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1 John 5:1
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God
Belief in Jesus as the Christ
This is the third virtual repetition of this truth (see 1 John 4:2; 1 John 4:15).
Now in the apostles’ days every Christian as such believed that Jesus was the Christ. By this belief and its confession he was distinguished from a Jew on the one side and a heathen on the other; and the same might be said of the confession that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, for this in the apostle’s eyes would be the same as that Jesus is the Christ, for if He was the Christ, His assertion of Himself as being the true and only begotten of God, who came down from heaven, must be true, for God would never send into the world one who would so misrepresent His truth as to say that He was His special anointed messenger and representative when He was not; and so with Jesus being the Son of God of 1 John 4:14.
Faith and regeneration
I. What is the believing intended in the text?
1. The believing here intended is that which our Lord and His apostles exhorted men to exercise, and to which the promise of salvation is always appended in the Word of God.
2. The faith here intended is the duty of all men. Jesus Christ is worthy of the confidence of all men; it is therefore the duty of men to confide in Him.
3. At the same time this faith, wherever it exists, is in every case, without exception, the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. He has wrought all our works in us, and our faith too.
4. The faith intended in the text evidently rests upon a person--upon Jesus. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” What is meant by “Jesus is the Christ,” or Jesus is the Anointed? First, that He is the Prophet; secondly, that He is the Priest; thirdly, that He is the King of the Church, for in all these three senses He is the Anointed.
5. True faith is reliance. Have you confidence as well as credence? A creed will not save you, but reliance upon the anointed Saviour is the way of salvation. Moreover, true faith is not a flattering presumption, by which a man says, “I believe I am saved, for I have such delightful feelings, I have had a marvellous dream, I have felt very wonderful sensations;” for all such confidence may be nothing but sheer assumption. Faith, again, is not the assurance that Jesus died for me. On such a theory every believer in a universal atonement would necessarily be born of God, which is very far from being the case. Neither is it faith for me to be confident that I am saved, for it may be the case that I am not saved, and it can never be faith to believe a lie.
II. We must now pass on to show that wherever it exists it is the proof of regeneration. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” “Ah!” I hear thee say, poor soul, “the new birth is a great mystery; I am afraid I am not a partaker in it.” You are born again if you are relying upon a crucified Saviour. Mystery or no mystery, the new birth is yours if you are a believer. Electricity is a great mystery, and you cannot see it; but the operator tells you that the electric current is moving along the wire. How does he know? “I know it by the needle.” How is that? I could move your needles easily. “Yes; but do not you see the needle has made two motions to the right, one to the left, and two to the right again? I am reading a message.” “But,” say you, “I can see nothing in it; I could imitate that clicking and moving very easily.” Yet he who is taught the art sees before him in those needles, not only electric action, but a deeper mystery still; he perceives that a mind is directing the invisible force, and speaking by means of it. Not to all, but to the initiated is it given to see the mystery hidden within the simplicity. The believer sees in the faith, which is simple as the movements of the needle, an indication that God is operating on the human mind, and the spiritual man discerns that there is an inner secret intimated thereby, which the carnal eye cannot decipher. To believe in Jesus is a better indicator of regeneration than anything else, and in no case did it ever mislead. Now let me reply to certain questions. Must not a man repent as well as believe? Reply: No man ever believed but what he repented at the same time. Faith and repentance go together. They must. If I trust Christ to save me from sin, I am at the same time repenting of sin, and my mind is changed in relation to sin, and everything else that has to do with its state. All the fruits meet for repentance are contained in faith itself.
III. Now what flows out of this? Love is the legitimate issue I We must love if we are begotten of God all those who are also born of God. First, I love God, and therefore I desire to promote God’s truth, and to keep God’s gospel free from taint. But then I am to love all those whom God has begotten, despite the infirmities and errors I see in them, being also myself compassed about with infirmities. Life is the reason for love, the common life which is indicated by the common faith in the dear Redeemer is to bind us to each other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The theory of brotherly love
Four things are here associated, and said to arise out of one another--faith, regeneration, the love of God, and the love of man.
I. Faith--“whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ.” Jesus is found to be all that the Scripture predictions declared the Messiah should be. They who discover this harmony can say, “we have found the Messiahs, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” Even in this state of mind there are the elements of rich promise, but there is far more in the reception of Jesus as the Christ. He is acknowledged, not merely in general terms, as a Divine Saviour; but He is appreciated in the special offices which He bears for the redemption of men.
II. The regeneration connected with it--“is born of God.” Faith and regeneration are united. This view is brought out still more fully in John 1:12-13. We ask what must be the moral effect produced by accepting Christ in His gracious offices? It is plain it must be vital and saving. We see at once how just and reasonable is the representation of the text--that faith and regeneration are united.
III. In every mind thus influenced the love of God obtains a prominent place. “Everyone that loveth Him that begat.” It must be so, considering the change that has been produced. It is a new birth. God is seen to be the only Master who can claim unreserved obedience. A mind thus enlightened must love God. Especially must it be so when it is considered that He is the Author of this change. In His gracious love He has been pleased to put forth His power, and create the soul anew in righteousness. How calculated is such a contemplation to call forth the warmest exercise of love! Add to this, that when such a change is effected in the soul by God, it brings us into a new relation to Him, and one that eminently calls forth our love. It is that of a child. It is natural to a child to love his parent. Nor let it be overlooked how God is continually increasing His claims on His own children. They are constrained to say (Ephesians 1:3).
IV. The love of God is accompanied by the love of man. “Everyone that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Love to man inspired by new life
If we do not love Him more than what lies around us--houses and lands, father or mother, son or daughter--we are not worthy of Him. Nor are we worthy of them. Unless we come to them and they to us in the richness of a life inspired and quickened by Him, in the wealth of affections, impulses, desires, and hopes thus quickened and inspired by a loftier faith, we come to one another as trees encased in ice. But if, first of all, we give ourselves to Him, and the generous hopes and affections which faith in Him may awaken in us, we shall be like these same trees, lifting up their branches to the spring day sun, till from the lowest root to the highest twig they feel the pulses of a new life bursting out into leaf and blossom, while birds nestle within their shade, and the air is burdened with their melodies. (H. W. Beecher.)
1 John 5:2-3
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments
How shall we be certified that we love the brethren
To reply to this inquiry seems to be the specific object of these verses.
Contemplating them in this connection, they suggest four evidences.
I. The first is that we love God. “By this we know,” etc. It must seem strange, at first sight, to find the love of God cited as a proof of the love of His people. We would expect rather the reverse order. This too is found to be the usual practice (see 1 John 4:7-8). At the same time there is a sense in which the love of God ought to be sought in our hearts as a proof of the love of His people. It is one that will readily occur to a mind jealous of itself. It is not unnatural to ask, Does his love of the people of God arise out of the love of God? In this view he might properly seek for the love of God as a proof of the love of the brethren. The least reflection may show the necessity for such an inquiry. Brotherly love, or what appears to be such, may arise from other sources besides the love of God. It may be a natural feeling and not a gracious affection. We may love our kindred, friends, neighbours, benefactors, and yet not love God. It is possible there may be even an active benevolence where this heavenly principle does not exist. It will be asked how is such a subject to be investigated? And we reply in one of two ways, or in both. It may be either by examining whether our deeds of brotherly love are prompted and influenced by the love of God; or by inquiring into the general principle, whether the love of God has ever been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
II. The profession of brotherly love may be tested by obedience to the commandments of God. “We know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.” Viewing the subject in the restricted light of the context, the meaning of this test must be, that in our exercises of brotherly love, we are guided by the commandments of God. Assuming this to be the just interpretation, there are two aspects in which our conduct may be contemplated, the one a refusal to do that which God forbids, although it may be desired as an expression of brotherly love, and the other a readiness to exercise it in every way which God has required.
III. The next evidence of brotherly love is akin to the second, and may be regarded indeed as a summary of the two already considered, and an extension of their meaning and application. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” There is great force in the expression, “This is the love of God.” This is that in which it consists, by which its existence is manifested, and without which it cannot be. A child obeys his parent because he loves him, and as he loves him. The same may be said of the master and servant, the king and his subjects. If there be not love, uniform and hearty obedience cannot be rendered. In the case of Christ and His people, the claims are peculiarly strong on the one hand, and the obligations specially felt on the other. There is no love so strong as that by which they are bound to one another. It takes precedence of every other. The consequence is, that the love of Christ urges His people to the obedience of every commandment. No matter how trifling it may seem to be, it is enough that He has declared it to be His will.
IV. There is one other evidence in the verses before us, but it may almost be regarded as a part of that which has just been noticed. It is such an apprehension of the commandments of God that they are not considered to be a burthen. “His commandments are not grievous.” This saying is universally and absolutely true of the commandments of God in their own nature. They are all “holy, and just, and good.” Such, however, is not the sentiment of the ungodly. They consider many of God’s commandments to be grievous. We might instance such commands as these--“Whatsoever ye do, whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God,” “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; your whole spirit, and soul, and body.” These are felt to be grievous by the ungodly. No so by the godly: They may not obey them as they would, but they approve of them.
1. The great reason is their love of God. They so love Him that they account nothing which He has commanded grievous.
2. Another reason is that his heart is in the service itself. He likes it. Prayer and holiness are agreeable to him. They are not a drudgery, but a delight.
3. He forms, moreover, the habit of obedience, and this greatly confirms his desire for it. The more he practises it, the better he finds it.
4. Besides, the Holy Spirit helps his infirmities, and furthers his labours.
5. And we may add, he is animated by the prospect of a rich reward. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Whereby know we that we love God’s children
I. Who are described by this title--“the children of God.” This title, “the children of God,” is given upon several accounts.
1. By creation the angels are called “the sons of God,” and men His “offspring.” The reason of the title is--
(1) The manner of their production by His immediate power.
(2) In their spiritual, immortal nature, and the intellectual operations flowing from it, there is an image and resemblance of God.
2. By external calling and covenant some are denominated His “children”; for by this evangelical constitution God is pleased to receive believers into a filial relation.
3. There is a sonship that arises from supernatural regeneration.
II. What is included in our love to the children of God.
1. The principle of this love is Divine (1 Peter 1:22).
2. The qualifications of this love are as follows:
(1) It is sincere and cordial. A counterfeit, formal affection, set off with artificial colours, is so far from being pleasing to God, that it is infinitely provoking to Him.
(2) It is pure. The attractive cause of it is the image of God appearing in them.
(3) It is universal, extended to all the saints.
(4) It must be fervent. Not only in truth, but in a degree of eminency. “This is My commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
(5) This love includes all kinds of love.
(a) The love of esteem, correspondent to the real worth and special goodness of the saints.
(b) The love of desire, of their present and future happiness.
(c) The love of delight, in spiritual communion with them.
(d) The love of service and beneficence, that declares itself in all outward offices and acts for the good of the saints. If Christians thus loved one another, the Church on earth would be a lively image of the blessed society above.
III. The love of God and obedience to his commands, the product of it.
1. The love of God has its rise from the consideration of His amiable excellences, that render Him infinitely worthy of the highest affection; and from the blessed benefits of creation, preservation, redemption, and glorification, that we expect from His pure goodness and mercy.
2. The obedience that springs from love is--
(1) Uniform and universal.
(2) This is a natural consequence of the former. The Divine law is a rule, not only for our outward conversation, but of our thoughts and affections, of all the interior workings of the soul that are open before God.
(3) Chosen and pleasant (1 John 5:3). The sharpest sufferings for religion are sweetened to a saint from the love of God, that is then most sincerely, strongly, and purely acted (2 Corinthians 12:10).
(4) The love of God produces persevering obedience. Servile compliance is inconstant.
IV. From the love of God, and willing obedience to his commands, we may convincingly know the sincerity of our love to his children.
1. The Divine command requires this love.
2. Spiritual love to the saints arises from the sight of the Divine image appearing in their conversation. As affectionate expressions to the children of God, without the real supply of their wants, are but the shadows of love, so words of esteem and respect to the law of God, without unfeigned and universal obedience, are but an empty pretence.
3. The Divine relation of the saints to God as their Father is the motive of spiritual love to them. (W. Bates, D. D.)
The love of God and universal obedience
I. The nature of true love to God.
1. The peculiar acts of true love to God.
(1) It has a high approbation and esteem of God.
(2) It has a most benevolent disposition towards God.
(3) Its earnest desire is after God.
(4) Its complacency and delight is in God.
(5) It is pleased or displeased with itself, according as it is conscious to its own aboundings or defects.
2. The properties of true love to God.
(1) It is a judicious love.
(2) It is an extensive love.
(3) It is a supreme love.
(4) It is an abiding love.
3. The effects of this love. A holy imitation of God and devotedness to Him, self-denial, patience, and resignation to His will, the government of all our passions, appetites and behaviour, a departure from everything that offends Him, and laborious endeavours by His grace, to approve ourselves to Him, and glorify His name in all that we do.
II. The influence that true love to God has unto our obedience, or unto our keeping his commandments.
1. Love to God enters into the very nature of all true and acceptable obedience.
2. Love to God inclines and even constrains us to keep all His commands.
3. Love to God gives us a delight in keeping His commands. They are suited to the holy nature of a newborn soul, whose prime affection is love to God; this takes off distastes, and makes all His precepts agreeable to us; it makes them our choice and our pleasure; it sweetens our obedience, and makes us think nothing a trouble or a burden that God calls us to, and nothing too great to do or suffer for Him, whereby we may please and honour Him, and show our gratitude, love and duty to Him.
4. Love to God will make us persevere in keeping His commands.
Use: 1. Let this put us upon serious inquiry whether the love of God dwells in us.
2. Let the sinner against God behold how odious and unworthy the principle is that refuses to obey Him.
3. Let us prize the gospel of the grace of God, and seek help from thence to engage our love and obedience.
4. Let us look and long for the heavenly state, where all our love and obedience shall be perfected. (John Guyse.)
Loving God through human love
The love of man is involved in the love of God. There is no real love of God that does not include the love of His children. Love is a state of the human spirit; an atmosphere in which one abides; he who is in that atmosphere loves the human that appeals to him no less than the Divine. Loving God is not merely a feeling toward Him--a gushing out of emotion: it is a practical exercise of His Spirit. It is a real doing of His commandments. “What is loving God? Is it anything more than loving men, and trying in His name to do them good?” “I do not think I love God, for I do not feel towards Him as I do towards those I love best.” “It is hard to think of God as the Great Energy that fills all things, and yet to love Him as a Father.” These are all expressions of sincere minds trying to get into the real atmosphere of the truth and to live the spiritual life. I should like, if possible, to help clear up the difficulties indicated. Let us recognise the fact that nothing but emptiness and disappointment can come from the effort to love an abstract conception. Love goes out only toward personality. And the personality must lie warm and living in our hearts, or it fails to quicken affection into life. Israel, for instance, was labouring for a thousand years to bring forth its idea of Godhead. In the old notion of Jahveh as God of Israel only, there was a sort of personal warmth akin to patriotism; a common affection which went out in a crude way to their personal champion. When the prophets began to see in Him much more than this--the God of all the earth, “who formeth the mountains and createth the wind, and declareth to man His thought”--while there was an immense gain in breadth and truth of conception, there was a loss of the nearness that begets personal attachment, until, a little later, God’s relation to the whole nation gave place to the new idea of His direct relation to every man in all the affairs of his life. That gave birth to all that is best in the Psalms of Israel, with their outgoing of personal confidence and affection. Then after the coming of Jesus and the intense feeling that sprang up on His departure that He was God manifest in the flesh, there was a leap of thought and life which showed how the real heart of man hungered for something more close and personal than Judaic religion could ever give it. So complete was this change, and so central to the Apostolic age, that for eighteen hundred years the same phenomenon has been witnessed of placing Jesus in the central place, with God removed to a vague back ground, the Being “whom no man hath seen or can see,” dreaded, reverenced, and worshipped, but never standing in the intimate relation of close fatherhood in which He was the warmth and light of the life of Jesus Himself. There was abundant reason for this. The human heart, seeking for a real religion, must have some thing concrete and close and warm; it cannot love an abstract idea. Jesus was seen as God reduced to the human compass, enshrined in a human and personal love. The whole responsive life of man went out to Him. And so it came to pass that He did what He did not in the least aim to do, but rather the contrary--He did not bring the real Godhead of the universe nearer to the average mind, but took the place of it, letting it even sweep backward, farther out of sight--farther into the impenetrable mystery. We are pillowed in our infancy on a bosom of affection. It is long before we know it; but when we do awake, it is to our mothers that the earliest love goes forth. And if we ever do love God, we come to it by rising from the home love, or some later and even stronger love that awakes in us, to the higher affection. This makes the common affections of life sacred and Divine, in that without them there is no ground in us for the love to God. All love has one source. Do our mothers love us? It is God in them that breaks out into love in its highest manifestations, with its Divine unselfishness and its clinging power. Wherever love is, we get a glimpse of the Divine and infinite. It is only as such love responds to the Spirit of God in it that it does and dares, and clings to us and will not let us go, though it cost struggle and patience and sacrifice and pain. And this love, as a channel of the love of God, is the power that most often lifts us up into the clearer realms where we are at one with the Divine, and its love becomes real to our hungry hearts. The love we have to God is realised in our love to men. It cannot abide alone. They who have thought to gain it by retirement and meditation have found it only a will-o’-the-wisp save as it has issued in the love that seeks men and tries to do them good. For the love of God is not a mere feeling, a gush of emotion in which the soul is rapt away to things ineffable. It is a spirit, an atmosphere, in which one lives; and “he who dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” But to dwell in love, to be really baptized with its spirit, is to have that energy of it within us that seeks continually to find exercise for itself and actually to give itself to others. Unfortunately, the service of God has too often been conceived of as the conferring of something on Him by worship or sacrifice, by which it is thought He will be pleased. But what can we do for Him by our offering of gifts for His use, or by the singing of His praises, save to give expression to what is in us and thereby satisfy our own cravings? The real love of God will manifest itself in what we do for men. It will set itself to help on the kingdom of God on earth as the dearest end it can set before itself. The Samaritan did not worship in the Jerusalem temple; his own on Mount Gerizim had long been levelled to the ground. But when he took care of the wounded man on the road to Jericho, he showed himself a lover of God beyond the priest and Levite of orthodox connections and habits, who passed by on the other side. Men and women are warned not to love each other too dearly, lest God be jealous; not to love their children too much, lest He take them away. This is not religion. Real love does not exhaust itself by giving; it grows by giving. The more you love your child, if it be unselfish love, the more you will love God, for the loving of a little child brings you into that atmosphere and spirit of love where the heart is living and warm and goes forth to God as naturally as the sunlight streams into the ether. You will need to be cautioned lest your love of human kind become selfish and exclusive, and is indulged as a mere luxury. That vitiates it. But the more you love your brother whom you have seen, unselfishly, the more you will love God and see Him, too, with the spiritual vision. To sum up, then, this relation of Divine and human love: all love is of One, and the line cannot be drawn where the human stops and the Divine begins. But we may feel sure of this, that to see the love of God in all the love that comes to us, to recognise it in all the unselfishness we see, is the only way to know it truly, and the most direct road to the clearer sense of it as an indwelling life. (H. P. De Forest, D. D.)
1 John 5:3
His commandments are not grievous
The service of love
Viewing the Christian dispensation as a fuller expansion of the Jewish, we naturally look to the New Testament for additional motives rather than for additional commandments.
An unexpected meaning, indeed, was often brought out by our Lord from ancient enactments and precepts which had long lain in the statute book, were proved applicable to cases which they had never before been supposed to concern; but still the showing the hidden force of what is old is widely different from the introducing what is new. With respect, indeed, to the sanction by which law is accompanied, there was a vast accession through the preaching of the gospel. If we are not prepared to go all lengths with the theory that under the Mosaic dispensation men were not acted on at all by the engines of the invisible world, at least we must admit that heaven and hell were not so clearly made known as to effect by their realities the general deportment of society. And unquestionably it was a mighty throwing of life into the commandments of the law when Christianity opened up the mysteries of an after state of being, and showed men how by means of obedience or disobedience there was glory or terror crowding its unmeasured expanse. And yet after all there would have been very little done had Christ merely taught men what apportionments may be looked for hereafter. We can go further. We can say of Christianity, that though it brought no new commandments, it leads men to yield obedience to the old upon an entirely new principle. The way in which Christianity teaches you to serve God is by teaching you to love God. St. Paul describes the love of God as the “fulfilling of the law,” So that what fear could not effect, and what hope could not effect--results which would never have been brought round by the sternest threatenings and the richest promises--these follow most naturally on the implanting in the heart the simple principle of love to the Almighty; and precepts which man would have set at naught, though hemmed round by penalties and neglected, though attended by rewards, win all their attention and all their powers as coming from a Benefactor whom it is a delight to obey. The words of our text are in exact accordance with these statements. They contain, you see, two definitions: first, of the love of God, and then of the commandments of God. The love is defined as the “keeping the commandments”; the commandments are defined as “not being grievous.” Our text shows us, in the first place, that love makes men earnest to obey; in the second place, it shows us that the obedience which love produces it also renders easy. Let us examine both these points.
I. Love makes men earnest to obey--“this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Love makes it easy to obey--“for His commandments are not grievous.” Now, there followed on the entrance of evil into Paradise a great degeneration of human capacities, but not in strict truth an actual destruction. Love, beneath every state, has been, and still is, a working principle, so that on whatever object it fastens it urges at once whether to the undertaking of labour or the endurance of privation. You may perceive from the commonest instances of everyday life that from love considered as the working principle of man, springs all that complex mechanism which is made up of the business of an active population. We take this acknowledged fact as a fair groundwork of argument, that if the rational soul be driven out as it were from the circle of the animal, and man be taught to love the Creator, in place of centering all his affection on the creature, all his faculties will quickly be enlisted in the service of God. Thus it is quite demonstrable that the love of God must produce the keeping His commandments. You put a principle into the immortal part of man which causes that part to rise from her degradation and to vindicate the almost forgotten nobleness of her mission. God is then known, for until God is loved He is not and cannot be known. The reason is simple and Scriptural. Love is not so much an attribute of God as His very essence. And if, therefore, in order to our loving God, there must be a supernatural bringing home to the heart of the love which God hath turned on the wandering and the lost, it is evident that we know only as we love Him, seeing that to love God presupposes an acquaintance with God as love. From this reasoning we fetch fresh illustration that the loving God is keeping His commandments. It is not merely because I love Him I shall of necessity be anxious to please Him, and therefore to obey Him; but in the degree that I love Him, in that same degree do I know Him, and to know Him is to obtain altogether a different view of His character and properties from any which I have heretofore possessed. It is to have done with vague and indefinite notions, and to entertain others which are strict and unbending; it is to understand with something of precision the power and place of His every attribute, and thus to sweep from my calculation all those mountains of lies which the world are building out of mistaken properties of Godhead. And if through the act of loving the Creator I thus pass to such a knowledge of His several characteristics as have never hitherto found place in my mind, why, love must throw an inexpressible power into the commandments; it must make their every letter breathe of Deity.
II. Now we desire to show you, in explaining our text, that love not only makes men earnest in obeying, but that the obedience which it produces it also renders easy. The man who is making it the business of his days to endeavour to obey God’s commandments is only striving to exhibit to others the beauty of a system to which he himself is bound. Conscious of the glory of every property of the Almighty; conscious also that as a mirror each property figures itself in law with the most accurate fidelity, his efforts to fulfil the requirements of this law are so many struggles in the sight of the world, that “men seeing His good works, may glorify His Father which is in heaven.” If this be a true account of Christian obedience, it plainly follows that whatever God’s commandments may be to the man who merely observes their tenor, to the man who is striving with all his heart and all his soul to obey them, they are not, and they cannot be, grievous. He sees a beauty and a holiness and a wisdom in their every enactment, in their every requisition, even the beauty, the holiness and the wisdom of Him who delivered such a code to His creatures. And when, therefore, he sets himself to the keeping the law, and so to the endeavouring to express in living and legible characters the moral loveliness which has been disclosed to him by the Spirit, we see not how he can find it burdensome, though he may find obedience difficult in the writing, in the vivid tracery of action what God hath written in the rich alphabet of tits purposes. Are the commandments of Satan grievous to those who are His bondsmen? grievous when they bid them handle the wine cup, mix in the carnival, and gather the gold? And why not grievous? Are they not heavy with the chains of the prison house, ponderous with accumulated penalties, burdened with woe and wrath sufficient to weigh down creation? Yet to those who obey them, they are not grievous. The inclination is towards obedience; and when these meet there cannot be grievousness. In like manner are the commandments of God not grievous to those who are His children. And why not grievous? Are they not weighty with massive duties, laden with impositions under which the very giants in religion sink and bow down? We own it, yet we maintain that to those who obey they are not grievous. The desire is towards obedience; the wish, the longing, all are towards obedience. And if God by His grace have brought round such a revolution of the sentiments and affections, that keeping His commandments is synonymous with loving Him, you must show that loving God is “grievous” ere you can show that His commandments are “grievous.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christ’s commandments not grievous
I. Religion is not an impracticable thing, as some men suggest, but it is possible for us to live up to it. Take the hardest part of the Christian yoke, that is to say, forgiveness of enemies, denying our worldly interests, and renouncing all we have for the sake of Jesus Christ. Yet there is nobody can say that these things are impossible. Thousands have actually done all these things, and that upon far lighter motives and considerations than Christ’s religion offers. And if these things be practicable, why must we not think the same of the rest of the Christian precepts, such as owning God for our Creator, and as such paying Him our constant tribute of worship, and prayer, and praise, using with temperance and moderation the good things He vouchsafes us, being honest and just and faithful in all our dealings, and showing kindness and charity to all our fellow creatures. Ay, but it will be said I have not fairly represented the matter; the impossibility of keeping God’s commandments doth not lie in any particular instance of duty; but the objection is that our duty is impracticable in the whole. But it was never intended to leave out of the account the gracious allowances that God hath promised by Christ Jesus to make for the infirmities of human nature.
II. As the commandments of God are not grievous upon account that they are impossible, so neither are they grievous in this respect, that they are unnatural, or a force upon the constitution of mankind. As long as human nature is as it is, the happiness of mankind can consist in nothing else but in using their liberty according to the best rules of reason, and those we are sure are but another name for the laws of religion. And the very transgressing those rules, though God had annexed no penalties to the transgression, would of itself have found a sufficient punishment. Ay, but it will be said, is it not plain that men are born with several strong inclinations to pleasure, to wealth, to power, and greatness, and the like? And doth not religion put a terrible curb upon all those appetites and passions, how then can you call the laws of it agreeable to nature? Why, to this I answer, that as to all the appetites and passions that men are born, religion, as it is taught .us in the gospel, doth not hinder the satisfaction of any of them. All that our religion forbids is the irregularity and exorbitancy of our passions.
III. Let our natural inabilities and our aversions to that which is good be as great as they will, yet the supernatural assistance we may expect from God for the carrying on of this work will be sufficient at least to make the scales even. Though the devil and our own corrupt natures may tempt us strongly one way, yet the spirit of Christ and His invisible attendants that pitch their tents round about us, do incline us as much the other way. Nor can there be any snares laid for us by the wicked one, but what by the assistance of this invisible spiritual army that fights for us we shall easily break and overcome.
IV. This ought also to be acknowledged in this argument, that though there be great difficulties in religion, though as the temper of mankind now generally stands it is much against the grain to serve God, yet these difficulties are chiefly occasioned by our prejudices and evil habits, by our being used to a contrary course of life. But then we are to remember that in a little time these difficulties will wear off and we shall find after some trial that a life of sincere religion will be far more natural and delightful than any course of sin that we were formerly engaged in. If custom and long usage have such a strange power as to make vice and sin not only supportable, but also pleasant to us, then much more will the same custom and usage make virtue so, than which, as we have seen, nothing is more agreeable, more natural to the minds of men. We shall then acknowledge that we never till now enjoyed our true liberty, and shall rather choose to die than to return to that hard bondage we before served in to sin and Satan.
V. Whereas it is urged against a life of religion, that there is much pains and watchfulness required to it: this is so far from being a real difficulty or inconvenience that really it is but the natural effect of our make and constitution. We cannot possibly be happy but in motion, and therefore to charge this as a hardship in religion that it set our wits at work, that it exercises our diligence, is a very unreasonable thing. That which makes any man uneasy in labour is not his being busy and intent upon a thing, but his spending himself upon such things or in such ways as are no ways agreeable to him. As, for instance, when he is either employed on such exercises as do more than ordinarily exhaust his animal spirits, and bring great heaviness and languor upon him; or when he lays out his pains upon that which no ways suits with his temper and genius; or, lastly, when he hath such a business in hand that he hath no prospect of bringing it to good effect, but his labour seems likely to be lost upon it. But now the diligence and application that we must use in this matter of virtue and religion (let it be otherwise as great as you please) yet hath none of those inconveniences attending upon it.
VI. Let all the hardships and difficulties of religion be magnified as much as we please, yet the mighty motives and encouragements we have from the gospel of Christ to undertake that way will very much outweigh them.
1. Let the difficulties of religion be never so great, yet we have God’s promise that He will stand by us, and enable us both to support them and to overcome them, if we ourselves be but honest (1 Corinthians 10:13).
2. Though our religion were attended with very great difficulties, yet is there nothing in that peace of conscience which every good man enjoys while he pursues virtuous ways for the smoothing those difficulties.
3. If to this we add the mighty unspeakable rewards that are promised to all faithful persevering Christians in the other world, and the sad portion that doth await all wicked men, let the difficulties of religion be never so great, yet there will be no comparison between sin and virtue, which of them is the easier, and which of them most recommends itself to the choice of mankind. (Abp. John Sharp.)
God’s commandments not grievous
It must ever be borne in mind that it is a very great and arduous thing to attain to heaven (Matthew 22:14; Matthew 7:14; Luke 13:24; Luke 14:26). On the other hand, it is evident to anyone who reads the New Testament with attention that Christ and His apostles speak of a religious life as something easy, pleasant, and comfortable. Thus, in the text, “His commandments are not grievous.” In like manner our Saviour says (Matthew 11:28-30). Solomon, also, in the Old Testament, speaks in the same way of true wisdom (Proverbs 3:17-24). Again, we read in Micah (Micah 6:8), “What doth the Lord require of thee,” etc., as if it were a little and an easy thing so to do. Now it must be admitted, first of all, as matter of fact, that God’s commandments are grievous to the great mass of Christians. Accordingly, men of worldly minds, finding the true way of life unpleasant to walk in, have attempted to find out other and easier roads; and have been accustomed to argue that there must be another way which suits them better than that which religious men walk in, for the very reason that Scripture declares that Christ’s commandments are not grievous. Some have gone as far as boldly to say, “God will not condemn a man merely for taking a little pleasure,” by which they mean leading an irreligious and profligate life. And many there are who virtually maintain that we may live to the world, so that we do so decently, and yet live to God; arguing that this world’s blessings are given us by God, and therefore may lawfully be used moderately and thankfully. Now then let us proceed to consider how God fulfils His engagements to us, that His ways are ways of pleasantness.
1. Now, supposing some superior promised you any gifts in a particular way, and you did not follow his directions, would he have broken his promise, or you have voluntarily excluded yourselves from the advantage? Evidently you would have brought about your own loss; you might, indeed, think his offer not worth accepting, burdened, as it was, with a condition annexed to it, still you could not in any propriety say that he failed in his engagement. Now when Scripture promises us that its commandments shall be easy, it couples the promise with the injunction that we should seek God early (Proverbs 8:17; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Mark 10:14). Youth is the time of His covenant With us, when He first gives us His Spirit; first giving then that we may then forthwith begin our return of obedience to Him. Now it is obvious that obedience to God’s commandments is ever easy, and almost without effort to those who begin to serve Him from the beginning of their days; whereas those who wait awhile find it grievous in proportion to their delay. For consider how gently God leads us on in our early years, and how very gradually He opens upon us the complicated duties of life. A child at first has hardly anything to do but to obey his parents; of God he knows just as much as they are able to tell him, and he is not equal to many thoughts either about Him or about the world. And while on the one hand his range of duty is very confined, observe how he is assisted in performing it. First, he has no bad habits to hinder the suggestions of his conscience; indolence, pride, ill-temper, do not then act as they afterwards act, when the mind has accustomed itself to disobedience, as stubborn, deep seated impediments in the way of duty. To obey requires an effort, of course; but an effort like the bodily effort of the child’s rising from the ground, when he has fallen on it; not the effort of shaking off drowsy sleep; not the effort (far less) of violent bodily exertion in a time of sickness and long weakness: and the first effort made, obedience on s, second trial will be easier than before, till at length it will be easier to obey than not to obey. Doubtless new trials would come on him; bad passions, which he had not formed a conception of, would assail him; but (1 John 5:18; 1 John 3:19). And so he would grow up to man’s estate, his duties at length attaining their full range, and his soul being completed in all its parts for the due performance of them. Thus Christ’s commandments, viewed as He enjoins them on us, are not grievous. They would be grievous if put upon us all at once; but they are not heaped on us, according to His order of dispensing them, which goes upon an harmonious and considerate plan; by little and little, first one duty, then another, then both, and so on. Moreover, they come upon us while the safeguard of virtuous principle is forming naturally and gradually in our minds by our very deeds of obedience, and is following them as their reward.
2. All this being granted, it still may be objected, since the commandments of God are grievous to the generality of men, where is the use of saying what men ought to be, when we know what they are? and how is it fulfilling a promise that His commandments shall not be grievous, by informing us that they ought not to be? It is one thing to say that the law is in itself holy, just, and good, and quite a different thing to declare it is not grievous to sinful man. In answering this question, I fully admit that our Saviour spoke of man as he is, as a sinner, when He said His yoke should be easy to him. On the other hand, I grant, that if man cannot obey God, obedience must be grievous; and I grant too (of course) that man by nature cannot obey God. But observe nothing has here been said, nor by St. John in the text, of man as by nature born in sin; but of man as a child of grace, as Christ’s purchased possession, who goes before us with His mercy, puts the blessing first, and then adds the command; regenerates us, and then bids us obey. When, then, men allege their bad nature as an excuse for their dislike of God’s commandments, if, indeed, they are heathens, let them be heard, and an answer may be given to them even as such. But with heathens we are not now concerned. These men make their complaint as Christians, and as Christians they are most unreasonable in making it; God having provided a remedy for their natural incapacity in the gift of His Spirit. Hear St. Paul’s words (Romans 5:15-21). And now to what do the remarks I have been making tend, but to this?--to humble every one of us. For, however faithfully we have obeyed God, and however early we began to do so, surely we might have begun sooner than we did, and might have served Him more heartily. Let each of us reflect upon his own most gross and persevering neglect of God at various seasons of his past life. How considerate He has been to us! How did He lead us on, duty by duty, as if step by step upwards, by the easy rounds of that ladder whose top reaches to heaven! What could have been done more to His vineyard, that He hath not done in it? And “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not grievous.” Why, then, have they been grievous to us? Why have we erred from His ways, and hardened our hearts from His fear? Let us, then, turn to the Lord, while yet we may. Difficult it will be in proportion to the distance we have departed from Him. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Love and law
I. What is the affection that a good Christian bears to Christ? It is love; yes, that is the Christian virtue, that is the Evangelical grace. It is the main difference betwixt the law and the gospel, timor and amor. Not that a Christian ought to be free from all kind of fear. There is a three-fold fear to which we are liable.
1. As we were in our primitive state of subjection, so we owe to God a fear of loyalty as good subjects to their Prince and Sovereign.
2. Our state of rebellion, that brought upon us the fear of slavery.
3. Our state of adoption, that begets in us a filial and son-like fear.
Fear, then, is not wholly excluded from the state of a Christian; but yet the grace that the gospel aims at is the grace of love (1 Timothy 1:5).
1. This love of God gives a chief title and denomination to Christians; it is their badge and cognizance (1 Corinthians 8:3). He sets much by such, and owns them, and highly accounts of them.
2. This love is the title and assurance of all His promises.
3. Love is the ingratiating quality of all our services; it is that which commends us and our services to God’s acceptation. It is love that is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10). Thus Christ shows what kind of obedience He expects at our hands (Job 14:1-22). “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.”
The language of the gospel is not, if ye will avoid wrath, vengeance, escape damnation, then perform obedience to me; but, If ye love Me.
1. All other motives are base and servile without this willing and loving affection.
2. The service of love is only accepted because it alone is an ingenuous service, and of a right intention.
3. This service out of love is most acceptable to God because this kind of service is most honourable to God. God is a gracious sovereign, not a cruel tyrant, and so desires to be served as good subjects serve their king--out of love.
4. The service of love is the only service that God sets much by, because that service which arises from love is the only constant and lasting service. Love is long breathed and will hold out and persevere; whereas fear is a flincher and will soon tire and start aside.
II. The fruit of this loving affection, the action that flows from it, that is obedience. Herein is love, that we keep His commandments--that is the kindly proof of our love.
1. It shows our love to God must be an active, and operative, and working love. Indeed, love is seated in the will, the fountain of action; it rests not in our understanding, the knowing faculty. It is not a mere notion or speculation, swimming in the brain, but a devout affection rooted in the heart.
2. It puts another qualification on our love; it is not a love of equality, but a love of subjection and inferiority; such a love as the inferior bears to his superior that hath a power to command him.
3. It shows that our love to God must be a love regulated and restrained to what God commands us. Offer to Him not thine inventions, but His own prescriptions.
4. This shows our love to God must be entire and universal, of as large extent, as all God’s commandments. As before ye heard of a restriction, so here we meet with an extension. Love must be the fulfilling of the law.
III. What is the disposition and inclination that he which loves God finds in himself to God’s commandments?
1. Indeed, in some respects, it is most true, God’s commandments are exceeding heavy.
(1) Take the law of God at its full height and pitch of perfection, so it hath a great difficulty in it; yea, in a manner, an impossibility in it to all men since Adam.
(2) Take the law in the lowest pitch of righteousness, yet an unregenerate man cannot obey it. He is so far from fulfilling all the law that he cannot perform the least part of it. If the root be not good, which is faith working by love, the fruit, though outwardly specious, is inwardly vicious.
(3) Consider the law in the evangelical mitigation and abatement of it, yet still the saints of God find difficulty in it. A regenerate man is two men. That which is spiritual and renewed in him, that readily conforms to the law of God. “The Spirit is willing,” saith our Saviour. Aye, but the flesh is weak; nay, oftentimes wilful, stubborn, and resisting.
2. But yet it is most true what the text affirms, God’s commandments are not grievous. His service is no such hard service as the world accounts it. It is a hard service indeed (for why should we be left to a lawless liberty?), but it is an ingenuous service. God’s servants find no grievances in this employment.
(1) Look upon their state and condition. God’s people are not in any base, servile condition; but
(a) they are called unto a state of liberty, and liberty is sweet in itself and sweetens all our employments.
(b) As it is a free so it is an honourable service. As we know, the greatness of the Master dignifies and ennobles the service that is done unto Him.
(2) Look upon their task and employment, you shall find the service of God is no such wearisome service.
(a) The work which God enjoins them is possible to them. God’s commandments are made possible to a regenerate man (Philippians 4:13). Flesh and blood sees nothing in the law of God but impossibility; like the unbelieving spies--oh, we cannot conquer the land. But faith and love, like Caleb and Joshua, conceive it may be done, and undertake it readily.
(b) This work is easy; I said it even now.
(c) This work is not only possible and easy, but pleasant and delightful, a good Christian finds exceeding great pleasure and sweetness in it.
(3) Look upon the encouragements that Christians find in the service of God; they will make it appear that the service of God is no such irksome service.
(a) God helps and assists His servants in all their works. This He doth by putting their souls into a right frame of holiness.
(b) God’s merciful connivance. When His servants that desire to serve Him, yet fail, and fall short of what is their duty, God winks at their failings, and passes by them. See this graciously promised to us (Malachi 3:17).
(c) The many heartenings and secret cheerings that God vouchsafes to His servants in the course of their obedience. He is no churlish Nabal, sour and harsh to His poor servants, but puts life and heart into them.
(i) He vouchsafes His presence to them, as Boaz to his reapers. The Master’s eye, the cheerfulness of His countenance, is the man’s encouragement.
(ii) He speaks cheerfully to their hearts. “Well done, faithful servant” (Acts 18:9)
(iii) His loving acceptance of our poor services. Our faithful endeavours, our honest desires, our sincere intentions, are graciously accepted.
(d) His bountiful rewarding of us, besides the grand payment, the weight of glory, the reward of the inheritance. How many encouraging blessings and favours doth He bestow upon His servants, over and above? Besides their wages they have their avails out of their Master’s bounty. David found it and acknowledgeth it. Thou hast dealt bountifully with Thy servant. (Bp. Brownrigg.)
The practicableness of our Christian duty
I. The laws of the Christian religion are reasonable in themselves; that is, they are agreeable to the natural light of our minds and the answers of inward truth, whenever we put the question to it. It is true, there are some few positive commands in the gospel which do not directly arise from any principle of natural reason, but then they are such as cannot be urged to prove the difficulties of revealed religion; yet supposing the truth of the Christian revelation, God had wise reasons for their institution.
II. The practice of religion lays the only foundation of inward peace and satisfaction of mind. This indeed is a necessary consequence of our acting as becomes reasonable agents. And who would not be content to undergo some slight trouble and inconvenience, or to deny himself in many things, provided he may have all things calm and quiet within?
1. The practice of religion has a natural tendency to secure the peace and freedom of our minds, as it preserves them in an even and sedate temper; as it removes every occasion of the disorders which are apt to ruffle us, and keeps our appetites within their due bounds.
2. Upon a moral account, religion gives us the supports of a good conscience, the assurances of God’s favour, and fills the mind with bright and pleasing ideas.
3. Christians, in a faithful discharge of their duty, have their hearts frequently filled with the delights of an overcoming and supernatural grace.
III. We are encouraged to the practice of religion by the assistances of a supernatural power and grace.
IV. We are further encouraged to the practice of our Christian duty by the proposal of a glorious and eternal reward. Conclusion:
1. Are the laws of religion reasonable in themselves? Let us then either follow them, or renounce reason.
2. Does the practice of religion conduce to the inward peace and satisfaction of our minds? Why do we oppose our own happiness? How strange is the infatuation of sin! How fraught with contradiction!
3. Have we indeed a Divine principle to assist us in the performance of our duty? Let us then, in all our spiritual wants and conflicts, be fervent in our prayers to God for the assistances of His Holy Spirit, and faithfully comply with them.
4. Besides all these motives to religion, has the good God still encouraged us to the practice of it by proposing to us the great and glorious rewards of eternity? Let us live as if we really believe them. It is impossible that any difficulty should stand before a firm and steady belief in them. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
The commandments of Christ not grievous
Christ’s commandments cannot justly be esteemed grievous, because they are not--
6. Unprofitable. (S. Palmer.)
The perfection of the law of God
This does not mean that even the sincere Christian finds no difficulty in obedience. His life is a daily struggle. Does not the passage following our text speak of a victory? And does not victory imply the previous conflict? And yet, on the other hand, it is true that “the yoke of Christ is easy and His burden light” (Matthew 11:30). I will not dwell on the mild and gentle character of the gospel ordinances, in contrast with the complex and burdensome ritual of Moses. But leaving this point, I ask whether the commandments of God are grievous when brought into comparison with the law of sin, when that tyranny is established in the soul? Oh, the labours, the toils, the vexing cases, the soul destroying practice, of those who are governed by Satan! Earthquake and pestilence, and famine and sword, have cut off multitudes; but who slew all these? If the hand of God hath slain in its direct judgment its thousands, wilful sin hath offered on its thousand altars its ten thousands. The commandments of God, indeed, are not grievous comparatively. But neither are they grievous considered in themselves absolutely, irrespective of all comparison.
1. For, consider the Lawgiver, is He not such a Being, that, could it be proved that any commandments, purporting to come from Him, are rigid and unbearable to a well-constituted mind, it would be at once a sufficient evidence that they did not derive their origin from Him? “God,” our apostle says, “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:3). Then, we are assured, that His commandments will be very pure, and strictly just (Psalms 19:9). But God is “love,” benevolence, untinctured by any infusion of malignity.
2. Let us take another view of the subject, and contemplate the persons who obey these commandments. The commandments are grievous to the people of the world, it is admitted; for that which is the object of the mind’s distaste and hatred, must of necessity be burdensome. But every true Christian has a mind attempered to the will of God. He is “born of God,” and as the invariable consequence of this change a similarity of character, of judgment, of taste, is formed within him. God, and the child of God, therefore, view the commandments in the same light. God does not esteem them grievous; neither does he that is begotten of Him (Psalms 119:128).
3. We shall take another view of the subject, by considering the assistances which are given to those who obey the commandments. The Holy Ghost is promised (Isaiah 40:30-31; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 59:19; Ephesians 3:16).
4. Regard their nature. Resolving the commandments into their most simple element, we find that love is the fulfilling of the whole law. There could be no defect in our obedience did such a love exist in its perfection. Then, I ask, can God’s commandments be grievous to the man who obeys them? Can it be a burdensome thing to the soul to overflow with benevolence?
5. Consider the effect of obedience to the commandments upon the happiness of life, and you arrive at the same conclusion--that they are not grievous. “The statutes of the Lord,” David says, “are right, rejoicing” “the heart” (Psalms 19:8). In keeping them there is great reward. “Great peace have they which love Thy law” (Psalms 119:165). And who shall say how many miseries are turned away from the lot of him who keeps in the narrow way of the heavenly precepts?
6. One further view of the subject is necessary to complete the argument for the truth of our text. Let us consider it, then, in the connection which exists between the observance of the commandments and the attainment of future glory. Obedience is a preparatory formation of the tempers of heaven; the tuning of the soul for the anthems of eternity. The labourer rises up early, and late takes rest, and eats the bread of carefulness; but his toil is reckoned as nothing for the wages that are to recompense it. The adventurer ploughs the stormy deep, travels over continents of ice, and explores the frost-bound north; and his labours are not grievous, even in hope, of some discovery with which his name shall in after days be linked. On every hand fatigue is cheerfully borne, privations are submitted to, for some recompense bounded by the present life. And is not the Christian’s glory lofty enough, and his crown bright enough, to induce us to say that the commandments, in obeying which he is preparing for it, are not grievous? (T. Kennion, M. A.)
1 John 5:4
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world
The greatest character and the greatest conquest
The greatest character. “Born of God.” This means a moral generation in men of a Divine character. It implies three things.
1. Filial devotion.
2. Moral resemblance. Like begets like, children are like their parents. He who is morally born of God resembles God in spirit and in character.
3. Glorious heirship. “If a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”
II. The greatest conquest. “Overcometh the world.” The world is here used to represent the mighty aggregation of evil. The conquest of the world includes the subordination--
1. Of matter to mind. The rendering of all material elements, circumstances, and influences, subservient to the elevating of the reason and the ennobling of the soul. It includes the subordination--
2. Of the mind to God. The devotion of the intellect to the study of God; of the heart to the love of God; of the conscience to the will of God. Sublime conquest this! The grand difference between a man Divinely born and others is this, that he conquers the world whilst others are conquered by it. (Homilist.)
I. The Christian’s life is a lengthened contest with the three enemies--“sin, the world, the devil.” What is the “world,” and what is “worldliness”? Can we find in the Scriptures any full lists of acts which are worldly? No. It is the genius of Christianity to give us principles, and not precise rules.
II. Is this wry liberty consists the strictness of the law. And owing to this, too, there is a difficulty in obeying it, far beyond that of obeying a law, To escape this difficulty various attempts have been made to lay down precise rules, and to define exactly what is and what is not “the world” and “worldly.” The most common of these tests is, as is well known, that of presence at social reunions and amusements of a particular class. It seems uncharitable to pronounce as necessarily irreligious those who, with every other token of sincere piety, are found nevertheless sometimes in places where others of us are never to be seen. If a person whose whole life and walk is that of a Christian says that he really before God has come to the conclusion that his spiritual growth is in no wise retarded by the enjoyment of some pleasure--not in itself sinful--and that his example is not likely to be injurious to others, it does seem monstrous to say to him, “That is one of the things I have set down as belonging to the world; and as you see no harm in it, you are outside the covenant.” To our own Master we each of us stand or fall. Moreover, the test is insufficient, and therefore deceptive. It is quite possible to bear it without a particle of religion, or without even any profession of religion. Another evil arising from this arbitrary and most inadequate test of worldliness is, that the persons who apply it are very liable to be deceived by it themselves. From habitually speaking of one kind of worldliness they lapse into the practical belief that there is none other; and, having clearly overcome that--sometimes after a long trial of physical rather than spiritual strength--they imagine that they have given up the world, and that their contest with that enemy, at all events, is at an end. If we do strip off our ornaments of gold and cast them into the fire, we must take heed lest we worship the calf into which they are molten. Another, and not a trifling danger of these false tests arises from the fact that very many of those who use them are among the best, the most pious, and the most truly unworldly persons on earth. Now, when such persons use as tests of victory over the world the forsaking of those two or three courses or habits, the impression conveyed to the thoughtless votary of dissipation is this--“These amusements, then, are what I have to give up; on the subject of these is the main difference, between myself and those about whose piety there can be no doubt. Well, I shall give them up assuredly at some time, as many have done before me, and then I shall stand in their position.” And, as time and change of circumstances will in many cases bring about this resemblance, they leave it to time to bring about, and make no effort to overcome a “world” which, as they have been accustomed to hear it described, will in all probability one day fly away of its own accord.
III. Precise rules upon matters intrinsically indifferent, but capable of being made occasions of fostering a worldly spirit, are to be avoided, because they give to those who at present want to be guided neither by the letter nor the spirit a false impression as to what that world is by the subjugation of which we are told the child of God is characterised. Before you come to be Christians you must bear far stricter tests than these. Especially in these cravings for excitement and gaiety, which are by your own admissions the forms in which the world is most alluring, and because they are so, you must be completely changed. But the contest does not end there or then. To you and all of us it ends on earth, and while we live, nowhere and never, For “the world” is not a time, or a place, or a class of persons, or a definable course of acts, or a definite set of amusements; it is a system pervading every, place, extending from age to age, tempting us in all our occupations, mixing itself with all our thoughts, insinuating itself under forms the most unsuspected, lurking in pursuits the most harmless--yea, in pursuits, without it, the most holy--checking aspirations the most noble, sullying affections the most pure. (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
The glory of a truly good man
I. He has the highest moral pedigree. In conventional society there are fools who pride themselves in their ancestry.
1. In him there is a moral resemblance to the greatest Being. As the human offspring partakes of the nature of his parent, so the good man partakes of the moral character of God, a character loving, pure, just.
2. Over him there is the tenderest care of the greatest Being. “As a father pitieth his children,” etc.
3. In him there is the most loyal devotion to the greatest Being. He loves the “Most High” supremely, constantly, practically.
II. He achieves the highest moral conquest. He overcomes the world. He conquers errors, lusts; he overcomes bad habits and reforms corrupt institutions. (Homilist.)
Overcoming the world
I. The contest with the world. It is assumed to be universal. None can avoid it. If we follow Christ we must resist the world. The forms in which this warfare must be maintained are many and dangerous. The apostle had in his view the persecutions which believers were required to encounter in his day from the world. We have cause to be thankful that we are not exposed to the trials of those times. Even supposing, however, that our danger does not lie in this direction, it may still be great in another. The love of money may eat as a canker into the soul. It may tempt to practices of very doubtful propriety. It may harden the heart against the claims of others. Even the enlightened and Godly man finds the extreme danger of this subtle enemy. It is a principal hindrance to his growth in grace. It can be withstood only by a most determined resistance.
II. How this victory may be gained.
1. Regeneration. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” There is great force in the term “whatsoever.” It refers to the work of the Spirit in the soul. So far as that prevails there is a power and principle in direct antagonism to the world. And so far as the new man prevails, it overcometh the world. Paul reiterates the same sentiment (Romans 12:2). He takes for granted that unless there be this transformation of mind, there will be conformity to the world, but that such transformation will overcome it. How it does so may easily be shown.
(1) The mind is then enlightened. It sees the world in its true character.
(2) The conscience is quickened. There is the utmost jealousy lest the world should obtain the place of God.
(3) The heart is purified. Thus the taste is rendered pure and heavenly. The world, therefore, cannot please nor satisfy.
2. Faith. “This is the victory,” etc. Show how faith secures such a blessed issue.
(1) It does so by engaging the attention with Jesus Christ. This is prominent in the verse before us. “He believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” His mind becomes thus occupied with the high themes of the person and work of Christ. In comparison with them, all other things fall into insignificance in his esteem.
(2) Again, the believer is much strengthened in these elevated views by observing that one design of Christ’s salvation is to secure a victory over the present world.
(3) Further, he is encouraged while he is warned by considering the example of Christ and of those who have been conformed to Him. They conquered, and so may he.
(4) Finally, his faith carries him into close and constant intercourse with eternity, and thus a mighty influence is brought to bear upon him, and deaden his attachments to the present world. It is of the very nature of faith to unveil the eternal world. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The conflicts and conquest of the born of God
I. The subject principally spoken of, the born of God. This doctrine, however ridiculed by some, our Saviour preached with great plainness, as absolutely necessary. To be born of God is to have a supernatural principle of spiritual life implanted by God in the soul. Concerning this principle of grace, whereby a dead sinner is made alive, let it be observed that it is infused and not acquired. The first principle or spring of good actions may, with equal reason, be supposed to be infused into us as Christians, as it is undoubtedly true that the principle of reasoning is infused into us as men: none ever supposed that the natural power of reasoning may be acquired, though a greater facility or degree thereof is gradually attained. Again, as in nature the seed produces fruit, and in things moral the principle of action produces action, as the principle of reason produces acts of reason, so in things spiritual the principle of grace produces acts of grace. And this principle of grace, which is at least in the order of nature antecedent to any act of grace, is the immediate effect of the power of God. But the words here are not whosoever, in the masculine gender, but whatsoever, in the neuter; and so may with as much, or more propriety, be applied to things than persons. They seem to refer to the inward or spiritual embellishments peculiar to the man of God as a soldier of Christ. As the Christian is one born of God, all his graces are born so too. To instance in faith, hope, and love, the cardinal or principle and most leading of them. How little a matter soever some persons make of believing, as if they had faith at their command, or could believe at pleasure, the Apostle Paul says expressly that “Faith is a fruit of the Spirit,” so not the work of man. True Christian hope is also of Divine original. “It is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, who giveth us a good hope, through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). And that love is a heaven-born grace nothing can be more clear than what this loving apostle says, “Love is of God, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:16). So that He and His Spirit may properly be called the God, or Spirit of faith, hope, and love. These are a specimen of the rest; for as these, so in like manner the spiritual peace, joy, and consolation of saints, and all their other graces, are born of God; i.e., they receive their birth, rise, and first beginning from Him; and as their first life and all their motion is from Him, He only can put them into motion. Thus the soldier of Christ is girded of God Himself, and furnished by the Holy Spirit with every grace that is needful for his office and exercise.
II. To what is said or predicated of the subject of the words--the born of God. It refers to his honour, to overcome the world. Neither the gospel of grace nor the graces of the gospel are given in vain to any person or people. The world is the theatre of action, or field of battle.
1. No man, as a descendant of the first Adam, is born a Christian or a saint, but a sinner.
2. Christians are soldiers by their calling, and their life is a continued warfare.
3. It may animate Christians as soldiers of Christ, insomuch as all their armour and artillery is proved, and born of God. His Spirit has formed and fitted it for them.
4. We see here the excellency of spiritual grace.
5. To preserve their humility and heighten their thankfulness to God the Spirit, Christians should always remember that whatever advantages or conquests they gain over their spiritual enemies are not owing to their wisdom, power, and fortitude of mind, as men, but to the instrumentality of their graces.
III. How or whereby the Christian’s honour of victory is attained; and it is by his faith--“And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” The gaieties, pleasures, and advantages of the present life are the arms with which the world has slain its thousands, and with which it still endeavours to delude and destroy mankind; but faith in Jesus Christ detects its fallacy and defeats its purpose on believers. If hope wavers, love chills and loses its wonted fervour, or patience; faith brings in new succours when it tells them, “Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Hebrews 10:37). In a word, faith is the enemy’s killing and the Christian’s conquering grace. (G. Braithwaite, M. A.)
The world overcome
1. The real Christian, in his way to heaven, has a conquest to make, a victory to win--he must overcome the world. Why is this? Because the world is fallen from God. Satan is its prince and ruler; and, therefore, at our very baptism we have vowed to renounce it. The devil finds in the world temptations suited to each one of us. One is tempted by riches to deny his God. The smile of the world and hope of its favour make many traitors to God; the fear of its frown, and still more of its sneers, keeps many from confessing Christ before men.
II. The true Christian doth gain the victory over all: for “whosoever is born of God overcometh the world.” Such a one hath that within him which is greater than the world, even the Spirit of God. The grace of God enables him to persevere; to get the better from day to day of his own evil desires; to resist the world’s temptations.
III. And by what means does the Christian gain the victory? “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Not as though there were any strength in ourselves; not as though there were any merit in our faith; but by crediting His testimony, and by daring to act upon it, we obtain knowledge, and strength, and motives which make us conquerors. Let me show this by a comparison. A report is brought that in a distant country labour is wanted and high wages may be gained; that all things are abundant and flourishing. One man who hears the report, though he is able to go, continues where he is, to struggle with poverty. Another, when he hears it, forthwith sells all he has, removes his family, crosses the deep, encounters trials, and at length reaches the promised land of plenty. Why did he go? Because he believed; he had faith in the report; and his strong belief made him overcome all obstacles. So it is with that far higher faith, that gospel faith which is the gift of God, which He works in the heart, and which receives His testimony as true. Let us see how it is that everyone who has a true faith in Christ will overcome the world.
1. It is because the believer is fully convinced that the world is evil, that therefore the Son of God came to redeem him from its power, and to bring him to heaven and to God.
2. Again, the believer knows that the Lord Jesus conquered the world, not for Himself but for His followers, and that they must study and strive to be sharers in His victory.
3. The Christian sees by the example of Jesus Christ, by His life of humiliation and self-denial, and yet more by His bitter sufferings and death, that the world is to be renounced. This is the lesson of His Cross.
4. Faith teaches the Christian that the Saviour is able to make all grace abound towards him.
5. And once more, it is by faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, in His exaltation to Heaven, and His constant intercession for us there, that we are begotten again unto a lively hope, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith--
Faith’s conquest of the world
I. What did St. John mean by the “world”? The old Greeks had employed the very word which St. John here uses, to describe the created universe, or this earth, in all its ordered beauty; and the word often occurs in this sense in Scripture (Romans 1:20; Acts 17:24; 2 Peter 3:6). But neither of these senses can belong to the word in the passage before us. This material world is not an enemy to be conquered; it is a friend to be reverently consulted, that we may know something of the Eternal Mind that framed it (Psalms 19:1; Psalms 24:1). Does St. John then mean by the world the entire human family--the whole world of men? We find the word, undoubtedly, used in this sense, also in the Bible (Matthew 5:14; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 18:7; John 8:12; John 8:26; John 12:19; 1 Corinthians 4:13). This use of the word is popular as well as classical: it is found in Shakespeare and Milton; but it is not St. John’s meaning in the present passage. For this world, which thus comprises all human beings, included the Christian Church and St. John himself. Whereas the world of which St. John is speaking is plainly a world with which St. John has nothing to do; a world which is hostile to all that he has at heart; a world to be overcome by everyone that is born of God. In this passage, then, the world means human life and society, so far as it is alienated from God, through being centred on material objects and aims, and thus opposed to God’s Spirit and His kingdom. And this is the sense of the word in the majority of cases where it occurs in the writings of St. John (John 7:7; John 14:17; John 14:27; John 14:30; John 15:18-19; John 17:9; John 17:14; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:19). This world, according to St. Paul, has a spirit of its own, opposed to the Spirit of God; and there are “things of the world” opposed to “the things of God”; and rudiments and elements of the world which are not after Christ; and there is a “sorrow of the world that worketh death,” as contrasted with a “godly sorrow unto repentance, not to be repented of”; so that, gazing on the Cross of Christ, St. Paul says “that by it the world is crucified to him, and he to the world”--so utter is the moral separation between them. To the same purpose is St. James’s definition of true religion and undefiled, before God and the Father; it consists not only in active philanthropy, but in a man’s keeping himself unspotted from the world. And there is the even more solemn warning of the same apostle, “that the friendship of the world is enmity with God.”
II. This body of language shows that the conception of the world as human life, so far as it is alienated from God, is one of the most prominent and distinct truths brought before us in the new testament. The world is a living tradition of disloyalty and dislike to God and His kingdom, just as the Church is or was meant to be a living tradition of faith, hope, and charity; a mass of loyal, affectionate, energetic devotion to the cause of God. Of the millions and millions of human beings who have lived, nearly everyone probably has contributed something, his own little addition, to the great tradition of materialised life which St. John calls the world. The world of the apostolic age was the Roman society and empire, with the exception of the small Christian Church. When a Christian of that day named the world, his thoughts first rested on the vast array of wealth, prestige, and power, whose centre was at Rome. Both St. Peter in his first Epistle (1 Peter 5:13), and St. John in the Revelation (Revelation 18:2), salute pagan Rome as Babylon; as the typical centre of organised worldly power among the sons of men, at the very height of its alienation from Almighty God. The world, then, of the apostolic age was primarily a vast organisation. But it was not a world that could last (Revelation 18:1-2; Revelation 18:4-5). Alaric the Goth appeared before Rome; and the city of the Caesars became the prey of the barbarians. The event produced a sensation much more profound than would now be occasioned by the sack of London. The work of a thousand years, the greatest effort to organise human life permanently under a single system of government, the greatest civilisation that the world had known, at once so vicious and so magnificent, had perished from sight. It seemed to those who witnessed it as though life would be no longer endurable, and that the end had come. But before the occurrence of this catastrophe, another and a more remarkable change had been silently taking place. For nearly three hundred years the Church had been leavening the empire. And the empire, feeling and dreading the ever-advancing, ever-widening influence, had again and again endeavoured to extinguish it in a sea of blood. From the year of the crucifixion, A.D. 29, to the Edict of Toleration, A.D. 313, there were 284 years of almost uninterrupted growth, promoted by almost perpetual suffering; until at last, in St. Augustine’s language, the Cross passed from the scenes of public executions to the diadem of the Caesars. The world now to a great extent used Christian language, it accepted outwardly Christian rules. And in order to keep this world at bay, some Christians fled from the great highways and centres of life to lead the life of solitaires in the Egyptian deserts; while others even organised schisms, like that of the Donatists, which, if small and select, relatively to the great Catholic Church, should at least be unworldly. They forgot that our Lord had anticipated the new state of things by His parables of the net and of the tares; they forgot that whether the world presents itself as an organisation or as a temper, a Christian’s business is to encounter and to overcome it. The great question was and is, how to achieve this; and St. John gives us explicit instructions. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
III. This is, I say, the question for us of today, no less than for our predecessors in the faith of Christ. For the world is not a piece of the furniture of bygone centuries, which had long since perished, except in the pages of our ancient and sacred books. It is here, around and among us; living and energetic, and true to the character which our Lord and His apostles gave it. It is here, in our business, in our homes, in our conversations, in our literature; it is here, awakening echoes loud and shrill within our hearts, if, indeed, it be not throned in them. Is the world temper to be overcome by mental cultivation? We live in days when language is used about education and literature, as if of themselves they had an elevating and transforming power in human life. In combination with other and higher influences mental cultivation does much for man. It softens his manners; it tames his natural ferocity. It refines and stimulates his understanding, his taste, his imagination. But it has no necessary power of purifying his affections, or of guiding or invigorating his will. In these respects it leaves him as it finds him. And, if he is bound heart and soul to the material aspects of this present life, it will not help him to break his bonds. Is the world, then, to be overcome by sorrow, by failure, by disappointment; in a word, by the rude teaching of experience? Sorrow and failure are no doubt to many men a revelation. They show that the material scene in which we pass our days is itself passing. They rouse into activity from the depths of our souls deep currents of feeling; and we may easily mistake feeling for something which it is not. Feeling is not faith; it sees nothing beyond the veil. Feeling is not practice; it may sweep the soul in gusts before it, yet commit us to nothing. Feeling deplores when it does not resist; it admires and approves of enterprises which it never attempts. Consequently, self-exhausted, in time it dies back; leaving the soul worse off than it would be, if it had never felt so strongly; worse off, because at once weaker and less sensitive than before. Certainly, if the world is to be overcome, it must be, as St. John tells us, by a power which lifts us above it, and such a power is faith. Faith does two things which are essential to success in this matter. It enables us to measure the world; to appraise it, not at its own, but at its real value. It does this by opening to our view that other and higher world of which Christ our Lord is King, and in which His saints and servants are at home; that world which, unlike this, will last forever. When “the eyes of a man’s understanding are thus enlightened that he may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints,” faith enables him to take a second step. Faith is a hand whereby the soul lays actual hold on the unseen realities; and so learns to sit loosely to and detach itself from that which only belongs to time. (Canon Liddon.)
The victory of faith
I. The Christian’s enemy, the world.
1. The tyranny of the present. Worldliness is the attractive power of something present, in opposition to something to come. In this respect, worldliness is the spirit of childhood carried on into manhood. The child lives in the present hour--today to him is everything. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit, when carried on into manhood, is coarse--is worldliness. The most distinct illustration given us of this, is the case of Esau. In this worldliness, moreover, is to be remarked the gamester’s desperate play. There is a gambling spirit in human nature. Esau distinctly expresses this: “Behold I am at the point to die, and what shall my birthright profit me?” He might never live to enjoy his birthright; but the pottage was before him, present, certain, there. Now, observe the utter powerlessness of mere preaching to cope with this tyrannical power of the present.
2. The tyranny of the sensual. I call it tyranny, because the evidences of the senses are all powerful, in spite of the protestations of the reason. The man who died yesterday, and whom the world called a successful man--for what did he live? He lived for this world--he gained this world. Houses, lands, name, position in society--all that earth could give of enjoyments--he had. We hear men complain of the sordid love of gold, but gold is merely a medium of exchange for other things: gold is land, titles, name, comfort--all that the world can give.
3. The spirit of society. The spirit of the world is forever altering--impalpable; forever eluding, in fresh forms, your attempts to seize it. In the days of Noah the spirit of the world was violence. In Elijah’s day it was idolatry. In the day of Christ it was power concentrated and condensed in the government of Rome. In ours, perhaps, it is the love of money. It enters in different proportions into different bosoms; it is found in a different form in contiguous towns; in the fashionable watering place, and in the commercial city: it is this thing at Athens, and another in Corinth. This is the spirit of the world--a thing in my heart and sours; to be struggled against not so much in the case of others, as in the silent battle to be done within our own souls.
II. The victory of faith. Faith is a theological expression; yet it is the commonest principle of man’s daily life, called in that region prudence, enterprise, or some such name. It is in effect the principle on which alone any human superiority can be gained. Faith, in religion, is the same principle as faith in worldly matters, differing only in its object. The difference between the faith of the Christian and that of the man of the world, or the mere ordinary religionist, is not a difference in mental operation, but in the object of the faith--to believe that Jesus is the Christ is the peculiarity of Christian faith. Do you think that the temperate man has overcome the world, who, instead of the short-lived rapture of intoxication, chooses regular employment, health, and prosperity? Is it not the world in another form, which has his homage? Or do you suppose that the so called religious man is really the world’s conqueror by being content to give up seventy years of enjoyment in order to win innumerable ages of the very same species of enjoyment? Has he not only made earth a hell, in order that earthly things may be his heaven forever? Thus the victory of faith proceeds from stage to stage; the first victory is, when the present is conquered by the future; the last, when the visible and eternal is despised in comparison of the invisible and eternal. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The victory of faith
I. First, the text speaks of a great victory--the victory of victories the greatest of all. A tough battle, I warrant you; not one which carpet knights might win; no easy skirmish; not one he shall gain, who, but a raw recruit today, put on his regimentals, and foolishly imagines that one week of service will ensure a crown of glory. Nay, it is a life long war--a fight needing the power of a strong heart.
1. He overcomes the world when it sets up itself as a legislator, wishing to teach him customs. Men usually swim with the stream like a dead fish; it is only the living fish that goes against it. It is only the Christian who despises customs, who does not care for conventionalisms, who only asks himself the question, “Is it right or is it wrong? If it is right, I will be singular. If there is not another man in this world who will do it, I will do it. I care not what others do; I shall not be weighed by other men; to my own Master I stand or fall. Thus I conquer and overcome the customs of the world.”
2. The rebel against the world’s customs. And if we do so, what is the conduct of our enemy? She changes her aspect. “That man is a heretic; that man is a fanatic; he is a cant, he is a hypocrite,” says the world directly. She lets no stone be unturned whereby she may injure him.
3. “Well,” saith the world, “I will try another style,” and this, believe me, is the most dangerous of all. A smiling world is worse than a frowning one. It is not in the cold wintry wind that I take off my coat of righteousness and throw it away; it is when the sun comes, when the weather is warm and the air balmy, that I unguardedly strip off my robes and become naked. Some men cannot live without a large amount of praise; and if they have no more than they deserve, let them have it.
4. Sometimes, again, the world turns jailer to a Christian. Many a man has had the chance of being rich in an hour, affluent in a moment, if he would but clutch something which he dare not look at, because God within him said, “No.” The world said, “Be rich, be rich”; but the Holy Spirit said, “No! be honest; serve thy God.” Oh, the stern contest and the manly combat carried on within the heart!
II. But my text speaks of a great birth. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” This new birth is the mysterious point in all religion. To be born again is to undergo a change so mysterious that human words cannot speak of it. As we cannot describe our first birth, so it is impossible for us to describe the second. At the time of the new birth the soul is in great agony--often drowned in seas of tears. It is “a new heart and a right spirit”; a mysterious but yet an actual and real change! Let me tell you, moreover, that this change is a supernatural one. It is not one that a man performs upon himself. It is a new principle infused which works in the heart, enters the very soul and moves the entire man.
III. There is a great grace. Persons who are born again really do overcome the world. Who are the men that do anything in the world? Are they not always men of faith? Take it even as natural faith. Who wins the battle? Why, the man who knows he will win it, and vows that he will be victor. “Never was a marvel done upon the earth, but it had sprung of faith; nothing noble, generous, or great, but faith was the root of the achievement; nothing comely, nothing famous, but its praise is faith. Leonidas fought in human faith as Joshua in Divine. Xenophon trusted to his skill, and the sons of Matthias to their cause.” Faith is mightiest of the mighty. Faith makes you almost as omnipotent as God by the borrowed might of its divinity. Give us faith and we can do all things. I want to tell you how it is that faith helps Christians to overcome the world. It always does it homeopathically. You say, “That is a singular idea.” So it may be. The principle is that “like cures like.” So does faith overcome the world by curing like with like. How does faith trample upon the fear of the world? By the fear of God. How does faith overthrow the world’s hopes? “There,” says the world, “I will give thee this, I will give thee that, if thou wilt be my disciple. There is a hope for you; you shall be rich, you shall be great.” But faith says, “I have a hope laid up in heaven; a hope which fadeth not away,” and the hope of glory overcomes all the hopes of the world. “Ah! “says the world, “why not follow the example of your fellows?” “Because,” says faith, “I will follow the example of Christ.” “Well,” says the world, “since thou wilt not be conquered by all this, come, I will love thee; thou shalt be my friend.” Faith says, “He that is the friend of this world cannot be the friend of God. God loves me.” So he puts love against love, fear against fear, hope against hope, dread against dread, and so faith overcomes the world by like curing like. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The true hero
I. The Christian’s powerful foe. The “god of this world” seeks to “blind men’s eyes,” and He does this with the “man born of God,” chiefly by presenting to him the world’s purest good, and tempting him to centre his affections upon that. The constant and bitter struggle is with that which is lawful and right, in its attempts to assume an unlawful and a wrong position; the most arduous contest is with earthly good in its attempts to win back his warmest affections.
II. The Christian’s powerful weapon. The faith spoken of in the text has its foundation in the belief of the Divine testimony respecting the Son of God. It is the being habitually influenced by that which is spiritual. It is the Cross ever present and trusted in; heaven ever visible and longed for. The world points below, faith above. The world influences us to live to ourselves; faith, to live to Christ. The world would confine our thoughts to time’; faith would fix them on eternity.
III. The Christian’s peculiar triumph. That faith which is the gift of God, in its feeblest influence, will impart to the soul higher hopes, nobler pursuits, and warmer affections than can belong to this world. But whilst the Christian thus triumphs over the world, his triumph is peculiar. “Who is he that over cometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” None but the Christian places himself in opposition to the world. The battle of life indeed rages everywhere around. Interest clashes with interest, and passion strives with passion; but it is not against the world, but for it. And not only is the Christian the only man who is contending against the influence of the world, but he alone possesses the means for such a contest. (J. C. Rook.)
The faith that over cometh
I. It is a matter of some consequence for a soldier to be aware of the enemy with whom he is called upon to contend, his resources, and the plans which he is likely to resort to in order to overcome him. There is less danger in fighting with an enemy who can be seen, however powerful and determined he may be, than with one who hides himself in a forest and lurks in inaccessible regions. This is a harassing kind of warfare, which is always intended to weary out and exhaust those against whom it is employed. The soldiers of the Cross have little ground of complaint on this head, because they have been told of the enemy who is before and around them, of his character, and of the artifices to which he is certain to resort.
II. The victory which is promised to those who fight so as to overcome. The victory of faith over the world differs from all other conquests, which individuals or armies of men obtain over each other. When men quarrel, and resort to the tribunals of the country to have their differences settled, the litigant who gains the cause triumphs over his opponent and inflicts upon him serious loss either in his character or in his means, or both. When nations have recourse to war to settle their disputes, disasters, losses, physical suffering, and many evils always follow in the train even of victory. Such are the victories of armies over each other, but such is not the character of the victory of faith which the children of God achieve over the world. No treasure is wasted, no lives are lost, and no suffering is inflicted upon the vanquished enemy. The world is external to the Christian combatant, so that the warfare in its main features is essentially defensive, the valour of faith being employed to repel attacks and to defeat spiritual aggression. Temptation must be met and overcome by peculiar tactics, so that every successful act of resistance is so much gained toward the final victory, with no loss to the vanquished and with every gain to the victor. Victories over enemies are always followed by great rejoicings, which drown the cry of suffering and cause the people to forget their previous distresses in the exultation of the moment. The high song of eternity can only be chanted by the saints who have overcome the world, proved their valour on the battlefield of spiritual conflict, and received the guerdon of victory from the hands of the Arbiter of the destinies of the living and the dead.
III. The instrument by which this great victory is to be obtained. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Faith is one of the simplest of principles, because it is nothing more than a confidence in another, which never wavers or hesitates, but it is at the same time one of the mightiest which can enter into the soul. The power which is ascribed to it in Scripture is almost surpassing belief. Faith never stops to estimate the nature of a difficulty, but goes straight forward to its object without turning aside to the right hand or to the left. Faith laughs to scorn the power of the world. (J. B. Courtenay, M. A.)
I. The Christian, by faith, overcomes the temptations of the world.
II. The unkindness of the world a Christian overcomes by faith. Under this head I include persecution, reproach, calumny, treachery, and misrepresentation. All men are exposed to these more or less--Christians not excepted. Nothing so sours the temper and breaks the spirit, throws men off their guard, so provokes them to revenge, as unkind, unjust, and cruel treatment. Men of the world are overcome by it. They cannot brook an insult--their honour is touched, their pride wounded. Faith makes a Christian conquer here--faith in such exhortations as these (Romans 12:14; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 2:20-23).
III. The calamities of the world a Christian overcomes by faith. Adversity and misfortune, as it is called, will overtake us in some shape or other. Men destitute of religion, who have no faith, sink beneath the weight of the burden, are driven to despair, break forth into loud complaints of Providence.
1. Let those persons who are the friends of the world remember they are the enemies of God, .and dying so, will be condemned with it at last.
2. Let the Christian “be of good cheer.” Christ has overcome the world for him, and through faith in Him he shall overcome it too. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The Christian’s victory
I. The persons to whom this victory belongs. He assigns it to those who are “born of God,” and are “believers in Jesus Christ.” Both descriptions apply to the same individuals.
1. Regeneration introduces us into the new world of grace--the Christian state. While such is the Christian’s state, his distinguishing character is that of a believer in Jesus Christ.
2. Regeneration allies us more especially to the Father; faith to the Saviour.
3. Regeneration is the pledge of our victory over the world, and faith is the instrument of ejecting that victory.
II. Consider the victory itself.
1. Christians overcome the influence of the world as an example. The same passion which impels us to seek the society of others, impels us to adopt their habits and pursuits. And the same depravity which leads one class of men to set an evil example, leads another to copy and follow it. God, however, requires our imitation of others to cease whenever, by advancing, it would resist His will.
2. Christians overcome the spirit of the world as a guide. “Now,” they say, “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, by which we may know the things which are freely given to us of God.”
3. Christians overcome the love of the world as a portion. Both their judgment and their taste respecting it are completely changed by regeneration and faith.
4. Christians overcome the fear of the world as an adversary. Born of God, they are under His special paternal protection; believing in Christ, they are strong in Him, and in the power of His might; hence the world has no more terrors than it has claims in their view.
5. Christians overcome the hope of the world as a recompense and a rest. Reducing to holy and habitual practice their belief of the shortness and uncertainty of life, and “knowing that they have in heaven a better and more enduring substance,” they preserve a constant anticipation of death and eternity, and say, “I am ready to be offered, when the time of my departure is come.” (H. Lacey.)
Faith’s victory over the world
The conquest of the world may be considered the highest object of human ambition. But we cannot renounce the world as a portion without incurring its displeasure.
I. The circumstances of this spiritual warfare vary exceedingly with the condition of the world and of each individual. Sometimes the battle is fierce and dreadful; while, at other times, there is the appearance of a truce. This, however, is always a deceitful appearance. On the part of the enemy there never is any real cessation of hostility; and on the part of the Christian there should be none. The opposition of the world is of two kinds; or it assumes two aspects, of a very opposite nature. The first is an aspect of terror. It endeavours to alarm him, by holding out the prospect of losses to be sustained of things naturally desirable, of pains to be endured which are abhorrent to our nature, and does not merely threaten these evils, but actually inflicts them, in a very terrific form. There is another aspect which the world assumes in regard to religion. It does not always frown, but sometimes insidiously smiles. These are the temptations which are more dangerous than fires and gibbets. And the danger is greater because it does not appear to be danger. No apprehensions are awakened. Prosperity and indulgence are naturally agreeable to everyone. At this point, the world is powerful, and the best of men, left to themselves, are weak. Indeed, few who have set their faces Zionward, have escaped unhurt in passing over this enchanted ground.
II. Having shown how the world opposes the Christian, we come next to explain how the Christian gains the victory. “And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” None achieve this great victory but souls “born of God”; for none beside possess a true faith. Genuine faith is a conviction, or full persuasion of the truth, produced by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The evidence on which this faith is founded, being the beauty and excellence of the truth perceived, cannot but be operative; for it is impossible that the rational mind should see an object to be lovely, and not love it. Such a faith must, therefore, “work by love and purify the heart,” and be fruitful of good works. It will only be necessary to bring to view two principles, to account for the power of faith, by which it achieves this great victory. The first is, that our estimation of the value of objects is always comparative. The child knows nothing which it esteems more valuable than its toys; but when this child rises to maturity, and the interesting objects of real life are presented to it, the trifling baubles which engaged the affections in childhood are now utterly disregarded, and considered unworthy of a moment’s thought. The other principle to which I alluded is this. The true method of expelling from the soul one set of affections is to introduce others of a different nature and of greater strength. When faith comes into operation, and love to God becomes the predominant affection, there is not only a great change, but a moral transformation of the soul, from the sinful love of the creature, to the holy love of the Creator. Now the world is conquered. Faith working by love has achieved the victory. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
I. Who is the great conqueror of the world? It is not he who out of a restless ambition and insatiable thirst for glory and empire carries his victorious arms to the remotest parts of the earth, but the man under this two-fold character:
1. Who hath subdued his inclinations and appetites to all things here below, and moderated his affections and passions about them.
2. Who, as a consequence of this, will not, either to gain the world or to keep it, do a base and unworthy action; whom all the glories of the world cannot tempt into a wicked enterprise, nor all its oppositions hinder from pursuing virtuous ones.
II. What that faith is that overcomes the world. Now of faith there are several kinds: there is a faith grounded on probable reason, upon likely and promising arguments, which yet are not evident nor certain, but may possibly prove false, though they seem to be true; and this is rather opinion than faith. Again, there is a faith grounded on evident and certain reason, wherein if a man’s faculties themselves are to be trusted, he cannot be mistaken; and this is rather knowledge than faith. But then there is a faith grounded on Divine revelation, the Word of God; and this is properly called faith, and that faith that overcomes the world: to wit, an hearty belief of all those things that God heretofore by His prophets, and in this last age by his Son, hath made known to the world.
III. What are the strengths and forces of faith by which it obtains this victory?
1. The Christian faith affords many excellent precepts to this purpose (1 John 2:15; Matthew 6:19; Colossians 3:2; Rom 12:2; 1 Corinthians 7:31; James 1:27). Precepts of that direct use and tendency to the ease and tranquillity, to the honour and perfection of human nature, that, were they not enforced by Divine authority, would yet be sufficiently recommended by their own intrinsic worth and excellency.
2. The Christian faith sets before us a most powerful example, that of our blessed Saviour, who voluntarily deprived Himself of the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world.
3. The Christian faith assures us of supernatural assistances, those of the Holy Spirit.
4. The Christian faith assures us of most glorious rewards after the conquest--rewards so far surmounting all that this world can pretend to, that they exceed them a whole infinity, and will outlive them an eternity.
5. The Christian faith represents to us the dismal effects and consequences of being overcome by the world; no less than the loss of the soul, and all that is glorious and happy, together with an endless state of insupportable torments.
IV. If the forces of faith are so strong and numerous, how comes it to pass, that notwithstanding them, faith is so often overcome by the world?
1. Because our faith is many times weak, either through the shallowness of the root it has taken, or for want of being excited by due consideration.
2. Because it is many times corrupted; and at this door also are we to lay in a great measure the many shameful overthrows the Christian receives from the world, his corrupt opinions and doctrines; the false glosses and expositions, the forgeries and inventions of men have usually the same fatal influence on faith, as sickness and diseases have on the body; they soon enfeeble and dispirit it, by degrees taint the whole mass, and so alter its very constitution, that it becomes another faith, and administers to other purposes. The conclusion of all is this: that since it is faith that overcomes the world, and it is, through the weakness and corruption of it, that it so often miscarries, that we should use our utmost diligence to keep our faith strong and vigorous, pure and undefiled. (S. A. Freeman, D. D.)
The victory of faith
1. In the world all seems full of chance and change. One man rises, and another falls, one hardly knows why: they hardly know themselves. A very slight accident may turn the future of a man’s whole life, perhaps of a whole nation. What, then, will help us to overcome the fear of chances and accidents? Where shall we find something abiding and eternal, a refuge sure and steadfast, in which we may trust, amid all the chances and changes of this mortal life? In that within you which is born of God.
2. In the world so much seems to go by fixed law and rule. Then comes the awful question, Are we at the mercy of these laws? Is the world a great machine, which goes grinding on its own way without any mercy to us or to anything; and are we each of us parts of the machine, and forced of necessity to do all we do? Where shall we find something to trust in, something to give us confidence and hope that we can mend ourselves, that self-improvement is of use, that working is of use, that prudence is of use, for God will reward every man according to his work? In that within you which is born of God.
3. In the world how much seems to go by selfishness! But is it really to be so? Are we to thrive only by thinking of ourselves? No. Something in our hearts tells us that this would be a very miserable world if every man shifted for himself; and that even if we got this world’s good things by selfishness, they would not be worth having after all, if we had no one but ourselves to enjoy them with. What is that? St. John answers, That in you which is born of God.
4. In the world how much seems to go by mere custom and fashion! But there is something in each of us which tells us that that is not right; that each man should act according to his own conscience, and not blindly follow his neighbour, not knowing whither, like sheep over a hedge; that a man is directly responsible at first for his own conduct to God, and that “my neighbours did so” will be no excuse in God’s sight. What is it which tells us this? That in you which is born of God; and it, if you will listen to it, will enable you to overcome the world’s deceit, and its vain fashions, and foolish hearsays, and blind party cries; and not to follow after a multitude to do evil. What, then, is this thing? St. John tells us that it is born of God; and that it is our faith. We shall overcome by believing. Have you ever thought of all that those great words mean, “Jesus is the Son of God”?--That He who died on the cross, and rose again for us, now sits at God’s right hand, having all power given to Him in heaven and earth? For, think, if we really believed that, what power it would give us to overcome the world.
1. Those chances and changes of mortal life of which I spoke first. We should not be afraid of them, then, if they came. For we should believe that they were not chances and changes at all, but the loving providence of our Lord and Saviour.
2. Those stern laws and tales by which the world moves, and will move as long as it lasts--we should not be afraid of them either, as if we were mere parts of a machine forced by fate to do this thing and that, without a will of our own. For we should believe that these laws were the laws of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. If we believed really that Jesus was the Son of God, we should never believe that selfishness was to be the rule of our lives. One sight of Christ upon His cross would tell us that not selfishness, but love, was the likeness of God, the path to honour and glory, happiness and peace.
4. If we really believed this, we should never believe that custom and fashion ought to rule us. For we should live by the example of some one else: but by the example of only one--of Jesus Himself. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Victory over the world
I. The world, in Holy Scripture, is the creature as opposed to the Creator; what is fleeting, as opposed to Him who alone is abiding; what is weak, as opposed to Him who alone hath might; what is dead, as opposed to Him who alone hath life; what is sinful, as separate from Him who alone is holy. The “world” is everything short of God, when made a rival to God. Since, then, God is the life of everything which liveth, in whatever degree anything be without God, separate from God, it is without life; it is death and not life. The world, then, is everything regarded as distinct from God, beside God; it matters not whether they be the things of the sense or the things of the mind.
II. What is victory over the world? Plainly, not victory over the one or other thing, while in others people are led captive; not soundness in one part, while another is diseased; not to cultivate one or other grace which may be easier to us, leaving undone or imperfect what to us may be more difficult. It is to cut off, as far as we may, every hold which everything out of God has over us. And this struggle must be not for a time only, but perseveringly; not in one way, but in all ways; not in one sort of trials, but in all: whatever temptations God permits Satan to prepare for us, whatever trials He Himself bring upon us. It avails not to be patient in sorrow or sickness, if we become careless when it is withdrawn; to be humble to men, if we become self-satisfied with our humility; to overcome indolence, if we forget God in our activity. God be thanked, we are not left to ourselves, to perish. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world; we are not only the frail creatures which we seem, flesh and blood, but we are spirit, through the indwelling Spirit; we have been born, not only of the earth, but “from above,” by a heavenly birth, of God; and so, since born of God, we are stronger than the world.
III. This is “the victory which overcometh the world, our faith,” which realiseth things invisible, looks beyond the world. So that we must beware not only that we are in earnest striving, but striving with the right faith, that is, with the faith in which we were baptized, the faith in the Holy and Undivided Trinity. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
Faith conquering the world
I. What is the true notion of conquering the world? Where did John learn the expression? It comes from that never-to-be-forgotten night in that upper room, where, with His life’s purpose apparently crushed into nothing, and the world just ready to exercise its last power over Him by killing Him, Jesus Christ breaks out into such a strange strain of triumph, and in the midst of apparent defeat lifts up that clarion note of victory:--“I have overcome the world!” He had not made much of it according to usual standards, had He? His life had been the life of a poor man. Neither fame nor influence, nor what people call success had He won, judged from the ordinary points of view, and at three-and-thirty is about to be murdered; and yet He says, “I have beaten it all, and here I stand a conqueror!” That threw a flood of light for John, and for all that had listened to Christ, on the whole conditions of human life, and on what victory and defeat, success and failure in this world mean. Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ Himself, the poor man, the beaten man, the unsuccessful man may yet say, “I have overcome the world.” What does that mean? Well, it is built upon this,--the world, meaning thereby the sum total of outward things, considered as apart from God--the world and God we take to be antagonists to one another. And the world woos me to trust to it, to love it; crowds in upon nay eye and shuts out the greater things beyond; absorbs my attention, so that if I let it have its own way I have no leisure to think about anything but itself. And the world conquers me when it succeeds in hindering me from seeing, loving, holding communion with and serving my Father, God. On the other hand, I conquer it when I lay my hand upon it and force it to help me to get nearer Him, to get like Him, to think more often of Him, to do His will more gladly and more constantly. The one victory over the world is to bend it to serve me in the highest things--the attainment of a clearer vision of the Divine nature, the attainment of a deeper love to God Himself, and of a more glad consecration and service to Him. That is the victory--when you can make the world a ladder to lift you to God.
II. The method by which this victory over the world is to be accomplished. We find, according to John’s fashion, a three-fold statement in this context upon this matter, each member of which corresponds to and heightens the preceding. There are, speaking roughly, these three statements, that the true victory over the world is won by a new life, born of and kindred with God; that that life is kindled in men’s souls through their faith; that the faith which kindles that supernatural life, the victorious antagonist of the world, is the definite, specific faith in Jesus as the Son of God. The first consideration suggested by these statements is that the one victorious antagonist of all the powers of the world which seek to draw us away from God, is a life in our hearts kindred with God, and derived from God. God’s nature is breathed into the spirits of men that will trust Him; and if you will put your confidence in that dear Lord, and live near Him, into your weakness will come an energy born of the Divine, and you will be able to do all things in the might of the Christ that strengthens you from within, and is the life of your life, and the soul of your soul. And then there is the other way of looking at this same thing, viz., you can conquer the world if you will trust in Jesus Christ, because such trust will bring you into constant, living, loving contact with the Great Conqueror. He conquered once for all, and the very remembrance of His conquest by faith will make me strong--will “teach my hands to war and my fingers to fight.” He conquered once for all, and His victory will pass with electric power into my life if I trust Him. And then there is the last thought which, though it be not directly expressed in the words before us, is yet closely connected with them. You can conquer the world if you will trust Jesus Christ, because your faith will bring into the midst of your lives the grandest and most solemn and blessed realities. If a man goes to Italy, and lives in the presence of the pictures there, it is marvellous what daubs the works of art, that he used to admire, look when he comes back to England again. And if he has been in communion with Jesus Christ, and has found out what real sweetness is, he will not be over tempted by the coarse dainties that people eat here. Children spoil their appetites for wholesome food by sweetmeats; we very often do the same in regard to the bread of God, but if we have once really tasted it, we shall not care very much for the vulgar dainties on the world’s stall. So, two questions:--Does your faith do anything like that for you? If it does not, what do you think is the worth of it? Does it deaden the world’s delights? Does it lift you above them? Does it make you conqueror? If it does not, do you think it is worth calling faith? And the other question is: Do you want to beat, or to be beaten? When you consult your true self, does your conscience not tell you that it were better for you to keep God’s commandments than to obey the world? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The victory of faith
Among the many figures to which life is likened in the Bible none commends itself more to the average human experience than that of a battle. Life goes always from a playground to a battleground--from playing soldiers when we are children to being soldiers when we are men and women. We may be having easy times as the world regards us, but as we regard ourselves we are conscious of more or less fighting. Ah! the life battle is a thing deeper than that old, old question of “What shall I eat and drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed?” This is a very stupid world. Thousands of years have been impressing on us the real significance of life, disclosing the real conflict; and still men measure by these most superficial estimates and call us victorious or defeated in proportion as we get or fail to get fat lands and fair houses. I think we might define the word world, as the Scriptures use it, by these three words--self, sin, and death. Those words stand for the three divisions of the world army. That is the kingdom of this world. Over against it is the kingdom of heaven. Against self is God; against sin is holiness; against death is life. You see how the ranks of this battle are worldwide. No condition escapes it. No soul without a hindering self, without sin, without the shadow of death. What, now, is the victory? I said self was the first of the three divisions of the world. What is a victory over self? There is and has always been a negative Christianity which thinks the way to overcome the world is to crush it--the way to overcome self or selfishness is to crush self. It is a barren victory. You have left only a wreck--as in ancient warfare they made a desert by killing the people and called it victory! Such victories defeated Xerxes. Rome was wiser: she conquered people, then incorporated them into her own life, and so had their strength and their service. And the only way to win a useful victory over human selfishness is to get self to be an ally of the kingdom of heaven; not to crush self--that is both easy and useless; but to win it over from the service of this world to the service of God. The second division of what is called the world is sin, sin as an inner experience and condition, and sin as an outward seduction and force. The second branch of the victory, then, is to overcome sin. Here, again, we may say a true and lasting victory over sin is not accomplished by repressive measures, by tying it down and crucifying it, by casting it out and leaving the house empty. Not thus is the devil cast out. You can cast him out in the passion of some moral struggle, you can drive him away; but if you stop there, there are seven others ready to come back with him. The intemperate man renounces his cups, but takes no partner in to fill the vacant place, and the old enemy comes back. It is not a victory; it was only a truce. The only way to conquer sin is by filling the heart with the love of God. Again, we need a victory over death; not for the last hour--that spasm is soon over. The fear of dying is seldom a fear that is realised. But that bondage of which the apostle speaks, when people through fear of death are all their life long in slavery. Oh, for a sure victory over that dreary part of this world! The shadow of our mortality we cannot escape. It is constantly flung across our path. Nature writes it before us in flaming colours every autumn day. Here, once more, we cannot win a victory by repression, by saying, “Death is common,” or by cultivating stolidity. The only battalion you can effectively set opposite the grim spectre on life’s battlefield is the battalion of a new life. Death will have no dominion then. He will be only a porter to open for us a gate to the enjoyment of our life. Now, if I could give you a weapon to win this kind of a victory would it not be worth while?--a victory that would give new power to your selfhood, that would hold your manhood against sin, and that would banish death in glory as sunlight transfigures a cloud! For just such a victory the apostle provides; the weapon is faith. Faith is making a real connection between the soul and God; it is like connecting poles in a battery, our negative brought to God’s positive. Some people speak of faith as if there were some magic potency in it. They trouble themselves for fear their faith is not the right kind. But it is not the quality of the faith that gains the battle; it is dropping into God’s hand that does that. (C. L. Thompson, D. D.)
The victory over the world
We do not live long before we come to understand that it has pleased God so to order things in this life, that no worthy end can be attained without an effort--without encountering and overcoming opposition. It is difficult to do anything that is good; and the Christian life is in keeping with all things around it. If we would live the Christian life, if we would reach the Christian’s home--there is no other course--we must “overcome the world!” And, first, this world is an obstacle, needing to be overcome--it exerts, that is, an influence which we must every day be resisting and praying against--just in this: that it looks so solid and so real, that in comparison with it, the eternal world and its interests look to most men as though they had but a shadowy and unsubstantial existence. The supreme importance of the life to come is the doctrine on which all religion rests: but though we often hear and repeat the words, that “all on earth is shadow, all beyond is substance”--how fast this world of sense grows and greatens upon us again--while the unseen world and all its concerns seem to recede into distance, to melt into air, to fade into nothing! And what is there that shall “overcome” this materialising influence of a present world: what is there that shall give us the “victory” over it;--but Faith--Faith which believes what it cannot see, with all the vividness of sight? It is too much, perhaps, to expect that the day should ever come when, for more than short seasons of special elevation, we shall be able to realise the unseen and eternal as plainly as we do the seen and temporal: we cannot look to be always so raised above worldly interests, as to feel that not what we grasp, but what we believe, is the true reality: it will be enough if we carry with us such a conviction as shall constrain us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and if we ever do so, this must be “the victory which shall overcome the world, even our faith.” Next we remark that the world is an obstacle in our Christian course, because its cares, business, interests, tend strongly and directly to choke the good seed of religion in the heart--to fill up our minds so completely as that they shall have no room for thoughts of eternity and salvation. How many a time have you knelt down in your closet to say your evening prayer; and in a little while found that some worldly anxiety or trouble was coming between you and your God. Only the “faith that overcometh the world” can save from this. Only that child-like confidence in our Saviour’s love and wisdom and power, which trusts everything to Him--which “casts all our care upon Him”--and so feels the crushing burden lifted from our own weak hearts! Give us that faith; and we have “overcome the world”: it is our tyrant, and we are its slaves, no more! Give us that faith, not for isolated moments of rapture only, but to be the daily mood and temper of our hearts: and then we shall engage without fever in the business of this world, as feeling that in a few short years it will matter nothing whether w, met disappointment or success. There is yet another sense in which the world is an obstacle to our Christian life, needing to be overcome by faith. As you know, the phrase the world is sometimes used in contrast with the Church. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Taken in this way, the world means all human beings who are without the Christian fold: who are devoid of Christian faith, and of Christian ways of thinking and feeling. And you know well that on the most important subjects there is an absolute contrariety between the doctrines of the Church and of the world: and many a believer has found the world’s frown or the world’s sneer something which it needs much faith to resist and to overcome. How cheaply and lightly will that man hold ridicule and mockery of him and his religion, who realises to his heart that the all-wise and Almighty God thinks upon that subject as he does: who realises that God approves the course he follows, whether man does or no. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
The true confession of faith
I. How the victory is gained. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” Beware of mere outside enlargement. Accretion is not increase. But where there is true life, you have growth and increase. The victory of vitality is onward, upward, skyward, heavenward. Look at this tree--a poor puny twig, you put it in the ground. Yet it is a victor, a conqueror proud and unbending; the very earth that keeps it up is thrust below it in triumph. One of the mighty forces of the universe next comes meddling with it, to coerce it downward, to overthrow it. Gravitation, from its march among the mazes of stellar light, from the holding up in its great hand of the swinging suns in yon far off abyss, now attacks this little newcomer. But there’s life in the attacked, and the merest cell of protoplasm is greater than a whole universe of Jupiters and Saturns and stars and suns. The treeling conquers. Watch it rearing its tufted little head, upward stretching, upward reaching, upward growing, upward in spite of the steady downward pull of that blind nigh infinite force, upward. It’s a marvel, a conquest, a triumph, an overcoming indeed. This shrublet lives, and because of life “born of God” it conquers and overcomes. Take another view point, for I wish to lead you up to all that is implied in the phrase “born of God.” The “born” of man: what is that? Intellect, idea, mind, soul, thought. Is there not the march of a conqueror here? “No!” says the opposing Firth of Forth to the beseeching request of man for permission to cross, and it stretches out the broad arm of waves and waters to prevent and protest. No? but the “born” of man says Yes, and Inchgarvie bares its rocky back for the giant piles, and the great Bridge in levers and cantilevers springs in mocking triumph from shore to shore, and the roll of ordinary traffic now heralds the conquest in a daily song. Ay, wherever you look, whatsoever is “born” of man overcometh, rocks rend, valleys rise, and the great sea’s bosom is beaten by revolving paddles and screws into the very king’s highway. This is the victory, born of man, “born of God, life!” At conversion the spiritual principle of the new creation starts its onward programme of evolution to the full stature of the perfect man in a glorified Christ. The new man lives, the old man dies and disappears. What is involved must be evolved, and the Creator has pledged Himself to it. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” The world is no friend to grace. It threatens and frightens, annoys, vexes, and checks. It may deform and deface, but kill? Never. The Mugho pine tree shaken by the headlong winds, just thrusts its roots more deeply into the crevices of the rock; the threatening vibrations but make it embrace the cliff and imbed itself in the strong Alpine heart all the more firmly; it’s the better for all the blaud and bluster of the storm. So if your soul has got life, the merest atom, the minutest cell, the feeblest flicker, the faintest breath, it will grow the higher and higher for these assaults of Satan, for all the downward pulling of the gravitation of the pit.
II. The certainty of the victory. The Calvary is over, the great battle in the darkness is by, the devil is defeated, but it is yours now to pursue and to keep him in the “glorious confusion” of flight. It is yours, Christians, to be after the fleeing foe. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” The faith here referred to by the apostle is not so much an attribute of our poor tired bankrupt hearts, but it is an objective outside thing, in fact, just an outward Creed or Confession. It is the fides quae and not the fides qua, the faith believed and not the faith believing. In the present ebb and flow of religious opinion or non-opinion, a creed is as necessary to the Church as the vertebral column to the human body. In the storm everything else may go by the board; the whole cargo may be jettisoned on the surf, but one thing is never flung over the gunwale to lighten the ship, and that is the compass. The binnacle sticks to the deck, and the faithful needle points on through the dash of the storm to the haven of safety and rest. (John Robertson.)
Victory over the world
I. Victory or overcoming is a subjugation or bringing under an opposing party to the power and will of another. And this victory is of two kinds, complete and perfect, or incomplete or imperfect.
1. The notion of a complete victory is when either the opposing party is totally destroyed, or at least when despoiled of any possibility of future resistance. Thus the Son of God, the captain of our salvation, overcame the world (John 16:33),
2. There is a victory, but incomplete, such as the victory of the Children of Israel over the Canaanites. And this is the condition of the Christian militant in this world.
II. The person exercising this act of victory and conquest, he that is born of God.
III. The thing upon which this victory is obtained and conquest made is the world, which comprehends in its latitude a double world; the world within us and the world without us.
1. The world that is within us taketh in the two great faculties or powers, viz.,
(1) The passions of the soul; and
(2) the sensual appetite; both these are in their own nature good, placed in us by the wise God of Nature, for most excellent ends and uses. Our business therefore is to keep them in subjection.
2. The world without us is of three kinds.
(1) The natural world, which is the work of Almighty God, is most certainly in itself good; and only evil accidentally by man’s abuse of himself or it.
(2) The malignant and evil world, the world of evil angels, and of evil men.
(3) The accidental, or more truly, the providential world in relation to man and his condition in this world, and is commonly of two kinds, viz., prosperous or adverse.
IV. The faith which thus overcometh the world is nothing else but a deep, real, full persuasion of and assent unto those great truths revealed in the Scriptures of God.
1. What are those Divine truths which being really and soundly believed, doth enable the victory over the world?
(1) There is one most powerful, wise, gracious, bountiful, just, and all-seeing God, the author of all being, that is present in all places, knows our thoughts, our wants, our sins, our desires, and is ready to supply us with all things that are good and fit for us beyond all we can ask or think.
(2) This most wise and just and powerful God hath appointed a law or rule according to which the children of men should conform themselves.
(3) This law and will of His He hath communicated and revealed to men in His holy Word, especially by the mission of His Son.
(4) He hath given unto mankind, in and through Christ, a full manifestation of a future life after this of rewards and punishments, and according to that law of His thus manifested by His Son He will, by the same Jesus Christ, judge every man according to his works.
(5) The reward of faith and obedience, in that other life to come, shall be an eternal, blessed, happy estate of soul and body in the glorious heavens, and in the presence and fruition of the ever glorious and eternal God.
(6) The punishment of the rebellious and disobedient unto His will and law of God thus manifested by His Son shall be separation from the presence of God.
(7) The Son of God hath given us the greatest assurance imaginable of the truth of this will of God by taking upon Him our nature, by His miracles, by His death and resurrection and ascension into glory, and by His mission of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation into His apostles and disciples.
(8) God, though full of justice and severity against the obstinate and rebellious, yet is full of tenderness, love, and compassion towards all those that sincerely desire to obey His will, and to accept of terms of peace and reconciliation with Him, and is ready upon repentance and amendment to pardon whatsoever is amiss.
2. As touching the act itself, it is no other than a sound, real, and firm belief of those sacred truths. He that hath this firm persuasion will most certainly repent of his sins past, will most certainly endeavour obedience to the will of God, which is thus believed by him to be holy, just, and good.
V. How faith overcometh the world, which takes in these two considerations.
1. Touching the degree of the victory that faith gives, it is a victory, but not without a continued warfare.
2. Touching the method whereby our faith overcometh the world.
(1) In general the great method whereby faith overcometh the world is by rectifying our judgments and those mistakes that are in us concerning the world and our own condition.
(2) But I shall come to particulars, and follow that track that is before given, in the distribution of the world, as well within as without us, and consider the particular method of faith in subduing them.
1. As for our passions.
(1) Faith directs their due placing upon their objects by discovering what are the true and proper objects of them out of that large and comprehensive law of God which present them as such to the soul, and to be observed under the pain of the displeasure of the glorious and Almighty God.
(2) Upon the same account it teacheth our passions and affections moderation in their exercise, even about their proper objects, and due subordination to the supreme love a man owes to the supreme good, God Almighty.
(3) Upon the same account it teacheth us, under our obligation of duty to God, to cut off and mortify the diseases and corruptions of passion, as malice, envy, revenge, pride, vain glory, ostentation.
2. In reference to our desires.
(1) Natural; it teacheth us great moderation, temperance, sobriety. As touching those degenerate and corrupt lusts, as covetousness, malice, envy; faith doth first of all in general show us that they are prohibited by the great Lord and Lawgiver of heaven and earth, and that under severe penalties; again, secondly, it shows us that they are the great depravers of our nature, the disturbers of the peace, security, and tranquillity of our minds; again, thirdly, it shows us that they are vain, impertinent, and unnecessary perturbations, such as can never do us any real good, but feed our vain imaginations with deceits instead of realities.
3. I come to the consideration of the world without us, as that which possibly is here principally intended, and the victory of the Christian by his faith over it, and first in relation to the natural world. This world is a goodly palace fitted with all grateful objects to our senses, full of variety and pleasantness, and the soul fastening upon them grows careless of the thoughts of another state after death, or to think of the passage to it, or making provision for it; but to set up its hope and happiness, and rest in it, and in these delights and accommodations that it yields our senses. Faith overcometh this part of the world--
(1) By giving us a true estimate of it, to prevent us from overvaluing it.
(2) By frequent reminding of us that it is fitted only to the meridian of life, which is short and transitory, and passeth away.
(3) By presenting unto us a state of future happiness that infinitely surpasseth it.
(4) By discovering our duty in our walk through it, namely, of great moderation and vigilancy.
(5) By presenting unto us the example of the Captain of our salvation, His deportment in it and towards it.
(6) By assuring us that we are but stewards unto the great Lord of the family of heaven and earth for so much as we have of it, and that to Him we must give an account of our stewardship.
(7) By assuring us that our great Lord and Master is a constant observer of all our deportment in it.
(8) And that He will most certainly give a reward proportionable to the management of our trust and stewardship.
4. As to the malignant world of evil men and evil angels; and therein first in relation to the evil counsels and evil examples, that solicit or tempt us to the breach of our duty to God. The methods whereby faith overcometh this part of the malignant world are these.
(1) It presents unto us our duty that we owe to God and which we are bound indispensably to observe under the great penalty of loss of our happiness.
(2) It presents us with the great advantage that we have in obeying God, above whatsoever advantage we can have in obeying or following the sinful examples, counsels, or commands of this world, and the great excess of our disadvantage in obeying or following the evil examples, or counsels of the world.
(3) It presents Almighty God strictly observing our carriage in relation to these temptations.
(4) It presents us with the displeasure and indignation of the same God in case we desert Him, and follow the sinful examples or counsels of men, and with the great favour, love, approbation, and reward of Almighty God if we keep our fidelity and duty to Him.
(5) It presents us with the noble example of our blessed Saviour.
(6) It presents us with the transcendent love of God in Christ Jesus, who, to redeem us from the misery of our natural condition, and from the dominion of sin, and to make us a peculiar people zealous of good works, chose to become a curse and die for us, the greatest obligation of love and gratitude and duty imaginable.
And secondly, as to the other part or scene of this malignant world persecutions, reproaches, scorns, yea death itself, faith presents the soul not only with the foregoing considerations, and that glorious promise, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” but some other considerations peculiarly proper to this condition.
(1) That it is this state that our blessed Saviour hath not only foretold, but hath annexed a special promise of blessedness unto.
(2) That there have gone before us a noble cloud of examples in all ages, yea, the Captain of our salvation was thus made perfect by suffering.
(3) That though it is troublesome, it is but short, and ends with death, which will be the passage into a state of incorruptible happiness.
3. Concerning the third kind of world, namely, the providential world, consisting in external dispensations of adversity or prosperity.
1. And first concerning the dark part of the world, namely, adversity, as casualties, issues of wealth, or friends, sicknesses, the common effects whereof are impatience, distrust, murmuring, and unquietness.
(1) Faith presents the soul with this assurance, that all external occurrences come from the wise dispensation or permission of the most glorious God; they come not by chance.
(2) That the glorious God may, even upon the account of His own sovereignty, inflict what He pleaseth upon any of His creatures in this life.
(3) That yet whatsoever he doth in this kind, is not only an effect of his power and sovereignty, but of His wisdom, yea, and of His goodness and bounty.
(4) That the best of men deserve far worse at the hands of God than the worst afflictions that ever did or ever can befall any man in this life.
(5) That there have been examples of greater affliction that have befallen better men in this life: witness Job.
(6) That these afflictions are sent for the good even of good men, and it is their fault and weakness if they have not that effect.
(7) That in the midst of the severest afflictions, the favour of God to the soul, discovering itself like the sun shining through a cloud, gives light and comfort to the soul.
(8) That Almighty God is ready to support them that believe in Him, and to bear them up under all their afflictions that they shall not sink under them.
(9) That whatsoever or how great soever the afflictions of this life are, yet faith presents to the believer something that can bear up the soul under these pressures, namely, that after a few years or days are spent, an eternal state of unchangeable and perfect happiness shall succeed.
2. As to the second part of this providential world, namely, prosperity, which in truth is the more dangerous condition of the two without the intervention of the Divine grace.
(1) Faith gives a man a true and equal estimate of this condition, and keeps a man from over valuing it, or himself for it; lets him know it is very uncertain, very casual, very dangerous, and cannot outlast this life.
(2) Faith assures him that Almighty God observes his whole deportment in it, that He hath given him a law of humility, sobriety, temperance, fidelity, and a caution not to trust in uncertain riches, that he must give an account of his stewardship also.
(3) Faith lets him know that the abundance of wealth, honour, friends, applause, success, as they last no longer than this short transitory life, and therefore cannot make up his happiness, no nor give a man any ease or rescue from a fit of the stone or colic; so there is an everlasting state of happiness or misery that must attend every man after death. (Sir M. Hale.)
The ability of faith to overcome the world
I. The mere light and strength of nature is not able to subdue the world.
1. Before we can readily give up all that is dear to us in this world, we must be very sure of something better in the next, and of this we cannot be sufficiently assured by unassisted reason.
2. An authoritative rule of life was wanting to the Gentile world.
3. A sinner by the light of nature cannot tell what will satisfy for sin.
4. To this want of knowledge we add want of strength in the natural man to perform his duty when known. ‘Tis not enough that we have eyes, but we must have strength also to walk in the way that is set before us.
II. The Christian faith is perfectly qualified for this end; for raising a true believer above all the temptations here on earth.
1. The evidence given for the truth of the Christian faith.
2. The helps and encouragements proposed in the gospel for overcoming the world. (W. Reeves, M. A.)
I. The conquest itself “overcometh the world.” We mingle among men of the world, but it must be as warriors who are ever on the watch, and are aiming at victory. Therefore--
1. We break loose from the world’s customs.
2. We maintain our freedom to obey a higher Master in all things. We are not enslaved by dread of poverty, greed of riches, official command, personal ambition, love of honour, fear of shame, or force of numbers.
3. We are raised above circumstances, and find our happiness in invisible things: thus we overcome the world.
4. We are above the world’s authority. Its ancient customs or novel edicts are for its own children: we do not own it as a ruler or as a judge.
5. We are above its example, influence, and spirit. We are crucified to the world, and the world is crucified to us.
6. We are above its religion. We gather our religion from God and His Word, not from human sources.
II. The conquering future. “Whatsoever is born of God.”
1. This nature alone will undertake the contest with the world.
2. This nature alone can continue it. All else wearies in the fray.
3. This nature is born to conquer. God is the Lord, and that which is born of Him is royal and ruling.
III. The conquering weapon “even our faith.” We are enabled to be conquerors through regarding--
1. The unseen reward which awaits us.
2. The unseen presence which surrounds us.
3. The mystic union to Christ which grace has wrought in us.
4. The sanctifying communion which we enjoy with the unseen God.
IV. The speciality of it. “This is the victory.”
1. For salvation, finding the rest of faith.
2. For imitation, finding the wisdom of Jesus, the Son of God.
3. For consolation, seeing victory secured to us in Jesus.
1. Behold your conflict--born to battle.
2. Behold your triumph--bound to conquer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith the secret of world-victory
A survey of history discovers to us the presence of a constant law, which may be thus described, progress through conflict. The conflict is of two kinds--physical, as where one nation hurls itself against another in war, or one party seeks to overcome another by sheer force of numbers; and moral, where the battle is one of truth against error, of righteousness against injustice, of religion against the forces of ungodliness. Corresponding to these two kinds of conflict are two kinds of victories--the one material, where present success is often on the side of the strongest battalions; and the other moral, where more permanent results are achieved by gradually transforming men’s ideas, by substituting better institutions for corrupt and defective ones, and above all, by making men themselves better. Now Christianity, if it is anything, aims at being a world-conquering principle. This is its ultimate aim, but it has a nearer aim, which is really the guarantee for its accomplishing the wider result. Its nearer aim is to give the individual in his own spirit the victory over the world, to implant there the Divine principle of victory, to make the individual himself a type of that fuller victory which is yet to be realised in society as a whole.
I. There is a power we are to overcome--the world. By the world, in John’s sense, we are to understand a set of principles, the principles that rule and operate in godless society, and stamp their character on its thought, habits, and life; or rather, it is society itself, viewed as ruled and pervaded by these principles, and for that reason hostile to godliness. But if this is what is meant by the world, it might seem as if the task of overcoming it, or at least of preventing ourselves from being overcome by it, were one of no great difficulty. We might be tempted to despise our foe. It might seem as if all we had to do was to withdraw from the world--not to mix with worldly people, not to mind their opinion, not to follow their example. But in the first place even this is not so easy a thing to do. The slave of the world may think himself bound to it by only silken ties; it is when he tries to emancipate himself from its bondage that he finds how really they are iron fetters. There is, for example, the tyranny of public opinion. How few have the courage to go against that? There is the tyranny of fashion. Is it so easy, in circles where fashion is regarded, to emancipate oneself from its imperious mandates, and to take the brave Christian stand which duty may require; There is the power of old-established custom. What a hold there is in that! Most difficult of all to escape from is the spirit of the world. You think to escape from the world, but go where you will its dark, hostile form still confronts you. Thus far I have spoken only of taking up a defensive attitude to the world--keeping the world at arm’s length--preventing ourselves from being overcome by it. We must feel, however, that the ringing note of victory in our text must mean far more than this. To overcome the world is not only to conquer evil, but to establish good. And though the effort to do this, as regards the world outside, may sometimes fail--though the world, as has often happened, may rise up against the man who seeks to make it better, and may crush him; still is he the real victor who has refused to bow his knee to the Baals that are round about him, for in his own spirit he has the consciousness of having been able to stand by the good, and withstand the bad, and whatever may be the immediate result of his witness, he knows it is that which he has contended for which shall in the end prevail.
II. What is the power by which we are to overcome it? It is, the apostle says, “our faith.” The words in the original are even more emphatic. The passage reads, “this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.” In the power of Christian faith the victory is already won. Not that long conflict has not still to be carried on, but in principle, in spirit, in the certainty of the issue, the battle is already decided. Beliefs--I speak here, of course, of real, not merely nominal beliefs--are the most potent factor in human life, the real power that make and shape the course of history. The first apostles were men with beliefs, and as they went forth speaking out the beliefs that were in them, it soon began to be said of them, “Lo, these men that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” Columbus was a man with a belief, and this belief of his gave the world a new continent. Lord Bacon was a man with a belief--belief in a new method of science--and his belief inaugurated the new era of scientific invention and discovery. The early political reformers were men with beliefs, and some of the wildest of their beliefs have already become accomplished realities of legislation. To have in you a belief which is fitted to benefit and bless your fellow men is to be not only in your own small way a social power; it is to be in the truest sense a benefactor of mankind. But what is this belief which Christianity implants in our hearts which has these wondrous effects? The answer is given in the next verse, “who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” Now, of course, if belief in Jesus as the Son of God were only belief in a theological proposition, it neither would, nor could, have any effect of the kind alleged. But this is not its real nature. Belief in Jesus as the Son of God, in him who truly entertains it, is not belief in a theological proposition, but belief in a great Divine reality, and if we look at the nature of that reality we have no difficulty in seeing that it not only will have, but must have, the particular virtue here ascribed to it. To overcome the world, or in plain modern words, to fight successfully the battle of good against evil, there are at least necessary these conditions: First of all we must have firm faith in the reality of goodness--of that we are contending for. In the next place we must have the firm conviction that the powers working on the side of goodness in the world are stronger than the powers that can be arrayed against them. In the third place, we must know ourselves to be in our own inmost life linked with these victorious powers. And lastly, as the outcome of all this, we must have undoubting confidence in the ultimate triumph of our cause. These conditions are fulfilled in the man who believes from the heart that Jesus is the Son of God. (James Orr, D. D.)
Faith’s victory over the world
I. What it is in the world that the Christian has to overcome.
1. Its allurements. The world holds out many fair, enticing charms. It addresses the senses and imagination. Its temptations, are artfully varied.
2. Its terrors.
II. How the Christian’s faith enables him to obtain the victory over the world.
1. Faith enables the Christian to overcome the allurements of the world--
(1) By showing him the vanity and unsatisfying nature of all earthly enjoyments.
(2) By pointing out to him the dangerous consequences of the unlawful pursuits of worldly men.
(3) By filling his soul with those pure and spiritual delights which produce a disrelish for the perishing pleasures of sin.
2. Faith enables the Christian to overcome the terrors of the world--
(1) By the gracious supports which it yields under every trial.
(2) By setting before him the example of the great Author and Finisher of our faith.
(3) By the glorious hopes with which it inspires him.
1. This subject furnishes us with a rule by which to judge whether our faith be genuine.
2. The danger of worldly prosperity. Apt to produce pride, self-sufficiency, forgetfulness of God, insensibility to spiritual objects.
3. The benefit of sanctified affections. They aid us in the exercise of faith. (D. Black.)
The victory of faith
I. We notice faith as the power for overcoming the world.
II. Faith is itself a victory. Simple as it seems, all will bear witness it is not easy to possess this faith, and so says the direction here given. It is a victory. Our position stands like this. You have hitherto been seeking the conquest of the world directly. You have subdued your lusts by turning away from temptation, and they have smouldered in your hearts. You have kept from sin by shunning the acquaintance and occasion of open violation. Now, says Christ, instead of doing this, you must bring your heart into subjection to Me. You must overcome every feeling and thought which leads you to look away from Me, and you must believe in Me. Again, your course is not to come to open contest with the world. You are not to go into danger so that you may prove your strength. But you are to wage war on a smaller ground. You are to contend with your own hearts, as they would lead you not to trust on that which you cannot see, or on that which you cannot perfectly understand, until you have that childlike confidence, that trust on Christ which shall enable you to make your cause the cause of Jesus. This is the victory of faith. That the possession of this faith is a victory I purpose now to show. It is a victory over self-assertion. Self is to us naturally the wisest, the most important of all beings. Our own opinions are always the best, our own interests always those which we most keenly look after. Hence, on the one hand, we oppose the entrance of Christ into our hearts, because we love self, We form our own opinions and we act upon them; but when Christ takes possession we are no longer self-assertive on this matter. Thus the belief that saves is a victory over what I have called our self-assertion. Another form in which self appears is self-interest. We refuse to hear and to receive because it is against our supposed interests to do so. We shall suffer some trouble, or lose some preferment. Full of self; how, then, can Christ find admittance? Dagon must fall before the ark of God: how much more must self before the Son of God! It is not only so, but self will fight for sole possession. Shall I mortify myself, inflict injury on myself? So we reason, and so we oftentimes drive Christ away. This must all be subdued before faith comes. To obtain an entrance into so well-protected a city, demanding forces of such power and nature may well be called a victory. But it is also a victory over the natural unbelief of the heart. There is a difficulty in receiving spiritual things. The natural man is of the earth, earthy. It is as though the choicest music were played to charm the deaf, or the utmost skill exerted to please the blind by the combination of colour. Thus it is that men oppose reason and faith, as though the man who had reason could not have faith. This unbelief must go before a man can receive Christ. All this pride of intellect, all this self-conceit of wisdom, must give place to the higher and nobler attribute of faith. But you must see that it is a victory not won by man alone. Yes, men may believe; but it is when evidence convinces. The Spirit of God must arouse the dormant soul.
III. The world is subjected, or overcome, by this victory. It is overcome to us each as we have this faith in our Lord.
1. The strength of the world over us lies in the undue value which we set on sensuous things. Faith overcomes the world by opening up issues and pressing claims which men do not feel without it.
2. This world has power over us because we feel so dependent on it. When a man is called on to leave father and mother, all the attractions, the joys, and the comforts of home are a constraining influence to keep him from the sacrifice. Ah! but faith gives the man something higher to possess. He is provided for. This is the support of faith, and the world is overcome.
3. Other similar reasons could be given for the victory over the world, all of them fixed, centred in the person of Jesus Christ. Take Christ away, and there is no ground for faith; but while Christ lives and is set forth before men, so long faith can keep her hold, and overcome the world. The soul makes Christ’s work its own; and as He overcame, so also shall all the faithful. (H. W. Butcher.)
The world overcome by faith
There is a sound of war in this saying. John, apostle of love though he be, has not that solvent charity which, under an affection of breadth, falls in rectitude, and comes at length to accept things, morally the most opposite, as equally good.
I. The world, what is it? And here a dozen voices are ready with a definition, which commonly is an abstract of personal experience or opinion. The most opposite things have been described as worldly; curiously, men have agreed to condemn worldliness, but they have not agreed what the thing condemned really is. One man, having no sacred reserves, gives himself wholly to the pursuits of this life; by diligence and energy he succeeds, and he has his reward. Another mingles his daily work with some other pursuit; he is fond of pictures, of music, of science, or what not; and yet a third, as he thinks favoured by his circumstances, gives himself largely to the enjoyments of life: work is but the fringe, the web of existence is made up of pleasure. After the lapse of years let these men compare notes; ask each his opinion of the others, and what do you find? You find probably that they have a sort of good natured contempt for one another as having lived in a vain and worldly way. Yes, and you may find a fourth man, who has lived a more austere and closely ordered life than any of the rest, equally ready to condemn them all for their worldly spirit. Of these several men each had some thing of truth in his opinion, but not the whole truth, nor that which goes to the root of the matter. Worldliness is a principle, a spirit, which can take this shape or that: it can be found in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day, or in the rags and self-denials of the anchorite. The world, then, may lie in the predominance of things seen and temporal. The Bible is full of examples of this, set out for our learning by a Divine hand. There was the sunny haired Samson, with a high commission and a noble energy, forgetting the great work he had to do in the indulgence of the passion of the moment; there was Esau, who, to satisfy the hunger of the hour, flung away his birthright for a mess of pottage. When Satan said to our blessed Lord, “All these things will I give Thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me,” he pitched the temptation upon the same principle; its force lay in the power of the seen and temporal to obscure the unseen and eternal. Worldliness lies in the predominance of self, that inseparable foe, that idol of the heart which men carry with them wherever they go. The world, too, is found in the predominance of the world of men, that care for human opinion, for the judgment of our fellows which brings with it unreality, eye service, and a disregard to the supreme will of God. This spirit makes men at once cowardly and audacious, filling them with the fear of man and yet making them regardless of the fear of God. We have it exemplified in Saul, king of Israel, that strange sad union of strength and weakness, magnanimity and folly, he had sinned by directly disobeying the Divine command; but when he hears his sentence from the lips of Samuel he grieves over the dishonour which might accrue to himself far more than over his sin against the Most High: “I have sinned, yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of Israel.” “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?” that is, “has Christ become respectable? have the fashionable party--the men in power--accepted Him? If they have, then will we, but not otherwise.” This drew from our Lord the strong exclamation, “How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?” This form of worldliness is one of the deadliest enemies of the truth. Everywhere it is potent to keep men from Christ.
II. How is it to be overcome? This is a pressing question for everyone who thinks seriously. How is it to be kept out of my heart, how shall I be kept in the world and yet not of it? “This is the victory, even our faith.” This meets the world, not in any particular form of it, but in the heart where its real root is. Take this principle, faith the world’s victor, in the lower sphere, and it is true. Faith, a strong over-mastering conviction, even though a poor one, has a wonderful power to lift men above the world, above themselves. But it is not of faith in a general way that John speaks. It is of “our faith,” a faith born of God, a faith that lays hold of Jesus Christ, a faith that works by love; it is faith in a person, that is, trust in Jesus Christ. This is the Divine remedy for the power of worldliness. It meets the love of the world with another love, a mightier, higher, nobler love--the love of Jesus Christ. How wonderfully this great principle of faith, fixed on the Saviour, can meet each of the three great forms of worldliness which have been delineated! We are in danger of being absorbed in the present, in the things which we taste and touch and handle; but if we receive Christ into our hearts what do we get with Him? Eternal life, the opening prospect of glory, honour, immortality. He enables us to “die daily,” because of the eternity with Christ beyond the veil. See, too, how faith in Christ helps a man to conquer himself as nothing else can. The ascetic, who proclaims upon the housetops his self-abnegation, yet worships himself; but when a man can say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” then Christ has become the inmate of that heart and the centre of that life. Again, that sensitiveness to human opinion, that love of praise, can be put under by faith in Jesus Christ, because in Him we have brought close to us the pure atmosphere of heaven, where the one aim and desire is to obtain the approval of God. Thus everything is moved up into a higher sphere, and the objects of life are seen in a true perspective. But this is not all, for us in our weakness and guilt and cowardice, there is another side to this truth, a side higher than that which lies in the natural action of faith. For the poorest, weakest, darkest souls that with much trembling lay hold of Jesus Christ, His strength is pledged. His might becomes their might. A man who soberly measures the forces of the world about him, who has any experience of the fickle shifting nature of his own heart, may well feel how helpless he is to overcome the world. Yes, but you are not alone. The great Captain of Salvation will fight for you, with you, in you. Finally, it is only those who overcome the world by faith who know rightly how to use it. Look at the Lord Himself. “I,” said He, “have overcome the world.” He gives the pattern of an absolutely unworldly life, and what sort of life was His? The lilies pleased Him, the birds sang sweetly to Him, the social gathering welcomed Him, the children climbed fearlessly upon His knee, sorrowful faces broke into sunshine when He came. He used the world as not abusing it. Depend upon it we must either conquer or be conquered--we must be the slaves of the world or its masters. Which shall it be? (E. Medley.)
The faith which overcomes the world
I. Faith is the divinely appointed medium for the conveyance of God’s power to us. We are joined to Christ by faith and love both; but let, us now distinguish their respective functions. The first breath of the Christian life is faith; love is subsequent. The unalterable condition of salvation is faith, not love. The condition required for Pentecostal power was faith. So all the gifts of God are according to our faith. But here is the distinction: faith is the receptive attitude, love the distributive. Love sacrifices, faith appropriates. Faith is before, love after a great blessing. They form really the same wire in complete circuit, but faith is the current our way, love the return to God. We can easily penetrate to the philosophy which makes faith the medium of receiving. It is such a medium between man and man of that which belongs to spirit and character. The man in whom I believe influences me most and makes my character. I may love another far more, but unless I also give my confidence to him or have faith in him he does not mould me. Faith in this marvellous way takes the being it clings to into our innermost nature and gladly surrenders to him. It alone truly expels haughtiness and pride, which, while they exist, make it impossible to save. With no more faith in Him than in Socrates or Seneca, they are never saved nor even sensibly influenced by the Spirit of Jesus. Faith alone, and there is no substitute whatever, completes the preparation of the heart for Christ. At the same time it gives Him most agreeable and wondrous honour. Faith is the coronation of Jesus in the heart. Faith is the only basis for coworking with God. Man selects a business partner whom he can trust, not because he is his bosom friend nor because he passionately loves him. He must believe In him. So will man Call upon God to be his partner in all the affairs of life only when he has faith. And all our qualifications for cooperating with God come by faith. God’s great workers were all men of mighty faith.
II. To have and to hold such faith is itself an inspiring victory. It is called “victory,” faith, and its abiding in the soul denotes a complete rout of self-sufficiency, that conceit of little souls and that real delusion of great ones; it proclaims that the reign of the senses and of sense-fettered reason is over! The man of faith has already overcome a vast world within himself, which the sinful world outside had made by hardening and blinding. What declarations there are concerning this faith! There is a characteristic of that faith which best pleased Jesus not to be overlooked. It goes beyond express promises to the love and the power of God. The promises are in human language painfully inadequate. From them bold faith gathers its original conceptions of Jesus, and here the Centurion and the Syrophenician woman distanced all the Jews and saw, the one the possibilities of Omnipotence, the other the fulness of love. (C. Roads.)
Victorious in the world by faith
In nature you will find a wonderful illustration of separation in the life of the water spider. That wonderful little creature needs air to breathe, as we do, and yet it lives in its cocoon under water, and enjoys life. Why is this? Because in a peculiar way it takes beneath the surface supplies of fresh air with which to fill its cocoon, and just breathes an atmosphere of its own, surrounded all the time with an alien element, which, if it rushed in, would speedily kill the little creature. (F. C. Spurr.)
Soldiers of the overcomer
Believers! forget it not! You are the soldiers of the overcomer. (J. H. Evans.)
Faith conquering worldliness
His mouth will not water after homely provisions, that hath lately tasted of delicate sustenance. (J. Trapp.)
A believer walketh about the world as a conqueror. He saith of these things here below, as Socrates did when he came into a fair, and saw there sundry commodities to be sold, as another said, I neither have these things, nor need them, nor care for them. (J. Trapp.)
The nobility of faith a defence
Children admire gawds and gewgaws; but let a nobleman that hath been used to the pomp and bravery of the court, pass by a whole stall of such toys and trifles, he never casts his eye towards them. (J. Trapp.)
Faith overcoming the world
When a traveller was asked whether he did not admire the admirable structure of some stately building, “No,” said he, “for I’ve been at Rome, where better are to be seen every day.” Oh, believer, if the world tempt thee with its rare sights and curious prospects, thou mayest well scorn them, having been, by contemplation, in heaven, and being able, by faith, to see infinitely better delights every hour of the day. “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 John 5:6
This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ
Christ coming by water and blood
There was living then at Ephesus a conspicuous and enterprising teacher, whom not a few were likely to regard as more profound and philosophical than St. John, who himself, very probably, looked down with superb indulgence on the aged Galilean as pious enough in his simple way, but quite uncultured, without any speculative ability,--with crude and unspiritual views of God and the universe, and wholly unfit to interpret Hebraic ideas to men who had breathed the air of Gnostic wisdom. “One confusion,” he would say, “which John makes, must be most carefully avoided: you must draw a sharp distinction between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ.’ ‘Jesus’ was simply a man eminent for wisdom and goodness, but not supernaturally born,--on whom, at His baptism, a heavenly power called ‘Christ’ descended, to use Him as an instrument for revealing truth and working miracles, but to depart from Him before He suffered and died.” Now St. John contradicts this absolutely. He insists that Jesus is Christ, that Jesus, who is Christ, is also the Son of God. “You must,” he says in effect, “be quite clear in your minds on this point; Cerinthus has tried to break up one Person into two; you must keep no terms with that theory of separation; you must hold to the truth of the oneness. This one Jesus Christ came by water and blood; that is, His Baptism and His Passion were means to the end for which He came. The selfsame Person who stooped to the waters of Jordan gave up His blood to be shed for us on Golgotha. This is He, the one indivisible Christ, in whom to believe is to overcome the world.”
2. But then comes in, we may be sure, a reference to underlying spiritual realities. Water and blood, in connection with Christ, could not but be invested in St. John’s mind with the ideas of cleansing and of propitiation, as when he saw the gush of blood and water from the side of the sacred body he was apparently struck with a combination which seemed to present in a kind of symbolical unity the purifying and the atoning aspect of Christ’s work. Many will accept Christ as a peerless model of conduct, and will honestly desire to guide their lives by the rule of His ethical teaching, who yet recoil from the mystery of what the apostles call “propitiation,” and explain away the emphasis with which apostles attribute virtue to His “blood.” And yet the theory which reduces the Atonement to a signal display of sympathy, whereby One who was Himself sinless identified Himself with the shame and misery of sinners in order to reclaim them, will be found to impair the belief in our Saviour’s personal Divinity, and fails to account for, or to justify, the mass of varied language by which Scripture conveys to us the significance of His death. No, believe it, both sides of truth are indispensable; our Lord was given “to be a sacrifice”; and also to be “an example”; and the dependence of purification on the Atonement may at least be illustrated by the order of those words, “forthwith out of His side came blood and water.”
3. But yet once more: when we hear that He “came by water and blood,” it is well-nigh impossible not to think of that great ordinance in which water is made the “effectual sign,” that is, the organ or instrument, of a new birth; and of that still greater rite which embodies for us, in a concrete form, the new and “better covenant,” and in which, as St. Augustine says, we “drink that which was paid for us.” By the mercifully considerate provision of Him who is God and man for us who have souls and bodies, the sacraments of the gospel, with their outward forms and inward gifts, are the chief means whereby His purifying and propitiating action is applied to those on whose behalf He came. The whole thought, then, unfolds itself symmetrically; the events of Christ’s baptism and death call up the idea of His two-fold spiritual activity, which again presents itself in close revealed connection with the “laver” or font of our “regeneration,” and with the cup which conveys to us the blood of the Great Sacrifice, and which, from that point of view, may naturally be taken to represent “both kinds” of the Holy Eucharist. And here, too, the warning sentence may be needed. The baptized Churchman who is not a communicant would do well to remember that Christ came not with water only, but with water and blood. (W. Bright, D. D.)
The water and the blood
By the form of the expression, “not by water only,” it is implied that there are two beliefs as to the object of Jesus Christ’s coming into the world--one of them going beyond the other, and taking in something that the other leaves out. There were probably those then, there are certainly those now, who would have no difficulty in accepting the main facts of Christ’s birth and biography, would admit Him to be a memorable teacher, a reformer of society, a leader among moralists and philanthropists; but they would allow nothing further in His claims, as the Head of the Church or the Saviour of mankind. They would probably declare that nothing further was needed to make men all that they ought to be. But they were wrong. Four thousand years of Jewish and Gentile self-righteousness had proved that there is no self-recovering power in humanity alone. First the “water.” Water is the emblem of spiritual purification, because it is the common instrument of outward washing. Our Lord Himself, who was able to set all symbols and all forms aside if He chose, went down into the water, at the beginning of His life’s work, in order, we are told, that He might fulfil all righteousness. He “came by water.” “Go teach the nations of the earth and baptize them” with water, was His last commission, when His work was done. So it is that each individual Christian life, as well as the whole body of Christ, after Him, came “by water.” Why is this? Because one great part of our Saviour’s work is to purify men’s lives. He was baptized with their baptism, and they with His. The world was to sneer at Him, and spit upon Him, in spite of His purity: in being holy for them He will also be washed with them. He “came by water.” Accordingly one great part of the power of Christ among men, through the gospel and the Church, is the cleansing away of moral corruptions. “He that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself.” Stains on the lips, the hands, the habits; stains on social courtesies, domestic dispositions, and even on Church observances; worst of all, stains on the sacred temple walls of the soul itself--these all have to be washed away. Christ came to cleanse His followers from all unrighteousness. He “came by water.” But now shall we not only say, “This is true,” but shall we go on to say, “This is all that our Saviour gives us, and this is the whole of His gospel: Christianity is a system of moral education and religious improvement; nothing more”? “This is He that came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood.” The daily sacrifice of four thousand preparatory years had presignified it to a waiting world. As the passion flower sprang out of the common earth, and held up its bright blossom and natural image of the tree at Calvary, ages before the real Cross was planted in its soil, so the passion promise of prophecy bloomed in the expectant faith of the race at the very gates of Eden. The serpent had polluted Paradise; but after all, the woman’s seed should bruise the serpent’s head. Man knew from the beginning that he must have a Saviour to look to, or humanity itself would die. Somewhere among the sons of men there must be One Perfect Obedience, One Sufficient Sacrifice, needing not, like those shadowy sacrifices which prepared the way, to be often offered, but “once offered.” Then a living and loving faith in Him will work out the true and healing life in every believing heart. “There is a fountain opened for sin, and for uncleanness”; but it is not a water fountain. Only he who doeth the deeds of the Law--so it reads--will live by them. Who of us has done them? Where are we then if there is “water only,” example and precept only, commandments only, sorrow upon sorrow when they are broken, and the breaking repeated still? Among the most remarkable of Overbeck’s striking series of pictures illustrating the life of Jesus, there is one that represents Him as a Child in the carpenter’s shop. Like other children, He has been playing with the tools, and has taken up the saw. A look of solemnity passes over His radiant face; and by the shadow that falls on the floor underneath you see that the block of wood He is sawing out is taking the shape of a cross. Joseph looks on in a kind of perplexed reverence, and the Virgin mother by His side with a sad admiration, as if Simeon’s prediction were already beginning to have its accomplishment, and the sword were piercing her own soul also. This is not imagination; it is rather interpretation. The artist is only an expositor of the evangelist. “This is He that came by water and blood.” From the outset of His personal ministry--as it had been from the foundation of the world--the Saviour was pointing to the sacrifice, journeying always towards Calvary. Other prophets and reformers had come “by water,” preaching purification for the future. He alone came “by blood,” giving, in Himself, atonement for past and future both. (Bp. Huntington.)
Redemption by blood
I. This is he that came by water. Our Lord came from Galilee to Jordan, a lengthened journey, for the purpose of being baptized. This shows the importance of the ordinance.
II. This is He that came by blood--not by water only, but by water and blood. The manner in which this announcement is made, is well fitted to impress us with its importance. The blood is noticed with peculiar emphasis. Important as it was, that “Christ came by water,” it was still more so that “He came by blood.” By the one He undertook the work, but by the other He executed it.
1. Christ came by blood that the prophecies might be fulfilled.
2. Christ came by blood, and so accomplished the design of the ancient law.
3. When Christ came by blood He secured all the blessings of redemption for His people.
4. When He came by blood He opened up a way of access for the sinner to God and to glory.
III. The confirmation of the spirit’s testimony. “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” The witness of the Spirit was borne to Christ during the whole period of His ministry. But the witness of which the text speaks points to that which was borne by the Spirit after the death of Christ. It began with His resurrection. He was “quickened by the Spirit” on the third, the appointed day. And oh, what a glorious testimony was borne to Him then (Colossians 2:15; Romans 1:4). This testimony was continued in His ascension. During His sojourn of forty days on earth, subsequent to His resurrection, Jesus spoke much of the Spirit to His disciples. Then, in due time, was the Spirit poured out from on high. On the Day of Pentecost He came in “a rushing mighty wind, and in cloven tongues like as of fire.” By the transactions of that day the triumphs of the Saviour were manifested to all. Nor did the Spirit then cease His testimony. He continued and increased it in the ministry of the apostles (Mark 16:20). (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The water and the blood; or complete purification
The design of Christ’s death was to procure both the justification and sanctification of the Church.
I. The first part of this design is declared by St. John, in this epistle (1 John 1:7). Cleansing is a term which supposes defilement; and sin is, in Scripture, represented as horribly defiling, rendering the soul impure, odious, and abominable in the sight of God, who is perfectly pure and holy. If we are duly sensible of our sinful defilement, we shall certainly be anxious for cleansing. And how can this be obtained? The tears of repentance will not wash away our sins. Nor is mere reformation and moral improvement sufficient. But, behold the Divine provision! Behold the precious blood issuing from the wounded side of the Son of God! The blood of which we speak, procures the justification of all who believe. We are said to be “justified through faith in His (Christ’s) blood”; elsewhere, to be “brought nigh by His blood”; and again, to be “redeemed by His blood”; and to be “washed from our sins in His blood.” But it is “through faith” that we are thus justified; Jesus Christ is “the propitiation for our sins”: but it is “through faith in His blood”; it must be received by every man, for himself, in particular. The perfect efficacy of this blood is frequently expressed in Scripture in very strong terms: “I have blotted out,” saith God, “thy sins, as a thick cloud.” “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Yea, saith the penitent psalmist, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow”; and again, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us.” “This is He that came by blood.”
II. This is he that came by water. This signifies a second blessed effect of the death of Christ, the sanctification of believers, in virtue of that death.
1. It is by the mediation of Christ, meritoriously. We owe to Jesus Christ the renovation of our nature in the image of God; for He died to “bring us to God”; to “redeem us to God” (Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:27).
2. It is through faith in Christ, instrumentally.
3. But it is efficiently, by the Holy Spirit, that believers are sanctified.
4. The sanctification of believers is promoted by the means of grace, as religious ordinances of Divine appointment are properly called.
5. To these we may add, the various afflictions with which God, in His holy providence, visits His people.
1. Let us reflect, with becoming humility, on our natural defilement.
2. If we are by nature thus defiled, how necessary is it that we should be cleansed?
3. Let believers in Christ, already sanctified in part, still look to Jesus for further supplies of grace. (G. Burder.)
And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth--
Grounds of faith in the resurrection
It is natural to ask, What is the evidence that Christ did really rise from the dead? St. John says, “It is the Spirit that beareth witness.” St. John, indeed, is speaking immediately of that faith in our Lord’s eternal Sonship which overcomes the world. But since the resurrection is the main proof of our Lord’s Divinity, it follows that the Spirit must also bear witness to the resurrection. And He does this in two ways. It is His work, that those historical proofs of the resurrection which have come down to us, and which address themselves to our natural reasoning faculties, have been marshalled, recognised, preserved, transmitted in the Church of Christ. He bears another witness, as we shall presently see, by His action, not so much on the intelligence, as on the will of the believing Christian.
I. In order to know that our Lord did really rise from the dead, we have to satisfy ourselves that three distinct questions can be answered.
1. Whether Jesus Christ did really die upon the Cross. The wonder is not that He died when He did, after hanging for three hours in agony, but that, after all His sufferings at the hands of the soldiers and the populace, before His crucifixion, He should have lived so long. Yet suppose that what looked like death on the Cross was only a fainting fit. Would He have survived the wound in His side, inflicted by the soldier’s lance, through which the blood yet remaining in His heart and the water of the pericardium escaped? But suppose, against all this evidence, that when Jesus was taken down from the Cross, He was still living. Then He must have been suffocated by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus when they embalmed Him. The Jews carefully inspected and sealed His tomb: they had sentinels placed there; and were satisfied that the work was thoroughly done. To do them justice, the Jews have never denied the reality of our Lord’s death; it is impossible to do so, without paradox.
2. Whether the disciples did not take our Lord’s dead body out of His sepulchre.
(1) They would not have wished to do it. Why should they? They either believed that He would rise from the dead, or they did not. If they did believe it, they would have shrunk from disturbing His grave, as from an act not less unnecessary than profane. If they did not believe in it, and instead of abandoning themselves to unreflecting grief, allowed themselves to think steadily, what must have been their estimate of their dead Master? They must now have thought of Him as of one who had deceived them, or who was Himself deceived. On either supposition, why should they rouse the anger of the Jews, and incur the danger of swift and heavy punishment?
(2) But had they desired, they surely would not have dared it. Until Pentecost, they were, by their own account, very timid men.
(3) And, once more, had they desired and dared to remove our Lord’s body from its grave, such a feat was obviously beyond their power. The tomb was guarded by soldiers.
3. The amount of positive testimony which goes to show that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead.
(1) The witness of all the apostles. They gave their lives in attestation of this fact. Their conduct after the day of Pentecost is throughout that of men whose trustworthiness and sincerity of purpose are beyond dispute.
(2) The testimony of a large number of persons besides the apostles. Take the case of the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost. They had unrivalled opportunities for satisfying themselves of its being a reality or a fiction. Yet at the risk of comfort, position, nay, life, they publicly professed their belief in its truth. Or consider the case of the two hundred and fifty and more persons still living when St. Paul wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians, who had seen the risen Jesus on one occasion during the forty days. Five hundred persons could not be simultaneously deluded. Their testimony would be considered decisive as to any ordinary occurrence, where men wished only to ascertain the simple truth.
II. The force of this body of testimony is not really weakened by objections which do not directly challenge it, and which turn on accessory or subordinate points.
1. For instance, it is said that the evangelical accounts of the resurrection itself, and of our Lord’s subsequent appearances, are difficult to reconcile with each other. At first sight they are; but only at first sight. In order to reconcile them two things are necessary: first, patience, and secondly, a determination to exclude everything from the narrative which does not lie in the text of the Gospels. The differences are just what might be expected in four narratives of the same event, composed at different periods, by different authors, who had distinct sources of information at command. Each says what he has to say with blunt and simple directness, without an eye to the statements of the others, or to the possible comment of hostile critics.
2. It is, further, objected that the resurrection was not sufficiently public. Jesus Christ ought to have left His grave, so it is urged, in the sight of a crowd of lookers on; and, when risen, He ought to have hastened to show Himself to the persons least likely to believe in His resurrection--to the Jews at large, to the high priests, to Pilate, to His executioners.
(1) Here it is obvious, first of all, that the guards may very well have seen Jesus leave His tomb. Scripture says nothing on the point. But they were terrified, almost to death, at the sight of the angel of the sepulchre. Any number of witnesses who had been present would have been as much frightened as were the guards.
(2) Nor is the old objection of Celsus, that Jesus Christ ought to have shown Himself to the Jews and to His judges in order to rebuke their unbelief, more reasonable. Had He appeared to the chief priests, would they have believed in Him? Would they not have denied His identity, or argued that a devil had taken His form before their eyes, just as of old they had ascribed His miracles to Beelzebub? The Jews had ample opportunities of ascertaining that the resurrection was a fact, if they had desired to do so. But as it was, they were not in a mood to be convinced, even by the evidence of their senses.
(3) Far deeper than these objections is that which really lies against all miracles whatever, as being at variance with that conception of a rigid uniformity in the processes of nature, which is one of the intellectual fashions of our day. Suffice it to say, that any idea of natural law which is held to make a miracle impossible, is also inconsistent with belief in the existence of God.
III. Here, then, we are coming round to the point from which we started. For it is natural to ask, why, if the resurrection can be proved by evidence so generally sufficient, it was at the time, and is still, rejected by a great many intelligent men? The answer to this natural and legitimate question is of practical importance to all of us. There can, I apprehend, be no sort of doubt that if an ordinary historical occurrence, such as the death of Julius Caesar, were attested as clearly as the resurrection of our Lord--not more clearly, nor less--as having taken place nineteen centuries ago, all the world would believe it as a matter of course. The reason why the resurrection was not always believed upon the evidence of those who witnessed to it is, because to believe it means, for a consistent and thoughtful man, to believe in and to accept a great deal else. To believe the resurrection is to believe implicitly in the Christian faith. It is no mere speculative question whether Jesus Christ did or did not rise from the dead; it is an eminently practical one. The intellect is not more interested in it than the will; perhaps it is even less interested. The real difficulties of belief lie, generally speaking, with the will. And nothing is more certain, I may add, more alarming, than the power of the will to shape, check, promote, control conviction. And such is the power of the will that it can give effect to this decision. It can baulk and thwart the action of the intellect; give it a perverse twist, and even set it scheming how best to discredit or refute the truth which but now it was on the point of accepting. And thus we may understand what it is that the Spirit does to produce faith. He does not set aside or extinguish the operations of the natural reason; reason too is a guide to truth which God has given us. But He does change the temper, or the direction of the will. And thus He sets the reason free to do justice to the evidence before it. It is thus that within us the Spirit beareth witness. The evidence for the resurrection was not stronger on the Day of Pentecost than it was on the day before. But the descent of the Spirit made it morally possible for three thousand converts to do that evidence something like justice. And now we can see why St. Paul makes so much of faith--especially in a risen Christ--in his great Epistles. If the understanding were alone concerned there would be no more reason for our being justified by faith in a crucified and risen Christ than for our being justified by our assent to the conclusion of a problem in Euclid. It is because the will must endorse the verdict of the understanding, and so must mean obedience as well as assent, that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Canon Liddon.)
The Spirit’s witness to Christ
There are five respects in which that Divine agent may be represented as bearing witness to Christ.
(1) He bore witness by the types and prophecies of the Jewish dispensation--both of which foretold Christ’s advent, character, and work.
(2) He bore witness by qualifying Christ, as man, for His mediatorial offices (Isaiah 11:1-3).
(3) The Spirit bore witness to Christ by the signs and wonders which He enabled the apostles to perform in attestation of their Divine commission.
(4) He bears witness to Christ in that Holy Bible which so clearly and impressively unfolds His glory and His grace.
(5) He bears witness also by “revealing God’s Son in” the soul--by bringing the gospel practically to bear on the understanding, the conscience, and the heart. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
1 John 5:7-8
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost
The Scriptural doctrine of the Trinity not repugnant to sound reason
I shall attempt to show what conceptions the Scripture leads us to form of the peculiar mode of the divine existence.
1. The Scripture leads us to conceive of God, the first and supreme Being, as existing in three distinct persons. The one living and true God exists in such a manner that there is a proper foundation in His nature to speak of Himself in the first, second, and third person, and say I, Thou, and He, meaning only Himself. There is a certain something in the Divine nature which lays a proper foundation for such a personal distinction. But what that something is can neither be described nor conceived. Here lies the whole mystery of the Trinity.
2. The Scripture represents the three persons in the sacred Trinity as absolutely equal in every Divine perfection. We find the same names, the same attributes, and the same works ascribed to each person.
3. The Scripture represents the three equally Divine persons in the Trinity as acting in a certain order in the work of redemption. Though they are absolutely equal in nature, yet in office the first person is superior to the second, and the second is superior to the third. The Son acts in subordination to the Father, and the Spirit acts in subordination to the Son and Father both.
4. The Scripture teaches us that each of the Divine persons takes His peculiar name from the peculiar office which He sustains in the economy of redemption. The first person assumes the name of Father, because He is by office the Creator or Author of all things, and especially of the human nature of Christ. The second person assumes the name of Son and Word, by virtue of His incarnation, and mediatorial conduct. The third person is called the Holy Ghost, on account of His peculiar office as Sanctifier.
5. The Scripture represents these three Divine persons as one God. This is the plain language of the text. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three in respect to their personality, and but one in respect to their nature and essence.
II. This Scriptural account of the mysterious doctrine of the sacred Trinity is not repugnant to the dictates of sound reason.
1. The doctrine of the Trinity, as represented in Scripture, implies no contradiction. There may be, for aught we know, an incomprehensible something in the one self-existent Being which lays a proper foundation for his existing a Trinity in Unity.
2. If it implies no contradiction that the one living and true God should .exist in three persons, then this mysterious mode of the Divine existence is agreeable to the dictates of sound reason. We cannot suppose that the uncreated Being should exist in the same manner in which we and other created beings exist. And if He exists in a different manner from created beings, then His mode of existence must necessarily be mysterious. And whoever now objects against the Scripture account of the sacred Trinity would have equally objected against any other account which God could have given of His peculiar mode of existence.
3. The doctrine of the Trinity, as represented in Scripture, is no more repugnant to the dictates of sound reason than many other doctrines which all Christians believe concerning God. It is generally believed that God is a self-existent Being, or that there is no cause or ground of His existence out of Himself. But who can explain this mode of existence, or even form any clear conception of it? It is generally believed that God is constantly present in all places, or that His presence perpetually fills the whole created universe. But can we frame any clear ideas of this universal presence of the Deity? It is generally believed that God is the Creator, who has made all things out of nothing. But of that power which is able to create, or produce something out of nothing, we can form no manner of conception. This attribute of the Deity, therefore, is as really mysterious and incomprehensible in its operation as the doctrine of the Trinity. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood--
The three-fold witnesses on earth
I. The Spirit bears witness. The Holy Ghost is meant. What is the permanent testimony which He bears to Christ and His gospel? The Scriptures are His witness to Christ. It would be impossible to overrate the value of this testimony. It is a written Word, and therefore not liable to change. We can study it in a way altogether different from the attention which we can give to a spoken discourse. We can carry it with us, whither we go. We can refresh our memory with it as often as we need it. Not only, however, did the Scriptures proceed from the Spirit at the first, but they have been preserved by Him in a most remarkable manner. He has used the most scrupulous care to maintain their purity. Nor does the testimony of the Spirit cease in the publication and preservation of the Scriptures. He continues to enlighten men in the knowledge of them, to impress their hearts by the belief of them, and to bring them under their power. But how are we to speak of the testimony itself which is thus borne by the Spirit to Christ? Then truly the words are verified, “He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine, and show it unto you.” He gives the soul views of Christ such as it never entertained before, the most honourable to Him and assuring to it. He produces affections towards Him such as never existed before, the most ardent and self-denying. He causes unreserved submission to His will, so that it is either borne with patience or done with diligence.
II. The water bears witness to Christ.
1. What are we to understand by this water? There is only one use of water in the Christian economy. This is in the administration of baptism. But the fact that an ordinance is made to be a witness to Christ is not to be passed unnoticed. It resembles the Scriptures in being permanent, but it possesses a feature peculiar to itself. It is a testimony to the eye, and by it to the understanding and heart.
2. What is the amount of the testimony borne by the water of baptism? It is very simple, yet very expressive. In this ordinance we behold reflected, as in a mirror, the gospel of Christ. It is a standing testimony to the depravity of the sinner. If we come to it at all, it is because we are defiled. At the same time the efficacy of cleansing is no less clearly signified. It says, here is a fountain, and everyone that washes in it is made clean. Nor is it the pardon of sin only that is figured in baptism. We are at the same time reminded of the destruction of its power. A great moral change is made to pass upon the soul that is pardoned. Pardon is received by faith, but this grace is ever accompanied by regeneration.
III. The blood is a witness unto Christ. How is it to be understood? The reference appears to be to the Lord’s Supper, as a lively representation of the death of Christ.
1. His person is presented to our faith in the bread and wine. They are emblems of His body, of its reality, that He was truly a partaker of flesh and blood. But this fact cannot be separated from His original and higher nature.
2. Equally clear is the representation of His work. It is testified in the broken bread. That calls up the fact of His crucifixion.
3. We are also taught how we are saved by it. Eating and drinking are essential to the preservation of life.
4. But these exercises are not observed by us singly and alone. We are associated with others. The Lord’s table is thus the emblem of the Church of Christ. There is at it the interchange of a holy and heavenly communion. (James Morgan, D. D.)
The Spirit, and the water, and the blood
We dismiss, without any misgiving, the clause respecting the heavenly Trinity from 1 John 5:7. The sentence is irrelevant to this context, and foreign to the apostle’s mode of conception. It is the Church’s victorious faith in the Son of God, vindicated against the world (1 John 5:1-5), that the writer here asserts, and to invoke witnesses for this “in heaven” is nothing to the purpose. The contrast present to his thought is not that between heaven and earth as spheres of testimony, but only between the various elements of the testimony itself (1 John 5:6-10). (For this manner of combining witnesses, comp. John 5:31-47; John 8:13-18; John 10:25-38; John 14:8-13; John 15:26-27) The passage of the three heavenly witnesses is now admitted to be a theological gloss, which crept first into the Latin manuscripts of the fifth century, making its way probably from the margin into the text: no Greek codex exhibits it earlier than the fifteenth century. “This,” the apostle writes in 1 John 5:6 --this “Jesus” of whom we “believe that He is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5)--“is He that came through water and blood--Jesus Christ.” By this time “Jesus Christ” and “Jesus the Son of God” had become terms synonymous in true Christian speech. The great controversy of the age turned upon their identification. The Gnostics distinguished Jesus and Christ as human and Divine persons, united at the baptism and severed on the Cross, when Jesus cried, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” St. John asserts, therefore, at every turn the oneness of Jesus Christ; the belief that “Jesus is the Christ” he makes the test of a genuine Christianity (1 John 5:1;comp. 1 John 2:22; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:9; 1 John 4:3; 1 John 4:15). The name thus appended to verse 6 is no idle repetition; it is a solemn reassertion and reassumption of the Christian creed in two words--Jesus Christ. And He is Jesus Christ, inasmuch as He “came through water and blood--not in the water only.” The heretics allowed and maintained in their own way that Jesus Christ “came by water” when He received His Messianic anointing at John’s baptism, and the man Jesus thus became the Christ; but the “coming through blood” they abhorred. They regarded the death of the Cross, befalling the human Jesus, as a punishment of shame inflicted on the flesh, in which the Divine or Deiform Christ could have no part. Upon this Corinthian view, the Christ who came through water went away rather than came through blood; they saw in the death upon the Cross nothing that witnessed of the Godhead in Jesus Christ, nothing that spoke of Divine forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9), but an eclipse and abandonment by God, a surrender of the earthly Jesus to the powers of darkness. The simple words, “that came,” are of marked significance in this context; for “the coming One” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος, Matthew 11:3; John 1:15; John 1:27; John 11:27; Hebrews 10:37; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8, etc.) was a standing name for the Messiah, now recognised as the Son of God. “He that came,” therefore, signifies “He who has assumed this character,” who appeared on earth as the Divine Messiah; and St. John declares that He thus appeared disclosing Himself through these two signs--of blood as well as water. So the beginning and the end, the inauguration and consummation of Christ’s ministry, were marked by the two supreme manifestations of His Messiah-ship; and of both events this apostle was a near and deeply interested witness. When he speaks of the Lord as “coming through water and blood,” these are viewed historically as steps in His glorious march, signal epochs in the continuous disclosure of Himself to men, and crises in His past relations to the world; when he says, “in the water and in the blood,” they are apprehended as abiding facts, each making its distinct and living appeal to our faith. This verse stands in much the same relation to the two sacraments as does the related teaching of chs. 3 and 6 in St. John’s Gospel. The two sacraments embody the same truths that are symbolised here. Observing them in the obedience of faith, we associate ourselves visibly with “the water and the blood,” with Christ baptized and crucified, living and dying for us. But to see in these observances the equivalents of the water and blood of this passage, to make the apostle say that the water of baptism and the cup of the Lord’s Supper are the chief witnesses to Him and the essential instruments of our salvation, and that the former sacrament is unavailing without the addition of the latter, is to narrow and belittle his declaration and to empty out its historical content. Nearer to St. John’s thought lies the inference that Christ is our anointed Priest as well as Prophet, making sacrifice for our sin while He is our guide and light of life. To the virtue of His life and teaching must be added the virtue of His passion and death. Had He come “in the water” only, had Jesus Christ stopped short of Calvary and drawn back from the blood baptism, there had been no cleansing from sin for us, no witness to that chief function of His Christhood. This third manifestation of the Son of God--the baptism of the Spirit following on that of water and of blood, a baptism in which Jesus Christ was agent and no longer subject--verified and made good the other two. “And the Spirit,” he says, “is that which beareth witness” (μαρτυροῦν, “the witnessing power”): the water and the blood, though they have so much to say, must have spoken in vain, becoming mere voices of past history, but for this abiding and ever active Witness (John 15:26; John 16:7-15). The Spirit, whose witness comes last in the order of distinct manifestation, is first in principle; His breath animates the whole testimony; hence He takes the lead in the final enumeration of verse 8. The witness of the water had His silent attestation; the Baptist “testified, saying, I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and it abode upon Him,” etc. (John 1:32-33). “It is the Spirit,” therefore, “that bears witness”; in all true witness He is operative, and there is no testifying without Him. “For the Spirit is truth,” is “the truth”--Jesus called Him repeatedly “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; Joh 15:26; 1 John 4:6; comp. John 4:23-24)--truth in its substance and vital power is lodged with Him; in this element He works; this effluence He ever breathes forth. Practically, the Spirit is the truth; whatever is stated in Christian matters without His attestation, is something less or other than the truth. Such, then, are the “three witnesses” which were gathered “into one” in the Apostle John’s experience, in the history of Jesus Christ and His disciples: “the three” he says. “agree in one,” or more strictly, “amount to the one thing” (καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἔν εἰσου, verse 8); they converge upon this single aim. The Jordan banks, Calvary, the upper chamber in Jerusalem; the beginning, the end of Jesus Christ’s earthly course, and the new beginning which knows no end; His Divine life and words and works, His propitiatory death, the promised and perpetual gift of the Spirit to His Church--these three cohere into one solid and imperishable witness, which is the demonstration alike of history and personal experience and the Spirit of God. They have one outcome, as they have one purpose; and it is this--viz. “that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (verse 11). The apostle has indicated in verses 6-8 what are, to his mind, the proofs of the testimony of Jesus--evidences that must in the end convict and “overcome the world” (verse 5). So far as the general cause of Christianity is concerned this is enough. But it concerns each man to whom this evidence comes to realise for himself the weight and seriousness of the testimony which confronts him. So St. John points with emphasis in verses 9 and 10 to the Author of the three-fold manifestation. “If we receive the witness of men”--if credible human testimony wins our ready assent “the witness of God is greater.” The declaration of the gospel brings every soul that hears it face to face with God (comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:13). And of all subjects on which God might speak to men, of all revelations that He has made, or might conceivably make, to mankind, this, St. John feels, is the supreme and critical matter--“the testimony of God, viz., the fact that He has testified concerning His Son.” The gospel is, in St. Paul’s words, “God’s good news about His Son.” God insists upon our believing this witness; it is that in which He is supremely concerned, and which He asserts and commends to men above all else. Let the man, therefore, who with this evidence before him remains unbelieving, understand what he is about; let him know whom he is rejecting and whom he is contradicting. “He has made God a liar”--he has given the lie to the All-holy and Almighty One, the Lord God of truth. This apostle said the same terrible thing about the impenitent denier of his own sin (1 John 1:10); these two denials are kindred to each other, and run up into the same condition of defiance toward God. On the other hand, “he who believes on the Son of God,” “hearing from the Father and coming” to Christ accordingly (John 6:45), he finds “within himself” the confirmation of the witness he received (verse 10a). The testimony of the Spirit and the water and the blood is no mere historical and objective proof; it enters the man’s own nature, and becomes the regnant, creative factor in the shaping of his soul. The apostle might have added this subjective confirmation as a fourth, experimental witness to the other three; but, to his conception, the sense of inward life and power attained by Christian faith is the very witness of the Spirit, translated into terms of experience, realised and operative in personal consciousness. “The water that I will give,” said Jesus, “will be within him a fountain of water, springing up unto life eternal” (John 4:14). It is thus that the believer on the Son of God sets to his seal that God is true. His testimony is not to the general fact that there is life and troth in Christ; but “this is the witness, that God gave to us life eternal, and this life is in His Son”? (verse 11). This witness of God concerning His Son is not only a truth to be believed or denied, it is a life to be chosen or refused; and on this choice turns the eternal life or death of all to whom Christ offers Himself: “He that hath the Son, hath life; he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life” (verse 12). Life appears everywhere in St. John as a gift, not an acquisition; and faith is a grace rather than a virtue; it is yielding to God’s power rather than the exerting of our own. It is not so much that we apprehend Christ; rather He apprehends us, our souls are laid hold of and possessed by the truth concerning Him. Our part is but to receive God’s bounty pressed upon us in Christ; it is merely to consent to the strong purpose of His love, and allow Him, as St. Paul puts it, to “work in us to will and to work on behalf of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). As this operation proceeds and the truth concerning Christ takes practical possession of our nature, the assurance of faith, the conviction that we have eternal life in Him, becomes increasingly settled and firm. Rothe finely says, “Faith is not a mere witness on the man’s part to the object of his faith; it is a witness which the man receives from that object … In its first beginnings faith is, no doubt, mainly the acceptance of testimony from without; but the element of trust involved in this acceptance, includes the beginning of an inner experience of that which is believed. This trust arises from the attraction which the object of our faith has exercised upon us; it rests on the consciousness of a vital connection between ourselves and that object. In the measure in which we accept the Divine witness, our inner susceptibility to its working increases, and thus there is formed in us a certainty of faith which rises unassailably above all scepticism.” The language of St. John in this last chapter of his Epistle breathes the force of a spiritual conviction raised to its highest potency. For him perfect love has now cast out fear, and perfect faith has banished every shadow of doubt. “Believing on the name of the Son of God,” he “knows that he has eternal life” (verse 13). With him the transcendental has become the experimental, and no breach is left any more between them. (G. G. Findlay, B. A.)
The gospel record
I. The view here given of the gospel testimony.
1. Unspeakably important.
2. Exceedingly comprehensive.
3. Preeminently gracious.
4. Remarkably distinct and definite.
II. The evidence adduced in confirmation of its truths.
1. The voice from heaven.
2. From earth.
3. Scripture testimony.
4. Personal experience.
III. The claims which it has, as thus established, upon our regards. It claims our earnest attention and most serious study; but, above all, it claims our unwavering faith. This is the main point which is here set forth.
1. The nature of faith. It is nothing more nor less than receiving the Divine testimony, especially concerning Jesus Christ.
2. Its reasonableness.
3. Its importance. Through it we have eternal life.
4. The opposite of faith is unbelief--a sin most heinous in its nature, and most awful in its results. (Expository Outlines.)
The three witnesses
Christianity puts forth very lofty claims. She claims to be the true faith, and the only true one. She avows her teachings to be Divine, and therefore infallible; while for her great Teacher, the Son of God, she demands Divine worship, and the unreserved confidence and obedience of men. Now, to justify such high claims, the gospel ought to produce strong evidence, and it does so. The armoury of external evidences is well stored with weapons of proof. The gospel also bears within itself its own evidence, it has a self-proving power. It is so pure, so holy, so altogether above the inventive capacity of fallen man, that it must be of God. But neither with these external or internal evidences have we to do now, but I call your attention to the three witnesses which are spoken of in the text, three great witnesses still among us, whose evidence proves the truth of our religion, the Divinity of our Lord, and the future supremacy of the faith.
I. Our Lord himself was attested by these three witnesses. If you will carefully read in the twenty ninth chapter of the Book of Exodus, or in the eighth chapter of the Book of Leviticus, you will see that every priest came by the anointing Spirit, by water, and by blood, as a matter of type, and if Jesus Christ be indeed the priest that was for to come, He will be known by these three signs. Godly men in the olden times also well understood that there was no putting away of sin except with these three things; in proof of which we will quote David’s prayer, “Purge me with hyssop”--that is, the hyssop dipped in blood--“and I shall be clean; wash me”--there is the water--“and I shall be whiter than snow”; and then, “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.” Thus the blood, the water, and the Spirit were recognised of old as necessary to cleanse from guilt, and if Jesus of Nazareth be indeed able to save His people from their sins, He must come with the triple gift--the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Now it was evidently so. Our Lord was attested by the Spirit. The Spirit of God bore witness to Christ in the types and prophecies, “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”; and Jesus Christ answers to those prophecies. The Spirit abode with our Lord all His life long, and to crown all, after He had died and risen again, the Holy Ghost gave the fullest witness by descending in full power upon the disciples at Pentecost. It is also manifest that our Lord came with water too. He came not by the water merely as a symbol, but by that which the water meant, by unsullied purity of life. With Jesus also was the blood. This distinguished Him from John the Baptist, who came by water, but Jesus came “not by water only, but by water and blood.” We must not prefer any one of the three witnesses to another, but what a wonderful testimony to Christ was the blood! From the very first He came with blood, for John the Baptist cried, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” In His ministry there was often a clear testimony to His future sufferings and shedding of blood, for to the assembled crowd He said, “Except a man eat My flesh and drink My blood, there is no life in him”; while to His disciples He spake of the decease which He should shortly accomplish at Jerusalem. However pure the life He led, had He never died He could not have been the Saviour appointed to bear the iniquity of us all. The blood was needed to complete the witness. The blood must flow with the water, the suffering with the serving.
II. These three remain as standing witnesses to him to all time. And first, the Holy Spirit is witness at this hour that the religion of Jesus is the truth, and that Jesus is the Son of God. By His Divine energy He convinces men of the truth of the gospel; and these so convinced are not only persons who, through their education, are likely to believe it, but men like Saul of Tarsus, who abhor the whole thing. He pours His influences upon men, and infidelity melts away like the iceberg in the Gulf Stream; He touches the indifferent and careless, and they repent, believe, and obey the Saviour. Then, too, the Spirit goes forth among believers, and by them He bears witness to our Lord and His gospel. How mightily does He comfort the saints! And He does the same when He gives them guidance, enlightenment, and elevation of soul. The next abiding witness in the Church is the water--not the water of baptism, but the new life implanted in Christians, for that is the sense in which John’s Master had used the word “water”: “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” The world’s conscience knows that the religion of Jesus is the religion of purity, and if professed Christians fall into uncleanness the world knows that such a course of action does not arise out of the religion of Christ, but is diametrically opposite to it. The gospel is perfect, and did we wholly yield to its sway sin would be abhorred by us, and slain in us, and we should live on earth the life of the perfect ones above. The third abiding witness is the blood. The blood of Christ is still on the earth, for when Jesus bled it fell upon the ground and was never gathered up. O earth, thou still art bespattered with the blood of the murdered Son of God, and if thou dost reject Him this will curse thee. But, O humanity, thou art blessed with the drops of that precious blood, and believing in Him it doth save thee. The blood of Jesus, after speaking peace to the conscience, inflames the heart with fervent love, and full often leads men to high deeds of consecration, self-denial, and self-sacrifice, such as can scarce be understood till they are traced back to that amazing love which bled upon the tree.
III. This triple yet united witness is peculiarly forcible within believing hearts. John tells us, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” Now, these three witnesses bear testimony in our souls abidingly. I speak not of years ago, but of last night, when you prayed, and were heard. Did not the Spirit when He helped you to pray, bear witness that the gospel was no lie? Was not the answer to your prayer good evidence? The next witness in us is the water, or the new and pure life. Do you feel the inner life? You are conscious that you are not what you used to be, you are conscious of a new life within your soul which you never knew till the date of your conversion, and that new life within you is the living and incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth forever. Witnessing within us is also the blood. This is a witness which never fails, speaking in us better things than the blood of Abel. It gives us such peace that we can sweetly live and calmly die. It gives us such access to God that sometimes when we have felt its power we have drawn as near to our Father as if we had seen Him face to face. And oh, what safety the blood causes us to enjoy! We feel that we cannot perish while the crimson canopy of atonement by blood hangs over our head. Thus I have tried to show that these three witnesses testify in our souls; I beg you now to notice their order. The Spirit of God first enters the heart, perhaps long before the man knows that such is the case; the Spirit creates the new life, which repents and seeks the Saviour, that is the water; and that new life flies to the blood of Jesus and obtains peace. Having observed their order, now note their combination. “These three agree in one,” therefore every true believer should have the witness of each one, and if each one does not witness in due time, there is cause for grave suspicion,
IV. These witnesses certify to us the ultimate triumph of our religion. Is the Spirit working through the gospel? then the gospel will win the day, because the Spirit of God is almighty, and complete master over the realm of mind. He has the power to illuminate the intellect, to win the affections, to curb the will, and change the entire nature of man, for He worketh all things after His own pleasure, and, like the wind, He “bloweth where He listeth.” Next, the gospel must conquer, because of the water, which I have explained to be the new life of purity. What says John? “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” It is impossible for the gospel to be vanquished so long as there remains in the world one soul that is born of God. Living and incorruptible seed abideth forever! Lastly, the gospel must spread and conquer because of the blood. God, the everlasting Father, has promised to Jesus by covenant, of which the blood is the seal, that He “shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” As surely as Christ died on the Cross, He must sit on a universal throne. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 John 5:9-10
This is the witness of God, which He hath testified of His Son
Faith, and the witness upon which it is founded
Faith stands, under the covenant of grace, in a leading position amongst the works of the regenerate man and the gifts of the Spirit of God.
The promise no longer stands to the man who doeth these things that he shall live in them, else we were shut out of it, but “the just shall live by faith.” God now biddeth us live by believing in Him.
I. First, then, since our great business is that we believe God, let us see what reason we have for believing Him.
I. The external evidence given is stated in the first verse of the text, as the evidence of God to us, and it is prefaced by the remark that “we receive the witness of men.” We do and must believe the testimony of men as a general rule; and it is only right that we should account witnesses honest till they have proved themselves false. Now, God has been pleased to give us a measure of the witness of men with regard to His Son, Jesus Christ. We have the witness of such men as the four evangelists and the twelve apostles. We have the witness of men as to the facts that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven. Further, we have the testimony of men as to the present power of that same Jesus to forgive men their trespasses, and to save them from the power of sin. From the first day when our Lord was taken up till now men and women have come forward, and have said, “We were once lovers of sin; whatever our neighbours are, such were we, but we are washed, but we are sanctified; and all this by faith in Jesus.” Some years ago there went into a Methodist class meeting a lawyer who was a doubter, but at the same time a man of candid spirit. Sitting down on one of the benches, he listened to a certain number of poor people, his neighbours, whom he knew to be honest people. He heard some thirteen or fourteen of these persons speak about the power of Divine grace in their souls, and about their conversion, and so on. He jotted down the particulars, and went home, and sat down, and said to himself, “Now, these people all bear witness, I will weigh their evidence.” It struck him that if he could get those twelve or thirteen people into the witness box, to testify on his side in any question before a court, he could carry anything. They were persons of different degrees of intellect and education, but they were all of the sort of persons whom he would like to have for witnesses, persons who could bear cross examination, and by their very tone and manner would win the confidence of the jury. “Very well,” he said to himself, “I am as much bound to believe these people about their religious experience as about anything else.” He did so, and that led to his believing on the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart. Thus, you see, the testimony of God to us does in a measure come through men, and we are bound to receive it. But now comes the text: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” God is to be believed if all men contradict Him. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Now, what is the witness of God with regard to Christ? How does He prove to us that Jesus Christ did really come into the world to save us? God’s witnesses are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. God says, “My Son did come into the world: He is My gift to sinful men; He has redeemed you, and He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto Me by Him: and in proof that He is so the Holy Spirit has been given.” Then the water, that is to say, the purifying power of the gospel, is also God’s witness to the truth of the gospel. If it does not change men’s characters when they receive it, it is not true. But as God everywhere, among the most savage tribes, or amongst the most refined of mankind, makes the gospel to be sacred bath of cleansing to the hearts and lives of men, He gives another witness that His Son is really Divine, and that His gospel is true. The blood also witnesses. Does believing in Jesus Christ do what the blood was said to do, namely, give peace with God through the pardon of sin? Hundreds and thousands all over the world affirm that they had no peace of conscience till they looked into the streaming veins of Jesus, and then they saw how God can be just and yet forgive sin.
II. I come now to the internal evidence, or the witness in us. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” When a man is led by the Spirit of God to believe that God cannot lie, he inquires what it is that God says; and he hears that atonement has been made, and that whosoever believeth in Jesus shall have eternal life. He sees the witness to be good, and he believes it. That man is saved. What happens next? Why, this man becomes a new creature. He is radically changed. “Now,” says he to himself, “I am sure of the truth of the gospel, for this wonderful change in me, in my heart, my speech, and my life, must be of Divine origin. I was told that if I believed I should be saved from my former self, and I era. Now, I know, not only by the external witness, nor even because of the witness of God, but I have an inner consciousness of a most marvellous birth, and this is a witness in myself.” The man then goes on to enjoy great peace. Looking alone to Jesus Christ for pardon, he finds his sins taken from him, and his heart is unburdened of a load of fear, and this rest of heart becomes to him another inward witness. As the Christian thus goes on from strength to strength he meets with answers to prayer. He goes to God in trouble. In great perplexity he hastens to the Lord, light comes, and he sees his way. He wants many favours, he asks for them, and they are bestowed. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself”; and there is no witness like it. Except the witness of God, which stands first, and which we are to receive, or perish, there is nothing equal to the witness within yourself. Many a poor man and woman could illuminate their Bibles after the fashion of the tried saint who placed a “T. and P.” in the margin. She was asked what it meant, and she replied, “That means ‘Tried and proved,’ sir.” Yes, we have tried and proved the Word of God, and are sure of its truth.
III. How are we treating the witness of God? For it is written in our text, “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the witness that God witnessed of His Son.” Now, are we believing the witness of God? Do you unconverted people believe that the wrath of God abideth on you? Then you must be insane if you do not seek to escape from that wrath. If you believe that Jesus Christ saves from sin, and gives to the soul a treasure far beyond all price, you will make all speed to obtain the precious boon. Is it not so? He who believes in the value of a gift will hasten to accept it, unless he be out of his mind. Methinks I hear one say, “I would believe if I felt something in my heart.” You will never feel that something. You are required to believe on the witness of God, and will you dare to say that His evidence is not sufficient? If you will believe on the Divine testimony you shall have the witness within by and by, but you cannot have that first. The demand of the gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe upon God’s testimony.” What testimony do you want more? God has given it you in many forms. By His inspired book; by the various works of His Spirit, and by the water and the blood in the Church all around you. Above all, Jesus Himself is the best of witnesses. Believe Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself--
The inward witness of faith
Testimony and experience constitute two separate and independent grounds of faith. That we may have full confidence in the skill of a physician, it is not necessary that we should have seen him, or have personally witnessed any of the cures ejected by him. Our faith may rest simply on the testimony of competent witnesses. But there is also a faith that grounds itself on our own personal experience. The physician whom we first employed, because he was recommended to us by others, may now receive our confidence from what we have ourselves seen and felt of his skill. Our faith in him began with testimony, but now it has become independent of it. The general order of God’s moral government is, first belief, afterwards experience. We must begin by using testimony, not by rejecting it; by cherishing not a proud and sceptical, but a childlike and confiding spirit. The gospel of Christ comes to us in the form of Divine testimony. We may have witnessed its effects upon others. We may have heard them telling with joyful accents what it has done for their souls. But this, too, is testimony; very weighty and valuable when accompanied by such a life as convinces us of its sincerity, but still only human testimony, with its usual alloy of error and imperfection. It cannot convey to us an adequate apprehension of the blessedness and power of faith in Christ, any more than a description of light can be a substitute for seeing the sun shining in his strength. To understand fully how worthy the gospel is of our acceptance, we must feel its efficacy. But this we cannot till we have received it. Our reception of it, then, must rest on God’s testimony. After that, we shall have both the outward and the inward witness of its truth. It is reasonable, therefore, when God calls upon men to repent and believe the gospel, that He should furnish them with clear evidence that it is His gospel, and no invention of man. This He has done from the beginning. Our Saviour did not ask His hearers to receive Him as the Son of God, without first furnishing them with many “infallible proofs” of His Divine mission (John 5:31; John 10:37; John 5:36). This outward evidence which Jesus furnished of His Messiahship left all who rejected Him without excuse. But to those who received Him in faith and love there was a higher testimony (Matthew 16:17). The man who has received the gospel in faith and love knows, from his own experience, that it satisfies all the wants of his spiritual nature, and must therefore be true; since it is inconceivable that the soul should be nurtured by error, and kept by it in a vigorous and healthful condition, as that the body should thrive on poison.
I. The gospel quiets the conscience, and that on reasonable grounds. The moment the soul apprehends the mighty truth that God has manifested Himself in the flesh; that in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ the true God has taken into union with Himself a true human nature, and in this nature has borne the curse of the law in our stead, it cries out with joy--“This it what I need; a propitiation of infinite worth to meet the immeasurable guilt of my sin.”
II. The gospel gives the victory over the inward power of sin. Of the greatness and difficulty of this work the careless and light minded have no conception. But let one who has gained some true knowledge of the Divine law as a spiritual rule for the regulation of the inner man set himself in earnest to the work of obeying it inwardly as well as outwardly, and he will soon make distressing discoveries of his moral impotence; an impotence which lies not in the absence or defect of any of those faculties which are necessary to qualify him to render to God’s law perfect obedience, but only in his free guilty preference of earthly above spiritual good. To emancipate him from this bondage to indwelling sin, and raise him to holiness and communion with God, he needs help from above. Here the gospel, in the fulness of its grace, comes to his relief. It offers him the all-sufficient help of the Holy Spirit to illumine his dark mind, cleanse his polluted soul from the defilement of sin, strengthen his weakness, and give him a victory over the world.
III. The gospel restores the soul to communion with God.
1. Only they who receive the gospel can fully apprehend the evidence Of its truth.
2. It is possible for a man to put himself in such an attitude that he cannot judge rightly of the evidence by which the gospel is supported.
3. Our assurance of the truth of Christianity is intimately connected with the growth of our piety. (E. P. Barrows, D. D.)
The inward witness
I. How come we to be believers? You know how faith arises in the heart from the human point of view. We hear the gospel, we accept it as the message of God, and we trust our selves to it. So far it is our own work; and be it remembered that in every case faith is and must be the act of man. But, having said that, let us remember that the Godward history of our believing is quite another thing, for true faith is always the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings us to perform the act of faith by which we are saved; and the process is after this manner, though varying in different individuals:
1. We are brought attentively to listen to the old, old story of the Cross.
2. Further, the Holy Spirit is also pleased to make us conscious of our sinfulness, our danger, and our inability, and this is a great way towards faith in Christ.
3. Moreover, while attentively hearing, we perceive the suitability of the gospel to our case. We feel ourselves sinful, and rejoice that our great Substitute bore our sin, and suffered on its account, and we say, “That substitution is fall of hope to me; salvation by an atonement is precisely what I desire; here can my conscience rest.”
4. There is but one more step, and that is, we accept Jesus as set forth in the gospel, and place all our trust in Him.
5. When the soul accepts the Lord Jesus as Saviour, she believes in Him as God: for she saith, “How can He have offered so glorious an atonement had He not been Divine?” This is why we believe, then, and the process is a simple and logical one. The mysterious Spirit works us to faith, but the states of mind through which He brings us follow each other in a beautifully simple manner.
II. How know we that believers are saved? for that seems to be a grave question with some. God declares in His Word, even in that sure Word of testimony, whereunto ye do well to take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, that every believer in Jesus Christ is saved. Again, we know on the authority of Scripture that believers are saved, because the privileges which are ascribed to them prove that they are in a saved condition. John goes to the very root of every matter, and in John 1:12 he tells us, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” Once again, the whole tone of Scripture regards the believer as a saved man. “Believers” is a common synonym for saints, for sanctified persons; and truth to say the Epistles are written to believers, for they are written to the Churches, and Churches are but assemblages of believers.
III. How do we know that we are believers? It is clear that if we are believers we are saved, but how do we know that we are believers? First of all, as a general rule, it is a matter of consciousness. How do I know that I breathe? How do I know that I think? I know I do, and that is enough. Faith is to a large extent a matter of consciousness. I believe, and if you ask me how I know it I reply, “I am sure I do.” Still there is other evidence. How do I know that I am a believer? Why, by the very remarkable change which I underwent when I believed; for when a man believes in Jesus Christ there is such a change wrought in him that he must be aware of it. Things we never dreamed of before we have realised now. I remember one who when he was converted said, “Well, either the world is new or else I am.” This change is to us strong evidence that faith is in us, and has exercised its power. We have further evidence that we believe, for our affections are so altered. The believer can say that the things he once loved he now hates, and the things he hated he now loves; that which gave him pleasure now causes him pain, and things which were irksome and unpleasant have now become delightful to him. Especially is there a great change in us with respect to God. We know, also, that we believe because though very far from perfect we love holiness and strive after purity. And we know that we have believed in Jesus Christ because now we have communion with God; we are in the habit of speaking with God in prayer, and hearing the Lord speak with us when we read His Word. We know that we have believed in the Lord Jesus because we have over and above all this a secret something, indescribable to others, but well known by ourselves, which is called in Scripture the witness of the Holy Spirit: for it is written, “The Spirit Himself also beareth witness with our spirit that we are born of God.” There comes stealing over the soul sometimes a peace, a joy, a perfect rest, a heavenly deliciousness, a supreme content, in which, though no voice is heard, yet are we conscious that there is rushing through our souls, like a strain of heaven’s own music, the witness of the Spirit of God. In closing, let me ask, Do you believe in Jesus Christ or no? If thou believest thou art saved; if thou believest not thou art condemned already. Let me next ask, are any of you seeking after any witness beyond the witness of God? If you are, do you not know that virtually you are making God a liar? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The internal witness
I. It includes a consciousness of the existence of faith in our own minds. What is faith? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It draws aside the curtain which hides the eternal world from view. It gives reality, in our apprehensions, to the future condition of rational and immortal beings. It causes us to live under the influence of things unseen by the eye of sense and that are eternal. It is a grace, because it is the gift of God, produced in the soul by the operation of His Spirit. It is a saving grace, because wherever it is produced salvation is its concomitant result. Can it be said that these are exercises which elude our observation? Surely, if we can be conscious of any thing that passes within us, we may and ought to be conscious of the existence and operation of faith.
II. By the exercise of faith the experience of the believer is made to harmonise with the testimony of the divine word, so that the internal witness is confirmed and strengthened. Our Lord has said, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” As we act upon it we find it to be true. This statement admits of a very extensive illustration. Every doctrine of the Divine Word may be included in it.
III. The effects and concomitants of faith are a constant and growing testimony to its reality. It is not too much to say that faith produces a complete revolution in the soul. Our views undergo an entire change. God, and self, and sin, and holiness, and salvation, and time, and eternity, are seen in a new light. Now, is a work such as this to be maintained in the soul without the consciousness of the subject of it? It must be most strange if it be so. Of all mysteries and miracles that is certainly one of the greatest. Surely if it be unobserved we should fear it does not exist. If the sun shines we behold his light. “He that believeth in God hath the witness in himself.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The witness in oneself
A Christian minister should often press upon his hearers the difference between historical and saving faith, and entreat them to take heed lest, to the ruin of the soul, they confound things which are so essentially distinct. The historical faith requires nothing but what are popularly called the evidences of Christianity; and a volume from Paley or Chalmers gathering to a point the scattered testimonies to the Divine origin of our religion, suffices, with every inquiring mind, to produce a conviction that the Bible is no “cunningly devised fable.” But saving faith, whilst it does not discard the evidences which serve as outworks to Christianity, possesses others which are peculiar to itself; and just as historical faith being seated in the head, the proofs on which it rests address themselves to the head, so saving faith being seated in the heart, in the heart dwell the evidences to which it makes its appeal. The character to which the apostle refers here is unquestionably that of a true believer in Christ, one who believes to the saving of the soul, and not merely with the assent of the understanding. The Messiahship of Jesus is a kind of centre whence emanate those various truths through belief in which we become raised from the ruins of the Fall; and no man can have faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed of God, except so far as he has faith in the life-giving doctrines which He was anointed to proclaim. No correct estimate can be formed of sin unless we measure its enormity by the greatness of the satisfaction which was required for its pardon. And only so far as the heinousness of sin is discovered can the fearfulness be felt of our condition by nature; and therefore we may justly maintain that he alone understands rightly the fall of man who understands rightly the evil of transgression. But external testimony will never satisfy us of this evil; whereas he who “believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” to the immensity of sin, for he has in himself a vigorous perception of the mysterious and awful things of the atonement. Sin is beheld through the wounds of the Saviour; and, thus beheld, its lightest acting is discerned to be infinitely dishonouring to God and infinitely destructive to man. But it is “in himself” that the believer finds the witness. Faith brings Christ into his heart; and then the mysteries of Calvary are developed; and the man feels his own share in the crucifixion; feels, as we have already described, that his own sins alone were of guilt enough to make his salvation impossible with out that crucifixion. And if such internal feeling be the necessary accompaniment, or rather a constituent part, of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is it not undeniable that “he who believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” to the heinousness of sin; in other words, “hath the witness in himself” to the ruin consequent on transgression? We hasten to the second and perhaps more obvious truth--namely, that “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him self” to the rescue perfected by redemption. We enter not now on any proof of this indissoluble connection between simple faith and active zeal. We refer to believing experience; we appeal to its records. Has it not always been found that the strongest faith is accompanied by the warmest love; and that in the very proportion in which the notion has been discarded of works availing to justification, have works been wrought as evidences and effects of justification? The believer feels and finds the truth of this “in himself.” His whole soul is drawn out towards God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christian consciousness as a witness
We acquire knowledge by different witnesses. There is--
1. The witness of the senses.
2. The witness of testimony. All history is but a collection of human testimony regarding past events.
3. The witness of logic. There is a class of truths, a species of knowledge which we reach by conclusions drawn from known facts.
4. The witness of consciousness. Consciousness assures us of the reality of all our mental impulses and states. The text brings under our notice the witness of Christian consciousness. I offer three remarks concerning this witness.
I. It is the most important of all witnesses. Why is it the most important? Because it bears witness to the most momentous realities.
1. The truth of the gospel. Fully acknowledging the value of other evidences in favour of Christianity, such as that of history, prophecy, miracle, and success, none are to be compared in value to that of consciousness. The gospel “commends itself to every man’s conscience.” This is the witness that gives to the majority of believers in Christianity their faith.
2. The soul’s interest in the gospel.
II. It is the most incontrovertible of all witnesses. The evidence of the senses, which often deceive; of human testimony, which is fallible; of logic, which often errs, is all controvertible. Doubts may be raised at all the statements of these witnesses. But what consciousness attests is at once placed beyond argument, beyond debate, beyond doubt. It never lies, it never mistakes. What consciousness attests, lives, despite the antagonism of all philosophy and logic. The verities attested by consciousness burn as imperishable stars in the mental hemisphere of the mind. “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”
III. It is the most available of all witnesses. In some cases, logic, through the natural feebleness of the understanding, and in other cases, through the lack of data, without which, however naturally strong, it cannot speak, is not always available even with its feeble testimony. But the witness of consciousness is always in the court. The availableness of the witness, it must be remembered, depends upon the possession of personal Christianity. If we have it not, consciousness cannot attest it. Have we this witness? It is no transient phenomenon. It is a Paraclete that comes to abide with him forever. (Homilist.)
Evidences of personal piety
I. Conversion. Here we must begin in all our inquiries after religion.
IV. Prayer. Without prayer a man cannot have “the witness in himself” that he is the subject of true piety.
V. Love. The man that would know whether he be a true Christian must search for evidences of supreme love to God and Christ, and love to the people of God for His sake.
VI. Hatred of sin.
VII. Holiness of life. Essential as the evidences of the heart are to prove a man a Christian, none of them can be considered as genuine unless they are corroborated by the outward conduct. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The believer’s “witness in himself”
I. The declaration--“he that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself.” “The witness” of what? I do not understand it to be the same as that which we meet with in the eighth of the Romans, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” I think “the witness” here is to the truth connected with the former verse--“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God, which He hath testified of His Son.” The declaration of the text, then, amounts to this: that he that truly believes on the Son of God hath internal proof that God’s Word is true. If we take it in its most general view, it is so. He reads in that book declarations concerning man, as a guilty, lost, ruined, weak, helpless creature; and he that believeth hath inward witness that it is so. But especially does it refer to the Lord Jesus, as the great sum and substance of the gospel. The believer in Him has internal witness “that Jesus is the Christ.”
II. How is it that he has it? it is a thing altogether spiritual. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you ask by what it is that He conveys it, I answer, by faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A man does not really know a truth till he believes it; a man does not really know Christ, till he believes in Him. It is faith that gives body to the truth; it is faith that reveals Christ to the soul of man. But do you ask what it is that confirms it? A man sees what effects it produces, a man observes the consequences of it. He has been working hard for righteousness, and he has the revelation of Christ and His righteousness to pacify his conscience. And if you ask in what school it is that the Lord the Spirit teaches a man and instructs him, I answer, in the school of experience. “In His Word I read it; in the experience of my soul I know it.”
III. The qualifies that mark this inward witness. Beloved, it is a Scriptural witness. The Spirit of God uses His Word as the great medium of all consolation and all sanctification. Not that He is to be limited by us; who shall say what direct communication He may have with us? I dare not deny it. But it must be tested by the Word of God. Bring it to the Word of truth; if it be of God, it will stand the test of truth; for all truth is to be tried by its own test, and whatever comes from God must be that which leads to God. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The true position of the witness within
I. Believing on the son of God comes before the inner witness. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself”; he believes before he has that witness, and it is only as a believer that he obtains it.
1. The basis of faith is the testimony of God concerning His Son--the testimony of God as we find it in Holy Scripture. Dare we ask more? We must not go about to buttress the solid pillar of Divine testimony.
2. Note that the words which follow our text assure us very solemnly that the rejection of this basis, namely, God’s own testimony, involves the utmost possible guilt. “He that believeth not God, hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record which God gave of His Son.”
3. Now, this basis of faith is abundantly sufficient. If we were not alienated from God, we should feel this at once.
4. Now, though this basis is sufficient, the Lord, knowing our unbelief, has been pleased not to add to it, but to set it before us in a graciously amplified manner. He says, “There are three which bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.” There is the witness of the Spirit. Instead of miracles we have the presence of the Holy Ghost: men quickened from death in sin, hearts renewed, eyes enlightened, souls regenerated--these are the standing witnesses of God in the Church to the truth of the gospel. Then, there is the witness of the water. By the water I understand the spiritual life which abides in the Church--the life and the cleansing which God gives to believers. Then there is the blood--a third witness--that blood of atonement which brings peace to the guilty conscience, and ends the strife within. There is no voice like it to believing ears. Beyond this evidence, the hearer of the gospel may expect nothing. What more can he need? What more can he desire? If you refuse Christ upon the witness of God, you must refuse Him outright, for other witness shall never be given unto those who believe not upon the solemn testimony of God.
5. And let me say that this basis which has been so graciously amplified in the triple witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, has this to commend it, that it is everlasting and immutable.
6. Now, the faith which will not and cannot rest on this basis is evidently no faith in God at all, but a proud resolve to demand other evidence than His word. “Well,” saith one, “but suppose I were to see a vision, I should then believe.” That is to say, you would believe your vision, but that vision would, in all probability, be the result of a fevered brain, and you would be deceived. “Oh, but if I could hear a voice, then I could believe.” That is to say, you refuse the sure word of testimony in the Bible, and will only believe God if He will condescend to indulge your whims. Voices which you might think you heard are not to be depended upon, for imagination easily creates them.
7. Let me tell those of you who will not believe in God till you get a certain experience, or sign, or wonder to be added to God’s word, that those of His people who have been longest walking by faith have to come back full often to the first foundation of faith in the outer witness of God in His Word. Whether I am saint or sinner, there standeth the word, “He that believeth in Him is not condemned.” I do believe in Him and I am not condemned, nor shall all the devils in hell make me think I am, since God has said I am not. On that rock my faith shall stand unshaken, come what may.
II. The inner witness naturally follows upon faith. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.”
1. It is quite impossible that the inner witness should precede faith. If you refuse to believe God’s word how can you think that the Spirit will bear witness of anything in you except it be to your condemnation? There must be faith going before, and then the witness will follow after.
2. But be it remembered especially that a man may have the witness within him and sometimes he may not perceive it. Now, what is this witness within? Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners--that is the main point to be witnessed. First the Spirit, after we have believed, bears witness in our soul that it is so, because we perceive that the Spirit has led us to believe in Jesus, and has given us repentance; the Spirit has renewed us, the Spirit has made us different from what we were. Then the water bears witness within us--that is to say, we feel a new life. Thirdly, the precious blood within our souls bears further witness, for then we rejoice before God as cleansed by the blood from all sin. Now we have confirmatory witness within our spirits, given not because we demanded it, but as a sweet reward and gracious privilege. We should never have received it if we had not believed first on the naked word of God, but after that the witness flows naturally into the heart. And what if I were to speak of growing holiness of character, of increased conformity to Christ’s image? Do not these form a good inner witness? What if I were to speak of growing strength, so that the things we dare not once attempt we now accomplish with ease, or of growing patience under tribulation. Either of these would be noble proofs.
III. This inner witness is exceedingly excellent.
1. Because it is very plain and easy to be understood. Numbers of you have never read “Butler’s Analogy,” and if you were set to study it you would go to sleep over it. Never mind, you may have an unanswerable “analogy” in your own souls.
2. That is another point of its excellence--that it is unanswerable. A man is told that a certain medicine is mere quackery, “See here,” says he, “it healed me.” What do you say to such an argument? You had better let the man alone. So when a Christian is told that the gospel is all nonsense he replies, “It saved me. I was a man of strong passions, and it tamed me, and more.” What can you say to such facts? Why, nothing.
3. Such argument as this is very abiding in its results. A man who has been transformed by the gospel cannot be baffled, because every day his argument is renewed, and he finds fresh reasons within himself for knowing that what he believed is true. Such argument is always ready to hand. Sometimes if you are challenged to a controversy you have to reply, “Wait till I run upstairs and consult a few books,” but when the evidence is personal--“I have felt it, I know it, I have tasted it, handled it”--why you have your argument at your fingers’ ends at all times.
4. Such witness as this gives a man great boldness. He does not begin to conceal his opinions, or converse with his neighbour with an apologetic air, but he is positive and certain.
IV. Excellent as this inner witness is, it must never be put in the place of the divine witness in the word. Why not? Because it would insult the Lord, and be contrary to His rule of salvation by faith. Because, moreover, it is not always with us in equal clearness, or rather, we cannot equally discern it. If the brightest Christian begins to base his faith upon his experience and his attainments, he will be in bondage before long. Build on what God hath said, and not upon your inward joys. Accept these precious things not as foundation stones, but as pinnacles of your spiritual temple. Let the main thing be--“I believe because God hath spoken.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The evidential importance of the inner witness
All the objective witness is crowned and perfected when it passes inwardly into the soul, into the heart and life--when the believer on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. The evidential importance of the inner witness is well stated by Baxter. “I am now much mare apprehensive than heretofore of the necessity of well grounding men in their religion, and especially of the witness of the indwelling Spirit; for I more sensibly perceive that the Spirit is the great witness of Christ and Christianity to the world. And though the folly of fanatics tempted me long to overlook the strength of the testimony of the Spirit, whilst they placed it in certain internal affection or enthusiastic inspiration, yet now I see that the Holy Ghost in another manner is the witness of Christ and His agent in the world. The Spirit in the prophets was His first witness; and the Spirit by miracles was the second; and the Spirit by renovation and sanctification, illumination and consolation, assimilating the soul to Christ and heaven, is the continued witness to all true believers. And therefore ungodly persons have a great disadvantage in their resisting temptations to unbelief.” (Abp. W. Alexander.)
Believing and knowing
Two and two make four--that is mathematics; hydrogen and oxygen in certain proportions make water--that is science; Christ and Him crucified is the power and wisdom of God for salvation--that is revelation. But how do you know? Put two and two together and you have four; count and see. Put hydrogen and oxygen together and you have water; taste and prove. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved; believe and thou shalt know. The last is as clear a demonstration as the others. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son--
Rejecting the Divine testimony
I. The sin of rejecting Christ is very aggravated, seeing it is an offence against God. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.” The language is fearfully strong. “He hath made Him a liar.” Strong, however, as it is, it is only calling the sin by its right name. God has borne witness to His Son in every way that ought to satisfy the most scrupulous mind. It is the testimony of God Himself which they withstand. Therefore are they charged with virtually pronouncing His testimony false. Our Lord presents the subject in the very same light, denouncing the sin of unbelief with equal severity, and exposing its enormity by tracing it up to the deep seated love of sin in the heart (John 3:18-19). “Because their deeds are evil.” There lies the secret of opposition to Christ and His gospel. It is the love of sin. “Everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
II. Such conduct is distinguished as much by folly as by sin, considering the nature and value of that which is rejected. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
1. Eternal life. How are we to describe it? It comprehends all the blessedness which man is capable of enjoying in this life, and in that which is to come. The lowest idea we can attach to it is the remission of all our sins. The sentence of death which on their account has been passed upon us is removed. What an unspeakable blessing! Great, however, as such a blessing is, it is accompanied by another, greater and better. This is “acceptance in the beloved.” Not merely is there deliverance from condemnation, but admission to favour. The two blessings arise out of the same source, and that is union with Christ. On the ground of His atonement we are at once freed from death and crowned with life. Nor is this all. The same prolific source yields another blessing, which is never separated from pardon and acceptance. The dead soul is at the same time quickened and made alive unto God. The eyes are opened to see the vileness of sin and the beauty of holiness. The ears are unstopped to hear the voice of God in His Word and works. The tongue is unloosed to speak with Him in prayer, and for Him to man. The hands are emancipated to engage in His service. And the feet are turned into His ways, and run in the paths of His commandments. The blessings of life are now enjoyed. There is activity with all its healthful exercises. There is purity, with all its peace and prosperity. There is enjoyment, with all its precious treasures. In the measure in which spiritual life is restored, we are made like unto God. To consummate this blessedness, the stamp of eternity is put upon it.
2. The source from which this blessing is represented to proceed is calculated greatly to enhance and recommend it. It is the gift of God.
3. Farther, not only has the apostle described the blessedness, and the source from which it comes, but the very channel through which it is conveyed to us. “This life is in His Son.” The design of this announcement is at once to instruct and encourage us. It seems to contemplate the mind awakened by such a blessedness as was proposed to it, and inquiring where shall I find it? To such a one it is said, go unto Jesus.
III. It is inexcusable, seeing it may be so simply and effectually secured. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” To “have the Son” is identified, in the text itself, with believing on Him. We may have Christ and eternal life in Him simply by believing. This is the constant testimony of the Divine Word. “He that hath the Son hath life.” So soon as we are united to Christ by faith, we are put in possession of life. This is true of all the blessings contained in it. But how solemn is the alternative! “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” He cannot have pardon, for “without the shedding of blood is no remission.” He cannot have favour, for, “if a man shall keep the whole law, and offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” He cannot have holiness, for, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And he cannot be an heir of glory, for Jesus hath said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
A solemn impeachment of unbelievers
It is always well for every man to know exactly what he is at. On the sea of life the oftener we take observations as to our longitude and latitude the better. I believe there is such a thing as pitying sinners and comforting them till they consider themselves to be no longer blameworthy, and even regard themselves as unhappy people who deserve sympathy.
I. The sinner’s inability to believe dissected. He pleads that he cannot believe. He often says this, and quiets his conscience with it. Let me take your unbelief to pieces and show why it is that you cannot believe.
1. The inability of many of you lies in the fact that you do not care to think about the matter at all. You give your mind to your business, your pleasure, or your sin: you dream that there is time enough yet to think of heavenly things, and you think them to be of secondary importance. Many, however, say, “Oh, yes, I believe the Bible, I believe it is God’s book, I believe the gospel to be God’s gospel.” Why, then, do you not believe in Jesus? It must be because you do not think the gospel message important enough to be obeyed; and in so doing you are giving God the lie practically, for you tell Him that your soul is not so precious as He says it is, neither is your state so perilous as He declares it to be.
2. A second reason of the sinner’s inability to believe lies in the fact that the gospel is true. “No,” you reply, “that is precisely why we would believe it.” Yes, but what does Jesus say in John 8:45? When religious impostures have arisen, the very men who have heard the gospel from their youth up, and have not received it because it is true, have become dupes of imposition at once. The truth did not suit their nature, which was under the dominion of the father of lies, but no sooner was a transparent lie brought under their notice than they leaped at it at once like a fish at a fly. The monstrous credulity of unbelief amazes me!
3. There are persons who do not receive the gospel because it is despised among men. Sinner, this is no small offence, to be ready to accept the verdict of your fellow men, but not ready to accept the declaration of your God.
4. Many, however, do not receive the gospel because they are much too proud to believe it. The gospel is a very humbling thing.
5. Another reason why men cannot believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus lies in the holiness of the gospel. The gospel proclaims Jesus, who saves men from their sins, but you do not want that.
II. The nature of the sin of unbelief, in that it makes God a liar. Those are guilty of this sin who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour, the Son of God. When a man says that Jesus is not God, and the Father says He is, the lie direct is given; but, as I believe there are very few of that kind of unbelievers, I will leave such persons and pass on. A poor trembling, weeping sinner comes to me, and amongst other things he says, “My sins are so great that I do not believe they can be pardoned.” I meet him thus. God says, “Though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. “But, sir, my sin is very great indeed.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” “But my transgressions have been exceedingly aggravated.” “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. “Sir, I cannot believe it.” Stand up, then, and tell the Lord so in the plainest manner. Another will say, “Oh, but my heart is so hard I cannot believe in the power of God to make a new man of me and deliver me from the love of sin.” Yet God declares in His Word, “A new heart also will I give them,” etc. In many there exists a doubt about the willingness of God to save. They say, “I believe that the blood of Jesus Christ does blot out sin, but is He willing to pardon me?” Now, listen to what Jehovah says: “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that He turn unto Me and live.” “Alas,” cries one, “my ground for doubt is deeper; I hear that God can pardon, regenerate, and all that, and I believe it, but then I cannot see that any of this is for me. I do not see that these things are meant for me.” Listen, then, to what God says, “Ho everyone that thirsteth,” etc. You adroitly reply, “But I do not thirst.” More shame for you, then! Listen again, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give, you rest.” “But I do not labour.” Do not labour? How do you get your living? I am sorry for you if you are such a lazy man that you have no labour. That text includes every labouring man and every heavy laden man under heaven. Listen yet again, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Does not that invite every living man who is willing to come? If you say, “I am not willing,” then I leave you, for you confess that you are unwilling to be saved, and that is exactly what I am trying to prove--you cannot believe because you are unwilling to do so. Yet hear me once again. Jesus has said to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Are you a creature? “Yes, I am a creature.” Well, man, God has put it as plain as it can be put that the gospel is to be preached to you, and, therefore, it has a relation to you. Would God send it to you to tantalise you? When you say, “It is not for me,” you give God the lie. “Well,” says one, “but I cannot see how simply trusting in Christ, and believing God’s witness of Him, would save my soul.” Are you never to believe anything but what you can see, and how are you to see this thing till you have tried it? The faith which is commanded in the gospel is faith in the record which God has given concerning His Son, a faith which takes God at His word. Believe, then, on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have believed God to be true: refuse to trust in Jesus Christ, unless you get some other evidence beyond the witness of God, and you have practically said that God’s testimony is not enough, that is to say, you have made God a liar.
III. The execration of his sin. To disbelieve God is a sin indeed! It was the mother sin of all, the door by which all other evil came into the world. Oh, accursed unbelief! How can the absolutely true submit to be charged with falsehood? This sin of making God a liar I do pray you look at it very solemnly, for it is a stab at God Himself. Then, remember, this unbelief insults God on a very tender point. He comes to the guilty sinner and says, “I am ready to forgive.” The sinner says, “I do not believe Thee.” “Hear Me,” says the Lord. “What proof do you ask? See, I have given My only-begotten Son--He has died upon the tree to save sinners.” “Still I do not believe Thee,” says the unbeliever. Now, what further evidence can be given? Infinite mercy has gone its utmost length in giving the Saviour to bleed and die: God has laid bare His inmost heart in the wounds of His dying Son, and still He is not believed. Surely man has reached the climax of enmity to God in this: nothing proves the utter baseness of man so much as this refusal to believe his God, and nothing proves so much the greatness of almighty grace as that God should after all this condescend to work faith in a heart so depraved.
IV. The fate of the unbeliever. If this man continues to say he cannot believe God, and that Christ is not to be trusted, what will happen to him? I wonder what the angels think must befall a being who calls God a liar? They see His glory, and as they see it they veil their faces, and cry, “Holy, holy, holy”; what horror would they feel at the idea of making God untrue! The saints in heaven when they see the glory of God fall down on their faces and adore Him. Ask them what they think must happen to those who persist in calling God a liar, and a liar in the matter of His mercy to rebels through Jesus Christ. As for me, I cannot conceive any punishment too severe for final unbelief. Nothing on earth or in heaven can save you except you believe in Jesus. Not only will the unbeliever be lost, but he will be lost by his unbelief. Thus saith the Lord, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Why? “Because he hath not believed on the Sod of God.” Has he not committed a great deal else that will condemn him? Oh, yes, a thousand other sins are upon him, but justice looks for the most flagrant offence, that it may be written as a superscription over his condemned head, and it selects this monster sin and writes “condemned, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The immorality of unbelief
The sources of our knowledge are various. I know that the sun shines because I see it shine. The man who has travelled most widely has seen but a small fragment of God’s illimitable empire. The bulk of my knowledge has been derived from other sources than the observation of my senses. All that I know of other countries or regions than the little spot I call my home I have learned from others. I know that in Kentucky there is a mammoth cave, extending ten miles or more under ground, not because I have actually seen it, but because I have been told of it by those who have seen it. And this knowledge is just as certain as knowledge derived in any other way. I am just as certain that Queen Victoria rules over the British Empire, though I have never seen her, as that I am occupying this pulpit today and that you are seated before me. Now, this principle which holds society together, which is the key to all progress in knowledge, to all achievements in science, which is the spring of all useful activity in the world, and which, in a religious sense, is the source of all piety in the soul, is faith. For faith is but dependence upon the word of another. Now, just as in relation to those countries which lie outside of the limits of our daily experience and observation, we are indebted for our knowledge to the evidence of others, so in relation to those worlds which lie beyond the range of this material universe, and those spiritual truths which transcend the bounds of human experience and reason, we must depend for our knowledge upon the testimony of another. What can we know of heaven or the state beyond the grave from our own observation? For this knowledge we must depend upon the testimony of none other than the Almighty Himself. He alone can disclose to us His purposes and plans. To accept the testimony of God is to exercise true faith.
I. The text teaches, in the first place, that God hath borne witness concerning His Son--that is, concerning the character and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the mere facts connected with the life of Jesus at Nazareth human testimony is a sufficient ground of evidence. But to the fact that He was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, Divine testimony is necessary to compel our assent. His mission must be authenticated by Him from whom He came and in whose name He professed to act. And Christ’s work was authenticated. God the Father hath set His seal to the fact that Jesus is His Son. None but an Almighty Mind could have conceived a plan of redemption such as is made known in this Book. None but God could have accomplished it. None but God could have made it known. The human imagination has brought forth some grand conceptions, but no human imagination evolved the grand and glorious scheme of salvation contained in the Word of God. The true revelation of God’s will may have many counterfeits.
