Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.God's Commandments
1 John 5:3
We shall do well to remind ourselves at the beginning of life that we are already in a wonderful world, that the pathway of our lives will lead us through the intricacies of a Divine system, which is intended progressively to reveal itself to us, and to bring us nearer to our intended perfection and to God. Let me try to point out two or three of the chief groups of forces which form part of this Divine system.
I. The Fellowship of Love.—First, then, as touching the very beginning of our existence here, there is what has been called the fellowship of Love. Love is a great force, or set of forces, most delicate, most subtle, most intricate, most Divine; and yet how little considered, how imperfectly prepared for, by most of us! Marriage is indeed a wonderful part of the Divine system, and full of progressively developing power and blessing, instituted by God in Paradise, before sin had confused and dulled the pleasures He had prepared for us; chosen as the symbol of the great mystery of God; given freely to all, rich as well as poor, with no respect of persons. How imperfectly do we prepare for it! I do not speak of that miserable refined system of human barter, when parents, for the sake of politics or some worldly scheme, sell their children for their own advancement, and condemn them to the slavery of a loveless marriage; but lather I am thinking of the hundreds of thoughtless men and women who enter upon this Divine mystery, yield themselves to the intricacies of these heavenly forces, without reasonable consideration, without any serious thought, without one word of prayer. We are shocked when the results come before us, day after day, alas! in our daily journals, and we read of the heartless forsaking, or brutal treatment, of one who should be as another self, the symbol of the Bride of Christ. We are shocked, too, hardly less, at the frequent applications of richer men to be freed from a union that they might have hoped would have had strength to stand even the shock of death.
II. The Fellowship of Rights.—Here is another fellowship, another set of forces, very powerful, which God has prepared for us among the intricacies of the Divine system in which we live, closely connected with the progressive development of family life. It has been called the fellowship of Rights. No man can live to himself: we are all bound together; the family becomes the germ of the State. Ethics, as it has been said, must be regarded again, as of old, as the vestibule of politics: it is not possible to continue exhorting children of any class with mere moral maxims of individual morality; they must become conscious as they live on of the intricacies of the combined forces of political and national life—forces which God has prepared for us, and intended to assist humanity in its progress towards perfection and nearness to Himself.
III. The Fellowship of Grace.—There is yet a third fellowship, a third group of forces, a third example of the intricacies of the Divine system in which we may now be—the fellowship of Grace; i.e., in simple language, though perhaps not more easily understood, the Church.
Here is a Divine system, which is the perfection of the fellowships of Love and of Rights: it is a universal Brotherhood; it is the kingdom of heaven.
—Bishop Edward King, The Love and Wisdom of God, p. 121.
The Graciousness of the Law
1 John 5:3
I. Every Commandment is a Salvation.—How is it that the commandments appear grievous? Because they cross our unnatural and inordinate desires. To resent the laws of Sinai is more foolish than to complain of the steel bars of the menagerie which come between us and the wild beasts. The grievous-ness is in ourselves, and the commandment is a glorious salvation from the evil within us which we have most to fear. Not only are the commandments not grievous, they are gracious. There are two kinds of grace—preventing grace and reclaiming grace. The grace that absolves our sins, covers our guilt, brings into our bosom abiding peace, is precious indeed. Yet preventing grace is not less precious. One of the grandest revelations of this preventing grace is seen in the clear and authoritative publication of the law. The commandment is not grievous, any more than the lighthouse—it is a warning, guiding, saving beacon.
II. Every Commandment is an Inspiration.—Science assures us of the efficacy of light; it is not light only, but force—quickening, cleansing, compelling force. And the truth in Jesus is not merely dry light for the intellect, but vital force availing for interior purity and practical obedience. When we are born of God and filled with faith and love, the keeping of the commandment is easy and delightful. When the Master showed the immense sublimity of the law of forgiveness, the disciples did not ask that it should be modified to their weakness, but that through increased faith and force they might be equal to it in all its length and breadth.
III. Every Commandment is a Benediction.—Not a salvation only, but a beatitude. No astronomer has yet been able to observe any evidence of a comet possessing a fixed axis of revolution, and most probably because they have not yet acquired this law, comets are so unorganised and so eccentric in their orbits; free from a fixed axis of revolution they wander at large with erratic movement, yet they remain chaotic, and do not develop into beautiful and fruitful planets. Yes; it is only as the love of God becomes the fixed axis of our being, and a close obedience to law the rule of our life, that we are fashioned into the full glory of our nature and enter upon its vast destiny of blessedness.
—W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 235.
1 John 5:3
Contrast Shelley's bitter note to Queen Mab: 'Religion and morality, as they now stand, compose a practical code of misery and servitude: the genius of human happiness must tear every leaf from the accursed book of God ere man can read the inscription on his heart'.
'In my life, an exceptionally happy one from a worldly point of view,' says Tolstoi, 'I can number such a quantity of sufferings endured for the sake of "the world" that they would be enough to furnish a martyr for Jesus.... Let any sincere man pass his life in review, and he will perceive that never, not once, has he suffered through practising the doctrine of Jesus; the chief part of the miseries of his life have proceeded solely from his following, contrary to his inclinations, the spell of the doctrine of the world.'
Have we not all of us moods, in which an allusion to God makes us impatient; and is not this fact alone the nearest of any fact to a deep-sea sounding of our corruption? It is hard to see what God has done to deserve all this.... It is the very necessity of our case as creatures, that we must be under a law; and could we be under laws less numerous, less onerous, than those under which we are laid by the perfection of God? Easy laws, few laws, and laws which it is our own interest to keep—these are the characteristics of the dominion of God.
—F. W. Faber.
References.—V. 3.—J. W. Houchin, The Vision of God p. 72. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 200. V. 3, 4.—J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 160.
The Fact of the Resurrection (for Easter Sunday)
1 John 5:4
Today, the octave day of Easter, the joy of the Apostolic colleagues is fulfilled. Ever since the Apostles saw the Lord, they have been glad; but through the past week a shadow of sorrow has been cast over their happiness, because, do what they would, for so the original implies, they could not persuade one of their colleagues to believe their statement that Christ had risen again. But today Jesus appeared to Thomas as well as again to the other disciples, and he who, for the very joy of the thing, had been unable to accept his brethren's testimony, gives utterance, on the appearance of the risen Lord to him, to the fullest and truest expression of faith which had as yet been delivered, as he worshipped Him and said, 'My Lord and my God'. As we all know, alas! faith in these days is very much at discount. Men claim the right of doing with the science of religion that which no sane man would ever think of doing with any other science. They claim the right to overthrow all authority and all inquiry and research that has gone before, they try to persuade us to begin again from the very beginning as if there were no treasures of the Church in ages past There is not one of us, therefore, who can afford to dispense with the encouragement and help which the Easter festival brings us with regard to our faith.
I. In the first place, the fact of the Resurrection, as a well-authenticated event in history, is the sure foundation for our faith, for it abundantly proved all that went before it, and it, and it alone, fully accounts for all that follows after it. Easter proves the truth of the Catholic creed which says that God the Son was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, for it was not possible that He Who gives life, and in Whom is life, should be holden of the pains of death. The miracle is rather on Good Friday afternoon than on Easter morning, for the Resurrection is but the taking again of that which man could not deprive our Lord of, but which He laid down of His own free will, and which He, with that power that He tells us He had, took up again. Such a power could not, of course, possibly belong to any but God, and it is in this proof that the Resurrection gives us that we listen gladly to the statement of St. Paul when, as in the Second Lesson today, he tells us, 'If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins'. And as with all that comes before Easter, so also with the history of the world, as of the Church, it is only in the truth of the fact of the Resurrection that we can find any satisfactory solution of the problems which are set before us. And seeing that it is by the Resurrection from the dead that Jesus is declared to be 'the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness,' we without hesitation, we with undying thankfulness, ever lifting up our hearts in praise to God for His goodness and mercy towards us, accept the whole faith given by God through His Son, and feel, as we believe, that 'this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'.
II. But again the Resurrection is not only a fact; it is also a revelation, that is to say, an unveiling of things unknown and not understood before. It is the revelation of a spiritual force here, and also a revelation of the unseen world beyond. During the great forty days that our Lord remained on earth, He showed that His whole human being was glorified, transformed by the Resurrection. And it is in this revelation of the Resurrection that we learn about new modes of human life. We see how we also can live through death and have a home beyond. We understand how, even in this life, we are bound to live the higher and spiritual existence, the life identified with the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord. It is in this revelation that we now have union with those who have gone before, and that we look forward to the time when we, too, shall be changed. How great is the influence of this revelation on our faith it is impossible to exaggerate. We feel—it is within each one of us as an instinct—that this life is not the end of everything. Other religions, other, I mean, than that of Christ, teach us this truth quite plainly, but it is only in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we can certainly know the reality of that which instinct forewarns us of, and once more we say, 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'.
III. But the Resurrection, because it is a fact and because it is a revelation, is also a call. To believe in the fact, in any way to have been conscious of the power of the revelation, is to receive a call as truly, as fully, as searchingly, as plainly, as responsibly as when our Blessed Lord first said to the Apostles, 'Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations'. It is impossible for people really to know Jesus and the power of His Resurrection without being filled with zeal and ardour for the conversion of the world, and this zeal is manifested at home and abroad. It matters not where it is. What does matter is that you and I, who profess every day of our life that we do believe that on the third day He rose again from the dead, should be as those who have heard the call to go forth and bring others to the knowledge and love of God. It is the truth of the Resurrection, or rather, shall we say, it is the love for the risen Lord, that has made men and women in this very day give up all for the love of their Saviour. Go where you will, and you will find people working for Christ, not a dead Christ, not a powerless Christ, not a mere historic Christ of the past, but a living Christ, the Almighty Christ, the historic Christ, and oh 1 more, far more, than that, even Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Year by year the Easter call comes fresh to you and to me. And as we go forth, and in our lives, and by our words, and by our alms, and fastings, and prayers, preach the glorious Gospel of the Resurrection, and see at home and abroad one soul here and another soul there—for never let us despise a single soul—joining that glad procession until it becomes a great multitude which no man can number, shall we, once again, with all joy, humility, and thankfulness, say, 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'.
The Faith That Overcomes
1 John 5:4
I. The first thing which strikes us in the character of our faith is that it bears the impress of man as well as of God—of God in and through man. Christianity is essentially personal: it centres in a Saviour's life.
II. Our faith is not only personal; it is essentially historical. True it is that more than eighteen hundred years have passed since He Who was called contemptuously 'the Nazarene' proclaimed Himself to be 'the Son of God, the Saviour of the World,' but we must remember that since the commission to the twelve His words have ever had their full effect.
III. Our faith, which is personal and historical, is also essentially practical. Every mystery which is revealed to us is only so far set forth as to guide our conduct without satisfying our curiosity. The victory of faith is as manifold as its nature. (a) In the first place, it is a victory over fleshly, material evils, both in the individual and in society. It has power to vanquish the selfishness of man. (6) Yet again, our faith is also a victory over intellectual as well as over material evils. Its history shows us how far it can appropriate all that is good and great in the progress of nations. The eternal truths of revelation remain unchanged, but they are clothed from time to time in that outward form which makes them most effectual in influencing the temper of the age. (c) Yet, once again, our faith is also a victory over spiritual evils. The Christian life is the necessary commentary on the Christian creed. The sincerity of our belief is measured by the efficiency of our practice.
—Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 172.
1 John 5:4
Public and private exercises are religious and good as the simple voice of, or as means to the strengthening of, the religious will. That will consists in the faith that overcomes the world, by turning it into the Christian world which for faith it is.
—F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies, p. 304.
'Vinet,' wrote Scherer, 'had acquired by personal experience a great confidence in the power of truth, and this is a second characteristic of his religious idea What does it matter that men are hostile and indifferent? The Gospel which has reached his heart cannot fail to reach others. Christianity is true, therefore it is a force. All that it needs is liberty. Leave it to itself, offer neither hindrance nor support, and it will conquer the world.'
References.—V. 4.—T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 226. J. Monro Gibson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 340. J. Keble, Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 201. R. C. Cowell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 326. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 209. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 14. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 314. J. E. Watts Ditchfield, Mundesley Conference Report, 1910, p. 388. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 142. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Epistles of John, p. 1. V. 4, 5.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2757. V. 5, 6.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Reading, p. 348.
Conflict and Conquest
1 John 5:5
In the season of Lent it is needful that our minds should be prepared for the important duties that devolve upon us, and there is no subject more useful for meditation than the Christian warfare. The Church, therefore, in her wisdom, has appointed the Lenten season as a time for fasting and prayer in order that the faithful may be led to a higher spiritual life.
I. Our Conflict is with the World.—Our Lord has told us who the prince of this world is, and we therefore understand that we are opposed by all the powers and forces of evil, marshalled and put in array by Satan himself. When we regard the mighty forces brought against us, the vast multitude of the host, and the discipline of the array, we are led seriously to consider our position—whether we are able, with our small and disunited band, to wage war with such an enemy as this. Naturally, we find ourselves perfectly unable; the conflict is too grievous; we are overmatched and outnumbered; what can we do? The consideration of this teaches us our entire dependence upon God. We turn to His Holy Word for help, and we read that help can be gained sufficient to our need, and, if we earnestly seek it, strength will be imparted to fight and to overcome.
II. Who is He that 'Overcometh the World'?—The answer of our text is this: 'He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God'. One who not only has enlisted in Christ's army, but also still remains a Christian soldier. By overcoming the world we must here understand overcoming the temptations of the 'world, the flesh, and the devil'. How grievous these temptations are, we know; how frequently we are even ourselves overcome, we know. But of this we may be sure: if we are thoroughly equipped for the fight our eventual triumph will be certain and complete. We need to gird on the 'whole armour of God'. The whole armour, not a 'part merely. This is where the mistake is often made. A Christian is negligent in prayer; or he is weak in faith; or he is not regular in attendance upon the ministrations of God's Holy Church; he does not keep a guard upon his words or his actions; he is not ready to forgive and forget an injury; he gives way to pride, or malice, or conceit: in fact, he is not fully prepared for the spiritual warfare. If there are any defects in his panoply the enemy takes advantage of those unprotected parts, and he falls; but when he is clad in the whole armour, well riveted and linked together, then he is ever victorious, and overcomes the world. We must be thorough Christians if we hope to overcome.
III. What is the Nature of this Faith?—It is of a threefold nature:—
(a) A faith that leads a sinner to prostrate himself, as a true penitent, at the foot of his Saviour's cross, not daring even to look up, but simply to cry aloud for pardon in those words of the publican, 'Lord, be merciful to me a sinner'.
(b) A faith that lays hold of that cross, as the Christian, with bended knees, clings to it, being determined, by the help of God, never to depart from it again.
(c) A faith that enables him to bear that cross during life, humbly and devotedly, 'counting all things but loss,' for the sake of Him who died thereon. This is how the Christian overcomes the world; this is belief in the Son of God.
Trusting, then, in Christ, we gain help sufficient for every need, and strength to encounter every foe.
1 John 5:5
He who has a faith, we know well, is twice himself. The world, the conventional order of things, goes down before the weapons of faith, before the energy of those who have a glimpse, or only think they have a glimpse, of the eternal or normal order of things.
—Sir John Seeley, Natural Religion, p. 84.
References.—V. 6.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 60. V. 6-8.—Ibid. vol. vii. p. 301; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v p. 416.
The Spiritual Doctrine of God (Trinity Sunday)
1 John 5:7
One of the most significant and valuable changes in the habits of theological thinking is the change from the deductive and metaphysical to the inductive and psychological method. In simpler language, it was formerly the rule to establish a doctrine apart from our human experience, and then to adapt life and thought to the doctrine; it is now the rule to take our human experience with us when we are trying to understand or state all doctrines.
In no case is this latter method more advantageous, and indeed necessary, than in regard to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. If we try to build it up out of proof-texts from Scripture, and abstract reasoning and speculation, we shall succeed only in bewildering ourselves. The abstract doctrine of the Trinity is scholastic, mechanical, and fictitious. The popularised form of such a conception will be either some form of tritheism, or it will be a mere paradox with no meaning at all.
I. But it was not in this abstract fashion that the doctrine originally came. It did not arise from our text, for that text was absent from the original documents and did not appear till the fifth century. The doctrine, as Clarke says, 'Sprang up in experience, not in speculation'. It was because men found the one God manifesting Himself to them in three ways that they tried to conceive and state their thoughts of Him accordingly. The abstract formulations and controversies were drawn partly from Scripture; partly from the need of combating heresies which stated the being of God in terms which were not true to the Christian experience; and partly from the Greek spirit which sought to rationalise and harmonise all human knowledge. But none of these was the source of the doctrine, which arose out of the deepest hours of communion between the souls of believers and God.
II. When we ask not what God is in Himself, but what He is to us, the answer of experience is, that we know Him as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit It is interesting to remember that this is the order in which the revelation has been historically made. The earliest phase of it was that of the patriarchal times. Then, in the nomad society, fatherhood was the dominant idea. It governed law, custom, and all the affairs and relations of life. So men, looking up towards the Divine through their own experience, naturally found Him as the Father—the highest expression of their ruling and guiding conception. Later, when national history grew tragic with sin and punishment, defeat and exile shattering the nation's complacent life, and conscience embittering the misery of their hearts, there came a second phase. The Buffering Servant, the stricken and afflicted One bearing on His own heart the sins of many, and by His stripes healing them, revealed the Son. When Jesus had been crucified, His disciples saw in Calvary the complete revelation of all that towards which the prophets had been groping. Here was another view of God, and the life of the world demanded it and was satisfied by it. Yet these were not all. From the first there had been a sense of the Divine inspiring and guiding the ordinary life of man, quickening his interests and working through him in his enthusiasms. In the days of the Apostles this inspiring and quickening became so distinct and so powerful a phenomenon, that they could explain it no otherwise than by a third view of God as Holy Spirit Thus in historic order, God revealed Himself to man threefold.
In the experience of the individual the same thing is true, and though no religious experience is coerced into following any unbroken order of sequence, yet in general the order is the same.
III. Heine, in a memorable passage, has elaborated this conception, and with that we may leave the subject. We must leave it in mystery; but through the mystery the great thought of the Holy Trinity shines, sufficient for the needs of life, though still eluding the efforts of the strongest intellect. We cannot master these conceptions and force them into a unity of thought. We shall be wise if we let them master us, and guide us into a life of worship and obedience.
'Ah, my child,' says Heine, 'while I was yet a little boy, while I yet sat upon my mother's knee, I believed in God the Father, who rules up there in heaven, good and great; who created the beautiful earth, and the beautiful men and women thereon; who ordained for sun, moon, and stars their courses.
'When I got bigger, my child, I comprehended yet a great deal more than this, and comprehended, and grew intelligent; and I believe on the Son also, on the beloved Son, who loved us and revealed love to us; and for His reward, as always happens, was crucified by the people.
'Now, when I am grown up, have read much, have travelled much, my heart swells within me, and with my whole heart I believe on the Holy Ghost. The greatest miracles were of His working, and still greater miracles doth He even now work; He burst in sunder the oppressor's stronghold, and He burst in sunder the bondsman's yoke. He heals old death-wounds, and renews the old right; all mankind are one race of noble equals before Him. He chases away the evening clouds and the dark cobwebs of the brain, which have spoilt love and joy for us, which day and night have lowered on us.'
—John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 144.
References.—V. 7, 8.—E. W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 210. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 129. V. 8.—J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 172; ibid. Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 160. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1187.
1 John 5:9
On the contrast of credulity and faith, see Spencer's Sociology (p. 117), where he points out that 'one would hardly suppose, à priori, that untruthfulness would habitually co-exist with credulity. Rather our inference might be that, because of the tendency above enlarged upon, people most given to making false statements must be people most inclined to suspect statements made by others. Yet, somewhat anomalously, as it seems, habitual veracity generally goes with inclination to doubt evidence; and extreme untrustworthiness of assertion often has, for its concomitant, readiness to accept the greatest improbabilities on the slenderest testimony.'
References.—V. 9, 10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1213. V. 10.—G. S. Barrett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 179. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines (1st Series), p. 134. C. G. Finney, Penny Pulpit, No. 1554, p. 69. Bishop E. H. Browne, Sermons on the Atonement, p. 114. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 47. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1207; vol. xxi. No. 1250, and vol. xxiv. No. 1428.
1 John 5:11
How the brave sun doth peep up from beneath,
Shows us his golden face, doth on us breath;
Yea, he doth compass us around with glories,
Whilst he ascends up to his highest stories,
Where he his banner over us displays
And gives us light to see our works and ways.
Nor are we now, as at the peep of light,
To question is it day or is it night;
The night is gone, the shadows fled away,
And now we are most certain that 'tis day.
And then it is when Jesus shows His face,
And doth assure us of His love and grace.
One has spoken of difficulty in joining, in anticipation, 'himself and glory in one thought'. The greater difficulty is to join ourselves and eternal life in one thought now, although God has already in Christ so connected us in the very truth of things. But, as I have said, we are alike slow of heart to receive Christ's revelation of ourselves, and to receive His revelation of God—to believe that God has given to us eternal life in His Son, and to believe that God is love
—McLeod Campbell, The Nature of the Atonement (ch. VII.).
1 John 5:13
I shall never envy the honours which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth.
References.—V. 11.—T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 114. V. 11, 12.—H. D. Rawnsley, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 287. V. 12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 755. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 203. V. 13.—C. S. Macfarland, The Spirit Christlike, p. 141. E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and other Sermons, vol. v. p. 97. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1791, and vol. xxxiv. No. 2023. V. 13-15.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 596. V. 14.—F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons in Outline, p. 48.
1 John 5:14-15
This is one of the texts which require very little understanding and very great believing. It seems to go so entirely against the evidence of our senses. Whatsoever we ask, we receive 1 Why, which is there of us who has not asked again and again for something that we longed for, and yet has never received it at all! How many mothers have prayed for a dear child's life: and the child was taken: just as David did when Nathan had said to him, 'the child that is born to thee shall surely die'. How many men have asked earnestly to be delivered from some disease, as St. Paul from his blindness—but no, they have carried it with them to their graves. How many poor people have been oppressed (the children of Israel were by the Egyptians) by some cruel, griping, hard-hearted man, and has prayed to be delivered from him, but they never were! Then what does the text mean? Whatsoever we ask, we receive. And yet we know that we do not receive.
I. Now, the way in which some good men have explained this is, that whatever we ask we shall receive if it be good for us: that if we do not receive, it is only because it is not good for us—and that it is made up to us in some other way. Now I do not doubt that there is some truth in this, we may be sure, from our Lord's promise, that if we ask for a fish, he will not give us a scorpion—if we ask, that is, for something that seems wholesome and useful, He will not, because of our mistake, bestow on us something which is dangerous and a poison.
II. But still, there is a great deal more in the promise than this explanation gives it. 'Whatsoever we ask, we have the petitions.' First notice how many promises of the same kind there are, 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.' 'Whatsoever ye shall ask of My Father in My Name, that will I do'. 'If two of you shall agree as touching anything in My Name, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven; and all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. If you ask with all your power, determined to have, and believing that you will have, you will have. But then, how very, very few have this faith? The Apostles wrought their miracles only because they had more faith. If we had their faith we could do what they did. There is no other difference. There are all sorts of special answers to prayer; from the commonest answer to the highest miracle. Holy men have divided all answers to prayer into two heads; a grace or ordinary answer, and a miracle. A grace is an answer which does not break through what we call the laws of nature, that is, the laws by which God governs the world, but which nevertheless is very singular and remarkable. A miracle does break through these laws.
III. But then, you will notice, there are two conditions which our Lord makes when He promises to give us that which we ask. In the first place we must ask earnestly; in the second, we must believe that we shall have that for which we ask. But then this very faith is the gift of God. Here, as in everything else, of Him, and through Him and to Him, are all things. He gives us the desire to pray at first; He gives us the belief that we shall have what we pray for; and having given us both these things, He crowns His gifts by giving us the thing we do pray for.
—J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. II. p. 23.
How Prayer Is Answered
1 John 5:14-15
J. M. Neale gives the following illustration on this passage: 'Here is an instance of a very remarkable grace. It happened little more than a fortnight ago. There was a young soldier in the French army who when he went to the war, had most earnestly asked for the prayers of his mother. He dwelt on this over and over again; it was the last request he made her when he left his home; and in every letter she received from him there was still this same earnest request, Do not forget to pray for me. I daresay that she did not forget what he had asked every morning and evening. But one Wednesday afternoon—it was about four o'clock—this mother had it most strongly impressed upon her mind—she could not tell why or how, but so it was, that her son was in great danger, and that she ought to pray for him at once. And accordingly she did so, and went on praying for him, still having the same feeling, for more than two hours. In process of time she had a letter from the same son to say that in all these hours he had been in the extremity of danger, he had been picked out to serve in the forlorn hope of the French army in the battle of Balaclava. In that time he had seen the soldiers who stood next to his right and left sides shot down sixteen times; his own cap had been torn away, and his trousers were nearly torn to pieces with splinters of flints, hit up out of the ground by spent bullets; but he himself was not in the least injured; had not even received a scratch. Now this I do not call, strictly speaking, a miracle. It is rather an example of a "grace". Anyhow it is a wonderful proof how God can and does hear prayer.'
—Sermons in Sackville College Chapel, vol. II. p. 27.
References.—V. 14, 15.—J. E. Page, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 318. R. Rainy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 387. C. D. Bell, The Power of God, p. 140. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 309. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 23. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 61. Ibid. The Examiner, 24th May, 1906, p. 509. Ibid. City Temple Sermons, p. 38. V. 14-17.—S. Cox, Expositions, p. 239. V. 15.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 382. V. 16.—S. Cox, Expositions, p. 253. V. 16, 17.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 340.
1 John 5:18
John closes his letter with a series of triumphant certainties, which he considers as certified to every Christian by his own experience.
I. Of whom is the Apostle speaking here? 'We know that whosoever is born of God'—or, as the Revised Version reads it, 'begotten of God'—'sinneth not'. Let me recall to you the Master's words with which He all but began His public ministry. 'Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' There is the root of all that this Epistle is so full of, the conception of a regeneration, a being born again, which makes men, by a new birth, sons of God, in a fashion and in a sphere of their nature in which they were not the sons of the Heavenly Father before that experience. (1) This sonship of God, which is the result of being born, is mediated and received by us through our faith. (2) This new birth, and the new Divine life which is its result, co-exist along with the old nature in which it is planted, and which it has to coerce and subdue, sometimes to crucify, and always to govern. The new life has to grow. But growth is not the only word for its development. That new nature has to fight for its life.
II. What is asserted about this Divine life? 'Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.' I take the text to mean—not that a Christian is, or must be, in order to vindicate his right to be called a Christian, sinless, but that there is a power in him, a life-principle in him which is sinless, and whatsoever in him is born of God overcometh the world and 'sinneth not'. (1) This notion of a Divine life-power, lodged in, and growing through, and fighting with the old nature, makes the hideousness and the criminality of a Christian man's transgressions more hideous and more criminal. (2) The one task of Christians ought to be to deepen and to strengthen the life of God which is in their souls, by faith.
III. What is the ground of John's assertion about him 'that is born of God?' 'Whosoever is born of God sinneth not,' because round his weakness is cast the strong defence of the Elder Brother's hand.'
—A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 1.
References.—V. 18.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Epistles of John, p. 12. V. 18-21.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 81.
1 John 5:19
There are few things which the average Christianity of today wants more than a participation in that joyous confidence and buoyant energy which throb in the Apostle's words; and for lack of this triumphant certitude many a soul has been lamed, its joy clouded, its power trammelled, and its work in the world thwarted.
I. Look at the Christian certainty of belonging to God. 'We know that we are of God.' (1) The first conception in the phrase is that of life derived, communicated from God Himself. (2) The second of the ideas in this expression is, the continual dependence of that derived life upon God. (3) It is correspondent with its source, 'Ye are of God,' kindred with Him and developing a life which, in its measure, being derived and dependent, is cognate with, and assimilated to, his own. This is the prerogative of every Christian soul. The man that has that life knows it. That word 'know' has been usurped, or at all events illegitimately monopolised by certain forms of knowledge. But surely the inward facts of my own consciousness are as much facts, and are certified to me as validly and reliably as are facts in other regions which are attested by the senses, or arrived at by reasoning.
II. We have here the Christian view of the surrounding world. John learned from Jesus to use that phrase 'the world,' not as meaning the aggregate of material things, but as meaning the aggregate of godless men. The measure of our conscious belonging to God is the measure of our perception of the contrast between us and the ways of the men about us.
III. Consider the consequent Christian duty. (1) Cultivate the sense of belonging to a higher order than that in which you dwell. (2) Be careful to avoid infection. (3) Look on the world as Christ looked on it. (4) Work for the deliverance of your brethren from the alien tyrant. Notice the difference between the two clauses in the text. 'We are of God'; that is a permanent relation. 'The word lieth in the wicked one'; that is not necessarily a permanent relation. The world is not of the wicked one; it is 'in' him, and that may be altered. As in the old stories, knights hung their dishonoured arms upon trees, and laid their heads in the lap of an enchantress, so men have departed from God, and surrendered themselves to the fascinations and the control of an alien power. But the world may be taken out of the sphere of influence in which it lies. And that is what you are here for.
—A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 11.
1 John 5:19
He lets the world have its way; not from the hopelessness of the sceptic or the indifference of the epicurean, but because he knows that his own way, however lamely and blindly he pursues it, is yet that to which all the world's ways converge, and that it is the way that leadeth unto eternal life.
—T. H. Green.
Marcus Aurelius—than whom perhaps none ever craved more earnestly for justice, or possessed a soul more wisely impressionable, more nobly sensitive—Marcus Aurelius never asked himself what might be happening outside that admirable little circle of light wherein his virtue and consciousness, his Divine meekness and piety, had gathered those who were near him, his friends and servants. Infinite iniquity, he knew full well, stretched around him on every side; but with this he had no concern. To him it seemed a thing that must be, mysterious and sacred as the mighty ocean.... It did not lessen his courage; on the contrary, it enhanced his confidence, his concentration, and spurred him upwards, like the flame that, confined to a narrow area, rises higher and higher, alone in the night, urged by the darkness.
—Maeterlinck, in The Buried Temple.
References.—V. 19.—Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 251. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 37. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Epistles of John, p. 21.
The Certainties of Our Warfare
1 John 5:19-20
This has been called the Epistle of Love, and it well deserves that title; but it might be almost more appropriately called the Epistle of Certainties. There is the ring of absolute assurance from the opening words to the finish. Nor was the language of this Apostle at all singular and exceptional. As he wrote and spoke so felt and so testified all those first witnesses of Christ.
I. The strength and prevailing power of the early disciples were in their certainties. It was the age of the sceptic, a period of almost universal uncertainty. Men were everywhere boastfully declaring or mournfully confessing that nothing was or could be known about the higher powers and a future life. And then these Apostles went forth with triumphant certainty on their lips, holding in their hands the clue to all the great mysteries. No wonder that men gathered around them.
II. It was the certainties of the Apostolic Church that made it a missionary Church. The audacity of that early faith was sublime. There was no hesitation because there was no doubt. They could neither fear nor hold back nor sit still, in the absolute assurance that possessed them. 'We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.' And herein lies the lesson which I wish to press upon you: for in saying this I am saying what is true of every Church that is alive and earnest and aggressive. In this respect the old order never changes.
III. The measure of our certainty is the measure of our power. In all forward work especially the one essential is the absolute assurance that we hold proved truths, that our weapons have been forged in God's own furnace, that our directions have been given by the Holy Ghost, and the promises which inspire us uttered by Divine lips, and that He in whose name we go forth is the only true God and eternal life. The Church has surely had enough of the pruning hook and the dissecting knife. She wants to use the sword again in her real warfare. She wants to feel her feet again planted on apostolic certainties.
IV. We come back, then, ever to this confession of the Apostle, for to question it is to make missionary enterprise, if not a laughing-stock, at least a much-ado-about-nothing. 'We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.' Here in Christian lands we cannot always confidently say who are of God and who are of the wicked one. But the words are still true in their uttermost significance, of those who know Christ and those who know Him not. These are the certainties of the Christian heart, never to be let go or explained away; and these form the basis and inspiration of missionary purpose and work. And to this I have but to add one word. Surely the measure of our assurance is the measure of our obligation. The more absolutely we know these things the heavier is our burden of responsibility.
—T. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 120.
Reference.—V. 19, 20.—J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 328.
1 John 5:20
This third of John's triumphant certainties is connected closely with the two preceding ones. It is so, as being in one aspect the ground of these, for it is 'because the Son of God is come' that men are born of God, and are of Him. It is so in another way also, for properly the words of our text ought to read not 'And we know,' rather 'But we know'. They are suggested, that is to say, by the preceding words, and they present the only thought which makes them tolerable. 'The whole world lieth in the wicked one. But we know that the Son of God is come.' Falling back on the certainty of the Incarnation and its present issues, we can look in the face the grave condition of humanity, and still have hope for the world and for ourselves.
I. The Christian's knowledge that the Son of God is come. (1) When John says 'The Son of God is come' he is not speaking about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. In one aspect, no doubt, Jesus Christ had come and gone, before any of the people to whom this letter was addressed heard it for the first time, but in another aspect, if I may use a colloquial expression, when Jesus Christ came, He 'came to stay'. (2) The words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed, in Christ Jesus and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing belief that rests on testimony into knowledge grounded in vital experience.
II. Note the new power of knowing God given by the Son who is come. John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that 'He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true'. I do not suppose that he means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. This gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. III. Note the Christian indwelling of God, which is possible through the Son who is come. 'We are in Him that is true.' Christ in us is the deepest truth of Christianity. And that God is in us, if Christ is in us, is the teaching not only of my text but of the Lord Himself, when He said, 'We will come unto him and make our abode with him'.
—A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 21.
The lesson which St. John enforces, and which it was most easy for those to enforce, in whom a single human love had concentrated at once all that they counted most real in their whole life, human or Divine—'He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'—was a lesson quite foreign to the minds of the greater number of the Psalmists. The authors of these wonderful poems certainly found it much easier to love God than to love man, and their only theme of perpetual wonder was how it had been possible for God Himself to love man.
—R. H. Hutton, Contemporary Thought and Thinkers, vol. II. (XXII.).
All sorts of means are kept at work to make the children obedient and simple and noble. Joy and sorrow are servants in God's nursery; pain and delight, ecstasy and despair, minister in it; but amongst them there is none more marvellous in its potency than that mingling of all pains and pleasures to which we specially give the name of love.
—George Macdonald, The Marquis of Lossie (ch. XLIII.).
1 John 5:20
In the ninth of his introductory aphorisms in Aids to Reflection, Coleridge writes thus: 'None then, not one of human kind, so poor and destitute, but there is provided for him, even in his present state, a house not built with hands. Aye, and spite of the philosophy (falsely so called) which mistakes the causes, the conditions, and the occasions of our becoming conscious of certain truths and realities for the truths and realities themselves—a house gloriously furnished. Nothing is wanted but the eye, which is the light of this house, the light which is the eye of this soul. This seeing light, this enlightening eye, is Reflection. It is more indeed than is ordinarily meant by that word; but it is what a Christian ought to mean by it, and to know too, whence it first came, and still continues to come—of what light even this light is but a reflection'. To the word 'Reflection' in this passage, a note is appended explaining that it is the true meaning of the Greek term διανοιά in 1 John 5:20, whose full force is exhibited by the definition: 'a power of discernment by Reason'.
References.—V. 20.—R. Rainy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 387. Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 372. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Epistles of John, p. 29.
The Last Words of the Last Apostle
1 John 5:20-21
These words are probably not only the close of this Epistle, but the last words, chronologically, of Scripture.
I. Here we have the sum of all that we need to know about God. (1) What or whom does John mean by 'this'? When he says, 'This is the true God' he means to say, 'This God of whom I have been affirming that Jesus Christ is His sole revealer, and of whom I have been declaring that through Jesus Christ we may know Him and dwell abidingly in Him, 'this'—and none else—'is the true God'. (2) What does John mean by 'true'? By that expression he means, whenever he uses it, some person or thing whose nature and character correspond to his or its name, and who is essentially and perfectly that which the name expresses. The God revealed in Jesus Christ, and with whom a man through Jesus Christ may have fellowship of knowledge and friendship, answers to all that men mean when they speak of a God. (3) Consider what it is that the world owes to Jesus Christ, in its knowledge of God.
II. Here we have the sum of His gifts to us. The revelation which John would lay upon our hearts, is that, in His own essential self, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and brought into living fellowship with us by Him, is 'eternal life'. By 'eternal life' he means something a great deal more august than endless existence. He means a life which not only is not ended by time, but which is above time, and not subject to its conditions at all.
III. We have here the consequent sum of Christian effort. 'Little children keep yourselves from idols,' teeing that 'this is the true God,' the only One that answers to your requirements, and will satisfy your desires. What does John mean by an idol? He means anything, or any person, that comes into the heart and takes the place which ought to be filled by God, and by Him only. And how is it to be done? 'Keep yourselves.' But it is not only our own effort that is needed, for just a sentence or two before the Apostle had said: 'He that is born of God'—that is Christ—'keepeth us'. So our keeping of ourselves is essentially our letting Him keep us.
—A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 31.
References.—V. 20, 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2396. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Epistles of John, p. 39.
1 John 5:21
These are John's last words to those whom, in his affectionate, old man's way, he addresses as 'little children'; probably if the books of the Bible were arranged in the order in which they were written, they would be seen to be the last words of Scripture also. 'Idol' in his vocabulary means anything that comes between us and God, anything that takes for us the place of God. His words are a warning against idolatry in its widest and largest meaning.
I. Who among us is an idolater? What a man trusts in, that is his God. You may never have bowed the knee to an idol made with hands, and as far back as you can remember you may have daily bowed the knee to God, and yet you may be an idolater. Whom do I serve? In the outer sphere of life, in the eyes of men, God. But 'in my spirit,' whom? what? For remember, as Dr. Maclaren has truly said. 'A man's true worship is not the worship which he performs in the public temple, but that which he offers down in that little private chapel where nobody goes but himself.' The deities that are shrined there, these be thy gods, be thy offerings otherwhere what they may. Let us take the Bible in our hand and search out some of the dark corners of our hearts.
II. 'Whose God is their belly.' That is idolatry in its most repulsive, disgusting form. Gluttony, Drunkenness, Lust—to bow down before those is to worship the Beast, and to bear his mark in our foreheads. Swift and terrible is the retribution.
III. 'Covetousness, which is idolatry.' Does not that word smite some of us? Of all forms of modern idolatry none is more fatal than this.
IV. 'And Hezekiah brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.' Now we are in another world altogether. What does this mean? That it is possible for us to turn even the sacred things of religion into idols that come between us and God.
V. Beauty holds us today with a spell our fathers never knew. Literature, too, has brought its priceless treasures to our very door. To say that art and literature must not be as gods to us, is not to deny them their place in our life: it is to deny them the first place. I claim the first place for my Lord. Make Him first in everything. Nay, He can take no other place.
—G. Jackson, First Things First, p. 191.
References.—V. 21.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons for Children, p. 10. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 335.
1 John 5:21
We have surely never such need to show humiliation as when we are in the presence of a fallen idol. It is not the god, which was no god, that suffers, but its former worshipper, who sees what appeared divinity, corruption, and what looked strength, rottenness. And, in at least some slight degree, this terrible contemplation must be made by all mortals who place their entire faith in mere flesh and blood: who love the creature, which has beauty that we may desire it, more than the Creator whom no man hath at any time seen. One who wrote of human affection with a tenderness and understanding past comparison—who knew its infinite power and no less infinite weakness—one who has taught that by loving man we best learn how to love his Maker, has also warned us—'Keep yourselves from idols'.
—John Oliver Hobbes, A Study in Temptations (ch. xviii.).
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.