THE VINE OF THE BIBLE
The vine ranks with fruit trees in every respect but this—that it clings to other upright objects for support. It sends out branches in profusion; but they can only run on the ground, lifting their heads a little, and requiring for the perfection of their fruit a tree or wall by which they may lift themselves into the air. When cut back continually, so that the branches are very small in proportion to the woody stem, the vine may stand upright like a small weeping tree; in which form it is cultivated in many vineyards. It puts forth from the axils of the leaves tendrils, which are modified branches, or bunches of grapes, by which it raises itself to its supports.
When thus sustained it produces clusters of fruit, composed mostly of sweet, spirited juice, with four hard, bony seeds. So very generous is it of its fruitfulness that, if unwisely encouraged, a noble vine will exhaust itself in a single season and die. To ripen its fruit properly, it needs much pruning and much sunshine. The fruit, however, varies greatly in quality, according to the kind of the vine, sometimes being sour and astringent, sometimes exceedingly pleasant. The leaves of the vine are large, and are said to be much liked by sheep and cattle.
That the vine is perennial, like fruit trees, and bears useful fruits, shows that it corresponds to some enduring principle which produces good works. That it naturally twines about other objects, depending upon them, and maturing no good fruit unless it be supported in the air, indicates that the principle to which it corresponds is sympathetic and very susceptible of spiritual elevation, which, indeed, is necessary to the value of its works. Its tendrils represent an affection for drawing near to others, especially in elevated states; and they are in the place of branches, or bunches of grapes, because this affection is desirous of giving, not of taking away. The fruits of the vine are scarcely more than sacks of sweet and spirited juice, containing four seeds. The juice is composed of water drawn up from the earth by the vine, exposed to air and sunshine in the leaves, and by combination with elements of the air and sunshine, which are absorbed by the leaves, transformed to nourishing, refreshing juice, which is deposited in the grapes.
This is the use of the vine—to draw water from the earth and transform it into wine. It represents an affection which transforms the literal precepts of the Word into pleasant truth of spiritual life. It is an affection for teaching the Lord’s commandments as truth of heavenly life as well as of natural, as the ways of interior happiness as well as of duty. It draws water of life from the letter of the Word, considers it in its application to states of thought and feeling, and, in the light and warmth of the Love that gave it, perceives its necessity to good, happy life, and thus fills it with affection and wisdom.
The spiritual Olive brings a knowledge of the Lord’s goodness into human life; and the vine brings the kindness and pleasantness of His wisdom. But it is the pleasantness of wisdom relating to spiritual life, not to worldly and social advantages; the rich fruit is not perfected upon the ground.
In regard to the growth of spiritual vines, it may be said that when men come to a knowledge of spiritual truth they are at first only too eager to study it and talk about it with everybody. Some find delight in following out spiritual study in every direction, and are like vines that run to leaves and branches. Some are exceedingly zealous to enlighten and improve the world, and exhaust themselves in unwise fruitfulness. Experience comes as a pruner to direct the study wisely, and to secure moderation of incipient fruitfulness. Fortunate if it comes before the time of rank confusion, or of utter discouragement. Patiently to think out the principles of spiritual life, as applied to one’s home or to the community, with a perception of the Lord’s blessing in the truth, is to mature the fruit of the vine; and it is manifest that the same effort which, chastened and wisely directed to improvement of life, will mature sweet and inspiriting wisdom; if allowed to generalize at random, may produce only immature and useless dogmatism; or, absorbed in unpractical speculations, may bring forth nothing but leaves. Even these may be serviceable to innocent natural states, though they are not helpful to spiritual life, as vine leaves are food for sheep and cattle, but not for man. There are also grapes which are not immature, but are essentially sour; and there are men who study the Bible and teach from it what they call the truth of Heaven, without any true knowledge of the Lord, or right reception of Him, and who therefore teach as truth of spiritual life what is distasteful and unwholesome.
The fruit of the olive relates to the Lord’s goodness, or to mutual love from Him, and is, therefore, single, or grouped a few together. The fruit of the vine relates to the manifold duties of life, and hangs in clusters of many (Apocalypse Explained #918).
Its seeds are in two pairs, because its vital principles relate to the conjunction of goodness and truth, and of spiritual life and natural. They are hard and bony, because they are mostly composed of the unyielding truth that the words of the Lord are spirit and life, which their works are perpetually demonstrating with a delight which renews the desire to prove it again. The Lord called Himself “the True Vine”; and at the marriage in Cana of Galilee He actually transformed water into wine, to represent the spiritual work which He was continually doing. He fulfilled the Law by living it Himself, and presenting it with deeper meaning and kind affection manifested in it. The Ten Blessings, and the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount, are the living water of the Ten Commandments applied to interior life and filled with charity. The Commandment is, “Thou shalt not kill,” which is rendered by the Vine of spiritual life. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” The Commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; the Gospel, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The Law enjoins love for the neighbor and hatred for the enemy; Jesus says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven.” The Commandments thus applied to the inner life, and filled with affection for the goodness which they teach, are spiritual wine. This is such wine as is represented by the wine of the Holy Supper, which, again, the Lord calls His “blood,” because it is the thought of His own heart, which not only gives life, but is life to those who receive it.
They who love to think Christian truth from Him and to live it, the Lord calls His branches. Frequently throughout the Scriptures the Church is likened to a vine or a vineyard, as in the eightieth Psalm: “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it”; and in Matthew 21:33: “There was a certain householder who planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.” Of Noah, also, who represents the second Church upon earth, it is said that he “planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20); because the characteristic of that Church was the study of spiritual truth such as is revealed by correspondences, and the enjoyment of the spiritual charity and beautiful living which such truth teaches. But it is added that Noah “drank of the wine and was drunken” (Genesis 5:21), which signifies that by correspondences and reasonings from natural things concerning spiritual, the Church fell into errors and became delirious (Arcana Coelestia #1072); as men do who use spiritual truth to exalt themselves, or for any other purpose than to increase their consciousness of dependence upon the Lord, and their love of doing His Commandments. The misuse of wine to produce drunkenness is frequently mentioned in the Word, and always with the signification of the abuse of spiritual truth to minister to one’s pride or other selfishness. This is very evident in Isaiah: “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink; who justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him” (Isaiah 5:21–23). The perverse application of spiritual truth, by which the Roman Catholic Church has granted indulgences and pardoned all manner of crimes to increase her own wealth and power, is meant by these words in the Apocalypse: “The inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Revelation 17:2).
Swedenborg speaks of an odor of wine which he perceived, and says, “I was informed that it was from those who from friendship and rightful love compliment one another, but so that there is truth in the compliments. The odor is with much variety, and is from the sphere of the beautiful in forms” (Arcana Coelestia #1517). No doubt there is a right use for wine, in great moderation, as a correspondence of and an aid to such friendly thought of others. The same flattery addressed to oneself, produces a silly complacency and self-display.
Swedenborg compares the purification of conjugial love and its wisdom to the purification of alcoholic spirits, and adds “wisdom purified may be compared to alcohol, which is spirit most highly rectified” (Conjugial Love #145). On the other hand he says that the doctrine of justification by faith alone “has intoxicated the thoughts” of the clergy “like the spirit of wine which is called alcohol, so that, like the drunken, they have not seen this most essential thing of the church, that Jehovah God descended and assumed the Human” (True Christian Religion #98). The sugar, which is transformed into alcohol, has a correspondence with the natural pleasantness of thinking truth of spiritual wisdom; when transformed, it corresponds with a spiritual pleasantness, or assurance that the truth is the very truth of life. The process of fermentation seems to correspond with the freeing of the truth from that which is of self, which is in it from the process of thinking, and changing the natural pleasantness of it into a sense that it is not of self, but is of the truth of life. Associated with true wisdom, this assurance brings content; but associated with false doctrines it brings a fallacious security which is like drunkenness. Genuine truth from the Lord, teaching love to the Lord and the neighbor, with the assurance that it is the very truth of life, is the “wine that maketh glad the heart of man”—the good wine which the presence of the Lord produces for those who take part in the heavenly marriage of goodness with truth.
In describing his passage through the dark forest which protected the angels of the inmost heaven, Swedenborg says that his eyes were opened, and he saw olive trees entwined with vines, and his steps were led from olive to olive, till he reached the summit of the mountain (Conjugial Love #75). The olives are knowledge of the Lord’s goodness; the vines are knowledge of the excellent kindness of His truth. Through states marked by the attainment of such knowledge lies the way to the angels nearest the Lord.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875