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Bible Commentaries
1 John 3

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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1 John 3:1,1 John 3:2 It is a mark of God’s singular love toward us, that we are now called his sons, and designed for further happiness hereafter,

1 John 3:3-10 and therefore we must obediently keep his commandments,

1 John 3:11-24 and love one another with true brotherly kindness and actual beneficence.

Verse 1

So late mention having been made of that great thing, in the close of the foregoing chapter, being born of God, the holy apostle is here in a transport, in the contemplation of the glorious consequent privilege, to be

called his sons; and of that admirable love, from whence the whole hath proceeded.

What manner; potaphn or, how great!

Called, here, (as often referring to God as the author), signifies to be made, or to be, Matthew 5:9,Matthew 5:45; John 1:12; Romans 4:17. He confers not the name without the thing; the new, even a Divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4, in regeneration; the real advantages and dignity of the relation by adoption; and all of mere (and the greatest) kindness and good-will, Titus 3:5-7. Hence he intimates, it ought not to be counted grievous, that

the world knoweth us not, i.e. doth not own or acknowledge us for its own, is not kind to us, yea, hates and persecutes us; knowing often (after the Hebrew phrase) signifying affection, 1 Corinthians 8:3; 2 Timothy 2:19; and accordingly, not knowing, disaffection, and the consequent effects, Matthew 7:23. Nor should it be thought strange,

because it knew him not: the Father, and the whole family, are to it an invisum genus, hated alike.

Verse 2

Our present state he affirms to be unquestionably that of

sons, whatsoever hardships from the world, or severer discipline from our Father, we must for a while undergo; but for our future state, it is much above us to comprehend distinctly the glory of it;

it doth not yet appear, it is yet an unrevealed thing, Romans 8:18; a veil is drawn before it, which is to be drawn aside at the appointed season of the manifestation of the sons of God, 1 John 3:19. But so much we in the general know of it, (so certain are the apprehensions of faith), that

when he shall appear, or display his own glory in the appearance of his Son, who is then to come in the glory of his Father, Matthew 16:27; 1 Timothy 6:14-16,

we shall be like him, as it befits children to be unto their Father; i.e. his image shall then be perfected in us, which was defaced so greatly in the apostacy, is restored imperfectly in regeneration, Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10, must be daily improved in progressive sanctification: so that as God was above said to be light, Christians are to shine as lights, as the sons of God, without rebuke, representing and glorifying their Father, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15; 1 Peter 2:9; but is then to be advanced in us to a far higher pitch than ever, in respect both of holiness and blessedness.

For we shall see him as he is; i.e. so far as the limited capacity of our natures can admit; and are therefore by that likeness to be qualified for such vision: which eternal, efficacious vision doth also coutinue that likeness, the causal particle,

for, admitting both those references: see Psalms 17:15.

Verse 3

Purifieth himself; i.e. not only is obliged hereto, but by the efficacious influence of this hope, if it be of the same kind, (that lively hope, unto which Christians are said to be begotten, 1 Peter 1:3), is daily more and more transformed, through a continual intention of mind towards the holy God, upon whom that hope is set, (for it is said to be hope in him, or rather upon him, επ’ αυτω), into the image of the Divine purity; knowing also, (which must be a potent inducement to very earnest endeavour this way), that our future conformity to God in glory and blessedness hereafter, depends upon our present vigorous and effectual pursuit of conformity to him in holiness here, Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14. And it is enforced by what follows.

Verse 4

Which is added, to signify nothing can be more unreasonable, than the expectation of partaking with God in the glory and blessedness of the future state, if we now allow ourselves in a course of sin, or of transgressing his holy law, which is the very notion of sin; and is again further enforced from the design of our Redeemer.

Verse 5

Implying how great an absurdity it were, to expect salvation and blessedness by our sinless Saviour, and yet indulge ourselves in sin, against his design, not only to expiate our sins, but make us sinless like himself.

Verse 6

By sinneth, he meaneth the same thing as afterwards by committeth sin: see 1 John 3:8,1 John 3:9. Seeing and knowing intend inward union, acquaintance, and converse; such as abode in him implies: see John 5:37; 3 John 1:11.

