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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Caton's Commentary on the Minor EpistlesCaton's Commentary

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Reasoning further on the last idea in the former chapter, it must be plain to you, that in believing that Jesus is the Christ, you are thereby begotten of God, and in that case, if you love him that begat you, you will naturally and necessarily love all those likewise so begotten. This is an infallible rule by which to determine whether you are the children of God or not. Keeping his commandments will decide the question. God's requirements are not burdensome. Those born of God are thereby empowered to, and do, overcome the world, and this great success is dependent upon the correctness and the observance of the requirements of our faith. Our faith is embodied in the declaration that Jesus is God's Son. Of this proposition the Spirit bears witness bore witness by water when Jesus was baptized for it was when he was baptized that the Spirit descended upon him. The Spirit also bore witness by blood it bore witness by raising him from the dead after he had shed his blood and died. Whir the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit in heaven bear witness to the Messiahship of Jesus, there are three on earth that likewise bear the same testimony the Spirit, the water, and the blood. They are God's appointments to attest the fact of his Sonship. Men are willing to receive the testimony of men. Much more willing ought we to be in receiving the testimony God gives concerning his Son, and especially so, since by God's record we are assured of eternal life through his Son. John writes these things to the believers, that they might know that eternal life was theirs as an assured reward for accepting, trusting and following Christ. And, during the age of miracles, he then assures them that God will grant their request in miraculous cures when he is approached by petitions according to his will, calling their attention to the fact, that while all unrighteousness is sin, there is sin which is not unto death; that where there is a sin which is unto death, for that he does not advise prayer, assuring them that there is no danger of sinning so long as they observe God's will, and that, while so observing, the wicked one can not touch them. John lovingly and urgently entreats his children in the faith to keep themselves from idols, for in worshiping idols, even in the slightest particular, they subject themselves to the snares of the wicked one.

Verse 1

Verse 1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ.

The history of apostolic preaching given by the sacred penmen shows that the burden of their message was to induce belief in God's Son. The belief that Jesus is the Christ, accepted whole-heartedly, confessed with the mouth, followed by obedience to the command to be immersed, as the same Jesus enjoined, makes one a child of God is born of God. If we love the father by whom we are begotten and have thus become his children, we love also all those like-wise begotten.

Verse 2

Verse 2. By this we know that we love.

To test the question whether we love our brethren or not, and to know the truth of the same, we can ask this question of ourselves do we love God and keep his com-mandments, one of which is that we love the brethren ? If we are assured that we do love God and keep his command-ments, then we may feel assured that we love the children of God.

Verse 3

Verse 3. For this is the love of God.

The natural expression of our love of God that is to say, its outward expression is in obedience. We obey the commands; this shows our love. By this standard we can measure our love of God. This is the sure test.

Not grievous.

His commandments are not burdensome; that is as much as to say they are not difficult for God's children to observe, generally speaking, and the difficulty only appears to our human nature when we are called upon to suffer for his name's sake; and, even in this case, the early disciples rejoiced when they were required to so suffer for the cause of Christ.

Verse 4

Verse 4. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.

The Syriac has: "Because whoever is born of God," in the place of "For whatsoever is born of God." The allusion is to persons, so no mistake need be made. Persons born of God overcome the world in the sense that they do not obey the dictates of the world work iniquity. We are here represented as in a conflict the children of God against the world. A victory is achieved by the former; they have over-come and discomfited the world, and that victory is attrib-uted to their faith. Faith was the cause of victory. It was faith that enabled the children of God to become victors in that great struggle.

Verse 5

Verse 5. Who is he that overcometh the world.

Here a question is asked and the answer given. The victor was a man of faith faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son.

Verse 6

Verse 6. This is he that came by water and blood.

He, through whom the victory over the world was achieved, the Son of God he came by water. He was first announced by the Father as his Son, at his baptism. As he came up out of the water, then it was that the heavens were opened, and God spake from his throne: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" ( Mat_3:17 ).


On Calvary's mount he shed his blood. Without his death there could be no resurrection. By that resurrection he was "declared to be the Son of God, with power" ( Rom_1:4 ). But it was while on this cross both water and blood flowed from him. "But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" ( Joh_19:34 ). Hence, we have two rites, both of which are commemorative and monumental, and so long as time shall be, both give their testimony to the Lord Jesus. We are baptized into his death, and we partake of the Lord's Supper. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" ( Rom_6:3 .) "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread : and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you : this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying: This cup is the New Testament in my blood ; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" ( 1Co_11:23-26 ). Both these institutions are monumental and bear testimony not one, but both. Besides these, the Spirit also testified. He came on Pentecost, and spoke through the apostles, and his testimony we have now of record for our study and guidance.

Verse 7

Verse 7. For there are three that bear record in heaven.

This verse is omitted in the Revised Version, by Rotherham, and by the Syriac. Dr. Macknight contends for its authenticity, and after a long citation of proofs, he decided to retain it, as being contained in St. John's autograph let-ter. At all events, he retains it. The Father, Word, or Son, and the Spirit are represented in John's time in heaven, and while there, bearing record, or as giving testimony. The best I can gather, is this: That the Father testified that Jesus was his Son ; that the Son likewise so testified, as also the Spirit; and that their testimony was one, or agreed was alike, so far as the question of the Messiahship of Jesus was concerned.

Verse 8

Verse 8. And there are three that bear witness in earth.

That the Spirit, and the water, and the blood testify here on earth, we endeavored to show in our exposition of verse 6. They all bear testimony that Jesus of Nazareth is God's beloved Son. Their testimony fully agreeing, being just alike, they are one therein.

Verse 9

Verse 9.-1f we receive the witness of men.

As reasonable creatures we receive, trust and fully rely upon our fellowmen. This, for a distinction, we call human testimony. Now, if this kind of testimony is accepted, is there not less ground for questioning divine testimony? Divine testimony is the greater. God testified concerning his Son; we have it on record, and it is being constantly borne and repeated in his transforming grace. Every new convert to the cause of Christ is a new and further demon-stration of God's testimony. The apostle then proceeds to tell us what God testified concerning his Son.

Verse 10

Verse 10. He that believeth on the Son of God.

Every man who is brought to believe on the Son of God has the witness in himself. In this he knows that a change occasioned by that belief has taken place in his own heart, life and conduct. One who disbelieves what God has declared concerning his Son, thereby rejects his testimony and regards God as a liar, or attempts to make God a liar by his rejection of his testimony.

Verse 11

Verse 11. And this is the record, that God hath given.

The important part of God's testimony, the most impor-tant to man, is that God bestowed upon us eternal life through his Son. We know that we possess this, because we know that we possess a new life; one entirely dissimilar to the one possessed before believing in the Son of God and taking him for our Savior and guide.

Verse 12

Verse 12. He that hath the Son hath life.

Life is bestowed when we believe on and accept the Son. It is then begun in us, and it is made sure to us by the practice of those virtues which he enjoins. One not accept-ing the Son, has no reason to expect eternal life.

Verse 13

Verse 13. These things have I written.

The object the apostle had in writing these things to the believers in Christ is to make them fully understand how they may know of a certainty that they have eternal life. In this letter he gives them many infallible tests and examples by which they can, with certainty and accuracy, determine this matter.

That believe on the name of the Son of God.

Not only that they may continue to believe, but that they may, with absolute safety, put the fullest possible trust in the name of Christ.

Verse 14

Verse 14. And this is the confidence.

Whether the word should be confidence or boldness, will make but little difference, as I view it, for if we be God's children and ask for blessings, the petition being according to God's will, we have the word of the Father, that none should doubt, that he will hear. We may, there-fore, come with boldness, and in all confident assurance, to his throne of grace designed for his children.

Verse 15

Verse 15. And if we know that he hear us.

That is, if we know that he hears us as with open ears, then we know that he will grant our petitions ; the things that we asked will be by us received.

Verse 16

Verse 16. If any man see his brother sin a sin.

Along this line there has been much speculation. We will give our exposition in numerical order.

1. Brother sin. This shows that a Christian is liable to sin ; liable to be overtaken by sin, notwithstanding the idea of some, that no child of God can sin.

2. Not unto death. Then there is a sin that is unto death, and a sin that is not unto death.

3. He shall give him life. That is to say, the brother who has sinned a sin that is not unto death, may be restored. This restoration is to be secured by prayer. "He shall ask, and he Shall give him life." Thus, we have the assurance that a brother can be restored by prayer.

4. I do not say he shall pray for it. That is, pray for the brother who has committed the sin which is unto death. John says : "I do not say, that for this sin you shall pray." Of course, it is understood that in that class of sins for which prayer may be offered, with the hope of the restora-tion of the offender, the offender must first be reached, as in the case of Simon, the sorcerer, mentioned in the eighth chapter of Acts. The prayer must be according to the will of God. The will of God is, that a sinner must repent and turn. If this does not exist, prayer for the restoration of the sinning one would be useless, because not according to the will of God.

5. An example of each of the two classes of sins. While this is not strictly in line with the duty of the expositor of this epistle, being suggested by the verse in hand, it may not be out of place.

(a) Sin not unto death. "Brethren, if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness ; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" ( Gal_6:1 ). See also 1Co_5:1-13 :, 2Co_2:7-10 , and Rev_2:4 .

(b) Sin unto death.

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlight-ened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" ( Heb_6:4-6 ). "Wherefore I say unto you, all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men" ( Mat_12:31 ). Many are the speculations upon what is called the unpardonable sin. What it is, and the danger in this age of committing it, are questions that have engaged the thoughts of many. My own notion is that all such discussions are unprofitable. Striving to know and to do God's will is more important.

Verse 17

Verse 17. All unrighteousness is sin.

All wrongdoing is sin; every coming short of that which is right is sin, and, of course, if persisted in, must result in death. Where one steels his heart against the right, against Christ, who alone can bestow life, such an one can never attain eternal life ; and yet, as there is a sin not unto death, such may be restored.

Verse 18

Verse 18. We know that whosoever is born of God.

One born of God sinneth not ; that is, does not sin habitually, does not live a life of sin. He will not sin the sin which is unto death because overtaken in a fault. Being begotten, he guards himself, and the wicked one can not lay hold upon him, so as to enslave him, or make him his subject. Such an one may be restored.

Verse 19

Verse 19. And we know that we are of God.

By keeping ourselves from sin, we know that we are of God, that we are God's children, belong to his family, the church of Christ. While this is true, the world, those who refuse to confess Christ, and accept, obey and follow him, are under the dominion of the wicked one.

Verse 20

Verse 20. And we know that the Son of God is come.

That Christ is come in the flesh we know, not only from the testimony of men, but by the testimony God has fur- nished us, by himself, his Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus we have the witness of ourselves that we have life in Christ, and that Christ dwells in us. We have this understanding. All this we know to be true, because we are in him who is true, and we know from these immovable sources, that in Christ Jesus the only true God is revealed to the children of men, and that in him, and in him alone, is eternal life, and that through him alone God's children have eternal life bestowed upon them.

Verse 21

Verse 21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

Keep yourselves from worshiping idols is the thought. Flee from it ! There have been idols in every age of the world's history; there are idols now ; these, the Christian must shun. Whatever leads us away from the true worship of God is an idol to be avoided. John, having so spoken, concludes his letter with a solemn Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Caton, Nathan Thomas. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Caton's Commentary on the Minor Epistles. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ntc/1-john-5.html. 1916.
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