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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

John 5



Other Authors
Verse 4


‘For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.’

John 5:4

The graphic story of the pool of Bethesda, which is related by no other evangelist than John, is remarkable and instructive in a very high degree.

We may notice one or two great features.

I. The first is the emphasis laid on the personal element in social or charitable work.—The healing is not to be effected by any mechanical means. There must be personal effort. The absolute need of personal effort, and the evil of charitable work without it, may be seen very clearly on a small scale in the case of indiscriminate almsgiving. Benevolent people, who will not hurt their own feelings by refusing the poor man in the street, and who give money without any effort of personal inquiry into the case before them, are guilty of just this mistake. They are using mechanical means. They are not as the angel that troubles the water.

II. In all kinds of social work it is not money that is most needed. What we want is not money, but men.—Money, which is of little real use in any department of life, is of little real use here. It will not, it cannot, take the place of that humanity and sympathy by which alone men are helped to walk steadily and be strong.

III. But, again, another side of the same truth appears in this passage. It is the need of concentration in social work. Here, we are told, is a great multitude of sufferers, yet to one, only one, the first who can step down, is the compassion of our Lord extended.

IV. ‘The troubling of the waters!’ How eloquent the words become as we lift our eyes and look out on the social condition of the people.—There they lie, the stagnant waters. What are we doing, as Christian men and women, to stir them for the healing of the nations? There they lie, here dead and motionless, there just rippled by the breath of aspiration. What are we doing to make that breath blow strong on them? Each of us, whatever his place and position, has some at least within his reach with fewer of God’s gifts than he; some soul to which he might bring help and strength, whose wounds he might bind up, whose pain he might ease.

—Rev. Canon Alexander.

Verse 14


‘Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.’

John 5:14

The pardon of sin is a part—a very important part—of the expulsion of sin. The power of sin is not gone because the sin is forgiven. On the contrary, it will continue to exist and trouble us long after we have had, and been quite conscious that we have had, forgiveness from the guilt of sin—up to a certain period, when that sin shall be destroyed.

I. Pardon leads to conquest.—The pardon of sin goes a great way to the conquest of sin; and we shall never do battle with sin very effectually until we have been, and feel that we have been, forgiven. Among other reasons for this I will mention three.

(a) The condemnation of sin cannot go without something of the sin going too.

(b) The man who has tasted the peace of God’s forgiveness is in a much better condition to encounter and overcome the corruptions of his own heart.

(c) A spring of action is set at work in the heart with which nothing else can compare.

II. Concerning the pardon of sin.

(a) From the confession of sin, it is a very short way—if it be any way at all—to the forgiveness of sin.

(b) Go, and sin no more. It is a means to a further end. The pardon, the liberty, the peace, is only the date of new holiness. Be of good courage, attack the very strongholds of your besetting sin, fight to death. ‘Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more.’

Verse 19


‘Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verliy, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.’

John 5:19

This text forms a characteristic saying in the passage in which our Saviour justifies His action in healing the impotent man on a Sabbath Day. He had said to the Jews, ‘My Father worketh hitherto and I work.’ But upon this the ‘Jews sought the more to kill Him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.’ Then Jesus replied to them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do; for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.’ As an answer to their objection, the force of this statement is that His claim of equality with God was not a proud claim to act independently, or to disregard any ordinance of God, such as the Sabbath Day. On the contrary, by virtue of the very fact that God was His Father, He could not but act in strict accordance with His Father’s will, as He insists further on—‘I can of Mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and My judgment is just; because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father Which hath sent Me.’ The Jews thought He was claiming a position superior to the will of God as declared in their law. He reiterated, on the contrary, that He had no other object but to do that will, and that He not only did nothing else, but could do nothing else. In all that He did He was but interpreting the will of God as declared in their ancient Scriptures, and in the light of the complete understanding of that will which was bestowed upon Him as the Son of the Father.

The acts and words of our Lord on this occasion offer, in fact, a conspicuous revelation, first of the eternal order in the Divine nature itself, and then in the constitution of heaven and earth, and more particularly of human society, which depend upon that nature.

I. It reveals within the Godhead a Father and a Son, and exhibits to us the method of the Divine dispensation as consisting in the execution by the Son of the will of the Father.

II. But these considerations reveal one principle in particular upon which our Lord appears to lay the greatest stress.—That principle is that the highest and most perfect life which is possible for any one, with the sole exception of the Father of all, is a life of subordination and obedience. If the law of our Lord’s own life be that the Son can do nothing of Himself but that which He seeth the Father do; if He can say of Himself, ‘I can of Mine own self do nothing: I seek not My own will, but the will of My Father Which hath sent Me,’ what other ideal of life can we presume to follow but that of simple submission and service?

III. Such is the spirit in which, if we would claim the best privileges of our Christian faith, we should ever seek to live; this is the only spirit in which we can succeed in avoiding the sin of pride. We live at the present day amidst influences which tend grievously to obscure this truth; the air is full of loud voices claiming freedom in political, social, and even family life, and it is claimed as the greatest privilege of reason to be free; while, at the same time, there are strong influences at work to shake our assurance that we possess the revelation of the Divine will, to which we are called upon to yield allegiance. We have need to be reminded that the highest glory of reason is not to be free, but, in the words of the great founder of modern philosophy, to be a servant, to be the ‘minister and interpreter’ of Nature; and that the highest liberty of man consists in willing service to his true Lord and Master, to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and through Him to the Father of all.

—Dean Wace.


‘Though the Christian is thus free from all works, yet he ought to empty himself of this liberty, take on him the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in fashion as a man, serve, help, and in every way act towards his neighbour as he sees God, through Christ, has acted and is acting, towards him. All this he should do freely, and with regard to nothing but the good pleasure of God, and he should reason thus: Lo, my God, without merit on my part, of His pure and free mercy, has given to me, an unworthy, condemned, and contemptible creature, all the riches of justification and salvation in Christ, so that I no longer am in want of anything, except of faith to believe that this is so. For such a Father, then, who has overwhelmed me with these inestimable riches of His, how can I do otherwise than freely, cheerfully, and with my whole heart, and from voluntary zeal, do all that I know will be pleasing to Him, and acceptable in His sight? I will therefore give myself, as a sort of Christ, to my neighbour, as Christ has given Himself to me, and will do nothing in this life but what I see will be needful, advantageous, or wholesome to my neighbour, since by faith I abound in all things in Christ.’

Verse 28-29


‘Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’

John 5:28-29

Our Blessed Lord had just been speaking of the change from a life of sin to a life of holiness through faith in Him, as a passing out of death into life. It is a truth which runs through all the teaching of our Lord and His Apostles, that those are dead in the sight of God who are living in sin. They are spoken of as ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ It is not only that those who are living in sin are under sentence of eternal death so long as they do not truly repent; it is not only that when they have done their work for that hard and deceitful master—sin—they will get eternal death for their wages. But they are dead already: alive to the things of this world, but dead to the things of the world to come; dead to all that is good and heavenly, caring no more for spiritual things, such as prayer, worship, the Bible, Sacraments, and all that has to do with God and Christ and heaven, than a dead body cares for the things of this world. Awfully true of too many are those words which our Blessed Lord addressed to the Church in Sardis, ‘I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.’

I. It is such dead people as these that our Lord meant when He said, ‘The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.’ The voice of Jesus, heard, listened to, and obeyed, had power then, and has power now, to awaken souls from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. So He said again, ‘He that heareth My Word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.’ Blessed are they who hear the voice of Jesus calling to them—‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.’ The change that takes place in a man who is awakened by that voice, and turns from a life of sin to a life of righteousness, is nothing less than passing out of death into life. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” It is like Lazarus coming forth at the call of Jesus from the tomb, where he had lain bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and then loosed and let go.

II. The resurrection of the body.—So, when our Blessed Lord had spoken of that wonder which was even then taking place, and should continue to take place—the passing of souls out of spiritual death into spiritual life through faith in Him, He goes on to speak of the resurrection of the body. ‘Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ ‘All that are in the graves shall hear His voice.’ Wonderful! Those bodies that have long since become a mere handful of dust, those dry bones that have long since lost their clothing of flesh, they shall all come forth at His voice, once more living bodies, some to the resurrection of life, some to the resurrection of damnation. Go and stand in the churchyard in some quiet hour, and try to picture to yourself that wonderful resurrection scene. How still the place is! It is God’s acre, all sown with human bodies. There lie the people who dwelt in the houses and farms and cottages which you inhabit now—who tilled the same fields which you till, and went about the same daily tasks and employments which you are busied with day by day, and met together in the same church in which we are gathered now. Some of them you remember well, some of them were parents, brothers, sisters, children, friends, neighbours, of you who are living now. Some lived and died and were laid there long before the oldest of you were born. Some did good and some did evil and never repented of the evil, but died as they had lived, in their sins. Good and bad, penitent and impenitent, all lie side by side in those quiet graves, and it seems as if there was now no difference between them and all had fared alike. If you read the inscriptions on the grave-stones, you would wonder, as a child once did, where they buried all the wicked people. Ah, well, it is not for us to judge the departed. We must leave that to God Who alone knows the hearts of men. Christian charity bids us hope the best we can, even of those who may have seemed to us unchanged from evil to the last. So our beautiful funeral service is full of hope. We pray that when we shall depart this life, we may rest in Jesus, as our hope is this our brother or sister doth. It may be a very bright and confident hope, it may be in some sad cases a very faint hope; we may not judge, we are not forbidden to hope. It is true that in one part of the service the hope seems to many people too confident. Take the case of a man who has died without giving any sign of true repentance, of a changed heart; who perhaps has used bad language even on his death-bed, or been suddenly cut off in his sins—can it be right, some people ask, to commit that man’s body to the ground with such words of hope as these?—‘Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ But these words are very much misunderstood. It is not, ‘in sure and certain hope of his resurrection to eternal life.’ There is no sure and certain hope expressed in the case of the particular person whose body is then being committed to the ground. The words merely declare that we, as Christians, look forward with sure and certain hope to the resurrection to eternal life. In that faith and hope we commit to the ground the bodies of those who, having been baptized, were, at least in outward profession, Christians. There is no sure and certain hope expressed that each person so buried will have his or her part in that resurrection to eternal life. That we must leave to God. We know from our Saviour’s words that there is a resurrection to damnation as well as a resurrection to eternal life. And there are sad cases in which, while we have a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life for all true Christians, we must have a dreadful fear that their resurrection will be only to judgment and damnation.

III. And what of ourselves?—We have all, as Christians, a sure and certain hope that there will be a resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. But what sort of hope have we that we shall have a share in it, and that we shall be delivered from that terrible resurrection to damnation? For we must die, and our spirits return to God Who gave them; and our bodies must be laid in the grave, until that great resurrection day. Let us not deceive ourselves with vain and groundless hopes in such a matter as this. A mistake here can never be set right. We cannot expect to lead a life of sin and afterwards rise to a life of glory. We cannot live without God here, and die with a sure and certain hope of a resurrection to be with God for evermore. We cannot shut our ears and hearts against the voice of the Son of God now, and lie down in the hope of hearing His voice calling us to come forth to the resurrection of life in that day. No; if we would live and die in the blessed and comforting hope of that resurrection, we must hear His voice now, and open our hearts to Him Who is calling us to arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. We must believe in Him with such a faith as will make us dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We can have eternal life now. It is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

—Prebendary J. E. Vernon.


‘There is no more fatal mistake than that which people make who go on in sin, thinking that there is plenty of time, and that they can leave off their sins and live a Christian life when they choose. They cannot. Sin is an awful power. It holds the soul that has given way to it with a grip as firm as that of death. A man who has lived for some time in the habit of yielding to sin, cannot break loose from it just when he chooses. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Take care, then, of the first step in a downward course. Do not say to yourself, I will not go too far, I can stop when I choose. A man might just as well plunge into a rapid river, saying that he meant to come out as soon as he felt the current bearing him away, or go upon ice marked “dangerous,” intending to come off when he felt it breaking beneath him. Once let yourself fall under the power of sin, and you can no more get free when you choose than a corpse can raise itself from the grave. It is a miracle of Divine grace when a sinner turns from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. He cannot do it by his own will. True conversion after a certain age is rare, and when it does take place, it is like life from the dead. It is, indeed, a greater miracle than a resurrection from the dead: for they that are in the graves must come forth when they hear the voice of the Son of God; but those that are dead in sin have the dreadful power of refusing to hear His voice calling them from the death of sin to the life of righteousness.’

Verse 39


‘They are they which testify of Me.’

John 5:39

By the devotional study of Scripture I understand such a study, or rather, I may say, such ‘a use’ of God’s Word as shall help us in the secrets of our intercourse with God, and raise us in faith and hope above the world. The practical study guides us in the world, the devotional lifts us above it. The practical shows us how we ought to act, the devotional helps us to pray. Now the Scriptures are full of passages which may be termed the stepping-stones of prayer; and in considering how they ought to be studied or used, we must not forget the true character of a devotional spirit. Devotion does not argue; prayer does not define.

I. A great deal of Scripture may be made by God’s great grace of much value to us for devotional purposes, even though it is not correctly, or theologically, understood. Of course it is an immense advantage to us when it is thus accurately understood; but still, as a matter of fact, I believe that many devoted persons are greatly helped by an application of Scripture which cannot bear the test of criticism. This applies to multitudes of the texts, and portions of texts, that abound in almanacs and daily text-books. As far as the real acquaintance with Scripture is concerned, nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the system of detaching a few words from all their surroundings, so that no one can know what the context has to do with them, or they with the context. That is not the way to learn the real teaching of God in His own inspired Word, and such a mode of treating Scripture opens the way for every conceivable heresy. But still we must admit the fact, that these detached sentences are sometimes a real help for devotional purposes. The impression produced by them is in harmony with Scripture, and that impression may be valuable, though we cannot be satisfied with the manner in which it is produced. The great object in devotion is to pray rather than to examine, to trust rather than to investigate.

II. In this somewhat free use of Scripture for devotional purposes, we have the warrant of Scripture itself.—The accurate student of Scripture would be perfectly right in saying that the words spoken to Joshua (Joshua 1:5), ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee,’ applied to him as the successor of Moses and leader of Israel, and to him alone. But yet in Hebrews 13:5 they are employed to teach us contentment, ‘Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.’ The fact is, that devotion is the action of the heart rather than of the intellect, and a holy impression may be produced even when there is not an accurate exposition. We may therefore accept the impression with thankfulness, provided it is in harmony with other Scripture, without stopping to investigate with an accurate examination the real bearing of the words producing it. There are persons who are very poor expositors, but still are walking very closely with God.


‘For example, I remember the case of a father in great anxiety about the want of stability in his son, when these words, “God is able to make him stand,” were brought home to his heart like a message from God, and he was enabled with a thankful spirit to kneel down and pray in faith. The words suggested a true principle which might have been easily proved elsewhere in Scripture, and that principle was employed to strengthen his faith. It would have been a cruel thing to go to that man and say, “Refer to the context, and you will find that you have mistaken the true meaning of the text.” For devotional purposes the text, though not strictly applied, was to him a message from God.’



In the doctrinal study of Scripture, there are three things necessary—

I. We must be accurate.—We must not be guided by mere sound, nor must we raise a fabric on accommodated texts; but we must endeavour by the Holy Spirit’s teaching carefully to ascertain what it is that He intended to teach us in the inspired Word. We must not be guided by impression or emotion, but by intelligent conviction. If once we admit inaccuracy in what I may term our proof texts, our whole structure will be without foundation.

II. We must be comprehensive.—Our object is to learn the whole counsel of God, and, in order to do so, we must study the whole Word of God. I observe, that, as a general rule, the teachers of error are very limited in the range of their studies. They fasten on one or two detached sentences, and are continually appealing to them without any reference either to the proportions or the harmony of truth. For example, the text, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” has been quoted over and over again to prove the believer’s uniform victory over sin, though in the context it has nothing to do with the subject, without any reference to the whole catena of passages which prove the perpetuity of conflict in the child of God. But it must not be so with the witness for truth. He must seek for the whole testimony of the Word of God. He must not pick out a few detached expressions, and cut them out from their context; but, comparing Scripture with Scripture, yield his mind to the teaching of the whole. For example, if we want to study the doctrine of justification by faith, it is not sufficient that we pick out a few texts, however clear these texts may be. We should rather get up the whole of the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, study the arguments as well as the words, and so learn the mind of the Spirit as systematically taught in those great Epistles, especially inspired for the purpose. But we must take a wider range than even whole Epistles. I believe there is no mode of learning the teaching of Scripture on any doctrine so effective as to go rapidly through the whole of the New Testament with that one doctrine in view, carefully noting every passage that bears upon it. By this means you not only learn the doctrine itself, but you learn also its proportionate place in the Word of God and its Scriptural connection with other truths.

III. We must give attendance to reading.—How is it to be explained that many of those persons who are most eager to hear and to teach seem to regard it as a matter of principle not to read? They will flock by the hundred to hear any strange teacher, but if you give them a book of good old solid divinity, they tell you they read nothing but their Bibles. But what can be more unwise, or less likely to lead to the knowledge of the truth? How are we to investigate the testimony of Scripture respecting any doctrine if we do not choose to learn by careful reading what that doctrine is? How, e.g., are you to investigate from Scripture the doctrine of indwelling sin in the regenerate, if you do not know either what is taught, or what is denied? And how are you to know it if you will not read? But, more than that, can anything be more unwise than that we should ignore the labours of those who have gone before us? These doctrines are the result of the careful study, and matured experience, of a long line of the most devoted students of Scripture, and it is really too absurd that each young person when first awakened should set out, without knowledge of either truth or error, to investigate everything without assistance, as if he was the first to discover the narrow way. The wise man will thankfully accept and avail himself of the experience of the wise and the holy who have trod the same path before him. He will not despise their warnings when they caution him against the starting-points of error, nor will he undervalue their help when they supply him with well-considered definitions of truth.

Rev. Canon E. Hoare.



You will remember that our Lord said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets; you that are afraid of it, be not afraid; you that are hopeful that I am going to destroy the Law and the Prophets, cease to hope it; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil.’ That is an immense statement; it involves for Himself a claim of the most lofty and far-reaching kind. What manner of man is this that claims to take in hand the mighty oracles of God and lead them to this issue of consummation, and write upon them Finis; what manner of man is this? On the other hand, while the words involve tremendous claim to personal authority, observe the stamp they put upon the Scriptures themselves. Not to destroy but to fulfil.

I. Christ fulfilled the Scriptures in that He interpreted them down to the heart, down to the core and centre of them in place of the worthless, foolish, traditional comments of the Rabbis; He opened up to its very seat and centre this great body of revealed truth, and interpreted, gave the great abiding canons by which that Law and those Prophets are to be understood. ‘I am come to fulfil.’

II. He fulfilled in Person, in His own holy life, in His perfect obedience, He gave that, He was that for which the Law and the Prophets had yearned century after century. They had been demanding righteousness, and they had never seen it; they had been asking for a perfect man, and they had never beheld him; they had said age after age, ‘Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not,’ and the world had broken both precepts, hourly, moment by moment; and at last in the Person of Jesus Christ the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled, the ideal is the actual, that which is demanded is furnished. I have fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

III. He has fulfilled them in accomplishing that towards which they had moved, for which they had prepared, of which their earlier Scriptures had furnished the types and the hints and the approaches and the preparations. The great mediatorial office of Christ, the reconciliation of God and man in His own Person through the transcendent mystery of His Death and Resurrection, that is the central and supreme fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Henceforth the altars, the priests, the victims, the temples of the ancient day, they are not destroyed—let us discriminate—they are not destroyed, they are fulfilled. And we have our Priest, our Sacrifice, our Temple, our Day of Atonement, our reconciliation to God; we have it in Jesus Christ. ‘I am come to fulfil.’


(1) ‘Out of the sacrificial idea which a thousand years of Law and Prophets nourished, cherished, conserved, carried through the wilderness centuries till the hour and the Man should have arrived, we find that that sacrificial idea, interpreted and consummated in Jesus Christ, is the joy, and strength, and glory, and defence of Christendom and of Christians to-day. And we go back to our Old Testament, and we can read now without embarrassment by the altars and amongst the Levites of those early days, and instead of finding the scent of blood shock and distress us, as has been said, we are touched with awe and reverence as we see in the sin offerings and the burnt offerings, and the sprinkling of blood, and the lifting up of priestly hands, and the opening of the curtains, and the ascending clouds of incense, we see in all that not the heavenly things themselves, but the types and the shadows and symbols and preparations, “God having provided some better thing for us.” “I am come not to destroy but to fulfil.” Fulfilment is not destruction.’

(2) ‘“They testify of Me,” says Jesus; take that key and you can open every lock, every door in the great house. That comparison will bear working out in detail. It would be a delight to show how, when approached by the key and interpretation that Jesus has furnished, these ancient Scriptures have, as it were, leaped forward to meet their Master. All that could well be shown; but meantime I say to you, whatever comes or goes in the sphere of learning, of Bible scholarship, criticism, and the rest, make yourself well acquainted with the attitude of Jesus Christ towards the Old Testament Scriptures, and be sure that for your moral and spiritual life and all its needs and interests, Christ is a Master and a Teacher Whom you may honour with an unreserved and ungrudging loyalty and trust.’

Verse 46


‘For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?’

John 5:46

We might almost so express the converse, ‘Had ye believed Me ye would have believed Moses,’ for our Blessed Lord quotes Moses, I think, thirty-two or thirty-three times. You see, in those days, it was the Jews who did not believe Christ; they did believe Moses. Now we have those who do believe Christ, and do not believe Moses. But, as true believers, of course, we believe Moses and believe Christ too. Moses is the beginning, Christ the end of our revelation. And on this I wish to say a few words this evening, as our Collect is about the Bible.

I. From the beginning.—Had ye believed Moses ye would have believed that our religion is the oldest and the newest. You know that Napoleon refused Christianity on the ground that it was not the oldest religion. He said that the religion of the East—Confucianism, for instance—was older than Christianity. He dated Christianity only from Pentecost, or from our Lord’s time. But for our religion we go back to the very beginning, we believe Moses, and turning over the Bible to the first chapter, we read, ‘In the beginning.’ We cannot date behind that. There is no date which lies behind the beginning; it is the very first. If you date Calvary, take care what date you give to it; it has no date. It was pre-ordained before the beginning of the world. Our religion lies back in the beginning with God, and the last word of the Bible is ‘Jesus.’—‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ And Jesus is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. The Lord Jesus belongs to the past, present, and the hereafter.

II. Development in religion.—Had ye believed Moses you would believe in the right theory of development in religious matters, for our holy religion is not a stone, immovable, cold, but it is as the plant full of life, expansion, possibilities, future. The Lord said that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a grain of mustard seed, ‘which, indeed, is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown it is the greatest among herbs.’ And, again, we are told that our religion is within us—grows out of the tender plant within the soul, and, by the Holy Ghost, is spread abroad. ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Which is given unto us.’ There is no knowing how the love of God may expand within the soul and develop. The Lord pointed out this truth when He talked with the disciples on the way to Emmaus. He spake to them things concerning Himself, but He began at the beginning; He began at Moses, and went all down till He came to Himself, and showed from Moses and the Prophets how the things that had happened to Him must be. He threw light right over the Old Testament, and showed them the true revelation.

III. The doctrine of Atonement.—Had ye believed Moses ye would have known the true doctrine of the Atonement, the saintly doctrine of Christianity, for had ye believed Moses ye would have read of the hyssop, dipped in the blood, striking the lintel and the two side posts of the house; sprinkling the horns of the altar of the sanctuary. You would have read that everything must be sprinkled with blood to be acceptable. That is the testimony from without. You wonder that you meet blood so often in the Old Testament. Look out the word blood in the Concordance, and see how often it occurs in the Old Testament. You thought Leviticus was a useless book; you have hardly read it. It is the testimony from without. Then comes the testimony from within to meet it—how that if the hands be washed with water, the heart must be washed with blood. And then, when the cry comes out of the heart, and the sigh out of the soul, and the tear from the eye, you can pronounce the word in a way that you understand—‘The Atone-ment.’ And you are led to the blood of Christ, and you say: ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ Quite white in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Christ has spoken to you better things than the blood of Abel. In the Old Testament you come to blood, the blood of vengeance, which is the blood of Abel, and that has led you on to the blood not of vengeance, but of redemption from the heart of God. Oh, if only you had believed Moses you would have been right!

IV. The unity of the Bible.—And then let me say this—if you had believed Moses you would never have cut your Bibles in two. Oh, how cruel it is to mutilate God’s Word! How cruel to cut in two the Bible! They have begun by cutting off the Old Testament, and now they want to cut off the New with the sharp knife of criticism. But do not you be persuaded into the first step to cruelly cut off the Old. ‘Had ye believed Moses ye would have believed Me.’ The two go together. It is cruel to separate them. ‘And he said unto them, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.’ And One did rise from the dead; but how can you believe it? One died for our sins, and rose again for our justification; and they that do not believe Moses do not believe that One rose from the dead. How true it all comes!

V. The inspiration of the Scriptures.—Last of all, let us who hold the true faith about the revelation of God be quite certain all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God—by God the Holy Ghost. You read the Bible by the power of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ came in the flesh, but you and I know Him no longer after the flesh; we know Him by the Spirit; we know Him in the Sacraments and in His Word; we know Him now no longer in the flesh. The Bible tells us: ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.’ We do not know God’s Word after the letter. The literalist will ever perish by the letter that killeth, and these critics are all on the letter. It is plain, ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me.’ There is the sober truth.

—Rev. A. H. Stanton.


‘All that it was necessary for Christ to ask of the Jews, for the purpose of His own mission, was that they should believe Moses; for if they believed Moses, they would believe in Himself. It deserves further consideration whether the reference of these five books to Moses necessarily involves the inference that he wrote every word of them. But it does certainly seem to involve the assumption that they are substantially the work of Moses; and still more certainly does it involve the assumption or the assertion that they are thoroughly trustworthy. Again and again our Lord refers to the books of Moses in the same spirit. “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill Me?” “Moses gave unto you circumcision (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers).” In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham is represented as saying, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them; and he said, Nay, Father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead they would repent. And He said unto them, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though One rose from the dead.” Most important, perhaps, of all is His language to His disciples after His resurrection, when He must at least be regarded as speaking with unclouded knowledge and authority. “O fools,” He exclaims, “and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself”; and again, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me. Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.”’



We have often remarked the reverence with which our Lord regarded the Old Testament.

I. Christ refers to the Old Testament on every possible occasion.—When He is tempted in the wilderness; when He is preaching in the synagogue (Luke 4), or on the mountain (Matthew 5:17); when He is teaching in the Temple or arguing with the Sadducees (Mark 12); when He is dying on the Cross (three of the ‘seven sayings’ are taken from the Book of Psalms), or walking on the Emmaus road on the afternoon of the first Easter Day, or standing in the upper chamber that same evening in His risen glory, the words of Holy Scripture (the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms) are on His lips.

II. The Apostles and the Evangelists used the Old Testament in exactly the same way, and with the same reverence as their Master before them. For example, in Acts 28:23 St. Paul persuaded the Jews ‘concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.’ In the many sermons recorded in the Acts, we find the same line of thought. I will add one more text. In Hebrews 10:15, etc., a quotation is made from Jeremiah 31; but the prophet’s name is omitted, and the words are ascribed, not to Jeremiah, but to ‘the Holy Ghost.’ Our Lord had used the same expression in Matthew 22:43 : ‘David in Spirit’—i.e. David writing in the Holy Spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And compare Acts 1:16 and Hebrews 3:5.

III. Our Lord interpreted the Old Testament for us.—He pointed to the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and the Psalms (the three divisions of the sacred Books in our Lord’s day), and He says, Moses wrote, and prophets wrote, and psalmists wrote of Him. ‘Moses wrote of Me.’ The whole Mosaic institution was more than a blaze of ritual pomp—it was grand picture-lesson of Christ. Take Christ out of the Old Testament and it is like a great organ with no breath in it. It is just this in the hands of the Jew to-day, voiceless, lifeless, because Christ is not the interpreter.

IV. Have you found Christ in the New Testament?—Do you reverence it? Can you say, ‘My heart standeth in awe of Thy word’? Do you believe it? ‘If ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?’

V. ‘My Words.’—And beautifully simple they were! He said He was the Shepherd, and they that believe on Him were the sheep; He said He was the Vine, and they that believe on Him were the branches; He said He was the Light, and they that believe in Him should not abide in darkness; He said He was the Life, and they that believe in Him should never die; He said He was the Master, and they that served Him on earth should be for ever with Him where He is. And these promises of His, which brought tears to so many eyes, have been echoing all down the ages! But He spoke of judgment as well as mercy. He said that those who would not believe in Him should die in their sins, that they should be cast out into outer darkness, that they should go away into everlasting punishment. And these awful threatenings have been echoing down the ages too!

Let us not think we can put these ‘words’ away from us: ‘He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not My words, hath One that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day’ (John 12:48).

—Rev. F. Harper.


‘The most solemn of all Christ’s attestations to this truth consisted, perhaps, in His own familiar use of it, especially in the great crisis of His life. As in the Temptation He rested His resistance to the tempter on passages in the Book of Deuteronomy, so He went to the Cross itself in obedience to the Scriptures, saying, “How then shall the scriptures he fulfilled, that thus it must be?” and He breathed out His spirit in the language of the Psalms. In an admirable little book by a Lord Chancellor, the late Lord Hatherley, the passages are carefully collected in which our Lord and the other writers of the New Testament refer to the Old; and it is most striking to see how our Lord refers to the whole course of the Old Testament Scriptures with the same undoubted acceptance of their truth. His references and quotations are shown to be taken from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, and Malachi. The whole course of the Old Testament records is thus endorsed by Him and appealed to by Him as authoritative.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on John 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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