II. The text implies that some men do not credit the testimony of God. Very many, indeed, reject the evidence which God gives of His Son. It was so when Christ yet dwelt upon the earth.
III. But, finally, the text teaches the rejection of the witness of God with respect to His Son is not simply an error of judgment, a mistake of the intellect, but an insult of the deepest dye offered to the greatest of all beings in the universe. Unbelief says: “There is no coming wrath that we need dread. No hell that we need shun. No heaven to which we need hope to attain. No fellowship with God and Christ and redeemed spirits beyond the grave.” Unbelief declares: “There is no sin that needs an expiation; no justifying righteousness required by man; that he can save himself from all the dangers to which he is exposed.” See what unbelief does. It justifies the greatest of all crimes, the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ. It enters the chamber of sickness, and ridicules the prayers that go up from pallid lips, and derides the faith and confidence of those who fall asleep in Jesus. It enters the sanctuary of God, mocks at the worship of the Most High, and sneers at the preaching of His Word. Unbelief says: “God is untrue. He is endeavouring to deceive His creatures. He is imposing upon the world a false system of doctrines, an untrustworthy scheme of salvation through a crucified Redeemer.” This is the hideous character of unbelief as painted by the inspired apostle. (S. W. Reigart.)
1 John 5:11
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son
The Divine record
It is obvious that the designs of God respecting the work of His hands entirely depend on His own will, and that, unless He please to favour us with an express declaration of those designs, we may, indeed, by debating about the probabilities of the case, bewilder ourselves in all the mazes of metaphysical conjecture; but, as for anything like certainty respecting what so deeply concerns us, that is a point which it is utterly beyond our abilities to attain.
Such a declaration, however, God has been pleased to make. In the record of the Old and New Testaments we have an express revelation of His will.
I. The unmerited grant of our God.
1. The nature of the blessing here said to be granted to us.
(1) It is life, life worthy of the name, a life perfectly exempt from every kind and degree of evil, and accompanied by every conceivable and by every inconceivable good.
(2) This life is eternal, not like our present life, which is but as a vapour that appeareth for a short time and then vanisheth away.
(3) It is a life, too, which includes everything that appertains to it, the pardon of our sins, reconciliation with God, adoption into His family, and all those sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit which constitute the foretaste of this eternal life in the heart of the Christian.
2. The person to whom this grant is here also said to be made. “To us,” the sinful children of sinful parents; “to us,” miserable sinners, who thus were lying in darkness and in the shadow of death, provided only we will accept the boon in His appointed way; “to us” hath God given eternal life.
3. The gratuitous nature of the grant. For in what way but in that of a free gift could eternal life be made over to those who have both forfeited the blessing and incurred the curse?
II. The channel through which this grant is conveyed to us.
1. The obstacles which stood in the way of this grant were of the most formidable description. These were no other than the severer perfections of the Divine nature, and the honour both of God’s law and of His universal government.
2. But by the determination that this free gift of life should be in the Son of God, to be sought for through Him alone, all the obstacles to the grant, which presented themselves from the quarters just referred to, were at once removed.
III. The character of the individuals who will obtain the benefit of this grant and of these who will fail of it. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
1. It is clear, then, on the one hand, that we are interested in this grant of eternal life if we have the Son.
2. And it is the undisputed testimony of the record that he that thus hath the Son hath life, and that he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (John Natt, B. D.)
Eternal life a gift
I. The subject of the “record”--“eternal life.” What is it? It is not endless existence. The “record” refers not to this point. The Bible assumes man’s immortality. “Eternal life” consists in the soul’s well-being--its intrinsic, internal blessedness: “the kingdom of God is within you.” This life is “eternal.” It is drawn from the Eternal One; His principles of rectitude imbedded in the heart and “springing up into everlasting life.”
II. The doctrine of the record, “god hath given to us eternal life, and this is in his son.”
1. It is gift. Not something for which men need to toil, but something to be simply received.
2. It is a gift already given. “God hath given,” etc. The believer has its foretaste.
3. It is a gift already given “in His Son.” Not in systems, churches; “grace and truth” come by Jesus Christ.
4. This is for “record.” It is testified that men may know it on God’s authority and live. (Homilist.)
Before opening up the passage there are two preliminary questions that press for answer. In the first place, what is meant by the Scriptural phrase, “eternal life”? The term, eternal life, is hardly at all one of quantity, but of quality. Just as there is wheat life in the wheat plant, bird life in the winged creatures, lion life in the lion, so there is Christ life in the Christian. It is a condition of existence in which the very life of God pulsates through every faculty of the life of man, bringing him into affinity of love and purpose and aspiration with the Eternal Himself. Eternal life is, therefore, the imparting of Christ’s own life to those who accept Him as Saviour and Master. A second preliminary question presses for answer. When and where is this eternal life attained? It seems clear from the Word of God that it is attained in this world and not in the world to come. Men do not go to heaven to get it, but they go to heaven because they have it. If these things are true it surely becomes a pressing interest to every thoughtful man as to how this priceless gift may become his own personal possession, as to how he may grow in eternal life and eternal life grow in him, and as to how he may have the joy, the power, and the prospect of it. These questions are all clearly answered in the text.
I. Eternal life is provided in Christ. “This life is in His Son.” It is of the very last importance to note well the fountain of this eternal life. It is not in man as natural, for as natural he is fallen, and the fall implied the loss of this life of God in the soul of man, the passing away of all conscious affinity with God, and the coming in of a spirit of alienation and hostility. And as it is not in man naturally, neither does man find it in what is called his environment. We think that the power of environment over human life is greatly exaggerated in our day, and is essentially the reversal of a central principle in God’s dealings with the world. It is never the new environment that makes the new man, but it is the new man that creates the new environment. Let us, therefore, face the fact that eternal life is provided only in Jesus Christ our Lord. Those in quest of it have, therefore, not to wander over a wilderness of abstract thought, and not to whip the energies of mind and heart to attain this great end; but, as a person deeply convinced that this gift is not now theirs, to come humbly and trustfully to the feet of the living personality of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has this gift to give, and who is longing to bestow it.
II. Eternal life is published in Christ. “This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life,” and this life is in His Son essentially. The whole Word of God is an apocalypse or unveiling of Christ. The testimony of God Himself, of the Holy Spirit, of inspired historian, poet, prophet, and evangelist, all converges on the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. Eternal life is possessed in Christ. God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son; “he that hath the Son hath life.” The gift has not only been provided and published, but it has in a very real sense actually been given. God has given to us eternal life. We stand firm on the ground that Christ’s part, both in provision and offer, has already been finished; but salvation by gift implies the part of the receiver as well as the part of the giver, and while the gift has been offered there is no salvation, and there can be no salvation till the gift is accepted. This view of the possession of eternal life delivers man from all perplexity as to the ground of his acceptance with God, and as to his humble assurance of the certainty of his salvation. It causes feelings, for example, to fall into due perspective in spiritual experiences. When a man comes to see that he possesses Christ, and on that possession can call eternal life his own, there will come, and must come, those feelings of peace and rest and certainty and enjoyment, and until he is quite sure that he possesses Christ, and with Him all things, the feelings will be fitful and the whole life will be clouded.
IV. Eternal life is perpetuated in Christ. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” The entrance of eternal life into the soul of man is the entrance of Christ Himself to dwell and reign and unfold the nature that He inhabits and permeates. The whole Christ, and only Christ, is needed to save, and the whole Christ in perpetual indwelling is needed to sanctify. There is no possible life for the Christian apart from his abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in him. Out of this flows all the sweetness of sanctity, all the dignity of lowliness, all the enlarging of love, all the practical power of obedience, and all the finished graces of a complete character. (G. Wilson.)
Example and life
It will be admitted, of course, that Christ has given us a perfect example. He has not only told us what to do, He has shown us how to live. He was Himself, by the method which He followed, the great object teacher, and His life was the great object lesson. Example is more powerful than precept; its influence goes deeper and takes hold of us with a stronger grasp; but after all it is of the same nature as precept. You can give a child in words some idea of the rules of polite behaviour; you can give him an example of politeness which will be much more instructive and effective in forming his manner than any verbal rules; but the rules and the example would both operate in the same way; they would reach and influence him through his intellect and his will. In both cases the effect produced would be the result of a voluntary effort. It is easier for him to imitate your actions than it is to remember and obey your rules; but both address the will through the intelligence. Now, while the imitation of an action is easier and pleasanter than the obedience of a precept, there is still a great lack of beauty and of vigour in the conduct that is simply the result of imitation. There is a perceptible hardness and stiffness and unreality about it; it is artificial. So, then, if a perfect example were put before us, and we should set ourselves resolutely and carefully to the copying of that example, we should be sure to fail; our lives, though they might seem outwardly very like the life we were trying to imitate, would resemble it only as the artificial flower resembles the real one. When God gave you being He gave you character and personality of your own. What He meant you to be is indicated in the very constitution of your soul, And although by disobedience and alienation from Him you may have badly injured your own character, though the Divine perfection in which it ought to shine may but dimly appear in it, yet the ground plan, so to speak, is there, and that is the plan on which your character is to be built; the thing for you to do is simply to become what God meant you to be, and this you cannot do by trying to imitate the character and conduct of some one else. What men most need is the healing, the quickening, the replenishing of their spiritual life. It is not a model to live by, it is “new life and fuller that we want.” And this is the want that Christ supplies. “I am come,” He says, “that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” How is it that He imparts to men this life? Ah, I do not know that. How does the sun impart life to the seeds and roots and bulbs that during all this long winter have been waiting for him under ground? I do not know how he does it, but I know that he does it. Some of them have heard his voice already and have come forth from their graves. The subtle might of his regenerating rays is seeking them out; they begin to feel in every fibre the influence of his power; life is quickened within them by his genial influence. And as many as receive Jesus Christ, as many as will accept Him as the Lord of their life, and will let Him instruct them and lead them and inspire them, sweetly yielding to the influences of His grace, will find that He is doing for them something like what the sun does for the germs beneath the soil; that He is imparting spiritual life to them; that He is kindling in their souls the love of all things right and true and good, and increasing in them the power to realise such things in their lives. This is what He does for all who will receive Him. But the text says that this life is eternal life. The witness is that God has given to us eternal life and the life is in His Son. Yea, verily! The life whose organising principles are righteousness and truth and love is a life that takes hold of the aeons to come with a sure grasp. God has so made the universe that these principles are indestructible; in the nature of things virtue is immortal; the life that is incorporate with it has the promise of an everlasting day. (W. Gladden, D. D.)
Life in Christ
Mark the grammatical form. The statement is not part of the record, but “the record” itself, as if God had given none else. “This is the record,” standing out alone in its sublime grandeur. “This is the record” that transcends all others by its brilliancy, upon which every conscience might rest. So in 1 John 2:25 he uses exactly the same emphatic expression--“This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life,” as if not a single star shone in the firmament above except this; as if not one promise had been given except this, standing out distinct, full, alone in hopes and comfort to all. And not only he, but St. Paul, so different in the characteristic order of intellect, uses the same kind of expression--“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23); “the gift,” as if no other boon had been granted--the gift towering out above all, and standing in its holy Alpine grandeur, the noblest blessing God had ever given to His people. Put these three passages together, and then we have brought before us this glorious truth, that He is emphatically the gift, the record to us, the promise of God of life eternal through His Son.
I. The religion which we profess, true practical Christianity, is life. This truth lies at the foundation of this passage; and what type can be more glorious of good conferred? The most despised creature upon earth clings to life. I need not say that the life here spoken of is not physical life, not a life in common with an ungodly man, not a life in common with the beasts that perish, but spiritual life, life in the soul, life in the thinking elements of our nature, life in that part of our nature which links us with God Himself, and which, if lost, consigns us to everlasting ruin. Such then is the boon; the Christian lives. Religion is no dead thing; it is not formalism, it is not mere professionalism, it is not the assent of the understanding to certain dogmas, it is not the experience in the heart even of certain sentimental emotions. Religion, if it be anything at all, is a living, practical reality. I have the conviction that I have spiritual life, because I think with God, I feel the presence of God, I move in the ways of God. The Christian, then, lives; that life may be mysterious, but it is the distinguishing character of the Christian man that he has this spiritual life in him. I add that it is, moreover, a progressive thing. Here religion harmonises with all the phenomena and rules of life.
II. This life is divine in its origin--“God hath given to us eternal life.” All life is of Divine production. Pierce as far as you may into eternity, the deeper and closer our examination of its realities, the more fully and simply are we thrown on our conviction of the Divine origin. All life is the production of the eternal God. The spiritual life of which I speak is, therefore, certainly of His production. The old Greek fable, myth, to use the fashionable expression of modern times, brings out the truth in a simple shape--“You may take a man and set him up by the pillar of the temple, but unless the god who inhabits it touches him he cannot move a step.” Or, according to another Greek fable, you may take clay and form and fashion it into the mould of a man, but unless the celestial fire penetrates the frame and imparts life it has no power of action. “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but God gives the increase.” All means and appliances are in vain until the power of God Himself shall visit the Church--all in vain until Jesus Christ, who, when His message is proclaimed, shall accompany that message with His own living power and waken up dead spirits into eternal life.
III. This life is in Christ. The source, I say, of that life which is the gift of God, the source of all life, is Christ Himself. Again, for this purpose He is described as having life in Himself. Mark the emphatic expression. It corresponds with that expression of the living God, “I am that I am”--Jehovah. Pray for this gift, but pray for it in union with Christ’s sacrifice, for without His death the Spirit never had come down.
IV. This life is not only through the Son, but is in the Son, and will just be in us as it is in Him. In other words, the character of the life of the Son of God is a model character to all the brotherhood of Christ; every Christian is a Christian just in the degree that he is Christ-like.
V. This life, this divine gift, is eternal. Now the soul is eternal, and as such, therefore, this life must endure forever. That man is a fool who tries to procure something by great labour which will last only till tomorrow. But this eternal life never conies to a close. Moreover it is a life which shall expand. I can set no limits to it.
VI. Who have that life? What man possesses it? Who has a distinct credential that he does possess it? “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” Tell me not of spasmodic enjoyments of spiritual elevation, of occasional paroxysms of spiritual life. I ask, is Christ’s life in you? Is His law in your hearts, and is it exemplified in your lives? If so, you have clear proof of the possession of that gift which is everlasting. (T. Archer, D. D.)
1 John 5:12
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life
To have Christ is to have life
We may be said to have or receive the Son in these three modes--as a teacher, an example, and a Saviour; and in each of these He is life to those who have Him.
I. Christ is life in His instructions. He is so, because His instructions are truth, and truth brings life. In another, and yet a kindred sense, is Christ life by His word. He teaches us how to live, and for what ends. Honour, happiness, respect, love, usefulness, those things without which life is only animal, or worse, are most easily and completely to be secured by adopting the principles and obeying the precepts of the gospel. It is life, by eminence, to live temperately, soberly, justly, kindly, peacefully, doing good actions, exercising good affections, gaining good opinions. It is the only proper life of a moral, intellectual, accountable creature of God. He then lives as his Maker would have him live; lives most acceptably in the sight of heaven, and most profitably to himself and to the world. He lives, answering the best purposes of life; contributing to the means of human advancement; making his actions to be counted in the sum of human felicity. In a moral sense he protracts his life, because he employs it fully and well.
II. He who has or receives Christ as an example has life. The life-giving word is not only taught, but embodied and made incarnate in the teacher; it is not only didactic, but possesses the merit and charm of historical interest. The Son not only points the way to the Father, but He precedes the disciple, and guides him in it and through it. Whoever walks as Christ walked, lives; and in proportion to the exactness of his imitation is the vigour and health of his life. To know that we are, in any degree, sharing the life and spirit of our Master, is enough to give us an increase of vital warmth, to cause the pulse of our spirit to beat firmer and more true, because it beats in happy and honoured union with the heart of Jesus. If His life was true and eternal, then that which is borrowed from His is so too. The seeds of corruption are not in it. The process of dissolution cannot commence in it. It is a sound and pure and heavenly life, for it is the very life of the Son of God.
III. He who hath the Son by faith, he who receives Him as the Christ of God and the Saviour of men, by this faith also, as well as by obedience and imitation, hath life. And why? Because the hope and assurance of eternal life is contained and perfected in such faith. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
Alive or dead--which?
I. Concerning the living. “He that hath the Son hath life.”
1. I shall remark, in the first place, that having the Son is good evidence of eternal life, from the fact that faith by which a man receives Christ is in itself a living act. Furthermore, faith in Jesus is good evidence of life, because of the things which accompany it. No soul asks for pardon or obtains it till he has felt that sin is an evil for which pardon is necessary; that is to say, repentance always conies with faith. Where there is faith, again, there is always prayer. So might I say that the consequences of receiving Christ are also good evidences of heavenly life; for when a man receives the Son of God he obtains a measure of peace and joy; and peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost are not to be found in the sepulchres of dead souls.
2. The possession of the Lord Jesus Christ is the evidence of faith in many ways. It is God’s mark upon a living soul. Whatever else we cannot see, if a simple trust in Jesus is discernible in a convert, we need feel no suspicions, but receive him at once as a brother beloved. Moreover, the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ becomes a clear evidence of life, because, indeed, it is in some sense the source, fountain, and nourishment of life. While the branch is vitally in the stem it will have life; if it is not always bearing fruit, yet it always has life; and thus the fact of having the Son becomes an evidence of life, because it is the source of life. In another aspect of it, having the Son is not only the source of life, but the result of life. Now, when a man receives Jesus into his soul as life from the dead, his faith is the sure indicator of a spiritual and mysterious life within him, in the power of which he is able to receive the Lord. Jesus is freely preached to you, His grace is free as the air, but the dead do not breathe that air--those who breathe it are, beyond all doubt, alive.
3. Let me further remark that the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith is sufficient evidence of eternal life. “I do not know,” says one, “when I was converted.” Have you the Son of God? Do you trust in Jesus Christ? That is quite enough.
4. It is a great mercy that having the Son is abiding evidence. “He that hath the Son hath life.” I know what it is to see every other evidence I ever gloried in go drifting down the stream far out of sight.
5. I may close this first head by saying that having the Son is infallible evidence of life. “He that hath the Son hath life.” It is not said that he may perhaps have it, or that some who have the Son have life, but there is no exception to the rule.
II. Concerning the dead. “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life”--that is, he hath not spiritual life, sentence of death is recorded against him in the book of God. His natural life is spared him in this world, but he is condemned already. Now observe that the not having the Son of God is clear evidence of the absence of spiritual life; for the man who has not trusted in Jesus has made God a liar. Shall pure spiritual life make God a liar? Shall he receive life from God who persists in denying God’s testimony? Let me tell you that for a hearer of the gospel not to believe on the Son of God must be, in the judgment of angels, a very astounding, crime. Recollect, if you have never received Christ, that this is overwhelming evidence that you are dead in sin. I tell thee, moralist, what thou art: thou art a corpse well washed and decently laid out, daintily robed in fair white linen, sprinkled plenteously with sweet perfumes, and wrapped in myrrh and cassia and aloes, with flowers wreathed about thy brow and thy bosom bedecked by the hand of affection with sweetly blushing roses; but thou hast no life, and therefore thy destiny is the grave, corruption is thy heritage.
III. Concerning the living as they dwell among the dead. As the living are constrained to live among the dead, as the children of God are mixed up by Providence with the heirs of wrath, what manner of persons ought they to be?
1. In the first place, let us take care that we do not become contaminated by the corruption of the dead. You who have the Son of God, mind that you are not injured by those who have not the Son.
2. If we must in this life, in a measure, mingle with the dead, let us take care that we never suffer the supremacy of the dead to be acknowledged over the living. It would be a strange thing if the dead were to rule the living. Yet sometimes I have seen the dead have the dominion of this world; that is to say, they have set the fashion and living Christians have followed.
3. What I think we should do towards dead souls is this--we should pity them. “The most of these I meet with are dead in sin.” Ought not this to make us pray for them: “Eternal Spirit, quicken them! They cannot have life unless they have the Son of God. Oh, bring them to receive the Son of God”! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sublimest possession
Deep in the soul of man is a desire to appropriate something outside of itself--the instinct for getting, what phrenologists call the “acquisitive faculty.” But what is the good it really wants, the chief good, that without which it will never be satisfied?
I. The highest possession of man is the possession of Christ.
1. It is something more than to possess an intellectual knowledge of Him.
2. It is something more than to admire His character and to sympathise with His enterprise.
3. It is to possess His ruling disposition, or, in other words, the moral inspiration of His soul. It is to have His spirit.
II. The possession of Christ involves the highest life. Eternal life does not mean eternal existence, but eternal goodness; and eternal goodness is the highest paradise of the soul.
1. The life of supremacy. He will be in the highest sense a king.
2. The life of self-oblivious devotion. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
3. The life of the highest knowledge. (Homilist.)
The natural man and the spiritual man
The natural man belongs to the present order of things. He is endowed simply with a high quality of the natural animal life. But it is life of so poor a quality that it is not life at all. He that hath not the Son hath not life; but he that hath the Son hath life--a new, distinct, and supernatural endowment. He is not of this world. He is of the timeless state, of eternity. The difference, then, between the spiritual man and the natural man is not a difference of development, but of generation. The distinction is one of quality, not of quantity. The scientific classification of men would be to arrange all natural men, moral or immoral, educated or vulgar, as one family. One higher than another in the family group, yet all marked by the same set of characteristics--they eat, sleep, work, think, live, die. But the spiritual man is removed from this family so utterly by the possession of an additional characteristic that a biologist would not hesitate to classify him elsewhere, not in another family, but in another kingdom. It is an old-fashioned theology which divides men into the living and the dead, lost and saved--a stern phraseology all but fallen into disuse. This difference, so startling as a doctrine, has been ridiculed or denied. Nevertheless the grim distinction must be retained. It is a scientific distinction. “He that hath not the Son hath not life.” (Prof. H. Drummond.)
Christ the life of the soul
He, who has a right to speak, has said that there is a certain thing, the possession of which constitutes “life,” and so constitutes it that he who has it “has life,” and he who has it not “has not life.” There is a “life,” dependent upon the possession of a certain thing, so much worthier than anything else of the name of “life,” that, compared to it, nothing besides is real “life.” Could you at this moment do it by a word, would you immortalise the “life” you are now living? The real Christian would. To him the change which he wishes is not one of kind, but of degree. He has that which he only wants purified and increased a thousand fold. The “life” he lives is what he wishes to be the germ of a “life” which he shall live forever and ever. Now this possession of Christ appears to me to be made up of three things. Properly speaking, the life which Christ lived upon this earth before His Cross was not the “life” which He came to communicate to His people. All that “life” He lived simply that He might purchase the “life” which He was going to give. The “resurrection life” is the “life” which Christ imparts to man. It is a “life” springing out of death. It is a “life” out of which the element of death has been altogether extracted. It is a “life” as essential as the Godhead of the Christ--as the “life” in which that Godhead resides is essential “life.” “Life” is not what we live, but how we live it. To live indeed you must live livingly. To this end, then, if a man would “live” indeed, a man’s soul must be always, in some way, receiving Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Christ in man
Before proceeding to analyse this passage, contemplate for one moment the mysterious grandeur of human nature’s position through the Incarnation; for it is obviously through the Incarnation that we “have the Son.” Think, then, that in all other works of Deity communication is the distinction. When God creates, He communicates being to nothing; in nature, God communicates beauty, form, and harmony to materialism; in providence, God communicates wisdom, truth, power, responsibility, and so forth, to agents and agencies; in legislation God communicates will and law to moral nature; and in revelation God communicates grace and truth to mankind; but in the Incarnation God does not communicate, but He assumes. Observe the words, “He that hath the Son hath life.” There is no man named. God Almighty, when He speaks from the throne of revelation, speaks to human nature. He does not by tits word lay hold on the conventional, the local, the chronological, or the transitory in man. Now mark the decisive grandeur of this; for it intimates a connection between our nature now and our condition hereafter. Christianity now is Christianity forever; every stone which is now laid to your spiritual fabric is to form part of an ascending structure of conscious humanity, which is to rise higher and higher towards perfection throughout the everlasting ages. He, therefore, “that hath the Son hath life,” and the same life that he will have hereafter.
I. What is it to “have the Son”? We say, then, in the first place, every human being on God’s earth “hath the Son.” There is not a pulse in your body but proclaims Calvary; there is not a drop in your veins but preaches Christ. You are not to imagine creation proceeding by one principle, providence administered by another, and grace acting by a third; the same God who acts in creation and rules in providence bestows in grace. And therefore I charge it upon every unconverted man, with this truth bound upon his heart, “Verily Christ is in me, and I knew it not.” But more particularly, to take the words spiritually: a man may be said to “have the Son” when He is the sovereign of his intellect. He will ascertain upon clear grounds and through an honest logic whether this book be or be not Divine; but the moment the man has come to the conclusion, “Verily God is in this thing, verily God is in these syllables,” then all that he has to do is to submit his intellect to Christ, then he “has the Son.” Secondly, a man may be said to “have the Son” when he hath Him as the ruler of his desires. If we “have the Son” our desires are submitted to Christ even as our intellect. Thirdly, Jesus Christ may be said to be ours, or we “have the Son,” when He is the pacifier of our conscience. Lastly, a man may be said to “have the Son” when Jesus Christ is the centre of his affections. The worldling’s centre is the world; the sensualist’s centre is the enjoyment of the passions; the rationalist’s is the cultivation of the intellect; the politician’s the progress of his party. But the Christian hath one centre and one circumference--Jesus Christ in the beginning and the middle and without end. His supreme attractor is Christ.
II. The possession of Christ is tantamount to the possession of life. In the first place, then, this connection contains (though not here stated) three marvellous views. First, it is the unfathomable mystery of heaven; secondly, it is the infinite mercy of earth; and, thirdly, it is the unrivalled miracle of all eternity. Lastly, we go on to show you the right connection between “having Christ” and “having life.” It is to be drawn from the contrast to the fall. The fall of man was the death of man through the first Adam; the rise of man is the life of man in the second Adam. (R. Montgomery, M. A.)
1 John 5:13
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.
Helps to full assurance
I. To whom was this written? It is important to observe the direction of a letter; for I may be reading a communication meant for somebody else, and if it should contain good tidings, I may be deceiving myself by appropriating the news.
1. This Epistle, and this particular text in it, were written for all those who believe on the name of the Son of God.
2. To unbelievers this text is not written: it is for all who trust in Jesus; but it is for none beside. If you inquire why it is not addressed to unbelievers, I answer, simply because it would be preposterous to wish men to be assured of that which is not true.
3. We may gather from this address being made to all the people of God and to none beside, that there are some believers in the world, and true believers too, who do not know that they have eternal life. Again, a large number of Christ’s people who may be perfectly sound in the doctrinal view of the nature of this life do not know that they possess it at this present moment if they are believers. We want children of God who believe in Jesus to feel that the holy flame which kindles their lamp today is the same fire which will shine forth before the throne of God forever; they have begun already to exercise those holy emotions of delight and joy which will be their heaven: they already possess in measure those perceptions and faculties which will be theirs in glory. Yet again, there are some Christians who believe all this, and are perfectly right in theory, but yet they each one cry, “I want to know that I have eternal life. I want a fuller assurance of salvation than I have already obtained.” That is also our desire for you.
II. To what end John has written.
1. When he says, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life,” I think his first meaning is that you may know that everybody who believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life. You are not to form an opinion upon it, but to believe it, for the Lord hath said it.
2. I think that John in this passage meant, and we will consider him as meaning, something more--namely, he would have us know that we personally have eternal life by having us know that we do personally believe in Jesus. Rationally a living man should know that he is alive. No man should give sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids while he has a doubt about his eternal state. It is possible, and it is very desirable; for when a man knows that he has eternal life, what a comfort it is to him! What gratitude it produces in his spirit! How it helps him to live above the world! And it is our duty to obtain full assurance. We should not have been commanded to give diligence to make our calling and election sure if it were not right for us to be sure.
III. What has John said in this epistle which conduces to our full assurance? How does he help us to know that we are believers, and consequently to know that we have eternal life?
1. You will find, first, that John mentions as an evidence truthful dealing with God, in faith and confession of sin. Naturally men walk in darkness or falsehood towards God; but when we have believed in Jesus we come to walk in the light of truth. Read in the first chapter of the Epistle from verse 6 to 9.
2. Next, John gives us obedience as a test of the child of God. Look to the second chapter, and begin to read at the third verse.
3. Follow me as I call attention, next, to the evidence of love in the heart. In the second chapter read at the ninth verse. Then go on to the fourteenth verse of the third chapter. This will greatly help you to decide your case. Do you hate anybody? Are you seeking revenge? Then you are not dwelling in the light; you are of Cain and not of Christ.
4. Next to that comes separation from the world. Read in the second chapter at the fifteenth verse. This is backed up by the first verse of the third chapter. Thus slander, abuse, and other forms of persecution may turn to your comfort by showing that you are of that sect which is everywhere spoken against.
5. Next to that, in the second chapter, we have the evidence of continuance in the faith. “And the world passeth away, and the lust,” etc.
6. The next evidence you will find in the third chapter, the third verse, namely, purification. Do you every day endeavour to keep clear of sin; and, when you have sinned, do you at night go with bitter repentance to God, and beg to be delivered from it?
7. Again, in the twenty-first verse of the third chapter, we meet with another blessed evidence, and that is a clear conscience.
8. Furthermore, we find an evidence in answer to prayer: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
9. Adherence to the truth is another help to full assurance. Read the whole fourth chapter. If you bear witness to the truth, the truth bears witness to you. Blessed are those who are not removed from the hope of their calling.
10. One of the best evidences of true faith, and one of the best helps to full assurance, is a holy familiarity with God. Read in the fourth chapter the sixteenth verse. When you have no longer that slavish fear which makes you stand back, but that childlike confidence which draws you nearer and yet nearer unto God, then are you His child. He who can call God his exceeding joy is among the living in Zion.
IV. The appendix to John’s design. “That ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” I think he means this--you are never to get into such a state that you say, “I have eternal life, and therefore I need not trust simply in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Years ago I was born again, and so I can now live without the daily exercise of faith.” “No,” says the apostle, “I am writing this to believers, and I tell them that while they may have full assurance, it cannot be a substitute for habitual faith in the Lord Jesus.” Every vessel, whether it be a great flagon or a little cup, must hang upon the one nail which is fastened in a sure place. If you get from Jesus, you wander into a land of darkness and of the shadow of death. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blessing of full assurance
I. John wrote with a special purpose.
1. To begin with, John wrote that we might enjoy the full assurance of our salvation. Full assurance is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to satisfaction. May you get it--may you get it at once; at any rate, may you never be satisfied to live without it. You may have full assurance. You may have it without personal revelations; it is wrought in us by the word of God. He begins thus: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Can anything be more clear than this? The loving spirit of John leads him to say, “Everyone that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him.” Do you love God? Do you love His only-begotten Son? You can answer those two questions surely. John goes on to give another evidence: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.” You can tell whether you love the brethren, as such, for their Master’s sake, and for the truth’s sake that is in them; and if you can truly say that you thus love them, then you may know that you have eternal life. Our apostle gives us this further evidence: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.” Obedience is the grand test of love. By the fruit you can test the root and the sap. But note that this obedience must be cheerful and willing. “His commandments are not grievous.” I said to one who came to join the Church the other day, “I suppose you are not perfect?” and the reply was, “No, sir, I wish I might be.” I said, “And suppose you were?” “Oh, then,” she said, “that would be heaven to me.” So it would be to me. We delight in the law of God after the inward man. Oh, that we could perfectly obey in thought, and word, and deed! John then proceeds to mention three witnesses. Do you know anything about these three witnesses? Do you know “the Spirit”? Has the Spirit of God quickened you, changed you, illuminated you, sanctified you? Next, do you know “the water,” the purifying power of the death of Christ? Do you also know “the blood”? Do you know the power of the blood to take away sin? Then in the mouth of these three witnesses shall the fact of your having eternal life be fully established. One thing more I would notice. Read the ninth verse: the apostle puts our faith and assurance on the ground that we receive “the witness of God.” The inmost heart of Christian faith is that we take God at His Word; and we must accept that Word, not because of the probabilities of its statements, nor because of the confirmatory evidence of science and philosophy, but simply and alone because the Lord has spoken it.
2. Furthermore, John wrote that we might know our spiritual life to be eternal. We are said to be “made partakers of the Divine nature.” Immortality is of the essence of the life of God. If our life is Christ’s life, we shall not die until Christ dies. Let us rest in this.
3. Once more, John desired the increase and confirmation of their faith. “That ye might believe on the name of the Son of God.” Many a Christian man is narrow in the range of his faith from ignorance of the Lord’s mind. Like certain tribes of Israel, they have conquered a scanty territory as yet, though all the land is theirs from Dan to Beersheba. John would have us push out our fences, and increase the enclosure of our faith. Let us believe all that God has revealed, for every truth is precious and practically useful. It will be well for you if your faith also increases intensively. Oh that you may more fully believe what you do believe! We need deeper insight and firmer conviction. This is John’s desire for you, that you believe with all your heart, and soul, and strength. He would have you believe more constantly, so that you may say, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.” He would have us trust courageously. Some can believe in a small way about small things. Oh, for a boundless trust in the infinite God! We need more of a venturesome faith; the faith to do and dare. We need also to have our faith increased in the sense of its becoming more practical. We want an everyday faith, not to look at, but to use. God give to you that you may believe on the name of the Son of God with a sound, common sense faith, which will be found wearable, and washable, and workable throughout life. We need to believe more joyfully. Oh, what a blessed thing it is when you reach the rest and joy of faith! If we would truly believe the promise of God, and rest in the Lord’s certain fulfilment of it, we might be as happy as the angels.
II. The purpose which John had in his mind we ought to follow up. If he wished us to know that we have eternal life, let us try to know it. The Word of God was written for this purpose; let us use it for its proper end. Our conscience tells us that we ought to seek full assurance of salvation. It cannot be right for us to be children of God, and not to know our own Father. Are you not bidden to make your calling and election sure? Are you not a thousand times over exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, and to give thanks continually? But how can you rejoice, if the dark suspicion haunts you, that perhaps, after all, you have not the life of God? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian’s title
Suppose I should come to you some day and call in question your ownership of your house, and demand that you give it up--a homestead bequeathed to you by your father. “Why do you make such a demand upon me?” you ask. “Because,” I reply, “it is not your house; you have no right to it; at least you do not know that it is yours.” “Oh, yes,” you reply, “I am quite sure it is my house.” “How do you know? what is your reason for believing that it is your house”? “Why, because my father lived here before me.” “That is no good reason.” “Well, I have lived here undisturbed for five years myself.” “It does not hence follow that the house is yours.” “But I am very happy in it: I enjoy myself here.” “Well, but, my dear sir, that you may do and still have no right to it.” At last, pushed to the wall, you take me with you down to the courthouse, and show me your father’s will, duly written, signed, sealed and recorded. This may serve to illustrate the point. A great many Christians are at a loss where and how to ground their “title.” It is not in the fact that you are a descendant of a saintly family, a child of believing parents: for as old Matthew Henry says: “Grace does not run in the blood”: nor is it that you have membership in the visible Church of Christ; nor is it to be found in delightful frames and feelings--in a word, not even a genuine Christian experience constitutes your “title deed.” Where then are we to lay the foundation of our hope? Why, just in the naked, bare Word of God (John 5:24). Straight to the record do we appeal for a final test as to our possession in God (1 John 5:11-12). (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Eternal life is not in the Scriptures limited to God as an incommunicable attribute or essence, nor to the angels even as a possession shut up within the walls of heaven; but is spoken of as something that may be conveyed to and shared with men. Eternal life is the life of the spiritual nature, the life of sentiment and affection, of moral and religious principle. Indeed, in the New Testament, many phrases might equally well be translated either eternal or spiritual life; as, for example, “No murderer hath eternal life,” hath spiritual, holy, religious, divine life, “abiding in him.” Moreover, that eternal life is not simply enduring, or literally and only everlasting life, is plain, because we never speak of the devil and his angels as having eternal life, though it is supposed in our theology they have a life that endures through all the future, contemporaneously with that of Divinity and seraph. The bad surely do not live the eternal life, though they have before them the same unbounded prospect of existence with the good. Theirs is a state of eternal or spiritual death. Eternal life in God is the life of absolute goodness, purity, rectitude, and truth. Eternal life in man is the life of justice and love, of fidelity in all his relations. It is a right, holy, and becoming life. When we are elevated above selfish and trifling cares into noble thought and generous feeling, our life, so far from having the character of a life that simply endures or is to endure for a long succession of time, seems no longer concerned with time at all, but to have risen above it. Days and weeks are no longer the terms of our existence; but thoughts, emotions, dictates of conscience, impulses of kindness, and aspirations of worship--these make the eternal life, because we feel there is something really fixed and impregnable in them, which neither time can alter, nor age wrinkle, nor the revolutions of the world waste, nor the grave bury, but the eternity of God alone embrace and preserve. It is true, that in that life, as in the absolute and perfect Spirit of God, is involved also the quality of permanence. The pure, loving, righteous, and devoted heart feels its own imperishableness. Its immortality is secretly whispered to it in a great assurance. The Spirit bears witness with it to its incorruptible nature. Even here, rising above the earth, “nor feeling its idle whirl,” it shall vindicate its superiority to all that is material, as it drops the flesh, and takes the celestial body. But the heavenly and indissoluble life begins in this world. Jesus Christ had it here. For who thinks of Him as any more immortal after His resurrection and ascension than before? Jesus Christ, the only perfect possessor on earth, is accordingly the great and incomparable communicator of this eternal life. To Him, especially and above all, we are to go for it. Shall this spiritual or eternal life become at length universal throughout the intelligent and moral creation? The theme is perhaps too great for the comprehension of the human mind, nor is it even by the light of inspiration so cleared up that we can hope for an entire agreement respecting it among equally wise and good men. Better is it that we should, by all the motives and sanctions, hopes and fears, of the gospel, try to awaken the moral and spiritual nature in our own and in others’ hearts, than that we should exercise the fancy with predicting the fortunes to arise in the coming ages. (C. A. Bartol.)
1 John 5:14-15
And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us
The answer to prayer received by faith
A very considerable amount of error prevails in regard to the answer of prayer.
That answer is by many supposed to be a more tangible and ascertainable result than it really is. To answer prayer God has promised; to make the answer of prayer evident He has not promised. Religion is in all its departments a business of faith. In all that it calls us to do, we “walk by faith and not by sight.” Prayer is no exception. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” In pursuing our subject further, then, let us consider first, that--
I. God in answering our prayers allows Himself great latitude of time. We are impatient creatures, eager for speedy and immediate results. But God is always calm, deliberate, judicious. He waiteth to be gracious, not capriciously but discreetly. A benefit often owes its chief value to its being seasonable, opportune. And the discipline of delay is frequently even a greater profit than the bliss of fruition.
II. Consider that the answer of prayer is without limitation in regard to the mode. God binds Himself to grant our requests, but He limits Himself to no particular method of granting them. God is not wont to bestow His favours, especially spiritual favours, on men directly. He far more commonly employs indirect and circuitous processes for their conveyance. Hence, we do not often perceive the success of our petitions as the fruit of God’s immediate agency. We lose sight of its connection with its true source in the multiplicity of intermediate objects and events, not for the most part evidently relevant or suitable to the end. We pray for a new heart, and we expect our answer in the up springing and operation within us of new desires. Or we ask for the production or increase of some spiritual grace. But the real answer may come in changes of our external state unlooked for and unwelcome, such as will call us to toil and suffering, under the operation of which, by the secret influences of the Divine Spirit, the result we desire may be slowly and painfully developed. We looked for the blessing by immediate and easy communications; it comes under a course of prolonged and afflictive discipline.
III. Consider that God in answering prayer holds Himself at perfect liberty in regard to the shape of its answer. Whether that which we ask for be really or only apparently good for us, or whether it be compatible with higher interests pertaining to ourselves or others must be left to His decision. “Our ignorance in asking,” and especially in reference to temporal things, we ought not to overlook. In all true prayer, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” He will in all such cases hear us according to the Spirit’s meaning, and not according to our own. The removal of a trouble, for instance, may not be so great a blessing to us as grace to bear it; and in that case God will withhold the inferior good which we ask. From all these considerations it must appear to reflecting minds that the answer of prayer must necessarily be a thing of great obscurity and of manifold disguises; and that our confidence in it, and consequent satisfaction from it, must rest far more on the Word of God than upon direct experience, observation, recognition, consciousness. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Praying and waiting
I. Explanation: and let the explanation be taken from instances in Holy Writ. Elijah bowed his knee on the top of Carmel, and prayed to God for rain. He sent his servant till at last he brought back the news, “There is a little cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Quite enough for Elijah’s faith. He acts upon the belief that he has the petition, though not a drop of rain has fallen.
II. Commendation. Expect answers to prayer.
1. By this means you put an honour upon God’s ordinance of prayer.
2. Such a spirit, in the next place, having honoured prayer, also honours God’s attributes. To believe that the Lord will hear my prayer is honour to His truthfulness. He has said that He will, and I believe that He will keep His word. It is honourable to His power. I believe that He can make the word of His mouth stand fast and stedfast. It is honourable to His love. The larger things I ask the more do I honour the liberality, grace, and love of God. It is honourable to His wisdom, for I believe that His word is wise and may safely be kept.
3. Again, to believe that God hears prayer, and to look for an answer, is truly to reverence God Himself. If I stand side by side with a friend, and I ask him a favour, and when he is about to reply to me I turn away and open the door and go to my business, why what an insult is this! Merely to knock at mercy’s door without waiting a reply, is but like the runaway knocks of idle boys in the street: you cannot expect an answer to Such prayers.
4. Furthermore, thus to believe in the result of prayer tries and manifests faith.
5. Such a habit, moreover, helps to bring out our gratitude to God. None sing so sweetly as those who get answers to prayer. Let me add how this would make your faith grow, how it would make your love burn, how every grace would be put in active exercise if, believing in the power of prayer, you watched for the answer, and when the answer came went with a song of praise to the Saviour’s feet.
III. Having thus spoken by way of commendation, we pause awhile, and turn to speak by way of gentle rebuke. I am communing this morning with those persons to whom John wrote; you who believe on the name of the Son of God; you who do believe in the efficacy of prayer. How is it that you do not expect an answer? I think I hear you say, “One reason is my own unworthiness; how can I think that God will hear such prayers as mine?” Let me remind thee that it is not the man who prays that commends the prayer to God, but the fervency of the prayer, and in the virtue of the great Intercessor. Why, think you, did the apostle write these words: “Elias was a, man of like passions with us”? Why, precisely to meet the case of those who say, “My prayer is not heard because I have such and such faults.” Here is a case in point with yours. “Yes,” say you, “but, sir, you do not know the particular state of mind I have been in when I have prayed. I am so fluttered, and worried, and vexed, that I cannot expect my prayer, offered in such a state of mind, to prevail with God.” Did you ever read the thirty-fourth psalm, and care fully consider where David was when his prayer had such good speed with God? Do not, I pray you, get into the ill habit of judging that your prayers are not heard because of your failings in spirit. “Yes,” says a third, “it is not merely that I do not so much doubt the efficacy of prayer on account of myself, but my prayers themselves are such poor things.” This is your sin as well as your infirmity. Be humbled and pray God to make you like the importunate widow, for so only will you prevail. But at the same time let me remind you that if your prayers be sincere it shall often happen that even their weakness shall not destroy them. He may rebuke the unbelief of your prayer, and yet in infinite mercy He may exceed His promise. Further, I have no doubt many of God’s people cannot think their prayers will be heard, because they have had as yet such very few manifest replies. You say you have had no answers! How know you? God may have answered you, though you have not seen the answer. God has not promised to give you the particular mercy in kind, but He will give it you somehow or other. Many do not pray expecting an answer, because they pray in such a sluggish spirit. They called some of the early Christians on the Continent, “Beghards,” because they did pray hard to God; and none can prevail but those who pray hard. Then there are so many, again, who pray in a legal spirit. Why do you pray? Because it is my duty? A child does not cry because the time to cry has come, nor does a sick man groan because it is the hour of groaning, but they cry and groan because they cannot help it. When the newborn nature says, “Let us draw nigh unto God,” then is the time and the place. A legal spirit would prevent our expecting answers to prayer. Inconsistencies after prayer, and a failure to press our suit, will bring us to doubt the power of prayer. If we do not plead with God again and again, we shall not keep up our faith that God hears us.
IV. Exhortation. Let us believe in God’s answering prayer, I mean those of us who have believed in Jesus; and that because we have God’s promise for us. Hear what He says, “Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee.” Again, prayer must be answered, because of the character of God our Father. Will He let His children cry and not hear them? He heareth the young ravens, and will He not hear His own people? Then think of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. When you pray it is the blood that speaks. Think, again, that Jesus pleads. Shall the Father deny the Son? Besides, the Holy Spirit Himself is the Author of your prayers. Will God indite the desire, and then not hear it? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Confidence in prayer
I. The spirit of prayer is expressed in the words, “This is the confidence that we have in Him.” The nature of this confidence is determined by the connection. It is not the confidence of presumption, but of children in a father. God is dishonoured by distrust. Christ is dishonoured by unbelief.
II. The rule of prayer prescribed in the text--“If we ask anything according to His will.” It is clear this rule is intended to remind us there is to be a limitation in our prayers. It plainly suggests there are many things which we may not ask of God in prayer. We must not suppose we are to follow our own desires in our supplications. We may wish for many things which we ought not to obtain. They may be wrong in themselves. Or, though proper in themselves, they might be hurtful to us. In either of these cases it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God to grant them. This rule also reminds us there are certain blessings which are right in themselves, and which it may be the will of God to bestow, but which we must ask only in subservience to His pleasure, and service, and glory. For example, I am justified in asking for health within these limitations. So also may I ask a reason able share of temporal prosperity. With all these exceptions, however, the rule before us assumes there are some things clearly declared to be in such full harmony with the will of God, that we may ask them absolutely and confidently, and without any reserve. They contain all that is essential to our real interests, for both time and eternity. We may ask at once for the pardon of our sins. The promise is plain and universal (Isaiah 1:18). The same is true of the renewal of the soul in righteousness. So also may we ask for increasing holiness. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” We need set no limits to our desires after holiness. God has set none. In a word, we may ask for the Holy Spirit, and this is the sum and centre of all blessings. We may go beyond ourselves, too, and ask for others. We may pray for the conversion and godliness of our household; for the advancement of the cause of Christ in earth.
III. The acceptance of our prayers and their gracious answers. “He heareth us.” This is universally true. He is more ready to hear than we are to ask. God then often hears and answers our prayers, although it may not seem to be so at the time of our entreaty. Or He may hear and answer, but not in the way we desire. Besides, we may have answers to our prayers, although we know neither the time nor the manner of them. The very exercise is good. Still, we may have manifest answers to our prayers. If we mark the providence of God we shall discover that He has heard us. But it is in eternity we shall see all the answers to all our prayers. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
I. Prayer is the expression of confidence in God.
1. In general, the language of want, desire, and necessity.
2. Specially, the language of the soul enlightened by the Spirit of God to discover its necessities, and to desire what the Divine bounty has provided for them.
3. It is intelligent, discriminating, definite--embracing the exercise of faith in the Divine purpose and integrity.
II. Our petitions, embodying, the soul’s confidences, are regulated by God’s promise and warrant. His will as revealed. Precepts concerning our progress in holiness to which everything else is subordinate. Promise--revelation of Divine intention in relation to the moral progress of the soul. God hath said--then faith may confide.
III. Faith brings within the range of our experience the blessings we thus desire. Faith, not an opinion, nor a bare persuasion, but an intelligent, active principle.
1. Apprehending the good promised and sought.
2. By its moral influence it prepares and qualifies for the enjoyment of the promised good.
3. The love thus relying on the promise becomes conscious of the blessings bestowed. (John A. Williams, B. A.)
Confidence in Him
Faith towards God in Jesus Christ is the essential activity of the Christian religion. Salvation begins where faith begins. When man opens his hand to receive, God opens His to give. Again, prayer is the essential function of faith--its natural activity. Prayer comes from faith, from the confidence we have in Him. Let us see, then, what is the confidence on which prayer is founded.
I. That if we ask anything, he heareth us--that it is possible to make known our thoughts, feelings, and desires to God. I cannot believe that He who built the cells of hearing is Himself deaf; nor that amid the myriad eyes His hands fashioned, and in the blaze of all the suns kindled by His power, God alone is blind! No, it is infinitely more consonant to right reason to believe with John that He heareth us.
II. Yes, no doubt He can; but will He? Will He pay any attention to the woes and the wants of so insignificant a creature as man is? Well, shifting the emphasis one word on, I say, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that He heareth us”--men and women with nothing special about them except their mere humanity. God Himself, by His love, has proved the greatness and value of man.
III. “That if we ask anything according to his will, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” I said that without faith in God’s being and intellect prayer would be impossible; and now I say that without this saving clause--without the confidence that God only grants petitions which accord with His own will--prayer would be dangerous. What could be more fatal than for the power of God to be at the disposal of human caprice? But, thank God, He will not yield. God is inexorable. Love always is inexorable. The doctor’s child wishes to have the run of the surgery, that he may play with the keen blades and taste of every coloured powder and potion; and the servant may yield to his importunities, simply because her love is weak; but the father is inexorable, deaf, unyielding. Why? Because he loves his child intensely. I can venture to draw near to God; it is safe, because I have this confidence in God that He will not yield to me against His own wisdom and will. He is inexorable for my highest good. But God’s refusal of one thing always means a grant of something better. “According to His will.” Why so? Because nothing that is not on a level with that will is good enough for thee. (J. M. Gibbon.)
I. Regenerate humanity as the subject of continual necessity. Man is a suppliant. There is no moment in his immortality in which he can declare absolute independence of a Superior Power. Our salvation has not lessened our dependence on the Divine bounty. We feel necessities now of which in our natural state we are totally unconscious.
1. There is our want of a world conquering faith. Without faith man is the mere sport of swelling waves or changeful winds--faith gives him majesty by ensuring for all his energies an immovable consolidation!
2. There is our need of infallible wisdom. The realities of life rebuke our self-sufficiency. The countless errors for whose existence we are unhappily responsible are teaching us that our unaided powers are unequal to the right solution of life’s problems.
3. There is our need of renewing and protective grace. All who know the subtlety of sin feel their danger of being undermined by its insidious influence. Without the “daily bread” of heaven we must inevitably perish.
II. Regenerate humanity introduced to the infinite source of blessing.
1. This source is revealed by the highest authority. It is the Son revealing the Father--the Well-beloved who is intimately acquainted with the feelings which characterise the Infinite Being in regard to an apostate race; so that in accepting this testimony we accept it at the lips of a Divine witness.
2. This source is continually accessible. It would indeed have been graciously condescending had God appointed periodical seasons at which He would have listened to human cries; but He has appointed us audience hours--He is ever ready to hear man’s song and to attend man’s suit.
3. This source is inexhaustible. The ages have drunk at this fountain, but it flows as copiously as though no lip had been applied to the living stream.
III. Regenerate humanity engaged in social devotion.
1. Prayer is the mightiest of all forces (Matthew 18:19-20).
2. Special encouragement is given to social worship.
3. Am I surrounded by those who inquire how they can serve their race? I point to the text for answer: you can agree to beseech the enriching blessing of God!
IV. Regenerate humanity causing a distribution of the riches of the universe. While man is a moral alien he has no influence in the distribution of Divine bounty: but when he becomes a child he may affect the diffusion of celestial blessings. If God has given us His Son will He not with Him freely give us all things? If He has given us the ocean we know that He will not withhold the drop! This assurance is solemnly suggestive.
1. It silences all complaints as to the Divine bounty. Do you wail that you feel so little of holy influence? The reason is at hand: “Ye have not because ye asked not, or because ye asked amiss.”
2. It places the Church in a solemn relation to the unsaved world. That world is given us as a vineyard. The fruitful rain and glorious light may be had for asking. Are we clear of the world’s blood in the matter of prayer?
3. It defines the limit of our supplication. “If we ask anything according to His will.” There is a mysterious boundary separating confidence and presumption. We must not interfere in the settled purposes of God.
1. Earth is intended to be a great sanctuary--“if two of you shall agree on earth.”
2. All worship is to be rendered in connection with the name of Christ.
3. The true suppliant retires from the altar in actual possession of the blessings which he besought. “We know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” We have too long acted as though we wished some visible manifestation or audible proof of answered prayer, whereas the scriptural doctrine is--believe and have. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Life and prayer
Very naturally, very opportunely, does the doctrine of prayer follow that of eternal life. For the new life brings with it new needs. Every higher grade of life brings with it a sense of need undreamt of in the lower grades of life. Buddha, for instance, preached a very noble doctrine and lived a very noble life. He preached salvation by self-control and love. He set up in India a sublime ideal of character, and dying, left behind him the memory of a singularly pathetic and beautiful career. And by his life and teaching he raised India to something like a higher life. But he forgot the main thing. He forgot that the soul of man pants for the living God; that it must have God. It cannot live on words however true, nor on an example however noble. It can only rest in God. Mahomet, too, woke in his people the sense of a new life to be lived by them. To a people that had worshipped gods he proclaimed God. “God is one, and God is great. Bow down before Him in all things.” A noble message surely as far as it went. But it did not go far enough. It did not bring God near enough. Man wants something human, something tender, something near and dear in God. And the fierce followers of Mahomet were driven by the love hunger in them to half deify the Prophet, and to invent a system of saint worship, a ladder of sympathetic human souls by which they hoped to come a little nearer to God. The vision of a higher life had awakened new needs within them. “Necessity,” says the proverb, “is the mother of invention,” and man’s religious inventions bear startling witness to the great religious necessity, the imperative God hunger that is in him. “Let us take the precepts of Christ and follow the example of Christ, leaving all the doctrinal and redemptive parts behind.” No! The life without the love will crush you. The law of God without the grace of God will bear you down. Dr. Martineau says that since Christ lived a profound sense of sin has filled the whole air with a plaint of penitence. He who despises the blood of Christ as Saviour has not yet seen the life of Christ as his example. But eternal life, while it brings new seeds, brings also a new boldness in prayer. “We know that He heareth us.” Love does not exhaust itself by what it gives. We kneel securely when we kneel on Calvary. The Cross is the inspiration and justification of prayer. We can ask anything there. There no prayer seems too great, no petition too daring. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The qualifications of prayer, with respect to the subject matter of it
I. The proper qualifications of prayer, with respect to the subject matter of it.
1. What we pray for must be as to the matter of it, innocent and lawful. To pray that God would prosper us in any wicked design is not to present ourselves as humble suppliants to His mercy, but directly to affront His holiness and justice.
2. What we pray for must not only be lawful in itself, but designed for innocent and lawful ends.
3. The subject matter of our prayers must be according to the ordinary course and events of God’s providence, something possible. We must not expect that God will interpose by a miraculous power, to accomplish what we pray for.
4. What we pray for ought to tend chiefly to our spiritual improvement and growth in grace.
II. How far, when we pray according to God’s will, we may, with humble confidence, rely on the success of our prayers.
1. Whatever God has promised absolutely, He will faithfully and to all intents and purposes perform (Numbers 23:19).
2. Where the promises of God are made to us upon certain conditions or reserves, we have no right to the performance of them any further than is agreeable to the reason of such conditions.
(1) God alone perfectly knows what would be the consequence of His granting us our requests.
(2) The heart of a man is very deceitful; it is not easy for him at all times to discover the secret insincerity which lies at the bottom of it.
1. If prayer be a means of giving us access to God, and procuring for us so many and great blessings, it is just matter of reproof to Christians especially that this duty is so generally neglected among them.
2. What has been said affords good men matter of great consolation, even when they do not find the return of their prayers in the blessings they pray for. God intends the very denial of their requests to them for good. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
The power of believing prayer
Some of the natural forces of the universe can only be manifested through the special elements and agencies that are adapted to transmit them. Electricity must have a pathway of susceptible matter over which to travel, even if that pathway be one of indefinitely minute particles of ether only. So with the spiritual forces of the universe. If the power of the mediatorial presence have no conducting lines of faith along which to travel, it must sleep forever, and the world be left to swing on in its old grooves of evil and death. The manifestation of all the energies of that presence can only come through the believing request of the disciples. (T. G. Selby.)
1 John 5:16-17
There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it
The sin unto death
The sin mentioned here is not the same as the “sin against the Holy Ghost.
” The persons spoken of as respectively guilty are very different from each other. In the latter sin it is the Scribes and Pharisees, the malignant enemies of Christ; in the case before us it is a Christian brother that is the offender: “If any man see ‘his brother’ sin.” This clears the way so far, or at least it narrows the ground, and so facilitates our inquiry. Much depends on the meaning of the expression, “a sin unto death.” Death may mean either temporal or eternal death; either the death of the soul or that of the body. In the passage before us it seems to mean such a sin as God would chastise with disease and death, though He would not exclude the doer of it from His kingdom. In the case of Moses, we have this paternal chastisement involving death. The most remarkable instance of the kind is in the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 11:30). Weakness, sickliness, and death were the three forms of chastisement with which the Corinthian Church was visited. These passages show the true meaning of our text. The sin unto death is a sin such as God chastises by the infliction of disease and death. What this sin is we do not know. It was not the same sin in all, but different in each. In the case of the Corinthian Church unworthy communicating was “the sin unto death”; but what it was in others is not recorded. But then the question would arise, How are we to know when a sin is unto death, and when it is not unto death, so that we may pray in faith? The last clause of the 16th verse answers this question. It admits that there is a sin unto death: which admission is thus put in the 17th verse: “All unrighteousness is sin; but all sin is not unto death.” But what does the apostle mean by saying, in the end of the 16th verse, “I do not say that he shall pray for it”? If we cannot know when a sin is unto death, and when not, what is the use of saying, “I do not say that he shall pray for it”? The word translated “pray” means also “inquire,” and is elsewhere translated so (John 1:19). (See also John 1:21; John 1:25; John 5:12; John 9:2; John 19:21) If thus rendered the meaning would be, “I say he is to ask no questions about that.” That is to say, if he sees a brother sick and ready to die, he is not to say, Has he committed a sin unto death, or has he not? He is just to pray, letting alone all such inquiries, and leaving the matter in the hands of God, who, in answer to prayer, will raise him up, if he have not committed the sin unto death. Let us now come to the lessons of our text.
1. Don’t puzzle yourself with hard questions about the particular kind of sins committed. Be satisfied that it is sin, and deal with it as such. It is not the nature or the measure of its punishment that you have to consider, but its own exceeding sinfulness.
2. Be concerned about a brother’s welfare.
3. Don’t trifle with sin. Count no sin trivial, either in yourself or another. Do not extenuate guilt.
4. Take it at once to God. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The sin unto death
Noble men and women have gone mad over this sentence. In the shadows of this mystery the gentle spirit of William Cowper wandered many a weary month, wounding itself with bitterest accusations--the noble intellect distraught, “like sweet bells jangled out of tune,” weaving the phantasies of despair--the burden of its sad song being, “There is a sin unto death.”
I. There are degrees in sin. Guilt has its gradations. There are sins of ignorance and of deliberation--of weakness and of wickedness: sins which show a lack of goodwill, and others that express intense malignity of will. There are the sins of a Peter, and there are the sins of a Judas.
II. Every one sin tends to others more guilty than itself. It gives the will a wrong bias. It breaks the prestige of virtue. Fact tries to become precedent. Acts become habits. Choice hardens into destiny. Sin becomes master and the sinner a slave.
III. This sad development reaches its climax in the sin unto death. Beyond this it cannot go. What then can it be? It is evidently not any one act or word. It .is a condition, a settled state of heart and mind--a state of opposition to and hatred of good as good, and God as God. The sin unto death is unbelief of heart and mind: rejection of the holy as holy.
IV. This is sin unto death. It hath no forgiveness under law or gospel. Why? How so? Because God will not? No. The way of return to God is closed against no one who does not close it against himself. The unholy cannot be saved.
V. Let us look at our relation to the sin unto death. With regard to ourselves let us not yield to morbid fears, nor sleep in over security. The door is never closed till we close it, and yet all sin tends to the sin unto death. Let us then beware of all sin. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The sin unto death
The leading thought which St. John had in his mind was not the distinction between different kinds of sin, but the efficacy of a Christian’s prayers. He shows it to be an immediate consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that we should offer up our prayers in full confidence that those prayers will be heard, and that they will be answered, provided only that the petition is in accordance with God’s holy will; and then he applies it to the question of intercession one for another; he would have us to remember, that if we have the privilege of coming to God’s mercy seat, we ought not to use the privilege merely on our own behalf, but that we ought to pray for our brethren as well; and we may even pray for the forgiveness of their sins. But does this direction extend to all kinds of sins? Is there no limit to the power of intercession to obtain forgiveness of sin? St. John asserts that there is a limitation; he says that a Christian may obtain forgiveness for his brother by intercession, provided that the sin for which he prays has not been a deadly sin, a sin unto death. And though it may be very difficult to draw an exact line between the two kinds of sin of which the apostle speaks, yet we may sufficiently illustrate his meaning by taking two extreme cases. On the one hand, take the faults and failings which beset the very best amongst Christ’s disciples; or again, taking the great question of steadfastness in the faith, which in St. John’s day was a question of overwhelming importance to every Christian, one Christian might see his “brother sinning a sin not unto death” in this respect; then the faults of a weak brother such as this would be, as I conceive, a proper subject for the intercession of his brethren. But take the other extreme, suppose a man who has known what is right to have turned his back upon his convictions and to have wallowed in the filth of sin, or suppose you knew him to have committed any atrocious sin, would you have any reasonable ground to intercede for such a person at the throne of grace, and to expect to obtain forgiveness for him? Or suppose a person not merely to have shown some faltering and weakness concerning the faith, but to have openly and expressly denied the faith (which may have been the case that St. John had chiefly in his mind), then would a Christian have any right to ask for the forgiveness of this sin? It seems to me that in this case the very nature of the sin cuts off all possibility of intercession; for to intercede for pardon would be to plead those merits of Christ the virtue of which the apostate has himself expressly renounced. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The mortal sin
In very deed there is no sin that is not unto death, in a momentous sense of the words, although the inspired penman, when viewing the subject under another aspect, affirms that “there is a sin which is not unto death.” Alienation from God is the essence of sin; and since God is life, the slightest estrangement from Him is a tendency to death.
1. The sin unto death appears sometimes to be a single deed of extraordinary wickedness. It seems to extinguish conscience at a blast, and to rob the moral sense of all its energy and discernment. It breaks down the barriers which had hitherto restrained the vicious tendencies of nature; and forth they flow in a vast irrepressible torrent. In a moment it produces an impassable gulf between God and the soul. It turns the man into a bravo: it makes him desperate and reckless. He has taken the leap; he has made the plunge; and on he goes, wherever unbridled concupiscence or malignity may urge him, “as a horse rusheth into the battle.”
2. Still more common is that ruin of the soul which grows out of the long indulgence of comparatively small sins. When people go on sipping sin, although abstaining from a large draught; when, in spite of a reproving conscience, they persist in practices to which the lust of gain, or of pleasure, incites them, not pretending that these practices are altogether right, but only that they are not extremely wrong; when the protest of the inward monitor against this or the other misdeed is put aside with the base apology, But, “is it not a little one”; it may well be feared that the Holy Ghost, disgusted with such double dealing, will leave the heart a prey to its own deceitfulness.
3. Habitual carelessness in matters of religion is also a sin against the Holy Ghost, which, after a certain continuance, “bringeth forth death.” If absolute, irretrievable ruin is no rare fruit of careless indolence, in the business of this world, or, I should rather say, is its natural consequence, why should we deem it unlikely that everlasting ruin, in another world, will prove the consequence of having neglected in our lifetime religion and the interests of the soul? To slight the message, and hardly give it a thought, seems to me an outrage even more atrocious than that of rejecting it after examination.
4. Unprofitableness under means of grace, there is reason to suspect, becomes in numerous instances the sin unto death. A dull insensibility steals over the soul that has repeatedly been plied in vain with spiritual incentives, till at length a lethargy possesses it, invincible to human urgency, from which it will not awake till the day of judgment. (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
1 John 5:18
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not
Three views of the truly regenerate man
He “sinneth not.” As regenerate, he has a new nature. The power of sin is broken in his soul, and therefore its influence over his character and conduct is subdued.
2. He “keepeth himself.” The Holy Spirit, indeed, regulates his mind. But still, his own faculties and affections are in exercise; he voluntarily and earnestly endeavours to avoid sin and to practise righteousness; he steadily and energetically sets himself in opposition to the temptations by which he is beset, and, by the grace of God, he is successful.
3. The “wicked one toucheth him not.” The devil may stand up against him; he may even sometimes gain an advantage over him. But to overpower--to conquer--him, is beyond the utmost of Satan’s arts and efforts. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Whosoever is born of God sinneth not
John closes his letter with a series of triumphant certainties, which he considers as certified to every Christian by his own experience. “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not … we know that we are of God … and we know that the Son of God is come.”
I. Who is the apostle talking about here? “We know that whosoever is born of God”--or, as the Revised Version reads it, “begotten of God”--“sinneth not.” This new birth, and the new Divine life which is its result, co-exists along with the old nature in which it is planted, and which it has to coerce and subdue, sometimes to crucify, and always to govern. This apostle puts great emphasis upon that idea of advancement in the Divine life. So the new life has to grow--grow in its own strength, grow in its own sphere of influence, grow in the power with which it purges and hallows the old nature in the midst of which it is implanted. And growth is not the only word for its development. That new life has to fight for its life. There must be effort, in order that it may rule. Thus we have the necessary foundation laid for that which characterises the Christian life, from the beginning to the end, that it is a working out of that which is implanted, a working out, with ever-widening area of influence, and a working in with ever deeper and more thorough power of transforming the character. There may be indefinite approximation to the entire suppression and sanctification of the old man; and whatsoever is born of God manifests its Divine kindred in this, that sooner or later it overcomes the world. Now if all this is true, I come to a very plain answer to the first question that I raised: Who is it that John is speaking about? “Whosoever is born of God” is the Christian man, in so far as the Divine life which he has from God by fellowship with His Son, through his own personal faith, has attained the supremacy in him. The Divine nature that is in a man is that which is born of God. And that the apostle does not mean the man in whom that nature is implanted, whether he is true to the nature or no, is obvious from the fact that in another pal! of this same chapter he substitutes “whatsoever” for “whosoever,” as if he would have us mark that the thing which he declares to be victorious and sinless is not so much the person as the power that is lodged in the person. That is my answer to the first question.
II. What is asserted about this divine life? “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” That is by no means a unique expression in this letter. For, to say nothing about the general drift of it, we have precisely similar statements in a previous chapter, twice uttered. “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not”; “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.” Nothing can be stronger than that. Yes, and nothing can be more obvious. I think, then, that the apostle does not thereby mean to declare that unless a man is absolutely sinless in regard of his individual acts he has not that Divine life in him. For look at what precedes our text. Just before he has said, and it is the saying which leads him to my text, “If any man seeth his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life.” And do you suppose that any man, in the very same breath in which he thus declared that brotherhood was to be manifested by the way in which we help a brother to get rid of his sins, would have stultified himself by a blank, staring contradiction such as has been extracted from the words of my text? I take the text to mean--not that a Christian is, or must be, in order to vindicate his right to be called a Christian, sinless, but that there is a power in him, a life principle in him which is sinless, and whatsoever in him is born of God, overcometh the world and “sinneth not.” Now, then, that seems to me to be the extent of the apostle’s affirmation here; and I desire to draw two plain, practical conclusions. One is, that this notion of a Divine life power, lodged in, and growing through, and fighting with the old nature, makes the hideousness and the criminality of a Christian man’s transgressions more hideous and more criminal. The teaching of my text has sometimes been used in the very opposite direction. There have been people that have said, “It is no more I, but sin, that dwelleth in me; I am not responsible.” The opposite inference is what I urge now. In addition to all the other foulnesses which attach to any man’s lust, or drunkenness, or ambition, or covetousness, this super-eminent brand and stigma is burned in upon yours and mine, Christian men and women, that it is dead against, absolutely inconsistent with, the principle of life that is bedded within us. “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” Another consideration may fairly be urged, as drawn from this text, and that is that the one task of Christians ought to be to deepen and to strengthen the life of God, which is in their souls, by faith. There is no limit, except one of my own making, to the extent to which my whole being may be penetrated through and through and ruled absolutely by that new life which God has given. It is all very well to cultivate specific and sporadic virtues and graces. Get a firmer hold and a fuller possession of the life of Christ in your own souls, and all the graces and virtues will come.
III. What is the ground of John’s assertion about Him “that is born of God”? My text runs on, “But he that is begotten of God keepeth himself.” If any of you are using the Revised Version, you will see a change there, small in extent, but large in significance, It reads, “He that is begotten of God keepeth him.” Let me just say in a sentence that the original has considerable variation in expression in these two clauses, which variation makes it impossible, I think, to adopt the idea contained in the Authorised Version, that the same person is referred to in both clauses. The difference is this. In the first clause, “He that is begotten of God” is the Christian man; in the second, “He that is begotten of God” is Christ the Saviour. There is the guarantee that “Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not,” because round his weakness is cast the strong defence of the Elder Brother’s hand; and the Son of God keeps all the sons who, through Him, have derived into their natures the life of God. If, then, they are kept by the only-begotten Son of the Father, then the one thing for us to do, in order to strengthen our poor natures, is to take care that we do not run away from the keeping hand nor wander far from the only safety. When a little child is sent out for a walk by the parent with an elder brother, if it goes staring into shop windows and gaping at anything that it sees upon the road, and loses hold of the brother’s hand, it is lost, and breaks into tears, and can only be consoled and secured by being brought back. Then the little fingers clasp round the larger hand, and there is a sense of relief and of safety. If we stray away from Christ we lose ourselves in muddy ways. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A lady was leaving home, and was concerned for the safety of a jewel box too precious to be left in an empty house. Asking a friend to undertake the charge, responsible as it was, and receiving a promise that she would do so, she left it with her. But, reflecting that in her absence she might wish to wear some of her trinkets, the lady took three of them with her. On her return home, her first concern was with the box which contained so many precious things. It was safe. Yes, there it was; and one by one the jewels were examined and found all there. The friend had been faithful; she had kept them all in safety. But of the three which had been taken with her, one had been dropped somewhere on the journey and could not be found! Who was to blame? Was it the fault of the friend who took charge of the box? Nay, she could only keep “that which had been committed” to her. She would, no doubt, have kept this other also, had it been left in her care. That which you have not committed to Christ you cannot expect Him to keep. (J. B. Figgis.)
1 John 5:19
We know that we are of God
All true believers are of God, and so separated from the world lying in wickedness
How true believers are of God.
1. By creation; and so all things are of God (Romans 11:36). Thus the devils themselves are of God as their Creator, and so is the world. But this is not the being of God here meant.
2. By generation, as a son is of the father.
3. The work of regeneration is held forth under a double notion, showing the regenerate to be of God.
(1) It is a being begotten of God (1 John 5:18). God Himself is the Father of the new creature: it is of no lower original (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 Peter 1:25).
(2) It is a being born of God (1 John 5:18). By His Spirit alone the new creature is formed in all its parts, and brought forth into the new world of grace (John 3:5).
II. How believers, as they are of God, regenerate persons, are separated from the world lying in wickedness.
(1) Not in respect of place (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
(2) Not in respect of gathering them into pure unmixed societies for worship. There are no such visible Church societies in the world (Matthew 13:28-30).
2. But positively, the regenerate as such are separated from the world--
(1) In respect of their being broken off from that corrupt mass, and become a part of a new lump. They are become members of Christ’s mystical body, of the invisible Church, a distinct though invisible society.
(2) Their being delivered from under the power of the god of this world, viz., Satan (Acts 26:18).
(3) Their having a Spirit, even the Spirit of God dwelling in them, which the world have not (Romans 8:9; Jude 1:19).
(4) Their having a disposition, and cast of heart and soul, opposite to that of the world; so that they are as much separated from the world as enemies are one from another (Genesis 3:15). From this doctrine we may learn the following things.
1. This speaks the dignity of believers. They are the truly honourable ones, as being of God; they are the excellent of the earth.
2. It speaks the privilege of believers. Everyone will care and provide for his own: be sure God will then take special concern about believers (Matthew 6:31-32).
3. It speaks the duty of believers. Carry yourselves as becomes your dignity and privilege, as those that are of God.
4. It shows the self-deceit of unbelievers, pretenders to a saving interest in God, while in the meantime they are lying together with the world in wickedness. (T. Boston, D. D.)
People’s being of God may be knower to themselves
I. Men may know themselves to be of God, by giving diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Spiritual discerning, a spiritual sight, taste, or feeling of the things of God, in ourselves or others (1 Corinthians 2:14). Spiritual reasoning on Scripture grounds (1 John 5:13).
1. One may know that others are of God, and separated from the world, discerning the image of God shining forth in them.
2. A true believer may know himself to belong to God, and not to the world. We should not be rash in giving or refusing that judgment, but hold pace with the appearance or non-appearance of the grace of God in them. The love bestowed on hypocrites is not all lost, and therefore it is safest erring on the charitable side. Let us carry our judgment of others no farther than that of charity, and not pretend to a certainty, which is net competent to us in that case, but to God only. In our own case, we may have by rational evidence a judgment of certainty, without extraordinary revelation. What moves ourselves so to walk, we can assuredly know; but what moves others, we cannot know that. A true child of God may assuredly know his relative state in the favour of God.
II. I exhort you to be concerned to know whether ye are of God, separated from the world or not. To press you thereto, consider--
1. We are all of us naturally, and by our first birth, of the world lying in wickedness (Ephesians 2:2-3).
2. The world lying in wickedness is the society appointed to destruction, as in a state and course of enmity against God (Ephesians 2:3). Therefore all that are to be saved are delivered and gathered out of it (Galatians 1:4).
3. Many deceive themselves in this mutter, as the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-46). Christ’s flock is certainly a little flock (Luke 12:32; Matthew 5:13-14).
4. Death is approaching; and if it were come, there will be no separating more from the world.
5. It is uncertain when death comes to us, and hew (Matthew 24:42). At best it is hardly the fit time of being new born, when a-dying.
6. It is an excellent and useful thing to know our state in this point. For if we find that we are not of God, but of the world, we are awakened to see to it in time. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The triumphant Christian certainties
I. I ask you, then, to look first at the Christian certainty of belonging to God. “We know that we are of God.” Where did John get that form of expression? He got it where he got most of his terminology, from the lips of the Master. For, if you remember, our Lord Himself speaks more than once of men being “of God.” As, for instance, when He says, “He that is of God heareth God’s words.” “Ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.” The first conception in the phrase is that of life derived, communicated from God Himself. Fathers of flesh communicate the life, and it is thenceforth independent. But the life of the Spirit, which we draw from God, is only sustained by the continual repetition of the same gift by which it was originated. The better life in the Christian soul is as certain to fade and die if the supply from heaven is cut off or dammed back, as is the bed of a stream, to become parched and glistering in the fierce sunshine if the headwaters flow into it no more. You can no more have the life of the Spirit in the spirit of a man without continual communication from Him than a sunbeam can subsist if it be cut off from the central source. Divine preservation is as necessary in grace as in nature. If that life is thus derived and dependent, there follows the last idea in our pregnant phrase--viz., that it is correspondent with its source. “Ye are of God,” kindred with Him and developing a life which, in its measure, is cognate with, and assimilated to, His own. Then there is another step to be taken. The man that has that life knows it. “We know,” says the apostle, “that we are of God.” That word “know” has been usurped by certain forms of knowledge. But surely the inward facts of my own consciousness are as much reliable as are facts in other regions which are attested by the senses, or arrived at by reasoning. Christian people have the same right to lay hold of that great word “we know,” and to apply it to the facts of their spiritual experience, as any scientist in the world has to apply it to the facts of his science. How do you know that you are at all? The only answer is, “I feel that I am.” And precisely the same evidence applies in regard to these lofty thoughts of a Divine kindred and a spiritual life. But that is not all. For the condition of being “born of God” is laid plainly down in this very chapter by the apostle as being the simple act of faith in Jesus Christ. So, then, if any man is sure that he believes, he knows that he is born of God, and is of God. Ah! But you say, “Do you not know how men deceive themselves by a profession of being Christians, and how many of us estimate their professions at a very different rate of genuineness from what they estimate them at?” Yes! I know that. And this whole letter of John goes to guard us against the presumption of entertaining inflated thoughts about ourselves. You remember how continually in this Epistle there crops up by the side of the most thoroughgoing mysticism, as people call it, the plainest, homespun, practical morality. “Let no man deceive you; he that doeth not righteousness is not of God; neither he that loveth not his brother.” There is another test which the Master laid down in the words, “He that is of God heareth God’s words. Ye, therefore, hear them not because ye are not of God.” Christian people, take these two plain tests--first, righteousness of life, common practical morality; and, second, an ear attuned and attent to catch God’s voice. It is a shame, and a weakening of any Christian life, that this triumphant confidence should not be clear in it. “We know that we are of God.” Can you and I echo that with calm confidence? “I sometimes half hope that I am.” “I am almost afraid to say it.” “I do not know whether I am or not.” “I trust I may be.” That is the kind of creeping attitude in which hosts of Christian people are contented to live. Why should our skies be as grey and sunless as those of this northern winter’s day when all the while, away down on the sunny seas, to which we may voyage if we will, there is unbroken sunshine, ethereal blue, and a perpetual blaze of light?
II. We have here the Christian view of the surrounding world. I need not, I suppose, remind you that John learned from Jesus to use that phrase “the world,” not as meaning the aggregate of material things, but as meaning the aggregate of godless men. Now, the more a man is conscious that he himself, by faith in Jesus Christ, has passed into the family of God, and possesses the life that comes from Him, the more keen will be his sense of the evil that lies round him. Just as a native of Central Africa brought to England for a while, when he gets back to his kraal, will see its foulnesses as he did not before, the measure of our conscious belonging to God is the measure of our perception of the contrast between us and the ways of the men about us. I am not concerned for a moment to deny, rather, I most thankfully recognise the truth, that a great deal of the world has been ransomed by the Cross, and the Christian way of looking at things has passed into the general atmosphere in which we live. But the world is a world still, and the antagonism is there. The only way by which the antagonism can be ended is for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
III. Lastly, consider the consequent Christian duty. Let me put two or three plain exhortations. I beseech you, Christian people, cultivate the sense of belonging to a higher order than that in which you dwell. A man in a heathen land loses his sense of home, and of its ways; and it needs a perpetual effort in order that we should not forget our true affinities. So I say, cultivate the sense of belonging to God. Again, I say, be careful to avoid infection. Go as men do in a plague-stricken city. Go as our soldiers in that Ashanti expedition had to go, on your guard against malaria, the “pestilence that walketh in darkness.” Go as these same soldiers did, on the watch for ambuscades and lurking enemies behind the trees. And remember that the only safety is keeping hold of Christ’s hand. Look on the world as Christ looked on it. There must be no contempt; there must be no self-righteousness. There must be sorrow caught from Him, and tenderness of pity. Work for the deliverance of your brethren from the alien tyrant. The solemn alternative opens before everyone of us--Either I am “of God,” or I am “in the wicked one.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
This has been called the Epistle of Love, and it well deserves that title, but it might be almost more appropriately called the Epistle of Certainties; there is the ring of absolute assurance from the opening words to the finish.
I. The strength and prevailing power of the early disciples were in their certainties; they went forth with decision upon their lips, with the fire of intense conviction in their hearts, and it made their testimony irresistible, and gave them their victory over the world. It was the age of the sceptic, a period of almost universal uncertainty. Agnosticism was bringing forth its inevitable fruit of pessimism and despair. Man hungers for the spiritual food which he has cast away. That was the secret sigh and groan of all the world in the days of the apostles. And then these men appeared, declaring in tones to which the world had long been unaccustomed that they had found the Truth, and the Eternal Life. It was the one clear beacon light in a waste of darkness. No wonder that men gathered around them. “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.”
II. It was the certainties of the Apostolic Church that made it a Missionary Church. Each illumined soul passed on the light to another. Each convert was as good as two, for each one made a second. Prisoners whispered the glad news to their gaolers, soldiers to their comrades, slaves to their masters, women to everyone who would listen. Nor could it be otherwise. They were swayed by the force of a mighty conviction. There was no hesitation because there was no doubt.
III. The measure of our certainty is the measure of our power. We cannot lift others on the rock unless our own feet are there. No man ever wrought conviction in his fellow men until conviction had first swept hesitation out of him like a whirlwind, and cleansed his heart from doubt like a fire. No man believes the witness who only half believes himself. If there be no certainty there will be no fervour, no enthusiasm, no pathos in the voice, no pity in the eyes, no thrill of sympathy. There will only be cold words falling on cold hearts, and returning, as they went out, void. The whole Church is beginning to feel and rejoice in a powerful reaction towards positive beliefs. Those who talk somewhat boastfully of their advanced thought are being left behind, though they do not know it, by advance of a nobler kind. The Church sweeps past them in the impatience of a renewed assurance. Missions can only march to the music of the words “We know.” If the steps are taken with dubious feet and trembling misgivings in the heart there will be perpetual haltings and paralysing weariness. If we are not sure that our Bible is the very Word of God, and our Christ the only possible Saviour of the world, shall we expend treasure and blood and send men out to solitude and danger, and often into the very grip of death, to make them known? There will be an end of all our missionary zeal if we are to believe or be influenced by that talk about the heathen systems which students of comparative religion have recently made current. Many hands have been busy of late whitewashing the darkness and laying gilt upon corruption. It has become fashionable in certain quarters to extol Buddha and Confucius and Mahomet, and by implication to depreciate Christ; to hold up to admiration the light of Asia, and by implication to bedim the Light of the World. And the levelling down of the Bible and the levelling up of the heathen writings have gone on together until the two are made to meet almost on common ground. If we had nothing more to carry to the heathen world than our moral precepts, who would waste the least effort or treasure on that task? Christ did not come so much to teach men what they ought to be and do, not to mock them by a revelation of their own impotence, but to give them that which is more than human, and to enable them to ascend to the heights which He showed.
IV. We come back, then, ever to this confession of the apostle, for to question it is to make missionary enterprise, if not a laughing stock, at least a “much ado about nothing.” “We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Perhaps in Christian lands we cannot draw the line so clearly as it was drawn of old. The darkness shades into the light where Christian influences are working in all societies, and permeating all thought. And the measure of assurance is the measure of obligation. The more absolutely we know these things the heavier is our burden of responsibility. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The regenerate and the unregenerate
I. The regenerate.
1. Their relation to God.
(1) Of His family.
(2) Of His school.
(3) His willing servants.
2. Their consciousness of this relation.
II. The unregenerate. “Lieth in the wicked one”--in his power, dominion, influence. Some lie there as a sow in the mire; they are satisfied with their filth, they luxuriate in the pollution. Some as sufferers in a hospital; they writhe in agony, and long to get away. What a condition to be in! Better lie on the deck of a vessel about going down, or on the bosom of a volcanic hill about to break into flame. (Homilist.)
The whole world lieth in wickedness--
The unregenerate world described
That world is (as it were two hemispheres) two-fold.
1. The lower world lying in wickedness. That is the region of eternal death; the lake of fire.
2. The upper world lying in wickedness. That is the land of the living, this present evil world.
(1) The lower and upper unregenerate world are indeed one world, one kingdom of Satan, one family of his.
(2) But they are in different circumstances.
(a) The state of the one is alterable, as of those who are upon a trial; of the other unalterable, as those on whom a definite sentence is passed.
(b) So the case of the one is not without hope, but that of the other absolutely hopeless.
(c) Here they lie in wickedness with some ease and pleasure; there they lie in it with none at all. Their pleasurable sins are there at an end (Revelation 18:14).
I. The parts of the unregenerate world.
1. The religious part of it. Wonder not that we speak of the religious part of the world lying in wickedness; for there is some religion, but of the wrong stamp.
(1) A natural conscience, which dictates that there is a God, a difference betwixt good and evil, rewards and punishments after this life (Romans 2:15).
(2) Interest, which sways the men of the world to it several ways. In some times and places religion is fashionable, gains men credit.
2. The moral part of it. Some such there have been among heathens, and some among Christians. Two things, besides natural conscience and interest, bring in morality into the world lying in wickedness.
(1) Civil society, by which means men may live at peace in the world, and be protected from injuries.
(2) Natural modesty and temper, in respect of which there is a great difference among even worldly men.
3. The immoral part of it. This is the far greatest part of that world (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19-21; Titus 3:3).
(1) The corruption of human nature, the natural bent of which lies to all enormities. This was the spring of the flood of wickedness, and of water, that overflowed the old world (Genesis 6:5).
(2) Occasions of sin and temptations thereto, which offer themselves thick in this evil world; because the multitude is of that sort (Matthew 18:7).
(a) The wealth of the rich makes immorality abound among them. It swells the heart in pride, and fills them with admiration of themselves; it ministers much fuel to their lusts, and affords them occasions of fulfilling them.
(b) The poor, those who are in extreme poverty. Their condition deprives them of many advantages others have.
4. If we compare the immoral part of the world lying in wickedness with the other two, though it is true they are all of the same world, and will perish if they be not separated from it; yet the religious and moral have the advantage of the immoral.
(1) In this life, in many respects. They walk more agreeable to the dignity of human nature than the immoral. They are more useful and beneficial to mankind. They have more inward quiet, and are not put on the rack that immorality brings on men. And so they have more outward safety, their regular lives being a fence to them, both from danger without and within.
2. In the life to come. Though the world, the unregenerate world’s religion and morality will not bring them to heaven, yet it will make them a softer hell than the immoral shall have (Revelation 20:12-13).
II. The state of the unregenerate world.
1. I am to confirm and evince the truth of the doctrine in the general.
(1) Satan is the god of the whole unregenerate world; how can it miss then to be wholly lying in wickedness? (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(2) Spiritual darkness, thick darkness, is over the whole of that world (Ephesians 5:8), how can anything but works of darkness be found in it? The sun went down on all mankind in Adam’s transgressing the covenant; the light of God’s countenance was then withdrawn.
(3) They are all lying under the curse (Galatians 3:10). For not being in Christ, they are under the law as a covenant of works (Romans 3:19). The curse always implies wickedness.
(4) They are all destitute of every principle of holiness, and there cannot be an effect without a cause of it; there can be no acts of holiness without a principle to proceed from. They are destitute of the Spirit of God; He dwells not in them (Jude 1:19; comp. 1 Corinthians 2:14).
II. Explain this state of the unregenerate world, there lying in wickedness.
1. What of wickedness they lie in.
(1) In a state of sin and wickedness (Acts 8:23). They are all over sinful and wicked, as over head and ears in the mire (Revelation 3:17).
(a) Their nature is wholly corrupted with sin and wickedness (Matthew 7:18).
(b) Their lives and conversations are wholly corrupted (Psalms 14:3). For the fountain being poisoned, no pure streams can come forth from thence (Matthew 12:34).
(2) The whole unregenerate world lies under the dominion and reigning power of sin and wickedness (Romans 6:17)
(a) Sin is in them in its full strength and vigour, and therefore rules and commands all.
(b) It possesses them alone without an opposite principle.
(3) They lie in the habitual practice of sin and wickedness (Psalms 14:1). The best things they do are sin, unapproved, unaccepted of God (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 66:3).
2. How the unregenerate world lies in wickedness. They lie in it in the most hopeless case; which we may take up in three things.
(1) Bound in it (Acts 8:1-40), bound in it like prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). They are in chains of guilt, which they cannot break off; there are fetters of strong lusts upon them, which hold them fast.
(2) Asleep in it (Ephesians 5:14). They have drunk of the intoxicating cup, and are fast asleep, though within the sea mark of vengeance.
(3) Dead in it (Ephesians 2:1). A natural life, through the union of a soul with their body, they have; but their spiritual life is gone, the union of their souls with God being quite broken (Ephesians 4:18).
Use 1. Of information. See here--
1. The spring and fountain of the abounding sin in our day. The whole world lies in wickedness; and wickedness proceedeth from the wicked (1 Samuel 24:13). Hence--
(1) The apostacy in principles, men departing from the faith.
(2) Apostacy in practice. There is a deluge of profanity gone over the land.
2. The spring of all the miseries that are lying on us, and we are threatened with. The world is lying in wickedness, and therefore lies in misery;” for God is a sin hating and sin revenging God. Men will carry themselves agreeable to their state of regeneracy or irregeneracy; and to find unregenerate men lying in this and the other wickedness, is no more strange than to find fish swimming in the water, and birds flying in the air; it is their element.
4. The world must be an infectious society; it must be a pestilential air that is breathed in it, and wickedness in it must be of a growing and spreading nature.
5. This accounts for the uneasy life that the serious godly have in the world. For unto them--
(1) It is a loathsome world, where their eyes must behold abominations that they cannot help (Habakkuk 1:3).
(2) It is a vexatious world; the temper of the parties is so different, so opposite, that they can never hit it, but must needs be heavy one to another.
(3) It is an ensnaring world, wherein snares of all sorts are going, and they are many times caught in the trap ere they are aware (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
(4) It is a world wherein wickedness thrives apace as in its native soil, but any good has much ado to get up its head (Jeremiah 4:22).
6. This accounts for the frightful end this visible world will make, by the general conflagration (2 Peter 3:10).
7. This shows the dangerous state of the unregenerate world; they lie in wickedness.
(1) They now lie under wrath, hanging in the threatening and curse which is over their heads (Ephesians 2:8).
(2) They will perish under that wrath, whoever continue and come not out from among them (Matthew 25:1-46; Revelation 20:14-15).
Use 2. Of exhortation.
1. To all I would say, Search and try what society ye belong to, whether ye are still of, or separated from, the world lying in wickedness.
2. To saints separated from the world, I would say--
(1) Do not much wonder at the harsh entertainment ye meet with in it.
(2) Watch against it while ye are in it, as being in hazard of sins and snares in a world lying in wickedness.
(3) Look homeward, and long to be with Christ, where you shall be forever out of the reach of all evil, and enjoy such peace and freedom as your enemies can disturb no more.
3. To sinners of the world lying in wickedness, I would say, Come out from among them, and be separated, as ye would not be ruined with them, and perish eternally in their destruction. (T. Boston, D. D.)
1 John 5:20
We know that the Son of God is come
The gospel of the Incarnation
“He is coining” is the word of the Old Testament; “He is come” is the better word of the blew.
John knew Jesus as the Son of God; and in his writings he only tells us what he knows. “We know that the Son of God is come.” Weft, this is a simple fact, simply stated; but if you go down deep enough into it, you will find a whole gospel inside.
I. By His coming He has “given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” Now this does not mean, of course, that Christ gives men any new intellectual power, that He adds to the faculties of the mind any more than to the senses of the body. “Understanding” here signifies rather the means of knowing, the power of understanding. By word and life He has given us ideas about Fatherhood, holiness, pity, kindness, and love, that we had not before. Purity, meekness, patience, and all the graces, mean more now than they did before Christ lived and died. The horizon of language has been widened, and its heaven lifted higher than before.
II. Well, for what purpose has Christ given us these new ideas and opened the eyes of our understandings? In order that we may “know Him that is true,” in order that we may know God. In Christ you will find the truth about God. There are mysteries still? Yes, but they are all mysteries of goodness, holiness, and love. In a recently published book of travel the authoress tells of gigantic camellia trees in Madeira, and says that one man made an excursion to see them, and came back much disappointed, having failed to find them. He was desired to pay a second visit to the spot, and was told by his friends to look upwards this time, and was much surprised and gladdened to see a glorious canopy of scarlet and white blossoms fifty feet overhead! Is not that the story of many more in our days? They grub and moil amid molluscs and ocean slime; “they turn back the strata granite, limestone, coal and clay, concluding coldly with, Here is law! Where is God? I have swept the heavens with my telescope,” said Lalande, “but have nowhere found a God!” Sirs, you are looking in the wrong direction: look higher l Look as Ezekiel looked--above the firmament. In the presence of Christ Jesus you will find what you shall in vain seek elsewhere, God, in all that He is, made manifest in the flesh.
III. “We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ,” i.e., in Christ we are in God. Dr. Arnold used to say that though the revelation of the splendour of God in the infinite fulness of His nature may be something awaiting him in the world to come, he felt sure that in this world he had only to do with Christ. Yes! it is with Christ we have to do. God Himself is the ultimate, but Christ is the immediate object of our faith. In our penitence we go straight as the Magdalene went, and, sitting at the feet of Jesus, we know that we are confessing our sins to God. Our prayers are as direct as that of Peter, when, beginning to sink in the boiling sea, he cried, saying, “Lord, save me!” and we know that we are crying to God for help.
IV. Lastly, the Son of God is come, and to be in Him is to have eternal life. “This is the true God (the God in Christ) and eternal life.” Victor Hugo said on his deathbed in a fit of great pain, “This is death: this is the battle of the day and the night.” Yes, but for those who are in Christ the day wins, not the night, and death is the gate leading to a larger life. (J. M. Gibbon.)
Three greatest things
In this verse we have three of the greatest things.
I. The greatest fact in human history. That the Son of God has come. There are many great facts in the history of our race. But of all the facts the advent of Christ to our world eighteen centuries ago is the greatest. This fact is the most--
3. Vital to the interests of every man.
II. The greatest capability of the human mind. What is that? “An understanding, that we may know Him that is true.” Men are endowed with many distinguishing faculties--imagination, memory, intellect. But the capacity to know Him who is true is for many reasons greater than all.
1. It is a rare faculty. The mighty millions have not this power, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee.”
2. It is a Christ-imparted faculty--“He hath given us.” What is it? It is love. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” Christ generates this love. Love alone can interpret love, “God is love.”
III. The greatest privilege in human life. “We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” This means, Jesus Christ is the true God. (Homilist.)
Soul evidence of the divinity of Christ
Christ was Divine. As there can be no argument of chemistry in proof of odours like a present perfume itself; as the shining of the stars is a better proof of their existence than the figures of an astronomer; as the restored health of his patients is a better argument of skill in a physician than laboured examinations and certificates; as the testimony of the almanac that summer comes with June is not so convincing as is the coming of summer itself in the sky, in the air, in the fields, on hill and mountain, so the power of Christ upon the human soul is to the soul evidence of His divinity based upon a living experience, and transcending in conclusiveness any convictions of the intellect alone, founded upon a contemplation of mere ideas, however just and sound. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ manifested in the heart the life of His people
I. The character here given of our Lord Jesus Christ--“Him that is true,” “the true God and eternal life,” “the Son of God.”
1. The first object in this glorious description which claims our notice refers to the truth of our Saviour’s character and mission--“Him that is true.” This title is descriptive of our blessed Lord’s faithfulness, and His punctuality in the performance of every engagement; He is true to His word of promise, though “heaven and earth shall pass away, yet His word shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” This title also refers to the validity of His claim to the character of Messiah. He was no pretender to a station which did not of right pertain unto Him--He was the true Messiah. Jesus Christ is also called “true,” to express that all the types and shadows of the Levitical dispensation received a complete fulfilment in Him, “who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.”
2. The next appellation is, “the true God.” This epithet is not conferred upon the Redeemer merely as an honorary distinction--no, it is given to Him as asserting His Divine nature; a declaration, that He is “very God of very God.” If Christ be not truly and properly God, He cannot be the Saviour of sinners.
3. Another epithet here applied to Christ is, “eternal life.” He is so called with reference to His glorious work, as the Saviour of sinners. By the gospel He has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light,”--has “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers”; and by His meritorious death has obtained life for them; hence He is called the Prince of life. By His mighty power spiritual life is revealed in the hearts of His people.
4. The concluding words of the clause now under consideration are, “His Son Jesus Christ,” which confirms His claim to the Divine character. The Father and the Son are one in nature, as well as in affection.
II. The present state of true believers. “We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” To be in Christ is to be united to Him by faith, which worketh by love. The nature and necessity of this union with the Lord Jesus are most beautifully illustrated in His last discourse with His disciples previous to His sufferings: “I am the true vine,” etc. Believers are “cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and are grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree,” the influences of Divine grace flow into their souls, they bring forth fruit unto perfection, and are at length gathered into the garner of God.
III. The knowledge and experience of believers.
1. “We know that the Son of God is come.” The import of these words appears to be this--we are satisfied the promised Christ has actually made His appearance in the flesh; and believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that person. I apprehend that these words refer to the revelation of our Lord Jesus, in the believer’s heart, by the Holy Spirit of God.
2. “He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” We have already observed that Jesus is the truth. Now we are not naturally acquainted with Him; we know not His glorious excellences; hence, when beheld by the eye of carnal reason, the Redeemer seems to have no beauty in Him; there is no form or comeliness, that we should desire Him. This darkness remains upon the mind till dispersed by a light from heaven, and when that light shineth, Jesus is revealed in the soul, and becomes the supreme object of the believer’s affections. Men may, by dint of application, become systematic Christians; they may understand the theory of the gospel; but they cannot thus become wise unto salvation. (S. Ramsey, M. A.)
John’s triumphant certainties
This third of his triumphant certainties is connected closely with the two preceding ones. It is so, as being in one aspect the ground of these, for it is because “the Son of God is come” that men are born of God and are of Him. It is so in another way also, for properly the words of our text ought to read not “And we know,” rather “but we know.” They are suggested, that is to say, by the preceding words, and they present the only thought which makes them tolerable. “The whole world lieth in the wicked one. But we know that the Son of God is come.” Falling back on the certainty of the Incarnation and its present issues, we can look in the face the grave condition of humanity, and still have hope for the world and for ourselves.
I. I would deal with the Christian’s knowledge that the Son of God is come. Now, our apostle is writing to Asiatic Christians of the second generation at the earliest, most of whom had not been born when Jesus Christ was upon earth, and none of whom had any means of acquaintance with Him except that which we possess--the testimony of the witnesses who had companied with Him. “We know; how can you know? You may go on the principle that probability is the guide of life, and you may be morally certain, but the only way by which you know a fact is by having seen it. And even if you have seen Jesus Christ, all that you saw would be the life of a man upon earth whom you believed to be the Son of God. It is trifling with language to talk about knowledge when you have only testimony to build on.” Well I There is a great deal to be said on that side, but there are two or three considerations which, I think, amply warrant the apostle’s declaration here, and our understanding of his words, “We know,” in their fullest and deepest sense. Let me just mention these briefly. Remember that when John says “The Son of God is come” he is not speaking about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. And that thought of the permanent abiding with men of the Christ who once was manifest in the flesh for thirty years, runs through the whole of Scripture. So it is a present fact, and not only a past piece of history, which is asserted when the apostle says, “The Son of God is come.” And a man who has a companion knows that he has him, and by many a token, not only of flesh but of spirit, is conscious that he is not alone, but that the dear and strong one is by his side. Such consciousness belongs to all the maturer and deeper forms of the Christian life. Further, we must read on in my text if we are to find all which John declares is a matter of knowledge. “The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding.” I point out that what is here declared to be known by the Christian soul is a present operation of the present Christ upon his nature. If a man is aware that through his faith in Jesus Christ new perceptions and powers of discerning solid reality where he only saw mist before have been granted to him, the apostle’s triumphant assertion is vindicated. And, still further, the words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed in Christ Jesus, and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing a belief that rests on testimony for knowledge grounded in vital experience. “Now we believe, not because of your saying, but because we have seen Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” That is the advance which Christian men should all make from the infantile, rudimentary days, when they accepted Christ on the witness of others, to the time when they accepted Him because, in the depth of their own experience, they have found Him to be all that they took Him to be. The true test of creed is life. The true way of knowing that a shelter is adequate is to house in it, and be defended from the pelting of every pitiless storm. The medicine we know to be powerful when it has cured us.
II. Note the new power of knowing God given by the Son who is to come. John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that “He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” Now, I do not suppose that He means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. That gift of a clarified nature, a pure heart, which is the condition, as the Master Himself said, of seeing God--that gift is bestowed upon all who, trusting in the Incarnate Son, submit themselves to His cleansing hand. In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. The knowledge of which my text speaks is the knowledge of “Him that is true,” by which pregnant word the apostle means, to contrast the Father whom Jesus Christ sets before us with all men’s conceptions of a Divine nature, and to declare that whilst these conceptions, in one way or another, fall beneath or diverge from reality and fact, our God manifested to us by Jesus Christ is the only One whose nature corresponds to the name, and who is essentially that which is included in it. But what I would dwell on especially is that this gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. Inasmuch as the apostle declares that the object of this knowledge is not a truth about God but God Himself, it necessarily follows that the knowledge is such as we have of a person, and not of a doctrine. Or, to put it into simpler words, to know about God is one thing, and to know God is quite another. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. That knowledge, if it is real and living, will be progressive. More and more we shall come to know. As we grow like Him we shall draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to Him we shall grow like Him. So, if we have Christ for our medium both of light and of sight, if He both gives us God to see and the power to see Him, we shall begin a course which eternity itself will not see completed.
III. Lastly, note here the Christian indwelling of God which is possible through the son who is come. “We are in Him that is true.” Of old Abraham was called the Friend of God, but an auguster title belongs to us. “Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” But notice the words of my text for a moment, where the apostle goes on to explain and define how “we are in Him that is true,” because we are “in His Son Jesus Christ.” That carries us away back to “Abide in Me, and I in you.” John caught the whole strain of such thoughts from those sacred words in the upper room. And will not a man “know” that? Wilt it not be something deeper and better than intellectual perception by which he is aware of the presence of Christ in his heart? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That we may know Him that is true--
Ultimates of knowledge and beginnings of faith
How can we now reach such heights of assurance as are marked by these words of St. John? First of all, we need to go straight through our own experiences, thoughts, and questionings, until we find ourselves facing the ultimates of our life and knowledge. Many a young man comes nowadays to church in a state of mental reserve; and this is one of the real practical hindrances to clear, bright discipleship. It hinders the progress of the Church as fogs hinder navigation. Men in this state listen to the great commandments of the gospel--repent, believe, confess Christ before men--and while not intentionally or deliberately rejecting them, they receive them and lose sight of them in this great fog bank of mental uncertainty which lies in their minds all around the horizons of present and near duties. Back, then, let us force ourselves to the ultimates of our life! Back in all honesty and urgency let us go, until we face “the flaming bounds of the universe”! I find four ultimates, then, upon which to stand; four fundamentals of human life and knowledge from which to survey all passing clouds and turmoil. One of these ultimates--the one nearest to the common sense of mankind, and which I only need to mention--is the final fact that there is some all-embracing Power in the universe. This is the last word which the senses, and the science of the senses, have to speak to us--force. But when I look this physical ultimate of things in the face, and ask what it is, or how I have learned to give this name of power to it; then I find myself standing before a second ultimate of knowledge. That is the fact of intelligence. I cannot, in my thought, go before or behind that last fact of mind, and reason compels me to go up to it and admit it; there is mind above matter; there is intelligence running through things. Upon the shores then, of this restless mystery of our life are standing, calm and eternal, these two ultimates of knowledge, Power and Reason, Intelligence and Force; and they stand bound together--an intelligent Power, a Force of Mind in things. But there is another line of facts in our common experience, the end of which is not reached in these ultimates of science and philosophy. You and I had not merely a cause for our existence; I had a mother, and you had before you a fact of love in the mother who gave you birth. Love breathes through life and pervades history. It is the deathless heart of our mortality. Moreover, this fact of love in which our being is cradled, and in which, as in our true element, man finds himself, has in it law and empire. In obedience to this supreme authority men will even dare to die. There are, then, for us such realities as love, devotion, duty. And with this it might seem as though I had gone around the compass of our being and said all that can be said of the last facts of our lives. But I have not. There is another last fact in this world which not only cannot be resolved into anything simpler than itself, and with which, therefore, we must rest, but which, also, is itself the truth abiding as the light of day over these fundamental facts of our knowledge. It is the illumination of man’s whole life. I refer, of course, to the character of Jesus Christ. The Person of the Christ is the ultimate fact of light in the history of man. We cannot resolve the character of Jesus into anything before itself. We cannot explain Him by anything else in history. The more definite we make the comparison between Jesus and men the more striking appears His final unaccountableness upon the ordinary principles and by the common laws of human descent. We can bring all human genius into organic line with its ancestry, or into spiritual unity with its nationality or age. Rome and the Caesar explain each the other. Human nature in Greece, vexed by the sophists, must give birth both to an Aristotle and a Socrates. These two types of mind are constantly reproduced. And the Buddha is the in carnation of the Oriental mind. But Jesus is something more than Judaea incarnate. Jesus is something unknown on earth before incarnated in a most human life. He was in this world but not of it. He was the fulfilment of the history of God in Israel, yet He was not the product of His times. He chose to call Himself, not a Hebrew of the Hebrews, not a Greek of the Gentiles, but simply and solely the Son of Man. And we can find no better name for Him. He is for us an ultimate fact, then, unaccounted for by the lives of other men, unaccountable except by Himself; as much as any element of nature is an original thing not to be explained by any thing else that is made, so is the character of Jesus Christ elemental in history, the ultimate fact of God’s presence with man. Now, then, such being the fundamental facts of our knowledge--the ultimates of bureau experience--it is perfectly legitimate for us to build upon them; and any man who wishes to build his life upon the rock, and not upon the sands, will build upon them. A Power not ourselves upon which we are dependent--a first intelligence and love, source of all our reason and life of our heart--and Jesus Christ the final proof of God with us and for us--such are the elemental realities upon which our souls should rest. He who stands upon these Divine facts in the creation and in history shall not be confounded. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
The Holy Trinity
“The Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” That advent lays open God’s judgment on good and evil as it is involved in the Divine nature. That advent gives us the power of an ever-increasing insight into an eternal life and the strength of an eternal fellowship. It teaches us to wait as God waits. To this end, how ever, we must use ungrudging labour. “The Son of God … hath given us an understanding that we may know … ” He does not--we may say, without presumption, He cannot--give us the knowledge, but the power and the opportunity of gaining the knowledge. Revelation is not so much the disclosure of the truth as the presentment of the facts in which the truth can be discerned. It is given through life and to living men. We are required each in some sense to win for ourselves the inheritance which is given to us, if the inheritance is to be a blessing. We learn through the experience of history, and through the experience of life, how God acts, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by the very necessity of thought we are constrained to gather up these lessons into the simplest possible formula. So we come to recognise a Divine Trinity, which is not sterile, monotonous simplicity; we come to recognise a Divine Trinity which is not the transitory manifestation of separate aspects of One Person or a combination of Three distinct Beings. We come to recognise One in whom is the fulness of all conceivable existence in the richest energy, One absolutely self-sufficient and perfect, One in whom love finds internally absolute consummation, One who is in Himself a living God, the fountain and the end of all life. Our powers of thought and language are indeed very feeble, but we can both see and to some extent point out how this idea of the Father revealed through the Son, of the Son revealed through the Spirit, one God, involves no contradiction, but offers in the simplest completeness of life the union of the “one” and the “many” which thought has always striven to gain: how it preserves what we speak of as “personality” from all associations of finiteness; how it guards us from the opposite errors which are generally summed under the terms Pantheism and Deism, the last issues of Gentile and Jewish philosophy; how it indicates the sovereignty of the Creator and gives support to the trust of the creature. We linger reverently over the conception, and we feel that the whole world is indeed a manifestation of the Triune God, yet so that He is not included in that which reflects the active energy of His love. We feel that the Triune God is Lord over the works of His will, yet so that His Presence is not excluded from any part of His Universe. We ponder that which is made known to us, that when time began “the Word was with God” in the completeness of personal communion; that the life which was manifested to men was already in the beginning with the Father (1 John 1:2) realised absolutely in the Divine essence. We contemplate this archetypal life, self-contained and self-fulfilled in the Divine Being, and we are led to believe with deep thankfulness that the finite life which flows from it by a free act of grace corresponds with the source from which it flows. In this way it will at once appear how the conception of the Triune God illuminates the central religious ideas of the Creation and the Incarnation. It illuminates the idea of Creation. It enables us to gain firm hold of the truth that the “becoming” which we observe under the condition of time answers to “a being” beyond time; that history is the writing out at length of that which we may speak of as a Divine thought. It enables us to take up on our part the words of the four-and-twenty elders, the representatives of the whole Church, when they cast their crowns before the throne and worshipped Him that sits thereon, saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord, and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they are and were created;” they were absolutely in the ineffable depths of the mind of God, they were created under the limitations of earthly existence. The same conception illuminates also the idea of the Incarnation. It enables us to see that the Incarnation in its essence is the crown of the Creation, and that man being made capable of fellowship with God, has in his very constitution a promise of the fulfil meat of his highest destiny. It enables us to feel that the childly relation in which we stand to God has its ground in the Divine Being; and to understand that not even sin has been able to destroy the sure hope of its consummation, however sadly it may have modified in time the course by which the end is reached. Anyone who believes, however imperfectly, that the universe with all it offers in a slow succession to his gaze is in its very nature the expression of that love which is the Divine Being and the Divine Life; who believes that the whole sum of life defaced and disfigured on the surface to our sight “means intensely and means good”; who believes that the laws which he patiently traces are the expressions of a Father’s will, that the manhood which he shares has been taken into God by the Son, that at every moment, in every trial, a Spirit is with him waiting to sanctify thought, and word, and deed; must in his own character receive something from the Divine glory on which he looks. What calm reserve he will keep in face of the perilous boldness with which controversialists deal in human reasonings with things infinite and eternal. What tender reverence he will cherish towards those who have seen some thing of the King in His beauty. With what enthusiasm he will be kindled while he remembers that, in spite of every failure and every disappointment, his cause is won already. After what holiness he will strain while he sees the light fall about his path, that light which is fire, and knows the inexorable doom of everything which defiles. So we are brought back to the beginning. The revelation of God is given to us that we may be fashioned after His likeness. “God first loved us” that knowing His love we might love Him in our fellow men. Without spiritual sympathy there can be no knowledge. But where sympathy exists there is the transforming power of a Divine affection. (Bp. Westcott.)
This is the true God and eternal life.
The eternal life
These are the strongest words that can be used in reference to any object.
I. The apostle’s knowledge of Christ.
1. John knew that the long expected and earnestly looked for Saviour had made His appearance among men. What mere man could talk of going to and coming from heaven, as though he were speaking of going into and coming out of a room in a house and claim to be sane? He was “Emmanuel, God with us,” who, while here below, remained there always. “And we know that the Son of God is come.”
2. The apostle received a priceless gift from the “Son of God.” And hath given us an “understanding.” The importance of the “understanding” that Christ gives may be seen in the object which it understands. A teacher who succeeds in making a great and difficult subject clear to our minds deserves our profoundest gratitude and highest admiration. The “Son of God” gives mankind an understanding that apprehends the greatest of all objects--“Him that is true.” The Son comprehends God and He gives us understandings to apprehend Him. Such an understanding is truly a great gift, the greatest of its kind possible. When we bear in mind that by it Christ places us in the light in which we may see and know God, we cannot fail to feel that it is indeed such. For, like all objects of the mind, God can only be known in His own light. The only way we can possibly understand a great author is to possess the light in which he wrote his work--we must see with his intellectual eyes as it were--then we shall understand him, not otherwise. The understanding which Christ gives us includes much more than a mere capacity to apprehend an object, it includes a suitable spirit in which to enter upon the study of it. Indeed, unless we are in fullest sympathy with the spirit of the object we are studying we shall fail to understand it. It is something to be able to understand the great works that have been produced by the illustrious men of the different ages; their sublime and inspiring poetry, their wise and informing philosophy, their splendid pictures, their fine statuary, and their grand architecture. But the “understanding” which the “Son of God” gives apprehends God; it knows “Him that is true.” Such a mind must be capacious indeed.
II. The apostle’s relation to Christ and God.
1. “And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” A closer relationship than these words describe cannot be conceived; they imply that the most thorough and vital union subsists between God, Christ, and the Christian. That is a triple union the strong hand of death cannot sever, nor will the damps and chills of the grave impair the golden cord that binds the Christian to God and the Saviour. Eternity will only add to its power and perpetuity. To be in Him that is true is to know Him.
2. They possessed an intelligent assurance of the intimate relation which they sustained to Christ: “And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” They had entered into the close union with God by means of Christ, but they had not severed themselves from Christ in order to keep up the union with God; they were in Him that is true, “even in His Son Jesus Christ.” All who are in “His Son Jesus Christ” see God from the only standpoint from whence it is possible for the soul to see Him really and satisfactorily. A visitor who went to Trafalgar Square to view Landseer’s lions, selected a position on low ground from which he could look up at them, where the stately proportions of the whole column could be seen to the greatest advantage. Quite another effect is produced by looking down upon them from the terrace in the front of the National Gallery; the column seems dwarfed and the lions out of proportion. The standpoint made all the difference in the view. Christ is the only standpoint from which we can see God really: in Christ we “stand on the mount of God, with sunlight in our souls,” and see the Father of our spirits.
III. The apostle’s sublime testimony to Christ. “This is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus Christ was not a Divine man merely: if He were not more than that John would not have said that He was “the true God.” He was the best of men, but He was infinitely more; He was “the true God and eternal life.” As the earth is the source of the life of all the fields and forests--as much the source of the life of the majestic oak as the sweet and fragrant violet--so Christ is the source of the soul’s life. Separated from the earth, the most vital plant or tree would wither, droop, and die; no plant, however vigorous and beautiful, has life in itself. Jesus Christ is, in the fullest sense, the source of the soul’s life; “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” As the fountain of eternal life He imparts it to all who possess it. “I give unto them eternal life.” The source of all the waters of the world must be an immense reservoir. If it were possible for the question to be put to all the waters found on the earth, to all streams, rivers, and lakes, “Where is your source?” do you think that they would answer, “Oh, some spring that takes its rise at the foot of a distant little hill.” No, if anyone hinted that such a spring was their source they would scout the idea at once as the very acme of absurdity. Their united answer would be, “Our source must be an inexhaustible ocean.” Then can a mere man be the author of “eternal life”? Impossible. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
The last words of the last apostle
I. Here we have the sum of all that we need to know about God. “This is the true God.” When he says, “This is the true God” he means to say, “This God of whom I have been affirming that Jesus Christ is His sole Revealer, and of whom I have been declaring that through Jesus Christ We may know Him and dwell abidingly in Him.” “This”--and none else--“is the true God.” What does John mean by “true”? By that expression he means, wherever he uses it, some person or thing whose nature and character correspond to his or its name, and who is essentially and perfectly that which the name expresses. If we take that as the signification of the word, we just come to this, that the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and with whom a man through Jesus Christ may have fellowship of knowledge and friendship, that He and none but He answers to all that men mean when they speak of a God; that He, if I might use such expressions, fully fills the part. If we only think that, however it comes (no matter about that) every man has in him a capacity of conceiving of a perfect being, of righteousness, power, purity, and love, and that all through the ages of the world’s yearnings there has never been presented to it the embodiment of that dim conception, but that all idolatry, all worship, has failed in bodying out a person who would answer to the requirements of a man’s spirit, then we come to the position in which these final words of the old fisherman go down to a deeper depth than all the world’s wisdom, and carry a message of consolation and a true gospel to be found nowhere besides. Whatsoever embodiments men may have tried to give to their dim conception of a God, these have been always limitations, and often corruptions of it. And to limit or to separate is, in this case, to destroy. No Pantheon can ever satisfy the soul of man who yearns for One Person in whom all that he can dream of beauty, truth, goodness shall be ensphered. “This is the true God.” And all others are corruptions, or limitations, or divisions, of the indissoluble unity. Then are men to go forever and ever with the blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised? For, consider what it is that the world owes to Jesus Christ in its knowledge of God. Remember that to us as orphaned men He has come and said, as none ever said, and showed as none ever showed: “Ye are not fatherless, there is a Father in the heavens.” “God is a Spirit.” “God is love.” And put these four revelations together, the Father; Spirit; unsullied Light; absolute Love; and then let us bow down and say, “Thou hast said the truth, O aged Seer.” This is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. “This”--and none beside--“is the true God.” I know not what the modern world is to do for a God if it drifts away from Jesus Christ and His revelations.
II. Here we have the sum of his gifts to us. “This is the true God, and eternal life.” By “eternal life” He means something a great deal more august than endless existence. He means a life which not only is not ended by time, but which is above time, not subject to its conditions at all. Eternity is not time spun out forever. That seems to part us utterly from God. He is “eternal life”; then, we poor creatures down here, whose being is all “cribbed, cabin’d, and confined” by succession, and duration, and the partitions of time, what can we have in common with Him? John answers for us. For remember that in the earlier part of this Epistle he writes that “the life was manifested, and we show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us, and we declare it unto you; and we declare it unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son.” But we are not left to wander about in regions of mysticism and darkness. For we know this, that however strange and difficult the thought of eternal life, as possessed by a creature, may be, to give it was the very purpose for which Jesus Christ came on earth. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” And we are not left to grope in doubt as to what that eternal life consists in; for He has said: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Thus, then, there is a life which belongs to God on His throne, a life lifted above the limitations of time, a life communicated by Jesus Christ, as the waters of some land locked lake may flow down through a sparkling river, a life which consists in fellowship with God, a life which may be, and is, ours, on the simple condition of trusting Him who gives it, and a life which, eternal as it is, is destined to a future all undreamed of, in that future beyond the grave, is now the possession of every man that puts forth the faith which is its condition.
III. Lastly, we have here the consequent sum of Christian action. “Little children, keep yourselves from ‘idols’”--seeing that “this is the true God”--the only One that answers to your requirements, and will satisfy your desires. Do not go rushing to these shrines of false deities that crowd every corner of Ephesus--ay! and every corner of Manchester. Is the exhortation not needed? In Ephesus it was hard to have nothing to do with heathenism. In that ancient world their religion, though it was a superficial thing, was intertwined with daily life in a fashion that puts us to shame. Every meal had its libation, and almost every art was knit by some ceremony or other to a god. So that Christian men and women had almost to go out of the world in order to be free from complicity in the all-pervading idol worship. You and I call ourselves Christians. We say we believe that there is nothing else, and nobody else, in the whole sweep of the universe that can satisfy our hearts, or be what our imagination can conceive but God only. Having said that on the Sunday, what about Monday? “They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living water, and hewed to themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.” “Little children”--for we are scarcely more mature than that--“little children, keep yourselves from idols.” And how is it to be done? “Keep yourselves.” Then you can do it, and you have to make a dead lift of an effort, or be sure of this--that the subtle seduction will slide into your heart, and before you know it you will be out of God’s sanctuary, and grovelling in Diana’s temple. But it is not only our own effort that is needed, for just a sentence or two before, the apostle had said: “He that is born of God”--that is, Christ--“keepeth us.” So our keeping of ourselves is essentially our letting Him keep us. Here is the sum of the whole matter. There is one truth on which we can stay our hearts, on God in whom we can utterly trust, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. If we do not see Him in Christ we shalt not see Him at all, but wander about all our days in a world empty of solid reality. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 John 5:21
Little children, keep yourselves from idols
The sin of idolising
What is the right notion of idolatry, as it still prevails even among nominal Christians?” I answer generally; whatever is so desired and loved, so trusted in or honoured, as to displace God from His preeminence is an idol. Accordingly the objects of human idolatry are exceedingly numerous; and one individual is far from being constant to the same. We see the idol of yesterday cast to the moles and bats today; and that which is deified today may probably be trampled in the mire tomorrow. This multiplicity of idols, this unsteadiness of taste and affection appeared among the heathen polytheists. It is the proper curse and punishment of forsaking the Creator that the heart roam from creature to creature with a sickly capriciousness, and never know where to settle. Consider, then, whether or not you are immoderately attached to any earthly object; to any friend or relation; to money, power, learning, reputation, pleasure, popularity.
II. The way of detecting these idolatrous propensities in ourselves.
1. What is their effect in filling your mind, and memory, and imagination? What do your thoughts chiefly run upon? To what do they naturally tend--God or Mammon? Your memory too, what scenes and discourses does it most fondly review? Those of a spiritual and devout, or those of a worldly cast? Tell me, also, which way your fancy flies when it makes excursions. To airy castles of augumented wealth and importance in this world; to higher distinctions, and finer houses, and more abundant comforts; or to scenes of heavenly holiness and bliss? Try yourselves, again, as to the influence of temporal things upon your religious exercises.
2. Is your sensibility to sin as lively as ever? If you have lost ground in this respect, and are less particular than once you were, what has so sadly altered you? Has it not been too warm an attachment to this or that person; too keen a solicitude for this or the other acquisition?
3. Are you greatly elated by gain, and greatly dejected by loss in your worldly affairs and connections? In thought survey your possessions and still more your friends. Now, which of all these is dearest to you? Have you ascertained? Then I ask whether you could bear to part with that possession by the stroke of misfortune; with that friend by the stroke of death? Ah, you exclaim, it would break my heart to be deprived of such a blessing. Would that indeed be the ease? Then tremble lest that blessing turn into a curse by proving your idol.
III. Some of God’s methods of dealing with such idolaters; for He is a jealous God. “The idols He will utterly abolish.” Sometimes He sweeps them away as with a whirlwind. They are smitten to the ground and disappear in a moment. Health, strength, beauty, knowledge, fame, wealth, just now they were flourishing like a flower; and like a flower they have faded away. Sometimes the cup of idolatrous happiness is not dashed from our lips, but wormwood is mingled with it. God embitters to us our darling enjoyments, so that where we looked for peace and comfort we find nothing but misery. Was it the husband you loved more than God? That husband becomes faithless and unkind. Was it the wife? She grows sickly and fretful. The child? He turns out wild; or is lost to you in some other way. Be assured that the over-eager pursuit of any worldly good is full of mischief and peril. And this dreadful consummation occurs when God leaves us to our idols; when he suffers them to take and keep possession of our souls. “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. Leave him to his fatal infatuation. Let him take his fill of carnal delights till the day of repentance is closed and judgment bursts upon him.” Merciful God, sever us from our idols by whatever visitation thou mayest see fit; only leave us not bound up with them to perish in the day of Thy coming!
IV. The means of keeping ourselves from idols.
1. Exercise a sleepless vigilance, kept awake by a sense of your proneness to fall into this evil; and be much in prayer for Divine help, conscious that you are too weak to preserve yourselves without assistance from above. Understand, however, that what you have mainly to guard against is not any particular object, but the turning of that object into an idol.
2. Do not heedlessly form such connections and acquaintances, whether by marriage or partnership in business or domestic service, as threaten to absorb the heart and alienate the affections from God. Recollect that it is easier to abstain from making idols than afterwards to put them away.
3. Think much of the vanity of human things; what they really are and of what account. Often the dearest idol gives birth to the greatest sorrow. How common the remark upon something of which high expectations were conceived, “It has turned out quite the reverse.” Oh, truly, it is most unwise to set our heart upon a gourd which may wither away at any moment and leave us more painfully sensible than ever of the scorching sunbeams.
4. Never forget that it is the prime end of the gospel to unbind your heart from the creature in order to its being reunited to your Father in heaven. Are you not to be “temples of the Holy Ghost”; to be sanctified into “an habitation of God through the Spirit”? What then have you “to do any more with idols”? (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
The true God and shadows
By the “true God” St. John means the God not only truth speaking, but true in essence, genuine, real; by “shadows” or “idols” he means the false principles which take possession of the senses--the unreal reflections of the only Real. There was in deed plenty of need for this warning in St. John’s day and in the Churches under his care. Perhaps the antithesis of Christianity and the world is not now so sharply apparent. But the contrast still exists. Although the twilight realm may be vast, yet broad and deep are the shadows which men take for realities, and live in them, and worship them, and believe in them. Can there be a more evident example of shadow worship than the devotion of the world to the material--which in reality is the immaterial? In every form of matter there is indeed the hint of God, but it is a hint only, the pledge of the reality, not the great Reality Itself. It is from heedlessness of this great truth that the First Commandment of the Decalogue, which some imagine completely needless for themselves, is perhaps really more necessary than any of the other nine. For all around us is a world worshipping sham gods of its own deification. How then does Christ teach us the eternal distinction between shadows and realities? In His temptation we have exhibited to us the whole matter in a nutshell. Temptation is the battle of alternatives, the choice between the high and the low, the real and the shadowy. Alexander, conqueror of the world, wept for worlds beyond to conquer: Caesar, with his hand grasping Satan’s gift of the world empire, dreamed of something more real when he told the Egyptian priest he would give up all, even Cleopatra herself, to discover the mysterious sources of the Nile. It is this reality, this wider con quest, this source of eternal life, which has been man’s search in all his philosophies and religious systems. Napoleon, beset with quagmires in Egypt, bade his officers ride out in all directions, the first to find firm ground to return and lead the way for the rest. So man’s heart has bidden him ride out in every direction to seek the Real, and St. John comes back from his fellowship with Jesus, and cries, “This is the real God and the life which is eternal. Little children, guard yourselves from the sham gods.” (H. H. Gowen.)
If an idol is a thing which draws the heathen away from the living God, anything which does this for us may be named an idol.
I. Self. Love of self is born in us, and if not early checked will be our master. It feeds upon falsehood, unkindness, greediness, and pride. You must gratify it at whatever cost, and then it demands more and more. Self is a dreadful idol. Beware of it.
II. Dress. You may forget the pearl in anxiety about its setting.
III. Pleasure. Do not children encourage the passion for exciting amusements till they are miserable without them, though so many innocent recreations remain to them? We have known children whose Sundays were a weariness to them, and their studies a punishment. Their pleasures were their idols. (British Weekly Pulpit.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter