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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 15



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Verse 4


‘Abide in Me, and I in you.’

John 15:4

‘Abide in Me’—these words sum up all Christian life; ‘I in you’ sum up all the promises of the Lord to the Christian.

I. To abide in Christ—what does it mean? It means—

(a) To cherish in mind the constant recollection of the Lord Jesus.

(b) To study His teaching.

(c) To live by His example.

(d) To be full of frequent prayer to Him.

The one great aim of the Christian must be to please his Lord.

II. Christ’s Presence—how is it manifested; It is seen—

(a) In the growth of the conscious leading on, of the strengthening of the will to resist temptation.

(b) In the diffusion of His love in the heart leading on to a more complete surrender.

The Lord is rich in mercy towards all who abide in Him.

Archbishop Temple.


‘Those who are in Christ are bound to serve God with their whole being; with their intellect no less than with their heart and their strength and their substance. They are distinguished from others, not by any difference in the strenuousness of their labours, but by their motive and their aim. For them all that falls within human observation is a potential parable of spiritual realities, through which a fresh vision may be gained of the glory of God. They will be the keenest of men to watch for the dawn of new ideas. For them there can be no despondency and no indifference. They bring to the Lord the firstfruits of all that He has lent to them, and commit their gains to His keeping.’

Verse 5


‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’

John 15:5

These are the words of our Lord Himself about Himself. They might be more accurately translated thus—‘Apart from Me ye can do nothing’—the idea being not merely that the help of Jesus is required in order that we may have spiritual life and bear ‘fruit’ to the praise and glory of God, but that we cannot even possess spiritual life at all unless we are united to Him as the branch is united to the tree.

I. No fruit without life.—In the natural world we see this at once. You have a dead tree in your garden; and you know perfectly well that no amount of careful pruning, no application of water or of manure to its roots, will enable it to bear fruit. What it wants is life, and that the Creator alone can give. So with the human being. The Scripture compares him to a plant, and as a plant he must be alive before you can expect to get anything from him that God will be pleased with, and will consent to accept. What can come from a soul ‘dead in trespasses and sin’?

II. There can be no life apart from Christ.—Perhaps this statement requires a little explanation. We are not speaking here about the life of the body, or of the mind and feelings—life, which all persons, good and bad, possess; but of a special thing—a thing by which we become acquainted with God, and know, and love, and serve Him. This particular kind of life is a Divine gift, and it is the beginning or germ of ‘life eternal’; and in order to be possessed of it we must be possessed of Christ Himself. See 1 John 5:12—He that hath the Son.’ Hath Christ as an inward treasure—as an inmate dwelling in the secret recesses of the soul. Hath Christ as His prophet to teach him. His Priest to atone for and to bless him. His King to rule and direct him. Hath Christ as his ‘portion’ (Psalms 119:57). He and he alone hath the life which is ‘life indeed.’ Such a one is united with Christ, and by virtue of this union obtains the blessing we speak of.

III. No union with Christ without faith.—This fact is abundantly testified to in Holy Scripture, especially in the Gospel of John. There everything is represented as hanging upon faith. Without faith the human soul stands aloof from Christ.

Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.


‘The marginal reading gives our Lord’s meaning more completely: “Severed from Me, separate from Me, you have no strength, and can do nothing. You are as lifeless as a branch cut off from the parent stem.” We must always take care that we do not misapply and misinterpret this text. Nothing is more common than to hear some ignorant Christians quoting it partially as an excuse for indolence and neglect of means of grace. “You know we can do nothing,” is the cry of such people. This is dragging out of the text a lesson it was never meant to teach. He that spoke these words to His eleven chosen Apostles is the same Lord Who said to all men who would be saved: “Strive to enter in”;—“Labour for the meat which endureth to everlasting life”;—“Repent and believe” (Luke 13:24; John 6:27; Mark 1:15).’

Verse 11


‘These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’

John 15:11

In the chapter from which our text is taken we see that one result of God becoming Man is that man may be united to God. Observe the close identity of Christ with the believer and the believer with Christ—‘that My joy might remain in you.’ The joy of which the Saviour spoke was like the echo of the joy of heaven, and He wished it to remain with His disciples.

Let me indicate two or three elements of this joy which the Saviour willed, as His last boon, to give to His disciples.

I. Christian joy is grateful.—The first of them shall be that Christian joy is ever grateful. Nothing is more striking, I had almost said more saddening, than to see how the children of the world enjoy themselves in their dissipations, and never once stay to inquire by Whom it is, or for what purpose, that so much happiness is vouchsafed to them; but in the Bible it is ever gratitude which appears as a mark of the Christian character. ‘Be ye thankful.’ ‘In everything give thanks.’ ‘Would you know,’ says William Law, the author of The Serious Call, ‘who is the greatest saint? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice. He it is who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness, and has a heart always to praise God for it.’

II. Christian joy is diffusive.—Again, Christian joy—sanctified joy—is and must ever be diffusive. The Saviour Himself would not keep His joy to Himself. ‘That My joy,’ He says, ‘might remain in you.’ The Christian character is like the candle that sheds light around it, even though it be wasted in the shedding. You will not dispute that this present age more than any other has need of such diffusive joy, for the circumstances of modern life no doubt tend to broaden and deepen the gulf between the classes of society, and it is not in the power of legislation to bridge that gulf, for it is in the main a matter of feeling and habit; but when we look for the unifying agencies that influence society we find them above all in those persons like the doctors or the clergy, or the sisters of mercy, or the nurses, who give not their time only or their thought, but themselves to the poor. Yes, and we find them, too, in the disinterested ministry among cultivated gentlemen and ladies who now spend some part—it may be not a small part—of their leisure in serving their poorer brethren.

III. Christian joy is solemnising.—Once again, Christian sanctified joy is a solemnising thing. We are apt to think of joy as if it were something to be used in mere wanton merriment, but in truth as there is nothing to the devout soul more humbling than success, so there is nothing more solemnising than joy. ‘Take my word,’ says St. Augustine, ‘true joy is a serious matter.’ It is serious because of its contrast with the distress of the many thousands of people who are God’s children as surely as we are. If we reflect that in the great cities of this country some twenty-five or thirty per cent of the population are living without the indispensable comforts of life it is difficult, perhaps, to enjoy ourselves unreservedly. And joy, Christian joy, is serious too, because the root of it is submission to the holy will of God. We receive at His hands what we call good; shall we not also receive what we call evil? After all, He Who knows best will give the best. And the joy is serious, I think, because of its proximity to that sorrow which, like joy itself, perhaps even more than joy itself, is an abiding feature of human life. But in the sorrows and bereavements of life we are not as those who have no hope. And ever for the Christian soul there springs up light in the darkness. His joy is eternal, as Christ Himself is eternal. It transcends even the sorrow of the grave.

—Bishop Welldon.


‘Towards the close of Bishop Westcott’s last illness, when his strength was failing, he asked for the day’s Psalms to be read to him. “At first the Bishop tried to say the alternate verses, but this was more than he could do, so he listened, and joined in the Gloria. When this reading was finished, the Bishop, after thanking his daughters, very lovingly, added, ‘All I can do is a little bit of praise. Just a little bit of praise.’” They were almost the last words, the last effort of his life—“Just a little bit of praise.” His joy was full.’

Verse 15


‘Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’

John 15:15

He calls us not ‘servants,’ but ‘friends.’ Now, upon this many things must follow. We would name but three.

I. It involves a prayerful study of the Word of God.—‘All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you’ is a definition of the Bible which should make us realise its depth and length. It is only as we ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ its truths, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, as plainly promised as He is necessary, that we enter into the mind of the Lord. He ‘searcheth,’ let us search with Him, ‘the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10).

II. It involves comfort in the manifold trials and circumstances of life.—It would be untrue to say that in all these we see exactly and plainly the why and the wherefore. We are called sometimes ‘to walk in the dark.’ ‘We walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5:7). But He Who has permitted us to know His great purposes of love and mercy in a thousand other things, may well call on us to ‘know’ that the same love and the same mercy underlie ‘the things not seen.’

III. ‘He that hath friends must show himself friendly’ (Proverbs 18:24).—These whom their Lord was ‘henceforth’ to call His friends, a few hours later, ‘all forsook Him and fled.’ One of them, with oaths and curses, denied that he knew Him at all, and, ‘sitting in the seat of the scornful,’ looked on while his ‘Friend’ was abused and ill-treated. Are not we oftentimes verily guilty concerning our Friend? Let the love of Christ henceforth be more a constraining power in our lives.

—Prebendary W. E. Burroughs.


‘One grey winter’s afternoon two men were walking across a Scotch moor, with the eight-year-old daughter of one of them. The child was the close friend and constant companion of her father. Whenever it was possible she shared his rambles, entering with child-like zest into his interests and pursuits. Their path that day led towards a pine forest of considerable dimensions. Its recesses were sombre and cool even in the brightest summer’s day. Now they were cold and dark, and the wintry wind sighed through the branches. One, the stranger, felt instinctively the influence of the gloom which they were about to penetrate, and when they had proceeded some yards along the forest path he said to the child, now quite invisible by her father’s side, “Marjorie, are you not afraid in this great, dark wood?” Quick and clear and steady came the reply, “Oh no, I am not afraid. Father knows the way; and he has got my hand.” Did the pressure of each hand, the child’s and the man’s, tighten at those words, “He knows the way”? Often before had he led her along paths she knew not, but always led her right, always led her home. Scores of times had they walked and talked, heart to heart as well as hand-in-hand, and she could trust him now. She held him and he held her; and at last, unfearing, the child was brought from the gloom of the dark, dark path to the warmth and brightness and love of home.’

Verse 26-27


‘He shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness.’

John 15:26-27

There seem to be three points noticeable in this passage.

I. The Comforter is coming.—Who is He? A Divine person proceeding from the Father, Who is the fountain of the Godhead: ‘procession’ referring both to being and to office. What are His titles? ‘Comforter’ and ‘Spirit of Truth.’ What does He do? He testifies of Christ. Who sends Him? The ascended Saviour. He is the Saviour’s great gift to man.

II. His testifying turns the disciples into witnesses.—The Spirit witnesses for Christ in and by the disciples. This is a point of some practical importance in its application to ourselves. It is well to be in possession of the truth; it is better that the truth should possess us, so that we shall not be able to refrain from speaking what we have seen and heard. Ay, but there’s the difficulty! ‘What we have seen and heard.’ The Apostles could easily use such language. Can we? Yes! and we must do so if we are to be witnesses for Christ. We must have an evidence of reality equivalent to that enjoyed by the first disciples. And Who is it that makes Christ real to us? makes Him an abiding presence? transforming the objects of faith from abstractions into living entities? in fact, strengthens us to live the life we live in the flesh as a life of faith in the Son of God? The Holy Ghost. He, and He alone. The world says to the Christian (and the demand is not altogether an unreasonable one), ‘Be Christ to us. So live that we may see in you what your Master is.’ It is the Holy Ghost Who enables us to comply with the demand.

III. This witness-bearing is not a smooth task.—The early Christians had to hold themselves ready for excommunication, for loss of goods, even for loss of life. The Lord gives them notice of this beforehand. With ourselves the circumstances are not so trying. Yet the faithful witness-bearer will have something to encounter, something to suffer for Christ in proportion to his faithfulness; and he must be prepared for it. It is nothing surprising. The world does such things because it knows not the Father nor Christ.


‘Through all the centuries the most convincing witness to the truth of Christ has been in the lives of individual saints, and in their effect upon human society. Perhaps the greatest revival which the Church has ever known, the Franciscan movement in the thirteenth century, was brought about purely by the witness of the simple Gospel life led by Francis of Assisi and his brothers and sisters. Bishop Creighton was of opinion that St. Francis by his life (far more than by his words) had worked a greater revolution in Europe than had ever been brought about by war or diplomacy. “All that was best in humanity awoke to follow in his footsteps,” is the comment of his latest biographer.’



If our life is built upon Jesus Christ as our ‘Head corner-stone,’ then we cannot help witnessing for Him.

I. Jesus is here, and we know what He thinks, and what He does, and what He would have us do.—He would have those who are building upon Him bear witness that He is their ‘Head corner-stone,’ the foundation of all their hopes for life and for eternity. What was it that distinguished all the great characters of Christian history—St. Simon, St. Jude, and all apostles and prophets? It was their determination in their day and generation to witness for Jesus Christ. It was their business to do so, and they had no other business.

II. What are we to testify of Jesus?—That He is the Son of God. Nothing short of that. Then why do you not do it? Is it too high an ambition? Do you say, It is impossible for me? It is not impossible for you. But, you say, I am not a man of speech; I have no words. God does not want only men of words! We have too many men of words. God wants men of deeds, of thought, of intellect, of heart. Whatever gift of grace you may possess it is not too humble to dedicate to the service of God. Have you ever tried doing it? We so often spend our time in vain regrets at the impossible. We say if we only had so-and-so, then we should be able to serve Christ. If we only had this or that, or could go here or there, then, indeed, we would serve Him. But if you cannot serve Christ where you are, you will not serve Him anywhere else. Jesus calls us to bear witness to Him just where we are.

