Bearing Much Fruit
April 23rd, 1972 @ 7:30 PM
BEARING MUCH FRUIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-23-72 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church. We invite you to turn in your Bible to the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John; John chapter 15. And we will read out loud the first eight verses together. There are so many of you who share this hour on WRR, and wherever you are, if it is possible, get your Bible and read out loud with us; the first eight verses of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. The title of the sermon is Bearing Much Fruit; and the text is the eighth verse. Now all of us reading out loud together from 1 through verse 8, chapter 15 of John, together:
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.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. 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.
If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.
And the text: “Herein is God glorified, that we bear much fruit; so shall we demonstrate, exhibit ourselves as the disciples of the Lord” [John 15:8].
That is a most unusual thing because, almost always, extenuations and rationalizations and poor reasons are offered for not doing a great work for God. If the attendance is small; if the response is smaller; if the church is dead; if the people are apathetic, and lethargic, and lifeless, and dull, why, we say, “This is just a part of the age in which we live. We’re not supposed to be victorious or triumphant or successful, nor are we supposed to achieve great victories for the Lord; but our work is to be small and diminishing and apologetic.”
Nobody in the earth would defend the position like that except Christian people, and the holier we are and the more sanctified we are, the more likely we are to fall into some kind of an extenuation like that. Oh dear, oh! The Lord says just the opposite: “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” [John 15:8].
It was never the thought of the Lord that Pentecost should be the big end of the horn, and that the kingdom of Christ should dwindle down, and down, and down and down until it is so small that just a trickle could come from it. Rather, Pentecost was to be the little end of the horn, and the kingdom is to expand, and to expand, and to expand, and to grow until it covers the earth.
Now we may have to have the intervention of God to achieve such a marvelous victory, but our spirit is to be just that: that the Lord lives, that He works with us, that the powers of heaven are greater than the hosts of hell that assail us. And we are to work with confidence and with assurance and with a firm persuasion that God will give us a blessing. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” [John 15:8].
Now there are some things about the harvest that we offer unto God that are very apparent, and Jesus has taught them to us in the parables by which He sought to encourage His disciples. For one thing, there is no such a thought in the mind of God, or revealed here in the Scriptures, that we should have a gracious harvest to offer before the Lord without toil and without labor.
We’re to work. We’re to work with expectation, but we’re to work. We’re to sow if we’re to reap. We’re to cultivate if we expect a crop. This is a part of that wonderful parable of the sower in the fourth chapter of Mark. “Behold, there went a sower to sow” [Mark 4:3]. The farmer is preparing the soil, and he’s sowing the seed, and he’s cultivating the crop, and he’s doing it with the assurance that he’ll have a harvest, a reward. God will bless him if he tries. Now that is a part of the kingdom of God. We’re to do that.
One of the most astonishing things to me to read in the Bible is in the first chapter of Joshua. The Lord says to Joshua, “Now Moses My servant is dead; now you arise and go over this Jordan, and every place that the sole of your foot shall stand upon, that have I given you: from this Lebanon to the great River Euphrates” [Joshua 1:2-4]. They never achieved anything like the expansive promise of God; but the Lord said it to them: “Now you go over this Jordan, and I will give you the whole land” [Joshua 1:2-4].
Then I read the following chapters, and wouldn’t you think that the Lord would give them this, and then He would give them that, He would give them Sharon, He would give them Philistia, then He would give them the hills of Judea, and the mountains of Samaria, and all of Galilee, and all of Lebanon and everything else—the Lord would just give it to them? Why, when I turn the pages and read, I find that Joshua is the captain of the hosts and the leader of the armies of God, and they fought for every step of the way. They fought for every piece of ground they stepped on, yet the book says the Lord gave it to them [Joshua 1:2-3]. Well, that’s the way God does. He gives it to us, but He gives it to us as a reward of our toil and of our effort. So we’re not to expect to offer to God a gracious harvest without first our labor for it, in it, with it. We’re to toil. We’re to work. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” [John 15:8]; but we must work for it.
All right, a second thing that I learn as I see the teaching of the Lord concerning the harvest we offer to Him. And that is this; we are not to expect signal and unvarying success. We are to expect some failure in our efforts. It isn’t always fully blessed of the Lord.
“There are times when the sower went forth to sow and some of the seed fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air ate it up. And some of it fell upon stony ground, and it didn’t grow. And some of it fell among thorns, and the thorns and the thistles choked it to death, and it died [Mark 4:4-7]. Now, that’s the way with our work. We don’t always succeed, not always.
Sometimes our efforts are taken away by Satan, as the fowls of the air took away, ate up the seed [Mark 4:4]. Sometimes our efforts fall upon stony hearts [Mark 4:5]. Why, I have talked to men without number that if you were to pray for them a thousand years and witness to them forever, at the end of the time they’d still be just as they are at the beginning. They are resolved not to come. Their hearts are made out of iron and brass and stone, and they’ll never be saved.
I don’t know that, but when they die I can see that. They die without Christ, and all their lives they’ve said, “No,” to God. And some men are like that. They have stony hearts, and we don’t succeed with them [Mark 4:5-6]. And then there are those who the cares of the world, the love of riches and all the glamour that lies in a world beyond Christ, it chokes the Word to death, and they don’t ever respond [Mark 4:7]. That’s the way God says it’ll be with our work. We won’t have signal and universal success in what we do. There will always be attendant some failure.
When I read the life of our Lord, oh, how many times did He fail? He failed with the rich young ruler [Luke 18:18-23]. He failed with the leaders, the Sadducees and the Pharisees [Matthew 26:3-4]. And He failed with so many of the people to whom He brought the glad tidings of the gospel of the grace of God. All of our efforts down here in this world, until the Lord comes again, all of our efforts will be attended with some failure. But we are not therein to be full of despair and as though God will not bless us. Somehow, some way, He will!
Some fell on the wayside and the fowls ate it. Some fell on stony ground and it couldn’t grow. Some fell among the thorns and it was choked to death. But some of it fell on good ground and did yield fruit unto God a hundredfold, sixtyfold [Mark 4:8]. The Lord blessed it, and it provided an abounding and abundant harvest for the Lord. Now our work is like that, and we’re to do it in that way. We’re not to take counsel of our fears or our trepidations; but we are to believe that when we try God will bless us: maybe not with universal success but with some success. And we’re to work in that assurance.
I remember a farmer that they talked about. A fellow came by and asked him, he says, “How is the corn crop this year?” Well, he said, “I didn’t plant no corn. I was afraid of the drought.” So he said, “Well how’s your cotton crop this year?” Well, he said, “I never planted any cotton this year. I was afraid of the boll weevil.” Well, he tried again, he says, “How is your wheat crop this year?” He said, “Well, I didn’t plant no wheat.” He said, “I was afraid of the blight.” Well, he tried one more time. He says, “How’s your potato crop this year?” He says, “I didn’t plant no taters, because I was afraid of the tater bug.” And then the farmer added, he says, “Friend, to tell you the truth, I didn’t plant nothing this year because I was playing it safe.” Now, we can be that way; our failures—which we’ll have some—our failures can discourage us, but it is not to stop us! We will bring to God a harvest, a reward. If there is in us that spirit to try, to toil, to make an effort, God will bless us with some.
Why, in the years of my own work as a pastor, I cannot tell you the people that I have failed with, nor can I tell you the people who have promised me that they would come, publicly give their lives to the Lord, join with us in the fellowship of the church, work for Jesus, and they never do it. I never see them down the aisle. They never respond. They never keep their word. But there has never failed, God will give us others if they don’t come—if I try, these will come. When I make appeal, if these are not down the aisle, there’ll be others who will come down the aisle. If I try, if I work, if I toil at it God . . . . . [inaudible] . . . the one great truth that I know in life, and the one great truth that I read in history is this: that men are lost without God. There is no such thing as the blessing of heaven upon a people, or nation, or upon an individual without the favor of God.
And that is our great and first and primary assignment, is to get them to Jesus. “There is none other name under heaven, said Simon Peter, wherein we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. And our appeal is to men to come to Christ, give your heart and your life, give it to God, and let the Lord bless you.
Then the second urgency of our appeal, it lies in our need of the fellowship and encouragement of the church, of God’s people. Somehow God so made it that we are socially involved in the Christian faith. There is no such a thing as a man giving his life to Christ and then wanting to separate himself, to be apart, not to associate with God’s people. The first thing he’ll want to do is to seek out saints of like heart and like mind, and to join himself with God’s people. We need the encouragement of it. My heart needs the service. When we sing a song of Zion, a beautiful Christian hymn, I’m lifted up. When I see you come to church I’m encouraged.
In these services of worship and praise, my soul is elevated, and without it my heart would gradually quiesce and my spiritual life wane and die. Our invitation is to Christ, and our invitation is to the fellowship of God’s church: come, come, come. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” [John 15:8].
Now last: how is it that we work in God’s kingdom to bring souls, to bring fruit, a harvest to Jesus? I think for us, among other ways, I think there are two. One is prayer, praying for them, asking God for them, asking the Lord for a harvest, asking God to give us an increase, asking the Lord that people will turn God-ward and Christ-ward, and under our appeal and in our invitation that they come to Jesus; praying for them, asking God for them.
I was in a revival meeting, holding a series of services in one of the great, great churches of our Southern Baptist Convention—I could name it for you—and we were having services at ten o’clock in the morning. And that morning, I spoke to the church on praying for the lost, and when I got through with the sermon, I walked down in front of the pulpit and stood down there, and was shaking hands with the people.
Well, there was a tall, skinny fellow, dressed in black, a bony, long, lean, hungry looking face. He had a big black Bible under his arm like that, and he wormed his way through that little crowd of people standing around me. And right in front of me, he stuck out his long, bony finger and shook it in my nose, and he said, “You are not a New Testament preacher!”
Well, I thought I was, so I said to him, “What makes you think I’m not a New Testament preacher?” Well, he said, shaking his long, bony finger right at my nose––I objected to that more than I did the what he was saying to me––he said, “You’re not a New Testament preacher because I came here to hear you this morning, and you preached that we should pray for the lost.”
Well, I said, “That’s right.” Well, he said, “Where does it say in the Bible that we are to pray for the lost?” Well, I said, “It’s just all through the Bible.” Well, sticking that long, bony finger in my face, he said, “Show me chapter and verse. Where does it say in the Bible that we’re to pray for the lost?” Well, I don’t know what happened to my mind. It went out of gear. It just went blank.
Finally I said to him, I said, “My friend and brother, I just this moment, I can’t tell you chapter and verse where it says precisely that we’re to pray for the lost.” Sticking that long, bony finger back in my face, he said, “See there, isn’t that what I said to you? You are not a New Testament preacher.” And he put his Bible back under his arm, whirled around on his heel, and stomped out of the church, and left me in the midst of my admirers about to die. I could have sunk through the floor, oh! I was never more embarrassed in my life. I felt like a shrimp. I felt like a worm. I just—oh, it was terrible!
Well, the preacher took me to my hotel room. I walked into the room. I closed the door. I sat down in the nearest chair. I bowed my head, and I said, “Dear God, is that not right, that there’s no place in the Bible where God says that we’re not to pray for the lost? Is that screwball right?” I want you to know, I don’t know why these things should come as they do, but it was as if, I felt it as if somebody had come into that room and put his arms around my shoulder, and as I sat there in that chair with my head bowed, “Lord, is it not in the Book specifically that we’re to pray for the lost?”
Just like that, the Lord whispered into my heart and said, “Why, preacher, did you never read in Romans chapter 10, verse 1, where My servant and apostle said, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved’?” [Romans 10:1]. Why, there is no commitment. There’s no intercession. There’s no exercise of devotion that reflects more the spirit and mind of Christ than that we kneel before the heavenly Father and ask that the lost be saved. Lord, save the lost.
Chaplain Bennett out there in Baylor Hospital, God save them out there in the hospital. In all of our mission fields; Lord, bless our emissaries to the ends of the earth that the lost might be saved. God bless every preacher who stands anywhere in this earth and names the name of Christ and gives an appeal in behalf of the Lord. And dear God, bless this church, and this pulpit ministry. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” [John 15:8].
Second part of that, and last: not only in prayer, but in the Spirit of God working with us and in us, that’s why we ought to feel the presence of God in these services. Without Him our work is nothing. Our witness and our invitation is so much sound, it’s so much syllable, it’s just words. It must be bathed in the sweet, loving, tender Spirit of the presence of God.
There was a wonderful woman in our church who in these years past set up a visitation program, and it was so blessed of God that another church in this city asked her to come and do the same thing there. She went over there and worked in that church in the office as a staff member for over a year, and she came back to our church. And I visited with her, and I said, “How’d you fare, and how did you do?” and this is what she said: she said, “You know, we took the same program that I established here and set up in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, took the same program over there. And we called our people together, and we prayed, and we knocked at doors, and we visited and we witnessed.”
And she said, “Out there in the homes, we had many, many, many, many people to say, ‘I accept the Lord as my Savior, and this coming Lord’s Day I’ll be down that aisle.’ Or here is a family that needs the church, and ‘This Sunday,’ they said, ‘We’ll be down that aisle and join the church.’”
She said, “You know, these families would come and I would see them there, these prospects would come and I’d see them all over the house, and nothing happened! They didn’t respond! They didn’t come! Nothing happened, just nothing.”
Well I said, “What was the matter?” And her reply was, “The spirit in the church and the spirit in the pulpit, just nothing happened, nothing happened. There was no tug in it. There was no seeking note in it. There was no pull in it. There was no Spirit in it. There was no God in it. And however we worked, and however we tried, it always came to nothing, to barrenness, to emptiness, to sterility, to vanity, to nothingness.”
O Lord, how that can be true in a church! People can come, and there’s no spirit in it. They can listen, and there’s no heart in it. They can share in the service, there’s no moving presence of God in it. And they can go through the whole thing, service after service, and nothing happens because God isn’t there. O Lord, how I pray!
Simon Peter at Pentecost said, “This is that which was spoken by Joel the prophet, when Joel said, It shall come to pass in the latter days, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and upon My servants and upon My handmaidens will I pour out of My Spirit” [Acts 2:16-18]. Do you know what he’s saying? The most menial of all of these who work, the lowest in the scale of culture and education and affluence, the humblest; “upon them will I pour out My Spirit.”
Why, dear people, when you come to church, each one of us, no matter who we are, each one of us can bring here into the service a fullness of an overflowing, abounding Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And when you come to the service and the Spirit is in you, and it’s in you, and He is in you, and He is in you, and the Spirit is in you, and all of us together, oh, it’s like a Pentecostal visitation from heaven! That’s what it is. To win souls to God, to offer a harvest to our Lord there must be the spirit in the church of expectancy, of invitation, and of appeal.
Why, I can point you out to a family, and you know what they said to me? They said to me, “We just went to the First Church just to look at it, just to visit it. We had no idea of joining the church that service, but we came down there and sat in that service, and we just came to look! And before we knew it, all of us were down there at the front. We didn’t expect to come, we just found ourselves there. God was with us.”
Why, I cannot tell you the number of people who have said to me, “Just walking in the door of the house, when I stepped through the door, I felt the presence of God.” O Lord, God grant it.
There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the presence of the Lord;
There are sweet, sweet expressions on each face;
I feel it: that it’s the presence of the Lord.
[from “Sweet, Sweet Spirit, Doris Akers]
That’s what we pray for, that’s what we ask for, that’s what we seek, is the presence of God.
Now Billy, come up here. I’m going to let you lead it this time. [Billy: I’d be delighted.] Okay. In a moment, we’re all going to stand, and we’re going to join hands all the way around, and I want you to lead us in that song: “There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.”
15:1-8, Mark 4:1-20
I. It is God’s will that we bear fruit (John 15:8)
A. No harvest without
toil, labor (Mark 4:3)
and the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 1:24)
B. No harvest without disappointment
and failure (Mark 4:4-7)
C. But we must go forth
fell on good ground and yielded fruit (Mark 4:8)
II. The need for the laborer
A. Soul is lost without
Christ (Acts 4:12)
B. Life is lost without
III. Facing our task
B. Spirit of God working
with us and in us (Acts 2:16-17)