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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 John 5

 

 

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Verse 3

THE EASY YOKE

‘His commandments are not grievous.’

1 John 5:3

Here we see the restfulness of the Christian life. There is no real burden in Christ’s commandments, for, as He said, His yoke is easy; His burden light. There is both a negative and a positive aspect to this question.

I. The negative aspect.—The commandments of Christ are not burdensome—

(a) By reason of their number. It might have been—it has been, and is so elsewhere. But ‘the kingdom of God is not meat and drink’; it is an indwelling spirit; it is a guiding and governing principle.

(b) By reason of their nature. Had our Lord required of us a number of duties which had no apparent bearing on our own or on others’ well-being, these would have become irksome and oppressive to our spirit.

(c) Because of their considerateness. Christ does not demand of us anything we are not well able to render.

II. The positive aspect.—There is no grievance or trouble about our Lord’s requirements because—

(a) Everything is inspired by love and hope. Our service is the service of love; not of constraint, but of affection.

(b) Apart from God and from His service there is no rest.

Peace! perfect peace! by thronging duties pressed?

To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.


Verse 4

SONSHIP AND VICTORY

‘For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’

1 John 5:4

Our first inquiry will naturally be, What is meant by overcoming the world? And in no better way can we find an answer to the question than by turning to the life of Him Who alone of all the sons of men can claim to have done it completely, Whose life was one continued, unbroken conflict with the world, and at the same time one continuous victory, and Who at the last could say triumphantly, ‘I have conquered, I have overcome.’

But we naturally ask, Wherewith are we to enter upon this conflict, what are to be the weapons of our warfare? St. John here anticipates the question, and at the same time answers it. ‘And this is the victory,’ he adds, ‘that overcometh the world,’ or, as it might be paraphrased, this is the means by which victory is to be realised, viz. our faith. The great weapon of our warfare is faith. And this may be shown to be the case in at least two different ways.

I. A strong belief in and a vivid realisation of another world towards which we stand in a definite relation—the apprehension of what St. Paul means when he says our citizenship is in heaven, must tend to brace us up for this conflict with the world of which we are speaking. It is stated of the Old Testament worthies mentioned in Hebrews 11 that it was by faith that they lived the lives and achieved the victories recorded of them; and this particular kind of faith seems to be indicated by a number of parenthetical sentences which are interspersed throughout the thrilling narrative; for instance, of Abraham, ‘for he looked for a city which hath foundations, Whose builder and maker is God’; and of others before his time as well as of himself, ‘they confessed that they were pilgrims and strangers on the earth’; ‘they declare plainly that they seek a country’; ‘they desire a better country, that is a heavenly.’ Of Moses, too, ‘he had respect unto the recompense of the reward’; ‘he endured as seeing Him Who is invisible.’ In all these statements it is implied that the great sustaining power—the subjective power, at any rate—which upheld them in their warfare, and nerved them for the conflict, and enabled them to face, not only privation and suffering, but even death itself, was the belief in another life and another world—in short, a vision of the unseen. St. John evidently has this in mind in regard to the Christian conflict.

(a) If a man has only a hazy apprehension of the world above and the life hereafter, which, unhappily, is all that too many have; if to him there is no definiteness in the conception he holds of the relation in which he stands towards heaven and of the prospect which awaits him hereafter, he is not likely to rise very much above the world in which at present he is living. This is real to him; the other is unreal, one might almost say ideal, and the real is sure to exercise by far the stronger influence.

(b) On the other hand, let a man once have a strong conviction of the reality of the unseen and of the certainty of the future life; let him be brought to feel that he is a citizen of another country, that is a heavenly, and that he is but a stranger and a pilgrim upon the earth; and he will use the world, as St. Paul puts it, ‘as not abusing it,’ or using it to the full; use it as a wayfaring man, merely to satisfy his present needs, and it is not likely to exercise too powerful an influence over him. He will, at any rate, be better able to resist its seductions and to rise superior to its subtle power. In this sense this is the weapon of our victory that overcometh the world, viz. our faith.

