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FAITH THE SOURCE OF LOVE, AND LOVE THE FRUIT OF FAITH
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
GENUINE faith in Christ is the sure sign of the new life—faith in the sense of living, daily trust. The faith which links us with Christ in sonship carries with it a twofold love: love to the Father, which is shown in keeping His commandments; and love to the brethren—the other sons—which is shown in self-denying service. “The very object of the Divine birth is the conquest of all that is opposed to God and to His commandments, and the instrument of the conquest is faith.” “There is an historical faith, or receiving of Christ, which precedes the new birth. But the sure and certain persuasion that Jesus is the Christ, the Mediator, Prophet, Priest, and King, with a practical and personal trust in Him as such for salvation, is the principal fruit of the new birth.”
1 John 5:1. Born.—Better, as R.V., “begotten.” Him that begat.—God. See chap. 1 John 4:7. So our Lord pleaded that men could not really love God, if they did not receive and love the Son whom He had sent.
1 John 5:2. Keep His commandments.—A reminiscence of our Lord’s teachings (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 14:23; John 15:10 : see also 2 John 1:6).
1 John 5:3. Not grievous.—It is never a strain to obey those whom we love. It is of the very nature of love to make obedience easy. Were we perfect, we should not find God’s requirements to be commands at all; they would be our natural impulses. Commands indeed are only helps from outside us towards our being what we ourselves would wish to be, if we were our free, best selves.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 5:1-3
The Love of the Father involves the Love of His Sons.—“Whosoever loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” These words give the point of this paragraph. It is a common delusion of Christian professors, that they can keep in saving relations with God while they persist in keeping unloving relations with men. The delusion is based upon the failure to recognise the essential family element in Christianity. The supreme mission of the Christian revelation, the very essence of the work of Christ, is the full restoration of the family relation in which God designed to stand with His creatures, and still wishes to stand. It was that family relationship which the wilful sin of the children broke up. Men ceased to be sons; they persisted in being men. God might be King, but they refused to recognise Him as the “eternal Father.” And there was no hope for humanity until, maybe through a bitter experience, the self-willed prodigal turned his thoughts to Father and home. And turning his thoughts to Father and home is just the work which the Lord Jesus did, by the manifestation of His own Sonship, and by the holy persuasion of His teachings. It is the fashion of our day to insist that all the social, and political, and national woes of humanity would be cured, if men did but fully believe in, and heartily carry out, the “brotherhood of humanity.” They do not see that, standing by itself, with no common love, or common interest, beyond its own interest, human brotherhood never has been, and never can be, anything but selfish, and, being selfish, it never can be a real brotherhood. No brotherhood is possible save out of a common fatherhood. And so Christ brought men together, as nobody else has ever brought them, because He has revealed the Father-God, who is the Father of them all. “Whosoever loveth [the Father] who begat loveth also [the sons and brothers] who are begotten of Him.” It is missing the point to say that the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God is one of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the first, it is the foundation, it is the essential doctrine. It has nothing whatever to say to men about themselves or their relations until it has put them right with God—made them think rightly of God, and brought them into gracious reconciliations with Him.
I. Loving the Father.—“Him that begat.” The love required is precisely that which is characteristic of good children, and is the law of their life. St. John tells us that believing the only begotten Son wakens the sonship in us, and makes us feel like those who are “born of God.” And that is the actual fact of our experience. When we believe in Christ the Son, we begin to feel that we are sons with Him, and like Him. And He adds, that as soon as the feeling of sonship comes to us, the signs of sonship will appear in our life and conduct. We shall do just as Jesus did; we shall “keep our Father’s commandments.” In our limited human measures we shall say, what the Divine Son could say, “My meat and My drink is to do the will of My Father.” The question of our being sons is settled if we are sonlike, as Christ was.
II. When we love the Father, everything else will come right.—All the human relationships will be rightly toned; all the human responsibilities will be rightly borne. Was the Lord Jesus the very ideal of sacrificing brotherhood? It was but His Sonship getting expression in the family sphere. It will be thus with all who share His Sonship. They cannot help it—they cannot be true to themselves and help it—they must be brothers and brotherly. The love of the Father is the source of love to His children. And Maurice wisely says, “That is the natural order; that, we may say it confidently, is the universal order.” “If love of God is absent, then our love of our fellows is not genuine—is earthly, is a mockery. If love of our fellows is absent, then have we no love for God. All friendship must be tested by loyalty to God; all love to Him must be tested by charity.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 5:1. Faith and the New Birth.—“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God.” What appears to be asserted is, that faith is at once the condition and the sign of the new life. Confusion comes by limiting faith to the acceptance of some particular proposition concerning Christ. Men are said to be saved when they declare their belief in some statement about Christ which is made to them. What we need to see clearly is, that faith is the very essence of the child-spirit. A child cannot be a child without faith. And wherever there is faith there is a child-spirit. So faith is the condition of the new birth. There never yet was a soul alive unto God that did not believe and trust. And being the condition, it becomes also the sign. See what a man is toward God, toward God manifested in Christ, and you can tell whether he is a child. If he is born of God, he will as surely believe and trust as the new-born babe will cry.
1 John 5:3. A Misapprehension of the Commandments.—“And His commandments are not grievous.” They seem to be sometimes, because they put us into limitations and restraints. But of one thing we can be absolutely sure—the commandments are no abstract or arbitrary things. They are Fatherly arrangements, precisely adapted to secure the truest welfare of the children. And this we can see plainly—the commandments never were in any sense grievous to Christ. If we ever feel them to be grievous, it must be because we are failing from that perfect love which always carries with it perfect trust and perfect submission. Two reasons have been given as explaining why the Father’s commandments are not grievous.
1. He gives us strength to bear them and do them.
2. Love makes the Father’s yoke (which Christ called His) feel light and easy. The commandments are only grievous when we resist them.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 5:4. Overcometh the world.—The world is regarded as the sphere of the self-seeking principle. He who is born of God is born into another sphere—the sphere of the God-seeking principle. And the higher overmasters the lower, τὸν κόσμον; the present order of things as opposed to the kingdom of Christ. Victory that overcometh.—R.V. “hath overcome” (Romans 8:2). Our faith.—Which unites us to Christ, and makes us participators in His victory.
1 John 5:6-7.—In R.V. 1 John 5:7 is properly omitted. It is an interpolation, and probably inserted to meet the exigencies of the Trinitarian controversy. By water and blood.—I.e. with these distinguishing marks or evidences. Water is the symbol of our Lord’s baptism; blood, of our Lord’s cross, passion, and sacrifice. Observe that these stand at the beginning and at the close of His ministry, and so present to us the whole life. He was declared to be the Son of God by the Divine voice at His baptism. He was declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection, when His life-work was completed in the shedding of His blood. So these two things become the ground of our faith in Him. The Spirit.—The witness within us, which fits to the witness of the water and the blood outside us. Notice the use of ἐν and διά in this verse. Jesus showed Himself to be Messiah by means of (διά) the water and the blood; ἐν marks the sphere, substratum, element, in which the proof was afforded. Not by water only.—This is directed against the Cerinthians, who held that Jesus did suffer on the cross, but the Christ did not. St. John asserts that the same Jesus to whom the Divine testimony came at baptism, received the Divine testimony when His life-mission was completed on the cross. He has the testimony of both the water and the blood; and the inward witness of the Spirit seals the double testimony. Spirit is truth.—Better, the truth: truth in perfection. His inward witness may be absolutely trusted.
