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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 13

 

 

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Verse 1

PERFECT LOVE

‘Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.’

John 13:1

The margin of the R.V. reads, ‘to the uttermost’: ‘He loved them to the uttermost.’

I. Great crises, whether of joy or sorrow, reveal character and disposition.—To-morrow Christ was to die. It was the evening hour, and oh! on what a morning was that setting sun to dawn! The time-table of his wondrous Life was before Him and He knew what was coming. But when the great crisis came it only revealed His Heart and displayed His Love. Others fail in the hour of need, He never. Why, if all the love-stories of all the Romeos and Juliets who have ever breathed were to be told, what would they be beside the romance of the Divine Love?

II. He loved ‘His own.’—He had compassion for all the race. He wept over Jerusalem. But He had a special, complacent, unchanging love for ‘His own.’ He poured out the alabaster box of His love on them; on, on it flowed till He said, ‘As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you’ (John 15:9). The Agony and Bloody Sweat of Gethsemane, the red drops that fell on the dust of Calvary, those Seven dying Words, all tell that His love was love ‘to the uttermost.’ And we know ‘His own’ include all who shall believe on Him through their word (John 17:20).

III. They believed His Love.—When a man believes in Christ it is the turning-point in his life, in Carlyle’s words he ‘was henceforth a Christian man; believes in God not on Sundays only, but on all days, in all places, and in all cases.’ So that, at any rate, after His Resurrection, they were willing to die for Him.

Rev. F. Harper.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

UNTO THE END

I. The love cherished.

(a) There was little in the disciples of that which usually attracts human love. We love that which is unselfish: but which of the disciples rose to the height of self-sacrifice? St. Peter, the most generous, said, ‘We have left all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore.’ We love that which is humble; but the disciples more than once were detected in a strife as to which should be greatest. Boastfulness is not an amiable quality; yet St. Peter declared that though all should provoke Christ, yet would not he, and protested with passionate vehemence that he was ready to lay down his life. That man or woman who does not love little children is not very lovely; yet the disciples rebuked them, and tried to drive them away. Inexcusable ignorance is not a lovable quality; yet when His mind could least bear the strain of reiterating what it had been His lifelong mission to teach, Jesus had to inform them who He was, and the meaning of what He did. Cowardice we love least of all: yet when He needed courage most it was wanting, they all forsook Him and fled. These were the men He loved—not helped, befriended, but loved. Do we wonder at it? And ask why He did not select the unselfish, the humble, etc.? Who are we that we should ask this question? Let those who are without sin amongst us cast the first stone. But let those of us who have harrowing recollections of selfishness, ambition, etc., wonder, with adoring gratitude, and with tears, that Christ loves us to the end.

(b) Christ loved these men because they were His own. The mother loves her fretful baby because it is her own. The father loves his wayward son because he is his own. The same perversity, or less, in the children of other people excites profound dislike. How were the disciples? how are we Christ’s own? Various senses: creation, redemption, conquest; but here doubtless in the sense employed an hour afterwards. ‘I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were and Thou hast given them Me.’ We are Christ’s own by Divine gift. A gift takes its preciousness from the giver. Who then can measure our preciousness to Christ? This will amply account for all Christ’s longsuffering and patient love.

(c) Christ loved His own because they were in the world. They would have to encounter the world’s enmity; to drink Christ’s cup, and be baptized with His baptism. Their work was to evangelise the world, and to wear the crown of life through faithfulness unto death. His own were (are) menaced by hardship, peril, death; hence Christ’s unquenchable and everlasting love.

II. The love shown.

(a) Completely. Revised Version (margin): ‘To the uttermost.’ No quality necessary to perfect love, either in its essence or exhibition, was wanting. Christ’s love was perfectly pure, without admixture: perfectly self-sacrificing; ‘Greater love hath no man than this,’ etc.

(b) To the end of His life. Notice the march of this love. Revelation of heaven; promise of Comforter; assurance of friendship and safety; Gethsemane, ‘If ye seek Me let these go their way,’ etc.; Calvary.

(c) To the end of their lives. ‘Lo, I am with you alway.’ ‘This God is our God … He will be our guide even unto death.’

(d) Throughout eternity. Revelation 7:9-17.

Illustration

‘In the days when Home was the mistress of the world (and the Roman army was the bravest ever known, it had an almost unbroken record of success for seven hundred years), if some one regiment were to be placed in the very jaws of death, and perhaps on that legion the fate of the empire rested, they knelt down on one knee in front of the assembled host and raising their hands to heaven took an oath to die for Rome.’


Verse 7

THE MYSTERY OF FAITH

‘What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.’

John 13:7

These words sum up the whole mystery of faith. In a sense, though faith is the true knowledge of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, so far as it can be had now, yet it is also, in a sense, partly obscure knowledge. We know in part; hereafter we shall know even as we are known. We see through a glass, darkly; hereafter we shall see face to face. This is why faith, if it is firm, is the very grounds of hope.

I. The mystery of faith.—The wondrous humiliation of Jesus in washing the feet of His Apostles was to test their absolute acceptance of Himself, and prepare them for the yet more terrible test their faith in Him had to be put to in the Garden, and throughout the horror and apparent failure of His Passion and Death. We, whose faith is so weak, can hardly realise what that must have been. That faith in Him which did not waver, if it did not fail altogether, throughout that tremendous catastrophe, would indeed have been strong. Yet nothing less than that was what He demanded, and what at this very hour He demands of you and me. ‘What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.’

II. This act of deep humility was the symbol, if it were not indeed the outward sign to the Apostles themselves, of that wondrous act of Divine mercy by which the sinful soul is made ‘clean every whit.’ For there is no greater mystery than the forgiveness of sin. The reconciliation to Himself of the soul in sin, helpless by thought or act to so much as approach Him in repentance without His grace, is from first to last a mystery. It is a mystery of God’s infinite love, which passeth knowledge. In each of its stages it is a mystery of His wisdom, which is unsearchable. In its effect it is a more wonderful thing than anything else He does in our souls. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. It is, then, the act of a Creator. It was a far easier thing to heal the sick, and a thing far easier to understand, for human skill prevails to do it day after day all the world over, than to say, ‘Thy sins be forgiven thee,’ for that is a Divine work. To raise us from the death of sin unto a life of righteousness is a far more mysterious act of the Divine power than that God should raise the dead. It is those above all who feel most deeply and keenly their sinfulness who best know this. The sinfulness of despair of the Divine mercy in fact consists in this, that it implies a doubt or a denial of the love or of the power of Almighty God. But even the peace of heart, which comes with the assurance of His pardoning love, and faith in His promise of remission, falls far short of what the soul will know afterwards in His Presence of all that meant, the real malice of sin, the immensity of the Divine love, the resistless force of the Divine Hands stretched forth to rescue and save. ‘What I do thou knowest not now; thou shalt know hereafter.’ God grant to us that we may, and to the full!

III. We pass, then, to a yet deeper mystery, to one which as the great memorial of the love of Jesus is in our midst to this day the wide world over. For somewhere on this earth, from the rising of the sun until the going down of the same, as this mighty orb turns eastward, there is probably no hour in which that memorial of His precious death, until His coming again, is not being made. His own most sacred words are uttered in countless languages, His own actions recalled by His appointed ministers. The offering, says John Chrysostom, is the self-same, because the words and actions are His. He is in the midst of His own, though unseen, yet as truly as He was in the midst of His Apostles in the upper chamber on that night. We know this because He has bidden us do what He had done, ‘in remembrance of Him.’ How this is we cannot know now, but we shall know hereafter.

Rev. C. F. G. Turner.

Illustration

‘People often fall into the mistake of imagining that the Apostles were at this time fully instructed Christians. It is a very strange error, because nothing is so clear from Holy Scripture as that they were not, and, indeed, were very far from being so. The writer can vouch for the absolute accuracy of the following beautiful story, which may serve to illustrate these thoughts, and, indeed, suggested them to him. A poor London waif had come somehow under the care of the late Cardinal Manning. The man was utterly uninstructed and religionless. He was dying, and the Cardinal asked a layman, whom he knew (and from whom the writer heard the story), to prepare the man to become a Christian. Shortly after he reported that all he had been able to teach the man, or he was ever likely to take in, was that God created him, and that in God there are three Persons, and that the Son of God became Man, and died for his salvation. The Cardinal at once said, “Very well, then I’ll baptize him” (which he did); “he’ll learn the rest in heaven.”’


Verse 13

THE CALL TO SERVICE

‘Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.’

John 13:13

The underlying foundation for every call to a definite step in the Christian life must be the plain teaching of our Lord Himself.

I. If we ask what Christ saves men for, we find it summed up in a sentence thus: That we ‘might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life’ (Luke 1:74-75). A life of service, fearlessly and happily rendered; with a heart that belongs to Him, and conduct that glorifies Him; lived out in His conscious Presence, and lasting to our last day on earth; that is the purpose He has for His people, that is the aim of His salvation, which must be ours if we would satisfy His heart and fulfil His good will for us.

II. There can be no doubt that the call to service could only be obeyed where the life is surrendered, the will submitted, the heart yielded to the Lord. That the disciples did so obey and follow Christ, shows how they understood His claims upon them; and how His demands took the first place, and all else the second, in their lives. Nor must we put aside the point of the Saviour’s call, by supposing that He may so call some, but not all, of His professed people. That we all owe Him service is a matter granted without controversy; and that service can only be rendered by obeying this call is equally clear, when we hear Him say: ‘If any man serve Me, let him follow Me’ (John 12:26). The call to follow Him is therefore binding on all His servants, as the call to serve is on all His redeemed people. Thus His demand, ‘Follow Me,’ lays upon every professed child of God the call to personal consecration.

III. Christ’s purpose for all whom He has drawn near to Him and pardoned, and His claim upon them, is nothing less than absolute submission to His rule, surrender to His demands, service to His will. The very titles He assumes are enough to settle the matter. He is a King: and He can expect no less than His ancestor and prototype received, when ‘all Israel obeyed him. And all the princes, and the mighty men, and all the sons likewise of king David, submitted themselves unto Solomon the king’ (1 Chronicles 29:23-24). He is a Lawgiver, and He is a Leader: so then there can be due to Him no less honour than was given by Israel to their lawgiver and their leader when they said: ‘According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee. All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go” (Joshua 1:17; Joshua 1:16). He is a Ruler or Lord with a yoke of dominion, real though easy to be borne; and He is a Teacher, with authority over His scholars and a task to appoint them, though it be light for meek and lowly learners. Then He may well say to us, as to His disciples: ‘Ye call Me Master (Teacher, R.V. marg.) and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.… I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.… If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them’ (John 13:13; John 13:15; John 13:17).

—Rev. Hubert Brooke.

Illustration

‘The matter was practically illustrated once by Pasteur Theodore Monod under the following figure: A man is passing out of a hall, and sees some one in front of him drop a piece of paper. He picks it up and discovers that it is a five-pound note. He hesitates a moment as to how he shall deal with it, and then says: “I will give that man who dropped it one pound, and I will keep four.” But of course his conscience interposes, and tells him that that will not do. “Well,” he resumes in thought, “I will give him four, and only keep one pound.” Conscience objects again and insists on more than this. At last, with a sigh, the finder says: “Then I will do a grand thing; I will consecrate the whole five pounds to the man who lost it.” But any one who had heard his thoughts would say that it was no very grand thing after all, but a mere matter of ordinary honesty, to give the man what was his own. The story fits well enough for the subject we have in view. In truth the matter of personal consecration is reduced to the simple element of honesty. You have found yourself to be the ransomed and purchased possession of the Saviour; what then will you do with this treasure? Be honest, and you can only do one thing: give the possession to Him Who purchased it, and treat it henceforth as His, not yours.’


Verse 17

MISSIONARY SERVICE

‘If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.’

John 13:17

I. There is a test by which the reality of discipleship is proved.

II. It forms the substance of the teaching of the Lord after He rose from the dead.

III. It is contained in the one command, to evangelise the world.

IV. This command was obeyed at the beginning, and utterly neglected in the middle of this dispensation.

V. A return to the obedience of early disciples, and reality of their consecration, will mean renewed enthusiasm for missionary work.

VI. The power and the presence of the Holy Ghost are assured, will be given, and can effectually complete the work, through praying, obedient, and consecrated souls.

—Rev. Hubert Brooke.

Illustration

‘There was a time when the Moravian Church was 120,000 marks in debt; and special contributions were asked from all members. A humble shoemaker was called upon for help, and he gave this answer: “There are thirty thousand members of our church, and 120,000 marks of debt: that is 4 marks apiece. Here we are, myself, my wife, and five children; that is seven. Seven times four are twenty-eight; and here is my share, 28 marks.” Next year the debt had been diminished, but was not gone. The collector came again and reported still a debt of 90,000 marks. The simple cobbler never stayed to grumble at the slackness of other members, but answered again: “That is an average of 3 marks for each member. Thank God, wife and children are still here: so seven times three are twenty-one; and here is my share of 21 marks.” That is the true spirit in which to hear God’s call, and do His will.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICE

Humility is the posture of mind in which to look for Divine blessing; Christ, coming and finding His disciples lowly and free from self-confidence and pride, will bless, exalt, and save them. Our Saviour taught the much-needed and difficult lesson of humility in three ways: by precept, by symbol (when He washed the disciples’ feet), and by His own incomparable obedience and sacrifice. The principle of the text applies primarily to humility, yet also to all virtues.

I. Knowledge.—Christianity is a religion which exalts knowledge. Man was made to know, in which is implied both an intellectual nature, and truth adapted to satisfy that nature. The Lord Jesus came to reveal truth concerning God and man: His prayer was that we might know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom God sent. That the soul be without knowledge is not good; but that the soul be without this knowledge is death.

II. Practice.—We have an active, as well as a cognative, nature. Much of our knowledge finds its true end and justification when it is reduced to practice. We may know God’s will; but that avails nothing unless we do it. We may understand and admire the virtues which are the ‘notes’ of true discipleship; but those virtues are to be embodied in our own conduct and disposition. Knowledge is to be translated into character and action. It is so with humility, and with all graces. If convinced that Christ is the Son of God, live by faith in Him! If assured that His law is the highest morality, practise it! If persuaded that fellowship with His Church is a duty and a privilege, neglect it not! If expecting judgment and eternity, prepare for them!

III. Happiness.—This is not the true aim of life, but it is a Divine addition and ornament, and an incentive to obedience. Knowledge alone is not sufficient for happiness, but knowledge reduced to practice is its appointed means. The intelligent and obedient Christian is happy; for his powers are exercised in conformity with the constitution the Creator has impressed upon him; there is no reproach of conscience, the approving smile of the Master is upon him, and he has the hope of a final welcome and an everlasting recompense. ‘Happy is the people that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.’


Verse 23

THE BELOVED DISCIPLE

‘There was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.’

John 13:23

The title by which John calls himself is the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved.’ We too have each one of us an individual relationship to our Lord. ‘I believe in God the Father Who created me and all the world, in God the Son Who redeemed me and all mankind, in God the Holy Ghost Who sanctifieth me and all the people of God.’ One by one we are baptized, fed, trained; individually we must respond to this love. Individuals are not lost in the multitude. How John was fitted for this special intimacy! God’s love is not blind. Note, John was fitted for his special privilege by natural gifts perfected by grace through careful training and severe discipline.

Three characteristics of John we must endeavour to imitate as we would share his privilege.

I. Purity.—‘He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend’ (Proverbs 22:11).

II. Love, not weak and sentimental, but strong and brave. He was capable of receiving and of giving great affection.

III. Thoughtfulness.—His was a contemplative habit of mind. Like Mary of Bethany, sitting at our Lord’s feet and learning of Him. So John learnt the secrets of His mind and heart.

IV. John, leaning on Jesus’ bosom, is a figure of the intimate fellowship with Him in which we are called to abide.

(a) To this our sacraments and services are to lead. We feed on Him that He may dwell in us. Practices of prayer should beget a spirit of prayer. Then amid all the changes and chances of our mortal life we shall lean on Him in trustful love.

(b) The holy confidence that belongs to love. In how different a tone did the several Apostles ask ‘Is it I?’ St. Peter with doubtfulness, Judas asking because the others asked, John with holy assurance. ‘If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God’ (1 John 3:21).

(c) The security against temptation that comes from the love of God. The expulsive power of a new and high affection. ‘Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.’ Cultivate the higher, and you will be raised above the lower (Psalms 25).

Bishop A. C. A. Hall.

Illustration

‘St. Chrysostom said he wished he had seen three things—Christ in the flesh, the Temple in its glory, and St. Paul preaching. If we were to record the wish of many a Christian now it would be: “Oh that I had leaned, like John, on the bosom of the Redeemer!”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

ON JESUS’ BOSOM

Note that word leaning. It is not the strong who lean upon the weak. It is the weak who lean upon the strong. The bosom of Jesus—

I. Is the place of instruction.—John was near his Master, and so heard His words, all His words. His ear was close to His mouth. His attitude was this, ‘Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth.’ There are millions of souls who are utterly careless about hearing Christ’s words, and yet the words which He has spoken, the same will judge them at the last day. Others, too, are unwilling to be taught by Christ.

