1 John 5:20
And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true…
This third of his triumphant certainties is connected closely with the two preceding ones. It is so, as being in one aspect the ground of these, for it is because "the Son of God is come" that men are born of God and are of Him. It is so in another way also, for properly the words of our text ought to read not "And we know," rather "but we know." They are suggested, that is to say, by the preceding words, and they present the only thought which makes them tolerable. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one. But we know that the Son of God is come." Falling back on the certainty of the Incarnation and its present issues, we can look in the face the grave condition of humanity, and still have hope for the world and for ourselves.
I. I would deal with THE CHRISTIAN'S KNOWLEDGE THAT THE SON OF GOD IS COME. Now, our apostle is writing to Asiatic Christians of the second generation at the earliest, most of whom had not been born when Jesus Christ was upon earth, and none of whom had any means of acquaintance with Him except that which we possess — the testimony of the witnesses who had companied with Him. "We know; how can you know? You may go on the principle that probability is the guide of life, and you may be morally certain, but the only way by which you know a fact is by having seen it. And even if you have seen Jesus Christ, all that you saw would be the life of a man upon earth whom you believed to be the Son of God. It is trifling with language to talk about knowledge when you have only testimony to build on." Well I There is a great deal to be said on that side, but there are two or three considerations which, I think, amply warrant the apostle's declaration here, and our understanding of his words, "We know," in their fullest and deepest sense. Let me just mention these briefly. Remember that when John says "The Son of God is come" he is not speaking about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. And that thought of the permanent abiding with men of the Christ who once was manifest in the flesh for thirty years, runs through the whole of Scripture. So it is a present fact, and not only a past piece of history, which is asserted when the apostle says, "The Son of God is come." And a man who has a companion knows that he has him, and by many a token, not only of flesh but of spirit, is conscious that he is not alone, but that the dear and strong one is by his side. Such consciousness belongs to all the maturer and deeper forms of the Christian life. Further, we must read on in my text if we are to find all which John declares is a matter of knowledge. "The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding." I point out that what is here declared to be known by the Christian soul is a present operation of the present Christ upon his nature. If a man is aware that through his faith in Jesus Christ new perceptions and powers of discerning solid reality where he only saw mist before have been granted to him, the apostle's triumphant assertion is vindicated. And, still further, the words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed in Christ Jesus, and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing a belief that rests on testimony for knowledge grounded in vital experience. "Now we believe, not because of your saying, but because we have seen Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." That is the advance which Christian men should all make from the infantile, rudimentary days, when they accepted Christ on the witness of others, to the time when they accepted Him because, in the depth of their own experience, they have found Him to be all that they took Him to be. The true test of creed is life. The true way of knowing that a shelter is adequate is to house in it, and be defended from the pelting of every pitiless storm. The medicine we know to be powerful when it has cured us.
II. Note THE NEW POWER OF KNOWING GOD GIVEN BY THE SON WHO IS TO COME. John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that "He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true." Now, I do not suppose that He means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. That gift of a clarified nature, a pure heart, which is the condition, as the Master Himself said, of seeing God — that gift is bestowed upon all who, trusting in the Incarnate Son, submit themselves to His cleansing hand. In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. The knowledge of which my text speaks is the knowledge of "Him that is true," by which pregnant word the apostle means, to contrast the Father whom Jesus Christ sets before us with all men's conceptions of a Divine nature, and to declare that whilst these conceptions, in one way or another, fall beneath or diverge from reality and fact, our God manifested to us by Jesus Christ is the only One whose nature corresponds to the name, and who is essentially that which is included in it. But what I would dwell on especially is that this gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. Inasmuch as the apostle declares that the object of this knowledge is not a truth about God but God Himself, it necessarily follows that the knowledge is such as we have of a person, and not of a doctrine. Or, to put it into simpler words, to know about God is one thing, and to know God is quite another. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. That knowledge, if it is real and living, will be progressive. More and more we shall come to know. As we grow like Him we shall draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to Him we shall grow like Him. So, if we have Christ for our medium both of light and of sight, if He both gives us God to see and the power to see Him, we shall begin a course which eternity itself will not see completed.
III. Lastly, note here THE CHRISTIAN INDWELLING OF GOD WHICH IS POSSIBLE THROUGH THE SON WHO IS COME. "We are in Him that is true." Of old Abraham was called the Friend of God, but an auguster title belongs to us. "Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" But notice the words of my text for a moment, where the apostle goes on to explain and define how "we are in Him that is true," because we are "in His Son Jesus Christ." That carries us away back to "Abide in Me, and I in you." John caught the whole strain of such thoughts from those sacred words in the upper room. And will not a man "know" that? Wilt it not be something deeper and better than intellectual perception by which he is aware of the presence of Christ in his heart?
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
WEB: We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.