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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4094. A.D. 90.

The apostle,

(1,) Discourses on the character of those who truly believe in Jesus as the Christ, describing them as born of God, as loving him, their heavenly Father, and all his children, and as overcoming the world, 1 John 5:1-5 .

(2,) Speaks of the offices of Christ, exhibited emblematically by water and blood, and of the witnesses in heaven and earth, that bear testimony to him and his salvation, 1 John 5:6-9 .

(3,) Bears witness to the happiness of believers in having eternal life in Christ, and their prayers of faith heard, for his sake, 1 John 5:10-17 .

(4,) He adds a reflection on the happy difference which regeneration and the knowledge of God in Christ had made between them and the ignorant and wicked world, and directs them to guard carefully against all idolatry, 1 John 5:18-21 .

Verses 1-4

1 John 5:1-4. Whosoever, &c. The apostle having discoursed in the preceding chapters, on the privileges of the children of God, now adds a further illustration of the great essential parts of their character, in order that those to whom he wrote might be enabled to form a more accurate judgment of their own concern in the matters spoken of. And the scope and sum of the whole first paragraph appears from the conclusion of it, 1 John 5:13. These things have I written to you who believe, &c. Whosoever believeth Namely, with a living faith, a faith of the divine operation; that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ The true Messiah, the Son of God, so as to be ready to confess this, even when the confession of it might expose him to imprisonment and martyrdom; is born of God Is a child of God, not only by adoption, but by regeneration; he is renewed, in a measure at least, after the divine image, and made a partaker of the divine nature. See on John 3:6. And every one that loveth him that begat That is, God, who begat him again by the influence of his word and Spirit, 1 Peter 1:23; Titus 3:5; loveth him also that is begotten of him Hath a natural affection to all the children of his heavenly Father, whom he views as his brethren and sisters in Christ, and as joint heirs with him of the heavenly inheritance. By this we know This is a plain proof; that we love the children of God Namely, as his children, in that we love God, and keep his commandments In the first place, and then love his children for his sake. “Grotius, to render the apostle’s reasoning clear, thinks the original should be construed and translated in the following manner: By this we know that we love God, when we love the children of God, and keep his commandments. But not to mention that this construction is forced, it represents the apostle as giving a mark by which we know when we love God; whereas his intention is to show how we may know that we love the children of God in a right manner. Now this was necessary to be showed, since men may love the children of God because they are their relations, or because they are engaged in the same pursuits with themselves, or because they are mutually united by some common bond of friendship. But love, proceeding from these considerations, is not the love of the children of God which he requireth. By what mark, then, can we know that our love to the children of God is of the right sort? Why, saith the apostle, by this we may know that we love the children of God in a right manner, when we love God, and, from that excellent principle, keep his commandments, especially his commandment to love his children, because they bear his image. True Christian love, therefore, is that which proceeds from love to God, from a regard to his will, and which leadeth us to obey all his commandments?” Macknight. For this is the love of God The only sure proof of it; that we keep his commandments That we conscientiously and carefully shun whatever we know he hath forbidden, and that we do whatever he has enjoined; and his commandments are not grievous To any that are born of God; for, as they are all most equitable, reasonable, and gracious in themselves, and all calculated to promote our happiness in time and in eternity, so fervent love to him whose commandments they are, and to his children, whom we desire to edify by a holy example, will make them pleasant and delightful to us. For Whereas the great obstruction to the keeping of God’s commandments is the influence of worldly motives and considerations on men’s minds; whatsoever An expression which implies the most unlimited universality, (the word used by the apostle being παν , the neuter gender, to comprehend all sorts of persons, males and females, old and young, Jews and Gentiles, freemen and slaves,) is born of God, overcometh the world Conquers whatever it can lay in the way, either to allure or fright the children of God from the line of duty to God, their fellow-creatures, or themselves, or from keeping his commandments. And this is the victory that overcometh the world The grand means of overcoming it; even our faith The faith which is the evidence of things not seen, and the subsistence, or anticipation, of things hoped for; a full persuasion especially, 1st, That Christ is the Son of God, (1 John 5:5,) and consequently that all his doctrines, precepts, promises, and threatenings, are indisputably true, and infinitely important; 2d, That there is another life after this awaiting us, wherein we shall be either happy or miserable beyond conception, and for ever; 3d, That Christ has overcome the world for us, (John 16:33,) and hath obtained grace for us to enable us to overcome it; and that we have an interest by faith in all he hath done, suffered, or procured for us. “The power of faith, in enabling men to overcome the temptations laid in their way by the things of the world, and by worldly and carnal men, is finely illustrated by examples. (Hebrews 11:0.,) which show that before the coming of Christ the children of God, by believing the things which he discovered to them, whether by the light of natural reason or by particular revelations, resisted the greatest temptations, sustained the bitterest sufferings, and performed the most difficult acts of obedience, and thereby obtained a great and lasting fame. But now that Christ hath come, and made the gospel revelation in person and by his apostles, the faith of the children of God, by which they overcome the world, hath for its object all the doctrines and promises contained in that revelation, and particularly the great doctrine which is the foundation of all the rest, namely, that Jesus is the Son of God, and Saviour of the world, as the apostle observes in the following verse.”

