Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Church Pulpit Commentary Church Pulpit Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 3". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cpc/ 1-john-3.html. 1876.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 John 3". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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WHAT WE ARE AND WHAT WE SHALL BE
‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us … for we shall see Him as He is.’
1 John 3:1-2
Three important questions—Whence? Where? Whither? Whence came I? Where am I? Whither is the current of life speeding me? And yet there is another more important, that which St. John answers: What? The reason for this estimate is plain. Character compels circumstances; it is what we are, far more than where we are, which has to do at any time with the happiness of life. Consider what St. John says as to what we are and what we may become.
I. What we are now.—‘Children of God.’ St. John, as a disciple of Christ, is speaking to his fellow-disciples. They ‘are called,’ ‘and are’ God’s children (cf. Revised Version). All men may, rightfully, be ‘called’ God’s children, seeing that He is the Author of their existence (cf. Acts 17:28), but there is a deeper relation than the merely natural. God, as ‘the Father of spirits,’ is Father of those only, in the fullest sense, who have had a spiritual birth. True fatherhood is more than authorship; it is such authorship as imparts the nature of the author. ‘God is a Spirit’; then His children must be spiritual. ‘Regeneration,’ ‘the new birth,’ ‘the birth from above’; it is the birth within us of that spiritual being for which mere flesh and blood do but provide the cradle and the swaddling-clothes. Consider—
( a) The new birth, how known. What evidence is wanted if a man would claim to be God’s child? Is it the evidence of memory? No one asks for that in the analogous case of natural birth. Is it then the evidence of feeling and conviction? This may give a strong assurance that the life once born is in a healthy state; but even if there is no feeling, will that prove that there has been no birth? No; the new birth, like the old, is not a thing for which the new-born is responsible. ‘The Spirit breathes where He wills … so is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ We are responsible to some extent for growth; we can only be responsible for birth in so far as we are responsible for acting upon the instructions through which it may be brought about. Our Lord’s teaching and that of His apostles associates baptism with the new birth (cf. Titus 3:5: ‘The laver of regeneration’). Baptized people have a right to claim that, germinally at any rate, they are regenerate. In so far as they are appropriating the grace of baptism they may say with confidence, ‘We are God’s children.’
( b) The growth after birth. The new birth, the infantile spiritual existence, may be dwarfed, stifled, even killed, before it can attain maturity. God’s children are not all healthy children; over some He is compelled to sorrow: ‘This my son is dead.’ Still even disease and death cannot cancel the fact of sonship. The younger son did not cease to be a son though he left his father for a far country. We take our stand upon the fundamental fact—disobedient, ungrateful, we are yet God’s children; we yet have confidence in the unalterable affection which ensures, upon repentance, a welcome from our Father.
( c) Importance of this view of regeneration. It founds our faith not upon the shifting sands of feeling, but upon the firm rock of fact. Now are we the sons of God; there is that in us which, under God’s training, may develop into a character which will reflect His own.
II. What we shall be hereafter.—This, St. John says, has never yet been made manifest, but when He is manifested we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. But did not our Lord by His life and conduct show what was the nature of the perfect child? Yes, but not in the fulness of its perfection; only in so far as men could receive it. He manifested forth His glory, but He manifested it forth by gleams and flashes through the veil which shrouded it, His flesh. No doubt Christ as He is is the perfect manifestation of the unseen Father, but no man can see Christ as He is until he is prepared to look on Him by having been made like Him. Christ is seen through the medium of the character which contemplates Him. We must be like Him before we can see Him as He is. This is just the marvel of it. What about our present conduct?
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SONS OF GOD
‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.’
1 John 3:2
Believers stand to God in an endearing and enduring relationship. Great and glorious are the privileges which believers now enjoy as God’s children, but greater and more glorious privileges are in store for them beyond death and the grave—privileges and honours of which in their present state they can form only a very imperfect idea; ‘for eye hath not seen nor ear heard,’ etc. ‘It doth not yet appear what we shall be,’ etc.
The word rendered ‘appear’ literally signifies to manifest. ‘It is not yet manifested what we shall be,’ etc. In the text we have—
I. The imperfection of the believer’s knowledge.—‘It is not yet manifested what we shall be.’
II. The consummation of the believer’s faith.—‘We know that, when it is manifested, we shall see Him.’ See Christ; faith shall then give place to sight. Now we believe in Him, but then ‘we shall see Him.’
III. The transformation of the believer’s nature.—When we see Him as He is, ‘we shall be like Him.’ The perfect vision will perfect the transformation.
‘Believers shall be like Christ not merely in soul, but also in body. Christ shall change our vile body, “our body of humiliation, and fashion it like unto His own glorious body.” When Christ was on “the holy mount” He was transfigured, and His face shone as “the sun in his strength”; and if our bodies are to be like Christ’s, then we are warranted in believing that the face and form of the saints will be bright and dazzling. An old writer remarks: “There can be no doubt that in symmetry, beauty, and dignity the believer’s body will be perfect; for it is to be fashioned after the highest pattern in the universe. Of all the visible works of God, the most glorious will be those mortal bodies which God’s own Son died to redeem.” Believers will also be like Christ in honour and dignity. Christ sits upon a glorious throne and wears upon His head many crowns. Believers shall sit with Christ upon His throne, and shall receive glorious crowns—“crowns of righteousness,” and “crowns of life,” and crowns the glory of which shall never fade.’
THE HOPE OF THE ADVENT
‘And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.’
1 John 3:3
‘The Epistles of John,’ it has been said, ‘with their ideal teaching, find the future in the present.’ In them, as in the fourth Gospel, stress is laid upon the essential continuity of the life hereafter with the present spiritual life of the Christian. None the less, as the same writer has pointed out, the final consummation is never lost sight of. ‘The use of the term Parousia, which elsewhere, and especially in the Pauline writings, has a very definite sense, indicates that, while to John, Christ’s return was in one sense a spiritual advent, a present act of grace or judgment, it was in another sense an objective event of the future.’ In this passage the Apostle refers to it as a definite manifestation in time, and he urges the expectation of it as an incentive to self-purification. In a few simple but moving words he reminds his readers of their wondrous privilege of Divine sonship—a privilege pointing to the infinite love and condescension of God. The world—fallen and estranged—despised them, persecuted them, rejected them. But then the same world had nailed Him to the cross. Divine sonship—‘now are we children of God’—was their present high calling; but the glory in which that calling was to culminate was not yet revealed. But this much at least—and it was enough—could be foreseen. When that supreme Self-disclosure should be vouchsafed it would result in all who were fit to behold it being brought into perfect resemblance to Him. The vision of Him in His beauty would transform them into His likeness.
I. An earnest expectation.—The hope of the Advent! St. Paul speaks of it as an ‘earnest expectation’ in which all nature joins. He himself rejoiced in the thought of it as the day which should bring deliverance, glory, renewal, incorruption. It was to himself the ‘expectation’ which enabled him to bear with patience and cheerfulness ‘the sufferings of this present time.’ To no man has the petition ‘Thy kingdom come’ been fuller of meaning, of hope, of encouragement, than to him who was ‘in labours abundantly, in prisons abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft,’ who was daily oppressed by ‘anxiety for all the Churches,’ who ‘bore branded on his body the marks of Jesus.’
II. Christ’s purity triumphant.—In that day the mind of Christ—the mind which is made known to us in the sacred records of Him—will be ‘all in all.’ Then whatsoever is opposed to Him—whatsoever denies and rejects Him—will be swept away for ever. Then the long and varying struggle between sin and righteousness—that struggle which wearies and often disheartens us—will have terminated. Then His ‘purity’ will be everywhere triumphant. And that triumph we shall witness—either to be saved or condemned by it. Do let us—while this period of probation lasts—seriously set ourselves to overcome the faults and frailties, the sins or vices, which dishonour and degrade us. Do let us make a resolute endeavour to get rid of the moral stains which defile our characters. We say to ourselves that we cannot do so altogether. ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ But is the spirit willing? That is the vital question. Do we honestly desire to be quit of our evil nature? Do we wish for spiritual salvation? Would we be ‘pure’ if we could? Surely it is idle for many—only too many—of us to attempt the pretence that we are ‘seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness.’ We are engrossed with our business, our pleasures—are they always innocent pleasures?—our self-advancement, our prosperity, our worldly ambitions, our personal schemes. We labour and strive for these, we discipline ourselves carefully enough to run the race for such prizes; we throw all our mental powers, all our force of character, all our skill and perseverance, all our resourcefulness and determination, into the contest—not always too honourably fought out—which has these things for its rewards. But on self-consecration, moral idealism, spiritual strength, on all that St. John here includes in the thought of ‘purity’—on these we lay comparatively little stress. If we are thus willing to barter the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom in its infinite glory—for success in this world, how can we think, how can we wade so far in hypocrisy and self-deception as to persuade ourselves that we are really and truly fit in heart and mind for that awful, that unimaginable revelation?
III. Christ’s example.—‘Even as He is pure’! ‘I have given you an example.’ In Him—in His earthly ministry—we have the absolute ideal, the perfect and faultless pattern. The New Testament puts before us for our acceptance and imitation a definite type of character—a type which ‘has proved itself by the continuous trial of centuries and by a thousand tests; by infinitely varied images of mercy, nobleness, self-discipline, self-devotion; by the martyr’s fortitude and the missionary’s sacrifice; proved itself in many a patient and suffering life, in many a generous enterprise, in many a holy death-bed, in the blessed peace and innocence of countless homes.’ Meekness, compassionateness, loving-kindness, readiness to forgive, willingness to be offered for others, self-surrender, self-denial, humility, poverty in spirit, hunger and thirst after righteousness—these are among its constituent parts. And we—what are we? What are we seeking to be? Such questions, if we press them upon ourselves, if we are honest with ourselves in our answer to them, may well check and awe us. But our self-examination need not terrify us. We think of Calvary and all that followed. It is not only that there is that wondrous breadth of free pardon even for the worst; not only that there is no wickedness, however black, which may not be washed away in the Divine Blood; not only that our robes may be cleansed, whatever the defilements adhering to them; it is not only this, though this by itself would be a priceless boon, but that there is grace—His grace—to help and discipline and prepare us. In the solemn task of self-purification we are not left to ourselves. His aid is offered to us, if only we will avail ourselves of it. No struggle with some special fault, some besetting sin, need go on without Him. No temptation need be faced in spiritual solitude. ‘Lo, I am with you alway’ was His promise to His Church; but it is also His promise to each individual disciple. ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My word: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.’ It is with Him and His Father abiding with us that we have to make ready for that second coming. ‘The Son of Man,’ the Crucified, will then be our Judge. But He Who will then be on the throne—the ‘great white throne’—is now with each one of those that believe in Him, transforming them into His own image. ‘Even as He is pure.’ So, too, shall we be ‘pure’ in that new world,
When God has made the pile complete,
when all that is now provisional and transitory shall have given place to the perfect and the everlasting, when the preparation shall have ended and the fulfilment have commenced, when He shall be manifested in His glorious Majesty, and ‘we shall see Him even as He is.’
—Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.
‘Lo, as some ship, outworn and overladen,
Strains for the harbour where her sails are furled;—
Lo, as some innocent and eager maiden
Leans o’er the wistful limit of the world,
Dreams of the glow and glory of the distance,
Wonderful wooing and the grace of tears,
Dreams with what eyes and what a sweet insistence
Lovers are waiting in the hidden years:—
Lo, as some venturer, from his stars receiving
Promise and presage of sublime emprise,
Wears evermore the seal of his believing
Deep in the dark of solitary eyes,
Yea to the end, in palace or in prison,
Fashions his fancies of the realm to be,
Fallen from the height or from the deeps arisen,
Ringed with the rocks and sundered of the sea;—
So even I, and with a pang more thrilling,
So even I, and with a hope more sweet,
Yearn for the sign, O Christ, of Thy fulfilling,
Faint for the flaming of Thine Advent feet.’
Myers, St. Paul.
THE INCENTIVE TO HOLINESS
It is the prerogative of Christianity, as a body of truth, to have made the prospect of immortality both definite and bright. But immortality is more than a doctrine; it is a power, a practical power, affecting and transforming human character and life.
I. What is the condition indispensable to future happiness?—The answer, in one word, is purity.
( a) Not the ceremonial cleanness of the Old Testament; not mere outward separation from the world; not mere external respectability of conduct.
( b) But such spiritual purity as is required by Christ, and illustrated in His perfect life.
( c) For this fits for fellowship with God, and for the joys and services appropriate to Christ’s associates in the abodes of light.
II. Upon what is the Christian’s hope of future happiness fixed?—It is set upon Christ Himself. Upon the vision of Christ; we shall see Him as He is; upon likeness to Christ, Whom we hope morally to resemble. It is quite in accordance with the spirit of Christianity that we should be taught to anticipate not so much personal enjoyment as a spiritual conformity to the Lord Whom we honour and love.
III. What is the disciplinary and preparatory power of this hope?—Can it help to realise itself, to bring about the appropriation of that to which it aspires?
( a) Hope is generally a powerful and beneficial motive. To hope confidently and brightly for any object is a step towards securing it.
( b) Hope set on Christ has a necessarily purifying influence. If faith in Christ and love to Christ be powerful motives to holy conduct, why not hope in Christ? Directed towards so holy a Being, hope cannot but hallow and elevate.
( c) For such hope induces to personal resolution and effort. The hoper ‘purifieth himself,’ i.e. uses the appointed means of endeavour, prayer, and Divine communion to that end.
( d) Above all, hope contemplates the model of such purity. To study the model is to be changed into the same image.
‘Immanuel is the Incarnation of Divine purity, the image of Divine holiness in human nature, to which we are to be conformed. God has not told us merely in so many words what purity is, or given us a bare and rigid code by obeying which we may become pure, or provided a series of means and instruments by which purity may be secured in us. He has given us a living model, a perfect human pattern in Jesus Christ, Whose character and actions, as those of a Man, we can so far understand and imitate. Thus the task of purification becomes easier to us. We are to follow in His footsteps; to be in the world as He was; to walk by faith as He walked; to be obedient as He was; to learn obedience, as He learned His, by the things which we suffer; to bring our human wills into subjection to God’s will, as He did, by self-denial. In all things is He our pattern, our perfect pattern which we are to imitate, not artificially or mechanically, but in spirit and principle. How high the standard and lofty the ideal of our purity!’
HOLINESS OF HEART AND LIFE
There are four points to which I would direct attention: the nature of holiness, the standard of holiness, the difficulties of holiness, and the power of holiness.
I. The nature of holiness.—Holiness is a personal quality of the individual person, and, just as a good tree bears fruit, the living man becomes holy in his personal character. From this is seen the very marked distinction between holiness and justifying righteousness. Justifying righteousness is the righteousness of the Blessed Saviour imputed to us. It is wholly external to ourselves. It is reckoned to us, but in no sense is it in us. The wedding garment in which God clothes us is the righteousness of the Son of God, imputed though not inherent. It is perfectly different from holiness. To use Hooker’s phrase, ‘Holiness is inherent.’ I prefer the expression ‘inwrought,’ because it is wrought in the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, and does not grow there of itself. Thus the individual becomes holy.
II. The standard of holiness.—In the Word of God there is only one standard set before us. That is the perfect will of God, as taught in His law and exhibited in the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no lower standard. The words of Scripture are, ‘As He Who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.’ And the hope of the believer is, that the day is coming when ‘we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ If we consider this standard, there are three great truths that immediately follow.
( a) It is perfect. A good deal is said about perfection, and we find it in Christ Jesus. He is holy and undefiled, and separate from sinners, a perfect exhibition in human form of the perfect character of the perfectly holy God.
( b) It is universal. It is exactly the same for all classes, the learned and the ignorant, the young and the old. It does not vary with our position or our opinions. It does not depend upon our consciousness. It does not alter with our thoughts of right and wrong, so that what may be right to-day may be wrong to-morrow. But it is the same and always the same, and from all eternity has been the same, and to all eternity will be the same. So it is the same for the whole universe. The standard for men is the same as that for angels, and the standard for the first beginner is the same as that for the most ripened and experienced believer.
( c) It combines in perfection the inner and outer life. This holiness of character has its root in its close companionship with God, and is exhibited in all manner of Christian conversation.
III. The difficulties.—It is a rash man that can suppose that he can walk in the path of holiness without encountering both danger and difficulty. There are difficulties without and difficulties within.
( a) Without there is the environment, if I may use a hackneyed modern term, of a wicked world strengthened by the perpetual malice of a wicked spirit. Respecting these, I would give only one caution. While we believe in the deadly power of Satan’s temptation, we must beware of accusing him of that which really belongs to ourselves.
( b) Then there are difficulties within. In Romans 6. I find that those who are directed to reckon themselves ‘dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God’ are warned not to let sin reign in their mortal body. Surely, then, sin must be there, or there would be no need of such a warning. Our ninth Article is perfectly right when it says that ‘the infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated’; and if any speak of the higher life lifting them up above the level of the regenerate, I can only say that I can find no account of it in Scripture, and that I know no record of any one saint of God in which he is described as being released in this present life from the difficulty and conflict of indwelling sin.
IV. Now let us turn to the power.—There is a power and a very great one. That power is the power of God the Holy Ghost.
( a) Do we want strength for victory? According to Ephesians 3:16, we may be ‘strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.’
( b) Do we want purity of heart? According to Acts 15:9, it is the Holy Ghost that purifieth the heart by faith.
( c) Do we want transformation into the very likeness of our Lord Himself? According to 2 Corinthians 3:18, we must be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ He is an indwelling Sanctifier, perfectly acquainted with all the windings of the human heart, perfectly able to direct, and perfectly able to frustrate all the designs of Satan, so that in our present struggle we have all that can be desired, an omnipotent, indwelling God, perfectly able to give the victory.
Rev. Canon Edward Hoare.
‘I often hear the expression, “the possibilities of faith.” I cannot say I altogether like it. I greatly prefer to hear of the omnipotence of the Spirit, for there is no limit to that; and when we speak of the possibilities of faith, it is important to remember that there is a limit to that, for it is not true faith to expect that which God has not promised in His Word, or led us by that Word to expect. We cannot rightly take a verse from its context and use it as a proof text for some particular point not referred to in that context. But this we can rightly do: we can look at the eternal purpose of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost; we can look at the never-failing covenant of God; we can look at the mighty power of the grace of Christ; we can look forward to the day when we shall see Him as He is and shall be like Him, when God shall have completed the whole number of His elect, and we shall stand before Him in perfect, spotless, everlasting holiness.’
WHY CHRIST CAME
‘Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins.’
1 John 3:5
Here is a subject on which men have often worried and perplexed themselves; they have asked themselves, from time to time, why should the scheme of our salvation be what it is? Why must Christ come?
I. Why Christ came.—What was the practical side of the coming of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, of His manifestation, as St. John calls it? ‘To save sinners,’ says St. Paul; could there be any announcement more brief, more precise, more attractive, than the aims and purposes of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ? Who is a sinner? Who is meant by this explanation? A sinner, as the original word implies, is a man who has missed the mark; a man who has failed to hit the aim and object of his being; one who, created for a definite purpose, has failed to realise that purpose; one who, designed to do a certain work and to attain a certain thing, has neither attained the one nor reached the other. That is a sinner. Of course we know the work appointed for God’s creatures and the destiny they are made for. Made originally in God’s image, in God’s likeness, endowed with reason, conscience, sense of duty, power of choice and action, capacity for communicating with their fellow-men and even for holding communion with God, having God’s favour over them now as a present blessing, and God’s eternal presence in their future home, how has the privileged race of mankind demeaned itself? How has it sinned? We know it has broken right away from its proper centre, it has been disloyal to its rightful owner, boasting in a freedom which is no honour, saying, ‘My powers are my own law for me.’ Can we in any way so well express the condition of mankind as we know it as by that one word ‘sinners’?
II. Personal recognition.—Such then was the race which our Blessed Lord contemplated having before Him when He came into the world. He came to save sinners, and on His coming He said Himself, ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” And so we see that, unless we can recognise ourselves under this description, then neither can we count ourselves the objects of recognition. We must know ourselves to have missed the mark if we would count ourselves in the number of those for whom He offered the salvation of Himself. St. Paul could see himself among that number. ‘Sinners,’ he said, ‘of whom I am chief.’ How true it is that each one of us knows more about himself than he can possibly know about anybody else. And so when he takes into account the warnings, the opportunities, the forbearances which have marked his course through life, and then, on the other hand, the follies and the backslidings, the obstinacies and the sins with which he has gone astray and done crookedly, then he feels that however it may be with others, he can without affectation take upon his own lips St. Paul’s words, and say that if Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners He came to save those of whom I—even I myself—am among the chief.
III. ‘Comfortable words.’—‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’; truly the Prayer Book rightly calls them comfortable words. He came to save those who had missed the mark, to knit again into the bonds of affection children who had left their father’s home and were wasting their goods in selfish misery in desert and distant lands. He came to make God once more known and honoured to those whose special misery it was to feel they had lost sight of Him, who had flung away all the assurance they might have had. He came to take away the sting of death and to give life for evermore. In order to do this—for without it we should be missing the surest basis—He came to take our sins upon Him by dying for our sins. Christ, the sacrificed, and now Christ the Risen and Ascended Lord, came out of the boundless compassion of the Father’s love, to die for us—for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for those of all the world. ‘He was manifested to take away our sins.’ Let us then be continually thinking of this purpose, and so we shall find an increasing power to resist and conquer sin.
—Rev. Lewis Gilbertson.
‘Christ’s purpose is to take away, not certain sins, but all our sin, to sanctify us wholly, to present us faultless. He is not partial to the sins which we tolerate. Here, then, is a strong motive, the strongest possible, in the purpose of Christ’s manifestation. How can we, for whom He was manifested, live in the sins which He came to take out of us? How hopeful sanctification is if His purpose was such.’
STEADINESS OF GROWTH
‘Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.’
1 John 3:6
Some time or another all of us have met professing, earnest Christians who said that they never sinned, who said, ‘My conversion was so real, so true, that I never sin.’ This verse seems to suggest that a true Christian, one who abides in Christ, never sins, but if we look beneath the surface we shall see its true meaning.
I. Duality of nature.—We have a duality of nature. We who have been baptized, who have put on Christ, have a Divine nature, and also, alas! a poor fallen nature, natures which are as different as white from black, natures which again and again are in bitter antagonism, in conflict. St. Paul, whose Christianity, whose conversion, whose sonship no one in the world could question, acknowledged this duality of natures when he said, ‘For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.’ Now, here it seems to me is the explanation of St. John’s words. We know that St. John never regarded a Christian as one who did not sin. He knew that the converted soul sinned, yet he also said that the converted, the regenerate man, the baptized, the son of God, as such in his Divine nature could not possibly sin. As long as a man abides in Christ sin is an impossibility. When he loses his temper, when he says that sharp thing about somebody else, when he is a little bit insincere, then he turns his back, he blots out his vision; for the moment he knows not Christ, he acts as a poor fallen man, not as a son of God, not as a regenerate being, not in his Divine nature, but as a child of Adam. Is not that true? Is not sin impossible so long as there is true communion with God? As long as I look at Christ, as long as I keep my eyes towards Him, as long as I am conscious of His presence in me, as long as I am true to Him and remember my Divine nature, I cannot sin. But the very word trespass means a leaving for the moment, a separation from God.
II. Steady growth in grace.—If our Churchmanship is real then there must be steady growth.
( a) The growth must be in power over our weaker self.—Step by step we should prove stronger in temptation within and without. Gradually our better nature—that is our Divine nature, the nature that we receive from the Father—should be gaining the mastery and pressing down the lower nature.
( b) The way to do this is to practise the presence of Christ. The way is by abiding in Him, not merely when we bow before the altar in His own great service of Holy Communion, not merely in that religious world of holy duties and holy things, but outside, amid the hard, busy, often cold, workaday world, in the city, in the hospital ward, in the workshop.
( c) The very purpose of our abiding in Christ at the Eucharist must be that we may carry that presence back into the world. We know how sometimes when we fix these natural eyes upon some object, and then we close our eyes or even look at other objects, still we see that object on which we have been intent. So should it be as we focus our spiritual vision upon Christ: we should carry back into the city, back into our homes, back into all our difficult world Christ Himself.
—Rev. D. G. Cowan.
ABIDING IN CHRIST
What is true of all Christ’s followers? It is that they do not, cannot sin, in the sense of habitually indulging in sin; sinning without protest and struggle and sincere prayer against sin.
I. They that abide in Christ cannot be in opposition to the great end of His mission and work.—That was to destroy sin, to make all pure and wholesome and lovely.
II. They that abide in Christ cannot be at variance with His spirit and character.—Two cannot walk together except they be agreed. A man cannot live in that abode of perfect sinlessness, in the presence of that pure and holy being, and yet let the current of his life flow in the polluted channels of sin. He must quit sin or Christ.
III. The more intimately a man abides in Christ, the nearer will his actual life be brought into accordance with the ideal of Christian living.—‘Beholding as in a glass His glory, we shall be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’
‘To “abide in” Christ implies having come to Him in faith, having believed on Him to the saving of the soul. And all true coming has in it the intention of abiding. It is preparatory to abiding. It is no true coming at all if there is the underlying notion of simply coming to receive a boon and then going. We have not come if, in intention and desire and resolution in God’s strength, we have not taken up our abode. He that abides in Christ “sinneth not.” A little before the same writer says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” “Sinneth” means settling down in sin, living lives without struggle and declared war against sin.’
THE DESTRUCTION OF EVIL WORKS
‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.’
1 John 3:8
Here St. John tells us of the purpose of the Incarnation.
I. The works of the devil.—What are these works of the devil?
( a) In the human heart. Selfishness—all sin is selfishness—hatred of the brethren, unbelief, doubt of the love of God even more than doubt of the existence of God—these are some of His works. Belief and love go hand-in-hand, then, and it is the devil’s work to destroy both the one and the other. How hard, we may say, it is to believe, and how hard to love. But it is not doubly hard to do both. It has been well said that the two are together easier than either of them, and the half more difficult than the whole. Man’s doubts are solved by obeying and by loving. ‘If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine.’ A common work of the devil is that form of unbelief known as despondency. That kind of unbelief is one of the things which the Lord Jesus was manifested that He might destroy.
( b) In the Church. And then there is unbelief in the Church—denying the power of God. I speak not in the theological sense, but in the sense of the power which is in the Church of God to win back and to save that which was lost. True, here an effort and there an effort is made, but we do not recognise that it is our first duty to seek and to save. Another of the works of the devil in the Church is the spirit of formalism. How often we have the form of godliness but not the power of it. This temptation is far greater for those called to the ministry than for the laity—the danger of bearing sacred words constantly on one’s lips while one’s heart is far away. It is the work of the devil to take all the true life out of that which was meant to be our help. Again, it is through the work of the devil that the Church, instead of being in the very vanguard of all social progress and true reform, seems always to be behind.
( c) In the world. Again, the Son of God is manifested to destroy the works of the devil in the world, and I think one of the greatest of these is cruelty. We are called upon as Christian people to throw all our efforts into such work as will prevent cruelty to man or beast, and especially cruelty to children. Intemperance, too, is one of those works of the devil in the world by which countless thousands are kept in a bondage too hideous to be thought of. I have known those whom doctors said could not be cured, cured by the power of God.
II. In all these matters God now works through us.—God claims to use us—to manifest Himself through us. The Son of God is being manifested now in every true and pure and noble life which is being lived in His faith and fear. If this be so, shall we not determine to take our part in the conflict of Christ with the forces of evil? It has been well said, ‘A child of God in this conflict receives indeed wounds daily, but he never throws away his armour or makes peace with his deadly foe.’ God grant to us this spirit. God grant to us that the Son of God may be manifested in our lives, that through them the works of the devil may be destroyed.
—Rev. H. W. L. O’Rorke.
SIN AND ITS CONQUEROR
Even those who would do away with a belief in God can hardly do away with the existence of wrong and of a radical propensity to wrong as working in men’s hearts. A most patent fact; yes; and a most troublesome fact—troublesome to ourselves, to society, to government; indeed, the radical secret of all the troubles of the world. And to those who are alive to the existence of an infinite God this evil assumes its true character, not merely of crime, wrong-doing, disorder, but of sin—crime against God, wrong-doing against God, disorder against God.
I. Sin and its aspects.
( a) Deception: ‘Hath God said?’ So, whenever ‘led away by our lusts and enticed,’ it is really the old story—old as the first transgression—‘Hath God said?’
( b) Alienation: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ Too true. A false independence. Man deifying himself the worst idolatry.
( c) Disobedience: ‘Knowing good and evil.’ Alas! how often the last part of this malign promise is realised among men! ‘Only evil continually.’ Such this first great work of the devil. And the second is its other self, death! (i) Loss of God. How sudden, swift, and sure! The Lord was gone, and His returning presence brought only pain and shame: ‘I was afraid!’ So now God is gone. The temple is deserted, the life is desolate, the heart is dead. Is it not so? There are, indeed, gaiety and mirth, but how sickening! the dead playing at being alive! (ii) And amongst men? Jealousy, mistrust, hate, blood. The disintegrating work of sin—social death. Is it not so? (iii) And in the world? Toil, sorrow—‘cursed for thy sake.’ A crown of thorns, but not irradiate, as that Other Crown, (iv) And self? Perverted spirit, disordered soul, diseased and dying body. ‘The works of the devil’—ruin, havoc, hell!
II. Their destruction.—An adversary? Yes, and a Rescuer. The picture of Genesis 3:15; serpent coils, crushed limbs, agony. A Mighty One appears; the bruised head, the bruised heel. The Son of God! this attests the power of sin. His wrestling unseen with sin, as in Jacob’s case. The manifestation of which we read in text, as Son of Man.
( a) The conflict. With the tempter. Who shall know its fierceness? With human sin in all His public work. With the world’s death: Calvary.
( b) The conquest. The incipient conquest in the desert; the progressive conquest in the life; the culminating conquest on the Cross. So, after the agonised climax of the conflict, the ‘It is finished!’ And the resurrection the seal of victory.
LOVE TO CHRIST’S BRETHREN
‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’
1 John 3:14
In the Revised Version our text reads: ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.’ ‘Out of death into life.’
I. Note first the mighty change described.—Spiritual death is a terrible reality. And that is the state of all men by nature. Very often spiritual death is linked with the highest bodily and mental life. But the eye of the dead soul is closed, it only sees earthly things. Its ear is closed, Christ and His Apostles are only like other teachers or preachers. It lies in darkness, and walks in darkness and in the shadow of death, and stumbles on the dark mountains. If you once realise all this, then it will be clear to you that God alone can awaken the dead soul and bid it live and work and watch and pray. Other illustrations are given in Holy Scripture of the mighty change, without which none can enter into the Kingdom of God. But the illustration in the text is particularly striking and full of force. And it is to be noted our Lord uses it as well as St. John. Let me read John 5:24 in Revised Version, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth Him that sent Me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgement, but hath passed out of death into life.’ Christianity is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of vital experience. When a man is regenerated he receives a new life.
II. The knowledge of this mighty change.—‘We know …’ I need not linger on this point, because in 1 John 5:13 the Apostle says, ‘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’ (R.V.).
III. The ground of that knowledge.—‘Because we love the brethren,’ i.e. those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They are the household of faith, and in a very real sense the brethren of Christ (St. Mark 3:35; Mark 9:41). True believers form a brotherhood. They differ in the colour of their skin, in their nationality, in their language, and in a multitude of other ways, but they are all one in Christ Jesus.
Rev. F. Harper.
‘There is a well-worn story of St. John at Ephesus. When too old to walk they carried him into the midst of the church. But all his sermon was only—“Little children, love one another.” St. John preached the shortest sermon on record in the annals of Christianity. But the story goes on: when some asked, “Why are you always saying this?” the Apostle is said to have replied, “Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and sufficient, if it only be fulfilled in deed.” ’
A TEST FOR SELF-EXAMINATION
We thank God that for a guide He has given us in our text one plain criterion. There are many other passages in the Bible which might be employed as tests. For instance, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’—but then this, and many other passages like it, seem only to shift the difficulty—the eye of the mind is still too extensively cast in upon itself; and I can no more determine whether I am a ‘new creature,’ and ‘old things are passed away,’ and ‘all things are become new,’ than I can determine whether I am a converted man. But the text has to do with an outward object—a relative duty of life. And, happily, it is easier for many persons to say whether they love the brethren, whom they can see, than God, whom they cannot see. For, in fact, here we are not so entirely in the province of faith; therefore it is easier—therefore we hold it most mercifully provided by God for the solving of the greatest problem ever presented to the mind of a man—to say, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.’
I. Who are the ‘ brethren’?—The brethren are those who have the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts, even though there be much clinging to them that is unrefined, and unintellectual, and unpleasing—yea, even though there be much that is really very inconsistent in them. And observe, it does not say, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love a brother’—or because ‘we love some of the brethren’—but all ‘the brethren’—all whom Christ owns—whatever their station in society, whatever their education, whatever their natural tastes, whatever their habits of thought and speech, whatever they be, if so be they are in God’s family. And this very comprehensiveness of a catholic spirit is a mark of a mind that has had to do with the largeness of an Almighty God.
II. Let us see what the text involves.—I pray you deal faithfully with your own selves.
( a) If you have ‘passed from death unto life,’ the friendships that you choose for yourselves and the relationships that you form will be all made upon one principle—that you keep within the family of grace. It is not now worldly considerations which determine your choice of friends—but you are always fond of the image of Christ, wherever you see it. As far as you can, therefore, you are to love only in such circles as those in which He is loved and honoured; and you prize and cultivate in every circle in which you move those most to whom you believe that Christ is dearest.
( b) Hence it follows that the conversation which you prefer is that which is the most spiritual; for how can you love the brethren, unless you really delight in their themes? So that the world of fashion, and the world of pleasure, and the world of commonplace, has become insipid, and there is only one atmosphere in which you love to breathe, and that is the atmosphere of Jesus Christ. Suppose then that you find yourselves in some company—the company of the world—you will not be afraid nor ashamed to confess as your friend, and to defend, and to commend, any child of God, whatever remarks may be passed upon him; and the faults and weaknesses of a child of God you will always deal tenderly with, and you will hide them, as we always do with those we love. The fellowships of the Church—the gathering together of God’s people—and especially the Holy Communion—will be the things you love: because it is communion, it will be pleasing and refreshing. In distant lands, too, the cause of God, the mission work, the extension of Christ’s kingdom, will be matters of intrinsic interest to your minds—for the brethren unseen will be brethren that you love.
—Rev. James Vaughan.
‘Few who have visited Florence have failed to go to the old Dominican Convent of St. Marc, there to gaze upon what has been called one of the three great picture shows of the world, viz. the frescoes with which Fra Angelico has immortalised the walls of the cells of his former convent home. As one wanders on from fresco to fresco, from cloister to corridor, and from corridor to cell, one gazes upon Annunciations and Nativities, and Adorations of the Magi, and Transfigurations and Crucifixions, and Resurrections and Ascensions, all delineated by a man, the greatness and brilliancy of whose genius were exceeded only by the purity and holiness of his life; a man who is said never to have taken up his brush without previous prayer to God, and never to have painted the Crucifixion without bathing his cheeks with tears. All are wonderful, all are surprisingly beautiful; but it is admitted there is one more wonderful and more beautiful than all the rest; one into which the painter has thrown more heart and in which he has exhibited more pathos than perhaps in any other which he ever painted. Opening out of the cloister at one corner of the first courtyard there is a door which leads into what was once the foresteria of the convent, or the apartments in which pilgrims and strangers were received by the brothers. Over this Fra Angelico has depicted two of the confraternity welcoming a pilgrim to the shelter and hospitality of their home. The pilgrim is worn and weary; with his right hand he leans heavily on his pilgrim’s staff, and the left, which had evidently hung languidly by his side, has been raised by one of the brothers, who now holds it lovingly in his own. The other brother supports the right arm of the wayfarer, placing one hand firmly underneath the elbow, laying the other gently above it, whilst both welcome their guest with looks of inexpressible tenderness and sympathy. The pilgrim is to them nothing more than a poor wayworn brother. Had they suspected his real personality they would not have received him erect with outstretched hands, but on bended knee, and with the humblest adoration; for the conventional halo which surrounds the Stranger’s head in the fresco tells us that He Whom the brothers have received in the guise of a wayfarer is none other than their Lord and their God.’
FROM DEATH TO LIFE
Often do we see persons pass from life to death; it is the common lot. But never do we see any pass literally from death to life. Yet, spiritually, this is the necessary and indispensable process experienced by all those who know the power of the truth of Christ, the power of the Spirit of God. The message from heaven is, ‘Why will ye die?’ The promise of God is ‘eternal life.’
I. The description given of a great spiritual change.
( a) The previous condition, out of which St. John claims that he and his brother Christians have emerged, is one of death. By this must be understood moral insensibility, inactivity, and repulsiveness.
( b) The new state, which is distinctly Christian, is described as life. This is a condition of spiritual sensitiveness, activity, service. He who lives thus is ‘alive unto God.’
( c) The process of transition is one of great interest. The power by which it is effected is the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord and giver of life.’ ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ The means by which it is effected is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed, believed, and practically acted upon.
II. The evidence required to prove a great spiritual change.
( a) Hatred is an evidence of spiritual death. Sinners are separated from God, and therefore separated from one another, estranged, and at enmity among themselves. Scripture describes those sunk in spiritual death as hateful and hating one another.
( b) Love is a fruit of the Spirit, and evidence of newness of heart and of life. (i) Who are loved? ‘The brethren.’ (ii) Why are they to be loved? As God’s children. (iii) How is the love to be shown? By the daily spirit and demeanour.
THE SIN OF HATRED
‘Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.’
1 John 3:15
To hate sin is right. Sin is that which God hates. But God, Who hates the sin, loves the sinner; and even when He punishes, does not punish in haste. God is love; and they who are born of God live in love. The apostle of love in this verse presents the sin of hatred in a very vivid and very awful light.
I. The causes of hatred.
( a) Jealousy and envy lead to hatred. (Illustration from the Old Testament—Joseph’s brethren.)
( b) Pride leads to hatred. (Illustration—Haman and Mordecai.)
( c) The wicked often hate the good, because their goodness is a rebuke to such as are living in disobedience to the will of God. (Illustrations—Daniel and the Babylonians; Herodias and John the Baptist; the Jews and Paul; Jesus and His murderers.)
II. The consequences of hatred.—This disposition is not likely to lie hidden within the heart. It is a force which will surely produce results; a seed which will surely bear fruit. Plots, injuries, calumnies, assaults, are some of the results of hatred. But the text makes especial mention of murder. This is the greatest length to which hatred can go. Life is precious and sacred, because it is the breath of God Himself. An age, a state of society, in which murder is thought of lightly, is proved by that fact to be sunk in moral degradation. There are many who hate who do not murder; fear of civil penalties may deter them from this crime; but they may have it in their hearts to murder, they may wish a brother dead.
III. The sin of hatred.—It is a sin against God. It is a violation of God’s great commandment, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ It is utterly incompatible with love to God; for ‘he who loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen?’
IV. The cure for hatred.
( a) Repentance. The evil must be acknowledged, confessed, and brought to God for pardon.
( b) Reconciliation. ‘Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath.’
( c) The subduing of hate by kindness. The best way to conquer hate is by showing love.
( d) The cultivation of the mind and spirit of the Master. Those who follow Christ will not take life from their brethren, but will be rather ready, if need be, to lay down their life for their brethren. Christ can change murderers into friends.
THE CROSS AND SUFFERING
‘Hereby know we love, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
1 John 3:16 (R.V.)
‘Hereby know we love’—hereby, by the Cross of Christ, we know not only that love is, but also what love is; ‘because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
I. Hereby we learn that, in an imperfect world, love means self-sacrifice.—The Divine love, entering in the person of Jesus Christ, into this world of sin and sorrow, took on itself the form of suffering, voluntarily submitted to in order to redeem mankind. And Christ’s self-sacrifice demands to the uttermost a responding self-sacrifice on our part. If we appreciate in the remotest degree the love of Christ for us, we must love Him with all our hearts in return, and if we love Him, we must love all His brethren. And true love can be no idle sentiment; if we really love our fellow-men, we must devout ourselves heart and soul to their service. And we cannot serve others without practising in many ways constant self-sacrifice, often very hard and stern self-sacrifice; we must continually give up for their sakes many things which we greatly like, and submit to many things which we greatly dislike.
II. And at times when we truly realise the love of Christ, we surely find ourselves impelled irresistibly to respond unreservedly to the demand which that love makes on us. Then it is true that ‘the love of Christ constraineth us.’ For a time at least we do feel that we could do anything whatever, bear anything whatever, for His sake. In the full sight of the Cross, it seems mean and base to care whether we are happy or not, to want ‘to please ourselves’; ‘Christ pleased not Himself.’ In face of that supreme act of self-sacrifice, we cannot for very shame refuse to give ourselves up to the service of Christ and of our brethren for His sake. We owe ourselves absolutely to Him, body, soul, and intellect, with all our powers and energies and gifts and abilities; ‘we are not our own, for we are bought with a price,’ the price of the life-blood of the Son of God.
III. And so self-sacrifice is the essential principle of the Christian life; it is the very breath of that life. It is not simply a duty which we have to practise sometimes to a certain extent. The Christian life is all self-sacrifice, and that is no true Christian life which does not bear some real mark of the Cross. It is impossible to put the whole gospel into a sentence, or even into a sermon, but if there is any one sentence which, more than another, sums up almost the whole heart and essence of the gospel-message, it is this, just these short and simple words: ‘He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
Rev. N. E. Egerton Swann.
‘The Cross of Christ has shed a new light on human sorrow and suffering. Any one who has visited any district of mountain or of rugged coastland may have seen a great grey cliff towering up hundreds of feet, and presenting a stern, harsh, almost forbidding aspect. And then one may have seen the same cliff on a summer evening, when the rays of the setting sun fell full on its face and it was suffused with a glorious crimson glow and its awful sublimity was transformed into a rich, tender beauty. Just so, the light which streams from the Cross of Christ has transfigured the rugged aspect of sorrow and suffering.’
THE VOICE OF CONSCIENCE
‘And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.’
1 John 3:19-21
St. John refers to conscience as the supreme arbiter in this awful question. Who does not know the use of the conscience? It is to the supreme honour of Greek thought that it brought into use that word which first occurs in the Apocrypha—that word which describes self-knowledge; to describe that voice of God in the heart of man, a prophet in its information, a peace in its sanctions, and a monarch in its imperativeness. The Hebrews in the Old Testament use the word for truth and spirit to convey the same meaning. And the conscience of each one of us either condemns us or condemns us not.
I. Let us take first the case of the absolving conscience.—‘Brethren, if our hearts condemn us not, then we have confidence towards God.’ The Apostle defines wherein this confidence consists—it is boldness of access to God; it is a certainty that our filial prayers will, in their best and highest sense, be heard and answered. It is the consciousness of a life which leans on the arm of Christ, and, keeping His commandments, is so transformed by the spirit of Divine life as to be conscious we are one with God. Yet there is such a thing as a spurious conscience. But when the oracle of conscience has been so tried, it can neither stand John’s test nor give us peace. It may indeed say something, it may be of flattery, of self-conceit, and of self-adulation, as the Pharisee who cried in the temple, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.’ That was not the blessed assurance of a holy and humble heart; it was the very fruit of hypocrisy; it was the narcotic of formalism; it was an ambitious hypocritical cry.
II. Now turn to the other case— the case of the condemning conscience.—‘Brethren, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.’ What do these words mean? Are they merely a contemplation? Do they mean to warn us? Do they mean that we stand self-condemned in that silent court of justice which we ever bear about within ourselves; ourselves the judge and jury, and ourselves the prisoner at the bar? If we stand thus self-condemned by the incorruptible judge within us, in spite of all our ingenious pleadings and infinite excuses for ourselves, how much more searching, more awful, more true, must be the judgment of Him Who is ‘greater than our heart, and Who knoweth all things.’ Or, on the other hand, is it a word of hope? Is it the cry, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ Is it the affirmation that if we be but sincere we may appeal to God and not be condemned? My brethren, I believe this latter is the meaning. The position of man as regards the world and as regards God is very different. As regards the world his conscience may acquit him. Job could retain his innocence before the world. Does his heart condemn him? He only said, ‘I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.’ St. Paul, too, could only call himself ‘the chief of sinners’ because of the mighty tenderness of their consciences. The confessions of saints have always been full of self-reproach. Those are Christians who are full of self-reproach, not defiant, willing, high-handed sinners. God knows when a man is insincere. But when a man is sincere and, in spite of all his shortcomings, knows he is sincere, when he has given proof of his sincerity by love to the brethren, his life has been a witness to God: and then he may fall back on the love and mercy of One Who is greater than his heart, and therefore more tender even than his own self-condemned heart. Such a Christian is not afraid of the condemnation of men, but he is afraid when he thinks of his own unfaithfulness. Yes, it is just this, which to any Christian’s heart is well known, that he may turn to a gracious, pardoning Omniscience, and be comforted by the thought that his conscience is but a water-pot, whereas God’s love is a deep sea of compassion. He will look upon us with larger and other eyes than ours, and make allowance for us all.
III. Though our hearts condemn us not, so often we know they condemn us, we can still feel with humble sorrow the just compassion of Him Who ‘is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.’ Then we may have reasonable assurance that we belong to the world of light, and not of darkness; of truth, and not of semblance; of reality, and not of illusion. And the more we can thus assure our hearts, the more we shall abide in Christ, and He in us. There is but one throne of Christ, of God, upon earth; that throne which is in the innocent heart of man. From that throne proceeds all evil thoughts; from that throne there also proceed all holy influences; all the purity and charity that binds man to man; which blesses the family, the neighbourhood, the nation, the world. That throne may be in the heart of man. Like a ruling sovereign who devotes his heart to the well-being of all his subjects; and the meanest of subjects who devotes himself to the good of his fellow-men; it may be a heart in the midst of the most pompous and splendid ceremony, which nevertheless secretly, in the consuming passions of the breast, utters a public prayer of sincerity; it may be that of the meekest missionary, laying down his unregarded life for the faith once delivered to the saints, on some foreign shore; it may be that of the heart in the most ragged home, mumbling her feeble tones in the darkest corner of the lowliest church; it may be the heart of the man of untold wealth, making of that wealth a friend of the mammon of unrighteousness; or it may be that of the Lazarus lying at his door; it may be that of the philosopher, who is following up the discoveries of science; or it may be the heart of him who in ignorance is telling his griefs at the shrine of some questionable saint, feeling there a thing he cannot understand. Yes, the throne of Christ cannot be in the evil heart and evil conscience of the worldling or the hypocrite. If we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth; if we are trying to keep His commandments, and to walk in His ways; then in every pure, loving, humble spirit Jesus Christ shall abide, and you with Him.
(1) ‘There is many a text concerning which it may be said that without an earnest study of the whole chapter, of the whole context, or of the whole Epistle to which it belongs, it would be impossible to get at its depth and fulness. But happily, as St. Augustine says, if Scripture hath its depths for to swim in, it hath also its shallows. Just as the geologist may mark the beauty of the crystal without attempting to set forth all the marvellous and subtle lines of its formation, so without any possibility of showing all which a text articulates, a preacher may yet be thankful if he be enabled to bring before you with it only one or two thoughts such as may serve to the building up of the Christian life.’
(2) ‘He who builds on the general esteem of the world builds not on sand, but on worse—on the wind—and writes the title deeds of his hope upon the face of a river.’
GROUND OF ASSURANCE
In this verse the Apostle presents us with a contrast, a contrast between our own judgment of ourselves and God’s judgment. We might call it a short summing up of the doctrine of assurance. And what does it tell us about the doctrine of assurance?
I. God’s knowledge is the ground of our assurance.—That is the message that the Apostle gives us in this passage. Is it not that which we hear all through the Bible? That piercing insight of which the Psalmist tells us that the God Who is about his ‘path and about his bed, spieth out all his ways.’ Of which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us when he speaks of ‘the word of God piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow … a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ That is the all-knowing eye of God. When we see this knowledge in human beings we find it accompanied with a sort of malicious pleasure in detecting that which is evil. But we forget that the great message that the Apostle has to give us, in this very same Epistle, is that God, Wisdom as He is, Knowledge as He is, Justice and Power, is above all these, Love; and that He knows all things; that He sees through us as no man can see, and that He brings with that insight that essential characteristic of Love. He sees all, and knows all. And yet He pardons, because He loves.
( a) That was known even to the imperfect apprehension of the Jews of old: ‘He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.’ And so the psalmist too could take refuge in the knowledge of God, for he knew that God’s knowledge, all-embracing as it was, was yet only one side and aspect of His love; and that the knowledge whereof we are made, the remembrance that we are but dust, would plead with God for pardon.
( b) And the same thing is recalled to us by that wonderful story of the man who had sinned so deeply against One to Whom he owed everything, who seemed to have sinned so irrevocably, and to whom a certain question was put after he had sinned: ‘Lovest thou Me?’ And all that he could say was to appeal to that same knowledge: ‘Lord! Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’
II. Have we ever thought of contrasting, not our judgment of ourselves with the judgment of God, but our judgment of others?—Have we ever thought of the way in which, while we are thinking of our own motives, and finding it impossible to say whether the motives have led to any act of good or evil, so hard is it to judge amongst the tangled and complex circumstances of our character—have we forgot that, whilst we thus judge of ourselves, we are continually, except a few rare characters among us—continually imputing motives to other people? People continually take upon themselves to scan our outward acts, and to reason of our motives from those which have prompted them. We are constantly speaking of men whom we have never seen, of whom we have merely read in newspapers, and imputing to them base motives, it may be great selfishness, or ambition, or some other unworthy motive of that kind. Does not a great part of our conversation consist in reasoning about the motives which have led others to such and such acts? That is a matter which ought to be left to the judgment of God, ‘Who is greater than our hearts, and Who knoweth all things.’ We are not competent to judge of our own motives, far less can we judge of the motives of other men.
—Bishop A. T. Lyttelton.
THE UNION OF FAITH AND LOVE
‘This is His commandment, That we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.’
1 John 3:23
What is it that the Lord our God requires of us? Is it possible to answer that question? I am going to ask you to consider what clearly purports to be an answer. It was given by the last of the Apostles, in what was probably the latest of the New Testament writings. We may be content to accept it as the final expression of what the Christian revelation has to say to us on the subject. ‘This is His commandment, that we should believe on the Name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment.’ Those are words which might well be marked in our Bibles and stamped on our memories. Let us think about them.
To believe and to love—faith and charity—is it not true that these are the noblest fruits of human life? Would not a world in which faith and love were universal be a world upon which the Maker might look with delight, which He might rejoice to display to the universe?
I. The purpose of life.—Our best and happiest days are those in which we are most able to believe and to love. The darkness and chill that come over us when we forget God and cease even for a moment to care for one another are the sure evidence that we were never meant to do either the one or the other. To believe and to love: that is the end and purpose for which individuals and nations exist. And they justify their existence just in so far as they are approaching to this, God’s goal for them. But if that be true, as I think we must allow that it is, then it becomes important and necessary that we should know more. Certainly in the high matters of the soul we greatly need a clear and definite guidance. We constantly hear people saying at the present time, almost in a despairing tone, ‘What are we to believe, and what are we to do, when some are urging one thing and some another, and when Christians are so dreadfully divided?’ Well, listen again to the words which we are considering. They do not leave us in any shadow-land of vague generalities. They bid us believe and love, and they tell us also exactly what we are to believe and how we are to love. ‘This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ’—this first. ‘That we should believe on the Name,’ or to render more literally, ‘that we should believe the Name of His Son Jesus Christ’—believe all that is conveyed in the comprehensive title ‘His Son Jesus Christ.’ It is a compressed creed. In four words is set forth a complete statement of the nature and office of Him in Whom we are to know ‘what God and man is.’ ‘His Son’—before the world was. ‘Jesus’—born into the world. ‘Christ’—the heir and the Master of the world to come.
II. Our rule of faith.—That is to be our rule of faith. All belief and all knowledge are to be welcomed and prized according to the degree in which they make the truth as it is in Him more luminous and self-evidencing. In that light we are to expect to see light. Amid the problems of criticism and the uncertainties of philosophy this is to be our sure foundation on which to rest, from which to advance—the Divine, Human, Eternal Person of ‘His Son Jesus Christ.’ We are grateful to any who will help us to rise towards any of the higher ideals of truth and beauty; if ever our gratitude overflows it is to the teacher who makes the creed of the living Lord more intelligible and credible to us and shows us that it may become the inspiration of our souls.
III. Our rule of life.—And if the rule of faith is definite, so too is the rule of life. We ask, how are we to love? What does it mean in actual practice? In what way is the duty to be carried out in detail? Those, as we know, are questions which perpetually confront us when we think about conduct. How plain is the answer to them! We are to learn of Him, to follow in His steps. His teaching and example are to supply us with the interpretation of what love is. No case, no situation, can arise upon which light will not be shed if only we make it our aim to do what He would have us do in regard to it. The one quite certain proof that our conduct is right is to be found in the fact that those who witness it are reminded of Him.
IV. Faith and love indivisible.—The further point that I would have you note is the vital essential unity of it. Often as we examine into a thing closely we become aware that it is capable of being divided and mechanically separated into different parts. In this case the constituent elements are so combined as to be indivisible and inseparable; together they form a single whole. We are not told that these are His commandments, but that ‘This is His commandment, that we should believe … and love.’ And do not think that this is a matter of little practical importance. I am certain that it is vastly important to observe and remember it. It is not too much to say that, if we are conscious that we have but poorly fulfilled this Divine Will for our lives, it has been in large measure because we have failed to understand this point in regard to it. We have been tempted to put asunder what God has joined together. We have tried to obey one part or other of the twofold injunction rather than to obey them together. We have been inclined to argue that, if it is hard to believe and hard to love, it must be doubly hard to do both. But in the higher arithmetic it is not so. Paradox as it may sound, the two are easier than either, the half is more difficult than the whole. In truth we may go further and say that neither is possible if attempted alone. Really to love, in the full Christian sense, is out of the question in the absence of faith.
Let it be our aim and our ambition to keep His commandment, to do the things that are pleasing in His sight. What He asks from us, and for the sake of which we and, it may well be, our universe were made, what He longs to see is the life which rises and ripens at one and the same time into faith and love. Let us not think we can separate them. To strive after one and not the other must be to fail. If, in dependence upon His help, we strive after them both we may assuredly look to succeed. That cannot be a hopeless quest for which God has created and to which God is calling us all.
—Rev. Dr. A. W. Robinson.
‘The late Judge Stephen frankly faced the alternative that Christian belief might one day be abandoned in England, and gave his deliberate opinion as to what the result must be. “I think,” he said, “that if Christian theology were exploded, Christian charity would not survive it.” That is why we Church people think it necessary to contend so earnestly for the maintenance of definite teaching of the essentials of Christian belief in our schools. Equally certain is it that Christian faith will not abide in the absence of love. There is an interesting letter written by Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, to a promising pupil who was beginning his life at the university. And what was the counsel that the elder pressed upon the younger man? He bade him remember that if he was to keep his faith it could only be as he strove to keep his sympathies tender and wide. He advised him to seek opportunities of visiting the sick and the suffering, and that for his own sake as much as for theirs. He knew full well that to believe is only possible to those who love.’