II. It is also true in another sense.—St. Paul says: ‘The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ And again: ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Faith is not only the faculty by which we realise the unseen, and by which the future life is assured to us; it is also the means whereby we lay hold of Christ and appropriate for ourselves the power of His risen life. Not only, as we have seen, has He overcome the world, but He calls upon His followers to do the same, and His conquest is not merely an example which they are to imitate; it represents a power which He communicates to all who are in vital union with Him by faith. Faith, then, in this sense also is the weapon of our victory. It brings down to us for the daily conflict the grace, the power, the very life of Christ. We live, yet not we, but Christ liveth in us. He gained the victory, He overcame in His own person; and the victory is being ever repeated; He is continually overcoming in the persons and experiences of His believing people.

III. To whom this glorious promise upon which we are dwelling is made.—Whatsoever is born of God, says St. John, overcometh the world, or gains this victory. The neuter or impersonal form of the expression need present no difficulty to us. It is used, says Bishop Westcott, the greatest living authority on St. John’s writings, simply to convey a universal truth. And to show that it is intended to be taken personally, St. John goes on, ‘And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith,’ and in the next verse he asks, ‘Who is he that overcometh the world?’ and replies, ‘He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.’ ‘Whatsoever,’ then, is practically equivalent to ‘whosoever,’ and, we may take it, whosoever is born of God, to him is this promise given, to him is this victory assured. ‘Born of God’! What does this mean? Have you ever noticed that this expression ‘born of God’ is almost peculiar to St. John? No less than six times in this Epistle is the expression found, ‘born of God’ or ‘born of Him,’ meaning God, besides other phrases such as ‘sons of God,’ ‘children of God,’ which the same idea underlies. The same thing is found in the preface of his Gospel. And it is interesting to notice in passing that he alone records the Saviour’s conversation with Nicodemus, from which it is almost certain he derived the metaphor. There can be no doubt that the same thing is referred to by other writers of the New Testament under other figures. St. Paul, for instance, speaks of the man in Christ Jesus as a ‘new creature,’ or ‘creation,’ and as ‘alive from the dead,’ and St. Peter as ‘called out of darkness into light’; but it is St. John alone who seems to delight in the particular metaphor of the new (or Divine) birth. And to show what to him it represented, see what he says of it in this Epistle. In the first verse of the chapter before us (chapter 5) he writes: ‘Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.’ A personal faith in Jesus as the Saviour is one condition, and at the same time an evidence of this Divine birth. In the second chapter and twenty-ninth verse he writes, ‘Every one that doeth righteousness is born of God.’ A godly or righteous life is another condition and evidence. In the third chapter and ninth verse he says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’; and, again, in the fifth chapter and eighteenth verse, ‘sinneth not.’ I do not take this to mean that he is without sin, for he has previously written, ‘If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves’; but he does not sin wilfully, deliberately; he does not indulge in sin. And lastly, we have the expression of our text, which occurs more than once, ‘Whatsoever, or whosoever, is born of God overcometh the world.’

IV. And now to apply the whole thing practically.—Is it possible that the failure of many to carry out their good resolutions, and to live the sober, the godly, and the righteous life, is due to the fact that they know nothing, as a matter of personal experience, of this new or Divine birth; that they are not in vital union with Him Who alone can strengthen them for the conflict; that indeed, as far as they fight at all, they are fighting in their own strength? My friends, I would appeal to you to live upon a different principle. The promise—the inspiring assurance of our text—is specifically addressed: whosoever is born of God is assured that he shall overcome the world. All others are more likely, nay are certain, to be overcome. And do not water down the expression to mean simply those who are sprinkled with the waters of baptism. Your own common sense and your own experience must tell you that it means something more than that. All the great promises connected with the future life are to those who thus overcome.

—Prebendary H. Askwith.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE VICTORY OF FAITH

The word ‘faith’ has two meanings in the New Testament. It is used in a concrete sense of a definite form of belief like that which is embodied in the Creed of the Church in such phrases as ‘One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism,’ but more commonly it is used in an abstract sense, of a moral quality of the soul—a quality which may be, and which is, as frequently employed in the secular life as in the religious. As the art of painting is related to a particular painter or picture, so is faith as a moral quality related to a particular faith or creed.

Our Lord likens the moral quality called faith to the vital force which lives and works in nature. ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed … nothing shall be impossible unto you’ (St. Matthew 17:20). There is a power in life—even in its feeblest forms—which no weight of matter which is inert and lifeless can long resist. The dead mass, even of a mountain, must in course of time succumb under the resistless attacks of the smallest seedling, and has in itself the germ of vitality, and therefore of growth and development. I never see a dismantled fortress covered with the ivy that is steadily removing it, stone by stone, to its final destruction without reflecting that that ivy was once ‘as a grain of mustard seed,’ when those stern bulwarks and ramparts were deemed the impregnable citadel of armed men. Now our Lord tells us that faith (as He uses the word) possesses a similar vital force.

I. Faith is a quality which ensures man’s growth and expansion.—It does not operate suddenly or effect miraculous changes; it takes time like the grain of mustard seed, but it is victorious in the end even against overwhelming odds. In one way or another all the greatest things we know of have been and are achieved by its power. It is faith that removes mountains of difficulty, that overcomes the manifold dangers, oppositions, weaknesses, impossibilities, of this mortal life of ours, and casts them into the sea of human triumph.

(a) Take the realm of commerce by way of example. What is it that enables a man to launch forth into enterprises that startle the world but faith in the practicability of some great scheme which to the cautious and prudent seems only foolhardy and chimerical?

(b) What is it that buoys up the lonely scientific worker through years of painstaking calculation and experiment but faith in the certainty of an ultimate discovery?

(c) Or what, in the sphere of intellectual effort, accounts for the difference between the good or the bad teacher but that one believes and the other does not believe in the efficacy of the training and instruction it is their business to give? The good teacher is one who believes that his or her efforts willl never be wasted, however unpromising the soil on which the good seed is sown.

(d) It is faith which has inspired and carried through all the crusades against evil and all the reforms and revolutions that have helped to rid the world of tyrannies, abuses, cruelties, and depravities of every kind.

II. Faith is the conquering principle in religion.—For Christian faith is not a thing apart from one’s ordinary human nature and imposed upon it from without; it is the expansion of an original inherent moral quality, common to us all; it is the spiritualisation of a natural faculty; it is the daily energising, vitalising power in which we live and do our best work brought into contact with the Divine power. So glorified it overcomes the world—the worldly spirit with its carnal aims, countless temptations, and unholy methods, being the hardest thing there is to overcome. But even unglorified it has this overcoming power, and if we only get to see this clearly, we shall not find so much difficulty in transferring to the life of religion a quality which we have learnt to regard as the supreme essential in every secular sphere. That is my object, to demonstrate the saving power of faith as a moral principle of our being, without which all great achievements are impossible.

III. The example of great men.—It has been said that reverence of great names is the secular side of the ecclesiastical doctrine of the communion of saints, but it is necessary to remember that such reverence, if it is to elevate and ennoble us, must be directed aright, must be bestowed on what is really worthy of it. We must see that, when we let ourselves be inspired by the luminous idea of a great character, we take it in its purest form, free from the details, exaggerations, and prejudices of its historic setting. It would be as grossly unfair to judge Oliver Cromwell as merely or mainly the executioner of Charles I as it would be to honour Nelson merely or mainly as the hero of Trafalgar. What we are morally bound to look for in a great man is: first, that he shall have worked for principles which we believe to be fruitful, and which are our own by virtue of that belief; and second, that he shall have been the inspirer of his own action in virtue of character and therefore worthy of admiration and imitation.

Archdeacon H. E. J. Bevan.

Illustration

‘Our great national hero Nelson worked for great principles—for fruitful principles, the value of which we realise even more now than they did a century ago. The great victory of Trafalgar, which secured for us the undisputed sovereignty of the sea, meant the liberty of our land, the extension of our empire, the development of our commerce, and the opportunity of moulding and building up our national character on nobler Christian lines, independent of continental corruptions. Captain Mahan writes of Nelson’s “humble and sincere gratitude to God for rendering him the chief instrument of deliverance to his native land,” and how, “by his devout recollection of his indebtedness to God, he sought continually to keep himself in hand.” His last prayer, offered up on the morn of the battle in sight of the opposing fleet, tells us why they buried him in the centre of St. Paul’s, immediately under the very cross itself which surmounts the dome. “May the great God Whom I worship grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general a great and glorious victory, and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him Who made me, and may His blessings alight on my endeavours to serve my country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen! Amen! Amen!” Here is a prayer which breathes throughout the simplest, purest, highest faith of all—it is in truth that victory which overcometh the world.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE CONQUEST OF THE WORLD

The life of Christians is emphatically a warfare, and great need have they to take unto themselves ‘the whole armour of God.’ The world is one of the greatest foes Christians have to encounter; but it is not the world God created—that is good, but the world Satan has made, and that is evil.

I. The opposition of the world.

(a) It may arise from earthly possessions. These, when rightly used, have proved a great blessing; but, when wrongly used, a great curse (St. Matthew 19:16-24; 2 Timothy 4:10).

(b) It may arise from carnal honours. The human heart too frequently desires these. But carnal honours dazzle only for a time; and often, when possessed, seem of no value. Their pursuit, however, diverts the soul from the great business of life.

(c) It may arise from sensual pleasures—the heart absorbed with fleshly vanities has neither time nor thought for spiritual realities.

(d) It may arise from bitter adversities. Prosperity lifts up, adversity casts down: the one soothes and flatters the individual, the other begets hard and wicked thoughts of Providence.

II. The triumph of faith.

(a) Faith is a spiritual principle. Not a train of ideas floating in the head, but a disposition of the heart (Romans 10:10). Cherished there, it proves itself a living, active principle of irresistible power.

(b) Faith is controlled by Divine truth. In every strait of worldly opposition the believer asks God, ‘What wilt Thou have me to do?’ He has not long to wait for the answer. Faith has then a foundation on which to rest; and this is so firm that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against it (Daniel 3:16-18).

(c) Faith is sustained by God Himself. He teaches the hands to war and the fingers to fight (Hebrews 11).

(d) Faith is triumphant over the world. It is spoken of, indeed, not merely as the means of victory, but as already a victory in itself. The issue of the conflict, then, is not uncertain.


Verse 10

THE WITNESS WITHIN AND THE WITNESS WITHOUT

‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’

1 John 5:10

The foundation-stone laid by God is Jesus Christ. It is on Him that our faith rests, and the text warns us how we are to build on this foundation. Jesus Christ is not a dead but a living foundation.

I. The witness within.—We rest upon a living Person, not on a string of facts nor a string of events. We believe, as a matter of fact and of history, that our Lord Jesus Christ lived upon earth, died, rose again from the dead, and ascended into heaven. But a man might believe all this just in the same way in which we believe that Pontius Pilate lived and died, or that Herod lived and died. He might say, ‘It is all true, I have no doubt, every word of it, but it is of no use to me. It does not help me, when I am tempted to do wrong, to know that the four Gospels are all true, every word of them. Here is the temptation. Here are my strong passions. What is the use of events that happened long ago to stem the flood of my sins? You might as well try to keep back the Atlantic Ocean with a few decayed beam ends of wrecked vessels as stay my sins with Bible stories. The power of sin is within me. To resist it I must have a stronger power within me also.’ This want is met by the words of our text. ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ God the Father, God the Son dwelling in us through God the Holy Spirit, this is the witness in oneself. God in us—this is the power, the only power strong enough to stem the flood, to stay the corruption within. ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ This is just what the world cannot understand. And so is fulfilled our Lord’s prophecy that He would reveal Himself to His disciples, but not to the world. The man who does not love Jesus Christ hears the same Gospel and reads the same Bible as the true believer, but he can see nothing in it. He brings his body, his eyes, his ears, his quick intellect, all his reasoning powers to church, but not his heart. He does not know what it is to love Christ. The witness is all outside him.

We may perhaps understand more clearly the witness within if we go back to the saints of old and think of their faith. Enoch walked with God before a line of the Bible was written; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all knew, loved, and feared God before the first chapter of Genesis was put in writing. St. Paul believed in Jesus Christ before one of the Gospels was penned. For more than two hundred years the Christians in different places probably knew only parts of the New Testament. But why go so far back? How many devout and humble Christians, full of love to Jesus Christ, have sat in church, and lifted up prayer and praise from the very depths of their hearts, though they could not read a page of their Bibles, and only knew portions here and there! What was the reason? They had the witness in themselves, Jesus Christ dwelling in them by His Holy Spirit. This is the only foundation. Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. God can dwell in us by His Spirit as He pleases. But He has been pleased to send us for confirmation of the voice within us to the written Word, to the testimony of apostles and prophets (see Illustration).

II. The witness without.—This is the first and great use of Scripture. It makes us sure that the voice which speaks within is no mere fancy, no delusion of the brain. There are and always have been false prophets, spiritualists, and hundreds of others, who tell us that God has spoken to them. But when we bring them to the test of the record of apostles and prophets, when we try them by the witness of revelation, they fail. The voice within agrees not with the voice without. The more sure word of prophecy of which St. Peter speaks condemns them. It is not so with those who really hear the voice of the good Shepherd. With them the voice within answers to the voice without. Deep calleth unto deep. When conscience is burthened with the sense of sin, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit upon the darkened soul obliges them to cry, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ then the witness without, the Scripture, answers. This is no melancholy, no brain disease, no morbid imagination. Sin is real, and God’s anger against sin stands recorded in His revelation. The witness in yourself is the witness of God. So when God speaks to the soul of his love, when He says, ‘Go in peace,’ the voice of apostles and prophets answers to and confirms the voice within. It tells us how God reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ, how He bare our sins in His own body on the tree, and how with His stripes we are healed. Yes, and when sin returning clouds the conscience, and raises up once more a barrier between God and the soul, once more Scripture without confirms the witness within. It tells us how we are grieving the Holy Spirit. It puts words of repentance in our lips. ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.’ We are built on the foundation of God Himself dwelling in us, but we are built also on the foundation of apostles and prophets.

III. The Scripture stands out from all other books.—It is to us the voice of God, the only pure and unadulterated voice of God, answering to the voice within, and assuring us that we are not listening to cunningly devised fables. Again, it binds all believers in a real unity of spirit, binds us with one another and with our living Head. Therefore we cannot trifle with the authority of the Word of God. Now that miracles are removed it is the confirmation of our faith, the sure ground and foundation for our belief, that God dwelleth in us and we in God. There is a great temptation in these days to think that we can either do without the Bible altogether or else with selections from the Bible. People judge it, as they imagine, by the voice within; if it does not square with their idea of what God is, and of how God governs the world, then they smooth and plane down the Bible to suit their own opinions. But it was not for this work that God gave us His holy Word, nor for this that He spake to us. The Bible and the Spirit of God are one witness after all, and the witness within must answer to the witness without. God does not speak to us that we may judge His written Word, but that we may recognise it as His Word, and may receive it and obey it. Otherwise we make Him a liar. ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in Himself.’ ‘He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.’

—Bishop E. A. Knox.

Illustration

‘Daniel Quorn, the old cobbler, sits hard at work in the still midnight, when he can hear no sound but the sound of his own tools and the ticking of the old clock. Presently the tick of the clock seems to him to shape itself into words, and each time that the pendulum swings backwards and forwards he hears the solemn question: For ever—where? for ever—where? At last it becomes unbearable. He gets up and stops the clock. But he cannot even so keep that question from sounding in his ear, For ever—where? for ever—where? The more he thinks of it, the more terrible does the answer seem; until at last, in an agony of despair, he falls upon his knees and prays God to have mercy upon a miserable sinner. He prays until in some way peace and light dawn upon his troubled soul. The voice that spoke pardon to sinners 1800 years ago, by the waters of Galilee, says to him, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” He has the witness in himself, for he has believed on the son of God. But is not all this mere excitement and sensation? Have not many persons deluded themselves just in this very way? The heart is deceitful above all things. No doubt such self-deception is possible. No doubt it has happened. But hear the story out. Daniel Quorn begins from that day to study the old, worn, dusty Bible, hitherto roughly used. On the cover are scribbled calculations, notes of bills due, all sorts of memoranda. No other use had been found for it before. Now the voice within drives him to the witness without. He reads the record of prophets and apostles, the testimony that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God. As he finds in page after page the hunger of his soul satisfied, the Bible becomes a new book to him. The words are the words of apostles and prophets, but the voice is the voice of God. The witness without confirms and enlightens. It strengthens the witness within. The foundation of his faith is Jesus Christ, but he receives instruction about Jesus through apostles and prophets, and so he is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.’


Verse 11-12

ETERNAL LIFE

‘And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His son. He that hath the Son hath life.’

1 John 5:11-12

When the words ‘eternal life’ are uttered in our hearing, we turn instinctively to the opening of the great High Priestly prayer recorded in the seventeenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, where we find our Lord saying: ‘This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.’

I. How do we attain to this ‘eternal life?

(a) It is a gift of God. We cannot merit it; we cannot acquire it, as the recompense, or result, of any amount of laborious effort or of moral excellence on our part; what we have to do is simply to accept it, to stretch out the hand, and thankfully take what the Lord God, of His infinite bounty and goodness, sees fit to offer to us.

(b) It is bound up with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘This life,’ says St. John, ‘is in His Son’—i.e. I suppose, in the Lord Jesus Christ we have the reservoir in which the life is contained. ‘In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.’ ‘As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.’

(c) And again: we must come into contact, so to speak, with this living reservoir or fountain-head, in order that the stream that issues from it may flow into our being, and make us, too, partakers of its blessings. ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’

II. What are we to understand by the expression ‘Hath the Son’?—The idea is that of possession, of mutual possession, so that each of us shall be able to say of Christ, ‘He is mine’; and Christ, on His part, shall be willing to say of each of us, ‘I am his.’ But how is this possession brought about? On our part, by the perfect surrender of ourselves to the Lord. As long as there is any reserve, any holding back of anything from Christ, Christ is of no avail to us. He will not—indeed, He cannot—enter our inner being until we open the door and allow Him to come in; and even then He will enter on no other terms than that of absolute surrender.

III. What are the manifestations of eternal life?—There is a correspondence between our physical and our spiritual life which may possibly seem to illustrate this part of our present subject. In a living body we find three things—more, of course, than three things, but certainly these three—sensation, movement, growth.

(a) Consciousness.—In a living soul there is what, perhaps, we could not call sensation, but which we may call consciousness, or realisation, of God. God surrounds every soul, as the atmosphere surrounds us. We are encompassed with God on every side. We are plunged in God as in an element. But it is perfectly possible for us to be utterly insensitive, and not to have any consciousness of Him—in fact, it must be so until we have received the new birth which the Spirit bestows. Then God flashes upon us actually as if He had Himself just come into being. We behold, we know, we delight in the moral teaching and grandeur of Him who is manifested to us in His Son Jesus Christ.

(b) Another manifestation of life is movement. And occupation for God, or for man for God’s sake, is one of the characteristics of those who are born again of the Spirit, and made new creations in Jesus Christ. ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ is one of the first questions which such persons always ask. Absolute stillness—by which I mean abstinence from all spiritual occupation—is an evidence of spiritual death. You must move; you must employ yourself; you must use some, at least, of your talents in the Divine service, if you are ‘alive unto God.’

(c) Then there is growth; and this is of various kinds: (i) First, the growth that comes from exercise—the exercise of the graces which God has bestowed upon us. (ii) Next, the growth of intelligence in spiritual things. We have many schoolmasters here—the Scriptures, our conscience, and not least of all, the discipline of life. And through these the Holy Spirit is showing us daily more about ourselves, and more about the character and will and purposes of God. (iii) Then the growth of advancing assimilation. I mean this—we become like those with whom we associate. And God takes advantage of this peculiarity of our human constitution to produce in us a resemblance to Christ. He sets before us the Lord Jesus as the great object of our contemplation. Looking at Christ, earnestly gazing upon Him, trying to understand Him, sympathising with Him more and more, we catch something of His spirit; the features of His character are impressed upon us; we become to some extent like Him.

Rev. Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.

Illustration

‘“Life” is not what we live—but how we live it. To live, indeed, you must live livingly. To carry about with you, in everything, that sweetest of all feelings, that your sins are forgiven you—to mingle every affection and every joy with the light of the smile of God’s countenance—to tell every secret into the ear of a heavenly Father—to work every day, with the certainty of a success; with an object worthy of an immortal spirit—to bear along with you the sympathies of all bright intelligences, the purest—to see everything in the radiance of a near and glorious eternity—to regather there all that has been so pleasant here, and to find them again a thousand-fold—oh! it is that which makes life worth the living. And that is to have the companionship and the fellowship and the love of Christ; and in all this that truth does but repeat itself—“He that hath the Son hath life.”’


Verse 12

THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE

‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.’

1 John 5:12

To live for God on earth, and with Him in heaven; to work for His glory here and reign in it hereafter, is the chief end of man. The source of this life is Jesus Christ dwelling in the heart by His Holy Spirit. Its work is to guide all actions to the praise and glory of God; its influence is to give light to the whole world, and its end to transform man into the image of God, that he may be with Him when He shall appear, and see Him as He is.

I. Any condition of man short of this possession of Christ is unacceptable in the sight of God; it is death, not life.—This is indeed a most solemn truth, and one upon which it becomes us who are accustomed to the outward observances of religion most strictly to examine ourselves. For our great danger in this day is that of being too easily satisfied with ourselves—of too easily assuming we are safe. Nothing now is risked by the profession of Christianity; position is rather raised than lowered by its adoption. It is very easy to walk in its forms, and very natural for our deceitful hearts to flatter us into the belief that the form is the power. Hence, Christianity is generally professed amongst us; it is also generally held in practice, if not in theory, that salvation is an easy work; and the world will not believe that the kind man, and the upright man, and the liberal man, and the refined man, can possibly be cast out of God. But the test which God applies is this, ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.’ The Bible admits, indeed, that there may be much beauty of character, as well as of form, without vital Christianity, but it denies that this beauty of character, any more than beauty of form, is a title to heaven. There is often a charm of natural disposition which makes a man like a sunbeam in all the relations of life, so that you cannot help but love him, and yet there may withal be no devotion of heart to God. There is often integrity of purpose, benevolence of heart, courtesy of manner, refinement of taste, cultivation of mind, power of intellect—all very precious gifts—and yet no godliness, no poverty of spirit, no mourning for sin, no hungering after righteousness, no love of Christ, and therefore no possession of Him, and no title to His Kingdom. The Creator who gave all these may be, and often is, forgotten by the creature who receives them all. Christ, in Whom are hid all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, is often slighted by those to whom He has imparted the highest of human powers. And the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, Whose gentle strivings would lead every man to Christ, is neglected, resisted, and quenched. Can there be a deeper sin than this? Is not this the principle of all sin, that the thing formed should be indifferent to the God Who formed it, that the man redeemed should be unconcerned about the Son of God Who redeemed him with His own Blood? Here then, in the presence of Him before Whom all hearts are open; in the presence of Him by Whom we must all soon be judged, I ask you, whether younger or older than myself, to search your own hearts and consciences on this point: ‘Have I such an abiding faith in, and love of, my Saviour, Jesus Christ, that I can say, I humbly trust that He is mine, and I am His?’ Do not think lightly of the question. Look at it on its own merits; in your own closet, on your knees before God your Judge and Jesus Christ your Saviour, try to obtain something like an answer to the question, ‘Have I the Son of God, or have I not?’ For ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.’ He is dead; and ‘the wrath of God abideth on him.’

II. This life will manifest itself in a very decided manner in contrast with the comparative death which is around it.—‘He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.’ Life is not a mere name, but a reality; not an idea, but an active principle. Christian life is not a profession or an observance, but an appropriation of the wisdom, the love, and the energy of God. And if, as it is most just to admit, man may be so much and do so much without it, to what a moral grandeur and glory ought he to rise with it! ‘What do ye more than others?’ is the question which Christ addresses to His living members; and shame upon them if they must answer, ‘Nothing’; for others have but man’s strength, they the strength of God. Man is a dependent being, he must lean on some one. Other men lean on one another, and fall together to the ground. The Christian leans on the everlasting arm of Christ. His life is borne up by the constant realisation of a living, personal Friend, Whose loving eye looks on him as on St. Peter, gently to rebuke his sin; Whose mighty arm is underneath him, as it was underneath St. Paul, mightily to strengthen him in the hour of his need.

(a) This life has its inner and its outer workings, its root and its branch; ‘within there is the ever fresh conviction of sin, the ever-repeated confession of unworthiness, the struggles of faith with sense, the wrestlings of prayer, the kindlings of hope and love.’ Sometimes it seems almost extinguished as the old nature reasserts its strength; sometimes it seems almost to reach heaven, to have its conversation there, and to be above the rise and fall of this world’s troubled waves. Death knows nothing of this; it has no feeling; the dead soul has no fears or doubts, no struggle, no agony. Feeling, though it be ever so painful, is better than this; better than the cold numbness of mortification; it is at least a sign of life, and this life will struggle through the cloud and darkness to the clear, calm light of day. For peace and joy are the proper healthy life of the Christian soul. ‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day; and in Thy righteousness they shall be exalted.’ And yet the holiest of all will be the foremost to confess that they are ever falling short; others feel their holiness and wonder at it; but they are ever conscious of sin, and the more they have of life, the keener are their eyes to see, and their touch to feel, the slightest speck of sin. But, blessed be God, He does not depart from us because we have yet remaining corruption. Not our perfect life, but His perfect righteousness forms our title. ‘He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.’

(b) This life manifests itself in outward action, setting man to work, not for himself, but for Christ; making it his ambition to do great things for God’s honour, rather than for his own pleasure; implanting in him, as the great principle of his life, that ‘whether he eat or drink, he shall do all to the glory of God.’ And it will have a most triumphant manifestation hereafter, when the scattered dust of our bodies shall rise again, body and soul be reunited, and death swallowed up of life.

(c) And this resurrection of the body is no little part of life; you will feel the truth of this if for a moment you conceive yourself standing by the dead body of that person whom you love above all else on earth. You are gazing upon what? Mere corruption, upon mere dust and ashes, if there be no resurrection of the body. And can a belief in the immortality of the soul calm you? Can you endure the thought that you shall never, never see that face again? I think not. It might be the heart that you most loved; it might be the character that you most admired; it might be the Christian spirit to which you were most devoted; but it was still heart and character and spirit mirrored in the glance of that eye and the smile of that lip, in the earnestness of that brow and the melody of that voice; and if it were only with the spirit you were again to have intercourse, you would feel it was but half your friend. Death would not be swallowed up. But our Forerunner has gone up to heaven, Bone of our bone, and Flesh of our flesh. He has swallowed up death in victory. Where He is, there we shall be also.

—Rev. Canon F. Morse.

Illustration

‘The records of pastoral visitation press the distinction upon us with the emphasis of actual fact. On the bed of sickness and of death, the contrast between him who has but a name and him who has Life is often very striking. The one gifted, it may be, with intellect and acquirements, and familiar with the facts of Christianity, clearly understands the scheme of salvation, and admires its perfect adaptation to the wants of man. “I can see how it suits others,” he says, “but, alas! I cannot apply it to myself. I believe the facts, but I cannot take them as for me. Christ Jesus is indeed a Saviour, but I cannot think He is my Saviour.” Argument is in vain with such a man. He knows all the Scripture you can bring before him. It has floated for years on the surface of his understanding, but has never reached the depths of his heart. He sees, knows the history of, admires, but he has not, Christ. And between this admiring and this having the difference is infinite. To the other Christ is Life, Christ is all. You may see him poor, desolate, afflicted, his bones wearing through his flesh, his last remaining earthly comfort removed; yet he tells you that he would not be without his trials for the world, they keep him near his Saviour, and that is all he wants. He has no more doubt of his acceptance in Christ than you have of your existence as you stand beside his bed. He tells you in the simple language of a poor sailor that “his sins are cast, not into the shallow water, but into the depths of the sea; that his name is enrolled, not in the Queen’s books, but in the Lamb’s book of Life; that he has good anchorage, the harbour is in view, and as he has often cried in the dark night-watch at sea, ‘All is well.’” Who can pass from one such scene to another, and not feel that they re-echo with solemn emphasis, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life”?’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-john-5.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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