Verse 5

1 John 5:5. Who is he that overcometh the world That is superior to all earthly care, desire, fear? Who is the man, and where is he to be found? Surely none have gained, or will gain, this important victory, but they who believe that Jesus is the Son of God “The great principles,” says Doddridge, “peculiar to our divine religion, a sense of redeeming love, and the prospect of such a sublime and perpetual happiness as the gospel opens upon us, can alone be sufficient to teach us to triumph over these transitory vanities, and to establish a uniform character, superior to the variety of temptations with which we may be assaulted: while the boasted triumphs of others, upon meaner principles, have been very partial and imperfect, and they have evidently been seduced by one vanity, while they have gloried in despising another.” “That the Jews,” says Macknight, “universally believed their Messiah, or Christ, was to be the Son of God, appears from many passages of the New Testament, especially from the following: Peter answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Matthew 16:16. Devils also came out of many, crying out, Thou art Christ, the Son of God, Luke 4:41. These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John 20:31. And that the Jews universally believed the Son of God to be God, appears from the following passages: Jesus answered, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God, John 5:17-18. The Jews answered, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy, because thou, being a man, makest thyself God, John 10:33. The high-priest said, I adjure thee, &c., that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith to him, Thou hast said. Then the high-priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy: what think ye? they answered, He is guilty of death, Matthew 26:63. “The high-priest and council, composed of men of the highest learning and rank among the Jews, equally with the common people, believed that the Messiah was to be the Son of God, and that the Son of God is himself God, otherwise they could not have reckoned Jesus a blasphemer for calling himself Christ, the Son of God. From these indisputable facts it is evident that the modern Socinians contradict the gospel history in two of its essential articles, when they affirm that the first Jewish Christians, before their conversion, had no idea that their Messiah was to come down from heaven, having never been taught to expect any other than a man like themselves. Next, since John hath so frequently declared, and, in what followeth the verse under consideration, hath proved that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, the same Socinians must be mistaken when they affirm, that in this epistle John is silent concerning the divinity of Christ, and hath not in any part of it censured those who deny it.”

Verse 6

1 John 5:6. This is he that came by water and blood Here the apostle evidently alludes to the testimony borne by him in his gospel, that when the soldier pierced Christ’s side, forthwith there came out blood and water; a fact which the apostle represents as of great importance; adding, He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. It was important, not only, 1st, As being a full proof, in opposition to the doctrine of the Docetæ, that Christ came in the flesh, and really died; of which see on John 19:34: but, 2d, Because it was emblematical of the offices which he sustained, and of the salvation he hath procured for his people. For the water was a symbol of the purity of his doctrine, instructing men in the purest morals, and of his own pure and holy example; and, what is of still greater importance, of the purifying grace of which he is the fountain, sanctifying and cleansing such as believe in him, from all filthiness of flesh and spirit: while the blood which issued from him was an emblem both of the sufferings which awaited his followers, who were to seal the truth with their blood, and of his own sufferings, whereby he hath made atonement for the sins of the world, and procured for his followers a free and full justification. Thus, as an eminent divine observes, he also manifested himself to be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, by fulfilling those types and ceremonies of the law which were performed by water and blood: the former whereof, denoting purification from sin, he fulfilled by cleansing us by his Spirit, (signified by water, John 7:38-39,) from the corruption of nature, and the power and pollution of sin, and so restoring the image of God in us, Ezekiel 36:25; Ezekiel 36:27; Ephesians 5:25-26; Titus 2:14; Titus 3:5. The latter, which prefigured the expiation of our sin, he fulfilled by shedding his blood to atone for our sins, and to procure for us deliverance from the guilt and punishment of them, (Romans 5:9; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 1:7,) and to restore us to the favour of God again. Not by water only Not only was his doctrine pure, and his life holy, and not only may purifying grace be derived from him, but he came by blood, shed for the expiation of our guilt, for these things must go together; because it will not avail us to be enabled to avoid sin, and to live in a holy manner for the time to come, except the sins of the time past be expiated. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness To these things, namely, in the writings of the ancient prophets, who have spoken largely concerning both, and in the discourses and writings of the apostles, who have borne a still more clear and full testimony to them; and also in the hearts of all the faithful, who, as they are fully convinced of their need of both pardon and holiness, so through the merits and Spirit of Christ they receive both.

Verse 7

1 John 5:7. For there are three, &c. It is well known that the authenticity of this verse has been a subject of much controversy. “The arguments, on both sides of the question, taken from ancient Greek MSS. and versions, and from quotations made by the fathers, and from printed editions, have been stated with the greatest fidelity and accuracy by Mill in his long note at the end of John’s first epistle, where he observes that this verse is wanting in all the ancient Greek MSS. of the New Testament which have come down to us, except a few, which shall be mentioned immediately. It is wanting likewise in the first Syriac, and other ancient versions, particularly the Coptic, Arabic, and Ethiopic, and in many of the present Latin MSS. With respect to quotations from the fathers, Mill acknowledges that few of the Greek writers, who lived before the council of Nice, have cited this verse. The same he observes concerning those who, after that council, wrote in defence of the Trinity against the Arians, and other heretics; which, he thinks, shows that this verse was not in their copies.” But, on the other hand, the proofs of the authenticity of this verse are,” 1st, Some of the most ancient and most correct Vatican Greek copies, from which the Spanish divines formed the Complutensian edition of the Greek Testament, and with which they were furnished by Pope Leo X.,” one of which Mill speaks of as peculiarly eminent, of great antiquity, and approved fidelity. “2d, A Greek copy, called by Erasmus, Codex Britannicus, on the authority of which he inserted this verse in his edition anno, 1522, but which he had omitted in his two former editions. This is supposed to be a MS. at present in the Trinity College library, Dublin, in which this, verse is found with the omission of the word αγισν , holy, before πνευμα , Spirit. It likewise wants the last clause of 1 John 5:8, namely, and these three are one. All Stephens’s MSS., being seven in number, which contain the catholic epistles, have this verse: only they want the words εν ουρανω , in heaven. 4th, The Vulgate version, in most of the MS. copies and printed editions of which it is found, with some variations. 5th, The testimony of Tertullian, who alludes to this verse, Praxeam, c. 25, and who lived in an age in which he saith, Præscript, c. 30, the authenticæ literæ (the authentic writings) of the apostles were read in the churches. By authenticæ literæ Mill understands, either the autographs of the apostles, which the churches, to whom they were written, had carefully preserved, or correct transcripts taken from these autographs. Also the testimony of Cyprian, who flourished about the middle of the third century, and who, in his epistle to Jubajanus, expressly cites the latter clause of this verse. The objections which have been raised against the testimonies of Tertullian and Cyprian, Mill hath mentioned and answered in his long note at the end of 1 John 5:0., which see in page 582 of Kuster’s edition. 6th, The testimony of many Greek and Latin fathers in subsequent ages, who have cited the last clause of this verse; and some who have appealed to the Arians themselves as acknowledging its authenticity. Lastly, the Complutensian edition, anno 1515, had this seventh verse exactly as it is in the present printed copies, with this difference only, that instead of these three are one, it hath substituted the last clause of 1 John 5:8, And these three agree in one, and hath omitted it in that verse. These arguments appear to Mill of such weight, that, after balancing them against the opposite arguments, he gave it as his decided opinion that, in whatever manner this verse disappeared, it was undoubtedly in St. John’s autograph, and in some of the copies which were transcribed from it.”

“Instead of passing any judgment in a matter so much contested,” says Macknight, “I shall only observe, 1st, That this verse, instead of disturbing the sense of the verses with which it is joined, rather renders it more connected and complete. 2d, That in 1 John 5:9, the witness of God is supposed to have been before appealed to: If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. And yet, if 1Jn 5:7 is excluded, the witness of God is nowhere mentioned by the apostle. 3d, That in the opinion of Beza, Calvin, and other orthodox commentators, the last clause of 1Jn 5:7 hath no relation to the unity of the divine essence. If so, the Trinitarians, on the one hand, need not contend for the authenticity of this verse, in the view of supporting their doctrine, nor the Arians, on the other, strive to have it excluded from the text as opposing their tenets. 4th, That the doctrine which the Trinitarians affirm to be asserted in this verse is contained in other places of Scripture. So Wall saith. Dr. Benson likewise, in his Dissertation, written to prove this verse not genuine, saith, ‘If it were genuine, there could nothing be proved thereby but what may be proved from other texts of Scripture.’” The reader who wishes for more satisfactory information respecting the authenticity of the text, may find it in Dr. Calamy’s Vindication of it, annexed to his Sermons on the Trinity, preached at the lecture at Salter’s Hall, and published in 1722.

There are three that bear witness, &c. When there is a cause depending in any court, and proof is to be given in order to the decision of it, witnesses are produced, and if they are credible, and liable to no just objection, the cause is determined according to the evidence they give, unless they, to whom it belongs to determine the matter, are partial or biased. Now St. John, aiming at the establishment of those in the truth to whom he wrote this his first epistle, represents the cause depending before them as very weighty; a cause of such consequence, that it highly concerned them to weigh all matters well before they came to a determination. It was really no less a matter than whether Christianity was true or a forgery: and he intimates to them that they had very good evidence to assist them in determining. There were two sets of witnesses, the one above, the other below; and both of them unexceptionable. The one was of persons, and the other of things, which, by a figure, are represented as witnesses. The persons witnessing were, of all others in the universe, the most worthy of credit and regard, being all truly and properly divine persons, even the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost Persons with whom none that had the least knowledge of Christianity could be unacquainted. For these are the very persons in whose name they had been baptized, and to whom they had been most solemnly dedicated. There is only this difference to be observed, that the second witness mentioned has another name given him. In the form of baptism he is called the Son, but here the Word; a name or title which St. John seems to have taken a peculiar pleasure in giving to the Lord Jesus, for he begins his gospel with it, John 1:1, repeats it again in 1Jn 5:14 of the same chapter, and in entering upon this epistle, represents it as the great subject about which he was going to write; and mentions it again in the Apocalypse, Revelation 19:13. And as for the third witness, the Holy Ghost, he would not have been mentioned separate from the other two if he were not distinct from both. For the apostle does not speak of three names as bearing record, but three distinct persons, acting different ways and in different capacities. It is also hereby intimated that the evidence given is very full and convincing, no one of the witnesses being liable to any just objection: so that Christianity, the truth of which is so well attested, must necessarily have a firm foundation. Observe, reader, the witnesses brought forth and appealed to on this occasion, are the same that our Lord himself had mentioned as attesting his divine mission and Messiahship in the days of his flesh, as John 5:37, where he speaks of the Father that sent him as bearing witness of him; and John 8:18, where he says that he bore witness of himself; and John 15:26, where he mentions the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, as testifying of him. Accordingly we learn from the gospel history, 1st, That the Father bore witness to Jesus with an audible voice three sundry times; first, when he was baptized, Matthew 3:16-17; a second time when he was transfigured, Matthew 17:5; and a third time after he had raised Lazarus from the dead, when many flocked out of Jerusalem to meet and applaud him, John 12:28; and the two former of those times, the testimony borne is the same with that here mentioned by St. John, 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:5, namely, that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, and therefore the true Messiah and Saviour of the world. 2d, The Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus himself, several times bore the same testimony; as, for instance, to the woman of Samaria, John 4:26; to the Jews, John 8:24; John 8:58; John 10:30; John 10:36; and especially when adjured by the high-priest, in the name of the living God, to tell them whether he was the Christ, the Son of God, Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61. And he, in effect, bore the same testimony when he showed himself to dying Stephen, as standing at the right hand of God in all the splendour of the divine glory, when he appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus, surrounded with a light above the brightness of the sun, and when he manifested himself to John in the isle of Patmos, to give him the wonderful visions contained in the Apocalypse. And, 3d, The Holy Ghost in many ways bore the same testimony, as by his descending on Jesus immediately after his baptism, and in a glorious manner remaining on him, John 1:32-33, and working miracles by the disciples sent out during his life: by coming down on the apostles in fiery tongues ten days after our Lord’s ascension, thereby publicly declaring to all present, and to all to whom a well-attested account of that fact should come, that he really was the Son of God, exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high; a truth which these same apostles boldly testified from that day forward in Judea, and all the world over. Thus we see what the apostle means when he says, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost witnessed in heaven. Or, as the words may be rendered, there are three in heaven that bear, or that bore witness, (for μαρτυρουντες is a participle of the imperfect as well as of the present tense,) distinguished from the other three witnesses mentioned in the next verse, that are on earth. The meaning is, not that they bear, or bore, witness to the angels and blessed spirits that are in heaven, but only that they speak from heaven, while the others speak on earth. They witness while they are in heaven, notwithstanding that they are so much above us, and so far distant from us: and therefore the testimony they bear is to be the more regarded, and we shall be the more inexcusable if we do not acquiesce in it, and improve by it.

