1 John 3:1. The apostle, in the last verse of the preceding chapter, having declared that every one who worketh righteousness is born of God, begins the chapter with an exclamation expressive of his high admiration of the love of God in calling them his children, although they are not acknowledged to be such by the men of the world, because carnal men have no just notion of the character of God. Behold what manner — The word ποταπην, thus rendered, signifies both how great, and what kind; of love — Love immense, condescending, and kind, compassionate, forgiving, patient, forbearing, sanctifying, comforting, enriching, exalting, and beautifying, the Father — Of universal nature, of men and angels, and of our Lord Jesus Christ; hath bestowed on us — Fallen and depraved creatures, sinful, guilty, and dying; that we should be called sons, ( τεκνα, children,) of God — Should be accounted, acknowledged, and treated by him as such; should be brought so near, and rendered so dear to him; should have free access to him, as children to a father, and be taken under his peculiar direction, protection, and care, and constituted his heirs, and joint-heirs with his only-begotten and beloved Son: and all this on the easy condition of turning to him, in repentance, faith, and new obedience. Therefore the world — The carnal and worldly part of mankind; knoweth us not — Is not acquainted with our true character, our principles and practices, our disposition and behaviour, our present privileges and future expectations; and therefore does not acknowledge us for what we really are, nor esteem and love us, but hates and persecutes us; because it knew him not — God’s eternal and only-begotten Son, through whom we have received the adoption, but accounted him a sinner, an impostor, and a blasphemer, and crucified him as such. As if he had said, Since the enmity of carnal men against the divine will, and the divine nature, is so great that Christ himself, the image of the invisible God, inhabited by the fulness of the Deity, was unknown and hated when he dwelt in the flesh, it is no wonder that we are hated also in those respects in which we resemble him. Nevertheless,
1 John 3:2. Beloved — It is a most certain and joyful truth, that now are we, who believe on God’s Son with our heart unto righteousness; the children of God — And, persevering in that faith, we shall be acknowledged as such before men and angels in the day of final accounts; a truth which draws after it a long train of glorious consequences. For the happy condition we shall be in hereafter exceeds all that we can now conceive; and it doth not yet appear — Even to ourselves, though supernaturally enlightened by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation; what we shall be — How pure and holy, intelligent and wise in our souls, how spiritual and glorious in our bodies, how exalted in dignity, how great in power, how rich in inheritance, how happy in enjoyments! But we know — In the general, on the testimony of him who cannot lie; that when he — The Son of God; shall appear, we shall be like him — In all these respects; our souls perfectly conformed to his wise and holy soul, our bodies to his immortal and glorious body, and that we shall share with him in his felicity, honour, and riches, world without end. For we shall see him as he is — Which it would be impossible we should do if we were not like him. Or rather, as perhaps the apostle chiefly means, the great privilege being granted us, of seeing him as he is, the sight of him will transform us into his likeness. “The sight of God,” [in Christ,] as Archbishop Tillotson proves at large, (see his works, vol. 3. p. 194,) “is put to express the knowledge and enjoyment of him, because of its excellence and dignity, its largeness and comprehension, its spirituality and quickness, its evidence and certainty.” The apostle alludes to Christ’s words, which he has recorded in his gospel, (John 17:24,) Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me: and therefore is speaking, not of a transient, but of an abiding sight of Christ, as is plain, because only such a view of him could be a reason for our being like him. And since we are to live with him for ever, our bodies must be fashioned like to his body, corruptible bodies not being capable, in the nature of things, of inheriting the kingdom of God. And with respect to our minds, the seeing of Christ as he is cannot be supposed effectual to make us like him, unless it be an abiding sight; which, by exciting in us an admiration of his glories, esteem for his excellences, gratitude for his goodness, love to his person, delight in his will, with all wise, holy, and happy affections, will assuredly produce that happy effect. At the day of judgment, it is probable that the wicked will have a transient sight of Christ as he is, but will not thereby be made like him, in body or mind.
