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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 John 3

Verses 1-24

Sons of God

1 John 3:1

I. The grandest Title. Men will do much and endure many things for the sake of worldly honour. A man will work hard and deny himself, that he may obtain a title, or receive some cross or order from the hands of his sovereign. But these things do not last, the honour of a peerage cannot prolong a life, and the Victoria Cross, or the glittering order, must be laid on a coffin one day. The grandest title is that which the Father bestows upon us the sons of God. It means that God is our Father, one God and Father of us all; that we are members of one great family, the Church; with great privileges and blessings here, and the blessed hope of everlasting life to cheer us onward, the blessed hope that one day we shall be with Jesus, and see Him as He is. Our heritage, as the children of God, is our faith in each Person of the Blessed Trinity, in the Holy Catholic Church, in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

II. We must be Brave and Loyal. We must remember whose sons we are, and be brave in our faith. Someone says, 'Since Christ has made the Christian course a warfare, of all men living, a coward is the most unfit to be a Christian'. Yet what miserable cowards some socalled Christians are! They are well enough while the sun of prosperity shines, but when persecution and trial arise for sake of the Gospel, they come out in their true colours. When the struggle comes between duty and self-pleasing, between what we like, and what is right, many, like the children of Ephraim, turn themselves back in the day of battle. When the fighting comes, when the Cross is offered, when the shadows of Gethsemane and Calvary darken round us, too many forsake Jesus and follow no more after Him.

III. We must be Brave in the Public Discharge of our Religious Duties. In the olden days of Rome, the Gauls defeated the Romans and sacked their city, only the Capitol held out against the enemy, which was defended by a noble Roman youth. He had been accustomed on a certain day in every year to offer sacrifice for his family on one of the hills of Rome. The day came round, and found the hill in possession of the enemy. Still the brave Roman determined to do what he believed was his duty. He took the necessary materials for the sacrifice, cautiously left the Capitol, which was surrounded by the enemy, reached the accustomed spot, performed his religious duties, and returned in safety, though he carried his life in his hands. If we are surrounded by foes and hindrances, if our companions and neighbours put obstacles in the way of religious duty, if the devil sends temptations to make us neglect the service of God, let us remember whose sons we are, and offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, though an host of men be encamped against us.

IV. We must Love one another, Because we are one Family, the Sons of God. 'Pity is akin to love,' and pity makes us kind. Kindness is the outward and visible sign of the inward spiritual grace of love.

H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Notes of Sermons for the Year, pt. I. p. 94.

Christ and Human Brotherhood

1 John 3:1

God's greatness we cannot grasp, God's wisdom is unsearchable, but God's love is something that any heart can hold and any mind picture. It is higher than the heavens and deeper than all seas, yet it is so homely and so human and so near that to realise it you have but to take some dear child of your own upon your knees, and express in tender kisses what you are to that child and what the child is to you.

I. There is no kind of love which we understand so well as parental love. For it was the first love we knew, and every day of our early life gave us sweet and forcible lessons in it; and the pictures which it left upon our memory are never blotted out, though the faces which imprinted them have passed into the great darkness. The love of the Almighty for us is wonderful. It is wellnigh incredible. Yet you see a human copy of it every time that you see a mother bending over a baby's cradle. Both are unaccountable, but both are facts. 'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.'

II. Upon whom is this grace bestowed? We are all His children by right; there is something of His image in all. There are possibilities of large Divine growth in all, and there is a place in His almighty heart of love for all. But only they who know it and rejoice in it are children in actuality and possession. The rest are children in possibility, but outcasts in fact.

III. It is the one thing which makes us great. We talk about levelling up. That is the one fact which levels us up. All other greatness is a fictitious thing alongside that of the sons of God.

IV. It is the one foundation of human equality. Apart from the fact that we are all alike dear to God, all alike His immortal children, there is no such thing as human equality. Whatever we are, strong or feeble, brilliant or commonplace, capable of the highest work or only fit for drudgery, we have the same place at His feet, we have the same share in His love; we are all His immortal offspring.

V. It is the one root and bond of human brotherhood. It is only at the feet of the all-loving Father that we learn the facts and the obligations of brotherhood. And without that all the grand humanitarian sentiments which are so much boasted of would perish as sparks go out when they are flung off from the parent fire.

J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 63.

1 John 3:1

Little children easily believe their parents, easily believe wonderful things, things concerning which neither their senses nor their experience give them any warranty. The sons of God are 'little children,' because they easily believe all the wonderful things which God has spoken. 'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!' Behold it! get into it, let it kindle your affections. 'Beloved,' look into this love.... The world regards you as its children, and never suspects that God's crown-jewels are concealed within your earthly nature. The world did not suspect it in Christ's case. 'The world knoweth you not because it knew Him not.' It could not add to your safety, nor to your joy, that the world should know you. Only, the more your Divine sonship is hidden from observation, the more you should muse upon it, equally for God's praise and your own bosom-gladness.

Pulsford, Supremacy of Man (ch. IV.).

References. III. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1934. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 367. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 282. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 184. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 304. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 1 John, p. 289. III. 1, 2. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 149. III. 1-3. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 179.

Reality Reduplicates

1 John 3:2

'We would see Jesus.' In the days of His flesh men did see Him, but their eyes were dim, and the veil that covered Him was unrent. Nevertheless there were those who pierced through to the reality, and on whose souls He left some print of His own.

I. For full vision there needed not the light only, but the vision that could bear it. Once when He gathered His saints to the mountain for anticipation of His sacrifice His glory burst through 'the glory which He had with the Father before the world was'. The light was too keen and bright, and they descended the mountain bewildered, with the Companion to whom men should do whatsoever they listed.

They came nearer Him perhaps after He had risen from the dead in the body He has taken for ever. Even then the veil was drawn, though drawn thin and fine. The glory was subdued and attempered till it was supportable, and by the sea of Tiberias, while they gazed in silence, the vision sank deep, and none dared ask Him, 'Who art Thou?' knowing that it was the Lord. The nearer and clearer the vision, the deeper the mark it leaves, and the triumphs of the Cross alter our Lord had risen bear witness to this.

But a day is coming when all believers shall behold their Lord as He is. The naked soul will front the uncreated Light undazzled, unafraid, rejoicing, receiving. 'We shall see Him as He is.' Then we shall be like Him. The reality will double itself on every side. The likeness already begun will be made perfect and eternal.

II. Consider how the same law acts in every life. It is reality that doubles itself makes disciples, wins causes, is served by willing martyrs. Our life is much of it sham, little of it real. Our pretensions to knowledge, to talent, to goodwill towards men, to many other things, are vain enough, but the least among God's elect knows in his bitterest hour of the thin but unbreakable thread that joins him to Christ. That is the supreme possession. Our imposture, conscious or unconscious, may deceive for the time, but it deceives much less than we think, and it has a brief hour. How many of us flatter ourselves that our falsities are so like the real that men do not see through them. Vainest delusion! We are taken to pieces; our make-up is torn off by rough hands; the tinsel and the theatricalities do not serve us even for some short hours of artificial light. Then? Surely there is something more in us than that. When the most merciless censor has had his will, he must yield to all the redeemed something something of courage, fidelity, love, aspiration. That is the abiding self, and that influences. Goodness, though in things mainly evil; truth, though in things mainly false, is evermore impressive. Or rather, it is reality that impresses, that reduplicates, whether it be for good or evil.

How wonderful that day will be when we shall see Christ, when we shall truly behold the True! It will come, for 'when He shall appear we shall see Him'. All things that troubled the clearness of the heart will be over. The eyes will be no more overcast and dark. They will deepen and glow as the first radiance of His face shines over them, and speedily, joyfully, all the nature will pass into the likeness of the unveiled glory of the Lord.

W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 313.

1 John 3:2

This is one of those texts that we hear and quote so often without seeing more than its first and external beauty. Just as a man might walk over one of the prairies of California, admiring the richness of the grass, and the loveliness of the prairie lily, ignorant all the time of the gold that will some day be excavated from the soil under his feet.

I. 'We shall be like Him.' Therefore we are not like Him now.

II. 'We shall be like Him.' Yes, if we are even now growing like Him. Slowly and with many a break, many a drawback, many a hindrance in this world; rapidly and unbrokenly and without difficulty in the rest of Paradise which must precede His appearing. Just like a lake, so driven of the wind and tossed that though the sun is shining brightly on it, there is no further reflection of his rays than a few spots here and there of broken gold; but as the wind dies away it gradually settles into smoother undulations, and the broken fragments become wavy pillars of light, and then for a moment at a time you catch the figure of an almost perfect sun, and the moments lengthen out and the disturbances shorten, till at length there is scarcely an agitation and finally a perfect image, so dazzlingly bright that the eye cannot rest upon it so it is here. 'Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.'

J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. I. p. 18.

1 John 3:2

At the very close of her life, Mrs. Oliphant is described as having enjoyed 'perfect ease in body and mind. All care and worry seemed to leave her. She said she felt as if she were lying somewhere waiting to be lifted up; or again, as if she were lying in the deep grass of some flowery meadow near the gate, waiting for our Lord to pass by.... She said she could not think of God as the Almighty God of all the world, but just as her Father, and that at this moment even the thought of her children seemed to cease in the thought of Him.... The names of her boys were on her lips almost at the last, though she had said repeatedly, "I seem to see nothing but God and our Lord".'

The perplexing doubts about the universe, in which I newly found myself in youth, have led to deeper faith in the immanent Divine Spirit, transforming death from a movement in the dark into a movement in Omnipotent Goodness; trusted when it withdraws us from this embodied life, still unable to picture what lies in the future. 'It is not yet made manifest what we shall be'.

Prof. Campbell Fraser's Biographia Philosophica, p. 334.

'It doth not yet appear what you shall be.' There is no object which you have ever seen to which we can point, and say, You shall be like that. In the whole visible universe there is no beauty, brightness, nor glory, of which you can say, That is the pattern of our future glory.

You have seen the blushing morning, and the golden evening; you have seen the soft beauty of the moon and the glory of the sun; but you have seen nothing like what you shall be. You have seen our wintry trees change and change, under vernal influence, until they became pictures of beauty, and you have seen glory inwrapped in dark clouds; and immense as is the distinction between leafless trees and blooming trees, or between leaden clouds and those of a golden sunset, the distinction is yet greater between what you now are and what you shall be.

Pulsford

'God forgive me if I am wrong,' said Kingsley, speaking of death, 'but I look forward to it with an intense and reverent curiosity.'

Lately in my many sad musings it has been brought very clearly before my mind how often all the horrible tension, the dread, the anxiety which there are no words strong enough to describe which devoured me, but which I had to conceal often behind a smiling face would yield in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of a voice, at the first look, into an ineffable ease, and the overwhelming happiness of relief from pain, which is, I think, our highest human sensation, higher and more exquisite than any positive enjoyment in this world. It used to sweep over me like a wave, sometimes when I opened a door, sometimes in a letter in all simple ways. I cannot explain, but if this should ever come to the eye of any woman in the passion and agony of motherhood, she will more or less understand. I was thinking lately, or rather, as sometimes happens, there was suddenly presented to my mind, like a suggestion from some one else, the recollection of these ineffable happinesses, and it seemed to me that it meant that which would be when one pushed through that last door and was met oh, by what, by whom? by instant relief. The wave of sudden ease and warmth and peace and joy.

Mrs. Oliphant.

'It is not to be wondered at,' Dean Stanley writes in the tenth chapter of his biography of Dr. Arnold, 'that the boys of his Form remarked with peculiar interest, that the last subject which he had set them for an exercise was Domus Ultima; that the last translation for Latin verses was from the touching lines on the death of Sir Philip Sidney, in Spenser's Ruins of Time; that the last words with which he closed his last lecture on the New Testament were in commenting on the passage of St. John: "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"... "Yes," he added, with marked fervency, "the mere contemplation of Christ shall transform us into His likeness."'

References. III. 2. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons (2nd Series), p. 316. Phillips Brooks, The Law of Growth, p. 346. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 196. vol. ii. Nos. 61 and 62, and vol. lii. No. 3004. C. Parsons Reichel, ibid. p. 119. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 385. S. H. Fleming, Fifteen-Minute Sermons for the People, pp. 168, 172, 176. H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 155. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 102. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 173. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 150. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, pp. 37, 96. W. Ince, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 106. C. Cuthbert Hall, ibid. vol. lxii. p. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 275. III. 2, 3. A. Ainger, Sermons Preached in the Temple Church, p. 13. S. Chadwick, Mundesley Conference Report for 1910, p. 401.

1 John 3:3

I say not that we are to be looking away to heaven, as being disgusted with the world; much less to be praising heaven's adorable purity in high words of contrast, as if to excuse or atone for the lack of all purity here. I only say that we are to be much in the meditation of Christ as glorified, surrounded with the glorified; to let our mind be hallowed by its pure converse and the themes in which it dwells; to live in the anticipation of what is most pure in the universe, as being what we most love and long for in the universe; and so we are to be raised by our longings, and purified with Christ by the hopes we rest on His person.

Bushnell.

References. III. 3. C. Vince, The Unchanging Saviour, p. 238. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 197. W. J. Hocking, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 356. J. M. Bleckley, The Christian Armour, p. 256. S. Udny, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 102. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 220; ibid. vol. xii. p. 419. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 1 John, p. 310. III. 4. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 346. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 143. J. D. Thompson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 3. H. P. Liddon, Sermons Preached on Special Occasions, p. 52. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 107. F. W. Farrar, Truths to Live By, p. 61. R. J. Campbell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 360. Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 161; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 54. III. 4, 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2509.

The Problem of Sin

1 John 3:6

I suppose 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.' The verse that I have read 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 baptised, 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. Why we hear it every time we attend Holy Communion. 'If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father.' St. John knew that the converted soul sinned, yet he also said that the converted, the regenerate man, the baptised, 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. First of all 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. And surely the way to do this is to practise the Presence of Christ. 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 cany back into the city, back into our homes, back into all our difficult world Christ Himself.

References. III. 7. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 1 John, p. 320. III. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix. No. 1728. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 288. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 287. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 146. III. 8, 9. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 273.

1 John 3:11

I know not if it be because I shall soon leave this earth, and the rays that are already reaching me from below the horizon have disturbed my sight, but I believe our world is about to begin to realise the words, 'Love one another,' without, however, being concerned whether a man or a God uttered them.

Alex Dumas, in 1893.

The worlds in which we live at heart are one,

The world 'I am,' the fruit of 'I have done';

And underneath these worlds of flower and fruit,

The world 'I love' the only living root.

Henry van Dyke.

References. III. 13. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and Our Times, p. 33. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays After Trinity, pt. i. p. 42. A. Bradley, Sermons Chiefly on Character, p. 187.

Love to Christ's Brethren: A Test of Self-examination

1 John 3:14

I. Note first, the mighty change described. Spiritual death is a terrible reality. And that is the state of all men by nature. If you once realise 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. 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 .'

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. 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.

F. Harper, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. VII. p. 177.

References. III. 14. W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-07, p. 113. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2666. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 205.

1 John 3:15

I believe that bitterness is always ready to break bounds in the heart of man; it flows freely in the channel that indignation scoops out for it. One must have been a long while in the school of Jesus Christ, one must have learned from him to tread many things under foot, in order to run no further risk of self-deception, and of indulging hatred under the guise of indignation.

Vinet.

Fob man to be redeemed from revenge that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms.

Nietsche.

References. III. 15. C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 185. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 339. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 47.

1 John 3:16

A fisherman gave Coleridge an account of a boy that had been drowned the day before, and that they had tried to save him at the risk of their own lives. He said 'he did not know how it was that they ventured, but, sir, we have a nature towards one another'. This expression, Coleridge remarked to me, was a fine illustration of that theory of disinterestedness which I (in common with Butler) had adopted.

Hazlitt, My First Acquaintance with Poets.

1 John 3:16

The expenditure of life for Him is not always in one brilliant act of sacrifice, but far oftener in the glad surrender of life's hours successively until all the years are full. I have thought a hundred times of trying to preach on that standing text once, I believe, I did try, and was ashamed of myself afterwards 'Hereby perceive we the love, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren'. We ought we ought to lay it down that is the principle for every Christian. I confess I have been again and again fairly paralysed when thinking of preaching on that text. But many Christian lives have in their degree been honest sermons upon it.

Principal Rainy.

References. III. 16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2656; vol. li. No. 2959. Basil Wilberforce, Sanctification by the Truth, p. 51. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 238. III. 16-18. W. Hubbard, ibid. vol. xliv. p. 26. III. 18. G. G. Bradley, ibid. vol. liii. p. 8. A. P. Stanley, Sermons for Children, p. 10. III. 19. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 224. III. 19-21. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons, p. 266.

1 John 3:20

'Cheerfulness and lightness of heart,' says Newman, 'are not only privileges, but duties. Cheerfulness is a great Christian duty. That sorrow, that solicitude, that fear, that repentance, is not Christian which has not its portion of Christian joy; for "God is greater than our heart," and no evil, past or future, within or without, is equal to this saying, that Christ has died and reconciled the world unto himself,' and again: '"God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things". It is this feeling of simple and absolute confidence and communion which soothes and satisfies those to whom it is vouchsafed. We know that even our nearest friends enter into us but partially and hold intercourse with us only at times; whereas the consciousness of a perfect and enduring presence, and it alone, keeps the heart open.... The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections. Created natures cannot open us, or elicit the ten thousand mental senses which belong to us, and through which we really live. None but the presence of our Maker can enter us.'

Reference. III. 20. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, pp. 123, 137.

1 John 3:21

The secret of pleasure in life as distinct from its greatest triumphs of transcendent joy is to live in a series of small, legitimate successes. By legitimate I mean, such as are not accompanied by self-condemnation.

Sidney Dobell.

References. III. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi No. 1855. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 151. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 40. III. 22-24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1103. III. 23. Ibid., vol. ix. No. 531.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-john-3.html. 1910.