Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. LOVE OF IMMEASURABLE CONDESCENSION. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!" The Creator gave his love to his creature whom he had created in his own likeness. He made him capable of fellowship with himself, and, looking upon him with complacency, pronounced him "very good." God gave his love to man. But our text does not refer to man as he was created by God, but as he was when marred by sin against him. The infinitely Holy bestowed his love upon the unholy, the sinful; the unspeakably Glorious, upon the deeply degraded. He did not give his love to the amiable, the attractive, the worthy, or the lovable. He did not bestow it upon those who were merely immeasurably beneath him, but upon those who were in active rebellion against him. "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." His love to us, then, was not that of complacency, but of compassion; not that of admiration, but of benevolence and pity. It was "love seeking not its own," but our well-being; not rejoicing over the good and beautiful, but seeking with deepest solicitude for the salvation of the unworthy and sinful.
II. Love WHICH EXALTS AND DIGNIFIES ITS OBJECTS. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!" He himself calls us his children. Our Lord. taught us to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven." He said, "My Father and your Father, my God and your God." But in what sense does he call us his children? Not as being his by creation, but by regeneration. The words immediately preceding the text place this beyond dispute: "Every one that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." He has created them anew. They are "born from above." They are made "partakers of the Divine nature." No new faculties or capacities are given to them; nor do they need them; for man lost none of them by sin. His powers were corrupted and perverted, but not destroyed. The true relation and. harmony and. direction of his faculties man lost by his sin: he lost holiness. Being begotten of God, he is changed from an attitude of distrust, suspicion, or aversion from God, to an attitude of love to him; and holy love is the life of the soul. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7). They are "called children of God," then:
1. Because they are sharers in his life. In some humble measure they participate in that life of truth and righteousness, purity and love, which is his essentially and infinitely, and which flows from him to all his intelligent creatures who are in union with him.
2. Because they morally resemble him. Like him in their inward life, they are also in a measure like him in their outward action. As regards both their character and conduct, they bear some moral resemblance to him. He calls them his children because they are his children restored through Christ to his fatherly heart, animated with the Divine life of love, and growing in their conformity to his perfect character. How glorious is the love which thus blesses its objects!
III. LOVE WHICH INSPIRES ITS OBJECTS WITH THE MOST BLESSED ASSURANCE. "Called children of God: and such we are." True Christians are conscious that they are children of God. They have a cheering and. strengthening conviction that they are accepted of him, not only as his subjects, but as his sons and daughters. "The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Romans 8:14-16); "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:4-6). We have this sacred testimony in our consciousness of the Spirit's presence and work within us. He imparts unto us the filial spirit, "whereby we cry, Abba, Father." He inspires within us holy desires and purposes, he restrains us from sin, he comforts us in sorrow, he strengthens us to produce the fruit of the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance." The presence of these things in our lives is a testimony that we are children of God. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
IV. LOVE WHICH ENNOBLES THE CHARACTER OF ITS OBJECTS ABOVE THE RECOGNITION OF THE UNCHRISTIAN WORLD. "Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." "The world" is the same here as in 1 John 2:15.
1. The unchristian world knew not the Divine Father. "It knew him not." The "him" must be God the Father. If it refer to Jesus Christ at all, it must be as the Revelation of the Father. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, "Ye know neither me nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also" (John 8:19; John 16:3; John 17:25).
2. The unchristian world knows not the children of the Divine Father. "Therefore the world knoweth us not." Because they are his children and resemble him, they are enigmas to the world. By the love which he hath bestowed upon them they are so ennobled in their disposition and character, their principles and practice, that the unchristian world cannot understand them. Behold, then, "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us"! Believe it; contemplate it; admire it; reciprocate it. - W.J.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS INSEPARABLE FROM BEING CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. -Present inner nature.
(1) As recognized by God. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God: and such we are." The subject was started in the closing verse of the second chapter in the connecting of "doing righteousness" with being "begotten of him." The latter thought so arrests John, that he calls them to contemplate the great bestowal of love on them. It was love calculated to excite their admiration. It was love that proceeded from the Father. The fatherly love did not stop short of their receiving the title of "children of God;" and the title corresponds to the reality. God gives us community of nature with himself. "Partakers of the Divine nature" is the language which Peter employs. Our having God as our Father implies that we can enter into his thoughts, can enjoy his approval and love, can cooperate with him to the advancement of his ends. Beyond this it was impossible for love to go. Let us rejoice in the gifting of love, by which God openly gives us the title of his children, and does not give the title without the reality.
(2) As not recognized by the world. "For this cause the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." If we share the same nature with God, why are our circumstances so unlike our origin? The reason given is that "the world knoweth us not," i.e., cannot detect the Divine image in us. Our thoughts, our delights, our motives and ways of acting, are all a riddle to men of the world. That this reason holds good is confirmed by the fact that, when God appeared in Christ, the world knew him not. Instead of detecting his Divinity, when it was abundantly evidenced, to its utter condemnation, it took him to be an impostor.
2. Future glory.
(1) As concealed. "Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be." His heart warming toward his readers as recipients with him of fatherly love, he addresses them as "beloved." He reverts to the particular outgoing of that love, to mark it as the foundation of present blessedness. "Now [prominence being given to the thought of time] are we children of God." With the same nature as the Father, we revel in the Father's thoughts, we bask in the sunshine of the Father's love, we run the way of the Father's commandments. But what are we to say about our future state? To a certain extent that is concealed. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be." The conditions of life will be changed. The great change, as indicated at the close of this verse, is that we shall see God as he is. There will not be the present veil of his works between us and God; but the veil will be rent in twain for us. Now we know not very definitely, or experimentally, how we shall be adapted for this vision of God. We can only imperfectly realize both the conditions and the experience.
(2) As revealed. "We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is." It seems better to translate, "if it shall be manifested." It is not yet made manifest what we shall be; but it is certain that one day - we know not how soon - it shall be made manifest. Though we cannot very definitely anticipate this disclosure, yet we know this about it - that we shall have likeness to God. This connects our future with our present. The main element in our present is that we are children of God. Our future is to be our full growth, the bringing out of the Divine features in us to their greatest distinctness. It may be doubted whether this assimilation is regarded here as the result of the vision of God as he is. Rather are we being transfigured at present; and when the transfiguration is completed then will be fulfilled the condition of the beatific vision. Though, then, much is dark about our future, we have this upon which our minds can work - that it is the consummation of what we have of likeness to God along with the direct vision of God.
3. Action in view of the future. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he [that One] is pure." The future glory is a matter of hope to us, arising out of our present consciousness of sonship, our present experience of assimilation to God. It is a hope that rests for its realization on God. It is for him to complete the assimilation, and, with that, to give us the direct vision of himself. But it has been said of God (1 John 2:29) that he is righteous. What, then, is the duty of every one who has his hope set on a righteous God - the hope of being made like to him in righteousness? It is to address himself to the work of self-purification. This implies that he has yet sin cleaving to him. It does not imply that he is to look to himself for purification, but simply that it rests with himself to use the appointed means, viz. as these have already been set forth - trust in the cleansing efficacy of Christ's blood, confessing sins, taking advantage of the services of the Advocate. We may think of these as associated with the exercises of prayer and reading of Scripture, and with the struggle after purity in the daily life. We have great assistance in the work of self-purification in the fact that we have a Model of purity set before us in that One, viz. Christ. That was purity attained to in the use of means, and within humanity, and in the midst of the world's defilements; and therefore meaning the goal of purity for us, while giving us direction and stimulus toward that goal. It is purity which is viewed as in the present, a gain which has come down to him from his earthly life, in parable from his being lost. Christ, at this moment, holds up before us an image of human purity, under the spell of which every one who hopes to get near to God should come.
II. SIN INCOMPATIBLE WITH BEING CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. Sin in its essence. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness: and sin is lawlessness." Every one who hopes to behold God's face in righteousness purifieth himself. What is to be said of every one who, instead of purifying himself, doeth sin? He is in conflict with law, or the Divine order. God lays down certain rules for our life, appoints certain means of purification. He who does not observe the rules, does not use the means, does not escape moral judgment or characterization. His whole doing takes the character of lawlessness: and sin, it is added, is lawlessness. Sin supposes a law which has authority over us, whether revealed simply in the conscience or in Christ; it is the fact of there being such a law that gives character to action. Righteousness has the approval of God, as being the observance of his Law; sin has the condemnation of God, as being the violation of his Law.
2. Sin incompatible with the purpose of Christ's manifestation. "And ye know that he [that One] was manifested to take away sins." Christ had not only been proclaimed, but had been received by his readers; he could therefore appeal to their consciousness. The manifestation (in the past) here referred to covers the whole of the earthly history of our Lord; and it is important to note that, though its culminating point was his death, yet it all had a bearing on the taking away sins. The language seems to go beyond the taking of our sins upon him as our Substitute, and the procuring of forgiveness for us. He was manifested to take away sins out of our life. It is manifest, then, how incompatible sin is with God's thought. He who was in the bosom of the Father was manifested in flesh, endured hardness in this world, brought his earthly life to a close by a death of unmitigated anguish; and all that he might take away our sins. And are we, instead of carrying out the Divine intention, and having our sins taken away, to clutch at them as what we cannot part with, thus putting self before God?
3. Sin incompatible with Christ's sinlessness. "And in him is no sin." The sinlessness (in keeping with verse 3) is carried down to the present moment. He is sinless now in heaven. No sin has come down to him from the earthly manifestation. "By his sinlessness is meant that he was filled at every moment of his life with the spirit of obedience, and with a love to God which surrendered itself unconditionally to his will, and with those powers which flow from an uninterrupted communion with God. The consequence of this was, not only that no distraction caused by sin could find a place either in his inner or his outer life, but, more than this, everything was both willed by him and carried into execution that the will of God appointed." The worldly minded judge of Jesus, who was a man by no means very susceptible of what is high and noble, felt constrained solemnly to recognize the innocence of the persecuted Jesus. And Pilate's wife, who, we may suppose, was more impressible than he, was so deeply convinced of the purity and blamelessness of Christ, that the thought of her husband imbruing his hands in the blood of that righteous Man haunted her even in sleep, and gave her no rest. A Roman warrior who commanded the guard at the cross was so overpowered by the impression that the Crucified made upon him, that he broke forth in words of deepest reverence, "Truly this was a righteous Man, this was the Son of God." And the malefactor who was crucified along with him, moved by his dying look, was made strong to give his whole confidence to his Person, and to apprehend the joy of a better life. Long and confidential intercourse had given Judas the most intimate knowledge of his Master; hence, if he could have found anything reproachable in his life, he would without doubt have brought it forward, in order to quiet his conscience in the view of the consequences of his treachery, and to palliate his crime. Among his friends, John the Baptist started back at the thought of baptizing him, saying, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" Peter was so impressed with the presence of holiness in the miraculous draught of fishes, that he fell at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." As for Jesus himself, he was conscious of freedom from sin: "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" He claimed to be the Image and Reflection of perfect goodness: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." What, then, is the meaning to us of the sinlessness of Christ? It means that we are not to sin. Did he loathe sin, and reject it in every form? did he feel the attraction of all that was highest, and cleave to it with his whole being? and are we to feel the charm of sin, and take it unto us? are we to be insensible to the beauties of holiness, and put them away from us?
4. Sin incompatible with communion with Christ. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him." "Abiding in Christ" is taken up from the close of the second chapter. It implies an entire surrender of ourselves to Christ. It is, in communion with Christ, getting into his thoughts and life. Whosoever finds his destiny in this sphere of things sinneth not; i.e., it is his principle not to sin. The principle is no doubt imperfectly carried out, and is accompanied with daily falls into sin, for which forgiving grace is needed; still, it is his principle not to sin. Whosoever sinneth, i.e., makes it his principle to sin, makes self the point of his thoughts and life - hath not seen him, neither knoweth him. He hath not yet truly east his eye on Christ, neither is he in the circle of his thoughts.