1 John 3:3. And every man that hath this hope in him — An expectation of seeing Christ as he is, built on a solid foundation, namely, the foundation of being a child and heir of God; purifieth himself — By applying to, and confiding in, the purifying blood of Christ, with a penitent, believing heart; by earnestly praying for and receiving the purifying Spirit of God; by obeying the purifying word, (1 Peter 1:22,) and by exercising purifying faith in the truths and promises of the gospel, Acts 15:9 : even as he is pure — The person who is inspired with this well-grounded hope, will keep before his eyes the pure and holy character of Christ, as the mark to which he is to press, that he may be prepared to receive the prize of his high calling of God in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 3:14,) it being God’s will and pleasure that believers should be conformed to the image of his Son, in order to their having the high honour and great happiness of dwelling with him, Romans 8:29; and that they should not expect to enjoy the privilege of sitting down at the marriage-feast, unless they had previously put on the wedding-garment. Mark this, reader: and give up all hope of being admitted into heaven hereafter, without a conformity to Christ in holiness here.
1 John 3:4-5. The truth asserted in the preceding verse is so important, and the apostle knew so well that carnal men would be prone to flatter themselves that they might be admitted into heaven after they die, without being holy while they live, that he here enlarges on the important subject. Whosoever committeth sin — That is, as the apostle here means, known sin, whether by doing actions which God hath forbidden, or by omitting duties which he hath enjoined, or by uttering words which are false, profane, slanderous, malicious, passionate, or trifling and foolish; or by indulging tempers contrary to those of Christ; transgresseth also the law — The holy, just, and good law of God, and so sets his authority at naught; for sin is the transgression of the law — Which is implied in the very nature of sin. The apostle’s meaning is, That no one should think lightly of his sins, because every sin, even the least, being a violation of the law of God, if not repented of and pardoned, through faith in Christ, will most certainly be punished. And ye know that he, Christ, was manifested — That he came into the world for this very purpose; to take away — The guilt, power, and pollution of our sins — By his atoning sacrifice, and the sanctifying influences of his word and Spirit; and in him is no sin — So that he could not suffer on his own account, but to expiate our sins, and to make us like himself.
1 John 3:6. Whosoever abideth in union and fellowship with him — By loving faith; sinneth not — Doth not commit known sin, while he so abideth: whosoever sinneth — Transgresseth any known law of God; hath not seen him, neither known him — His views and knowledge of him have been so superficial that they deserve not to be mentioned, since they have not conquered his love of sin, and the prevalence of it, and brought him to a holy temper and life. Or he has not attained to, or has not retained, a spiritual, experimental acquaintance and communion with him. For, certainly, when a person sins, or transgresseth any known law of God, the loving eye of his soul is not fixed upon God; neither doth he then experimentally know him, whatever he did in time past. Macknight thinks it probable that “some of the heretical teachers, condemned by the apostle in this epistle, to make their disciples believe that their opinions were derived from Christ, boasted their having seen and conversed with him during his ministry on earth, consequently that they knew his doctrine perfectly. But the apostle assured his children that, if these teachers, who avowedly continued in sin, had ever seen or conversed with Christ, they had utterly mistaken both his character and his doctrine.”