Verse 7

This caution implies the zealous endeavour of the seducers of that time, to instil their poisonous doctrine and principles of licentiousness; and his own solicitude, lest these Christians should receive them, and be mischiefed by them. Whereas therefore they were wont to suggest, that a merely notional knowledge was enough to recommend men, and make them acceptable to God, though they lived never so impure lives; he inculcates, that only they that did righteousness, viz. in a continued course, living comformably to the rules of the gospel, were righteous; and that they must aim to be so,

even as he is righteous; not only making the righteousness and holy life of Christ the object of their trust, but the pattern of their walking and practice.

Verse 8

He that committeth sin: the apostle’s notion of committing sin may be interpreted by his own phrase, 3 John 1:11, ο κακοποιων, a doer of evil; and by that, used in both Testaments, a worker of iniquity; which is not every one that doth any one single act of sin; as his ο ποιων δικαιοσυνην, 1 John 3:7, a doer of righteousness, and ο αγαθοποιων, 3 John 1:11, a doer of good, is not every one that doth any one righteous or good action; any more than we call him a worker or maker of any thing, (as signifying a manual occupation), who only makes a single attempt, but him who hath acquired the habitual skill, and doth ordinarily employ himself accordingly. A worker or maker of sin, (as we may fitly render this ο ποιων την αμαρτιαν), is an habitual or customary sinner; one that sinneth with deliberation, not by surprise, from a prevailing habit, that either continueth him in a course of actual known sin, or that withholds him from repenting sincerely, and turning to God from the sin which he hath committed; by which repentance he should not only refrain from further gross acts of sin, (which an impenitent person upon other inducements may do), but mortify and prevail against all sinful habits and inclinations. In the same sense he useth the expression of sinning, 1 John 3:6,1 John 3:9. And such a sinner, he says,

is of the devil; as if he were born of him, were his child, really conformed to him, and having his sinning nature. As our Saviour tells the Jews, having applied to them the same phrase before of committing sin, John 8:34, that they were of their father the devil, John 8:44. As also this apostle, 3 John 1:11, says: He that doeth good is of God, i.e. born of God, or his child; as we find he uses the expressions of being born of God, and being of God, promiscuously, and with indifference, 1 John 3:9,1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:18,1 John 5:19, the latter being elliptical in reference to the former. Whereas sin was therefore originally the devil’s work, he adds, (as a further engagement against it), that

the Son of God was manifested, (as 1 John 3:5) appeared in the flesh, showed himself in this world of ours, on purpose

to destroy, or (as the word signifies) that he might dissolve the frame of all such works.

Verse 9

To be born of God, is, (in the words of a very learned annotator, Dr. Hammond), "to have received some special influence from God, and by the help and power of that, to be raised to a pious life. Agreeably, γεγεννημενος εκ του θεου, he that hath been born of God, is literally, he that hath had such a blessed change wrought in him, by the operation of God’s Spirit in his heart, as to be translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his own dear Son; transformed in the spirit of his mind, i.e. sincerely changed from all evil to all good; from an obedience to the flesh, &c., to an obedience to God. Only it is here to be noted, that the phrase is not so to be taken, as to denote only the act of this change; the first impression of this virtue on the patient, the single transient act of regeneration; or reformation; and that, as in the preter tense, now past, but rather a continued course, a permanent state: so as a regenerate man and a child of God are all one, and signify him that lives a pious and godly life, and continues to do so," &c. To the same purpose this author also speaks, note on John 1:13, and in his paraphrase on that verse: "Those which live according to the will of God, and neither the natural, nor carnal, nor bare moral principle." This change, introducing the consequent course, divers texts of Scripture explain, John 3:3,John 3:5,John 3:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:24; James 1:18, &c. Now of one thus born of God, it is said, he

doth not commit sin, as 1 John 3:8, and for the reason here alleged.

His seed; the principles of enlivened holy truth, as 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:8.

And he cannot sin: which is not to be understood simply, as if he could not sin at all, which were to contradict what he had said before, 1 John 1:8, and supposed, 1 John 2:1; but he cannot commit sin, as 1 John 3:8. And it is plain the apostle intends by these two expressions the same thing. He cannot sin, i.e. do an act of known, gross sin, deliberately, easily, remorselessly, maliciously, as Cain, 1 John 3:12, out of a hatred of goodness: or, do not such acts customarily, or not so unto death, (as 1 John 5:16) but that through the advantage of inlaid principles, or the remaining seed, by dependence upon the grace, Spirit, and covenant of God in Christ, he may timously recover.

Because he is born of God; i.e. inasmuch as it belongs to his temper and inclination, in respect of the holy new nature received in regeneration, to abhor from the grosser acts, much more from a course of sin; see Genesis 39:9; Acts 4:20; 2 Corinthians 13:8; Galatians 5:17; and to his state, as he is a child of God, to have that interest in the grace of Christ, that he may implore, trust, obtain, and improve it, to his being kept from such destructive sinning. And it being evident, by his deep and thorough change, that he is born of God, and chosen to be an heir of eternal life, (as his children are heirs), he may and ought (not in a way of presumptuous negligence, but of vigilance and humble dependence) certainly to expect being so kept. Nor is it strange so much should be affirmed, upon so unspeakably better grounds, of the Christian state, when such boasts are to be read concerning some among the pagans, that one might as soon divert the sun from its course, as turn such a one from the course of righteousness. Though we may also suppose this form of speech might be intended by the apostle to be understood by the more superficial professors of Christianity, (who might be generally apt enough to look upon themselves as born of God, and his children), as parenetical, and more enforcingly hortatory, in pursuance of his former scope, to keep them off from the licentious courses of their seducers; q.d. It cannot be, that you, who avow yourselves born of God, should do like them. So we usually say, that cannot but be, or cannot be, which we apprehend more highly and clearly reasonable should be, or not be. Non potes avelli, & c. Such rhetoric the apostle uses with Agrippa, I know that thou believest, as if it were impossible he should not.

Verse 10

Upon what was said, he reduces all men each to their own family and father, concluding it manifest whither they belonged; i.e. he shows, upon the grounds before expressed, who do not belong to God and his family, leaving it thence to be collected, since two fathers and families divide the world, to which they must be reckoned; i.e. they belong not to God, and consequently to that worst of fathers, who first, in the general, do not righteousness; the devil being the first sinner, they are his descendants; and who next, particularly, love not their brethren, which most expressly demonstrates a diabolical nature.

Verse 11

From the beginning: see 1 John 2:7,1 John 2:8; q.d. They cannot be of God, therefore, that cross so fundamental a precept, so expressive of his nature and will.

Verse 12

And what again, on the other hand, (q.d.) can be more devil-like, than such a temper as Cain’s was, whose hatred of his brother brake out into actual murder, upon no other account but because his brother was better than he? Which showed him to be

of that wicked one, of the serpent’s seed: so early was such seed sown, and so ancient the enmity between seed and seed.

Verse 13

This being so devilish a quality, and the world so generally under his power, as the god of it, 2 Corinthians 4:4, it is not to be thought strange, that good men should be the marks and designed objects of the world’s hatred.

Verse 14

The notion of brother must not be understood so narrowly, as only to signify such as we have particular inclination to, as being of our own party and opinion, or kindred, or who have obliged us by special kindness; for to confine our love within such limits, were no argument of our having

passed from death unto life, or more than is to be found with the worst of men, Matthew 5:46,Matthew 5:47. Nor must it be understood exclusively, of the regenerateonly; but must be taken, first, more generally, in the natural sense, for all mankind, in the same latitude as neighbour in that summary of the second table: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; originally intended not to Jews, as such, but men; and therefore excludes not our enemies, by our Saviour’s interpretation, Matthew 5:43,Matthew 5:44. Secondly, in a more special (viz. the spiritual) sense, for such as are our brethren by regeneration, so the children with us of the same Father; i.e. whereas the blessed God himself is the primum amabile, the first object of love, all others (persons or things) ought to be loved proportionably to what prints or characters of the Divine excellency we find impressed upon them. Human nature hath resemblances in it of his spiritual, intelligent, immortal nature; regeneracy, of his holiness. And so he loves his creatures himself, severing their malignity, (where that is to be found), that is of themselves, from what of real good there is in them, which is from him. When therefore a correspondent frame of love is impressed upon us, and inwrought into our temper, his image, who is love, is renewed in us, which, in this noble part of it, the devil had so eminently defaced in the world, possessing the souls of men with mutual animosities and enmities against one another, but especially such as should be found to have upon them any impress of the most excellent kind of goodness, i.e. of true piety and holiness. And by this renovation of his image in us, whereby we are enabled to love others for his sake, and proportionably to what characters of him are upon them, we appear to be his children, Matthew 5:45, begotten of him into a state of life, out of that death which is upon the rest of the world, Ephesians 2:1, and wherein every one still abides that thus loves not his brother.

Verse 15

That life into which the regenerate are begotten, is nothing else than the beginning or first principle of eternal life, John 4:14, whereof they cannot but be destitute who hate their brethren; a thing so contrary to the Divine life, nature, and image, and which makes the person affected with it, in the temper and habit of his mind, a very murderer.

Verse 16

He laid down his life for us: the intimate union between the Divine nature and the human in Christ, gives ground for the calling Christ’s life as man the life of God; as, Acts 20:28, his blood is said to be God’s

own blood. And this testimony of God’s love to us, his laying down his life for us, ought so to transform us into his likeness, that out of the power of that Divine principle, the love of God in us, (so that implanted love is called, 1 John 3:17,

the love of God), we should never hesitate, or make a difficulty, to lay down our lives for the Christian community, or even for the common good and welfare of men, being duly called thereto.

Verse 17

i.e. If the love of God in us should make us lay down our lives for the brethren, and we be not willing, in their necessity and our own ability, to relieve them, how plain is the case, that it is not in us!

Verse 18

q.d. It is a vain thing to make verbal pretences of love, without any real proof of it.

Verse 19

And hereby we know that we are of the truth; i.e. this shall demonstrate to us, that we are the children of the truth, begotten by it, James 1:18, when we resemble it, have the correspondent impress of the gospel (that great representation of the love of God) upon us.

And shall assure our hearts before him; so shall our hearts be quieted, and well satisfied concerning our states God-ward.

Verse 20

If our heart, or our conscience, condemn us, viz. in plain things, (as this of loving our brother is), and wherein the mind of God is evidently the same with our own conscience; his superiority, to whom our conscience is but an under-judge, ought much more to awe us, especially considering how much more he knows of us than we do of ourselves; as 1 Corinthians 4:4.

Verse 21

But for their not condemning us, though the expression be merely negative, it must imply somewhat positive; for there are many whose hearts condemn them not, through ignorance of their rule, or oscitancy, self-indulgence, or neglect of themselves. But if after thorough search, with sincerity in the sight of God, our hearts do not condemn, but acquit us, as upright towards him, not willing to allow ourselves in any ill temper or practice, (such as, for instance, this of not loving, or neglecting, our brother),

then we have confidence (liberty of speech the word literally signifies, which well suits with what follows)

toward God; we have nothing to hinder or lie as a bar against us in our recourse to him.

Verse 22

It is supposed, where there is that accord with God, that what was last, and is next after, said implies, there will be no disposition to ask any thing disagreeable to his will, or otherwise than as he hath expressed his will about the matter of prayer. And then,

whatsoever we ask, we receive, i.e. are as sure to receive it, in the kind or in equivalence, as if we had it, 1 John 5:14.

Because we keep his commandments; i.e. this is the cause of our certainty, being the evidence of our state God-ward, Psalms 66:18,Psalms 66:19; not of our receiving the things prayed for, which we only owe to his free promised mercy in Christ.

Verse 23

Thus briefly is comprehended the whole of our duty towards God in Christ, and one another, in a like summary as that, Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Verse 24

He that keepeth his commandments, i.e. he whose whole soul is thus formed to obediential compliance with the Divine will,

dwelleth in him; hath most intimate union with God in Christ; which is evident by that Spirit given to us, which hath effected both that holy frame, and that union: see John 14:23.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 John 3". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/1-john-3.html. 1685.
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