And these three are one The word is not εις , one person, but εν , one thing, expressing evidently the unity of the three, and that not only as to their testimony, but also and especially with respect to their nature; it being evident, from a variety of other texts, that each of the three is truly and properly God, as has been abundantly proved in the course of these notes. If unity of testimony had only been intended, it is probable the expression would have been as in the close of the next verse, where the three witnesses on earth are spoken of, these three εις το εν εισιν , agree in one.

Verse 8

1 John 5:8. And there are three that bear witness on earth To the same important doctrine concerning Christ, the Son of God, and salvation through him; the Spirit, the water, and the blood The Spirit here, distinguished from the Holy Ghost in the preceding verse, seems to mean, 1st, That influence of the Spirit, which, in a peculiar manner, attended the preaching of the gospel by the apostles and first ministers of the Word, in that early age of Christianity: together with the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which remained with the church for a considerable time. 2d, The inspired writers of the apostles and the evangelists, bearing witness to the doctrine of Christ, when they were deceased; including the predictions uttered by holy men of old, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, concerning the coming and character of the Messiah, which had been punctually fulfilled in him; and including also the predictions uttered by Christ concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, and the calamities coming on the Jewish nation, with divers other predictions, particularly those concerning the coming of false Christs and false prophets, which were already in part accomplished when St. John wrote this epistle and the rest, he knew, soon would be accomplished. Certainly, the inspired Scriptures, including the predictions of the prophets, and of Christ and his apostles, sealed by their accomplishment, are one grand proof on earth of the truth of Christianity, and of the doctrine of salvation contained therein. And the water Of baptism, emblematical of the washing of regeneration, and of that purity of life consequent thereon, to which we are obliged, and which we in effect promise when we devote ourselves to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in that ordinance: and which, when evidenced in our conduct, is a convincing proof of the truth of Christianity, and of our title to that eternal life which is revealed in it. And the blood The Lord’s supper, appointed as a memorial of, and testimony to, the sacrifice of the death of Christ, till his second coming; and which exhibits the atoning blood of Christ, from age to age, as the procuring cause of the pardon of sin, and all the spiritual blessings consequent thereon, bestowed on true believers. It may be proper to observe here, that there is also another respect in which these two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper may be considered as evidences of the truth of Christianity. It is certain that such ordinances are in use among Christians: now, how came this to be the case? When, and how were they introduced? What was their origin? The gospels inform us. If we admit the account they give, we must of necessity admit the truth of Christianity, with which that account is closely connected. If any do not admit that account, let them give another: but this they cannot do. That account therefore is just; and, of consequence, Christianity is not a forgery, but a divine institution. As the blood here implies the testimony which Christ bore to the truth of the gospel, especially of that most essential article of it, his being the Son of God, so it may also represent that testimony which is borne to the truth by the sufferings of those who, in different ages and nations, have sealed it with their blood; which is a strong proof of the conviction they had of its truth and importance, and of the virtue and excellence of that religion which enabled them so to do. And these three agree in one In bearing one and the same testimony, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the only Saviour of sinners; in and through whom alone the guilty, depraved, weak, and miserable children of men can obtain spiritual and eternal life; the testimony specified 1 John 5:11-12.

Bengelius thinks there has been a transposition of these two verses, and that this latter, concerning the three that bear witness on earth, was placed by St. John before that which respects the witnesses in heaven; and that it must appear to every reasonable man how absolutely necessary the contested verse is. “St. John,” says he, “could not think of the testimony of the Spirit, and water, and blood, and subjoin, the testimony of God is greater, without thinking also of the testimony of the Son and Holy Ghost; yea, and mentioning it in so solemn an enumeration. Nor can any possible reason be devised why, without three testifying in heaven, he should enumerate three, and no more, who testify on earth. The testimony of all is given on earth, and not in heaven; but they who testify are part on earth, part in heaven. The witnesses who are on earth, testify chiefly concerning his abode on earth, though not excluding his state of exaltation. the witnesses who are in heaven testify chiefly concerning his glory at God’s right hand, though not excluding his state of humiliation. The former, therefore, concerning the witnesses on earth, with the 6th verse, contains a recapitulation of the whole economy of Christ, from his baptism to pentecost: that concerning the witnesses in heaven, contains the sum of the divine economy, from the time of his exaltation. Hence it further appears, that the position of the two verses, which places those who testify on earth before those who testify in heaven, is abundantly preferable to the other, and affords a gradation admirably suited to the subject.”

Verse 9

1 John 5:9. If we receive the testimony of men As we do continually, and must do, in a thousand instances, if we would not give over all business, and even refuse taking necessary nourishment. The testimony of two or three credible witnesses, according to the law of Moses, was deemed sufficient to prove any matter of fact; and indeed human affairs in general, even the most important, are conducted and determined by depending on the testimony of men. Nay, and we not only receive the testimony of men, when they bear their testimony in a solemn manner, upon oath, before magistrates, but we rely on one another’s word from time to time, and sometimes concerning things of great moment: the testimony of God is greater More valid, of higher authority, and much more worthy to be received than the witness of men, be they ever so numerous, or ever so respectable for their understanding and their integrity; so that we may rely on it with the greatest assurance. For this is the testimony of God Namely, this six-fold testimony, and especially that of the last three mentioned witnesses, of the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: which he hath testified of his Son As the true Messiah, the Saviour of the world, able to save, even to the uttermost, all that come unto God by him; and actually saving all that believe in him with their heart unto righteousness.

Verse 10

1 John 5:10. He that believeth on the Son of God, with such a faith, hath the testimony in himself Namely, knows by experience, that what God hath testified concerning his Son, and salvation in and through him, is indeed true, being already saved by him from the guilt and power of sin, into the favour and image of God, and a state of communion with him. He knows by experience, that Jesus is the Son of God in such a sense as to be an all- sufficient Saviour, and that he came by cleansing water, and by atoning blood, having received justification through the latter, and sanctification through the former. Or, which is to the same purpose, he hath received the testimony mentioned 1 John 5:11. For, as in that verse, “the witness, by a usual metonymy, is put for the thing witnessed, and the thing witnessed being, that God hath given us eternal life through his Son, he who believeth on the Son of God, may justly be said to have eternal life, the thing witnessed, in himself; because, by his faith on the Son, being begotten of God, he hath, in the dispositions of God’s children communicated to him, eternal life begun in him; which is both a pledge and a proof that God, in due time, will completely bestow on him eternal life through his Son.” Macknight. Add to the above, that eternal life is begun in him, and that God will, in due time, bestow on him the full enjoyment of it, he hath the testimony of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the Father having lifted up the light of his countenance upon him, and thereby put joy and gladness into his heart, Psalms 4:6-7; Christ dwelling in his heart by faith, and being precious to his soul, Eph 3:17 ; 1 Peter 2:7; and the Holy Ghost, as a Spirit of adoption, witnessing with his spirit that he is a child of God, and producing in him love, joy, and peace, Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 5:22. And he hath the witness of the Spirit in himself, mentioned 1 John 5:8, or of the inspired writings, which bear witness to the genuineness of his religion, and his title to eternal life, and which are the food of his soul, the sweetness of which he tastes, and is nourished thereby; tastes the good word of God, Hebrews 6:5. He hath the witness of the water in himself, having been baptized with water, and had the sign, and also the thing signified thereby, the regenerating grace of God; and the witness of the blood, having received the atonement, and pardon through it, and taking all opportunities of receiving the Lord’s supper, when the bread that he breaks is to him the communion of Christ’s body; and the wine which he drinks, the communion of his blood; and he feeds on Christ in his heart by faith, with thanksgiving. On the other hand, he that believeth not God As to his testimony concerning Christ, when at his baptism, and on the mount of transfiguration, he declared him to be his Son by a voice from heaven; and when, after his death, he demonstrated him to be his Son by raising him from the dead; hath made him a liar That is, by refusing to believe these testimonies, he hath acted as if he judged God to be a liar, or false witness. Some MSS. and ancient versions, particularly the Vulgate, instead of He that believeth not God, have, He that believeth not the Son; which Grotius and Bengelius think the true reading. But, like most of the various readings, this makes no alteration in the sense of the passage.

Verses 11-12

1 John 5:11-12. And this is the record Η μαρτυρια , the testimony; the sum of God’s testimony concerning his Son, and salvation through him:

this is the thing testified by the six witnesses the three in heaven, and the three on earth; that God hath given to us Hath sincerely and freely offered to mankind in general, and hath actually conferred on true believers in particular; eternal life Namely, a title to it, in their justification and adoption, Titus 3:7; Romans 8:17; a meetness for it, in their new creation or sanctification, Colossians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24; and a foretaste or earnest of it, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, Ephesians 1:14; giving them to enjoy communion with the Father and the Son, 1 John 1:3; and through that, as it were, to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and have their conversation in heaven, Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20. And this life is in his Son Whose doctrine hath revealed it; whose merits have procured it; whose Spirit hath imparted the beginning of it; and whose example will conduct us to the complete possession of it. In other words, by whom it is purchased, and in whom it is treasured up; so that he has all the springs, and the fulness of it, in himself, to communicate to his body, the church, first in grace and then in glory. “Though the apostle, in what goes before, has spoken particularly of the three in heaven, and of the three on earth, who bear witness continually, he deferred mentioning, till now, what it is they are witnessing; that by introducing it last of all, and after so much preparation, it might make the stronger impression on the minds of his readers.” He that hath the Son That hath the saving knowledge of him communicated by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, Ephesians 1:17; Matthew 11:27; that hath living faith in him, working by love, Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:6; and hereby hath a real interest in him, as a wife hath in her husband, Romans 7:4; and vital union with him, such as a branch hath with the tree in which it grows, John 15:4; or such as a member of the human body has with the head thereof, 1 Corinthians 12:27; Romans 12:5; and who, in consequence of that interest in him, and union with him, hath a conformity to him; hath in him the mind that was in Christ, and walks as he walked, Philippians 2:5; or he, to whom Christ is made of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; see on 1 Corinthians 1:30; such a one in these respects having the Son, hath life Hath spiritual life here, and is entitled to, made in a degree meet for, and has an earnest of, eternal life hereafter. But he that hath not the Son of God Hath not that interest in his merits, that union with him through the Spirit, that conformity, more or less, to his image: he, whom Christ has not enlightened as his wisdom, justified as his righteousness, renewed as his sanctification; whatever he may profess, whatever orthodoxy of sentiment, regularity of conduct, or form of godliness; hath not life Hath neither spiritual life here, being still alienated from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18; nor is in the way to eternal life hereafter. He hath no part or lot therein.

Verse 13

1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you The things contained in the former part of this chapter concerning the fruits of regenerating faith, and the water and the blood, and the witnesses in heaven and on earth, and especially concerning the things which they have witnessed, mentioned in the two last verses; to you that believe on the name of the Son of God With a faith grounded on a saving knowledge of him, and productive of the fruits spoken of 1 John 5:1-4; that ye may know On the testimony of all the evangelists and apostles, and of Christ himself; that ye have eternal life That ye are heirs of it, notwithstanding your past sins and present infirmities, and the imperfection of your knowledge and holiness, and the various defects of your love and obedience; and that you may believe That is, may persevere in believing; on the name of the Son of God May continue in the faith grounded and settled, and not be moved away from the hope of the gospel; knowing that the just man shall live by faith, but if he draw back, God’s soul will have no pleasure in him. See John 15:6, and Romans 11:22.

Verses 14-15

1 John 5:14-15. And this is the farther confidence Παρρησια , boldness; that we have in, or with, him, that if we ask any thing See on Matthew 7:7; according to his will His revealed will, (for his word shows us what things we may lawfully ask,) he heareth us Not only observes and takes notice of our petitions, but favourably regards them, and will assuredly grant them if he sees, and as far as he sees, that it will be for our present and eternal good to have them granted: see 1 John 5:15. Archbishop Tillotson supposes that this refers particularly to the apostles. “But so few of the apostles could be concerned in this advice of St. John, and there are so many promises of the answer of prayer scattered up and down in the Old and New Testaments, that I,” says Dr. Doddridge, “would by no means thus confine the interpretation.” The truth is, with regard to all spiritual blessings, such as illumination of mind, remission of sins, the divine favour, adoption into God’s family, regeneration and sanctification through his Holy Spirit, grace to help us in time of need, and eternal life, we may be sure God will grant them, if we ask them sincerely, importunately, perseveringly, and in faith, complying, in the mean time, through his grace, with the conditions or terms, on our complying with which God hath suspended the accomplishment of his promises of these blessings, namely, repentance toward him, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the truths and promises of his gospel. But with respect to temporal blessings, as we do not know how far it would be good for us to receive them, we must ask them with entire submission to the divine will, persuaded that if we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, other things, that he knows to be needful and useful, shall be added unto us; and that he who gives grace and glory, will withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly. And if we know that he heareth us, we know Even before the event, (for faith anticipates the blessings,) that we have the petitions that we desired of him And when they are received, we know they are given in answer to our prayers. The meaning of this is, that God’s hearing is not in vain; but that, as he hears in general, so he will grant in due time, and in his own way, those particular mercies which we ask of him.

Verses 16-17

1 John 5:16-17. If any man, &c. As if he had said, Yea, he hears us not only for ourselves, but others also; see his brother That is, any child of man; sin a sin which is not unto death That is, any sin but that which is marked out in the awful words of our Lord Jesus Christ as unpardonable, namely, the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, of which see on Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29. Or, which may rather be intended, the sin of total apostacy from both the power and form of godliness; he shall ask, and God shall give him life Repentance unto life, and, in consequence thereof, pardon and salvation for that sinner. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it That is, let him not pray for it. A sin unto death may likewise mean one which God has determined to punish with temporal death. All unrighteousness is sin Every deviation from perfect holiness is sin; but all sin is not unpardonable, nor does God determine to punish every sin with temporal death.

Verses 18-19

1 John 5:18-19. We know, &c. As if he had said, Yet this gives no encouragement to sin. On the contrary, it is an indisputable truth, that whosoever is born of God That is, regenerated and made a new creature; see on 1 John 2:29; sinneth not Doth not commit any known sin, so long as he lives by faith in the Son of God, and by that faith has union with Christ; but he that is begotten of God By the word of truth, (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23,) accompanied by the influence of the Divine Spirit; keepeth himself By the aid of divine grace watching unto prayer, denying himself and taking up his cross daily; and that wicked one Namely, the devil; toucheth him not So as to overcome and lead him into known, wilful sin. And we know By the testimony of the Holy Spirit and our own consciences; that we Who believe in Christ, (1 John 5:13,) and are born of God, and made partakers of the divine nature; are of God Belong to him, as his children and his heirs; and the whole world All the rest of mankind, that are not such, all who have not his Spirit, are not only touched by him, but very generally are guilty of idolatry, fraud, violence, lasciviousness, impiety, and all manner of vice; lieth in wickedness Rather, in the wicked one, as εν τω πονηρω signifies. They are under his dominion: just as it is said of believers in the next verse, that they are εν τω αληθινω , in the true one. “The power of Satan in this lower world, and over its inhabitants, is often spoken of in Scripture. Thus Ephesians 2:2, he is called the spirit which now worketh in the children of disobedience: 2 Corinthians 4:4, he is termed the god of this world, and is said to blind the minds of them that believe not: 1 Peter 5:8, he is called our adversary, and is said to be going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Further, 2 Timothy 2:26, wicked men are said to be held in the snare of the devil, who ( Eph 6:11 ) is said to use wiles for the destruction of mankind, and ( 2Co 11:3 ) to have beguiled Eve by his subtlety.”

Verses 20-21

1 John 5:20-21. We know By all these infallible proofs; that the Son of God is come Into the world; and hath given us an understanding Hath enlightened our minds; that we may know him that is true The living and true God, namely, the Father, of whom the apostle appears here to speak; and we are in him that is true In his favour, and in a state of union and fellowship with him; even This particle is not in the Greek; in Or rather; through; his Son Jesus Christ Through whose mediation alone we can have access to, or intercourse with, the Father. This Ουτος , he, namely, Christ, the person last mentioned; is the true God and eternal life He partakes with the Father in proper Deity, and our immortal life is supported by union with him. Little Or beloved; children, keep yourselves from idols From all false worship of images, or of any creature, and from every inward idol: from loving, desiring, fearing any thing more than God. Seek all help and defence from evil, all happiness, in the true God alone.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/1-john-5.html. 1857.
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