By this the children of God are distinguished from the children of the devil: Anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
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.
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 brotherI. MEN ARE DIVIDED INTO TWO CLASSES, THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL. This assumption is very contrary to the prevailing views and practices of men. Many make no inquiry to what class they belong. Some who have thought upon it consider it is not possible to obtain satisfaction, and they dismiss it from their minds. They are satisfied to live in entire uncertainty. Or if they do classify men, themselves included, it is a very different summary from that of the apostle. Their reckoning makes many classes. They are as numerous as the phases of human society. Think, then, of this Divine distinction. Some are the children of God. They have been born of Him. This is the one class. But how different is the other? They are "the children of the devil." Like him they have fallen from their original righteousness. They have been under his influence ever since they came into the world. These are the only two classes known to God. The Scriptures never recognise any other here. Neither shall any but these be found at the last judgment.
II. THIS DISTINCTION MAY BE MANIFESTED. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil." This statement may be understood with reference to ourselves or others. Contemplate it in both relations.
1. If we are the children of God this ought to be manifest to ourselves.
2. It is, however, its manifestation to others that appears to be specially spoken of in the text. The proofs are such as are cognizable by others. To a large extent the evidence of conversion to ourselves and to others is the same. In our own case, however, there is consciousness, which cannot be had in the case of others. The two states in question are the most contrary to one another that can possibly be conceived. The change from the one to the other is the most marked and decided of which the human mind can be the subject. Might not such a change be expected to be manifest? Its necessary and habitual operation is a constant testimony to its existence. It is like the ointment that betrays itself. The flowing stream is proof of a living fountain. And if the life be holy there must be a cause that lies deeper than any human purpose.
III. THE EVIDENCES BY WHICH THEY ARE MADE MANIFEST. Two are mentioned — "He that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." It is observable that these evidences are put in the negative form, and an important lesson is suggested by it. The absence of well-doing is sufficient for condemnation. It is not enough that we "cease to do evil," we must "learn to do well."
1. "He that doeth not righteousness is not of God." A man who is not exhibiting righteousness in his deportment gives no proof that he is born of God.
2. With this general deportment a special grace is associated — "Neither he that loveth not his brother."
(J. Morgan, D. D.)I. THE CHARACTER AND MARK OF DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD AND BAD MAN. "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God"; which implies, on the contrary, that whosoever doeth righteousness is of God.
1. Who they are that in the apostle's sense may be said not to do righteousness.(1) They that live in the general course of a wicked life, in the practice of great and known sins.(2) They who live in the habitual practice of any one known sin, or in the neglect of any considerable part of their known duty.(3) They who are guilty of the single act of a very notorious crime; as a deliberate act of blasphemy, of murder, perjury, fraud, or oppression, or of any other crime of the like enormity.
2. Who they are that in the apostle's sense may be said to do righteousness. In short, they who in the general course of their lives do keep the commandments of God. I choose rather to describe a righteous man by the actual conformity of the general course of his actions to the law of God, than by a sincere desire or resolution of obedience. For a desire may be sincere for the time it lasts, and yet vanish before it comes to any real effect. No man believes hunger to be meat, or thirst to be drink; and yet there is no doubt of the truth and sincerity of these natural desires. No man thinks that a greedy desire to be rich is an estate, or that ambition, or an insatiable desire of honour is really advancement; just so, and no otherwise, a desire to be good is righteousness.
II. BY THIS MARK EVERY MAN MAY, WITH DUE CARE AND DILIGENCE, ARRIVE AT THE CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE OF HIS SPIRITUAL STATE AND CONDITION.
1. By this character, as I have explained it, he that is a bad man may certainly know himself to be so, if he will but consider his condition and do not wilfully delude himself. For the customary practice of any known sin is utterly inconsistent with sincere resolutions and endeavours against it.
2. By this character, likewise, they that are sincerely good may generally be well assured of their good condition, and that they are the children of God. And there are but two things necessary to evidence this to them — that the general course of their actions be agreeable to the laws of God; and that they be sincere and upright in those actions.
III. WHENCE IT COMES TO PASS, THAT NOTWITHSTANDING THIS, SO MANY PERSONS ARE AT SO GREAT UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THEIR SPIRITUAL CONDITION.
1. We will consider the grounds of the false hopes of men really bad concerning their good condition.(1) Some rely upon the profession of the Christian faith, and their being baptized into it. But this, so far from being any exemption from a good life, is the most solemn obligation to it.(2) Others trust to their external devotion; they frequent the church and serve God constantly, they pray to Him and hear His Word, and receive the blessed sacrament. But this so far from making amends for the impiety of our lives, spoils all the acceptance of our devotions.(3) Others, who are sensible they are very bad, depend very much upon their repentance, especially if they set solemn times apart for it. And there is no doubt but that a sincere repentance will put a man into a good condition; but then no repentance is sincere but that which produceth a real reformation in our lives.(4) Others satisfy themselves with the exercise of some particular graces and virtues, justice, and liberality, and charity. And is it not a thousand pities that thy life is not all of a piece, and that all the other parts of it are not answerable to these?(5) Some who are very careful of their outward conversation, but yet are conscious to themselves of great secret vices, when they can find no comfort from the testimony of their own consciences, are apt to comfort themselves in the good opinion which perhaps others have of them. But if we know ourselves to be bad, it is not the good opinion of others which can either alter or better our condition. Trust nobody, concerning thyself rather than thyself, because nobody can know thee so well as thou mayest know thyself.
2. The causeless doubts and jealousies of men really good concerning their bad condition.(1) Some are afraid that they are reprobated from all eternity, and therefore cannot be the children of God. But no man hath reason to think himself rejected of God, either from eternity or in time, that does not find the marks of reprobation in himself — I mean an evil heart and life.(2) Good men are conscious to themselves of many frailties and imperfections; and, therefore, they are afraid of their condition. But God considers the infirmities of our present state, and expects no other obedience from us, in order to our acceptance with Him, but what this state of imperfection is capable of.(3) They are afraid their obedience is not sincere, because it proceeds many times from fear, and not always out of pure love to God. For answer to this: it is plain from Scripture that God propounds to men several motives to obedience — some proper to work upon their fear, some upon their hope, others upon their love; from whence it is evident He intended they should all work upon us.(4) Another case of doubting in good men is, from a sense of their imperfect performance of the duties of religion and of the abatement of their affections towards God at some times. But our comfort is, that God doth not measure men's sincerity by the tides of their affections, but by the constant bent of their resolutions and the general tenor of their actions.(5) Another cause of these doubts is, that men expect more than ordinary and reasonable assurance of their good condition — some particular revelation from God, an extraordinary impression upon their minds. God may give this when and to whom He pleases, but I do not find He hath anywhere promised it.(6) As for the case of melancholy, it is not a reasonable case, and therefore doth not fall under any certain rules and directions.
3. There are likewise others, who upon good grounds are doubtful of their condition, and have reason to be afraid of it; those, I mean, who have some beginnings of goodness, which yet are very imperfect. The proper direction to be given them in order to their peace is, by all means to encourage them to go on and fortify their resolutions; to be more vigilant and watchful over themselves, to strive against sin, and to resist it with all their might.Conclusion:
1. From hence we learn the great danger of sins of omission as well as commission.
2. It is evident from what hath been said, that nothing can be vainer than for men to live in any course of sin and yet to pretend to be the children of God and to hope for eternal life.
3. You see what is the great mark of a man's good or bad condition: whosoever doeth righteousness is of God, and "whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God."
(J. Tillotson, D. D.)I. The persons opposed are THE CHILDREN OF GOD AND THE CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL, i.e., good and bad men. It is common in the Scripture to call persons, distinguished by any quality or acquisition, the children of those from whom it was originally derived, or by whom it was preeminently possessed.
1. This division is the most general and universal.
2. It is also a division the most serious and eventful. It overlooks everything adventitious, and considers only character. It passes by the distinctions of speech, complexion, rank; and regards the soul and eternity.
3. Let us consider, farther, what results from these relations. According as you are "the children of God, or the children of the devil," you are crowned with honour or covered with disgrace.
4. Upon these connections innumerable privileges or evils depend. Are you the children of God? Heaven is your home. And here you shall want "no good thing." But I leave you to fill up the remaining article, and to think of the children of the wicked one. I leave you to reflect upon the miseries they endure, from their perplexities, their fears, their passions, and their pursuits in life. I leave you to look forward to the horrors which will devour mere in a dying hour.
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF ASCERTAINING IN WHICH OF THESE CLASSES YOU RANK. The children of God and the children of the devil are "manifest." Observe, it is not spoken of as a future, but as a present discovery — they "are" manifest.
1. They are manifest to God. It is impossible to impose upon Him; He "is not mocked."
2. They are manifest to others. The tree is known by its fruit.
3. They are manifest to themselves. It will readily be acknowledged that it is not possible for a man to be wicked without knowing it.(1) Is it not necessary for him to be able to know his character? If promises are made to a religions state, how can he claim these promises unless he can determine that he is in this state?(2) What is religion? An unintelligible mystery? a charm? an operation which passes upon us and leaves no trace behind? Is it not the most serious concern in which we were ever engaged? Is it not a general and continued course of action? The business of life, to which we endeavour to render everything else subordinate? Our prevailing aim? And is this incapable of being known?
III. THE MARKS OF DISTINCTION BETWEEN THESE CHARACTERS. "In THIS the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil." In what? Not in temporal success. This is given or withheld too indiscriminately to allow of our knowing love or hatred. In what? Not in religious profession. Judas and Demas were both visible members of the Church of God. In what? Not in talking — not in controversy — not in a sound creed — not in the pronunciation of the Shibboleths of a particular party. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; he that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother."
1. The manner in which the subject is expressed. It is held forth negatively — nor is this without design. It reminds us that omissions decide the character, even where there is no positive vice.
2. The union of these excellences is worthy of our notice. We commonly see them combined in the Scripture. It is said of a good man, "He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous."
3. From these arises a criterion by which we are to judge of the reality and genuineness of religion — not that these are the only marks which we are to employ; but all the rest will be delusive, if unaccompanied with this righteousness and love.
1. Legal, and
2. Evangelical.The legal doing is the perfection of all duties, both in manner and form, both for the number and measure of them; which kind of doing was never found in any mere man since the fall of Adam. The Evangelical doing is mingled with much weakness, and is good only in acceptation with God by Jesus Christ. Of this doing the Spirit of God speaketh here, and it consists upon the concurrence of these following particulars.
1. A caring and studying to prove what is the good will of God, how He will be served, and where. with He will be pleased.
2. An inflamed love and affection to that righteousness which is pleasing unto God.
3. A desire, that if it were possible, the whole course of the life and conversation might be suitable thereunto.
4. A firmness of resolution, to frame and set the whole and continual endeavour to the performance of it.
5. A speedy applying of oneself therein.
6. A careful catching of all opportunities to help forward this good purpose.
7. A diligent survey of ones own courses.
8. A bitter bewailing of slips and infirmities, together with a kind of holy indignation at one's own self, that he should so grossly and ordinarily sin against the Lord.
9. An increase of care (after a soil received) and of watchfulness, together with a fear of running afresh into the same or like offence. And as these things cannot be in an unregenerate person, so they cannot but be in those whom the Lord hath chosen to be His.
( S. Hieron.)1. Consider that old message or commandment, heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. On what is it based? It cannot, since the Fall, be based on our joint participation in the ills to which the Fall has made us heirs. It is redemption, and redemption alone, with the regeneration which is involved in it, that makes mutual brotherly love among men, in its true and deep sense, a practicable duty, an attainable grace. It is only one who, "being born of God, doeth righteousness as knowing God to be righteous," that is capable of really loving his fellow man as a brother.
2. No such brotherly love is possible for him who, not doing righteousness, is not of God. His frame of mind must be that of Cain; a frame of mind that but too unequivocally identifies him as one of the devil's children, and not of God's. It was not because he was void of natural affection, or because his disposition was one of wanton cruelty and bloodthirstiness; it was not in the heat of sudden passion, or in a quarrel about any earthly good, that Cain slew his brother; but "because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous." It is this which chiefly marks the instigation of the devil; and his fatherhood of Cain, and such as Cain. More than anything else on earth; infinitely more than any remains of remnants of good that the Fall has left in human nature and human society — for these he can turn to his own account and make his own use of — does that wicked one detest the faintest trace of the footsteps, the slightest breathing of the spirit of Him "whose goings forth have been from of old"; who has been ever in the world, the Wisdom and the Word of God, the light and the life of men. Let the truth and righteousness of God be brought so near to a man, by the Divine Word and Spirit, as to stir and trouble thoroughly his inward moral sense, while his desire and determination to stand his ground and not give in remains unabated, or rather is inflamed and aggravated; let the process go on; and let all attempts towards an accommodation, between the conscience's increasing soreness and the heart's increasing self-righteousness and self-will, be one after another frustrated and foiled; you have then the making of a Cain, a very child of the devil, who, if need be and opportunity serve, will not scruple to cut short the terrible debate and end the intolerable strife by slaying his brother Abel; by "crucifying the Lord of glory"! O my fellow sinner, let us beware!
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
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