1 John 3:7-10. Little, or beloved children, let no man deceive you — In this important matter, by vain words, however serious and plausible they may seem to be. For a being, himself immutably holy, can never dispense with the want of holiness in his intelligent creatures. The apostle’s words imply, that some pretenders to inspiration had endeavoured to deceive the brethren, by teaching what the apostle here condemns. And as it is a solemn address of the apostle to the disciples, it shows the importance of the matter which it introduces. He that uniformly doeth, or practiseth, righteousness, in all the known branches of it, is righteous, even as, or because, he, Christ, is righteous — He is righteous after Christ’s example. The apostle speaks of that practical righteousness which is consequent on justification and regeneration, when, being created anew in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 2:10,) we have both inclination and power to maintain an unblameable conduct, and all good works. He that committeth sin — That knowingly transgresses God’s law, is a child, not of God, but of the devil; for the devil sinneth — That is, hath sinned; from the beginning — Was the first sinner in the universe, and has continued to sin ever since. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested — In our flesh, lived, and died, and rose again for us; that he might destroy the works of the devil — Namely, all error, sin, and misery. And will he not perform this for, and in, all that trust in him? The word; λυση, rendered destroy, properly means to dissolve, or demolish, and implies the demolition of that horrible fabric of sin and misery which Satan, with such art, industry, and malice, hath reared in this our world. Whosoever is born of God — Is truly regenerated by divine grace, through living faith, and received into the number of God’s children; doth not — Knowingly and voluntarily; commit sin; for his seed — The incorruptible seed of the word of God, (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18,) accompanied with his Spirit, (John 3:6,) or a divine principle of living, loving, and obedient faith; remaineth in him — Implanted in his inmost soul; and he cannot sin — It would be contrary to the nature of that divine principle which is implanted in him, that he should sin; that principle having not only manifested to him the infinite evil and destructive consequences of sin, but produced in him a fixed hatred to it, and given him power over it; because he is born of God — Is inwardly and universally changed. In this — Or by this mark; the children of God are manifest, &c. — It manifestly appears, to all who have understanding to judge in spiritual matters, who are the children of God and who are not, namely, by their committing or not committing known sin. Whosoever doeth not righteousness — Does not live a holy and righteous life; is not of God — Is not one of his true children; neither he that loveth not his brother — With such a love as the apostle proceeds to describe and insist upon. Here the apostle passes from the general proposition respecting universal holiness, to a particular branch of it, namely, brotherly love.
1 John 3:11-14. For, &c. — As if he had said, I have just declared that the want of brotherly love is a proof that a man is not of God, and a little consideration may convince you of the truth of the assertion: for this is the message that ye heard of us — The apostles and ministers of Christ; from the beginning — Of our ministry among you; that we should love one another — A doctrine frequently inculcated by our Lord Jesus in person: not as Cain, (see the margin,) who was of the wicked one — Who showed he was a child of the devil, by killing his brother. And wherefore slew he him? — For any fault? No: but just the reverse; for his goodness. Because his own works were evil — In a very high degree; and his brother’s righteous — And he could not bear that his brother’s sacrifice was accepted of God while his own was rejected; a circumstance that, instead of humbling him and bringing him to repentance, as it ought to have done, only excited his envy and hatred, which at length settled into the most rancorous malice, and produced that horrible effect. Marvel not, &c. — As if he had said, Since there is a great deal of the same malignant temper remaining in the carnal part of mankind, and there are many who are, in that sense, though not by natural descent, of the seed of Cain, marvel not if the world hate you — Remembering they lie in the wicked one, and are under his influence. We know, &c. — That is, we ourselves could not love our brethren, unless we were passed from spiritual death to spiritual life — That is, unless we were born of God. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death — Namely, in spiritual death, and is obnoxious to eternal death. In other words, he is not born of God: and he that is not born of God cannot love his brother. See on chap. 1 John 4:7. Reader, observe this: all mankind, being born in sin, are in a state of spiritual death, and in the way to eternal death, till they are born again; and none are born again who do not truly love both God and his people.
1 John 3:15. He, I have just said, who loveth not his brother, abideth in death; is void of the life of God: for whosoever hateth his brother — And there is no medium between loving and hating him; is — In God’s account; a murderer — Every degree of hatred being a degree of the same temper which moved Cain to murder his brother. And no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him — But every loving believer hath. For love is the beginning of eternal life. It is the same in substance with future felicity and glory. The word ανθρωποκτονος, here rendered murderer, is by Macknight translated a manslayer, who, as he observes, differs from a murderer as manslaughter differs from murder: adding, “The hatred of one’s brother may be the occasion, by accident, of putting him to death. For he who indulgeth hatred to his brother, lays himself open to the influence of such passions as may hurry him to slay his brother. So our Lord tells us, in his explication of the precept, Thou shalt not kill, Matthew 6:21. For he mentions causeless anger and provoking speeches as violations of that command, because they are often productive of murder.”
1 John 3:16-17. Hereby perceive we the love of God — The word God is not in the original: it seems to be omitted by the apostle just as the name of Jesus is omitted by Mary, when she says to the gardener Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, &c., John 20:15; in which place there is a very emphatical language, even in silence. It declares how totally her thoughts were possessed by the blessed and glorious subject. It expresses also the superlative dignity and amiableness of the person meant; as though he, and he alone, were, or deserved to be, both known and admired by all. Because he laid down his life — Not merely for sinners, but for us in particular. From this truth believed, and salvation received by that faith, the love of Christ, and, in consequence thereof, the love of the brethren, take their rise, which may very justly be admitted as an evidence that our faith is no delusion. But whoso hath this world’s good — Worldly substance, far less valuable than life; and seeth his brother have need — (The very sight of want knocks at the door of the spectator’s heart;) and shutteth up — Restraineth, whether asked or not; his bowels of compassion — Excited, it may be, by the view of misery; how dwelleth the love of God in him? — Certainly not at all, however he may talk of it, as the next verse supposes him to do. Thus the apostle having, in the preceding verse, observed, that we know the love of Christ by his laying down his life for us, and that the consideration of his love to us should induce us “so to love him as, at his call, to lay down our lives for the brethren; here tells us, that if, so far from laying down our lives for them, we refuse them, when in need, some part of our worldly goods to support their lives, the love of God can in no sense be said to be in us.”
1 John 3:18-20. My beloved children, let us not love merely in word or in tongue — Contenting ourselves with complimental expressions of regard, or with giving our Christian brethren nothing but fair speeches; but in deed and in truth — Let our actions approve the sincerity of our professions, and, by relieving them in their necessities and straits, let us show that we sincerely love them. And hereby — εν τουτω, in this, by being compassionate, kind, and bountiful, according to our ability; we know — We have a satisfactory evidence by this real, operative love; that we are of the truth — That we have true faith, and are the genuine disciples of Christ and children of God; and shall assure our hearts before him — Shall enjoy an assurance of his favour, and the testimony of a good conscience toward God. The heart, in St. John’s language, is the conscience. The word conscience is not used in his writings. For if we have not this testimony; if in any thing our heart — Our conscience, condemn us, much more does God, who is greater than our heart — An infinitely more holy and impartial Judge; and knoweth all things — So that there is no hope of hiding it from him.
1 John 3:21-22. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not — If our conscience, duly enlightened by the word and Spirit of God, and comparing all our thoughts, words, and works with that word, pronounce that they agree therewith; then have we confidence toward God — Our consciousness of his favour continues, with liberty of access to him, and intercourse with him; and we have this further blessing, that whatsoever we ask — According to his will; we receive of him — Or shall receive in the time, measure, and manner which he knows will be most for his glory and for our good. This general declaration must be limited by the conditions which in other passages of Scripture are represented as necessary in order to our petitions being granted by God: such as, that we ask things which his word authorizes us to ask, 1 John 5:14-15; and that we ask them in faith, James 1:6; or in a full persuasion of, and reliance upon, his wisdom, power, and goodness; and with sincerity and resignation. Such prayers they who live in his fear and love, and comply with his will, as far as they know it, walking before him in holiness and righteousness, may expect will be heard and answered.
1 John 3:23-24. And this is his commandment, That we should believe, &c. — Namely, all his commandments: in one word, That we should believe and love — In the manner and degree which he hath taught. This is the greatest and most important command that ever issued from the throne of glory. If this be neglected, no other can be kept; if this be observed, all others are easy. And he that keepeth his commandments — That thus believes and loves; dwelleth, or abideth in him — In Christ Jesus, or in God the Father; and he — Christ, or the Father; in him — This seems to be an allusion to our Lord’s words, John 14:23; If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. That is, in this way we obtain fellowship with the Father, as well as with the Son; yea, the most intimate acquaintance, friendship, and communion, and are thereby made unspeakably happy; and hereby we know that he abideth in us — That we have this intimate union and communion with him; by the Spirit which he hath given us — The Spirit of adoption and regeneration, witnessing with our spirits that we are his children, and producing in us love, joy, and peace, holiness and happiness.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany