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1 John 5:1-12
Faith is the source of love.
1 John 5:1
The verse is a sorites. To believe in the Incarnation involves birth from God. To be born of God involves loving God. To love God involves loving his children. Therefore to believe in the Incarnation involves loving God's children. Τὸν γεγεννημένον ἐχ αὐτοῦ is not to be understood as meaning Christ to the exclusion of Christians; it means any son of God, as the next verse shows.
1 John 5:2
Another mark by which we can test our love towards the brethren. In 1 John 5:1 faith in the Incarnation is shown to involve this love. Here obedience to God is the test. To obey God proves love to him, and this again involves love of his children.
1 John 5:3
Reason for the preceding statement. "For the love of God consists in this (1 John 4:17), that we keep his commandments: and these are not grievous." These are the words, not merely of an inspired apostle, but of an aged man, with a wide experience of life and its difficulties. "Difficult" is a relative term, depending upon the relation between the thing to be done and the powers of the doer of it. The Christian, whose will is united with the will of God, will not find obedience to that will a task.
1 John 5:4
Reason for the preceding statement: the opposition which causes the difficulty is already overcome. Nothing, however, is gained by transferring the full stop from the end of 1 John 5:3 to the middle of 1 John 5:4, any more than from the end of 1 John 5:2 to the middle of 1 John 5:3. The punctuation of the Authorized Version and the Revised Version is to be preferred. It is the world that hinders obedience to God's commandments and makes them seem grievous. But everywhere God's children πᾶν τὸ γεγεννημένον, as in John 6:37, John 6:39; John 17:2) conquer the world, and that by means of faith. The aorist ἡ νικήσασα marks the victory as already won and complete: "the victory that hath vanquished the world is this—our faith."
1 John 5:5
What other way is there of conquering the world? And how can he who believes fail? Belief in Christ unites us to him, and gives us a share in his victories; and he has overcome the world (John 16:33).
1 John 5:6-12
The section takes a new turn; the test of the Christian life furnished by the witness of the life itself. This witness is that of the Spirit (1 John 5:6), identical with that of God (1 John 5:9), and possessed by every believer (1 John 5:10). Few passages of Scripture have produced such a mass of widely divergent interpretation.
1 John 5:6
This (Son of God) is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ. This may be regarded as one of the main propositions of the Epistle—that the eternal Son of God is identical with the historic Person, Jesus. Of the water and the blood widely differing interpretations have been given. It would be tedious and unprofitable to enumerate them. Our estimate of John 19:34, "the most perplexing incident in the Gospel," will probably influence our interpretation of this "the most perplexing passage in the Epistle." Not that we have here any direct reference to the piercing of Christ's side, and its results. Yet both passages teach similar spiritual truths, viz. the ideas which underlie the two sacraments, and teach them by reference to facts in the life and death of Jesus Christ. But the facts are not the same in each case. It is difficult to believe that this passage contains any definite and immediate allusion to John 19:34. Why in that case the marked change of order, "water and blood" instead of "blood and water"? And if it be thought that this is explained by saying that the one is "the ideal, mystical, sacramental, subjective order," the ether "the historical and objective order," and that "the first is appropriately adopted in the Epistle, the second in the Gospel," we are not at the end of our difficulties. If St. John is here referring to the effusions from Christ's dead body, what can be the meaning of "not in water only, but in water and blood"? It was the water, not the blood, that was specially astonishing. And "in" in this case seems a strange expression to use. We should have expected rather, "not shedding blood only, but blood and water." Moreover, how can blood and water flowing from the Lord's body be spoken of his "coming through water and blood"? The simplest interpretation is that which refers ὕδωρ to the baptism of water to which he himself submitted, and which he enjoined upon his disciples, and αἷμα to the baptism of blood to which he himself submitted, and which raised the baptism of water from a sign into a sacrament. John came baptizing in water only ἐν ὕδατι βαπτίζων (John 1:31, John 1:33). Jesus came baptizing in water and blood, i.e., in water which washed away sin through the efficacy of his blood. This interpretation explains the marked change of preposition. Jesus effected his work through the baptisms of water and blood; and it is by baptism in these elements that he comes to his followers. Moreover, this interpretation harmonizes with the polemical purpose of the Epistle, viz. to confute the errors of Cerinthus. Cerinthus taught that the Divine Loges or Christ descended upon Jesus at the baptism, and departed again when Jesus was arrested; so that a mere man was born of Mary, and a mere man suffered on the cross. St. John assures us that there was no such severance. The Divine Son Jesus Christ came not by water only at his baptism, but by blood also at his death. Besides these two abiding witnesses, there is yet a third still more convincing. And there is the Spirit that beareth witness (to the Divinity of Christ); because the Spirit is the truth. There can be no higher testimony than that of the truth itself (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13). It is surprising that any one should propose to translate, "The Spirit is that which is witnessing that the Spirit is the truth." What has this to do with the context?
1 John 5:7
For those who bear witness are three, and thus constitute full legal testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). It will be assumed here, without discussion, that the remainder of this verse and the first clause of 1 John 5:8 are spurious. Words which are not contained in a single Greek uncial manuscript, nor in a single Greek cursive earlier than the fourteenth century (the two which contain the passage being evidently translated from the Vulgate), nor are quoted by a single Greek Father during the whole of the Trinitarian controversy, nor are found in any authority until late in the fifth century, cannot be genuine.
1 John 5:8
When all three witnesses are enumerated together, the Spirit naturally comes first. He is a living and a Divine witness, independent of the two facts of the baptism and the Passion, which concur with him in testifying that the Son of God is Jesus Christ.
1 John 5:9
An argument a fortiori. If we receive expresses no doubt, but states an admitted fact gently (see 1 John 4:11; and comp. John 7:23; John 10:35; John 13:14). "If we accept human witness [and, of course, we do], we must accept Divine witness [and, therefore, must believe that the Son of God is Jesus Christ]; for the witness of God consists in this, that he has borne witness concerning his Son." Note the pertinacious repetition of the word "witness," thoroughly in St John's style. The perfect μεμαρτύρηκε indicates that the witness still continues.
1 John 5:10
Hath the witness in him. This rendering is to be preferred to either "in Him," i.e., God, or" in himself." The former is obscure in meaning; the latter, though probably correct as an interpretation, is inaccurate as a translation, for the better reading is αὐτῷ, not ἑαυτῷ. But ἐν αὐτῷ may be reflexive. The believer in the Incarnation has the Divine testimony in his heart, and it abides with him as an additional source of evidence, supplementing and confirming the external evidence. In its daily experience, the soul finds ever fresh proof that the declaration, "This is my beloved Son," is true. But even without this internal corroboration, the external evidence suffices, and he who rejects it makes God a liar; for it is God who presents the evidence, and presents it as sufficient and true. The second half of the verse is parenthetical, to show that the unbeliever, though be has no witness in himself, is not therefore excused. In 1 John 5:11 we return to the main proposition at the beginning of 1 John 5:10.
1 John 5:11
"And the substance of the internal testimony is this—we are conscious of the Divine gift of eternal life, and this we have in the Son of God." St. John's ζωὴ αἰώνιος is not "everlasting life:" the idea of endlessness may be included in it, but it is not the main one. The distinction between eternity and time is one which the human mind feels to be real and necessary. But we are apt to lose ourselves when we try to think of eternity. We admit that it is not time, that it is the very antithesis of time, and yet we attempt to measure it while we declare it to be immeasurable. We make it simply a very long time. The main idea of "eternal life" in St. John's writings has no direct reference to time. Eternal life is possessed already by believers; it is not a thing of the future (John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47, John 6:54; John 17:3). It is that life in God which includes all blessedness, and which is not broken by physical death (John 11:25). Its opposite is exclusion from God.
1 John 5:12
Eternal life is not granted to the whole world, or even to all Christians en masse; it is given to individuals, soul by soul, according as each does or does not accept the Son of God. The order of the Greek is noteworthy—in the first half of the verse the emphasis is on "hath," in the second on "life." Here, as in John 1:4, the article before ζωή should be translated, "hath the life… hath not the life." The insertion of τοῦ Θεοῦ in the second half of the verse points to the magnitude of the loss: the possessor has no need to be told whose Son he has.
1 John 5:13-21
4. CONCLUSION OF EPISTLE; without, however, any marked break between this section and the last On the contrary, the prominent thought of eternal life through faith in the Son of God is continued for final development. This topic is the main idea alike of the Gospel (John 20:31) and of the Epistle, with this difference—in the Gospel the purpose is that we may have eternal life; in the Epistle, that we may know that we have eternal life.
1 John 5:13
These things I have written to you sums up the Epistle as a whole. At the outset the apostle said, "These things we write, that our joy [yours as well as mine] may be fulfilled;" and now, as he draws to a close, he says the same thing in other words. Their joy is the knowledge that they have eternal life through belief in the Son of God. There is considerable variety of reading in this verse, but that of the T.R., represented by the Authorized Version, is a manifest simplification. That represented by the Revised Version is probably right. The awkwardness of the last clause produced various alterations with a view to greater smoothness. The verse, both as regards construction and meaning, should be carefully compared with John 1:12. In both we have the epexegetic addition at the end. In both we have St. John's favourite πιστεύειν εἰς, expressing the very strongest belief; motion to and repose upon the object of belief. In both we have the remarkable expression, "believe on his Name." This is no mere periphrasis for "believe on him." Names in Jewish history were so often significant, being sometimes given by God himself, that they served not merely to distinguish one man from another, but to indicate his character. So also with the Divine Name: it suggests the Divine attributes. "To believe on the Name of the Son of God" is to give entire adhesion to him as having the qualities of the Divine Son.
1 John 5:14
And the confidence that we have towards him consists in this. The thought of knowing that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13) leads back to the thought of confidence before God in relation to prayer (1 John 3:21, 1 John 3:22). This idea is now further developed with special reference to intercession for others; a particular form of prayer which is in close connexion with another main idea in the Epistle—love of the brethren.
