I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
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.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.I. TO WHOM WAS THIS WRITTEN? It is important to observe the direction of a letter; for I may be reading a communication meant for somebody else, and if it should contain good tidings, I may be deceiving myself by appropriating the news.
1. This Epistle, and this particular text in it, were written for all those who believe on the name of the Son of God.
2. To unbelievers this text is not written: it is for all who trust in Jesus; but it is for none beside. If you inquire why it is not addressed to unbelievers, I answer, simply because it would be preposterous to wish men to be assured of that which is not true.
3. We may gather from this address being made to all the people of God and to none beside, that there are some believers in the world, and true believers too, who do not know that they have eternal life. Again, a large number of Christ's people who may be perfectly sound in the doctrinal view of the nature of this life do not know that they possess it at this present moment if they are believers. We want children of God who believe in Jesus to feel that the holy flame which kindles their lamp today is the same fire which will shine forth before the throne of God forever; they have begun already to exercise those holy emotions of delight and joy which will be their heaven: they already possess in measure those perceptions and faculties which will be theirs in glory. Yet again, there are some Christians who believe all this, and are perfectly right in theory, but yet they each one cry, "I want to know that I have eternal life. I want a fuller assurance of salvation than I have already obtained." That is also our desire for you.
II. TO WHAT END JOHN HAS WRITTEN.
1. When he says, "that ye may know that ye have eternal life," I think his first meaning is that you may know that everybody who believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life. You are not to form an opinion upon it, but to believe it, for the Lord hath said it.
2. I think that John in this passage meant, and we will consider him as meaning, something more — namely, he would have us know that we personally have eternal life by having us know that we do personally believe in Jesus. Rationally a living man should know that he is alive. No man should give sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids while he has a doubt about his eternal state. It is possible, and it is very desirable; for when a man knows that he has eternal life, what a comfort it is to him! What gratitude it produces in his spirit! How it helps him to live above the world! And it is our duty to obtain full assurance. We should not have been commanded to give diligence to make our calling and election sure if it were not right for us to be sure.
III. WHAT HAS JOHN SAID IN THIS EPISTLE WHICH CONDUCES TO OUR FULL ASSURANCE? How does he help us to know that we are believers, and consequently to know that we have eternal life?
1. You will find, first, that John mentions as an evidence truthful dealing with God, in faith and confession of sin. Naturally men walk in darkness or falsehood towards God; but when we have believed in Jesus we come to walk in the light of truth. Read in the first chapter of the Epistle from verse 6 to 9.
2. Next, John gives us obedience as a test of the child of God. Look to the second chapter, and begin to read at the third verse.
3. Follow me as I call attention, next, to the evidence of love in the heart. In the second chapter read at the ninth verse. Then go on to the fourteenth verse of the third chapter. This will greatly help you to decide your case. Do you hate anybody? Are you seeking revenge? Then you are not dwelling in the light; you are of Cain and not of Christ.
4. Next to that comes separation from the world. Read in the second chapter at the fifteenth verse. This is backed up by the first verse of the third chapter. Thus slander, abuse, and other forms of persecution may turn to your comfort by showing that you are of that sect which is everywhere spoken against.
5. Next to that, in the second chapter, we have the evidence of continuance in the faith. "And the world passeth away, and the lust," etc.
6. The next evidence you will find in the third chapter, the third verse, namely, purification. Do you every day endeavour to keep clear of sin; and, when you have sinned, do you at night go with bitter repentance to God, and beg to be delivered from it?
7. Again, in the twenty-first verse of the third chapter, we meet with another blessed evidence, and that is a clear conscience.
8. Furthermore, we find an evidence in answer to prayer: "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
9. Adherence to the truth is another help to full assurance. Read the whole fourth chapter. If you bear witness to the truth, the truth bears witness to you. Blessed are those who are not removed from the hope of their calling.
10. One of the best evidences of true faith, and one of the best helps to full assurance, is a holy familiarity with God. Read in the fourth chapter the sixteenth verse. When you have no longer that slavish fear which makes you stand back, but that childlike confidence which draws you nearer and yet nearer unto God, then are you His child. He who can call God his exceeding joy is among the living in Zion.
IV. THE APPENDIX TO JOHN'S DESIGN. "That ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." I think he means this — you are never to get into such a state that you say, "I have eternal life, and therefore I need not trust simply in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Years ago I was born again, and so I can now live without the daily exercise of faith." "No," says the apostle, "I am writing this to believers, and I tell them that while they may have full assurance, it cannot be a substitute for habitual faith in the Lord Jesus." Every vessel, whether it be a great flagon or a little cup, must hang upon the one nail which is fastened in a sure place. If you get from Jesus, you wander into a land of darkness and of the shadow of death.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. JOHN WROTE WITH A SPECIAL PURPOSE.
1. To begin with, John wrote that we might enjoy the full assurance of our salvation. Full assurance is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to satisfaction. May you get it — may you get it at once; at any rate, may you never be satisfied to live without it. You may have full assurance. You may have it without personal revelations; it is wrought in us by the word of God. He begins thus: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Can anything be more clear than this? The loving spirit of John leads him to say, "Everyone that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him." Do you love God? Do you love His only-begotten Son? You can answer those two questions surely. John goes on to give another evidence: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments." You can tell whether you love the brethren, as such, for their Master's sake, and for the truth's sake that is in them; and if you can truly say that you thus love them, then you may know that you have eternal life. Our apostle gives us this further evidence: "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous." Obedience is the grand test of love. By the fruit you can test the root and the sap. But note that this obedience must be cheerful and willing. "His commandments are not grievous." I said to one who came to join the Church the other day, "I suppose you are not perfect?" and the reply was, "No, sir, I wish I might be." I said, "And suppose you were?" "Oh, then," she said, "that would be heaven to me." So it would be to me. We delight in the law of God after the inward man. Oh, that we could perfectly obey in thought, and word, and deed! John then proceeds to mention three witnesses. Do you know anything about these three witnesses? Do you know "the Spirit"? Has the Spirit of God quickened you, changed you, illuminated you, sanctified you? Next, do you know "the water," the purifying power of the death of Christ? Do you also know "the blood"? Do you know the power of the blood to take away sin? Then in the mouth of these three witnesses shall the fact of your having eternal life be fully established. One thing more I would notice. Read the ninth verse: the apostle puts our faith and assurance on the ground that we receive "the witness of God." The inmost heart of Christian faith is that we take God at His Word; and we must accept that Word, not because of the probabilities of its statements, nor because of the confirmatory evidence of science and philosophy, but simply and alone because the Lord has spoken it.
2. Furthermore, John wrote that we might know our spiritual life to be eternal. We are said to be "made partakers of the Divine nature." Immortality is of the essence of the life of God. If our life is Christ's life, we shall not die until Christ dies. Let us rest in this.
3. Once more, John desired the increase and confirmation of their faith. "That ye might believe on the name of the Son of God." Many a Christian man is narrow in the range of his faith from ignorance of the Lord's mind. Like certain tribes of Israel, they have conquered a scanty territory as yet, though all the land is theirs from Dan to Beersheba. John would have us push out our fences, and increase the enclosure of our faith. Let us believe all that God has revealed, for every truth is precious and practically useful. It will be well for you if your faith also increases intensively. Oh that you may more fully believe what you do believe! We need deeper insight and firmer conviction. This is John's desire for you, that you believe with all your heart, and soul, and strength. He would have you believe more constantly, so that you may say, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise." He would have us trust courageously. Some can believe in a small way about small things. Oh, for a boundless trust in the infinite God! We need more of a venturesome faith; the faith to do and dare. We need also to have our faith increased in the sense of its becoming more practical. We want an everyday faith, not to look at, but to use. God give to you that you may believe on the name of the Son of God with a sound, common sense faith, which will be found wearable, and washable, and workable throughout life. We need to believe more joyfully. Oh, what a blessed thing it is when you reach the rest and joy of faith! If we would truly believe the promise of God, and rest in the Lord's certain fulfilment of it, we might be as happy as the angels.
II. THE PURPOSE WHICH JOHN HAD IN HIS MIND WE OUGHT TO FOLLOW UP. If he wished us to know that we have eternal life, let us try to know it. The Word of God was written for this purpose; let us use it for its proper end. Our conscience tells us that we ought to seek full assurance of salvation. It cannot be right for us to be children of God, and not to know our own Father. Are you not bidden to make your calling and election sure? Are you not a thousand times over exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, and to give thanks continually? But how can you rejoice, if the dark suspicion haunts you, that perhaps, after all, you have not the life of God?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)John 5:24). Straight to the record do we appeal for a final test as to our possession in God (1 John 5:11-12).
(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
(C. A. Bartol.)
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