Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE REASON OF THE OBLIGATION OF BROTHERLY LOVE. The duty to love our Christian brethren is here based upon our common relation to God. The order of the apostle's thought seems to be this:
1. The Christian brother is a true believer in Jesus the Christ. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ" is included by St. John among the Christian fraternity. The genuine Christian accepts Jesus as the Christ of God, the Anointed of the Father for the great work of human redemption. He looks to him as the Being in whom ancient prophecies are fulfilled, and in whom the noblest expectation and the purest desire of the human race are realized. And the belief of which the apostle writes is not the mere intellectual acceptation of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, but the hearty acceptation of Jesus himself as the Saviour appointed by God. Every one who thus receives him is a true member of the Christian brotherhood.
2. Every true believer in Jesus the Christ is a child of God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." Where there is genuine faith in our Lord and Saviour there is a new moral disposition. The Christian believer is born anew of the Spirit of God. "As many as received him [i.e., Jesus the Christ], to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his Name," etc. (John 1:12, 13). "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:17) - he has new sympathies, new purposes, new principles, new relationships, a new spirit. He has the filial spirit, "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
3. Every child of God should be loved by the children of God. "Whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
(1) It is taken for granted that the child of God loves his Divine Parent. In whomsoever the new life beats there is love to God. In the spiritual realm love is life. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God." The highest life is that of supreme love to God; and, where this is, love to the brotherhood will not be absent. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," etc. (1 John 4:20, 21).
(2) From the fact that the child of God loves his Divine Parent, St. John makes this deduction, that he will love the children of God. It is natural and right that he who loves the Father should also love his children, or that the children of the one Father should love each other. Here, then, is the reason of the obligation to love our Christian brethren. We believe in one Lord and Saviour; we are children of the one Divine Father; we are members of one spiritual family; we are characterized by some measure of moral resemblance to each other, for each is to some extent like unto the Father of all; we are animated by the same exalted and invigorating hope; and we are looking forward to the same bright and blessed home. That we should love each other is in the highest degree natural and reasonable.
II. THE EVIDENCE OF THE: GENUINENESS OF BROTHERLY LOVE. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God," etc. (verses 2, 3). Two remarks, we think, will help us to apprehend the meaning of St. John.
1. Our love to the brethren is genuine when we love God. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do his commandments." We may love our Christian brethren for other and inferior reasons than that of their relation to the heavenly Father; we may love them because they are rich in worldly goods, or because they are gifted and clever, or because they arc amiable and attractive, or because they bold the same political principles, or believe the same theological opinions, or belong to the same ecclesiastical party, as we do. But love for any of these reasons is not necessarily and essentially Christian love. The genuine Christian affection towards the brethren is to love them because they believe that Jesus is the Christ, and they are the children of God. In the consciousness of our love to God we have evidence that we love our Christian brethren as his children.
2. Our love to God is genuine when we cheerfully keep his commandments. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous."
(1) The divinely appointed test of love to God is obedience to his commandments. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me," etc. (John 14:15, 21, 23); "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," etc. (John 15:10); "This is love, that we should walk after his commandments" (2 John 1:6). Genuine love is not a merely sentimental, but a practical thing.
(2) The obedience which springs from love is cheerful. "His commandments are not grievous" to them that love him. Love is not only life, but inspiration, courage, and strength; therefore, as love to God increases, obedience to his commands becomes easier and more delightful. "I confess," says Watson, "to him that hath no love to God, religion must needs be a burden; and I wonder not to hear him say, ' What a weariness is it to serve the Lord!' It is like rowing against the tide. But love oils the wheels; it makes duty a pleasure. Why are the angels so swift and winged in God's service, but because they love him? Jacob thought seven years but little for the love he did bear to Rachel. Love is never weary; he who loves money is not weary of toiling for it; and he who loves God is not weary of serving him." Says Miss Austin, "Where love is there is no labour; and if there he labour, that labour is loved." Will our love to God bear this test of cheerful obedience to his commands? Then do we love him truly; and so loving him, we shall love all his children. - W.J.
1. A common faith with a common life is the foundation of brotherly love. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." A general aspect is given to the truth. Given a person who (according to what John has formerly taught) believes that Jesus is the Christ, it can be said of him that he is begetter, of God, i.e., is the subject of a Divine life. It is implied, but not expressed, that a child of God loves the Author of his life. This love is extended to him that shares with him the same Divine life. There is thus created a brotherhood, with a common source of life and a common stream of life. And shall not all who have a common origin and common movements love one another?
2. The reality of brotherly love is proved by the activity of obedience. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." There is here personal application of the truth. When can we say that we love the children of God? The answer given is (the converse being also true), when we love God. Have we some real love to God? then inseparable from that is love to his children. For along with love to God goes the doing of his commandments, under which is included love to the children of God. This is the love of God in its working, that we are careful about doing the commandments of God. If a child has a sincere love to his parents, and knows that they wish him to be kind to his brothers and sisters, he will not oppose that wish. So if we have love to God, and know that it is his will that we should extend our love to his children, we shall make an endeavour in that direction. Transitional thought. "And his commandments are not grievous." If a parent loves his children, he will not give them all that they are inclined for; but he will lay commandments on them, i.e., he will lay down certain rules for their conduct, lines in which they are to act, which will be for their benefit, and, he hopes, their ultimate emancipation. There is nothing grievous in these commandments; they are the expression, not only of righteousness, but of kindness. So with the Divine commandment. If God had not loved us, he might have left us without directions for our life; but because he loved us, and could not bear to see us straying in devious paths to our destruction, therefore he has commanded and warned us well. There is "line upon line, precept upon precept." So far from these commandments being grievous in their nature, they are beneficial, emancipating. They are the direct roads to our happiness. They are not arbitrarily laid on us, but are thoroughly reasonable and suited to our nature. Is there anything unreasonable or unnatural in our loving the God of our life, and with our whole soul? And, loving the Father, may we not be asked to love also those who share with us the life of God?
3. The difficulties of obedience which are presented by what the world is are conquered by faith. "For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." The apostle's thought is not of the world in its normal state, but as it has been made by sin. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is forgetfulness of God. "The wicked... and all the nations that forget God" (Psalm 9:17). Men may not be all wicked in the highest degree - deliberate and daring in sin; they may be divided against each other; but it is natural to all alike to wish to banish God out of their minds as an unwelcome, disagreeable subject. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is selfishness - the opposite of what is here inculcated. Men may not be all malevolent in the highest degree - devilish, according to the common conception - but it is natural to all alike to hurry on to their own satisfaction, without regard to the claims of others. The world is, further, that in social condition which is formed by following ungodly, selfish tendencies. Take such a social condition as is presented among the Jews. Long ago they took up a wrong position with regard to the Messiah. "His blood be on us, and on our children!" And in their generations, with few exceptions, they have stood to their position. Scattered among the nations, they have not conformed to the creeds of the nations. A common sentiment has pervaded them in many lands. Centuries of neglect and persecution have only served to burn into their minds the conviction that their forefathers were in the right. And now it would seem like a cutting off a right arm to acknowledge the Messiah. Take, again, such a social condition as is presented in the Church of Rome. It is well organized, is restlessly active, has a wonderful power of reaching minds, and yet it is identified with a system which is, to a great extent, in the name of Christ, a flattery of the human heart. Take a quasi-Christian condition of society. Without flagrant irreligiousness and vice, there is a worldly tone prevalent in families, in communities, in trades, in professions, even in Churches. There are views of life and practices that tend to lessen the sense of responsibility, and to divide men. When the world has on its side the influences of early training, of numbers, of dignitaries, of daily example, it is a formidable power to which to be opposed. And, if we look to ourselves, we are entirely at its mercy. But we are not hopeless, for a Divine power can be communicated to us, and all within us that is quickened by the Divine touch overcometh the world. What God does is to impart life; what we have to do is to exercise faith. We lay hold on what is outside of us, and thus we conquer. We lay hold on the infinite satisfaction there is in Christ, and thus we are not clogged, in our battle with the world, with the feeling of guilt. We lay hold on the conquest Christ obtained over the world. There is presented to our faith a God whom we are powerfully impelled to love. Thus situated, the commandments of God are not grievous. We may be said to conquer the world when no longer worldly ideas are influential with us. And when we have taken up the position of faith, the world becomes only the means of our discipline. The world will only be conquered in the fullest sense when the customs of society and influences which permeate it are such as to afford the greatest help to remembering God and living for the good of others. Appeal to experience. "And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a Christian, and endowed with this faith." In the apostle's day there were many who seemed hopelessly involved in heathen customs and traditions; but even out of their heathenism they reached forth the hand of faith to the incarnate Son of God, and conquered, in giving up their heathen life, and living according to Christian rule. It is only condescending love, apprehended by faith, that can break the spell of the world.
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY TO THE OBJECT OF FAITH.
1. Its nature. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." The Bible is not so plain in every part that he that runneth can read. Peter found in Paul's writings some things hard to be understood. John uses simple words, but it is not always easy to catch his meaning. The present passage has been very perplexing. The historical basis is obvious. There was water at the commencement of our Lord's ministry; there was blood at its close. He came by water as baptized, he came by blood as crucified. Water signifies life in its purity; blood signifies life in all its purity sacrificed, and so made available for us. He came not with the water only; for his pure life by itself could not be available for us. But he came with the water and with the blood; for it was as sacrificed that his pure life was available for us. The fact that he had a pure life in the midst of sinful humanity testified to his being the Son of God. And so at his baptism there was the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The fact that by his death a fountain of life was open for men (significantly there gushed from his pierced side blood and water - first blood, and then water) also testified to his being the Son of God. And so there was the Divine attestation following in his resurrection. That is historical testimony belonging to a distant century. But the Spirit is the ever-present Witness, being the Truth. There are thus three present witnesses. There is the Spirit, placed first; because he witnesses through the water and the blood. There is the water, witnessing in the power of a new life in us. There is the blood, witnessing in redemptive virtue going into us to give us the power of a new life. And the three agree in one; their testimony converges to one point, viz. to the new life in us being the grand proof that Jesus is the Son of God.
2. Its sufficiency.
(1) It is Divine. "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son." It is implied that we receive the witness of men. If three human witnesses of ordinary intelligence and probity agree, we proceed upon their testimony even in matters affecting life and death. There is an important sense in which the condition of three witnesses is fulfilled with regard to the Divine testimony. Apart from that there is to be taken into account the infinite superiority of God to man. He is not a man, that he should be deceived; he is not a man, that he should lie; and, therefore, when he gives his testimony concerning his Son, he should be believed.
(2) It is in consciousness. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." The object of the Divine testimony is that we should believe on the Son of God. He that, accepting the Divine testimony, believes on the Son of God is made independent of it as external. He hath the (Divine) testimony in himself, so that he does not need to go beyond his own consciousness for testimony to the place of Jesus. In the case of him who believes not God who hath testified, this testimony in consciousness is forbidden by the very nature of his unbelief, which is making God a liar - believing what men say in ordinary matters, but not believing what God says about his Son.
(3) It is in the possession of life in Christ. "And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." We have here a better disclosure of the purport of the testimony, showing it to be fraught with the greatest blessing. It is testimony regarding God's own gift of life. One element in life is the enjoyment of the Divine favour; another element is the quickening of our powers. It is life that, even in what is begun of it here, is eternal in its nature. It is life not promised, but actually given. It is life intended for our appropriation by faith. It is life to be found in Christ, by whom, though free in reference to us, it has been meritoriously procured, in whom also its nature is exhibited. We who have appropriated the Divine gift in the Holder and Dispenser of it can testify to his being more than man, even God incarnate. Practical inference. "He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." The boon, which is of unspeakable value, comes with the possession of the Son; therefore the all-important thing is to possess the Son. He that hath the Son hath the life gifted, enjoys the favour of God, has his spiritual powers quickened. He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life gifted, lies under the Divine disfavour, has his spiritual powers with the torpor of death on them. And the two states are the poles asunder. Let us believe on the Son of God, and we are at the pole of eternal sunshine. 'Let us refuse the Divine testimony, and we are at the opposite pole of eternal cold. - R.F.
I. IN ITS ORIGIN. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world." The true Christian is "born anew;" he is "born of the Spirit;" he "is begotten of God." This relationship involves:
1. Participation in the life of God, especially the life of love (cf. 1 John 4:7).
2. Resemblance to the character of God.
3. Possession of the filial spirit in relation to God.
4. The title to a glorious inheritance from God. "We are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16, 17); God "hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible," etc. (1 Peter 1:3-5).
II. IN ITS CONFLICT. Our text speaks of overcoming, and overcoming is suggestive of struggle. "Victory" implies combat. The Divine life in man and the life of the ungodly world are essentially antagonistic. Satan is "the prince of this world" - "the god of this world." "St. John constantly teaches," says Canon Liddon, "that the Christian's work in this state of probation is to conquer 'the world.' It is, in other words, to fight successfully against that view of life which ignores God, against that complex system of attractive moral and specious intellectual falsehood which is marshaled and organized by the great enemy of God, and which permeates and inspires non-Christianized society. The world's force is seen especially in ' the lust of the flesh, in the lust of the eyes, and in the pride of life.' These three forms of concupiscence manifest the inner life of the world," and against them the Christian has to contend. It is the battle of truth against error, of light against darkness, and of love against hatred.
III. IN ITS CONQUEST. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." The Divine life in the children of God is by its nature mightier than the life and spirit of the unchristian world. There is conflict, but the conflict issues in the victory of the child of God. He is not overcome of evil, but overcomes evil with good. He is not led astray by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the vain-glory of life," but rises superior to them. In proportion as he who "is begotten of God" participates in the life of God, he vanquishes the world and its temptations, both its seductions and its tribulations. And all the evil world, of which the apostle wrote, is destined to be completely conquered by the life of God working in and through men.
IV. IN THE SECRET OF ITS POWER. "This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Notice:
1. The nature of this faith. It is not the mere intellectual acceptation of a theological proposition or propositions; "not that heartless assent which never touches the practice nor moulds the affections." This faith is quite as much a moral as an intellectual act; it is of the heart as well as of the head; and it infuses courage, moulds character, and directs conduct.
2. The Object of this faith. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
(1) Faith in Jesus as truly human. St. John, in thus mentioning Jesus, evidently took for granted that his readers believed in the reality of his human life. We must believe in him as toiling and tired, tempted and tried, suffering and sorrowful, persecuted and crucified, risen and ascended. Yet he was never the vanquished, but always the Victor. Even on the cross he conquered.
(2) Faith in Jesus as essentially Divine. Not that he is a son of God, but "that Jesus is the Son of God" - "His only begotten Son" (1 John 4:9). If the Christian would overcome the world, "he must have a strong faith," as Canon Liddon says - "a faith in a Divine Saviour. This faith, which introduces the soul to communion with God in light, attained through communion with his blessed Son, exhibits the world in its true colours. The soul spurns the world as she clings believingly to the Divine Son." We have said that Jesus was always victorious. As we truly believe in him, we are partakers of his life and sharers in his victory. This is in accordance with his own word to his disciples: "In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Says Dr. Stier, "Our faith in him is the victory which has already overcome the world. 'The conflict and suffering which we now have is not the real war, but only the celebration, a part of the glory, of this victory (Luther)." So St. Paul, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me."
3. The exclusiveness of this faith as the means of victory over the world. "Who is he that overcometh the world, See this and the following points more fully stated in our homily on 1 John 3:1. On the meaning of" the world" in this Epistle, see our homily on 1 John 2:15-17. but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" The complete victory over the world can be attained only by genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. - W.J.
I. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BAPTISM. "This is he that came by water,... even Jesus Christ." The coming here meant is not that of his incarnation, his entrance into this world; but his coming forth from the retirement of Nazareth to enter upon his great redemptive mission. His coming "by water" we regard as referring to his baptism by John. That baptism was:
1. The inauguration of his great mission. When Jesus went to John for baptism he had finally left his private life, and was just about to enter upon his public ministry, and his baptism was a fitting introduction to that ministry.
2. An inauguration characterized by supernatural and Divine attestation. Probably it is for this reason that St. John here refers to our Lord's baptism: "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him," etc. (Matthew 3:16, 17). And John the Baptist testified, "This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel," etc. (John 1:30-34).
II. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS CRUCIFIXION. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood." The reference is to the blood which he shed upon the cross for the redemption of mankind. But how did his death witness to the truth that he was the Son of God?
1. By the extraordinary phenomena associated with his death. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.... And Jesus yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," etc. (Matthew 27:45, 50-54; Luke 23:47, 48).
2. By the transcendent moral grandeur expressed in his death. He voluntarily submitted himself to death for the salvation of the lost world. Our Lord said, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me," etc. (John 10:17, 18); "He gave himself for our sins," etc. (Galatians 1:4); "He gave himself a Ransom for us," etc. (1 Timothy 2:6); "He gave himself for us," etc. (Titus 2:14); "Christ also suffered for sins once, the Righteous for the unrighteous," etc. (1 Peter 3:18). He freely surrendered himself to the most painful and shameful death, not for himself, or for his friends, but for sinners and rebels against him and his Father, and in order that they might have eternal life. Such self-sacrifice was more than human, more than angelic, - it was strictly and properly Divine.
"This was compassion like a God,
III. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS SPIRIT. "And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth, For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." Notice:
1. The nature of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. At our Lord's baptism the Spirit bore witness that he was the Son of God (Matthew 3:16, 17). Our Lord said, "The Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me" (John 15:26). Again he said, "The Spirit of truth... he shall glorify me; for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you." He bore witness to the Messiahship of Jesus by coming down, according to his promise, upon the apostles, and by making the gospel of Christ which they preached a saving power to thousands of souls (Acts 2; Acts 4:31). And he bears witness for Christ in the hearts of Christians (chapter 3:24; 1 Corinthians 12:3).
2. The value of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit, is the truth;" "The Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; John 15:26); "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth." His testimony is of the utmost value and importance, because it is perfectly free from error or fraud; proceeding from the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who is the truth, it is light without any darkness, truth without any error. And his testimony is that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BELIEVING PEOPLE. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him.... And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." "The object of the Divine testimony being," says Alford, "to produce faith in Christ, the apostle takes him in whom it has wrought this its effect, one who habitually believes in the Son of God, and says of such a one that he possesses the testimony in himself." All genuine believers in Jesus Christ have the witness of their own consciousness "that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." They are conscious that the life of love - love to God and. to man - is theirs. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." And we know that this life was quickened within us through the exercise of faith in Christ. To us individually this is the most convincing of all witnesses. "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
V. THE TESTIMONY OF ALL THE BEFORE-MENTIONED COMBINED. All the foregoing witnesses are united and concurrent in their evidence. "The three agree in one." We may say that the four agree in one. Their testimony is unanimous. There is no contradiction, no discrepancy in their evidence. With one voice they declare, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel." "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Notice two points in conclusion:
1. The claim which this testimony has upon, our acceptance. "if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater," etc. We receive human testimony, notwithstanding that
(1) The witness may unintentionally be untrue. Human observations and impressions and recollections are not always accurate; hence the witness of men is sometimes undesignedly incorrect. But in the manifold and Divine testimony to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God there cannot be any inaccuracy or imperfection.
(2) The human witness may intentionally be untrue. Man may endeavour to deceive; he may willfully bear false witness. But "the witness of God is greater." The Spirit of truth cannot lie. Therefore this testimony has the most commanding claims upon our acceptance.
2. The issue involved in type non-acceptance of this testimony. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." Is any one prepared to discredit God? Will any one implicitly charge him with falsehood? Be it ours to receive his testimony with larger, fuller confidence, and to rest in his Son with deeper, more loving, and more reverent trust. - W.J.
I. A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. "He that hath the Son." What are we to understand by these words? What is involved in them?
1. Realizing faith in him.
(1) In his existence. Saving faith in Christ is faith, not in his historic reality only, but in his present existence - that he is. "He ever liveth."
(2) In his perfection. It will profit me nothing to believe in Jesus as an ordinary Man, having the imperfections, weaknesses, and sins of our human nature. Faith in such a being would not result in any accession of strength. Faith must be exercised m him as "holy, harmless, undefiled," etc. Thus believing in him we are, as it seems to us, necessarily led on to faith in his proper Divinity - "that Jesus is the Son of God" (verse 5).
(3) In his interest in us. Faith in his existence and perfection and Divinity will not benefit us unless we believe in his regard for us - that he cares for us, desires to bless and save us. Now, we need what I have called a realizing faith in him. The faith of which St. John and St. Paul wrote, and which our Lord required in himself, is a far greater and deeper thing than intellectual assent. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "When the soul in very truth responds to the message of God," says Canon Liddon, "the complete responsive act of faith is threefold. This act proceeds simultaneously from the intelligence, from the heart, and from the will of the believer. His intelligence recognizes the unseen object as a fact. His heart embraces the object thus present to the understanding; his heart opens instinctively and unhesitatingly to receive a ray of heavenly light. And his will, too, resigns itself to the truth before it; it places the soul at the disposal of the object which thus rivets its eye and conquers its affections." With a faith like this, the Christian apprehends Jesus Christ as a grand, living, spiritual, Divine Person; enshrines him in the heart's innermost and holiest temple; and offers to him humblest and deepest reverence. Thus the Christian "hath the Son."
2. Acceptance of his teaching. The Christian is intellectually and practically loyal to the teaching of Jesus Christ. In a very true and important sense Plato may be said to have had Socrates. He had so studied his utterances, so mastered his method, so thoroughly acquainted himself with his views and theories and principles; moreover, he held him in such high esteem, regarded him with such reverence, that we may, without exaggeration, say that he possessed Socrates. "We have the mind of Christ." By means of his teaching we have intellectual communion with him. His precious utterances, his glorious revelations, we believe; they are ours. All that he spake we receive as true; so his mind becomes ours; and in this sense we have him.
3. Supreme sympathy with him. He gave himself for us, and in return we give ourselves to him. "We love him, because he first loved us." By reciprocal affection we have him. This is the trust, completest, highest way in which one person can have another. He by whom I am truly loved, and whom I truly love, is mine indeed. Thus we have the Son. He dwells in us by his Spirit. His teaching, his presence, his love, his life, his Spirit, are ours; himself is ours, inalienably and for ever. St. John frequently represents this relationship to Christ as conditioned simply by faith in him (verse 13; John 3:14-16, 34). In his vocabulary "faith "is a comprehensive word. It "is not merely a perception of the understanding; it is a kindling of the heart, and a resolve of the will; it is, in short, an act of the whole soul, which, by one simultaneous complex movement, sees, feels, and obeys the truth presented to it." He who thus believes on the Lord Jesus Christ "hath the Son."
II. THEY WHO HOLD THIS RELATIONSHIP ARE POSSESSORS OF THE HIGHEST LIFE. "He that hath the Son hath the life." What are we to understand by "the life" τὴν ζωήν?
1. Not mere existence. The most wicked among men have this. Fallen angels have existed through thousands of years (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). To argue for either the perpetuity or the non-perpetuity of existence from the teaching of the apostle concerning "the life" is a gross perversion of his teaching.
2. Not mere intellectual life. Voltaire, Byron, et al., possessed this in a high degree; but who would affirm that they had "the Son" and "the life"?
3. Not mere emotional life. There are many whose sympathies are abundant and active, who sincerely pity the wretched, who have often been moved to tears as they have contemplated the woes of the Man of sorrows, who yet have neither" the Son" nor "the life." The life of which St. John writes is "the new life of God in humanity." This new life may be viewed as a new reigning affection. By faith in Christ man is regenerated, his ruling love is changed. His deepest and strongest affection is no longer earthly, selfish, or sinful, but heavenly, self-abnegating, holy; he loves God supremely. He is thus brought into vital and blessed relationship with God. Holy love is life. "The mind of the Spirit is life" (Romans 8:6). He who has the Son has this life. He has it now, not in its most glorious development, but really and increasingly (Galatians 2:20). Under the influence of this supreme love to God all the faculties of the spiritual nature advance towards perfection in blessed harmony with his holy will.
III. THIS LIFE IS ATTAINABLE ONLY THROUGH CHRIST. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." What is essential to this life? That man's strongest and deepest love shall be fixed on God. And we have no revelation of God adequate to inspire this affection save that which is given unto us in Jesus Christ. On viewing the life as consisting of the union of the soul of man with God, we affirm that it is only through the mediation of Jesus Christ that this union can be effected. Man is estranged from God by sin, "alienated from the life of God," and under condemnation because of sin. "The Son of man has power to forgive sins." "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." By the manifestation of the love of God in his life, and especially in his death, he destroys the enmity of the sinful heart, and reconciles man unto God. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Christ reveals God as a Being possessing in infinite degree those attributes which are necessary to command the soul's supreme love. He manifests the perfect righteousness of God. The cross of Jesus Christ is the grand declaration of God's unappeasable hatred of sin, and his zeal for the maintenance of rectitude. It is the perfect revelation of religious truth for man's intellect and heart. He is "the Truth." In him truth was incarnate. In him the love of God is most perfectly expressed. Divine love toiling, sorrowing, suffering, dying, to save the unlovely, the unworthy, the ill deserving, is manifest in him. He shows us the ineffable mystery of God in self-sacrifice for us. He reveals, as fully as is possible to our dim vision, the transcendent beauty of the Divine character, for our admiration and reverence. In a word, taking holiness as expressing the summation of the Divine perfections, he reveals the infinite holiness of God. Hero in him we have such a revelation of the Supreme Being as is perfectly fitted to command the homage of conscience, to quicken and strengthen the intellect, to expel all enmity, and beget in the soul the purest, deepest, intensest love, and to call forth the reverent devotion of our being. Such a revelation believed in and brought home to our spirit by the Holy Spirit, is life-giving; and such a revelation we have in Christ alone. Only through him can we attain the highest life (cf. John 3:36; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
1. This relationship may be attained by every one. (John 3:16.)
2. God seeks to bring all men into this relationship. He invites, exhorts, entreats, etc.
3. If any have not this life, it is because they refuse to comply with the condition of its bestowment. "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." - W.J.
I. THE AIM OF THE EPISTLE CONNECTED WITH ASSURANCE. "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God." At the beginning of the Epistle, the apostle's aim was stated to be Divine fellowship and completed joy. In looking back, he feels that he has kept his end in view. In the restatement of his aim, he goes the length of completed joy. Beyond the quickening of their spiritual life, he has aimed at their having the joy of knowing that they had the life eternal actually begun in them. He has given them certain marks (usually introduced by "herein") by which to make clear to them their Divine birth, or possession of the Divine life as believers on the Name of the Son of God. When we have the right elements in our life, and can make a correct diagnosis of them, we have comfort. We are indebted to the apostle yet for the help he has given us, in this Epistle, to the right reading of cur life.
II. ASSURANCE IN RELATION TO PRAYER.
1. Confidence of being heard. "And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." Knowing that we have the Divine life, we are reasonably bold toward God, as children are bold toward their parents. Our boldness comes out especially in our asking. We are full of wants, and so we need to be constantly asking. We ask in the confidence of being heard. If we ask anything, he heareth us - which has only this limitation, that we ask according to God's will (not properly a limitation; for God's will is our highest good). If we are to ask according to God's will, then the meaning of that is that we are to have our desires in a proper state - to have them educated up to God's will. We are to have them chastened by proper submission to God's appointments; and we are to have them thoroughly enlightened, so that we desire with God, and up to the largeness of the blessing that he holds out to us. As Jesus was praying in a certain place, after he ceased, the disciples, filled with a sense of their own deficiencies, said, "Lord, teach us to pray." It is not the language of our prayers that we need to have improved, so much as our simple responsiveness to the Divine will.
2. Certainty of having our petitions. "And if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him." We have actually presented our petitions in confidence of being heard: how do we stand? We know that we are richer than we were before. Hannah rose to accord with the Divine will, and, knowing that she had her petition, it happened to the "woman of a sorrowful spirit" that "her countenance was no more sad." The Master was in perfect accord with the Divine will; and he had his every petition. "And I knew that thou hearest me always" (John 11:42). In so far as we resemble him, in confidently expressing the Divine will, shall we know ourselves to be richer for our prayers.
III. ASSURANCE IN SPECIAL RELATION TO INTERCESSION.
1. Promise. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death." This is asking suggested by the brotherly love which the apostle has been inculcating. Have we any ground of confidence to go upon in asking for a brother? We have here very distinct ground pointed to, even in the case of a brother who is seen sinning a sin. It is not a sin by which he is wholly deprived of life, but a sin by which his life is regarded as in part suspended. He is seen by one who is united to him by the tie of Christian brotherhood, who does not regard him with unconcern, who is moved by the sight to ask for him restoration of life. The promise is that the asker will be the instrument of giving life to those within the brotherhood of whom it can be said that they sin not unto death.
2. Limitation of the promise. "There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request." This must be taken in close connection with the context. The reference is simply to the brotherhood. Are we warranted in all cases to pray for an erring brother, in the expectation that we shall be the means, under God, of giving him life? The promise does not go that length. A (hitherto) recognized member of the brotherhood may unbrother himself, may cut himself off from fellowship with God, by denying (let us say) the force of the Incarnation. In such a case, the apostle does not say that we are to make request (familiarly) for him as for a brother. The virtue that there is in brotherhood and in brotherly intercession is there lost; and he is really to be dealt with as one unbrothered. That is not to say that we are not to pray for him at all; for we are to pray for all men.
3. Large scope of the promise. "All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." "Sin" is a wide word; it includes all violation of right. Every unbrotherly expression that we use is an offence against God. There is thus abundant room for the exercise of intercession. There is sinning through many degrees without sinning mortally. Let us, then, realize what is in our power. A brother, to our knowledge, sins even seriously. He does not sin, in our judgment, so as to put the Incarnate One decisively away from him; but he sins so as seriously to interrupt fellowship with God, which is his life. As belonging to the same privileged circle, we have a part to perform. We have to intercede with God on his behalf. We have to intercede confidently; for the promise of our giving him life is clearly applicable. In answer to our intercession there wilt be a wakening of him up out of the slumber that has been upon him, so that he enjoys renewed fellowship with God. - R.F.
I. AN ASSURANCE THAT GOD HEARS PRAYER. "This is the boldness that we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." Prayer is much more than petition. Canon Liddon admirably defines it: "Prayer is the act by which man, conscious at once of his weakness and of his immortality, puts himself into real and effective communication with the Almighty, the Eternal, the self-existent God.... Prayer is not only - perhaps in some of the holiest souls it is not even chiefly - a petition for something that we want and do not possess. In the larger sense of the word, as the spiritual language of the soul, prayer is intercourse with God, often seeking no end beyond the pleasure of such intercourse. It is praise; it is congratulation; it is adoration of the Infinite Majesty; it is a colloquy in which the soul engages with the All-wise and the All-holy; it is a basking in the sunshine, varied by ejaculations of thankfulness to the Sun of Righteousness for his light and his warmth Prayer is not, as it has been scornfully described, 'only a machine warranted by theologians to make God do what his clients want;' it is a great deal more than petition, which is only one department of it: it is nothing less than the whole spiritual action of the soul turned towards God as its true and adequate Object.... It is the action whereby we men, in all our frailty and defilement, associate ourselves with our Divine Advocate on high, and realize the sublime bond which in him, the one Mediator between God and man, unites us in our utter unworthiness to the strong and all-holy God." Such is prayer in its highest and largest significance. But in our text prayer is viewed simply as petition. "If we ask anything;... whatsoever we ask.... the petitions which we have asked of him." Notice:
1. The offering of prayer. This implies
(1) consciousness of need. How many are man's wants! Regular supplies for the requirements of the body, forgiveness of sin, daily guidance and grace, reliable hope as to our future, etc. We are creatures of constant and countless necessities. Every moment we are dependent upon the power and grace of the Supreme. The exercise of prayer implies
(2) belief that God is able and willing to supply our needs. Without this faith man would never address himself in his times of need to God. Moreover, the "we" of our text refers to Christians, even unto them "that believe on the Name of the Son of God" (verse 13). Their belief in the reality of prayer springs out of their faith in Christ. And the exercise of prayer is an expression of their spiritual life.
2. The hearing of prayer. How marvelous is the fact that God hears the innumerable prayers that are ever being presented unto him! None but an Infinite Being could hear them. And a Being of infinite intelligence cannot fail to observe every longing which is directed towards him. No utterance whatever escapes the Divine ear. None but a gracious Being would regard the prayers which are offered by such unworthy suppliants. Great is the condescension of God in attending to our requests. That he does graciously hear and attend to them is repeatedly declared in the sacred Scriptures (see 2 Samuel 22:7; Psalm 22:4, 5, 24; Psalm 30:2, 8-12; Psalm 31:22; Psalm 34:4-6; Psalm 50:15; Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 16:23, 24; James 1:5; James 5:16).
II. AN IMPORTANT LIMITATION OF THE SCOPE OF ACCEPTABLE PRAYER. "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
1. This limitation is necessary. God's will is supreme. The well-being of the universe is bound up with the execution of his will. Therefore he cannot grant the petitions which are not in harmony therewith. This limitation is necessary also, inasmuch as different suppliants may be seeking from him at the same time things which are thoroughly opposed to each other. Thus in time of war between two Christian nations, prayer is presented to God for the success of each of the contending armies. The requests of both cannot be granted.
2. This limitation is beneficial. The judicious and kind parent does not give to his child the thing which he asks for, if it will prove hurtful or perilous to him. In our ignorance we may pray to God for such things as would be injurious to us, in which case it is well for us to be denied. Thus the request of St. Paul was not granted, though his prayer was graciously answered (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). On the other hand, the clamorous cry of the unbelieving and self-willed Israelites for flesh was acceded to, to their sore injury (Numbers 11:4-6, 31-34; Psalm 106:15).
3. This limitation allows a large sphere for the exercise of prayer. There are many things which we know are "according to his will," and these are the most important things; e.g., supplies for bodily and temporal needs, forgiveness of sins, grace to enable us to do or to bear his will, guidance in our quest of truth and in our way of life, the sanctification of our being, and possession of an inheritance in heaven. We may seek the salvation of others, the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the final triumph of his cause throughout the world. These and other things we know accord with his will.
III. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE THINGS SOLICITED IN SUCH PRAYERS WILL BE GRANTED. "And if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him." Alford calls attention to the present,... "we have the petitions," with the perfect, "which we have asked of him." "The perfect reaches through all our past prayers to this moment. All these 'we have;' not one of them is lost: he has heard, he has answered them all: we know that we have them in the truest sense, in possession." It is important to bear in mind here the character of those to whom St. John writes. They are genuine Christians; possessors of Jesus Christ, and of eternal life in him. Their will is that God's will may be done. In them is fulfilled the inspiring assurance of the sacred psalmist: "Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." In whomsoever this character is realized, the desires are in harmony with the will of God, and the things solicited in prayer are such as God takes pleasure in bestowing and man is blessed in receiving. And this assurance which the apostle expresses is confirmed by the experience of the godly in all ages (cf. Exodus 32:11-14, 31-34; Numbers 11:1, 2; 1 Kings 17:17-24; 1 Kings 18:42-45; 2 Kings 4:28-36; Psalm 116:1-8; Isaiah 38:1-8; Daniel 9:20-23; Acts 12:1-17). Let us seek a character like that indicated by the apostle (verses 11-13), and then this inspiring and strengthening "confidence toward God" may be ours also. - W.J.
I. THE OCCASION OF PRAYER FOR THE BRETHREN. We do not mean that St. John would restrict our prayers to any one occasion, but he mentions one in which they may be profitably exercised. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask," etc.
1. The liability of a brother to sin. Whether we limit the term "brother" to those who are believers in Christ - Christian brethren, or take it in its broadest signification of our fellow-men, it is true that they are liable to sin. Genuine Christians are so (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10). The grave fact of temptation to sin, the proneness of man to sin, the moral weakness in some respects of even good men, the history of the godly, the teachings of tile Bible, and our own experience, - these show our liability to sin.
2. The knowledge of a brother's sin. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin." The sin spoken of is not a secret one. The knowledge of it is not derived either from irresponsible rumour or from malignant slander. To these we should pay no heed. We should discredit them, and seek to extinguish them. But it is immediate, direct, and certain.
3. Prayer for a brother because of his sin. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask," etc. Without entering at present upon the inquiry of what is the "sin unto death," we may say, with Ebrard, that taking the statements and directions of the text as to "sin not unto death" "in their simple meaning, the only thing laid down and presupposed is this - that a sin which is not unto death may be surely known as such. That any particular sin which another may commit, as also the general state in which he may be found, is not unto death - that he may still repent and be converted - this may be easily and with the utmost confidence known. And where this is known with certainty, where there is no necessity for thinking another to be hardened and past salvation, there must prayer be offered." We know a great many sins which men commit for which there is forgiveness with God, and in all such cases, unhindered by any question as to the "sin unto death," we should pray to God for the sinner. But more than this, is not Barnes right in saying, "It may be said now with truth, that as we can never be certain respecting any one that he has committed the unpardonable sin, there is no one for whom we may not with propriety pray"? Let us, then, learn from our text what our conduct should be towards a sinning brother. We are not to sit in judgment on him and condemn him, not to spread abroad the fact of his sin, not to turn away from him as if he were unclean and we holy, not, on the other hand, to make light of his sin. Such, alas! is the treatment very often dealt to a brother who has sinned. But so should not we do. As Christians, our duty is to pray for him. Such prayer is not optional, but obligatory; it is not a thing which we may do, but which we ought to do. "He shall ask." In this spirit St. Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians, "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one," etc. (Galatians 6:1).
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY FOR THE BROTHER WHO HAS SINNED, "He shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death." How unspeakably great and precious is the blessing which by our prayers we may secure for our erring brother! As a result of our petitions on his behalf, God will grant him forgiveness of his sins and confer upon him spiritual life. How exalted and glorious a boon is this! The knowledge that we may obtain such a blessing for him should prove a powerful stimulus to us to pray for the brother who has sinned. How can we do other than pray for him when our prayers may have such a glorious issue? "My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19, 20).
III. THE LIMITATION TO OUR PRAYERS FOR THE BROTHER WHO HAS SINNED. "There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request." What are we to understand by the "sin unto death"? With a view of ascertaining this, let us endeavour to fix upon the meaning of "death" here. There are three distinct uses of the word in the sacred Scriptures.
(1) The death of the body.
(2) That death of the spirit which is common to all men apart from the renewing grace of God. "Dead by reason of trespasses and sins."
(3) The eternal death, which is the antithesis of the "eternal life" which God gives through Jesus Christ (verses 11-13). Now, "death" in the text cannot mean either
(1) the death of the body, for that is the lot of all men; or
(2) the spiritual death above mentioned, for every sin tends to such death. If we are right thus far, and in this also that the death must be the antithesis of the life, we conclude that it must be that death which is the just retribution of those who have deliberately and resolutely rejected the Christ. Such a sin involves the abiding loss of the life which is derived through him (verse 12). The rejection of the Christ necessarily involves the renunciation of the life. If a man deliberately and decidedly rejects the only Being through whom he can obtain eternal life, what remains for him but to abide in the dark night of death? For such persons St. John does not encourage us to pray. He neither prohibits nor commands us to pray for them. The negation belongs to the "I say," not to the "he should make request." "Not concerning this do I say that he should make request." The encouragement to offer prayer for those whose sin is not unto death is withheld in respect to prayer for those who have committed the sin unto death.
1. Let the fact that it is possible to commit a sin which is unto death lead us to watchfulness and prayer against every sin and all sin. Beware of beginnings in evil.
2. Let this gracious assurance as to the result of prayer for those who have sinned lead us to he often at the throne of grace on behalf of our brethren. - W.J.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Here are three points for consideration concerning true Christians.
1. Their origination from God. They are "begotten of God?' They are "called children of God," and are such.
2. Their abstention from sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not." He will not commit the "sin unto death;" and in proportion as he participates in the Divine life he will shun sin in any form (cf. 1 John 3:6-9; and see our remarks on 1 John 3:6).
3. Their preservation from the evil one. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Danger is clearly implied here. "Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith." "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," etc. (Ephesians 6:11-18). "Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." Hence the danger. But notice:
(1) The means of preservation. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself." He is sober and watchful and prayerful in order that he may not be surprised by temptation and seduced into sin. It has been well said by John Howe, "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself from those deadly mortal touches which would endanger his precious life; that is, he is his own underkeeper. We are every one to be our brother's keeper, much more our own; but still in a subordinate sense, subservient to, and dependent upon, the Supreme One. Indeed, it were a kind of monstrous thing in the creation, that there should be so noble a life planted in us, but destitute of the self-preserving faculty or disposition; whereas every life, how mean soever, even that of a worm, a gnat, or a fly, hath a disposition to preserve itself." Christians are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
(2) The nature of the preservation. "The wicked one toucheth him not." This does not signify exemption from temptation, but victory over it. The great adversary shall not touch" the true-born child of God" so as to destroy his spiritual life or effect his overthrow.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF PERSONAL FILIAL RELATIONSHIP TO GOD. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." The assurance with which the apostle writes is remarkable. Not, "we are probably of God;' not," we hope we are of God," etc.; but "we know that we are of God," etc. We may know this:
1. By our consciousness of our Christian character. The genuine Christian can say of his spiritual condition, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." He is conscious of his faith in Christ. "I know whom I have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12). He feels that the Saviour is precious unto him (1 Peter 2:7). He knows that he loves the Christian brotherhood; and "we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." He is conscious of his sincere desire and endeavour to follow Christ as his great Exemplar, and to obey him as his Divine Lord.
2. By our consciousness of our filial disposition toward God. We have "received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Our own hearts assure us that we trust and love and reverence our heavenly Father. Thus "we know that we are of God?
3. By the contrast between ourselves and the unchristian world. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one." We have already endeavoured to indicate the character of" the world" of which St. John writes. "Concerning the world, he says, not merely that it is of the wicked one, or has him for a father, and bears his nature, but also that it 'lies in him,' that is, lies in his bosom,... like an infant on the bosom of a mother or a father, which is absolutely given up to its parent's power" (Ebrard). The true Christian knows that he is not in such a condition, but in a decidedly opposite one - that he "abides in the Son, and in the Father" (chapter 2:24).
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF A TRANSCENDENT FACT, AND OF GREAT PERSONAL BENEFITS DERIVED THROUGH THAT FACT. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true," etc. Here are four points which require our attention.
1. That the Son of God came into our world. "We know that the Son of God is come." (This great fact has already engaged our attention in our homily on 1 John 4:9-11, and the apostle's assurance of it in that on 1 John 4:14.)
2. That the Son of God hath given to us spiritual discernment that we might know God. "And hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true." This does not mean that he has given to us any new faculty, but that he has brought our spiritual faculties into a right condition for the apprehension of the Divine Being. "As Christ has come (in the sense of 1 John 4:9)," says Ebrard, "and through this act of love has kindled love in us (1 John 4:10), thus communicating his nature to us, he has furnished us with the understanding necessary in order that we may know God. For God is, according to 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8, Light and Love; and only he who is penetrated by his light, and kindled by his love, can know him." God was not the Unknowable to St. John. He knew him through the revelation of Jesus Christ, by the conscious realization of his presence with his Spirit, and by hallowed communion with him.
3. That we are in vital union with God and with his Son Jesus Christ. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." (We have already considered what it is to be in God, in our homily on 1 John 2:6.) The true Christian is in God the Father through being in Christ the Son. He is in the Father through the mediation of the Son.
4. That the Son of God is truly and properly Divine. "This is the true God, and eternal life" (cf. verses 11-13). Let us seek to realize the exalted and blessed knowledge which we have been considering. And if it be already ours, let us endeavour to possess it in clearer light and fuller measure. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." - W.J.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF THE POWER OF THE DIVINE BIRTH. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth him, and the evil one toucheth him not." This is doctrine which has already been laid down. In 1 John 3:6 sinlessness is connected with human action; here it is connected with Divine action. There is sin, as in the context has been admitted, within the Christian circle; but it is according to the norm of the Divine life not to sin. The language that is added here is unusual. Westcott would remove its unusual aspect by thinking of Christ, as the Begotten of God, opposed to the evil one. But it is God that is opposed to the evil one in the following verse; and the mere change of tense does not prepare for the introduction of Christ. In passing from the now begotten of God to the past begotten of God, we naturally think of the same person, only at a different moment, viz. that of the commencement of the Divine life. The new nature then received (ascribing all to God), it keepeth him; and the evil one, having nothing in the new nature to lay hold on, toucheth him not. He is indeed tempted; but he has a defense against temptation in his quickened sensibilities and activities.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF OUR POSSESSING LIFE FROM GOD. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." There is here the strength of personal assurance. We know that we are of God; we know that we draw our life from the highest source. But there is also the certitude of Christian pessimism - the worst view of the world. In the Christian judgment, the whole world lieth in the evil one. It is not only touched by the evil one (verse 18), but the evil one is, as it were, the circumambient element in which it passively lies, and by which it is completely moulded in all its systems and customs and institutions. This is not a cheering view to take of the world; but it would be less cheering to think that the world is only as God intended it to be - that it has not suffered from a fall. The counterbalancing truth is that, bad as it is, it is loved by God, and is susceptible of redemption. And the Christian optimism, which we are warranted to entertain, is this - that the world, in all its thinking and fashions, will yet be on the right side, not fraught with peril, but fraught with deliverance to souls.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE REVEALING POWER OF THE INCARNATION. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we 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." This is the third "we know" which the apostle recalls. We know that the Incarnation is a fact. Through the Incarnation our understanding is Christianized, that we know him that is true, which is equivalent to being in him that is true, which again is equivalent to being in his Son Jesus Christ. This God whom Jesus Christ reveals, this is the true God, and eternal life. The proof of the Divinity of Christ here lies in this, that in his incarnation he absolutely reveals God as Father, as infinite Love, which is the highest truth about the nature of God, and also absolutely reveals eternal life, which is the highest happiness of God, he being, according to the thought of verse 11, the receptacle of it for us. From the center all things are made capable of ultimate explanation. The world, as it lies in the evil one, may seem to call up gloomy thoughts of God; but the Incarnation, the fact that Christ is come, and come into the midst of the world for its redemption, calls up bright, cheering thoughts of God. Parting word. "My little children, guard yourselves from idols." In parting, he naturally fixes on the word of special affection for his readers. In verse 18 he put forward Divine keeping - "he that was begotten of God [the Divine birth] keepeth him." Here he puts forward self-keeping - "guard ['keep,' with added emphasis] yourselves," i.e., in the use of means. The idols against which we are to be on our guard are the vain shadows that usurp the place of the true God. In connection with heathen idolatry, there are such false representations of God as these - that he is to be apprehended by sense; that he is confined to temples made with hands; that he has a divided sovereignty; that he takes delight in impurities and in the blood of human victims. In connection with idolatry, in the wide sense here to be thought of, there are such false representations of God as these - that he is pleased with our taking selfish gratification; that he does not extend his interest beyond our home, or some narrow circle with which we are connected; that he is indifferent to our happiness; that he does not notice our actions, and will not bring us into judgment for them. Let us oppose to these false representations of God the representation given in the Incarnation. Let us brood over this great fact till all vain shadows flee away, and God comes forth to us in all the splendour of his love. This is a word suitable for parting. We may think of John, now amid the realities of heaven, still beseeching us, and with greater intensity, to beware of the deceitful shadows that are here as often taken for God. - R.F.
I. THE AFFECTIONATE APPELLATION BY WHICH THE APOSTLE ADDRESSES HIS READERS, "Little children." "He parts from them with his warmest and most affectionate word of address." This form of address suggests:
1. The spiritual paternity of the apostle. Probably many of those to whom he was writing were his children in the Lord, begotten by his ministry - by his preaching, his prayers, and his faith. Very tender and sacred is this relationship (cf. chapter 1 John 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:14, 15; Galatians 4:19; Philemon 1:10).
2. The spiritual affection of the apostle. This is delicately yet clearly indicated by the use of the diminutive.
3. The spiritual authority of the apostle. His relation to them, his affection for them, and his large and ripe experience, combined to invest him with sacred and commanding influence. And, as "little children," his readers needed guidance, and owed to him obedience.
II. THE IMPORTANT EXHORTATION WHICH THE APOSTLE ADDRESSES TO HIS READERS. "Keep yourselves from idols." Consider:
1. The nature of the sin to be guarded against. Idolatry. Originally it seems to have comprised two things:
(1) the attempt to represent the Divine Being by visible and material forms;
(2) the offering to these forms the worship which belongs only to God. Some are in danger to-day of falling into idolatry of this kind through the use in worship of pictures and statues designed to represent the Saviour. But the essence of idolatry is giving to another the love and reverence and devotion which are rightly due to God alone. Many make an idol of riches. Money is their god, and they devote all their powers and opportunities to the eager pursuit of it. "Covetousness... is idolatry." Others worship pleasure. They live but for amusement, and endeavour to subordinate everything to their personal gratification. And others make honour, or fame, or power, their god. We may make an idol of some beloved relative or friend - wife, husband, or child. Or, and this is in some respects worst of all, a man may make a god of himself - may think first and chiefly of himself, study his own interests and happiness, and love himself supremely. It has been well said, "Wooden idols are easily avoided, but take heed of the idols of gold. It is no difficult matter to keep from dead idols, but take heed that thou worship not the living ones, and especially thyself; for as soon as thou arrogatest to thyself either honour, or praise, or knowledge, or power, thou settest thyself in the place of God, and he has declared that he 'will not give his glory to another.'" And this sin offers the greatest dishonour and wrong and insult to God.
2. The damager of the sin to be guarded against. This may be seen from the following considerations.
(1) The worship of anything less than God cannot satisfy our spiritual nature. God has made us for himself, and our souls cannot rest until they rest in him.
(2) The worship of anything less than God dwarfs and degrades man's spiritual nature. The exercise of real worship transforms the worshipper into likeness to the object worshipped; e.g., the idolatry of riches will gradually mould man into a groveling, grasping miser; of power, into a ruthless, despotic tyrant, etc.
(3) The worship of anything less than God will lead to bitter disappointment and irretrievable loss. Sooner or later, the idolater will be awakened from his delusions, and then he will find that his god is a poor sham, and that, as for himself, he has "forsaken the Fountain of living waters, and hewed him out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." And how terrible is death to the idolater! Death may take from him the wife whom he loves more than he loves God, or the child, etc. And when he dies he must leave his idols behind him - his money, etc. "We brought nothing into the world, neither can we carry anything out." "When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." And then will arise the bitter cry, "Ye have taken away my gods; and what have I more?"
3. The method of guarding against this sin. The most effective preservative against idolatry is growing fidelity to God. He who assiduously cultivates reverent attachment and hearty devotion to him cannot fall into idolatry. "The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." - W.J.