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1 John 3:1-2 . That we should be called the sons of God! The character of the favoured race is defined in the preseding verses: they keep the commandments of God: 1 John 3:3. They abide in Christ by works of righteousness. They conquer the world, and know Him who is from the beginning. They have an unction from the Holy One to know and love the truth. No man can have this highest title of the sons of God, but he who has a correspondent character. And therefore he adds, we know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:3 . He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure; that is, as he who has adopted us, and whose appearing we expect, for the appearing of Christ is the appearing of the great God, even the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:8. The church, having this hope, a hope founded on the promise of eternal life, puts on her nuptial dress, and becomes pure in heart, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
1 John 3:7-8 . He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [Christ] is righteous. This is already defined, the keeping of the commandments in the love of God, and of our brother; by not walking in darkness, and by not committing sin. God requires a growth in grace, and the improvement of talents, while we are called to remember that all those duties are destitute of merit in man.
Yet since the disputes against Rome concerning human merit, and works of supererogation, or doing more than is required, so as to have a little to give to a needy neighbour, some divines express themselves more cautiously than in former ages. They will not allow of any work in man, except assenting to Christ. Now, as we agree to discard human merit, why should we refine on the subject of grace beyond the power of definition? What is assent, and coming, and looking, and believing but the work of God, the love which fulfils the law.
John’s words of “doing righteousness, and doing the will of the Father,” may safely be used without any refinements. He that committeth sin, in deliberate breaches of the law, is of the devil, while he who believes on the Son of God, works the work of righteousness, and obtains eternal life.
1 John 3:14 . We know that we have passed from death unto life, by calmly retracing the work of regeneration in our hearts. We now love the Lord, and delight in piety and holiness, which we once repudiated to follow the course of this world. We know that we have remission of our sins, because the love of God is shed abroad in our heart, and because we can call him Father with filial confidence. We now love the people of God; we love his name, and delight to do his will. Here is the sure mark of our adoption, the inward certainty confirmed by the outward fruit.
1 John 3:16 . Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. The love of God, on which this holy apostle delights to dwell, is an overwhelming subject, especially this transcendent expression of it in the gift of his only-begotten Son, a subject on which our highest thoughts fall far beneath its elevated grandeur. Christ is here expressly called God, by the clearest construction of language, yet God manifest in the flesh, God incarnate, or he could not have laid down his life for us. The language is precisely similar to that in Acts 20:28, and several other passages. Feed the church of God, “which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
The love here mentioned is ascribed to him as God, and it is the Godhead of Christ that renders his love to sinners so amazing, and causes it to become the great theme of revelation. The Holy Spirit here expands his energies, till we are lost in wonder and admiration; but as the subject passeth knowledge, more than half the tale is left untold. Ephesians 3:18-19. This will be the theme of heaven, yet even there its heights and depths, and lengths and breadths will never be fully fathomed.
The strength of his love is shown in his having laid down his life for us, as a shepherd for the ransom of his flock, as a bridegroom for the redemption of his church. John 10:11. Ephesians 5:25-27. This is the strongest mode possible of expressing love, and far surpasses every other. It was much for him to empty himself and become poor, that we might be made rich; more still for him to die that we might live, and live for ever. David’s three worthies are applauded for fetching him water from the well of Bethlehem at the hazard of their lives, and Paul manifested great zeal in being willing to be offered up as a commemorative sacrifice of the truth of the gospel, and Priscilla and Aquila in their readiness to lay down their lives for the sake of Paul; but all these and every other instance of love sink into utter insignificance, when compared with the unspeakable love of Christ. He did more than die for us, he bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and endured the curse for our sakes, yea was made himself a curse for us. There was that in his death which never attended the death of any other; he had upon him the sins of the whole world, was not only made a sin- offering, but treated in his substitutionary character as if all sin was identified in him, and concentrated in his own person. Romans 8:3, 2 Corinthians 5:21. All this too he endured, not for friends, but for enemies, not after we were reconciled, but while we were yet sinners, yet ungodly. Romans 5:6-10.
Hereby indeed perceive we the love of God. We may believe that God is good, but it is in the actual displays of his beneficence that we perceive it; and it is the same with his immeasurable love. Other expressions of it are given, in the pardon of sin, in the promise of salvation to them that believe; but all these are abundantly surpassed in the gift of Christ, and his laying down his life for us, as much as the cause exceeds the effect, and that which is infinite what is only finite. Romans 8:32. “Herein is love,” says the enraptured apostle; “not that we loved God,” we were far enough from that, “but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins:” chap. 1 John 4:10.
The glory of our adoption is built on the great love with which God has loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins; he hath raised up to the Messiah, a progeny numerous as the drops on the pearly lawn. It is a love which transports the soul with admiration. “Behold, what manner of love the Father bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
This love is designed to support a suffering people, who were not the less but the more beloved because of the cross. This love surpasses example, in regard of our baseness on the one hand; and of God’s wondrous grace on the other. We whose mean birth is described, Ezekiel 16:0, are made to sit in heaven with Christ. The kindness of our Father to his children surpasses that of earthly fathers as much as he surpasses them in excellence and power. Hence the inference: “it doth not appear what we shall be.” This is a time of minority, of warfare, and of affliction; shortly we shall make a triumphant entrance into glory, be in all things like our Head.
We have here the character of the children of God. They do not, and they cannot sin, because they are born of God, and because divine grace reigns in their hearts. He who has the hope of appearing in the likeness of Christ, and of seeing him as he is, purifieth himself as Christ is pure. Seeing we look for such things, says the apostle, what manner of persons ought we to be in all manner of conversation and godliness. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?
These texts however do not mean an impossibility of sinning, because St. John says, If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father. He also cautions the saints to abide in Christ, and to keep themselves from idols. They mean that a man so holy cannot sin without first dallying with temptation, quenching the Spirit, and wilfully giving way; for wilful sin is in every view incompatible with our sonship. But the common infirmities of our nature are not incompatible with the comforts of the Holy Ghost.
Being the children of God, we must love as brethren; and the duty of brotherly love will be best felt by the consideration of the strong and frequent repetition of this injunction. When we see a brother hungry, we must follow our feelings, the first and purest dictates of nature; and not let a wary covetousness contract our hearts. Shall I take this meat, said Nabal, which I have dressed for my servants, and give it to David? He died as a fool, while the liberality of his wife made her a queen. Let us do what God would have us do, and when we come to want bread, or health, or counsel, God will do as we would have him do. Psalms 41:1.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany