The Cross And Fruitfulness
Message preached by Pastor Alan Redpath at the closing service of the Foreign Missionary Rally, May 5, 1957.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”—John 12:24
I have only four words for my text and there are only ten letters in them all put together, but I tell you, my friend, that these four words are the most vital and fundamental in all Christian experience—“But if it die.” And I want to bring you in the name of the Lord Jesus just right there, for I am sure that that is the place at which we must leave this missionary rally. “But if it die.”
I want you to understand that the cross is not only basic to your salvation, but it is essential to your sanctification. It is not only the place to which I go to find, through faith in all that Jesus did there, my sins are all washed away; it is the place at which day by day I must live, if through the remaining years of my life I am to enter into an experience of deliverance and victory. The whole principle of the cross is absolutely basic to all our service in the name of the Lord—“But if it die.”
Let me make the cross so real to you, the Lord helping me, and the Saviour so attractive, and this principle of living something which you see as the only possibility for happiness, fruitfulness, maturity, blessing and glory.
I would say to you very simply in the first place, that while of course the Lord Jesus went to the cross alone, and while of course there was a work which He did there in which you and I can have no part—He trod the winepress alone; He bore our sin in His body on the tree—in that sense, of course, the cross is uniquely His.
Yet, on the other hand, there is a very real sense that what the cross meant to Jesus, it is to mean to all His followers, to you and to me.
The Cross—the entrance to glory.
You notice the previous verse in John 12 in which the Saviour said, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” The hour, the moment in the heart of God for which Father, Son and Holy Spirit had been planning, this moment had now come. Jesus did not say, “The hour is come when the Son of man must be murdered, must die, must be crucified.” No, He said, “The hour is come when the Son of man shall be glorified.”
In the mind of our wonderful Saviour, the moment of His deepest humiliation, of His deepest suffering, of His greatest agony, when He was despised and rejected of man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, a moment when people spat upon Him, when He was put to shame and scoffed and mocked, that moment was to Him the entrance to glory.
I wonder if you and I can get hold of that principle, that the moment of suffering, the moment of death, is for each one of us to be the entrance to glory. I don’t mean the moment when this body of ours ceases to breathe, but I mean the moment of our humiliation, of our death to everything except to live in the center of God’s will, to pray from the depths of our hearts, “O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me, and all things else recede! My heart be daily nearer Thee, from sin be daily freed,” the moment, when from the very depths of our souls we touch the Lord and cry to Him, when nothing else matters to us but the will of God, when we die out to everything except that—that is the entrance of glory. It isn’t simply that moment we get into heaven, but it’s that moment heaven gets into us, that the glory of the Lord comes upon His child.
You remember that the Lord Jesus in that wonderful prayer said, “My glory have I given unto them.” Yes, His glory, His life, His power, His graciousness, His tenderness, His meekness, everything that He is, at that moment when the soul is prepared to die to everything except the will of God, is the entrance of all the glory of God.
I wonder if that is a principle that has really gripped your heart. Perhaps some of you want to do some big thing for the Lord Jesus, bless you, you want to go to another part of the world for Christ, get on the mission field and do something, want to really be somebody for God. You are training for that, and you really have in mind that you are going to do something great. Are you rather like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who said to the Master one day, “Lord, now we want to sit on your right and left hand when we get to heaven. Don’t forget us when you get there. We want to be right along side,” and Jesus just looked at them and said, “Can you drink of the cup that I have to drink, can you be baptized with the baptism I am to be baptized with?”
“Oh, surely we can.”
“All right,” said Jesus, “you will. That’s all I am going to promise you. To sit on my right or left hand is not mine to give, but there is one thing that I promise you’re going to go through if ever you get into the glory and victory of the cross, you’re going to know the cup and the baptism.”
It is the same thing that Paul said over and over again. Here’s the whole principle—death being the entrance of glory into the life, when he said, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He saw that death to himself, death to everything except God’s will, meant that from that moment it was Christ in all His life and power who came to live within him. This was a new principle, a new life altogether.
Yes, Paul saw what you and I have got to see—that Jesus has done something at Calvary for us, something very wonderful. Jesus has taken this demand to our own right, this determination to have our own way, this spirit of independence, this spirit to do something and be something, and crucified it, nailed it to a tree. Jesus has taken this ugly self, this root from which all the fruit of sin and selfishness springs, to the cross.
Isn’t it very interesting that we are not supposed to crucify ourselves like that? You know, you can shoot yourself if you want to, poison yourself, hang yourself, drown yourself, but you cannot crucify yourself. And this self of ours is not something that I have to deal with, praise God. It is something that the cross has dealt with once and for all. Jesus Christ in His death has taken my spirit of independence and has hailed it to the cross, and He said, “That is the end of your history; it’s dead.”
