistance of Christ.

So that the plain design of this proposition here in the text is, to assert the necessity of supernatural grace, to make men good, and to make them persevere in a course of holiness and obedience. In speaking to this argument, I shall,

First, Shew what it is we mean by the supernatural grace and assistance of Christ.

Secondly, That to this the Scripture doth constantly attribute our regeneration, and sanctification, and perseverance in holiness.

Thirdly, That there is great reason to assert the necessity of God’s supernatural grace and assistance to these purposes.

Fourthly, That this supernatural grace and assistance 489does not exclude, but suppose, the concurrence of our own endeavours.

Fifthly, That this grace and assistance is derived to us from our union with Christ.

First, What we mean by the supernatural grace and assistance of Christ. Whatever natural power we have to do any thing, is from God, an effect of his goodness; but God, considering the lapsed and decayed condition of mankind, sent his Son into the world, to recover us out of that sinful and miserable condition into which we were fallen, to reveal eternal life to us, and the way to it, and to purchase happiness for us, and to offer it to us upon certain terms and conditions to be performed by us: but we being weak and without strength, slaves to sin, and under the power of evil habits, and unable to free ourselves from this bondage by any natural power left in us, our blessed Saviour, in great pity and tenderness to mankind, hath in his gospel offered, and is ready to afford us, an extraordinary assistance of his grace and Holy Spirit, to supply the defects of our natural power and strength. And this supernatural grace of Christ is that alone which can enable us to perform what he requires of us. And this, according to the several uses and occasions of it, is by divines called by several names. As it puts good motions into us, and excites and stirs us up to that which is good, it is called preventing grace; because it prevents any motion or desire on our parts: as it assists and strengthens us in the doing of any thing that is good, it is called assisting grace: as it keeps us constant in a good course, it is called persevering grace; and may have several other denominations, in several other respects: for it is suited to all our occasions and necessities.


Secondly, To this grace and assistance of God, the Scripture doth constantly attribute our regeneration, and sanctification, and perseverance in holiness. We are said to be “born again of the Spirit,” to be “sanctified by the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” to be “led by the Spirit of God,” and, “through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh—to do all things through Christ strengthening us,” and “to be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” All which, and many more texts that I might instance in, do plainly express to us the supernatural assistance of Christ, whereby we become good, and are enabled to do any thing that is good, and preserved and continued in a good course. As the Scripture doth every where attribute sin to our own corrupt hearts, and to the temptation and instigation of the devil; so does it constantly ascribe all the good that we do to the grace of Christ, or, which is all one, to the blessed motions and assistances of God’s Holy Spirit. For “the Spirit of God” is called “the Spirit of Christ,” yea, Christ: (Rom. viii. 9, 10.) “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin.” By which it is evident, that “the Spirit of God,” and “the Spirit of Christ,” and “Christ,” do in this text signify one and the same thing.

Thirdly, There is great reason to assert the necessity of this grace and assistance to these purposes, whether we consider the corruption and impotency of human nature, the strange power of evil habits and customs, the fickleness and inconstancy of human resolution, or the malice and activity of the devil to seduce and tempt us to sin.


1. If we consider the corruption and impotency of human nature. This the light of nature cannot but acknowledge. The philosophers and wise men among the heathens, were sensible of a great depravation in our souls, and degeneracy from the Divine life; and therefore they prescribed several ways and methods for the purifying of our souls, and the raising of them to that purity and perfection to which they supposed they were designed: but they were wholly ignorant from whence this depravation came; and therefore many of them supposed a preexistence of souls; that is, that our souls, which now inhabit these bodies, had lived in a former state, and for some faults they had committed in that state, were, by the justice of God, sentenced to be imprisoned in these bodies, as a punishment for their former sins. They could not imagine that our souls came impure out of God’s hands; and, to avoid that inconvenience, they imagined a former state wherein they had sinned. And this was the best account they could give of the general depravation of mankind.

But the Scripture hath given us a more certain account of this; that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” This is the true source and original of the universal degeneracy of mankind, and of the weakness and impotency of human nature. The fall of our first parents hath derived corruption and weakness upon the whole race and posterity of Adam; for “whatsoever is born of the flesh is flesh.”

So that, considering our natural impotency, there is great need of a supernatural and extraordinary power and assistance, to recover us from this degeneracy, and “to renew us after the image of him 492who created us in righteousness and true holiness.” And therefore when the Scripture speaks of the redemption of Christ, it represents our condition not only as miserable, but helpless: (Rom. v. 6.) “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” When mankind was under an utter impotency of recovering itself out of that state of sin and misery into which it was plunged, “in the fulness of time,” that is, when God thought it most convenient, “he sent his Son into the world, to die for sinners;” and, “by that Spirit which raised him from the dead,” to enable us to mortify our lusts, and “to rise to newness of life.”

2. The necessity of this grace and assistance will farther appear, if we consider the strange power of evil habits and customs. The other is a natural, and this is a contracted impotency, whereby men make themselves much weaker than they were by nature. The habits of sin being added to our natural impotency, are like so many diseases superinduced upon a constitution naturally weak, which do all help to increase the man’s infirmity. Evil habits in Scripture are compared to bonds and fetters, which do as effectually hinder a man from motion, and putting forth himself to action, as if he were quite lame, hand and foot. Habit and custom is a kind of second nature; and so far as any thing is natural, so far it is necessary, and we cannot do otherwise. By passing from one degree of sin to another, men become fixed and hardened in their wickedness, and do insensibly bring themselves into that state, out of which they are utterly unable to recover themselves. When men have been long accustomed to evil, and are once grown old in vice, it is as hard to reform and rectify them, as to recover 493a body, bowed down with age, to its first straightness. When men have continued long in a sinful course, they are almost under a fatal necessity of being wicked, and under all imaginable disadvantages of contributing any thing to their own recovery. The Scripture represents the condition of such persons to us, by such things as are naturally impossible. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Now this consideration added to the former, to the impotency of nature, the strength of evil habits is still a farther evidence of the necessity of supernatural grace and assistance for our recovery. For the greater our impotency is, so much more need is there of an extraordinary power and assistance to enable us to do our duty.

3. This will yet farther appear, if we consider the inconstancy and fickleness of human resolution. Suppose that, upon hearing the terrible threatenings of God’s word against sin, or upon the natural checks and convictions of conscience for having done wickedly, a sinner should of himself (as there is reason enough for it) entertain a purpose and resolution of breaking off his sinful course; yet how unable would this resolution be to withstand the powerful assaults of temptation, and the violent returns of his own inclinations to his former lusts? This almost every man finds by his own frequent and sad experience, how inconstant his mind is to his own purposes, and how unfaithful and treacherous to his most solemn and severe resolutions; how false we are to ourselves, and to the vows and promises we have made to God, and our own souls, when the occasions and temptations of sin present 494themselves to us. So that our need of God’s grace is in no case more plain and evident, than to keep us steadfast to our resolution of forsaking our sins, and amending our lives; and without this, we find how uncertain and ineffectual all our good purposes are, “like the morning cloud, and as the early dew which passeth away.” So that we must say with the prophet Jeremiah, (chap. x. 23.) “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”

4. Besides all these disadvantages from ourselves, from the impotency of our natures, and the strength of our lusts, and the inconstancy of our resolutions, we have likewise a powerful enemy with out, the devil, who is very malicious and active to promote our ruin, by keeping us in this slavery. He is the great enemy of our souls, and his malice will not suffer him to neglect any opportunity of doing us mischief. He observes and watcheth our tempers and dispositions, and accordingly plants his temptations, and plays them upon us where we are weakest, and they may do the greatest execution. So that we are not only weak within, but strongly assaulted without: “We wrestle not only with flesh and blood; but with principalities, and powers, and spiritual wickednesses.” All the powers of darkness are combined against us, to work our destruction; and therefore we have need of an extraordinary strength and assistance, to enable us to contend with such powerful adversaries, upon so many disadvantages. And our comfort is, that God offers his grace to us, and that is sufficient for us. “Greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world.” The Spirit that dwells in good men, and is ready to assist them to all good purposes, is 495stronger than that evil spirit which is in the world, and “goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

Fourthly, This supernatural grace and assistance does not exclude, but suppose, the concurrence of our endeavours. The grace of God does not do all, without any concurrence on our part. It strengthens and assists us; but does not produce the whole effect, without any activity or endeavour of ours. When our Saviour says, “without me ye can do nothing,” he does imply, that by the assistance of grace we may perform all the duties of the Christian life; we may bear fruit, and bring forth much fruit. And to keep to the metaphor in the text, the branches of a vine are not merely passive, but contribute their part to the production of fruit, though they derive continual supplies of sap and virtue from the vine. When the apostle says, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me,” he does not think it a disparagement to the grace of Christ, to say, he could do all things by the assistance of it. He acknowledged! his own impotency and weakness, and glories in the strength and assistance of Christ. But an acknowledgment of impotency does not exclude endeavour; for impotency does not signify an utter want of power, but the weakness and insufficiency of it, that it is disproportioned to the work and duty required. So that though we are not sufficient of ourselves for any thing that is good; yet, being assisted by God, we may co-operate with him to the killing of sin, to the cleansing of ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and to the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God. As the apostles were workers together with God in the salvation of others; (2 Cor. vi. 1.) 496“We then, as workers together with God, beseech yon, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain;; I say, as they were workers together with God in the salvation of others, so may we be said to be, in working out our own salvation, nay, we are commanded to be so; (Phil. ii. 12, 13.) “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.” So that God’s preventing and assisting grace, his working in us both to will and to do, is so far from excluding our endeavours, that it is used by the apostle as a strong reason and argument to the contrary; “Work out your own salvation: for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure.” And if this were not so, all the exhortations of Scripture were to no purpose, our preaching were vain, and your hearing vain: for nothing can be vainer, than to persuade men to do their duty, if this be true, that God does all, and we do nothing.

Fifthly and lastly, This grace and assistance is derived to us from our union with Christ. So soon as we believe in him, and heartily embrace his doctrine, we are united to him; and if we continue in this faith, “we abide in him, and he in us;” and by virtue of this union, the influences of his grace, the aids and assistances of his Spirit are derived to us, to all the purposes of holiness and obedience, to enable us to do the will of God, and patiently continue in well-doing, and to preserve us to his heavenly kingdom.

There is no other mystery in this union, than that which I have plainly told you, that it is effected by your becoming the disciples of Christ, and sincerely embracing his doctrine; that it is continued by our 497bringing forth the fruits of holiness and obedience. By this we become branches of that true vine; and being so, derive sap and virtue from him, the vital influences of his grace and Holy Spirit, to assist us in our duty, and to make us to be “fruitful in every good work, and to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God.”

But when I say this grace and assistance is derived to us from our union, I do not intend to exclude the necessity of God’s grace and Holy Spirit to the conversion of a sinner, and his first planting into Christ: but when we say that Christians derive the influences of grace and assistance from their union with Christ, this supposeth them to be Christians already, and planted into Christ, and that this likewise is the work of God’s grace. For if we can not bring forth fruit, without the aid and assistance of his grace, much less without that could we be planted into him, and united with him.

I shall conclude my discourse upon this subject, with three or four inferences from what hath been delivered.

I. If the grace of God be so necessary to all the ends of holiness and obedience, and to our perseverance in a good course, then there is great reason why we should continually depend upon God, and every day earnestly pray to him for the aids and assistances of his grace, and the influence of his Holy Spirit, to guide, and direct, and strengthen us in all goodness, and “to keep us up by his mighty power through faith unto salvation.” For though God hath promised his assistance to us, and is al ways ready to afford it; yet we are to remember, that it is a free dispensation of his grace and goodness, 498“he works in us both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure.” And the promise of this grace is not so absolute, but that he expects we should earnestly sue and beg to him for it. He hath not promised his Holy Spirit but to them that ask him, and that with great earnestness and importunity; we must ask, and seek, and knock. Even where he promiseth “to give us a new heart and a new spirit;” yet, he says, that “for all these things he will be sought to by the house of Israel.” And though sometimes he be found of them that seek him not, and do frequently prevent us with his grace, and the motions of his blessed Spirit; yet we have no reason to expect it without our seeking of it.

II. We should thankfully acknowledge and ascribe all the good that is in us, and all that we do, to the grace and assistance of God exciting and strengthening us to every good work, without which we can do nothing, and say, with David, “Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but to thy name be the praise.” And with St. Paul, “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” As the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt, and conducted to the possession of the good land (which is a type of heaven) by the presence and power of God going along with them, “not by their own sword and bow, but by a mighty hand, and an out stretched arm:” so, if ever we be rescued from the bondage of sin, and quickened to newness of life, if ever we be saved, and come to heaven, we must be assisted, and conducted, and kept by the mighty power of God: for “by grace we are saved, and that not of ourselves,” for it is the gift of God.

III. Let us take heed that we resist not the Spirit 499of God, and receive not this grace of God in vain. And this we do, whenever we resist the motions of God’s blessed Spirit, and do not make use of that grace and assistance which God offers to us, by being workers together with God, and co-operating with his grace by our own sincere endeavours. God’s Spirit doth frequently put good motions into us, and is ready to further them, if we comply with them, and to enable us to bring them to effect: but men may, and many times do, resist the Holy Ghost, and quench the motions of that blessed Spirit of grace; and then God justly leaves us, and withdraws his assistance, and takes away his Holy Spirit from us. But if we comply with them, his grace and help is ready to carry us still farther, and to assist us more and more, that we may go from strength to strength, until we come to appear before him in Sion.

IV. The consideration of our own impotency is no excuse to our sloth and negligence, if so be the grace of God be ready to assist us. For if that be offered to us, and always at hand to help us, where men have not provoked God to withdraw it; then it is our own fault if we do not do our duty, and if we fall short of eternal happiness. For we are really able to do all that which God’s grace and assistance is ready to enable us to do. St. Paul reckons upon the strength of Christ as in some sense his power. “I am able to do all things through Christ strengthening me.”

V. And lastly, The consideration of our own impotency is no just ground of discouragement to our endeavours, considering the promise of Divine grace and assistance. Now that God has entered into a new covenant of grace with us, and offers us eternal 500life upon the conditions of faith, and repentance, and sincere obedience, the greater our weakness is, the more reason we have to expect his grace and assistance; because we know that he deals sincerely with us, and intends to bring us to that happiness which he offers to us; and therefore we are assured, that he does not command us impossibilities, and seeing we are weak and insufficient of ourselves to do what he requires of us, that he is ready to afford us his grace to enable us to do it.

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