II. Is the place of friendship.—John never calls himself by his own name in his gospel, but always ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ Abraham was the friend of God, and John was the friend of Jesus. He belonged, as it were, to the innermost circle of His friends. You will need a friend some day. You may be healthy and happy now, but dark clouds will come, and voices will be hushed, and chairs will be vacant, and hearts will be rent, and hot tears will flow. Your sorrow will lie too deep for human aid. Then, in that hour of desolation and loneliness, you will need a friend. Seek the pitiful Friend of sinners now, and in the hour of your distress He will arise and save you.

III. Is the place of peace.—He says to His people, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation.’ We have found that true. But He promises that in Him we shall have peace, and when we lean on Him we find that true too!

IV. Is the place of sweet manifestation.—He manifests Himself to His people as He does not to the world. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man by nature the things Christ reveals to those who lean on Him.

V. Is the place of safety.—Those who are hidden there cannot perish; they are ‘safe in the arms of Jesus.’ ‘Neither shall any pluck them out of My hand,’ said the Saviour, and His word cannot be broken, His promise cannot fail. The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but nothing can ever destroy the weakest soul that clings to Christ.

O happy life—if life is leaning on Christ’s arm! O gladsome death—if death is sleeping on Christ’s breast!

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustration

‘There can be no doubt that the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom was John, the writer of the gospel. It is the first time he speaks of himself in this way, and the expression occurs afterwards four times, John 19:26; John 20:2; John 21:7; John 21:20. The Greek word rendered “loved” deserves notice. It signifies the higher, nobler, and more refined kind of love. There are two words in the Greek language translated “love” in the New Testament. Let it be noted that the general special love with which our Lord loved all His disciples, did not prevent His having a particular love for one individual. Why He specially loved John we are not told. Gifts certainly do not appear so much in John as grace. But it is worth noticing that love seems the more characteristic of John than of any disciple, and that in this he showed more of the mind of Christ. It is quite clear that special friendship for one individual is consistent with love for all. It is noteworthy that of all the writers of the New Testament, none goes so deep, and reveals so much of the hidden things of God, as he who lay in the bosom of Christ.’


Verse 25

A PATTERN OF INTERCESSION

‘He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?

John 13:25

I. We are brought near to our Lord not for our own sake alone, but for the help of others. (See 2 Corinthians 1:6.) We must not be selfish in matters of religion. Meum and tuum are not Christian words; Pater Noster is the Christian prayer. All that we ask, or desire for ourselves, we must desire for others likewise.

II. Nor must we think only of those who happen to be near to us, by natural kinship, or liking. These must be as specimens for all who are in similar circumstances of need, or temptation, etc. We must learn to regard others from our Lord’s point of view. Like John leaning on our Lord’s bosom, to love all whom He loves, and to love them with His love. Think of the interests that are dear to Him, and gain a zeal for missions, for the conversion of sinners, for the perfecting of the faithful, for the reunion of Christendom.

III. Thus shall we overcome any feeling of indifference or want of charity towards others. Kneeling in spirit by their side in prayer as fellow-suppliants and fellow-penitents we shall be drawn together.

—Bishop A. C. A. Hall.

Illustration

‘The Greek words here would be more literally rendered, “He having fallen upon.” It is so translated in eleven out of twelve other places where it occurs in the New Testament. The idea is evidently of one moving and leaning towards another, so as to get closer to him and whisper a question, without being heard or observed. That this is what John did is evident. It is plain that he did not say out aloud, “Lord, who is it?”’


Verse 34

THE NEW COMMANDMENT

‘A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.’

John 13:34

The command to love is always new. Every individual and every generation must have a new way, because the circumstances of the world are always changing, and the minds of men are always widening.

The command is in another sense old. It has been from the beginning. But Christ revealed a new idea of man and a new idea of God. His love offered a new measure of greatness—‘Love one another; as I have loved you.’

For us the command is also new, because our times are new and unlike any other time. How are we to love one another as Christ loved? What does the duty of service enforce on this generation?

I. What are the characteristics of the present time?—The question is vast, but it may be possible to outline four features—

(a) The individual counts for more to-day than in any previous day. Every one asserts himself and resents a slight. The complaint is sometimes made that there are few great men, but it may be replied that all little men are greater. There may be no excellence, but there is a high average. Individuality is thus one marked feature in our time, and Socialism may be described as the uprising of the individual.

(b) Independence has been exalted by democratic government.—There are now no dependent classes; every class has its place, and an equal place, in the economy of government. A social conscience has been substituted for the philanthropy which made one class regard itself as the keeper of another. Patronage is now out of place, and has become the subject for ridicule.

(c) Education has opened every one’s eyes to see more of the possibilities of life.—Whole classes of the population have acquired a taste for culture, and they resent the contrast which allows to a few the pleasures of beauty and knowledge, while it condemns the many to sordid existence in close streets. There is thus a widespread demand for a larger share of life’s good things. Materialism has become a power in public life, which, let it be noted, is an advance on a period of indifferentism. Any conviction as to a theory of existence, even though it be one of material comfort, is better than the selfishness which thinks only of getting advantage for itself, be the theory what it may.

(d) Science has given a new direction to thought. It may almost be said to have created thought. The child in the street and the most ignorant of the people ask for facts, and to some extent reason from facts. Their facts may be uncertain and their reasoning faulty, but thought has to-day a new importance. Every proposed reform must make its appeal to the mind, and nothing can be ventured without inquiry and study.

Here, then, are some of the characteristics which make the present unlike any former times—individuality, independence, common education, and the scientific spirit. The old command of love holds as it has held from the beginning; but how is it to be applied?

II. How must you and I show our love?—What is now the social mission of the State? (1) Our love must be thinking love; (3) it must be sharing love.

(a) Thought and love must go hand in hand. The parent who loves his child must think about his character, watch him in his idle moments, foster what is good, fit education to his needs, and cherish his individuality. Reformers must not be content to advocate a new socialistic State; they must think of what is practicable and restrain themselves to do the next thing. The State in its domestic legislation must inquire before it acts, seek causes before it applies remedies, and follow scientific methods. ‘But,’ some one says, ‘look what all this means! Parents have no time for such thought about their children. They have their business, their work, their pleasures. They will love their children, but their teachers must think about them. They will give them money, but they will not give up their own way of life.’ ‘Look, too,’ some one will say, ‘what thought about the structure of society involves, what changes will be introduced, what patience may be necessary, what new ideas will be encouraged!’ People are content that millions shall be spent yearly on poor relief, but too much thought about the causes of poverty may be dangerous to their quiet, to their property, or to their schemes. The needs of others in this generation demand, then, thoughtful love. We are willing to give generously. Never was giving more generous. Many are willing to advocate revolutionary changes. But we all shrink from thinking. It involves too much; it is dangerous; it is too slow. Yes, but the measure of love is Christ’s love, which gave what cost the most. It is Christ Who says to us, ‘Think, even if it spoils your plans and imperils your pleasures. Love one another as I have loved you. Love must still suffer.’

(b) Love is sharing. Whatever good thing we have found to be the best for ourselves is that which our neighbours must also have. Do we live in pure and clear air? So must they. Do we enjoy health and beauty and knowledge? So must they. Our advantages confer on us no privilege; they give us no right to command; they are simply ours to share. This means an end to the ostentation and the show, whose delight is in possessing what others cannot possess. This means an end to expenditure on luxury, be it on drink or on diamonds. This means a great increase of expenditure on the education of the people. But here comes the protest: ‘I will give, but I cannot have my income reduced so that others may receive as a right the knowledge and the joy in life which I give as a favour. I will give, but I will not give up my position of privilege.’ Yes, but the generation has come into sight of equality of culture, and it has cast away the idea of a dependent class. The needs of others demand a love which shares. Is this too costly? Do we, like the rich young man, say, ‘We give generously. We obey the command as our fathers obeyed it; but we cannot give up our rights, we cannot come down from our high place; we cannot share”? Well, the love which is above all love, as it offers us eternal life, still says, ‘You must take up a cross. You must love as I love. The more it costs, the more like it is to Mine. To love is to share.’

Consider, then, the times in which we live. There have been no such times in the past. We are sailing on an unknown sea, across which float sounds from undiscovered lands, and there are strange storms which threaten our safety. Let us as good sailors consider what these sounds and these dangers are. Let us ask what is the service the times demand. It is sure to be costly service. Then let us consider the love of Christ, the love which has drawn the hearts of men to itself, the love of God in which we move.

—Canon S. A. Barnett.