1 John 5:8.—This is but a repetition of 1 John 5:6, for the sake of emphasising it.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—1 John 5:4-8
The Power that overcomes the World.—It is usual to limit thought to faith as the power that ensures our victory over our surroundings, our “overcoming the world”; but if this paragraph be taken as connected thinking, it will be seen that St. John explains what faith it is that thus overcomes the world. It is the faith in the Sonship of Jesus, which links us to Him, makes us sons like Him, and brings to us the victory of obedience and submission which He won. (It will be understood that 1 John 5:7, in this paragraph, is treated as an interpolation, inserted by some later hand to support a particular theory.)
I. The faith that overcomes.—It is significant that St. John should say, “even our faith.” It may be true—it is in fact true—that faith, as one of the powers of human nature, the power that enables a man to act upon unseen considerations, does enable men to rise above the entanglement and depression of present circumstances. The world could not get on without faith. All her high triumphs have been triumphs of faith. But St. John’s world is not the world of material difficulties, but the world of moral evils. And he knows well enough that commonplace human faith can never gain victory over that. It is our faith—that specific thing which must be called the “Christian faith,” which alone can overcome the moral world, the world of evil.
II. The object of the faith that overcomes.—“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” It should not be possible for us to miss the point of St. John’s teaching in these sentences. It is the man who, believing in Jesus as the Son of God, is himself a son of God who overcomes the world. The object of faith is the Sonship, or, more precisely, Christ the Son. His Sonship was the secret of His triumph over the world, which, though He lived in, He was not of. And our sonship in Him will have to be the secret of our triumph, if ever it be said of us, they have overcome the world.
III. The grounds faith has for resting on this object.—Jesus the Son is fully attested; the witnesses are altogether sufficient and trustworthy. There are three witnesses to the acceptable Sonship. The Spirit, who testifies of Christ in our hearts. (But it is quite possible that St. John had in his mind the spirit of the life of Jesus, which was the most perfect expression of sonship, and the satisfactory attestation that He was the Son.) The water, which stands for the direct testimony given by the Father at our Lord’s baptism: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And the blood, which stands for the Divine acceptance of our Lord’s sacrifice—the self-sacrifice of the Son—which was declared in His resurrection from the dead. “These three agree in one” thing; they declare that “Jesus is the Son of God,” and present Him to us, in this relation, as the object of our faith.
The Worldly Idea of overcoming the World.—We read in history of one in departed days who fancied that he had accomplished the hard task of “overcoming the world.” We read how he carried his victorious arms over every region of the then known earth—how he subjugated king after king, and brought nation after nation beneath his sway, and then fancied that he had “overcome the world.” We read how he felt it sad to think that his heroic task was done, and how he wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. Oh, far astray, far mistaken! There was one world to conquer yet, to which that conqueror was a slave—a world to overcome for which the arms of Alexander were of no avail. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”—A. K. H. B.
Our Victorious Weapon.—Value of this text as the speech of an aged, experienced disciple. Compare our feeling if it had been the utterance of a young man. We should say that he did not know life, or that he was visionary and impulsive. But St. John looked back over many years of conflict, and many scenes of struggle and victory; and he may commend to us a weapon which he has found in every way efficient.
I. What is the design which the world has upon us?—We are represented as trying to overcome it. Then what is it trying to do? Born into the world, we might have said that surely the world ought to be our law. And yet we know that we are superior to the world. It should be under us, as the creatures are. It should be our servant, to help us in doing the will of God. Illustrate by things good as servants that are bad as masters—water, fire, wealth, pleasure, the world regarded morally. The difficulty is that some of these servants are always trying to get to be masters. That makes our conflict with the world. It wants to be master. The general conflict is represented in the individual; the world fights to gain authority in some one direction, and a man becomes a miser, a drunkard, or vicious. Conceive a man ruled by the world. Is that a true man? Social science, philosophy, and religion all say, No, a man must rise above the world. And Christ alone effectually shows man how to do it.
II. Is it left with us to decide whether or no we will resist, and try to overcome the world?—In one sense it is. That is the great term of our probation here—will you be ruled by the world or by God? To you, shall the world be master or servant? This is especially pressed on attention in early manhood. But, in another sense, it is not left to us. We are urged by such impressive considerations to strive to overcome, that we are scarcely manly if we do not so strive. Illustrate by such things as: proofs about us of the ruin following world-triumphs; the high, and sole, claims of God to our love and service; the light of that better world where God only is loved and served; the testimony of those who have lived God-ruled lives. As Christians, no sort of option is left to us; we are actually, we are deeply, pledged to the carrying on of this warfare.
III. With what weapon may we have the assurance of victory?—Picture Bunyan’s “Christian,” going through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and betaking himself to the weapon of “All-prayer.” Here the great sword is called “Our Faith.” The world can only overcome by dimming and unvitalising God, and so loosening from us the sense of His claims and relations. The chance of the world lies in the absence of God from our thought, and from our love. Men can only sin when at heart they say, “The Lord shall not see.” Then our hope of conquering lies in our keeping God in our love, and thought, and trust. Abraham conquered, because he thought of God as Him “before whom I walk.” Moses conquered, because he persisted that the “Presence” should go with him. David conquered, because he could say, “I have set the Lord always before me.” That is precisely the work of faith. The faith of God in Christ, the human Christ, is the faith that keeps God closely and directly related to our daily life. Only let faith keep God near, as we do our business, as we gather up our profits, as we go to and fro in our households, then the world shall never overcome us; we shall surely overcome the world. Observe a distinction. Is this commending a general faith in God, as being just, and strong, and wise, and good? Yes, it is; but it is much more. It is a commending of what must be the foundation, and the constant daily support, of such faith,—the faith of God in Christ; in God revealed, manifested in the human life of the Son; the faith of God, who was “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 5:4. Faith overcoming the World.
I. What is the true notion of conquering the world?—Our notion of being victorious in life is when each man, according to his own ideal of what is best, manages to wring that ideal out of a reluctant world. A man desires conspicuous notoriety and fame. But what is the teaching of this epistle? Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ Himself, the poor man, the beaten man, the unsuccessful man, may yet say, “I have overcome the world.” What does that mean? Well, it is built upon this: the world, meaning thereby the sum-total of outward things, considered as apart from God—the world and God we make to be antagonists to one another. And the world woos me to trust to it, to love it; crowds in upon my eye and shuts out the greater things beyond; absorbs my attention, so that if I let it have its own way I have no leisure to think about anything but itself. And the world conquers me when it succeeds in hindering me from seeing, loving, holding communion with and serving my Father-God. On the other hand, I conquer it when I lay my hand upon it, and force it to help me get nearer Him, to get more like Him, to think more often of Him, to do His will more gladly and more constantly. The one victory over the world is to bend it to serve me in the highest things—the attainment of a clearer vision of the Divine nature, the attainment of a deeper love to God Himself, and of a more glad consecration and service to Him. That is the victory, when you can make the world a ladder to lift you to God. Rule the world by making it help you to be wiser, gentler, nobler, more gracious, more Christ-like, more Christ-conscious, more full of God, and more like to Him, and then you will get the deepest delight out of it.
II. The method by which this victory over the world, of making it help us to keep the commandments of God, is to be accomplished.—The true victory over the world is won by a new life, born of and kindred with God; that life is kindled in men’s souls through their faith; and the faith which kindles that supernatural life, the victorious antagonist of the world, is the definite, specific faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You can conquer the world if you will trust in Jesus Christ, because such trust will bring you into constant, living, loving contact with the great Conqueror. I can appropriate Christ’s conquest to myself if I trust Him. The might of it, and some portion of the reality of it, passes into my nature in the measure in which I rely upon Him. So if we join ourselves to Him by faith, and bring into our daily life, in all its ignoble effort, in all its little duties, in all its wearisome monotonies, in all its triviality, the thought, the illuminating thought, of the victorious Christ, our Companion and our Friend—in hoc signo vinces—in this sign thou shalt conquer. They that keep hold of His hand see over the world and all its falsenesses and fleetingnesses. They that trust in Jesus are more than conquerors by the might of His victory. You can conquer the world if you will trust Jesus Christ, because your faith will bring into the midst of your lives the grandest and most solemn and blessed realities. Faith is the true anæsthesia of the soul—the thing that deadens it to the pains and the pleasures that come from this fleeting life. Get near to Jesus Christ by thought, and love, and trust. Trust to Him and to the great love that gave itself for you. And then bring Him into your life, by daily reference to Him of it all; and by cultivating the habit of thinking about Him as being present with you in the midst of it all; and so, holding His hand, you will share in His victory.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The Victory of Faith.—Men acknowledge that the world is a place of conflict, but they often mistake the nature of the conflict, and the nature of the weapon that should be employed in it.
I. They mistake the nature of the conflict.—They look upon it as a battle with poverty, with ignorance, or with weakness. But a victory over all these does not mean a victory over care, or sorrow, or death. But the apostle tells us that the true enemy is not in. the world, nor in the things that are in the world, but rather in the world within the heart. The enemy is not poverty, but desire; not obscurity, but lust. He who overcomes the world is not he who paves his way from poverty to wealth, but he who gets rich by the penuriousness and parsimony of his spirit; not he who has made his way to the highest places of earth, but he who has risen into the true knowledge and purity of God. The true victory lies in the vanquishing of the heart’s desires.
II. The weapon is mistaken also.—Industry will overcome poverty, and knowledge obscurity; but if these are not the foes, then must we try another weapon. Even in the common aspect of life faith is needed. A man cannot do well who secretly disbelieves in the work he is doing. So to conquer within we must believe in goodness. And not only in goodness in the abstract; it is faith in a person which the apostle tells us will overcome the world. Faith in great principles has done much. But for the greatest and most permanent success we must have faith in goodness guaranteed, illustrated, and emphasised in the life and death of a person. Here then comes the glory of Christ’s life, that it is precisely the emphasis of all faith in goodness.—W. B. Carpenter, D.D.
1 John 5:4-5. Faith a Moral Power.—Faith may be described as a preferring of some future and unseen good to a present and visible one, on the authority of some one whom we had reason to think good and wise. And religious faith consists in preferring future to present good things, on the authority of God Himself—that is, of One who is perfectly wise and good. Christian faith has this advantage over simple religious faith, in the more general sense of the word, that having obtained clearer and fuller notions of God’s perfections, it is rendered stronger and more triumphant over temptations. Christian faith, or the faith that Jesus is the Son of God, gives us so much clearer and fuller notion of God, that it makes us know both Him and ourselves, and love Him, far better than we could do without it. This, then, is the faith that overcometh the world; for it is a faith that looks to an eternal reward, and it is founded on such a display of God’s love and holiness, that the Christian may well say, “I know in whom I have believed.” Conceive any one of us, old or young, having this faith, and do we not feel sure that it must overcome the world? Do we not feel sure that all temptations must be powerless against him who is heartily persuaded of what God has done, and will do for him, who looks forward to the kingdom of heaven, and knows and feels by whose blood it has been thrown open to him? Do we not see clearly, and do not our own hearts tells us, that if temptations are too strong for us, it is because our faith is weak.—Dr. T. Arnold.
1 John 5:6. The Threefold Witness.—“By water and blood.” “It is the Spirit that beareth witness.” It is important that the mind should not be confused by the suggestions of 1 John 5:7, which brings in the doctrinal term “Holy Ghost.” It is probable that 1 John 5:8 precisely represents the thought to which St. John wishes to give expression, and that no reference to the third person of the Divine Trinity is intended. St. John’s mind was not so occupied with the work of the Holy Ghost as was the mind of St. Paul. St. John’s whole interest was absorbed in the person of Christ, and his point here is, that faith in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, is the faith that is overcoming, and will overcome, the world. It is strictly relative to his subject to point out how well founded that faith in Christ is. There are three witnesses; two are usually regarded as sufficient. And these three altogether agree in their testimony. But what precisely is it that these witnesses testify to? Not generally to Jesus Christ, but specifically to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. They are three witnesses to the human sonship of the Divine Son. When once this is grasped, the reason for mentioning them here is understood. That they are witnesses “in earth” (1 John 5:8) sufficiently proves that the Holy Ghost is not meant. What St. John says is really this: The witness of the “water”—that is, of Christ’s baptism—was the miraculous attestation of His Sonship by a voice from heaven. The witness of the “Spirit”—that is, Christ’s own spirit, the tone and temper of His daily life—was a most persuasive exhibition of His Sonship. The witness of the “blood”—that is, of His “resisting unto blood” all temptation to unsonlike doings, His self-sacrifice for the sake of obedient sonship—was an all-convincing proof of His Sonship. Surely, then, we have all-sufficient grounds for believing that Jesus is the Son of God. Then He is what we ought to be. And trying to be what He is will prove for us the “overcoming of the world”—first the world within, and then the world without.
1 John 5:8. Water and Blood.—The Rev. W. M. Sinclair, D.D., in Ellicott’s Commentary, gives suggestively the more usual explanation of these symbolic terms. “Water” and “blood” are referred to as two of the three great witnesses, or sets of evidence, for Christ. They are symbols, and look back to two of the most characteristic and significant acts of His personal history. The one is His baptism, the other His cross. Why His baptism? The baptism of John was the seal of the law. It was the outward sign by which those who repented at his preaching showed their determination to keep the law no longer in the letter only, but also in the spirit. Jesus, too, showed this determination. Baptism in water was His outward sign and seal to the Old Testament: that He had not come to destroy, but to fulfil the law; not to supersede the prophecies, but to claim them. It was to show that in Him the righteousness and purification which the law intended was to be a reality, and through Him to be the law of His kingdom. Thus it pointed to all the evidence which this Old Testament could possibly afford Him; and, through the Old Testament, it pointed to the dispensation of the Father. Thus, when this most symbolic act was complete, the almighty Giver of the old law or covenant was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” “Blood” in the same way refers to the special work of Christ Himself—the work of reconciliation and atonement by His death and passion, the realisation of all that the sacrifices and types of the former state of religion had meant. That He was the true sacrifice was proved by the perfection of His life, by the signs and wonders with which He had attracted and convinced His followers, by the fulfilment of prophecy, by the marvels of His teaching, by the amazing events which had happened at the different crises of His life, by His resurrection and ascension, and by the confession of all who knew Him well that He was the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, and with the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 5:9. Receive.—λαμβάνομεν; admit as valid. The testimony of two human witnesses is admitted; here is the threefold testimony of God—the voice at baptism, the acceptance in resurrection, the Spirit in our hearts.
1 John 5:10. Witness in himself.—In two ways—in having the permanently abiding Spirit, and in having a personal experience. Made Him a liar.—Because to fail to trust a person is really to declare him untrustworthy.
1 John 5:11. Record.—Statement or declaration which we are required to believe. “The Christian creed is here reduced to a very small compass—the gift of eternal life, and the dependence of that life upon His Son.” Eternal life.—Not merely continuing life, but that new life we have by spiritual birth. Eternal life is that which we now understand by spiritual life. That is in its nature continuous. On it the “second death” can have no power. It depends on our relation to Jesus Christ. To have Christ by faith is to breathe the first breath of the eternal life. The life is in Christ for impartation to us, and the receptivity in us is our faith.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 5:9-12
God’s Gift in a Person.—All the mystery of redemption will not go into a sentence. And yet very helpful sentences are graciously given. If we would know, as briefly as possible, what are the essentials of salvation, this paragraph answers, “Having the Son.” How limited this is! It confines human hope to one absolute condition. How comprehensive it is! It concerns man as man, recognising no merely intellectual, or social, or sectarian distinctions. Anywhere, everywhere, the man who has the Son has life. There is full, free, present salvation for all in Christ the Son.
I. God’s gift to us—“eternal life.”—The young rich ruler asked, “What good thing can I do that I may inherit eternal life?” He had the Pharisaic notion, that it was the reward of doing some extraordinary thing. It is often regarded as only continuous, never-ending life. But the Scriptures put other and larger meanings into the term. The word is applied to God: “the eternal God is thy refuge.” To the power of God: “His eternal power and Godhead.” To Israel: “an eternal excellency.” Unseen things are eternal. We read of “an eternal weight of glory”; “an eternal purpose”; “eternal salvation”; “eternal judgment”; “eternal redemption”; “the eternal Spirit”; “eternal inheritance”; “eternal fire.” And the Revised Version has “an eternal sin.” Evidently the word chiefly means what we mean by “spiritual,” “divine,” or perhaps “the highest, intensest, conceivable.” Quality is indicated by the term, and not mere size or length. There is a time-figure in the word, as there is a material figure in all words, e.g. Spirit, God. The length of time that a thing will last is a well-recognised note of value. So the term “eternal life” makes us think of the highest form of life that is possible to man. Our thought of life is a gradual ascent—vegetable, animal, human, mental, social, political, then spiritual, which is the life of God so far as it can be man’s. We vainly try to conceive of Divine life, the life of God, which is the top of the ascent. What thoughts may we have concerning the gift God bestows?
1. If He arranges to give it, we must supremely need it. As men we cannot be content to stop short of the best that is possible to us. What is within the limit of human attainment? Culture of body; culture of mind; culture of character. Nothing more. Something more is attainable as the gift of God. He seals our faith with the gift of Divine, spiritual life.
2. If He arranges to give it, we cannot otherwise get it. The young rich ruler a type. What could he get by means of works? Life is only quickened by the contact of life. Regeneration. The best possible—the Divine in man—is a gift of God as truly as was the first life for Adam.
II. God’s gift in a person.—“This life is in His Son.” Not merely entrusted to Him, but actually in Him. If so, we can see it in Him. We can know it by watching Him. Can we then know what the Divine, eternal life in the soul of man is? There it is, in Christ. That life is in the Son. If so, there is a mystery in Christ. The life in Him is for us. It is a life that imparts life, a life that quickens life. Illustrate how we change into the spirit of those with whom we live. What, then, is that soul-contact that brings to us Christ’s eternal life? Illustrate by grafting or budding trees.
III. That person imparting the gift.—“He that hath the Son hath life.” Having Christ—what can that mean?
1. In what senses are we said to have things?
(1) We have material things, by the personal use of them.
(2) We have persons, by the pleasure of their affection and intercourse.
(3) We have knowledge, when our mind for itself grasps truth.
(4) We have principles, when they act within us as motives. So the idea of “having Christ” is appropriation, personal relation.
2. In what sense did the disciples “have Christ”? Daily and hourly He was in the circle of their life and thought, the shaper of their life and thought. Illustrate from Bethany. Martha had Christ to serve. Mary had Christ to love and listen to. Lazarus had Christ to receive life from. See the test presented to the young rich ruler. “You have much wealth. Give it up, and have Me.”
3. How is “having” related to “believing”? “Having” fixes thought on one part of believing—the last part. Believing includes:
(1) intellectual apprehension of a statement;
(2) heart-feeling of the importance of the statement;
(3) active effort to realise personal interest in it. Take the statement, “Christ died for sinners.” “Having” sets out prominently the third element—the effort to appropriate. “Having” says “He died for me.” See then that no faith in a creed will do; no works will do; only trust in, and love to, a person brings us life. The life we supremely need is just that life of sonship that was in Christ. The life of sonship to God is the eternal life. To have Christ is to have life, i.e. to have Divine acceptance, with Him—to have the spirit of sonship with Him. Not to have Christ is death. Dead in trespasses and sins. Dead in self-will. Dead as in the wrath of God.
The Life in God.—“The Christian creed is here reduced to a very small compass: the gift of eternal life, and the dependence of that life upon His Son. Eternal life does not here mean the mere continuance of life after death, whether for good or evil: it is the expression used throughout St. John’s writings for that life in God, thought of without reference to time, which can have no end, which implies heaven, and every possible variety of blessedness, and which consists in believing in God the Father, and in His Son. Its opposite is not annihilation, Out the second death, existence in exclusion from God.” “Having the Son is His dwelling in the heart by faith—a conscious difference to human life which transforms its whole character. “Having life” is the birth of the new man within, which can never die.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 5:10. The Dishonouring Character of Unbelief.—It makes God to seem a liar, a deceiver, one who makes statements for which there is no ground, and promises which can but disappoint. We can do no greater dishonour to a brother-man than fail to trust him, to believe his word, to rely upon his promise. Human unbelief is sometimes presented as the source of moral mischief in a man’s character and life, and as the cause of his deprivation of privilege. There are a thousand things that man “cannot enter into” “because of his unbelief.” But here quite another side of the evil influence of unbelief is presented. It dishonours God. It prevents men from putting that trust in Him which He seeks, which is the invitation and persuasion of His love, and which is so firmly based on His goodness and faithfulness. Unbelief proclaims God to be untrustworthy. But this brings up the question, whether the evidences of God’s truth, and righteousness, and goodness, are sufficiently abundant, and clear, and impressive, to make absolutely unreasonable all human unbelief. And this ground may reasonably be taken. The appeals for God may be made—
(1) to every part of man’s nature;
(2) to every matter of man’s concern;
(3) to every page of man’s history. Take the best men who have appeared in all the ages; they have believed in God. Take the most perplexing and involved circumstances of God’s people; He has always fulfilled His promise, and led them safely through. Take the promises which lie thick on the page of the word, like stars in the midnight sky; there cannot one be found which stands unfulfilled in the history of God’s people. He always “remembers His word.”
The Method of Faith.—Court of justice, judge, jury, counsels, reporters, listeners. The culprit—his trial will come on. His fate depends on the evidence which will be adduced—not on public opinion or feeling. There is a tribunal in every breast. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the works of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.”
I. The process which transfers the gospel and all its living, saving power into the soul.—“He that believeth.”
1. Our attention must be thoroughly arrested. This is done by two distinct methods—by striking and forcible means, by gradual influence and development. A mirage—a whole scene pictured in the heavens. Gradual influence—father’s prayers, Saul of Tarsus and Timothy.
2. We must realise in ourselves and for ourselves the gospel and its influence. Every man is intensely individual, and the things which affect us so are the most real. Reading of the dangers of others will produce an impression, but when in danger ourselves the feeling is most intense. The father whose five little children were in the railway carriages which broke loose was most anxious for their safety. “I am crucified with Christ to the world.” “Fellowship with His sufferings.” Look into that great soul, and you will see Golgotha, the cross, the suffering Saviour. Again, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” Resurrection, ascension, intercession, benediction.
3. There must be felt an abiding presence and influence. There are momentous things engraved on our minds, but they only come up occasionally. “Abide in Me, and I in you, so that ye be My disciples.” “Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning.” Not a passing breath, but the functions of breathing; not the drop of blood which passes through the veins, but the heart which circulates it. “I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one.”
II. The inward testimony to our salvation.—
1. The accord of truth with the moral demands of our nature. Let us not treat our souls as if they were blank or empty, but as morally sentient. Our whole nature, physical and mental, is based on the same principle. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, they are life.” Repent, believe, pray, obey, love; the soul says “Amen” to all these.
2. The presence of the Spirit and the attestation. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” The appeal of the loving, confiding child to the witnessing of the father. “And because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The Spirit gives the assurance of faith.
III. The accord of the verdict with the soul.—We shall stand soon before the judgment-seat of Christ. “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel.” “Also now behold my witness is in heaven, my record is on high.”—Anon.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 5:13-21 may be treated as a summary and conclusion. They divide into three parts:
1. Faith in the Son of God, eternal life, and love of the brethren showing itself in intercession, are recalled to mind.
2. Three great facts which believers know are restated.
3. A last practical warning is given. In the first part the new thought is, the association of boldness in prayer with the love of the brethren (1 John 5:14-17).
1 John 5:16. Sin not unto death … sin unto death.—The usual distinction between sins of frailty and sins of will. Sins of frailty are possible to the child of God; sins of will indicate that, for the time, the child-spirit is dead—he cannot sin wilfully who is born of God. St. John deals very carefully with the latter case. “Not concerning that do I say that he should make request.” Wilful sin in one claiming to have the Divine life does not come into the range of Christian prayer for the brethren, because such a case is not regarded as possible. St. John does not go so far as to say that it is not a subject for prayer at all.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 5:13-17
The Rights of the New-begotten Sons.—1 John 5:13 recalls to mind the explanation St. John gives of his purpose in writing his gospel. “But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye may have life in His name.” Life is St. John’s great word, and by it he means that life as a son of God, in loving and obedient relations with the eternal Father, which is seen in Christ the Son, and becomes ours as by faith we are linked with that Son so as to receive His life. When we are thus made sons, we enter upon the possession of three rights or privileges, and we ought thankfully to use them.
I. The right to eternal life.—The right to live a higher kind of life than can be attained by other men,—a spiritual life, a human-divine life like that which the Lord Jesus lived; for His life on the earth is precisely described as the “eternal life.” That is not life in heaven: it is the Christ-life lived on earth. But the right to this life involves the right to everything that is needed for sustaining, developing, and perfecting the life. If God calls any one into being, His creative act implies a continuous providential act, for the well-being of the creature made. So St. Paul tells us that all things are at the command and use of the sons of God.
II. The right to expect answers to prayers (1 John 5:14-15).—The prayers here thought of are those bearing relation to the believer’s own life, circumstance, and need. Answer to prayer, following on attention to prayer, is involved in Fatherhood and sonship. A father who neither hears, nor heeds, nor answers, his Children’s requests is no father at all. If God be our Father, He must heed and answer all who keep child-like souls.
III. The right to intercede for others (1 John 5:16-17).—The very fact that there is a limit to Christian intercession asserts the right to intercede within the limits. And this is the right which belongs to the brotherhood. Brothers ought to be concerned with brothers’ welfare, and be ready with all sympathy and help in times of frailty and trouble.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 5:13. Knowing that we have Life.—The arguments and persuasions of St. John were intended to bring a personal confidence and assurance to the believers. He wanted them to know that they had the eternal life.
I. Personal assurance is possible.—But too often it is assurance founded on mere feelings. St. John’s assurance is founded on facts and truths. Emotional assurance is of but little value: it seldom does more than soothe the soul to a sleep of self-satisfaction and indifference; and it has a strangely evil tendency to make men think themselves the special favourites of God, and to despise others. Assurance founded on facts and truths has a graciously bracing influence; it ennobles a man, makes him feel like a co-worker with God, and want to be an active co-worker. And it brings the man nearer to his fellows, because, taking form as assurance of sonship, it cannot fail to bring on the responsibility of brotherhood.
II. Personal assurance is to be sought.—It is not only a desirable attainment; it is a necessary one. Upon it the strength of the Christian life depends. But it is even more important to see that upon it the brightness and cheeriness of the Christian life depend. The uncertain man is depressed, and can put no joy into his work. No man should rest anywhere short of the “full assurance of faith.”
III. Personal assurance is gained through apprehension of higher truth.—Not in the most hopeful way through experience, because experience always has too much of the variableness of self in it. Assurance comes by soul-growth, through spiritual and mental apprehensions of the higher truth. And that can be fully apprehended when we recognise that the higher truth brings the fuller knowledge of God, and in the going out of ourselves to ever higher and worthier thoughts of God we gain our best confidences and satisfactions.
The Knowledge of Eternal Life.—This being the declared object of this epistle, we are not surprised to find the words “know” and “eternal life” conspicuous. The whole epistle is occupied with the signs of sonship. Light, love, and life are the grand words which interpret the epistle, and under which all these evidences of the new nature may be arranged. God is here directly declared to be light and to be love, and it is everywhere implied that He is also life. Hence His own children must partake of His light, and love, and life, because partakers of His nature.
I. Light is here used as the equivalent for higher knowledge, as darkness is for ignorance. The child of God walks in light. Light is a revealer. Hence he knows God, knows himself and his sin, and knows the truth. He that is in darkness knows not God, denies his sin, denies Jesus, and denies the truth, embraces a lie, etc. The signs of being in the light are mainly these three: recognition of sin, belief and confession of Jesus, and knowledge of God. Of many truths we may yet be in ignorance or doubt, but of these the true child of God must be assured.
II. Love, this is the synonym for a pure, unselfish affection and benevolence. Love is found in the world—natural affection, selfish affection, the love of sympathy and of complacency. But this love is not of this world; like the warmth of the sun, it is the outgoing of something that aims to bless others rather than benefit ourselves. “He that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” This love is expansive, expulsive, and explosive. It enlarges the heart, it expels evil, and it demands expression and action. It expels the love of sin, the love of the world, and the hatred of man. It demands vent in benevolent action and in confession of Jesus as Lord.
III. Life. Here we touch another class of mysteries. The life-principle of God is in the believer, and is opposed to death. Hence there is:
1. A quickening power—obedience.
2. A sanctifying power—purification. He that is born of God doth not commit sin, and cannot sin—observe the force of the Greek present tense, continued action—doth not go on sinning. There is that in him which constrains him to do righteousness and put away iniquity. He has affinity with God. He purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. No sinner ought to be in ignorance of the way of salvation with the gospel of John before him. No saint should be in doubt about his saved state with the first epistle of John before him. To be saved one has only to believe on Jesus as the Saviour, to receive the gift of God’s love. The disciple has only to examine himself as to whether he is in the light, the love, the life of God. If he sees and confesses his sin; if he accepts Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; if he finds a love of God and of the brethren which expels the love of sin, of the world, and of self; if he feels the life of God impelling him to obey the commands of God, to renounce sin, and to live for God,—all this is the work of God, and of Him alone.—Anon.
1 John 5:14. The Condition of all Answers to Prayer.—The one condition is repeated again and again, as if St. John foresaw with what difficulty Christians through all the ages would realise it. All his effort was directed to persuading men to believe fully in the Sonship of Christ. He says that he wrote to them precisely as those who professed to believe on the name of the Son of God. He wrote to them in order that he might persuade them really to believe on the name of the Son of God. The life is in the Son. It is not “he that hath Christ hath life.” It is, “he that hath the Sort hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” And this is the ground of our confidence in prayer—we have the Son; and when a man has the Son, he has the sonship; and in the quiet, happy trust of his sonship, he is as sure that his heavenly Father hears and answers prayer, as any happy loving child is in an earthly father’s home. Does God answer prayer?’ That child, who is a child indeed, never asks the question, and never likes to have such questions asked. He says, with deepest feeling, “Don’t ask. He is my Father.” “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask Him? “But there is a particular matter in St. John’s mind. The one thing he is urging is the “love of the brethren,” which we must feel if we love the Father, and have in us the mind of the only begotten Son. If we love them, we shall want to do something for them; and then we shall be sure to intercede for them, to ask things of God in their behalf. And we may ask with confidence of answer, if we have the spirit of sons, because we shall only ask what is in harmony with God’s will, and only ask in a becoming spirit. The prayer of the brotherhood, the prayer of the family for one another, is evidently in St. John’s mind, as is clear from 1 John 5:16-17. It is true that answer to prayers for ourselves rests on the same condition; but it comes freshly to us to find that our intercessions are conditioned on our maintaining our sonship.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 John 5:13-21 may be treated as a summary and conclusion. They divide into three parts:
1. Faith in the Son of God, eternal life, and love of the brethren showing itself in intercession, are recalled to mind.
2. Three great facts which believers know are restated.
3. A last practical warning is given. In the first part the new thought is, the association of boldness in prayer with the love of the brethren (1 John 5:14-17).
1 John 5:21. Idols.—Better, “the idols”; or “your idols.” “This parting word is suggested by the thought of the ‘true God.’ Every scheme of thought, every object of affection, which is not of Him, is a rival of His empire, a false god, a delusive appearance only, without solidity or truth.” “Every street through which St. John’s readers walked, and every heathen house they visited, swarmed with idols in the literal sense; and magnificent temples and groves, and seductive idolatrous rites, constituted some of the chief attractions at Ephesus.” “Of the strictness which was necessary in order to preserve Christians from the attractions of idolatry the history of the first four centuries is full.” St. John hints that Jesus is no idol. The Son of God, who was manifested in the flesh as the Son of man, was a Being not only altogether worthy to be worshipped and served, but a Being whose worship and service are supremely ennobling.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 John 5:18-21
Things about which we ought to be sure.—The expression “we know,” as indicating something that is unquestionable, something that is settled and indisputable, something which has been so confirmed by evidence, observation, and experience, that it has become a persuasive power on our life, is applied to three things:
1. The actual fact that, the children of God do not sin wilfully.
2. The actual fact, that those who have not the new life in Christ do sin wilfully.
3. The spiritual fact, that the new life we have is a spiritual life communicated to us through faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God. St. John states these three things that we ought to know, as a kind of summary of his epistle. We ought then to know—
I. The actual fact that the children of God do not sin wilfully.—“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” If we treat this expression with simple common sense, it will occasion no difficulty. No doctrine of human sinlessness is suggested. It can be said of every child who is in right relations in a Christian home that he “sinneth not.” Such a child has no sort of disposition to do any wrong thing, and, wilfully, never does any wrong thing. He must lose the sweet spirit of his sonship ere it can be possible for him to do anything to grieve his father or his mother. And he who is born of God, and stands fully in the sonship, never wants to do wrong, to grieve the heavenly Father. He wants to find fitting expression for his life, and he never can find it save in submissive and loving obediences, and kindly services, and righteous-doing. He cannot sin, for that would be to be unnatural. The Revised Version gives an alteration of the second clause of 1 John 5:18 which seems to explain how it is that the man born of God does not commit sin. “But he that was begotten of God keepeth him [margin, himself], and the evil one toucheth him not.” This, however, introduces quite a new subject, and the watchfulness of a man over himself is much more in the line of St. John’s thought here, than any reference to the preserving power of Christ. “The child of God keeps himself in the estate of a child of God simply.” “The true ideal frame is the absence of wilful sin.”
II. The actual fact that those who have not the new life in Christ do sin wilfully.—1 John 5:19 : “The whole world lieth in the evil one.” Lieth in his power, because, there being no new life, there is no steadfastly set will towards obedience and righteousness. It is just as natural for the man with only the earthly life to please himself, as it is for the man with the spiritual life to please God. Then St. John says, if it is thus natural for everybody to act wilfully, and to please themselves, then we may assure our hearts that we have experienced the great change, and are of God, if we never can think of acting wilfully or wickedly, if we cannot bear the idea of pleasing ourselves, when so doing can in any way be unpleasing to God. “We know that we are of God,” because our contrast with the world is so strongly marked.
III. The spiritual fact, that the new life we have is a spiritual life communicated to us through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.—1 John 5:20 : “And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son, Jesus Christ.” The idea of St. John may be made somewhat clearer by recalling what St. Paul could say he knew. “I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me.” “I knew a man in Christ.” It is the Christian mystery that a Divine life was in Christ, and found its expression through all human activities and relations, guaranteeing a life in absolute conformity with the will of God. That Divine life is imparted to believers, and they become, within the creaturely limitations, what Christ was, men in whom is a spiritual and Divine life, which, finding expression in all the details, of life, enables them to live lives free from wilful sin. “We have in these last verses a final emphasis laid on the fundamental principles on which the epistle rests: that we through the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ have fellowship with God; that this fellowship protects us from sin, and establishes us in a relation of perfect opposition to the world.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 John 5:18. Keeping Ourselves.—The Revised Version reads this verse thus, “But he that was begotten of God keepeth him, and the evil one toucheth him not,” with the marginal addition “himself,” instead of “him.” The idea may therefore be either “the Son of God preserves him,” or “he watchfully keepeth himself.” The latter seems more precisely in the line of St. John’s teaching here. He is speaking of the virtue that lies in the new Divine life of the soul. “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not”; for it is in the very nature of that life to be jealous of its own integrity and purity. This point may be opened out and illustrated on the following lines.
I. Every creature having life has life in trust.—It is the one thing which every animal and every man properly regards as his chief treasure. “Skin after skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” How much more must the spiritual and Divine life be a trust.
II. Keeping here means guarding, but much more than guarding.—It is quite true that the Christian is “kept by the power of God,” but it is also true that God’s keeping is effective when it goes along with his keeping himself. How little a parent can do for his boy if the boy will do nothing for himself.
III. Guarding must be the man’s own work, but for it he may accept auxiliary aids.—He must “work out his own salvation,” but he may and should realise how fully the Divine help is at his command.
IV. He only knows his particular perils, and the self-weaknesses that bear such relation to his perils.—It is in the spiritual as in the physical world. A man gets to know his own body, and learns how to preserve health, by the wise management of himself. But the question may be asked, Is there usually such self-knowledge in the spiritual life as inspires a man to this “keeping himself.”
1 John 5:20. The Gospel of the Incarnation.—St. John simply mentions the great things that lie inside this fact: “The Son of God is come.”
I. By His coming He has “given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.”—This does not mean that Christ gives men any new intellectual power, that He adds to the faculties of the mind any more than to the senses of the body. “Understanding” here signifies rather the means of knowing, the power of understanding. The Son of God has given us the means of knowing God. By word and life He has given us ideas about Fatherhood, holiness, purity, kindness, and love, that we had not before. The horizon of language has been widened, and its heaven lifted higher than before.
II. For what purpose has Christ given us these new ideas and opened the eyes of our understanding?—That we may “know Him that is true,” even God. It is needful that we should know God. In Christ you will find the truth about God.
III. We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ—i.e. in Christ we are in God.—Union with Christ by faith, obedience, and love is perfect union with God.
IV. The Son of God is come, and to be in Him is to have eternal life.—“This is the true God [the God in Christ], and eternal life.” Christ tells the truth: believe Him. Christ is the life: accept Him.—J. Morgan Gibbon.
1 John 5:21. The Ever-recurring Temptation to Idolatry.—“As the epistle is addressed to Christians, this last exhortation to keep themselves from idols could not refer to gross idolatry; such a dehortation would most inharmoniously fit the tenor of the whole document. The εἴδωλα are rather the ideas of God entertained by the false prophets of whom the apostle has spoken, the antichrists, who, because they have not the Son, have not the Father also, without therefore being atheists in the common meaning of the word. All the heretics of that time would serve God. Against them is held up the proposition that οὗτος, that is, this God revealed in Christ, is alone the true God; all else is an εἴδωλον. But not only is God robbed of His honour, not only does man serve a false god when he seeks another god than the God revealed in Christ, but he also trifles away his own salvation, for this only is eternal life—he that hath Him hath thereby life” (Eric Haupt). But while it may be helpful thus to follow the precise meaning and allusion of St. John, it is permissible, for homiletic purposes, to follow the suggestions of his words, and we may therefore recognise the fact that the temptation to idol-service in some form has been the temptation of men in every age, and is their temptation still.
Striking Contrasts.—This is the last of the contrasts of which the epistle is so full. We have had light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate, God and the world, Christ and antichrist, life and death, doing righteousness and doing sin, the children of God and the children of the devil, the spirit of truth and the spirit of error, the believer untouched by the evil one, and the world lying in the evil one; and now at the close we have what in that age was the ever-present and pressing contrast between the true God and the idols. There is no need to seek far-fetched, figurative explanations of “the idols” when the literal meaning lies close at hand, is suggested by the contrast, and is in harmony with the known circumstances of the time.—A. Plunmer, D.D.
Christian Idolatry.—The first commandment forbids us to have any god, but the one true God. The second forbids us to make any image or likeness of any created thing, for the purpose of bowing down to it and worshipping it. These two commandments may be regarded in a manner as parts of one and the same commandment. For there is hardly any way in which mankind have been drawn off from the worship of the one true God to the worship of false gods, so much as by the setting up of images, and the falling down to them, and worshipping them. (See book of Wis. 14:12, “The devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life.”) In the time of our Lord every nation, except the Jews, was sunk in idol-worship. The yoke of idolatry lay heavy upon every people, and nation, and language. After our Saviour’s teaching, one might have thought things would have gone on better, at least in His own Church. But the same causes will ever produce the same effects. Instead of the images of heathen gods, which had been overthrown, the Churches after a time were again filled with the images of apostles, evangelists, martyrs, and other holy men. These were not introduced with any design of worshipping them. Yet they came to be worshipped. We may not be falling into this error, but we may have set up idols in our hearts, and this may prove to be a worse evil than bowing down before images. It is if, instead of keeping our souls pure, as befits temples of the Holy Ghost, we profane and pollute them to vain and perishable, or, as too many do, to abominable, things. The root and essence of idolatry is the worshipping and serving God’s creatures more than God Himself. Whoever then serves any one of God’s creatures more than he serves God—whoever loves any one of God’s creatures more than he loves God—whoever makes any of God’s creatures more an object of his thoughts, and allows it to fill a greater space in his mind than God fills—that man is guilty of idolatry, in the spiritual and Christian sense of the word. When it is said, God’s creatures, it is meant, not living creatures merely, but creatures of every kind—everything which God has made for us, or enabled us to make for ourselves—all the sweet and relishing things we can enjoy in this world—pleasures, honours, riches, comforts of every kind. Therefore, if any man is foolish and wicked enough to give up his heart to any one of these creatures, and suffers himself to be drawn away from serving God by it, he is an idolater in the sight of heaven. Then if the goods of this world may all become so many idols, luring our hearts away from God, then is the land full of idols of a thousand kinds—idols for all ages, for all classes, for all tempers, for all hearts. There are idols for the worldly-minded, and idols for the generous; idols for the intemperate, and idols for the prudent; there are idols for the affectionate; and again there are idols for the selfish. Young and old have their idols; married and unmarried have their idols; rich and poor have their idols. The covetous man is an idolater (Colossians 3:5). The insatiable and greedy man is an idolater. Mammon is not the only heathen god whose worship is carried on in the hearts of men to-day. What shall we say of Belial, the fleshliest spirit that ever seduced man to sin? He is the god of lust, of riot, of uncleanness, of unruliness. Or look at Moloch, the god of hatred and every fierce passion: has he no children, no worshippers, nowadays? Men who pay him the service he is best pleased with—the service of an envious, rancorous, malicious, and festered heart. But the commonest idol of all, which has the most constant, the devoutest worshippers, which reigns indeed in every heart, unless it has been cast out by the Spirit of God, is the idol of self. It is almost impossible to get rid of him, unless we starve him out. So long as we feed him and strengthen him by gratifying his wilfulness and whim, so long will he continue in possession. Nor will even starving him out be enough of itself, unless we add frequent prayer thereto. For this is the spirit of which our Lord said, that it goeth not out, except by prayer and fasting. Mortify yourselves therefore, brethren: strive to crush every feeling within you that would lift up its head against the will of God: strive to break the neck of your own will, and to make it bend meekly and patiently under the yoke of Christ.—A. W. Hare, A.M.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
1 John 5:20. The Deity of Christ.—Two gentlemen were once disputing on the Divinity of Christ. One of them, who argued against it, said, “If it were true, it certainly could have been expressed in more clear and unequivocal terms.” “Well,” said the other, “admitting that you believed it, were you authorised to teach it, and allowed to use your own language, how would you express the doctrine to make it indubitable?” “I would say,” said he, “that Jesus is the true God.” “You are very happy, sir,” rejoined the other, “in the choice of your words; for you have happened to hit upon the very words of inspiration. The apostle John, speaking of the Son, says, ‘This is the true God, and eternal life.’ ” The Rev. Charles Buck says, “I was once arguing with a person on the same subject; and when I quoted the scripture, he was quite confounded, and said he was not previously aware that there was any such passage.”
1 John 5:21. Christian Idols.—This idea is a general and very comprehensive one: it embraces all things and everything which may be opposed to the God revealed in Christ, and to His worship in spirit and in truth. Pre-eminently, therefore, it embraces the delusive and vain idols of the Cerinthian Gnosticism, whether ancient or modern; but it includes also the idols and false mediators of superstition, to whom the confidence is transferred which is due only to God in Christ—be their name Madonna, or saints, or Pope, or priesthood, or good works, or pictures, or office, or church, or sacraments. The one Being in whom we have the “life eternal “is Christ.… And this Christ we possess through the Spirit of God, whose marks and tokens are not priestly vestments, but faith and love. In this meaning the apostle’s cry sounds forth through all the ages in the ears of all Christians, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The holiest things may become a snare, if their letter is regarded, and not their spirit. Every Christian Church has a tendency to worship its own brazen serpents. Happy are they who have a Hezekiah to call them Nehushtan (a piece of worthless brass).—Ebrard.
Modern Forms of Idolatry.—In the Russo-Greek Church solid images are not permitted, and the symbols of faith are generally worthless pictures, made to represent images as much as permissible, by having stuffs wrought in thin gold or silver stuck upon the painting. The celebrated gate in the wall of the Kremlin is famous because a picture of this sort. “The Redeemer of Smolensk,” as it is called, is suspended above the high archway of brick. With an opera-glass one can discern a representation of the typical face of Christ decked in golden garb and nimbus. Even in these degenerate days it is scarcely permitted that any one shall pass under this archway except uncovered. Jews and Mohammedans generally find some less sacred gate when they wish to enter the Kremlin—the Acropolis of Moscow. The Czar himself never passes by any other way, and never with his hat upon his head. But it is upon the outer side of the Voskreneski Gate, in the Kitai-Gorodi, or “Chinese town “of Moscow, that the most. remarkable exhibition of religious feeling may be witnessed. Before the stout wall of brickwork which separates the outgoing from the incoming way is the Iberian Chapel (Iverskaya Chasovnia), architecturally nothing but a large-sized hut of stone, on a platform raised by two steps above the roadway. From morning till night this platform is thronged, and the chapel overflows with a crowd, chiefly composed of men, pressing, all bareheaded, and all with money in their hands, toward the narrow doorway of the little sanctuary. We were some time getting into the chapel, which will hold about ten people abreast, and is lighted by the flickering glare of a score of candles. There is a step at the farther end, and the wall opposite the door is resplendent with shining metal, except where the object of this extravagant devotion looks grimy through its framework of gold. On the left side of “the Iberian Mother of God,” which is the name given to this commonplace daub, supposed to possess miraculous powers, stands a long-haired priest—now and then relieved by another long-haired priest—who, hour by hour, in the name of the tinselled and jewelled picture, and with blessings, consecrates the prayers and offerings of the faithful. Only the face of the Madonna is visible, and it is not easy to distinguish her features beneath the dust of years. But not a minute passes in which the rattle of money falling to the uses of the Russian Church is not heard, or in which lips are not pressed upon the framework, or upon the rudely wrought robes of beaten gold which conceal the picture to the neck. Surely no lower depth of superstitious degradation was ever reached in connection with Christian worship! One cannot be surprised that to a Turk a Russian seems to be an idolatrous worshipper of pictures. The refining explanation which the most enlightened fathers of the Greek Church offer concerning this exhibition is precisely of the sort, and differs only in degree, from that which might be offered for the idol-worshippers of more southern and eastern lands. The picture has no historic reputation. It was brought from Mount Athos, that pleasant wooded hill peopled with monkish drones. A sum of about £12,000 a year is collected, and from this the salary of the Metropolitan of Moscow is paid. Time was when in the ceremonies which precede Easter the Czar used to lead the donkey upon which the Patriarch of Moscow rode, carrying a sacred chalice, and a copy of the four gospels. Nowadays that ceremony is neglected, but we are given to understand that the Czar never enters Moscow without assisting the revenues of this high ecclesiastical officer by praying at the shrine of this “Iberian Mother of God.”—Fraser’s Magazine.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24