III. God’s witnesses are most varied.—God wants witnesses of all ages and of all gifts. You may be tempted to say, I am not worthy to be one of God’s witnesses; but if we waited till we were worthy, I am afraid that God would not have many witnesses. God will make you worthy; He will perfect you—aye, even by your own witnessing, for he is no witness who is not a witness to himself. He who tries to lead men must lead himself. Then some of us say, This ministry is too exacting, too trying. Others will say, I am afraid to put my hand to the plough, lest I turn back. Well, God does not want half-hearted witnesses. He wants men and women who are able to make up their minds. What would life be if before you entered its responsibilities you were always hesitating in a state of fear that you would change your mind and turn back. In the great responsibilities of life men and women have to make up their minds, and they have to try to be faithful when their minds are made up. God wants men and women who have made up their minds—who have said: ‘I will serve God by the gifts which God has given men—gifts of speech, gifts of action, gifts of love, gifts of kindness—whatever my gift may be. By it I am become a minister of God, and God by my own ministry shall perfect me.’

—Rev. J. Stephen Barrass.


‘Many may say—many here are saying now—“I have so little power; so little time; so few and fleeting opportunities—that the little I can bring would make no difference to the final result.” But, my friends, in such questions as these there is no consideration of great and little. What God requires of us is simply what we have to offer—what we are. He requires no more, but He requires no less. And we are very poor judges in spiritual things of what is great and what is little. Our joy is to remember that God has tempered the whole body together, and it may be that its efficiency, its life, depends upon the right action of some part which we can hardly discern. We know by our own experience that vigour and strength come in living things, from the harmonious combination of many small forces. So too it is in that greatest of all living bodies—the Church—which is the Body of Christ.’

Verse 27


‘And ye also shall hear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.’

John 15:27

Here we see for what our Lord has been preparing His Apostles all along during His ministry. They have been with Him from the beginning, very close to Him. They have been learning of Him; they have been initiated into the Divine mystery; they have been gradually educated to see who He is. They have been led to put their trust in Him in a way that they could not have put their trust in a merely human being. They are convinced that He is the Christ, the Messiah. They are sure that He has the words of eternal life. They believe in Him absolutely.

As with the first witnesses so with us, and we may say even more with us, it is necessary that there should be certain qualifications if the testimony is to be effective.

I. The witness must know the truth to which he witnesses.—He must have been with the Lord. In the beginning it was essential that an apostle should have seen the Lord. We have not seen Him with our bodily eyes, but to be good witnesses we must have seen Him by faith.

II. He must show the truth of what he says in his life.—If the Apostles had merely preached Christ, and had not shown by their lives that He was to them what they asserted that He was, they could never have borne a successful witness.

III. He must have a conscious realisation of the Presence of Christ.—We tell others of Christ by our words and by our lives, but we are not merely relying on a past fact. The fact itself to which we witness is in us, and with us. Christ, the living Christ, is speaking in us. Believe this and act as if it were true, which it is. How much more powerful could our witness be? Instead of saying, ‘What would Jesus do if He were here?’ say, ‘What is Jesus doing now in me, and in the Church?’ ‘What might He not do if we were not preventing His spirit from working by our foolishness and our sin?’ It is not Christ that fails, not Christianity, but Christians.

—Rev. the Hon. J. Adderley.


(1) ‘There was a holy man who lived not long ago who said he thought he could say that he knew Christ better than any earthly friend. Perhaps we should hardly dare to speak thus, but we might all know Him very much better than we do. Many of us know characters in history, and even in fiction, almost as if we had met them face to face. At least, we Christians should know Christ as well as that. Yet how little some of us know of the words of Christ, how little we have thought out what His teaching involves in ordinary practice.’

(2) ‘We cannot be Christians in fragments. Christianity finds expression in a Christian life, and not simply in Christian acts. There is an infinite difference between failure and acquiescence in failure. It is not humility, but indolence, which accepts a low standard. If we deliberately live below our calling, it is sin. We shrink instinctively from hypocrisy: but it is no less hypocrisy to dissemble the good desires by which we are possessed, than to affect devotion which we do not feel. Our Faith—we must dare to say it, with whatever shame it may be—lays upon us great obligations and offers great resources. The Lord says to us, if we are His disciples, “Ye are the light of the world; ye are the salt of the earth.” Such a commission constrains us to inquire importunately, till our souls return some answer, What have we done, what are we doing, to bring home to men the Gospel of the risen Christ, by which things transitory and corruptible are invested with an eternal glory?’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 15:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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