James Nisbet Commentary - John 16:13 - 16:13

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James Nisbet Commentary - John 16:13 - 16:13

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.’


The coming of the Holy Ghost was no mere isolated event in the history of the Kingdom of God. It was a great epoch—the opening of a new era in the life of man, the ushering in of a new dispensation.

I. He did not come as one that would come and go. He came to stay: to abide with us for ever.—He came as the Spirit of Christ to take up His dwelling in Christ’s Church, which is His Body, until He should come again. It is this great truth which underlies the whole teaching of our Blessed Lord in the farewell words which He spoke to His disciples on the eve of His Passion. It is in this light that we must understand His exceeding great and precious promises, and most of all the promise of my text, ‘He shall lead you into all the truth.’ The words of our Lord, taken with their context, might seem to imply that the teaching of the Holy Ghost would bring with it some fresh revelation of Divine truth. But it is manifest that the promise was fulfilled, not so much by the revelation of any new dogmas, concerning which Christ Himself had been silent, as by the enlightening of the Apostles to understand more fully and more clearly what they had already learned from the teaching of our Lord Himself. The accurate rendering of the words of my text seems to demand such an interpretation. ‘He shall lead you into all the truth.’

II. The Holy Ghost had no new revelation to make to mankind.—His mission was that of an interpreter and guide. He was not to speak from Himself. He was to take of the things of Christ to declare them to His Church. Christ Himself, His work, His words, and His life, were to be the subjects with which the Holy Ghost should deal, interpreting their deep significance, their power, their loveliness, to the sons of men. Such an interpretation could not be made at once in all its completeness; it must be gradual and progressive, proportioned to the needs and capacities of successive generations. Age after age His work would still go on, guiding the Church and guiding individuals into all the truth, opening up new aspects of the truth, enlarging our conceptions of words and events already familiar, declaring to us their special message for each particular age, building up from generation to generation the great temple of the truth.

III. The history of the Church of Christ has furnished a continuous illustration of the fulfilment of Christ’s promise.—We see it in the gradual growth and development of Christian doctrine and Christian worship. The formation of the creeds themselves was in strict accordance with this interpretation of Christ’s promise. There is nothing to be found in them which was not already contained in the teaching of the Apostles and afterwards in the Holy Scriptures; but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the creeds present these truths in a concentrated and practical form. Even the later additions made to them by the Councils of the Church contain nothing new in themselves, but only a fresh presentation of truth to meet the circumstances of particular times and to guard the sacred deposit from some prevalent error or from some practical defect. And so it has ever been in the history of the Church. From age to age we can hardly fail to trace in the development of Christian faith and Christian life the overruling guidance of the Holy Ghost, directing the minds of men for a time to some particular aspect of the truth, according as His infinite wisdom and love discerned a convenient season or foresaw some coming need. From the Day of Pentecost until now He has been leading us into all the truth. Our own branch of the Catholic Church, even within the past century, will furnish us with helpful illustrations of this principle and with no uncertain evidence of the guiding hand of the Holy Ghost.

IV. Does it not seem to you that in the light of Christ’s promise, and in the face of our manifold needs, there is a call for increased devotion to God the Holy Ghost?—What we need is an age of God the Holy Ghost, an age in which there should spring up and increase a deeper and more continual sense of His Presence with us and His personal love towards us, and a more ready trust in the unceasing and unfailing guidance of Him Who will lead us into all the truth. How little do we think of Him as the Companion and Comforter of our daily lives! How little do we commune with Him in our hearts or speak to Him in our prayers! How seldom do we think of Him as an object for our affection; and yet how patiently, how tenderly, has the Blessed Spirit shown His love to us amidst all the waywardness and forgetfulness of our daily lives! There are, no doubt, reasons why in the public service of the Church so few direct petitions should be addressed to God the Holy Ghost; but there are none to prevent us from speaking to Him in our private prayers.

We shall fail to estimate the full blessedness of our Saviour’s promise unless we bear in mind the ultimate meaning of His words—‘He will guide you into all the truth.’ But the final truth is God Himself—the one great reality, the first and the last—the great I AM. As the truth He reveals Himself in the face of Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Maclagan.


‘The great Evangelical uprising in the latter part of the past century, laying anew the deep foundation of the Christian hope; the Oxford Movement of fifty years ago, turning the thoughts of men to the constitution and characteristics of the Church of Christ, and teaching them to see in it no mere human society, but the extension of the incarnate life of Christ Himself and the sphere of the operation of God the Holy Ghost; the revival in our own days of the long-dormant privileges of Divine worship with its glad voices and its holy strains, making the hearts of them rejoice that seek the Lord—in all these various advances of Christian faith and Christian life we can hardly fail to trace the guiding of the Holy Ghost. In each and all of these movements there may have been error or defect, narrowness or extravagance, mistakes inseparable from all human operations, even when associated with the working of Divine power. But when all that is earthly has been eliminated, or in its transitory nature has passed away, there remains the precious residuum of the spiritual truth into which the Holy Ghost has guided the Church. How different does the religious history of the Church appear, even in our own generation, when we have learned to associate its events and influences, not with the names of individual leaders who were permitted to take some prominent part in the movements of their day, but to see in every phase and epoch of religious revival the unceasing fulfilment of the Saviour’s promise, “He shall lead you into all the truth.” ’



Look back upon the chapters of the history of the Church which might be written since the Acts of the Holy Apostles, and what do you find? Is it not exactly the same that Christ said would happen? Has not the world always resisted the truth? Have not there been enemies a hundredfold, sometimes without, sometimes within? And the Church has gone through all this, which would have crushed a human society a thousand times; gone through it all because the Holy Spirit has been with her and in her, and she lives to-day in the power of that same Spirit.

I. But what about your life to-day?—Is it what it should be here in our own country? Is it even, perhaps, what it has been? Is not the faith of some shaken as when there are taken from us things we hold most dear, and when others deny the great truths of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus? Are not some to-day in perplexity? Are not some wondering in their hearts, Is the religion of Christ all that it should be? Some, too, perhaps, who say very little, who are still standing by the Church, are standing by her with a losing heart. But there is nothing to make us lose heart, nothing to make us doubt the power of Christ or of His great Church. There is no doubt about the Presence of the Holy Spirit here. He is in His Church as truly as He was at Pentecost. He is in you and me as truly as He was in those Apostles in the early days, in that little body of Christians.

II. The Holy Spirit needs invoking.—We must stir up the great gift; for He can no more guide and strengthen you and me than Christ could perform the miracle in Capernaum unless we let Him.

(a) Let us summon Him to our aid in our private prayers. Let us day by day always speak to the Holy Spirit. Let us here, in this church, as a great body, and especially at our Eucharists, call Him down in all His power. Let us individually call back one of the greatest days of our lives—I mean the day when the Holy Spirit made His way into our life—our confirmation day. Then we were sealed; then the character was stamped upon us. To-day, if we could see it, we bear the marks of our confirmation; to-day, we have the seven gifts, just the very gifts that we want this moment to make us strong. Ah, need I say that we all would do well to look back again and again in thought to our confirmation day, to that time when, indeed, the promise of Christ was fulfilled in our individual lives!

(b) Let us allow Him to be our guide, allow Him to strengthen and influence us. Oh, how we allow in this world people and circumstances again and again to influence us, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill! Let us allow the Holy Spirit, because He cannot work in us unless we open the door, unless we listen to His still small voice. It is very difficult to hear sometimes. We can look back on our own lives and see some weeks of waiting when there seemed to be no small voice, when there seemed to be no answer. But the answer came, and the answer will come to every one of you if you will listen and wait. ‘Howbeit when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.’ You are part of the Church, that Church against which not even the gates of hell can prevail if you are loyal to the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is the strength, the power, and the life of the Church. And so my message to you is this: Expect dark days; remember that, in spite of all those dark days, the Holy Spirit is here, and in us, and with us. Invoke Him, believe in Him. Let Him work in your life, and your fears shall vanish, and your faith shall be made strong.

Rev. D. G. Cowan.


‘ “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” He who is able to make the confession has found a Divine Friend. For him the Spirit is not an influence, an energy, of One far off, but a present Comforter Whom Christ has sent to fulfil His work, a present Guide ready to lead him into all the Truth, a present Advocate waiting to gain acceptance for the deep sighings of the heart before the throne of God. So it is that Scripture speaks of His relation to us; so it is that we can understand how His Presence among men is dependent on the exaltation of Christ in His human nature to the right hand of God.’