1 John 3:19
And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
3:16-21 Here is the condescension, the miracle, the mystery of Divine love, that God would redeem the church with his own blood. Surely we should love those whom God has loved, and so loved. The Holy Spirit, grieved at selfishness, will leave the selfish heart without comfort, and full of darkness and terror. By what can it be known that a man has a true sense of the love of Christ for perishing sinners, or that the love of God has been planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit, if the love of the world and its good overcomes the feelings of compassion to a perishing brother? Every instance of this selfishness must weaken the evidences of a man's conversion; when habitual and allowed, it must decide against him. If conscience condemn us in known sin, or the neglect of known duty, God does so too. Let conscience therefore be well-informed, be heard, and diligently attended to.And hereby - Greek, "by this;" that is, by the fact that we have true love to others, and that we manifest it by a readiness to make sacrifices to do them good.

We know that we are of the truth - That we are not deceived in what we profess to be; that is, that we are true Christians. To be of the truth stands opposed to cherishing false and delusive hopes.

And shall assure our hearts before him - Before God, or before the Saviour. In the margin, as in the Greek, the word rendered "shall assure," is "persuade." The Greek word is used as meaning to "persuade," e. g., to the reception and belief of truth; then to persuade anyone who has unkind or prejudiced feelings toward us, or to bring over to kind feelings, "to conciliate," and thus to pacify or quiet. The meaning here seems to be, that we shall in this way allay the doubts and trouble of our minds, and produce a state of quiet and peace, to wit, by the evidence that we are of the truth. Our consciences are often restless and troubled in view of past guilt; but, in thus furnishing the evidence of true piety by love to others, we shall pacify an accusing mind, and conciliate our own hearts, and persuade or convince ourselves that we are truly the children of God. See Robinson, Lexicon, sub voce πείθω peithō, I. b. In other words, though a person's heart may condemn him as guilty, and though he knows that God sees and condemns the sins of his past life, yet the agitations and alarms of his mind may be calmed down and soothed by evidence that he is a child of God, and that he will not be finally condemned. A true Christian does not attempt to conceal the fact that there is much for which his own heart and conscience might justly accuse him but he finds, notwithstanding all this, evidence that he is a child of God, and he is persuaded that all will be well.

19. hereby—Greek, "herein"; in our loving in deed and in truth (1Jo 3:18).

we know—The oldest manuscripts have "we shall know," namely, if we fulfil the command (1Jo 3:18).

of the truth—that we are real disciples of, and belonging to, the truth, as it is in Jesus: begotten of God with the word of truth. Having herein the truth radically, we shall be sure not to love merely in word and tongue. (1Jo 3:18).

assure—literally, "persuade," namely, so as to cease to condemn us; satisfy the questionings and doubts of our consciences as to whether we be accepted before God or not (compare Mt 28:14; Ac 12:20, "having made Blastus their friend," literally, "persuaded"). The "heart," as the seat of the feelings, is our inward judge; the conscience, as the witness, acts either as our justifying advocate, or our condemning accuser, before God even now. Joh 8:9, has "conscience," but the passage is omitted in most old manuscripts. John nowhere else uses the term "conscience." Peter and Paul alone use it.

before him—as in the sight of Him, the omniscient Searcher of hearts. Assurance is designed to be the ordinary experience and privilege of the believer.

And hereby we know that we are of the truth; i.e. this shall demonstrate to us, that we are the children of the truth, begotten by it, Jam 1:18, when we resemble it, have the correspondent impress of the gospel (that great representation of the love of God) upon us.

And shall assure our hearts before him; so shall our hearts be quieted, and well satisfied concerning our states God-ward. And hereby we know that we are of the truth,.... By the saints loving one another in deed and in truth, they know, as the cause is known by the effect, that they are of God, who is the true God, the God of truth, and cannot lie, and is truth itself; that they are the children of God, and are born of him, since they love those that are, and every like loves its like; and that they are of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life; that they belong to him, are his, since they have his Spirit, as appears by his fruits in them, and this, among the rest, love to the brethren; and that they are his disciples, which others, even all men know, as well as themselves, by their mutual brotherly love; and that they are of the Gospel, which is truth, and the word of truth; that they are begotten, and born again, according to the will and grace of God by it, and are on the side of it, and can do nothing against, but all for it; and that they are true, sincere, and upright persons, true believers in Christ, whose faith works by love, and are real lovers of him, and his, since they love not in word only, but in deed and in truth.

And shall assure our hearts before him; or "persuade our hearts": arrive to a full assurance of faith, hope, and understanding, that we are of the truth, do belong to God, are loved by him with an everlasting love, are chosen by him unto salvation, and are his adopted and regenerated ones, having passed from death to life, of which brotherly love is a sure evidence, 1 John 3:14. Some render the words "shall pacify", or "make our hearts tranquil": or "quiet"; this only the blood of Christ can do, and does, being sprinkled on the conscience: he only has a quiet mind, or true peace of conscience, that looks to the righteousness of Christ for justification, and deals with his blood for the full and free remission of his sins: it is true indeed, that one that loves his brother heartily and sincerely, has peace of mind in it, though not for it; when, on the other hand, there is no peace to the wicked man, that hates his brother; for where there is envying, malice, hatred, and strife, there is no true peace, pleasure, and comfort, but confusion, uneasiness, distraction, and every evil work. Or this passage may refer to that holy confidence before God, which true believers in Christ, and cordial lovers of the brethren, have; both now at the throne of grace, where they can come with boldness, intrepidity, and freedom, to ask for what they want, and confidently believe they shall receive what is proper and needful for them; and also hereafter, at the throne of judgment, and in the day of judgment, when they shall have boldness, and not be ashamed before the Judge at his coming; who will particularly take notice of their love in feeding, clothing, and visiting the least of his brethren, which he takes as done to himself.

{19} And hereby we know that we are of the truth, {20} and shall assure our hearts before him.

(19) He commends charity, by three effects: for first of all, by it we know that we are indeed the sons of God, as he showed before.

(20) Therefore it comes that we have a quiet conscience, as on the opposite side he that thinks that he has God for a judge, because he is guilty to himself either he is never or else very rarely quiet, for God has a far sharper sight then we, and judges more severely.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 John 3:19-20. Blessed result of true love.

καὶ ἐν τούτῳ] καί: simple copula.

ἐν τούτῳ does not refer here, as in chap. 1 John 2:3, 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:24, 1 John 4:2, to the following thought, but to the foregoing ἀγαπᾷν ἐν ἔργῳ κ. ἀλ. The future γνωσόμεθα, which, according to the authorities, is to be read instead of γινώσκομεν (see the critical notes), “is used as in John 7:17; John 8:31-32; John 13:35, where the subject is the possibility of an event which may with justice be expected” (Braune): it is the more natural here, as the form of thought is the cohortative; the sense is: If we love ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ, we shall thereby know that, etc.

ὅτι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐσμέν] weakening and partly erroneous explanations of the phrase: ἐκ τῆς ἀλ. εἶναι, are those of Socinus: verc talem esse ut quis se esse profitetur; of Grotius: congruere evangelio; of Semler: ἀληθεύειν ἐν ἀγάπῃ; of Baumgarten-Crusius: “to be as we ought to be;” of de Wette: “to belong to the truth; to live in it.” Bengel, on the other hand, rightly interprets the preposition ἐκ of the principium or ortus; so also Lücke, Düsterdieck, Braune, etc.; comp. John 18:37, and Meyer on this passage. The truth is the source of life in love. It is indeed in its deepest nature God Himself; but ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ must not I be put instead of ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας, for the apostle here, with reference to the preceding ἀληθείᾳ, arrives at the idea of truth. Love ἐν ἀληθείᾳ is the evidence of being born ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας.

καὶ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν] This sentence is not governed by ὅτι, but it is independently connected with the preceding, either depending or not depending on ἐν τούτῳ; if the former is the case, “we must take ἐν τούτῳ combined with πείσομεν somewhat differently than when connected with γινώσκομεν (γνωσόμεθα); with the latter it would be more therein, with the former more thereby” (Lücke; so also Braune); if the latter be the case, the thought: ἐν τούτῳ γνωσόμεθα ὅτι κ.τ.λ., serves as the presupposition of the following ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ κ.τ.λ. in this sense: if we truly love our brethren, we shall therein know, etc., and thus (in this consciousness of being of the truth) we shall assure our hearts, etc.[234] The idea that with ΚΑῚ ἜΜΠΡΟΣΘΕΝ an entirely new thought appears, which stands in no intimate connection with the preceding (Ebrard), is contradicted by the καί, which closely connects the two thoughts with one another. What, then, is the meaning of ΠΕΊΣΟΜΕΝ ΤᾺς ΚΑΡΔΊΑς ἩΜῶΝ? Plainly ΠΕΊΣΟΜΕΝ expresses a truth which we (the subject contained in πείσομεν) impress upon our hearts, so that they are thereby determined to something, which presupposes at least a relative contrast between us and our hearts. The verb πείθειν means either to persuade a person to something, so that he thinks or acts as we wish, or to convince him of something so that he agrees with our opinion. Some ancient commentators have interpreted in accordance with the first signification: suadebimus corda nostra, ut studeant proficere in melius; the more particular definition which is added is here clearly quite arbitrary; it is not much better with the explanation of Fritzsche (Comment. III. de nonnullis Pauli ad Gal. cp. locis): animos nostros flectemus, nempe ad amorem vita factisque ostendendum, or even with the more recent one: anim. n. flectemus sc. ut veram Christi doctrinam tueamur (see Erdmann, p. 129 ff.[235]). It is very common to explain πείθειν here by placare, to calm, to compose; this, it is true, is in so far inaccurate as πείθειν has not this meaning in itself, but certainly the verb is sometimes used in such a connection that the purpose of the persuasion is the calming of anger or of a similar passion;[236] hence the original meaning of the word passes into the above. This may be the case here also, for the following καταγινώσκῃ shows that the apostle regards our heart as affected with a passion directed against us; then the following ὅτι, 1 John 3:20 (at least the second, for the first may also be the pronoun ὅ τι), is the causal particle = “because, since.” Taking this view, the sense is: In the consciousness that we are of the truth, we shall silence the accusation which our heart makes against us, because God is greater than our heart.

If, on the other hand, we take πείθειν in the meaning of to convince, ὅτι (at least the second) is = “that;” and the sentence μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ Θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν is the object belonging to πείσομεν; so that the sense is: If our heart accuses us, we shall bring it to the conviction that God is greater than it.

The words ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, i.e. τοῦ Θεοῦ, do not point to the “future judgment” (Lücke, de Wette), but to the representation of God in the devotion of the soul, which is peculiar to the Christian. By putting them first, it is brought out that the πείσομεν only occurs in this representation of God (Düsterdieck, Ewald, Brückner, Braune).—1 John 3:20. By far the most of the commentators take the ὅτι with which this verse begins as the particle, either = “because” or “that,” and explain the second ὅτι as epanalepsis of the first. The supposition of the epanalepsis of a particle has, considered in itself, nothing against it, although it very seldom appears in the N. T., but it is only suitable if ὅτι is the objective particle (comp. Ephesians 2:11-12);[237] from this it follows that if πείθομεν has the meaning “to calm,” the first ὅτι is not to be regarded as the particle. Sander, it is true, translates: “we can calm our heart, that

God is greater,” etc., but this has only sense if before “that” is supplied “with this,” or “inasmuch as we reflect;” such a supplement, however, is arbitrary. Several commentators (Hoogewen, Bengel, Morus, Baumgarten-Crusius, Ewald) regard the first ὅτι as the pronoun, as also Lachmann (in his large ed.) reads ὅ τι ἐάν. Düsterdieck erroneously asserts (as even Bertheau in the 3d ed. of Lücke’s Comm. p. 339, Ebrard, and now even Brückner and Braune, have acknowledged) that this form is never found in the N. T.; it is true that in Colossians 3:23 it is probably not , τι ἐάν, but ὃ ἐάν that is to be read, although D*** E J K have the former, but in Acts 3:23 Tisch. reads ἥτις ἐάν (so also א), and in Colossians 3:17, according to the overwhelming authorities, it is not ὅ τι ἄν, but ὅ τι ἐάν, that must be read (which is admitted by Lachm. Tisch. and Buttm.), and similarly in Galatians 5:10, not ὅστις ἄν, but ὅστις ἐάν (also accepted by Lachm. Tisch. 7, and Buttm.); moreover, there is nothing syntactically against reading here , τι ἐάν, for καταγινώσκειν is frequently construed with the accusative of the thing. Ebrard, however, thinks that this view is “improbable,” nay, “absolutely impossible;” “improbable,” because in 1 John 3:22 ὃ ἐάν is used, but in the 1st ed. of this comm. it was shown that ὃ ἐάν is by no means the constant form with John, but that in the Gospel, John 2:5, John 14:13, John 15:16, , τι ἄν also appears,[238] and that the sudden change of forms is found elsewhere also in the N. T., as in Matthew 5:19, first Ὃς ἘΆΝ, and afterwards Ὃς Δʼ ἌΝ is used, and. in Matthew 16:19, in some codd. (Lachm.), first Ὃ ἌΝ, and then Ὃ ἘΆΝ is read; “absolutely impossible,” “on account of the mutual relationship of the two conditional clauses, 1 John 3:20 and 1 John 3:21;” certainly the ἘΆΝ in 1 John 3:21 seems to form a sharp antithesis to the ἐάν in 1 John 3:20, but it must not be unnoticed that, similar though the two clauses are to one another, they nevertheless have not the pure form of antithesis, inasmuch as in 1 John 3:21 there is no antithetical particle, in the clauses the succession of the particular words is different, and the first conditional clause only forms an inserted intermediate clause.[239] In favour of the explanation: “before Him shall we calm our heart, whatever it may accuse us of, because,” etc. (or convince … that, etc.), is the fact that not only is the idea καταγινώσκῃ thereby more closely connected with πείσομεν, but also the certainly strange epanalepsis of the ὅτι is avoided.[240]

The verb ΚΑΤΑΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙΝ, according to Lücke, does not signify condemnation, but only accusation; in the inner life of the heart, however, the two are not distinctly separated from one another, but the accusation of conscience rather includes the condemnation; the special ΚΑΤΆΚΡΙΣΙς is certainly the work of God.[241] The object of the ΚΑΤΑΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙΝ of the heart is variously defined by the commentators, some understanding by it, with reference to the preceding thought, the “want of love,” others more generally the sinfulness which still adheres to believers even with all the consciousness of loving the brethren (chap. 1 John 1:8). The decision as to which is the correct interpretation depends on the explanation of the following sentence: ὍΤΙ ΜΕΊΖΩΝ ἘΣΤῚΝ Ὁ ΘΕῸς Τῆς ΚΑΡΔΊΑς ἩΜῶΝ ΚΑῚ ΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙ ΠΆΝΤΑ.

The old controversy is, whether God is called greater than our heart as forgiving or as judging; the former is the view of Thomas Angl., Luther, Bengel, Morus, Russmeyer, Spener, Noesselt, Steinhofer, Rickli, Baumgarten-Crusius, Sander, Besser, Düsterdieck, Erdmann, Myrberg, Ewald, Brückner, Braune, etc.; the latter is the view of Calvin, Beza, Socinus, Grotius, a Lapide, Castalio, Hornejus, Estius, Calovius, Semler, Lücke, Neander, Gerlach, de Wette, Ebrard, etc.

If πείθειν is = “to calm,” then μείζων must refer to the forgiving love of God; Lücke, indeed, gives the following explanation: “after John has said that only if we are, in active brotherly love, conscious that we are of the truth, shall we calm our hearts in the judgment he adds: for if the contrary is the case, if our conscience accuses us of the want of genuine love, then God is greater than our heart, and before His holiness and omniscience there is no calm for the accusing conscience.” But the assumption of such a declaratio e contrario, which is in no way hinted at, is only an artificial expedient for reconciling contraries. μείζων can only be referred to God as judging, if ΠΕΊΘΕΙΝ has the meaning “to persuade.” As Ebrard regards this as the right view, and would begin “a perfectly independent new sentence” with καὶ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, he states the meaning as follows: “In the sight of God we shall convince our hearts of this, that if (even) our heart (so prone to self-deception and self-excuse, and therefore small) accuses us (namely, of not practising love), God, the all-knowing, is greater than our heart, and we shall therefore so much the less be able to stand before Him.” This interpretation is contradicted, in the first place, by the fact that it separates the second part of the 19th verse from the first, nay, even places it in antithesis to it,[242] whereas such an independence is not only not suggested as belonging to it, but is refuted by the connecting ΚΑΊ, and in the second place, by the fact that the thought is in itself inadmissible. According to the representation of the apostle, we and our heart are regarded as contrasted with one another, inasmuch as our heart brings a condemning accusation against us, which plainly refers to the fact that we by our sins have made ourselves liable to the judgment of God; it is not we therefore that hold out to our heart, but our heart that holds out to us, the judgment of God; how, then, shall we after this bring our heart to the conviction that God will condemn us, nay, will condemn us even more than our heart does already? From this it follows that—whatever be the meaning of πείθειν

μείζων cannot refer to the judicial activity of God. As God is called ΜΕΊΖΩΝ in comparison with our heart that condemns us, the comparison expresses an opposition; Erdmann: Notioni cordis condemnantis magnitudo Dei comparatur et opponitur; the heart, inasmuch as it condemns us, is like the “hostis, qui nos aggreditur, sed Deus ΜΕΊΖΩΝ h. e. fortior est, ut hostem illum devincere possit” (comp. 1 John 4:4). As this greatness of God, which surpasses the heart, proves itself in this, that in those who are ἘΚ Τῆς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς it overcomes the accusations of the heart, those commentators are right who assign to this verse a comforting tendency, and therefore refer ΜΕΊΖΩΝ to the forgiving love; no doubt, it is objected that the thought of God’s omniscience (γινώσκει πάντα[243]) is not able to comfort the man whom conscience accuses, but this can only hold good in reference to those who are not yet ἘΚ Τῆς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς, and not in reference to those of whom John is here speaking, namely, those who in their sincere love to the brethren have the evidence that they are ἘΚ Τῆς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς.[244] If this is the right interpretation, then it is clear that ΚΑΤΑΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙΝ does not refer to the want of love, but to sin in general, from which even the ΤΈΚΝΟΝ ΤΟῦ ΘΕΟῦ is not yet free (1 John 1:8 ff.); and this is also indicated by the apostle’s very form of expression, if ΠΕΊΣΟΜΕΝ is directly connected with ΚΑΤΑΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙ, and if, accordingly, , ΤΙ ἘΆΝ is to be read (see above), in which case ὍΤΙ ΜΕΊΖΩΝ ἘΣΤΙ Κ.Τ.Λ. states the objective ground of the πείθειν: “because God is greater than our heart, we therefore (in the consciousness that we are of the truth) shall calm our hearts before God, however much our heart may accuse us.” This interpretation deserves the preference before that, according to which πείσομεν is = “to convince,” and ὅτι μείζων κ.τ.λ. the object governed by it, because not only does the purpose of the verse thereby appear, more clearly, but it is not easy to perceive how the conviction of the greatness of God which overcomes the heart should result from the consciousness ὍΤΙ ἘΚ Τῆς ἈΛΗΘΕΊΑς ἘΣΜΈΝ.[245]

It is further to be observed that de Wette makes the first ὅτι as causal particle dependent on ΠΕΊΣΟΜΕΝ (= to calm), the second, on the other hand, on καταγινώσκῃ: “for, if our heart accuses us because God is greater than our heart, He also knows all things;” but this construction is opposed not only by the fact that the ΚΑΊ is more naturally taken as copula (Baumgarten-Crusius), but also by the fact that the thought, that our heart condemns us because God is greater than our heart, is incorrect.[246]

Without adequate ground, Erdmann thinks that καρδία in 1 John 3:19 is used in a wider sense than in 1 John 3:20 (“vertimus ΠΕΊΣΟΜΕΝ ΤᾺς ΚΑΡΔΊΑς: nobis ipsis persuadebimus”), because there the plural, and here the singular, is used; this change of the number has no influence on the meaning of the word, but the apostle speaks of the ΚΑΡΔΊΑ as the object of ΠΕΊΘΕΙΝ, and as the subject of ΚΑΤΑΓΙΝΏΣΚΕΙΝ, inasmuch as the heart is the seat or the union of the affections; the Greek commentators explain ΚΑΡΔΊΑ here as synonymous with ΣΥΝΕΊΔΗΣΙς.

[234] Lücke: “Even if it be unadvisable to connect καὶ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ κ.τ.λ. directly with ἐν τούτῳ, so that it appears better, with Lachmann and the old commentators, to put a comma after ἐσμέν, every one must at least admit the connection in the direct succession of the sentences. But then it must also be permitted to take the logical connection thus: In this (vv. 16–18) do we know that we are of the truth. And thus (if we in living love have the assurance that we are of the truth) we shall, etc.”

[235] This interpretation is based on the erroneous view that εἶναι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας is = veram doctrinam tenere; the former interpretation is contradicted by the fact that if we already know from our love to the brethren that we are of the truth, we do not need for the first time to move our hearts to love.

[236] In favour of this we may appeal to the passages cited by Lücke, Matthew 28:14; Joseph. Arch. vi. 5, 6 (Samuel), ὑπισχνεῖται καὶ παρακαλέσειν τὸν Θεὸν συγγνῶναι περὶ τούτων αὐτοῖς, καὶ πείσειν, and the passage in Plutarch, where to ἀπολοίμην, εἰ μή σε τιμωρησαίμην the reply runs: ἀπολοίμην, εἰ μή σε πείσαιμι, although πείθειν has not in them exactly the meaning of “to calm.”

[237] Lücke himself admits that the passages adduced by him in favour of the epanalepsis “have only value for those who take ὅτι both times not as causal particle, but as conjunction, belonging to πείσομεν;” but thinks that the context makes it necessary to assume the epanalepsis here even for the causal particle; similarly Braune, although without even showing the grammatical justification in any way. Besides, in this construction it is quite overlooked that if the intermediate clause ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ κ.τ.λ. is connected with the preceding, the first ὅτι comes in disturbingly; and if it is connected with the following, the second ὅτι does so. As in accordance with the thought only the former connection can be the correct one, it is incomprehensible how John should have here interrupted it by ὅτι.

[238] א has in chap. 1 John 2:5 : ὃ ἄν; John 14:13 : ὅ τι ἄν; John 15:16 : ὅ τι ἐάν.

[239] If it was the apostle’s intention to contrast sharply two different cases, he could do this more definitely if he constructed the first period thus: ἐὰν καταγ. ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τ. κ., ὅτι μείζων κ.τ.λ., and the second: ἐὰν δὲ μὴ καταγ. ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία. From the fact that he did not do so, it may be concluded that such a sharp contrast was not in his purpose.

[240] That the supposition of an epanalepsis for the causal particle is improper, has been already noticed above; and for the passage before us it is further clear from the fact that if ὅτι is the causal particle, the clause μείζων ἐστὶν κ.τ.λ. forms, according to the thought, the conclusion of ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ, as plainly appears in Lücke when he explains: “Then, if … our conscience accuses us, God is greater than our heart,” etc.—But even the epanalepsis of ὅτι as objective particle may be doubted; for as the thought ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ does not form the presupposition for μείζων ἐστὶν κ.τ.λ., but for πείσομεν, it is unsuitable to place it in the objective clause dependent on πείσομεν, instead of connecting it with πείσομεν.

[241] Düsterdieck, with whom also Braune agrees, appropriately remarks that καταγινώσκειν occupies a middle place between κατηγορεῖν, along with which an ἀπολογεῖν further occurs, and κατακρίνειν, which includes the judicial decree of punishment; comp. 1 John 3:19-20. A crux interpretum. Read τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν ὅ, τι ἐάν (i.e. ἄν), and take the subsequent ὅτι as “because”. The foregoing exhortation may have awakened a misgiving in our minds: “Am I loving as I ought?” Our failures in duty and service rise up before us, and “our heart condemns us”. So the Apostle furnishes a grand reassurance: “Herein shall we get to know that we are of the Truth, and in His presence shall assure our heart, whereinsoever our heart may condemn us, because, etc.”. The reassurance is two-fold: (1) The worst that is in us is known to God (cf. Aug.: Cor tuum abscondis ab homine; a Deo absconde si potes), and still He cares for us and desires us. Our discovery has been an open secret to Him all along. (2) He “readeth everything”—sees the deepest things, and these are the real things. This is the true test of a man: Is the deepest that is in him the best? Is he better than he seems? His failures lie on the surface: is there a desire for goodness deep down in his soul? Is he glad to escape from superficial judgments and be judged by God who “readeth everything,” who sees “with larger other eyes than ours, to make allowance for us all”? Cf. F. W. Robertson, Lett. lvi.: “I remember an anecdote of Thomas Scott having said to his curate, who was rather agitated on having to preach before him, ‘Well, sir, why should you be afraid before me, when you are not afraid before God?’ But how very easy it was to answer! He had only to say, God is not jealous, nor envious, nor censorious; besides, God can make allowances”. So Browning:—

“Thoughts hardly to be packed

Into a narrow act,

Fancies that broke through language and escaped;

All I could never be,

All, men ignored in me,

This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.”

ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, and what matter how we appear ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων (Matthew 6:1.)? πείσομεν, “persuade,’ i.e. pacify, win the confidence, soothe the alarm, of our heart. Cf. Matthew 28:14. Otherwise: “we shall persuade our heart … that greater is God”. But how can love for the brethren yield this inference? γινώσκει πάντα, “readeth every secret”. Cf. John 2:25. A quite different and less satisfying sense is got by punctuating τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν. ὅτι ἐάν, κ.τ.λ. The second ὅτι is then a difficulty and has been dealt with in three ways: (1) It has been ignored as redundant: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater, etc.” (A.V. fortified by the omission of the participle in some inferior MSS.). (2) An ellipse has been assumed—either of the substantive verb: “because if our heart condemns us, (it is) because God, etc.” (Alford), or of δῆλον (Field, who compares 1 Timothy 6:7): “it is plain that God, etc.” (3) ὅτι has been conjecturally emended into ἔτι (Steph., Bez.): “still greater is God, etc.”.19. And hereby we know] Rather, Herein we shall know: the ‘and’, though well supported, is probably not genuine, and the evidence for the future as against the present is overwhelming. ‘Herein’ (ἐν τούτῳ) sometimes refers to what follows (1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:2; 1 John 4:9), sometimes to what precedes (1 John 2:5). Here the latter is the case: by loving in deed and truth we shall arrive at the knowledge that we are morally the children of the Truth. ‘The Truth’ here is almost equivalent to ‘God’. ‘To be of the Truth’ is to have the Truth as the source whence the guiding and formative influences of thought and conduct flow: comp. 1 John 2:21; John 3:31; John 8:47, and especially John 18:37. The preposition ‘of’ here = ‘out of’ (ἐκ), and the notion of origin must not be lost sight of any more than in 1 John 2:16; 1 John 2:19; 1 John 2:21, 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:12, 1 John 4:1-3, &c.

The construction and punctuation of what follows is doubtful; also the reading in the first and second clauses of 1 John 3:20. Certainty is not attainable, and to give all possible variations of reading and rendering would take up too much space. The conclusions adopted here are given as good and tenable, but not as demonstrably right.

and shall assure our hearts] Literally, and shall persuade our hearts. Is this clause coordinate with ‘we shall know’, or dependent upon it (‘we shall know that we shall assure’)? Probably the former. The meaning is, ‘Herein we shall know that we are of the truth, and herein we shall persuade our heart.’ Authorities are much divided between ‘heart’ (B, Peschito, Thebaic) and ‘hearts’ (אCKL); the former seems preferable. S. John elsewhere always uses the singular both in Gospel and Epistle: it “fixes the thought upon the personal trial in each case” (Westcott). In any case it obviously means, not the affections (2 Corinthians 7:3; Php 1:7), but the conscience (Acts 2:37; Acts 7:54). It is worth noting that the Greek word (καρδία) is cognate with the English ‘heart.’ The substitution of ‘assure’ for ‘persuade’ appears to be somewhat violent, for it is a meaning which the verb (πείθειν) does not in itself possess. But if the context justifies the substitution, because the meaning plainly is ‘persuade our heart that it need not condemn us’, then the context may speak for itself in the English, as in the Greek. Comp. ‘We will persuade him and rid you of care’ (Matthew 28:14); and ‘having made Blastus their friend’, literally ‘having persuaded Blastus’ (Acts 12:20).

before him] This is placed first for emphasis in the Greek; and before Him shall assure our hearts. The important thing is that we can quiet our consciences in the sight of God. The self-deceiver, who is not ‘of the Truth’, but ‘walks in darkness’ hating his brother (1 John 2:1), can quiet his heart, ‘because the darkness hath blinded his eyes’: but this is not done ‘before God’.1 John 3:19. Ἐν τούτῳ, in this) Hence depends we know and shall tranquilize; and to this refers, since He is greater, 1 John 3:20.—ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας, of the truth) Of expresses the beginning or origin: Romans 2:8. For the truth makes love also true: 1 John 3:18.—ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ) before Him who knows all things in truth, we shall tranquilize our hearts in prayer: 1 John 3:22.—πείσομεν, we shall tranquilize) so that they shall cease to condemn. The same word is used, Matthew 28:14.—τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν, our hearts) The word συνείδησις, conscience, is used by Peter and Paul alone of the sacred writers: nor is it used in the Septuagint more than once, and that in another sense, Ecclesiastes 10:20. For the Hebrew לב is rendered καρδία, the heart, for instance, 1 Kings 2:44; 1 Kings 8:38. And so John nowhere uses the word συνείδησις, conscience; but here he implies it, in making mention of the heart: for it is the conscience which is tranquilized, and which condemns. Comp. Apparatus,[10] p. 588.

[10] Lachm. reads γνωσόμεθα, with ABC; Tisch. and Rec. Text, γινώσκομεν, with Vulg. alone of the oldest authorities. C Vulg. have τὰς καρδίας: so Tisch. and Rec. Text. B and corrected A Syr. and Theb. have τὴν καρδίαν: so Lachm—E.Verse 19. - In this; or, hereby ἐν τούτῳ, here clearly refers to what precedes; and the thought is similar to that in verse 14. By sincere and active love we shall come to know γνωσόμεθα that we are children of the truth. "The truth" here is almost equivalent to "God;" and we seem to have here an echo of Christ's words to Pilate, "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice" (comp. 1 John 2:21; John 3:31; John 8:23, 47, etc.). The construction in what follows contains several doubtful points:

(1) whether πείσομεν is coordinate with γνωσόμεθα or ἐσμέν;

(2) if the former, whether ἐν τούτῳ goes on to πείσομεν, or is confined to γνωσόμεθα;

(3) whether we should read ὅ τι ἐάν or ὅτι ἐὰν.

In all three cases the first alternative is perhaps preferable: And hereby we shall persuade our heart before him (that we are of the truth, and therefore have nothing to fear), whereinsoever our heart condemn us. But on the third point see Dr. Field's note in 'Otium Norvicense,' pars 3. Before him is very emphatic; it is in God's sight that the children of the truth are able to quiet their hearts, not merely in their own eyes. (For πείθω used absolutely, comp. Matthew 28:14; Acts 12:20; 2 Corinthians 5:11.) Shall assure (πείσομεν)

Two renderings are possible; the primitive meaning persuade (Acts 19:26; Acts 17:4; 2 Corinthians 5:11); or the secondary and consequent sense, assure, quiet, conciliate (Matthew 28:14). Render as A.V., and Rev. as sure. See critical note at the end of the commentary on this Epistle.

Before Him (ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ)

Emphatic, the order being, before Him we shall assure our heart. These words are to be kept in mind as the key-note of what follows.

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