James Nisbet Commentary - John 13:34 - 13:34

Online Resource Library

Commentary Index | Return to PrayerRequest.com | Download

James Nisbet Commentary - John 13:34 - 13:34

(Show All Books | Show All Chapters)

This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


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


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.


‘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.’