That is the whole meaning and implication of my conversion; it is the whole intention in the mind of God that when I receive Jesus Christ, my history as an independent individual is ended forever. I have been put to death in the person of Jesus Christ. This ugly principle of self within me that has driven this body into sin, Jesus has nailed to a tree, and if I am prepared to assent to that truth, He imparts a new principle, that the appetite of this body might now be directed to the will of God, to holiness, to righteousness, to His service and to His kingdom.
He has put one principle to death and the moment I bow my head, bow this stiff neck and this pride of mine before Calvary and say, “All right, Lord, I assent to it, I agree with it in principle, even though I feel very much alive I believe what you’ve said is true, and I take my place at the cross,” at that moment a new principle of glory and power enables us to discover that this body which was driven once by a principle of sin is now driven by a principle of holiness.
That’s the cross, my friend, the simple, blessed teaching of identification, and I have said before to you from this pulpit, and I repeat it again, that I cannot claim that Christ died for me unless I am also prepared to say, “Yes, Lord, I died with you.”
I cannot enter into the benefits of Christ’s substitution and say, “Thank you that you died for my sins, goodbye, I’m going to live as I like,” I can’t do that. I cannot enter into the benefits of substitution unless I bow my head and bow my heart before Calvary and say, “Yes, Lord, I have died with you to everything except God’s will.”
You see, the Christian commits sin, not because this is not true, but he commits sin because he isn’t willing to assent to it, to agree to it and pour contempt on all his pride. To the Lord Jesus the cross was the entrance to glory. “But if it die,” and if there are fellows and girls, men and women prepared to accept the principle of Calvary and assent to this death with Christ, it means the entrance of the glory of the Lord into their hearts.
In the second place, in this text,
The Cross—the answer to loneliness.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.”
I hardly know how to express what I think the Lord would have me say to you about this. It seems incredible, but you know, it was Jesus who was the corn of wheat, who flung Himself into the ground and died. Why did He do it? I suggest to you that to Him the cross was the answer to loneliness. God is a person, and because God is a person, God is love. Love must have an object to love, and the object that love loves must in return love.
Therefore, away back in the beginning of the story God said, “Let us make man in our own image.” In order that God might love and in order that the one that God created in His likeness might in return love Him, He made a man like you and me. He made us that we might be His likeness, His image, in order that God might love and show us He loved, and then might win our love in response.
Ah, but the one whom God had made to be His chief delight and His great companion, His great lover, turned his back upon Him and rejected Him, denied Him, resisted Him, hurt Him, chose his own way. You don’t know how much you love somebody or how much somebody loves you until you see the point at which they are prepared to sacrifice.
Into the rebellion of the human heart God wove this great plan of salvation. He came as our Saviour, and like a corn of wheat just flung Himself into the ground and died on a cross and proved how much He cared and how much He loved, because He proved His love to us beyond all doubt, “In that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And you see, because of that, He has begun to win back the love of men who are made in His likeness….Are you a lonely Christian? Don’t you get on very well with other people? Are you a little unit all by yourself, without friends? You’re going through life alone. God hasn’t brought anybody into your life to love. Somehow life is desperately lonely for you.
You know, I was just thinking, “Isn’t Christian fellowship wonderful? Isn’t it wonderful to know other people and to love them, and to share fellowship like this?” Yet in the midst of it all, as I have listened to our missionaries, listened to all their stories, it has been dinned into my soul all again, you and I live a very lonely life. I don’t care how much fellowship we have, it’s lonely. Nobody can share your pain, share your heartache, your suffering, nobody can die your death. Life is lonely, and in the deepest things and experiences of human life, it is lonely.
Ah, but you see, the cross is the answer to loneliness. Why is it that basically some people are lonely? I’ll tell you why. Let’s face it. Because other people see the ugliness of self in you and it is not very attractive. There’s nothing so attractive as a crucified life, there is nothing so wonderfully winsome as a life through which Jesus shines. “Lord, let the glow of Thy great love through my whole being shine.” That’s it. Isn’t it tremendous that a life that has been so full of ugliness and selfishness, touchiness and resentment can be crucified and die, that the glow of the love of Jesus can shine through?
Yes, the cross is the answer to loneliness. If you’re a bit difficult to get on with, my friend, and find that out from your life there is an ugly self that’s shining, an ugly little tin god that is you, well, quite honestly, it repels people, that sort of thing. Ah, “but if it die” then the glow of His love shines through.
You know, you ought to read the biography of that dear old man of God, George Mueller. At the beginning as he started his orphanage work, it was hard going and it was unfruitful and difficult. He lived on the principle utterly of faith, looking to God for finance and everything else. We’re told he looked to God so much for money, for the conversion of folk, for the buildings and everything else that he forgot to pray, to begin with, for the orphans to come, and the place was empty for awhile. Then he began to pray that God would give him children and they began to come.
Somehow he felt so lonely and so unsuccessful and so unfruitful, till suddenly there seemed to be a burst of blessing and the work began to grow. There was fruit, and this man began to pray and his prayer life was so productive. He seemed to get things from God, and somebody said to him, “George Mueller, what is the secret of your success in prayer?”
He was an old man at the time, and you know, when he answered that question, he just bent his dear old back about as low as he could and said, “I’ll tell you, brother, there was a day in George Mueller’s life when George Mueller died, and from that moment on, it was no more George Mueller’s preferences, tastes, or desires; henceforth, from that moment Jesus has been my all in all.”
The cross—the answer to loneliness. Oh, what a wonderful thing at the close of this missionary rally if the ugly self in us would just be taken to Calvary and be put to death.
In conclusion then, we find
The Cross—the way of fruitfulness.
“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone,” said Jesus, “but if if die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
Think again of the one who spoke those words, think of what He had in mind when He said that. What a tremendous thing! Here is the Lord of glory just about to fall into the ground and die, and He said, “If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” What was He thinking about? I think He was thinking about a great song that will break out one day in glory when there would be a multitude whom no man could number around the throne. Who are these? These are they who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, have made white their robes, redeemed from every tribe, every kindred, every nation under heaven.
“If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” And you know, that is the principle in your life, too. Oh, my friend, that is it, in all our Christian experience and in all our living, just this, “But if it die—fruit.”
There is a garden in a little country village near Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and for years there was a very barren apple tree in that garden. There was no fruit on it at all. The thing seemed to be dead.
The man who had that house didn’t know much about gardens and was almost to the point of rooting out the tree. He thought it looked so useless, until he saw a little paragraph in a gardening magazine which said, “If you have an apple tree which looks as if it were dead, (just like his was) try driving a few iron nails into the bark of the tree and watch developments.”
“Well,” the man said, “I can’t do the tree any harm, I might as well have a shot at it.”
So he took some iron nails and drove them in, and you know, the next year that tree began to produce apples, and lived to be most fruitful.
Oh, may I say this tenderly to you from my heart? Is this the secret of the barrenness of your life? Is it why it is so fruitless? Is it why I fail when perhaps I’m tested, is it why I go under when I am tempted? Is it perhaps because my reputation has mattered and so on? Is it because somehow I have resented and resisted the nails being driven into this self life of mine?
I don’t know whether I’ve told you from this pulpit, but you know, these missionaries have been opening their hearts to you, and I wonder if I may do the same just for a minute. I know I’ve told folk in another place, but I’m not sure I’ve told the people who matter the most to me in the ministry, these who are around me in this church.
In the fall of 1955 somehow in my spirit I was discouraged. Some of you may have noticed it, though I hope not too many. I felt the battle was pretty tough, the response was very small, and somehow I felt just about at the end of my tether, even to the point (isn’t it an awful thing to have to admit?) of being resentful with God. Why should I have to cope with this and that and the other thing?
Never shall I forget a morning at Mid-America Keswick when my very dear friend, Dr. Maxwell of Prairie Bible Institute, spoke from the depths of his heart about a crucified life. He said, “I know many preachers who get into tough situations and then begin to resent the kind of thing that happens to them, seek to drive it all away and say, ‘Why should I have to face this and that?’ All the time the things they try to drive away from them are the very nails that Jesus wants to use to crucify the flesh.”
October 1955 marked for me a turning point in my life. By the grace of God I cannot be resentful any more, but only thankful for every privilege and opportunity and any situation to die to self.
Beloved friend, listen—student training for the mission field, missionary home on furlough, coming to this rally weary and tired, Christian worker, Christian businessman—have you been getting resentful with God? Have you been resenting things that happen to you and circumstances that have crashed into your life? Jesus says to you, “But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
Oh, how true that is of Christian experience! The more we live, the more we die, and the more we live in the power of His risen life.
My beloved friend, I conclude by saying this to you. God’s way for Jesus is God’s way for you and me. You notice the twenty-fifth verse of this chapter: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”
Here is the simple issue, it seems to me, of the whole missionary program, the simple issue of your life and mine, of this church. Are you wiling to assent to the principles of Calvary? Jesus said in verse twenty-seven, “What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.”
Would you look up into His face and say, “Lord, what shall I say? Save me from this death to myself, save me from this? Oh, no, Lord Jesus, for this cause came I to this hour.”
But if it die. There’s one word that describes Christian experience. Listen…this applies not only to young folks but to old folks and to all of us—“But if it die,” God gets through your life as a channel to a lost world.
Are you prepared to pay that price?