Illustration

‘In the days of the early Church, beneath what might seem the merely natural duty of feeding the hungry, there lay the spiritual interest of so helping the body as not to hurt the soul. The Christian idea was that everybody was to be helped by his brethren to become a perfect member of the Church of Christ by the gift of what he happened to lack, whatever it was. His particular burden was to be borne in common. That was one great lesson taught, and understood to be taught, by Holy Communion. As a modern poet has well expressed it—

“The Holy Supper is kept indeed

In whatso we share with another’s need,

Not what we give, but what we share.”

And the predominance of the spiritual interest becomes more conspicuous when we go on to consider the care of the sick, and those in trouble and in prison. They were to be visited, so as to be supported, not only by the alms, but by the prayers of the Church. We are told that the Christians of Egypt went even as far as to the mines of Cilicia to encourage and edify their brethren who were condemned there to hard labour; and to visit those in prison they took long journeys. We feel as we read these stories of Christian philanthropy that, while money was not spared when money could do good, it was yet the least part of what the Christian contributed to the relief of his brethren in Christ.’


Verse 34-35

CHRISTIAN PHILANTHROPY

‘By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another: even as I loved you, that ye also may love one another.’

John 13:34-35 (R.V. marg.)

Philanthropy, then, is the great sign and test of Christianity. As we look around us and reckon up all the charitable institutions of England and the wealth that flows into them, we may lay the consolation to our hearts that we are thereby declared to be a most Christian people. By this all men shall know that we are Christ’s disciples.

I. Christian philanthropy is essentially the philanthropy of a society.—Christian philanthropy is active love ministered among brethren by one to another, and that is only possible in a society where the needs of each member are known—needs for livelihood, for protection, for sympathy—and so a helping hand can be held out to ease the particular trouble. The motto of the Christian society is, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ It is a mutual helpfulness that the law of Christ enjoins. But how is that possible in the Church of England to-day? I answer, it is still possible if Christian men will use the parochial organisation that exists, and supply it where it is lacking. There are to-day congregations in London where the Christian society is realised as vividly as ever, where the laity recognise their responsibilities, and co-operate with the clergy in a common zeal for the benefit of the parish; and why should not this happy state of things be universal? In America it is the rule. Why should it be the exception in England? Think how the condition of each parish would improve if its improvement lay as an aspiration and a task upon the hearts of all the Christian residents; if they met regularly for counsel and co-operation, and divided amongst themselves, according to their respective gifts, the duties that the needs of the place suggested; to take but one instance: if the visitation of the poor were not the official business of official visitors, but was undertaken by Christian men and women (not even in minor orders), a few houses by each person, where they could make friends! Christian philanthropy, then, we say, is the philanthropy of a society in which every member alike has a duty and a claim. And, as a corollary to that, we must lay it down that each single and separate society of Christians must feel its unity with the whole, and not restrict its interest to its own body.

II. A second principle of Christian philanthropy is that in its love for man it never forgets the true definition of a man as a ‘child of God.’—It seeks his well-being in the highest sense. In all the causes it advocates it keeps in view its one main object, which is to make men good, and will have nothing to do with schemes which, while professing to be charitable, tend to degrade character. It does not, however, despise what might seem a merely natural philanthropy. Far from that; it seconds it to the best of its power, so far as its ends are wise, because it knows that body, and mind, and spirit are closely intertwined. It recognises that to some men God may speak through the intellect, to others through the emotions, aroused by some beauty of art or nature, and it is a root principle of Christianity to share with the unfortunate whatever we have ourselves found profitable, and what but for our help they could not enjoy. The Church of Christ looks with more than satisfaction on all efforts to improve the material condition of the poor, whether by better housing, or better wages or better conditions of labour, or better education. When public-spirited men do to-day what the Romans did in their more thorough fashion under the Antonines—build great public buildings, colleges, schools, museums, picture galleries, and so forth—the Church rejoices; but of all these more outward helps to the good life it most welcomes hospitals.

III. The third and last principle is that Christian philanthropy, in its efforts to promote whatever cause it sees to belong to the Kingdom of Christ, grudges no cost.—The principle, of course, is that all Christians are brethren, members of the one family of Christ, and brethren do not lay stress on mine and thine in the hour of need. They hold all that they have in trust for the family cause, the family honour, the family enterprises. If the need is clear, the only question is one of method.

—Canon H. C. Beeching.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/john-13.html. 1876.

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