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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 John

- 1 John

by Thomas Coke

THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF JOHN.
PREFACE.

THIS Epistle bears so much resemblance, in the matters treated of, as well as in the style and expressions, to the Gospel of St. John, that, although it does not bear the name of that apostle at the beginning, no one has ever doubted but it is his. Inimitable marks of mildness and love pervade every part of it; and the apostle recommends that divine virtue (love) in such moving terms, and upon motives so proper to make an impression on the soul, that we cannot doubt but he was himself entirely filled with it. And with equal strength he confirms two of the most important truths in the Christian religion, against which the heretics of his time had begun to declaim; the incarnation of the Son of God, and his Divinity: and all these heretics he calls antichrists, ch. 1Jn 2:18 or enemies of Christ, because they attacked his Person, though by different, and even contrary ways. St. John proves, therefore, in opposition to the first kind of heretics, who were the Basilideans, Valentinians, &c. that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, (ch. 1Jn 4:1-3 and 2 John 1:7.) that is, that the Son of God was really made man, and not in appearance only. It is almost inconceivable how such an absurd imagination could enter the mind of man; but, under a pretence of doing more honour to the Son of God by denying him the infirmities inseparable from our nature, these heretics taught that he was only in appearance, not really, clothed with the human nature; whence it followed also, as a necessary consequence, that his dying was only in appearance; which was entirely destroying our redemption. The other sort of heretics, as the Ebionites and the Cerinthians, attacked the Person of Christ in a very different way; for, leaving his human nature entire, they restricted him to that only, denying to him essential Deity, and giving him the title of Son of God merely in a figurative sense, as the scripture gives it to kings and governors.

It is in contradiction to this damnable heresy, that St. John so often in this Epistle calls Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God's only-begotten Son, ch. 1Jn 4:9 the true God, and eternal Life, ch. 1Jn 5:20 and that he says, ch. 1 John 4:15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God; and, he that overcometh the world is he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God; ch. 1 John 5:5. And a passage immediately follows wherein he expressly affirms the Trinity of persons in the unity of essence, saying, 2 Peter 3:7. There are three that bear record in heaven to these salutary truths, namely, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. The antitrinitarian heretic trembles at this passage; it is a thunderstroke to him, of which he well knows the weight; therefore he leaves no means untried to turn it aside, or to avoid it. The chief mode has been to deny that this text was written by St. John; and, under pretence that it does not appear in all the ancient manuscripts of this Epistle, and that some of the fathers who formerly wrote against the Arian heresy, did not avail themselves of it in proof of Christ's Divinity, the heretics of the present day deny the authenticity of the text. But a cause must be very desperate which can allege no better reasons against the strength and evidence of a text of Scripture. For, to give any force to such an argument, it would be necessary to shew, that the passage in question existed but in very few manuscripts, or at least only in those of a modern date, and of small authority, and that it was unknown in all Christian antiquity: but the fact is, that this passage is found in a great number of manuscripts, and those the most ancient, and is quoted in books of the most venerable ecclesiastical antiquity, and all much older than those manuscripts which do not contain the passage, from the omission of which some modern heretics and daring critics pretend to draw inferences fatal to the authenticity of this text. But, not to mention St. Jerome, who found it in the Greek manuscript of the New Testament from which he made his Latin version, in which we find it also, and a long comment upon it in his Preface to the Canonical Epistles,—we find it cited in proof of the Trinity in the Confession of Faith, presented about the end of the fifth century by the bishops of the African churches to Huneric king of the Vandals, an Arian, and a great persecutor of the orthodox defenders of the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, would it not have been a most unexampled piece of imprudence in these bishops, purposely to expose themselves to the rage of Huneric and of all the Arian party, by alleging, in so solemn a piece as a Confession of Faith, this passage of St. John, if it had not been universally extant in all the manuscripts of that day, or if it had been forged? Doubtless the Arians would sufficiently have triumphed in such a discovery; and it is clear, that nothing but the truth and notoriety of the fact could have silenced those heretics. Neither could the citation of the passage at that time have been regarded as a thing new, or of doubtful authority; for it was more than 250 years before, that St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and a celebrated martyr, who flourished but little more than a hundred years after St. John, had quoted it in his Treatise on the Unity of the Church; and all the printed editions of St. Cyprian's works, as well as the most ancient manuscripts of that father of the church, constantly contain that citation, which is a certain mark of its authenticity; besides which, Facundus, quoting the same passage, cites also St. Cyprian as having urged it in the Treatise that we have mentioned. Lastly, to go still farther back, we find Tertullian, who was before St. Cyprian, mentioning it in his dispute against Praxeas. Now, since nothing reasonable can be objected against a passage quoted by such celebrated writers, one of whom is Tertullian, who flourished towards the conclusion of the very same century in which St. John died, it is a certain proof that these words were extant in the very first manuscripts; and consequently that the doctrine of the Trinity, which, from the unwillingness of man to submit his proud reason to the authority of divine revelation, has met with so many heretical opponents in various times and places, is the real doctrine taught by the apostles, and the doctrine of the primitive church, as it has also been that of after ages.

But the reader must remember, that the doctrine of the Trinity does not depend on any single text of Scripture. Innumerable passages, directly and indirectly, establish the doctrine of the supreme Godhead of Christ: all the attributes, honours, and operations of the supreme and eternal God, are fully and repeatedly ascribed to him. And an abundance of texts demonstrate the Personality, and, of course, the supreme Divinity of the Holy Ghost. And, besides all this, the whole tenor of the sacred writings, and every dispensation of grace which they hold forth to mankind, confirm, on the most solid basis, this great and fundamental truth. See particularly the Inferences drawn from 2 Corinthians 13:14.