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The Apostle breaks out in the Opening of this Chapter, into a devout Strain of Admiration and Praise, in the Contemplation of the Love of God. He draws a Line of Discrimination between the Children of God, and the Children of the Devil. Some very sweet Proofs are given of the Character of God's Children.
1 John 3:1
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
Every word is a sermon. Every expression riseth with increasing glory, in this sweet verse. The mind of John appears to have been overwhelmed in the contemplation, and he knew not how to express himself, when calling into view the love of God the Father. Behold! saith he, mark the astonishing mercy, both in the love of God, as it is in itself, and the manner of it, as it is shewn to us; that we poor creatures, born in the Adam-nature of sin, should be called the sons of God! From everlasting having chosen us, and chosen us in Christ, his dear Son, given us to Jesus, predestinated us to the adoption of children to himself in Jesus, called us by his grace in Jesus, and accepted us in Jesus, and called us sons of God in Jesus! Oh! what love, yea, what manner of love is here?
And the subject is still heightened, from contemplating the discriminating nature of it; Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. There is nothing which, under grace, tends to bring home the love of God to the soul, in an overwhelming tide of special manifestation, as when that love is marked to our view in the high flood of distinguishing mercy. The election of grace, shown in our effectual calling, and that at a time when the whole world lieth in wickedness, gives it the full conviction of God's sovereignty. The world looks on. The world hears the account. The world stands in a state of consternation at what is related. But, all the while, the world is as ignorant of the children of the covenant, as they are of the Lord's design in the covenant. Oh! how striking are the words of Jesus to this effect. Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to them it is not given; Matthew 12:11 . And hence the Prophet, Ah! Lord God, they say of me, doth he not speak parables? Ezekiel 20:49 .
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
I beg to detain the Reader at this verse also, just to observe a little of the blessedness of it. Now are we the sons of God. Yes! For though carrying about with us a body of sin and death, as we do, yet, by regeneration, being quickened in our spiritual part, we are made partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust; 2 Peter 1:4 . Hence, therefore, we are now, to all intents and purposes, sons of God. But of the glory, yea, that eternal glory, to which we are begotten and called by Christ Jesus, there are no images or similitudes with which we are acquainted here below, by which we can explain it. Nay, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of men to conceive, of the nature or extent of that glory which shall be revealed. But this we know, that amidst all that want of conformity we now have to the person and image of our Lord, there will be then a likeness, for we shall see him as he is. See 2 Corinthians 3:18 .
Reader! do pause over this most precious Scripture, for it is indeed most precious. When the holiest child of God takes a view of himself, and dissects the anatomy of his own heart, what an humbling prospect is before him? And when be contemplates the life of Him, of whom it is said, he was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; what a striking dissimilarity instantly appears between the Head and the body? And when, under these humbling circumstances, the heart goeth forth sometimes, as it must go in distresses at the view, is it possible the child of God will say, as the question ariseth in the heart, that where there is so little conformity, yea, so much opposition, there ever will be a likeness and agreement? Reader! when questions of these, and the like nature, arise in the soul, I know no part of scripture more sweet and consolatory to silence fears, and strengthen faith and hope, than this very blessed verse of our God.
And, indeed, I cannot but suppose, that God the Holy Ghost, plainly, and evidently designed it for the comfort of the Lord's people, in whose soul a saving change hath been wrought by regeneration, for their constant support under such exercises. A few plain observations on this point will set the matter abundantly clear.
And, first. When Christ betrothed the Church to himself, he saw her in all that loveliness and beauty in which his Father presented her to him. For, as the King's daughter, she was, (in the mind of Jehovah) all glorious within. And she is said to have been brought to the King in raiment of needle work; Psalms 45:13-14 .
Secondly., When in the after-state in which Jesus saw her in the Adam-nature of her fall, as a loving Husband, Jesus could not but love her the same, and, indeed, he came purposely to raise her up. For it is both his delight and his glory, to sanctify and cleanse her with his blood, that he might present her to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but to be holy, and without blemish; Ephesians 5:26-27 .
Thirdly. Jesus knows and considers, in the mean time all that loathsomeness, by reason of sin, in which she is during the present time-state of her being. He hath redeemed her from the everlasting evil of it by his blood. And, in testimony of it, he hath renewed her spiritual part by his Holy Spirit. And by his own resurrection from the dead, he hath given her an earnest, and pledge, that as he arose, so shall she arise at the last day. For he will change her vile body, that it shall be like to his glorious body. But, during the present state, she shall learn, by the daily workings of sin, in a corrupt and fallen nature, how great the departure of her Adam-state hath been, and how great his love is in redeeming her out of it. By both which, the grave shall become welcome, and Christ shall be exalted in her view, and more and more endeared every day of her life to her heart.
Fourthly. Jesus watches over his Church for good, and keeps. He knows the hour is coming when he will take her home, and neither sin, nor sorrow, nor the leprosy of sin, or uncleanness, shall beset her anymore forever.
Reader! what think you of the love of God the Holy Ghost, in giving this sweet verse to the Church? First, to tell the Church, and every individual of the Church, that amidst all that passeth, in the daily course of their warfare, to distress the soul, from the in-workings and out-breakings of the body of sin, still the adoption character and sonship is not lost? Beloved! now are we the sons of God! And secondly, notwithstanding the great unlikeness there is, too often at present, by reason of this sinful body of ours, between Christ our holy Head, and we his unholy members; yet the time is hastening when this unholiness of ours, will all be done away. For we know that when he shall appear, , we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. These bodies of ours, which at death, are sown in dishonor, will he raised in glory. I shall behold thy face in righteousness, (said one of old, and every regenerated child of God may say the same,) I shall be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness! Psalms 17:15 .
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
The purity here spoken of must be wholly derived. No man can purify himself. Much less make himself pure, as Christ is pure. But the sense is, that being by regeneration quickened into a new and spiritual life, the child of God that hath this hope in him, beholds himself pure, as Christ is pure in Christ's purity. He considers himself accepted before God in the Beloved. And he pleads on this well-grounded and assured hope, for a complete justification before God, and a complete sanctification of himself in Christ on this footing. Being justified, (saith the Apostle,) freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; Romans 3:24 .
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (5) And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (6) Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. (7) Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (8) He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (9) Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. (10) In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (11) For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (12) Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.
I include the whole of these verses under one reading, because the whole subject is but one and the same; though several and various observations arise out of it. I will beg the Reader's attention to them in order. And first of sin. Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law. As well as I recollect, this is the fullest account we have of sin, in all the Bible. And yet, all we gather from hence concerning it, is, that sin is the transgression of the law; and that transgression is of the devil. It is defined so far, as to understand the malignity of its nature, and the malignity of its origin. Both bad enough you will say, and very dreadful to consider. But neither of these make discoveries what sin itself is. That it is an infinite evil, because committed against an infinite Being; and, because nothing less than an infinite sacrifice, could do away its baleful effects. Here is bounded our knowledge of it. Unless, indeed, we add to it this further discovery, that, in all creatures, its nature is the same. Where sin is found, whether in men or Angels, the damned in hell, or bad men upon earth, sin is sin wherever it is, And this latter view serves to set forth and magnify the distinguishing riches of grace, wheresoever the Lord recovers his people from the evil of it, and blessedly proves that sweet scripture, that as sin hath reigned unto death, so it is grace alone that reigneth through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord; Romans 5:21 .
Secondly. Though we cannot any further define sin, yet, as the source and origin of it is traced to the devil, it is our mercy to discover from scripture, as here set forth, that the productions of sin, on the different characters in whom it appears, though all brought about by the agency of the devil, is nevertheless induced very differently, in the different characters of the children of the devil, and the children of God. In God's children, he acts upon them by temptation. In his own children, by the natural tendency of their heart. God's children may, and God's children will, by the devil's artifice and seduction, fall into sin; but the children of the devil follow sin by the natural bias of their nature. In the one, they are wrought upon by bondage, fears and servitude, for whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin, Jesus saith; John 8:34 . God's children are the devil's servants and drudges, and wear his livery, and delight in his work, while in a state of unrenewed nature; but they are not his sons, neither is there any relationship between them. Whereas in the other, there is an affinity between the serpent and his seed; so that their actions cannot but correspond. Hence, Christ said to the Pharisees; Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do; John 8:44 .
This different feature of character forms an eternal line of distinction between the two; and is, as this scripture states, a decided manifestation between the children of God, and the children of the devil.
Thirdly. But there is another, and, if possible, yet more clear mark of discrimination, to form the different seeds. For, as they are acted upon differently, so their very nature from the first, is different. The seed of Christ are said by Christ to be the children of the kingdom. The seed of the Serpent, by Him also declared to be the children of the wicked one. Our Lord himself hath beautifully explained this, in his parable of the Good Seed and the Tares, see Matthew 13:36-40 . And although the both are born in the Adam-nature of sin, and involved alike in the ruin of it, yet, by virtue of this relationship to the two distinct heads, the one is brought out of the death of sin, by the quickening and regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit; while the other remains unquickened, and forever dead in trespasses and sins; Ephesians 2:1 .
Fourthly. Though the scripture hath not explained, perhaps while in the instance of all others, the deadly seed of the serpent, in every generation to the same nature, brings forth the spawn of sin; yet the fact itself, that it is so, is all that we are interested to prove, and know. And God's promises to his people most fully confirm and establish the truth of the one, and, both his word and the nature of them, determine the other. To the one, the Lord saith, I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring; Isaiah 44:3 ; see also Isaiah 59:21 . To the other, we hear Christ speaking, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell; Matthew 23:33 .
Fifthly. The everlasting war, which hath been through all time, And must be through all eternity kept up, between the children of the kingdom, and the children of the wicked one, draws a yet further line of discrimination. For the enmity is on this sole account, according to God's sentence at the fall, which he then pronounced on the serpent, and his venomous brood; I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and her seed; Genesis 3:15 . By which seed of Christ is meant all the children given to him, before the foundation of the world, and all as seed, included in the Covenant of Grace. And by the seed of the serpent is meant, all the race of ungodly men, of whom Cain as one, is given as an example in this scripture. He is expressly said to be of that wicked one, That the seed of' the serpent means men, is evident from another consideration, namely, that Angels do not beget Angels. We nowhere read of the propagation of spirits by spirits. And we know that the whole crew of the rebellious Angels, namely, the devil and his angels which are now in hell, were once in heaven; Revelation 12:9 ; Jude 1:6 . So that by the children of the devil are meant men, and not Angels or spirits!
Lastly, to add no more. What is here said of the seed of Christ, and their inability to commit sin, is wholly in reference to their spiritual nature. For thus the words express it. Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, The new-birth, Or the being born of God, which is the same thing, is wholly spiritual. For the body of flesh remains the same in the Adam-nature of a fallen state. And as it is corrupt and sinful, se its daily tendencies are to corruption. At the last day it will arise a glorified body; and though sown in dishonor at death, it will be raised in glory at the resurrection. Whereas the spiritual part of every child of God, when new born in God from the Adam-nature, induced by the fall, being dead in trespasses and sins, is quickened to a new and spiritual life. And, as this scripture blessedly saith, it cannot sin, because it is born of God, and his seed remaineth in him. It is born not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, which liveth and abideth forever; 1 Peter 1:23 .
It hath all things given to it according to his divine power, which pertain to life and godliness. And it is made a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust; 2 Peter 1:3-4 .
Reader! after those many observations, I must not trespass any longer than just to say, seeing God the Holy Ghost hath here laid the foundation, so deep and so sure in the privileges of God's children; let every child of God see to it, that they never lose sight of God's mercies, and their interest in him. The seed of Christ, chosen in Christ, preserved in Christ, made holy in Christ, accepted in Christ are begotten to all blessedness. Well might the Apostle, under the impression, cry out! Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called sons of God.
Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. (14) We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (15) Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (16) Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (17) But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (18) My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (19) And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. (20) For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. (21) Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. (22) And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. (23) And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (24) And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
The exhortation of the Apostle, to feel no astonishment at the hatred of the world, follows very suitedly, after what he had been before observing, on the distinguishing love of God Christ. If the hatred of the world be solely on account of our attachment to Christ, so far from becoming a subject of marvel, it ought to be a subject of great joy. Jesus saith, Behold I, and the children whom the Lord hath given me, are for signs and for wonders in Israel! Isaiah 8:18 . As Christ himself was despised, so are his people. And it is blessed to observe, that as the Person of Christ was despised, so were all his offices; Isaiah 53:2 . His preaching; John 7:12 . His miracles; Matthew 12:24 . His conduct; Matthew 11:19 . And his followers, as the off-scouring of the earth; Joh 7:48 ; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 .
I have often thought, that to a child of God under temptations and fears, and doubts and misgivings, this testimony of the new-birth, in the love of the brethren when higher ones are for a time wanting, becomes very refreshing. There may be with some precious souls, seasons, when former views of Christ's Person, and suitableness, and fulness, and all sufficiency, are not so bright and shining as heretofore. But there are no seasons, in the life of a regenerated believer its Christ, when the love of the brethren, as brethren in Christ Jesus is done away. Try a child of God in the darkest hours, and this remains. And if I love a child of God, because he is a child of God, I must certainly love him, on whose account feel that love. So that it is a sweet testimony, in the absence of higher tokens, of our love to the Lord Jesus, when we love the brethren for Jesus's sake.
But when we have carried our love to the brethren of the Lord Jesus's, on his account, to the highest possible pitch of affection, how infinitely short the whole falls, compared to what the Apostle, in the following verse, speaks of Christ's love to his people. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. The name of God is not in the original; but it is very properly supplied. And that it is Christ who is meant by the name is evident, because it was neither the Person of the Father, nor the Holy Ghost; but God the Son who laid down his life for his people. And it is a sweet scripture on another account, for it is proposed the highest testimony of his love. It is similar to a verse in the next chapter; 1 John 4:10 . Herein is love. As if this demonstration of love outweighed every other. It was love unparalleled, both in greatness and condescension, for Christ the Son of God to take upon him our nature, and for God to give us to Christ, and Christ to us; to bless us in all the departments of nature, and of providence, and of grace, and of eternal glory. But all these lessen to the view, when we rise to this highest, and best of all demonstrations of love, Jesus laying down his life for us; and offering himself an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savor; Ephesians 5:2 . How our love to the brethren, with all the warmth of affection, sinks in our esteem, when we contemplate this love of Christ, which passeth knowledge! And in those cases, where men profess both a love to Christ and his people, who possess from the bounties of a gracious God, much of the good things of this life as they are called; (because when rightly used, they minister to good in the Lord's glory,) but yet distribute them not to the necessities of the saints; how is it possible to interpret such a profession, by actions so totally dissimilar? Reader! depend upon it, if such men have real faith, with such unsuitable practice, it is a very weak faith at the best. He can never be said to trust God with his soul, who is over anxious in providing for the body. And very sure I am, that he is really lean in spiritual things, who is fattening on temporal things.
I will detain the Reader no longer in this Chapter, than just to observe, that when the Apostle saith, concerning the condemnation of a man's own heart, that if self accusation becomes painful, the consciousness of the greatness of God, and his knowledge of our heart, may excite yet more alarming apprehensions. This is the sense in which the passage may be taken. But there is another sense, and which, if well-founded, ministers to the reverse, and in a way of comfort. If our hearts condemn us, what a blessed relief to a soul under heart reproaches, to look off self to Christ. There is more in Christ to uphold, more to bless, more to justify, than all the sin of the Lord's people to condemn. And, when a child of God is born again, (and it is to such John is writing,) this life in Christ sin cannot destroy, neither can death or Satan reach it. Your life is hid with Christ in God; Colossians 3:3 . And when the Apostle adds, Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not; that is, he doth not mean a cold, insensible, unfeeling heart, (for he is all along writing to the regenerate,) but it is that heart, which, while laying low in the dust before God, beholds more in Christ to save, than sin unpardoned to condemn; then (saith he) have we confidence towards God. Here again, he doth not mean that it is our strength of faith which gives this confidence, but the full and finished salvation of Christ, which gives strength to our faith. Reader! you and I shall do well, (if so be the Lord hath wrought a work of grace upon our hearts,) to apprehend rightly, that our foundation for holy triumphs, doth not rest upon our faith, or the exercise of faith, or any other of the graces and gifts of God the Holy Ghost. Not in these; or any of them, or all of them put together, but the sure resting place of the redeemed soul is in the compleatness of Christ's finished salvation, and God the Father's perfect approbation, and acceptance of the Church in it. This is what the Holy Ghost so blessedly said, by the Apostle, and what every child of God; taught of the Lord, knows to be true, If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself; 2 Timothy 2:13 .
Who can contemplate the love of God, as set forth in this Chapter, in adopting sinners into his family, and calling them sons of God, without being overwhelmed in the view. To behold some of the Lord's family, indigent and poor in all the worldly accommodations of this life; and yet by regeneration, to know them kings and priests to God and the Father? They are indeed unnoticed, unregarded, yea, often despised by the great ones of the earth; and yet, considered in Christ it may be said of them; of whom the world is not worthy! And though overlooked and disowned now, what will be the consternation of the ungodly at that great day, when they shall behold them in the likeness of Him, in whose image they will arise.
My soul, I charge it upon thee, to mark well the characters so accurately drawn in this scripture, between the children of God, and the children of the devil. Oh! how gracious hath God the Holy Ghost shewn himself, in those striking discriminations of character, that God's little children may not be deceived. Blessed and eternal Spirit! grant to me thy gracious teachings. So shall learn the precious tokens of Jesus's love, in laying down his life for his people! Give me grace in the view of it, for his sake to be always alive to testify my love to the brethren. Lord keep my poor soul from the errors of the present day, in high professions mixed with low apprehensions of Jesus. Dearest Lord Jesus! cause me to dwell, by faith, in thee; whilst thou art everlastingly abiding in my heart. And let my daily testimony, that I am thine, be always uppermost in my heart, by the sweet teachings of thy Spirit, which thou hast given me.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 John 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12