5. Same truth emphasized. "My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [that One] is righteous." He addresses them as objects of his warm affection. His affection goes out to them as in danger. He cannot bear the thought of their being led astray. He has just been referring to knowing. That was a word which the Gnostic teachers used. Gnostic is literally "known." Those teachers said in one form or another, that, if men knew, it did not matter what their conduct was. Let no man, whatever his seeming authority, whatever his plausibility, whatever his use of the name of Christ, lead them astray. None can be placed above the demand for rightness of conduct. The only way in which a man can be regarded as righteous in the sight of God is by doing righteousness, i.e., carrying right principles into his whole conduct. It was so with that One; nay, it is so with him still. Even in his glorified life he can be thought of as held by Divine restraints. And, if we would maintain communion with him, we must love Divine restraints too.
6. Sin connects with an evil source. "He that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Taking up him that doeth sin, i.e., acts without regard to Divine restraints, he advances to the thought of his spiritual genesis. He is blessed with no high origin. He is connected with the name that is most repellent. The devil, originally good, "stood not in the truth." Appearing on the scene of human activity, he was the means of introducing sin into the world. That was his flagrant sin at the beginning; and he has not recoiled from his position. It is still his thought to baffle God, to destroy human happiness. This, then, is the spiritual parentage of him that doeth sin. God is not owned by him. He revels in such ungodly thoughts as Satan revels in, engages in such ungodly designs as Satan engages in. It is evident that he cannot have communion with Christ; for there is a deadly antagonism between Christ and the works of the devil. He was the Son of God, naturally zealous (so to think of it) for the Father's honour. It was no matter of indifference to him to think of the fair creation as marred, of human happiness as destroyed. And in the depths of eternity he burned to retrieve our lost position, and to this end, in the fullness of time, he was manifested, he came to be a destroyer too, but not like Satan a destroyer of good things, but a destroyer of Satan's works, i.e., all works that have this common bond that they are done against God, in disregard or defiance of his authority. If a man, then, is Satan's worker, Christ has a controversy with him; he is the deadly antagonist of his works, he aims at their utter destruction.
7. Divine origin is shown in opposition to sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God." He starts here from the high origin. He takes a man who is begotten of God, and he uses the strong language regarding him that he doeth not sin, the reason given being that his seed, i.e., the principle of the Divine life, abideth in him. Nay, he uses the still stronger language that he cannot sin, the reason given being that it is of God and of no other that he is begotten. An animal (which is suggested) does not live, cannot live, but in accordance with the principle of life from which it has sprung, and which is being unfolded in it. So he who has received the Divine principle into his life, and is having it unfolded in him, is not as though he had only the seed of depravity in him. Though there is depravity remaining in him, coming out in sins for which he has to humble himself, yet it can be said that sin is utterly foreign to his life. A man can only have properly one principle in his life, and his principle is not, cannot be sin, because the Divine seed is there, and of God he is begotten.
III. TRANSITION TO A NEW SECTION.
1. Mark of brotherly love. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." So far as the principle of life is concerned, there are two, and only two, classes of men. We are either the children of God or the children of the devil. It becomes us to ask of ourselves to which class we belong. And, seeing Christ shall say of many who profess to have eaten and drunk in his presence, "I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity," we have need to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy. Let us not please ourselves with illusions, but let us keep close to reality. The apostle gives us a mark here by which we may be helped to classify ourselves. According to his manner, he catches up the former idea of doing righteousness, but only to fix upon its most glorious form. He is not the child of God that loveth not his brother. Loving our brother, then, is that by which we are marked off from the children of the devil. This is the mark which we are to be helped to apply.
2. Commandment of brotherly love. "For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." It was of importance to consider brotherly love, because it was contained in the first message of Christianity. Did it announce the blessed fact that God made infinite sacrifice for us? Translated into a command that was that we should love one another. We have the command, with all the Master's authority. This contains the principle which is to operate in our life in our relations to one another.
3. Exemplification of the converse of brotherly love. "Not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous." He goes back to the first manifestations of evil for his example. Cain was the child of the devil. It is said here that he was "of the evil one." He was under the influence of him who was evil affected toward men. Being evilly affected toward his brother, he slew him. "And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous." He disliked Abel's piety, not so much purely, as because it gave him a better standing with God. When evidence was given, in the most convincing manner, of what their relative standing was, Cain's dislike grew to hate and hot anger which could not be appeased. - R.F.
I. A GLORIOUS FACT OF PRESENT EXPERIENCE. "Beloved, now are we children of God."
1. As sharing in his life.
2. As morally resembling him
3. As possessing the filial spirit.
II. A GRACIOUS MYSTERY AS TO OUR FUTURE CONDITION. "And it is not yet made manifest what we shall be." Ebrard: "While we are already God's children, we are nevertheless yet in the dark as to the nature of our future condition."
1. The mode of our being in the future is at present a mystery to us. We know that the soul exists consciously and at once after passing from our present mode of life. We infer this from such Scriptures as these: "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43); "We are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8); "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.... Having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better" (Philippians 1:21, 23). But how the soul exists when it has departed from the "natural body," or what is its mode of existence, we know not. At present the body is the organ and instrument of the soul. Does the soul after death require some vehicle of expression, some instrument of action? If so, of what kind will these be? Or will the soul be independent of such things? What is the clothing (2 Corinthians 5:2-4) which awaits the soul when it passes from the earthly house of this tabernacle? Of these things we know nothing. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be."
2. The exaltation of our being in the future is at present a mystery to us. The glory of our future being and condition is hidden from us as yet. What developments of being await us, to what services God will appoint us, with what honours he will crown us in the hereafter, - of these things we are altogether ignorant. Presumptuous are they who speak of the details of the condition and circumstances and occupations of the children of God after death. They who knew something of these things and were recalled to this life maintained unbroken silence concerning them (Luke 7:11-16; John 11:38-44). Paul was caught up into Paradise, but he said that it was not lawful to utter what he heard there (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Wisely and graciously God has left a veil over our future condition and circumstances. Mystery in these things is perhaps inevitable. Probably in our present condition we have no symbols by which the future glories could be revealed unto us. Our languages could not describe them. Music, as we have it, could not express them. Painting could not set them forth. Moreover, mystery in these things is merciful. We could not bear the revelation of the bright future, and continue in the faithful and patient performance of our duties in the present. There is one sense in which the children of God will ever say, "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be." Their progress will be interminable. The development of their being and blessedness will never come to an end.
III. A GRAND ASSURANCE AS TO OUR FUTURE CONDITION. "We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is." (It seems to us that the rendering should be, "if it shall be manifested." But the chief points of the apostle's teaching are the same whether, we translate, "if it" or "if he shall be manifested.") Here is an assurance:
1. Of moral assimilation to God in Christ. "We shall be like him." Like him in character and sympathies and aims. Like him too, in some respects, corporeally; for he "shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory" (Philippians 3:21).
2. Of the vision of God in Christ. "For we shall see him even as he is." Some measure of likeness to him is indispensable to our seeing him. Spiritual resemblance to him qualifies the soul to see him even as he is. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." But the truth here is that the vision of God in Christ will perfect the likeness of his children unto him. Ebrard: "The being like unto God will be effected by the beholding of God." The vision of God is transforming in its effect. After Moses had been with the Lord forty days and forty nights upon Mount Sinai, when he came down from the mount the skin of his face shone, and the people were afraid to come nigh him (Exodus 34:29-35). "We all, with unveiled face reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). By the operation of the same principle, when the children of God see him as he is they will become like unto him. How blessed and inspiring is this assurance! To see him and to be like him has been the dearest hope of the noblest souls. Thus David, "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness," etc. (Psalm 18:15); and St. Paul, "Having the desire to depart and be with Christ;" and St. John, "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein; and his servants shall do him service; and they shall see his face." "We shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is."
IV. A SALUTARY INFLUENCE OF OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE ON OUR CONDITION IN THE PRESENT. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself," etc.
1. The character of this hope. It is the assured expectation and the sincere desire of the vision of God in Christ, and of complete moral assimilation to him.
2. The ground of this hope. "This hope set on him." On what he has promised, and on what he is, his children base their great hope. "God is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19); "In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal" (Titus 1:2).
3. The influence of this hope. "Purifieth himself, even as he is pure." It is clearly implied that, while in this world, the children of God need moral purification. They are not yet entirely freed from sin, and sin pollutes the soul. Their sanctification is not yet perfected. But the precious and assured hope which they cherish stimulates them to seek for perfect moral purity. To indulge in sin, or to cease to strive after holiness, would be virtually to renounce their hope. They endeavour to attain to a holiness like unto that of Christ - to be pure as he is pure. His purity is the pattern of theirs. So that we have here a test of Christian character. Does our religion exert a sanctifying power in our hearts and lives?
"O Living Will, that shalt endure
I. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE HOLY LAW OF GOD. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness: and sin is lawlessness."
1. Sin in its abstract nature. "Sin is the transgression of the Law," or "lawlessness." This is said of sin in general: it is true of every sin, that it is a violation of the Law of God. This is opposed to several modern theories concerning sin. Some say that sin is a natural imperfection of the creature - the crude effort of untrained man for right conduct. Our text says that it is not imperfection, but transgression of a holy Law. And others charge all sin upon defective social arrangements: human society is not rightly organized, and because of this men err. But St. John charges sin upon the individual, and charges it as a disregard or a breach of Divine Law. And others apply the word "misdirection" to what the Bible calls sin, and thus endeavour to get rid of guilt. But misdirection implies a misdirector; that misdirector is man. And sin is more than misdirection; it is the infraction of the holy Law and beautiful order of the Supreme. The sacred Scriptures everywhere assert this. The cherubim and the flaming sword of Eden (Genesis 3:24), the awful voices of Sinai (Exodus 20), and the mournful but glorious sacrifice of Calvary unite in. declaring that sin is the transgression of the Law of God. And the voice of conscience confirms this testimony of Holy Writ. The unsophisticated and awakened conscience cries, "I acknowledge my transgression," etc. (Psalm 2:3, 4).
2. Sin in its actual commission. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness." The expression seems to indicate the practice of sin - voluntariness, deliberateness, and activity in wrong-doing. It is the antithesis of the conduct of the child of God in purifying himself. It is not sin as an occasional or exceptional thing, but as a general thing. Persistent activity in doing evil is suggested by the form of expression. We are reminded by it of the expression of the royal and inspired poet, "the workers of iniquity" - persons who habitually practice sin, who work wickedness as though it were their business. Here, then, are reasons why we should not sin.
(1) Sin is a violation of the Law of God; it is a rebellion against his will - the wise, the good, the Holy One. Therefore in itself it is an evil thing, a thing of great enormity.
(2) Law carries with it the idea of penalty. It has its rewards for those who observe it; its punishments for those who transgress it. Hence our interests plead with us against the practice of sin.
II. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. The holy will of God the Father and the redemptive work of God the Son are both essentially antagonistic to iniquity. "Ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin."
1. The end of Christ's mission was the abolition of sin. "He was manifested to take away sins. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." The bearing of our sins in his own body on the tree is not the fact here mentioned. It is involved; for "once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26); but it is not brought out in this place. The manifestation denotes his incarnation, and his life and work in the flesh. His entire mission was opposed to sin. He became incarnate, he prayed and preached, he wrestled with temptation, and wrought mighty and gracious works, he suffered and died, he arose from the dead, and he ever lives, to take away sins. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
2. A great characteristic of Christ's Person was his freedom from sin. "In him is no sin." He asserted his own sinlessness: "Which of you convicteth me of sin?... The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me." And this claim he consistently maintained. His enemies tacitly or openly confessed that they could find no sin in him. The Pharisees keenly watched him to discover some matter of accusation against him, but their watching was vain. And when they had preferred a false charge against him before Pilate, the Roman judge said, "I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this Man touching those things whereof ye accuse him;" "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous Man." Judas Iscariot had known Jesus intimately for three years, and after he had traitorously betrayed him, in intolerable anguish he cried, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood." And his friends, who had been closely and constantly associated with him for three years, invariably asserted the perfect moral purity of his character and conduct. The sinlessness of our Lord should check every inclination to sin in his disciples, and stimulate them to the pursuit of holiness. To commit sin is to run counter to our Saviour's personal character, and to the gracious spirit and grand aim of the redemption which he has wrought.
III. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE DIVINE LIFE IN MAN. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him."
1. Participation in the Divine life precludes the practice of sin. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not." We abide in Christ by believing on him, loving him, communing with him, drawing our life from him (cf. John 15:1-7). That this part of our text cannot mean that sin is impossible to a Christian is evident from 1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 2:1,
2. But in so far as the child of God abides in Christ he is separated from sin. In the degree in which the Divine life is realized by him, in that degree he is unable to sin (cf. verse 9).
2. The practice of sin proves the absence of a true knowledge of Jesus Christ. "Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him." The sight and knowledge here spoken of are not merely intellectual, but spiritual; not theoretical, but experimental. And the "sinneth" does not denote sin as an occasional and exceptional thing, but as general and habitual. He who lives in the practice of sin thereby proclaims that he does not know the Lord Jesus Christ. By all these reasons let Christians watch and pray that they sin not, and "follow after sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord." - W.J.
I. LOVE TO BE TRACED TO A SAVING CHANGE.
1. Not to be expected in the world. "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you." Cain hated Abel; after the same fashion the world hates Christ's people. Our Lord, whom John here echoes, points to the fact of his being hated before his people, and then adds, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Abel's tragic end was conclusive evidence that he was not to be classed with Cain; so when the world hates us, there is this consolation, that we have evidence of not being classed with the world.
2. Its presence the sign of a saving change. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Here again John echoes our Lord, who describes the saving change in the same language (John 5:24). The passage out of death into life is to be interpreted in accordance with being begotten of God and having his seed in us. It is not simply justification - a passage out of a state of condemnation into a state of acceptance. It is rather regeneration - a passage out of a dead, abnormal state of our thoughts, desires, volitions, into their living, normal state. This is a passage which must take place in the spiritual history of every one of us who would come forth into the light of God's countenance. It is not effected without Divine help, which is offered in the gospel. To every one to whom the gospel offer is made there is granted the assistance of the Spirit, that he may lay hold on Christ as his Saviour. With Christ there is a new principle introduced into our life, which now needs full manifestation for our perfect health and happiness. It is a matter, then, of the very greatest importance for us to know that we have made the passage out of death into life. We are not to take this for granted, but to be guided by evidence. The test given by our Lord is - hearing his Word, and believing him that sent him. John's interpretation of this is loving the brethren. We are to love those who are animated with the same Christian sentiment, not in the same way those who are animated with worldly sentiment. If we have the right feeling within the Christian circle, loving all who love Christ, then we may conclude that a saving change has taken place in us.
3. Its absence the sign of continuance in an unsaved state. "He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." The apostle singles out him who is not under the influence of love (without any specification of object), and says of him, that he abideth in death, i.e., has not made the passage - remains where he was. In confirming this, he assumes that want of love is equivalent to hatred of a brother. It is only where love is active that hatred is effectually excluded. "Whosoever hateth his brother [there seems to be a limitation to the Christian circle] is a murderer." He has the feeling of the murderer, in so far as he is not sorry to see the happiness of his brother diminished. If he is a murderer to any extent, then - according to the old law - his life is forfeited. It cannot be said of him, as it can be said of him that loves, that he has eternal life abiding in him. His true life, that which has eternal elements in it, has not yet commenced.
II. LOVE IN ITS MANIFESTATION.
1. Love in its highest manifestation. "Hereby know we love, because he [that One] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The apostle has laid down love as the sign of a saving change; how are we to know what love is? He does not give any philosophical definition of it; he reaches his end better by pointing to its highest manifestation, viz. that One laying down his life for us. "I have power to lay it down," he said, "and I have power to take it again ;" but he elected to lay it down. It was laying down that which was dearest to him, that which cost him an infinite pang to lay down. There was not a little truth in what Satan said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." It was only love that could overcome the greatest natural aversion to dying - a love stronger than death, a love burning with a flame that waters and floods could not quench. It was love going out toward us, that sought to be of infinite service to us. He did not grudge his life, that we might have life - the pardon of our sins, and the quickening of his Spirit through our whole nature. To point to this is better than to give any definition of love - it is love meeting a great necessity, solving the problem of sin, triumphing over the greatest difficulty that could arise under the moral government of God. There was rebellion against the Divine authority: how was it triumphed over? Not by a resort to force, which would have been easy, but by drawing upon the resources of love, even by that which was fitted to excite the astonishment of the universe - the Son of God becoming incarnate, and laying down his precious life, that the guilt of rebellion and all its evil consequences might be removed. So John needs not to give any definition of love in abstract terms; he needs only to say, "Hereby know we love." This is its absolute realization - a realization from which we are to derive instruction and inspiration. For what does it say to us? John puts it thus, "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." As he represents those who hate as murderers, so he represents those who love as martyrs. If we take "laying down our lives" as actual martyrdom, then there is not an obligation to this raider all circumstances. In the early times Christians had often to face martyrdom - it was a matter of obligation to them from which they could not free themselves, from which they sought not to free themselves, because they were under the spell of Christ's sacrifice for them. It is to the honour of our Christianity that they went forth even joyfully to meet death in whatever form it came to them. If opportunity offered, it would be our duty to do the same. But observe the spirit of our great exemplification of love. It was not self-immolation for its own sake, but rather self-immolation for the sake of being of service to us. He who, like Lacordaire, has himself bound to a literal cross is doing a bold thing, but a mistaken thing, for the reason that there is no proper connection between his act and service done. Carried out, it would turn Christianity into a religion of suicide. What keeps us right, while still preserving the spell of Christ's sacrifice, is that we allow our love to go as far in sacrifice as our doing service to others requires.
2. An ordinary failure in love. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" It is very exceptional where our duty is to lay down our lives for the brethren; it is generally a much simpler matter. Here is a Christian who has the means of living for this world beyond what he absolutely requires. He is not rich, let us say, but is in good health, and employed, and has an ordinary living. Here, on the other hand, is a brother in need, who is in bad health, or is unemployed, or is incapacitated by age for work. "The poor ye have always with you." What, then, is the duty of a Christian to a needy brother? Is he not guided to it even by his natural feelings? As he beholds his brother in need, his heart opens in compassion toward him; and he goes and lays down for him, not his life in this case, but a little out of his worldly store, which goes to lighten the burden of his brother's poverty. That is the Christian part. But let us suppose the converse. Here is one who professes to be a Christian. Nature does not refuse him assistance. The spectacle of a brother's poverty opens his heart in compassion. But he selfishly shuts it - goes away, and finds prudential reasons for not making the little sacrifice that his feelings unchecked would lead him to make: have we not grounds, in this case, for doubting his Christianity? Of one who goes and lays down of his living for a needy brother we can think that he has the love of God abiding in him. Even in that little sacrifice he is acting in the same line in which God acted in making infinite sacrifice. But of one who cannot lay down, not his life, which is the highest test, but a little of his living, which is a very low test, what are we to think? What has he in common with that God whom he professes to love, of whose love the cross of Christ is the expression?
3. The requisite of reality in love. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth." With all affectionateness he would have them to attend to this lesson, calling them his little children, and including himself in what he inculcates. Love may very properly find expression in word. "Kind messages have a grand part to discharge in the system of utterances and acts by which the reign of love is maintained and advanced in so hard a world. As soon as we have passed beyond the limits of school into the real world, we find that it is sweet to be remembered with regard by friends at a distance - to learn that you have not faded out of their memory, like unfixed photographs in the sunshine; that you are sufficiently a distinct object of regard to be found worthy of a direct and affectionate salutation." It is very proper also to use the tongue in conveying love. The kindly feeling must be in the heart; but let the kindly expression also be on the tongue. There is nothing more beautiful in the picture of the virtuous woman drawn by King Lemuel than this touch: "In her tongue is the law of kindness." Let not the tongue be used as the vehicle of disagreeableness, of rancour; let love teach us how to use it. Kindliness of tone, especially when accompanied with the fitting word, does much to take away the hardness of life and the oppressive sense of isolation. But, when proper occasion arises, let us also love in deed. Withhold not from a needy brother when thou canst relieve him. Perform the act to which the kindly feeling prompts. Then only can we love in truth. Love that stops short of doing, that does not go beyond fine phrases, is characterized by unreality. To be true, it must penetrate into what is practical, however unromantic.
III. LOVE IN ITS BENEFICIAL RESULT.
1. Assurance. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." The link of connection is truth as the sphere in which love moves. Let us go on loving, and we shall know that we are of the truth; i.e., have hold of eternal reality, so as to be steadied by it and wholly charactered by it. Knowing that we are of the truth, we shall assure our heart before him. It is of the utmost importance that we should have our heart assured as to our state and destiny. This can only be "before him;" for it is with him that we have to do - to whom we stand or fall. Does our heart tell us that we stand in a right relationship to him? We may have experience of sin, as we have already been taught, and yet stand in a right relationship to him. God's people are those who are being gradually cleansed from sin in the blood of Christ and in connection with confession of sins. Their titles, then, are not affected by remains of sin, if there is a new life operating in them, showing itself especially in the activity of brotherly love. The following course of thought cannot be ascertained with certainty. The difficulty is caused by the introduction of "for" before "God is greater." For its omission there is one very good authority of the fifth century; but the weight of authority is for its introduction. If we take the more authoritative reading, we have not a clear sense; on the other hand, if we take the less authoritative reading, we have a clear and excellent sense. It seems to be a case (very rare, indeed) in which the authority of manuscripts must yield to the authority of consistent thought. The way of getting over the difficulty in the Revised Version is far from satisfactory. It seems to teach that, if we only love, then, whereinsoever our heart condemn us, we may pacify it by the thought that God is greater than our hearts, especially in his omniscience - which is a latitudinarian sentiment. In the old version there is a distinction drawn between the case of our heart condemning us and the case of our heart not condemning us.
(1) Misery of a heart that condemns. "Whereinsoever our heart condemn us; because ['For if our heart condemn us'] God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." Having started the thought of assurance, John emphasizes it by putting forward the calamitousness of its opposite. If our heart condemn us, i.e., if, from the presence of unloving feelings and from other evidences, we do not have good ground for thinking that we have yet come into a covenant relationship to God, then our case is bad. We have not only self-condemnation - conscience turned against ourselves - but we have something worse. God is greater than our heart in this sense, that he has made it with its power of judgment upon ourselves. Conscience is only his legate; we must think of the great God himself pronouncing judgment upon us, and his judgment is more efficient than ours. We have but a limited knowledge even of ourselves. If with that limited knowledge our judgment is condemnatory, what must the judgment of God be? He has more to proceed upon; for he knoweth all things - things that have faded from our mind, things in the depths of our heart beyond our own power of clear discernment. This clear condemnation of ourselves, involving the weightier and more terrible condemnation of God, is not to be taken as equivalent to want of assurance, which only goes thus far - that the evidences do not warrant a clear judgment in our favour. This want of assurance, which not a few Christians have, is a painful state, which should stimulate to a laying firm hold upon Christ, in whom all our interests are secured.
(2) Bliss of a heart that does not condemn. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God." In view of his now stating their case and his own case, he calls them "beloved." We look into our hearts, and, with an honest desire to know the truth, we cannot come to the conclusion that we stand in an uncovenanted relationship to God. With the traces that there are of sin, there would seem to be also traces of a work of grace going on in the heart. This may not amount to full assurance; but, in so far as it is present, we do not need to look up to God with fear. We are conscious of having the justifying judgment of God, of being children of God; and we can look up with holy boldness to our Father.
2. Privilege of being heard. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." One form which our boldness takes is asking. We are full of wants; and it is natural for us, in the consciousness of our sonship, to express our wants to our Father. We go upon the ground of our covenant relationship in pleading. "Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee." "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" We ask not always with the full knowledge of what we really need, but with the reservation that respect may be had by God to our real need. And whatsoever we thus ask, we receive of him. He constantly blesses us out of his boundless stores. There is a ladder of communication between us and heaven, upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. We are heard, not apart from obedience. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." We must be conscious of an honest intention to bring our life into agreement with our prayers. It is only when we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight, that we have that boldness in asking which God rewards. Added explanation. "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment." He would leave no doubt as to what he means. The commandment is one in two parts. The first part of the commandment is that we believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ. This may be said to be his full Name. He was the historical Jesus, who stood in an essential relationship to God as his Son, and was sent forth to do his saving work. That is the blessed import of the Name here given to our Lord. His nature has thus been declared; and what we are commanded to do is to trust in the Name. We are, as sinners, to trust in the Name of him who has gloriously wrought out salvation for us. And what a Name to trust in! Not the name of one who can love a little, and can have no saving merit to transfer; but the Name of him who manifested the infinite desire of God for our salvation, and, in labour and in hiding of the Father's face, acquired infinite merit for transference to us. The second part of the commandment follows on the first. It is loving one another, and the manner is added (as commanded by Christ) - which is loving one another as he has loved us (John 15:12). He in whom we trust commands in accordance with his own nature, commands in accordance with his own example. We cannot trust in him and not love; and thus there is virtually one commandment.
3. Privilege of communion. "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him." The apostle here recurs to the key-note of the Epistle. When, trusting in Christ, we love one another, we keep the way clear for communion with God. Transition to a new section. "And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." The pledge of communion is possession of the Spirit, which is unfolded in the following paragraph. - R.F.
I. THE GREAT CHANGE HERE SPOKEN OF. "We have passed out of death into life." Consider:
1. The state from which the Christian has passed. It is here spoken of as "death." The death is not physical, or intellectual, or social, but moral and spiritual. "Ye were dead through your trespasses and sins;" "alienated from the life of God." God is the Life of the soul. In union with him the soul lives; separated from him the soul dies. Sin separates from him. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God ;" "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Sin is fatal to all that constitutes the life of the soul - to truth and trust, to reverence and love, etc. A state of sin is a state of death.
2. The state upon which the Christian has entered. He has "passed out of death into life." He is united to God by faith in Jesus Christ, and thus participates in the Divine life. He has passed over from the sphere of the darkness into that of the light; from the dreary realm of death into the blessed kingdom of life. "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17); "And you, being dead through your trespasses... he quickened together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses" (Colossians 2:13). This great and blessed change is effected
(2) by the agency of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5, 6, 8); and
II. THE EVIDENCE OF THIS GREAT CHANGE. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." There may he a reference in the term "brethren" to the common brotherhood of all men; but it seems to us that its chief meaning is the Christian brethren. The love spoken of is not simply natural affection, as the love of parent for child, child for parent, husband for wife, wife for husband, etc. Again, there may be certain social qualities in a Christian which are attractive to others, yet not distinctively Christian. He may be a useful man; in society he may be interesting and agreeable, and therefore he is admired and loved; but such love does not prove that they who exercise it "have passed out of death into life." Again, we may love Christians, not because they are Christians, but because they belong to our ecclesiastical party or share our theological opinions; but this affection is not to be taken as an evidence that we have experienced the great and saving change. The love of which St. John writes is a love of the brethren, not because they belong to us or to our party, but because they belong to the Lord Jesus. The affection which is a proof that we have passed from death unto life is a love of the brethren:
1. Because of their relation to Christ and God. They are one with Christ by faith and love. Through the Saviour they are children of the Divine Father. They are regarded by him with complacency. They are loved by him with the love of approbation. And they possess the filial spirit in relation to him (Romans 8:14-16). If we love God we shall love them, because they are his. "Whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him" (1 John 5:1). And such love is an evidence "that we have passed out of death into life."
2. Because of their resemblance to God in Christ. Our Lord and Saviour is the Supreme Revelation of God the Father to our race; and his character, "as he lived upon earth," as Hooper has said, "is like a perfect, many-sided crystal. Whichever way you look at it, it is without flaw. Whichever way you turn it, some new beauty of colour is reflected from the rays of light shining through it. The character of the Christian is like a crystal too, but a small one, full of cracks and flaws, which break up and disfigure the brilliant gleams reflected from the sunlight.... The Christian must be like Christ, or he is nothing; but it is a likeness with a vast distance between - the likeness of the infant to the strong man; the likeness of a feeble sapling to the full-grown giant oak." To love Christians because we discover in them this moral resemblance to God in Christ is an evidence "that we bare passed out of death into life."
1. If we have this holy, fraternal affection, let us draw from it the assurance which our text warrants. "We know that we have passed," etc.
2. Let us cultivate more and more of this Christian love. - W.J.
I. THE EXHIBITION OF THE NATURE OF TRUE LOVE. "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us." "The meaning is not," as Ebrard says, "wherein we (subjectively) have perceived love, but in what (objectively) the nature of love consists."
1. It is of the nature of love to make sacrifices. Love is essentially communicative. It seeks to impart itself and its treasures to others. It does not ask - What shall I receive? but - What shall I give? It takes upon itself the burdens and sorrows of others.
2. The greatest sacrifice is the surrender of life. The strongest self-love in human nature is that of life. Man will perform any labours, confront any perils, make almost any sacrifice, to save his life. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." Therefore the surrender of life is the costliest sacrifice that even true love can offer. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us."
3. But Christ sacrificed his life for his enemies. "For us." That it was for sinners is not mentioned here; but it is elsewhere. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us," etc. (1 John 4:10). "Christ died for the ungodly," etc. (Romans 5:6-8). And the manner in which his life was sacrificed was most painful. He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." The derision and degradation, the ignominy and anguish, associated with his great self-sacrifice were such that death itself was but a small portion of what he endured for us. Behold, then, in him who laid down his life for us what genuine love is.
II. THE OBLIGATION TO EXERCISE TRUE LOVE. "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods," etc. It is implied that all true love is one in its essential nature; the love in the heart of God and pure love in the heart of man are alike in kind; the love which we ought to exercise should resemble that of our Lord Jesus Christ. It should be like his, not in its degree, but in its character; not in its intensity and force, but in its kind. Like his in extent and degree our love can never be; for his is infinite, ours must ever be finite. "A pearl of dew will not hold the sun, but it may hold a spark of its light. A child, by the sea, trying to catch the waves as they dash in clouds of crystal spray upon the sand, cannot hold the ocean in a tiny shell, but he may hold a drop of the ocean water." So our love, though utterly unlike Christ's in its measure, may be like it in its essential nature - it may be as a spark from the infinite fire. Two forms of expression of genuine affection are here set forth as obligatory.
1. Willingness to make the great sacrifice for our brethren. "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The principle, as we apprehend it, may be thus stated, that, when a greater good will be accomplished by the sacrifice of our life than by the saving of it, we should be willing to surrender it. We should have such love for the brethren as would inspire us to lay down our life for them, if it were necessary, and we could thereby effectually promote their salvation. Such was the love of St. Paul: "Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all." Love which would enable us to imperil our life if by so doing we may save others from death. Such love for our Lord and Saviour as would lead us to choose death rather than deny him. Such love for his cause as would impel us to sacrifice our comforts, our home, and even life itself, if thereby we may advance its interests and spread its triumphs. So St. Paul: "I hold not my life of any account, as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." And zeal in this cause is surely one of the highest forms of love for our brethren.
2. Readiness to relieve the needs of our brethren. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need," etc. (verse 17). True love expresses itself not only in great and heroic acts, but in little deeds of thoughtful kindness, in lowly ministries to the poor and needy. Our Lord not only gave his life for men, but he helped them in other ways. He fed the hungry thousands (Mark 8:1-9). He vindicated the loving woman who, having anointed him with her costly perfume, was blamed for so doing (Matthew 26:6-13). He prepared a meal for his hungry, weary, and discouraged disciples (John 21:4-13). We ought to imitate him in this respect. We shall not fail to do so if true love dwells in our hearts. If we do not help our needy brethren when it is in our power to do so, it is clear that a love like Christ's is not in us. Look at the case stated in the text.
(1) Here is a brother requiring help - a "brother in need."
(2) Here is another who has power to render the help which is needed. He "hath the world's goods " - the things needful for the sustenance of the bodily life.
(3) The latter is aware of the need of the former. He "beholdeth his brother in need;" he has not only seen, but looked upon, considered, his needy brother.
(4) Yet he does nothing to relieve the need; he bestows nothing out of his store to supply the wants of his brother; he closes his heart against him.
(5) "How doth the love of God abide in him?" Whatever may be his professions, his conduct proves him destitute of Divine love. Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and in truth. Let our love be not merely a profession, but a reality; not an empty sentiment, but a hearty service. Let the beneficence of our hand be joined with the benevolence of our heart. In the spirit of our Lord, let us give to our brethren, not only genuine sympathy, but generous self-sacrifice whenever it is needful so to do. - W.J.
I. THAT CONSCIENCE EXERCISES A. JUDICIAL FUNCTION IN MAN. By "our heart" in the text St. John means, as Alford says, "the heart as the seat of the conscience, giving rise there to peace or to terror, according as it is at rest or in disquietude.... The heart here is the inward judge of the man." Many are the definitions of "conscience." "Man's conscience is the oracle of God." "Conscience is God's monitor in the soul of man." "The sense of right." "God's vicegerent in the soul." Dr. Whewell: "Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation." The function of conscience is not to give the Law unto us, but to pronounce whether we have kept the Law or not. "It is the great business of conscience," says Archbishop Leighton, "to sit, and examine, and judge within; to hold courts in the soul; and it is of continual necessity that it be so." It is most important that we bear in mind that for us conscience is not an infallible guide in the ethics of conduct. Some of the darkest crimes that were ever committed have been sanctioned by conscience. Saul of Tarsus was conscientious in his fierce persecution of the early Christians. "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9-11). And in subsequent ages many a persecutor has resembled him in this respect while perpetrating the most revolting cruelties. That the judgment of conscience may invariably be true and perfect it must needs be regulated by the revealed will of God, and be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We should take the will of God in Christ Jesus for our law; and then let conscience, quickened by the Spirit of God, exercise its judicial function in condemning or approving us in our relation to that law.
II. THAT WHEN, IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS JUDICIAL FUNCTION, CONSCIENCE CONDEMNS US, MUCH MORE ARE WE CONDEMNED BY THE HOLY GOD. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." To my mind these words suggest two important considerations.
1. Our conscience is an imperfect judge, but God is absolutely and infinitely holy. Conscience has undoubtedly suffered by reason of human sin. Its judgments arc not always of the most exalted character. As a judge it is sometimes partial. Sometimes it allows what if it were perfectly pure it must condemn. But "God is greater than our heart." His righteousness is perfect. Sin in every form is utterly abhorrent to him. His holiness is without the slightest spot or the faintest shadow. The greatness of his mercy towards the sinner does not lead him to excuse any sin. If our heart condemn us, how much more does be? If our conscience, which is but a faint and imperfect echo of his voice, condemn us. bow much more does he?
2. Conscience may not take cognizance of every sin, but God "knoweth all things." There are sins which escape the vigilance of conscience. A man's secret sins may be of three classes:
(1) those which are unknown to his fellow-men, but known to himself;
(2) those which are not recognized as sins by himself, but are so viewed by his fellow-men; and
(3) those which are not regarded as sins either by himself or his fellow-men. But no sins whatever are hidden from God. "His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness," etc. (Job 34:21, 22); "He hath set our iniquities before him, our secret sins in the light of his countenance." If, then, our conscience with its imperfect information, condemn us, how much more must he who "knoweth all things"! "If conscience be as a thousand witnesses," says Dr. Arrowsmith, "the all-seeing God is as a thousand consciences."
III. THAT WHEN, IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS JUDICIAL FUNCTION, CONSCIENCE DOES NOT CONDEMN US, WE REGARD GOD WITH INSPIRING CONFIDENCE. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God." Notice:
1. Confidence in God as to its nature. "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." It is the firm persuasion, the assurance, of the heart that we are his children, and that we may look to him to be to us and to do for us all that he has promised to be to and to do for his children. Or, if we view it as indicated by the twenty-first verse, it is the confidence that he does not condemn us, but that he accepts us now and will own us in the great day. How precious is this assurance!
2. Confidence in God springing from the exercise of holy love and the approbation of conscience. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." The "hereby" refers to what has gone before. He who loves neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth, may know that he is "of the truth," etc. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren;" "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." Again, St. John speaks of this assurance towards God as springing from an approving conscience (verse 21). Apart from the approbation of the inward monitor, we cannot look Godward with confidence or with joy.
3. Confidence in God inspiring the conviction that he will answer our prayers to him. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." The keeping of his commandments is not meritorious; it does not give us a claim upon him for the blessings which we ask in prayer; but it is an indication of character which shows that the suppliant will ask only what is in accordance with his will. That we "do the things that are pleasing in his sight" is a guarantee that we shall desire only those things which he will be pleased to bestow upon us (cf. 1 John 5:14, 15; Psalm 37:4). Having the assurance that we are his children and endeavouring to please him, we are persuaded that the wise and gracious Father will answer our prayers to him. - W.J.