1 John 5:15
The point is not, that if God hears our prayers he grants them (as if we could ever pray to him without his being aware of it); but that if we know that he hears our prayers (i.e., trust him without reserve), we already have what we have asked in accordance with his will. It may be years before we perceive that our prayers have been answered: perhaps in this world we may never be able to see this; but we know that God has answered them. The peculiar construction, ἐάν with the indicative, is not uncommon in the New Testament as a variant reading. It seems to be genuine in Luke 19:40 and Acts 8:31 with the future indicative, and in 1 Thessalonians 3:8 with the present. Here the reading is undisputed. Of course, οἴδαμεν is virtually present; but even the past tenses of the indicative are sometimes found after ἐάν.
1 John 5:16
How does this position respecting God's hearing our prayers affect the question of intercession for the salvation of others, and especially of an erring brother? If any prayer can be made with confidence of success, surely it is this. It is an unselfish prayer; a prayer of love. It is also a prayer in harmony with God's will; a prayer for the extension of his kingdom. St. John points out that this reasonable expectation has limits. The prayer of one human being can never cancel another's free-will. If God's will does not override man's will, neither can a fellow-man's prayer. When a human will has been firmly and persistently set in opposition to the Divine will, our intercession will be of no avail. And this seems to be the meaning of "sin unto death; "willful and obstinate rejection of God's grace and persistence in unrepented sin. "Death" corresponds to the life spoken of above; and if the one is eternal (verse 13), so is the other. Sins punished with loss of life in this world, whether by human law or by Divine retribution, cannot be meant. Christians have before now suffered agonies of mind, fearing that they have committed what they suppose to be the "sin unto death." Their fear is evidence that they have not committed any such sin. But if they despair of pardon, they may come near to it. There are certain statements made respecting this mysterious passage against which we must be on our guard. It is laid down as a canon of interpretation that the sin unto death is one which can be known, which can be recognized as such by the intercessor. St. John neither says nor implies this. He implies that some sins may be known to be not unto death. Again, it is asserted that he forbids us to pray concerning sin which is unto death. The apostle is much more reserved. lie encourages us to intercede for a sinning brother with full confidence of success. But there is a limit to this. The sinner may be sinning unto death; and in that case St. John cannot encourage us to pray. Casuistical classifications of sins under the heads of mortal and venial have been based upon this passage. It lends no authority to such attempts; and they have worked untold mischief in the Church. The apostle tells us that the distinction between mortal and venial exists; but he supplies us with no test by which one man can judge another in this respect. By pointedly abstaining from making any classification of sins into mortal and venial, he virtually condemns the making. What neither he nor St. Paul ventured to do we may well shrink from doing. The same overt act may be mortal sin in one case and not in another. It is the attitude of mind with which the sinner contemplates his act before and after commission that makes all the difference; and how seldom can this be known to his fellow-men! The change from αἰτεῖν to ἐρωτᾷν is noteworthy. The former is used in verses 14, 15, and the beginning of verse 16; the latter at the end of verse 16. The latter is the less humble word of the two, being often used of equals or superiors requesting compliance with their wishes. Perhaps St. John uses it here to indicate that a prayer of this kind is not a humble one.
1 John 5:17
All unrighteousness is sin. "Among the faithful this ought to be an indubitable truth, that whatever is contrary to God's Law is sin, and in its ,nature mortal; for where there is a transgression of the Law, there is sin and death" (Calvin). But this terrifying truth brings with it a word of encouragement. For if all unrighteousness without exception is sin, it follows that not every sin is unto death. It is incredible that the slightest departure from righteousness should involve eternal damnation (see notes on 1 John 1:7).
1 John 5:18-21
With three solemn asseverations and one equally solemn charge the Epistle is brought to a close. "Can we be certain of any principles in ethics? St. John declares that we can. He says that he has not been making probable guesses about the grounds of human actions, the relations of man to God, the nature of God himself. These are firings that he knows. Nay, he is not content with claiming this knowledge himself. He uses the plural pronoun; he declares that his disciples, his little children, know that which he knows" (Maurice).
1 John 5:18
We know; οἴδαμεν, as in 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:14, and John 21:24, which should be compared with this passage. These expressions of Christian certitude explain the undialectical character of St. John's Epistles as compared with those of St. Paul. What need to argue and prove when both he and his readers already knew and believed? We must have "begotten" in both clauses, as in the Revised Version, not "born" in one and "begotten" in the other, as in the Authorized Version. In the Greek there is a change of tense ὁ γεγεννημένος and ὁ γεννηθείς, but no change of verb. The whole should run, "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not, but the Begotten of God keepeth him." For the perfect participle, comp. 1Jn 3:9; 1 John 5:1, 1Jn 5:4; 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:8 : it expresses him who has come to be, and still continues to be, a son of God. The aorist participle occurs nowhere else in St. John: it expresses him who, without relation to time past or present, is the Son of God. The reading αὐτόν is preferable to ἑαυτόν. The Vulgate has conservat eum, not conserver seipsum, which Calvin adopts. The eternal Son of the Father preserves the frail children of the Father from the common foe, so that the evil one toucheth them not. The verb for "touch ἅπτεσθαι is the same as in "Touch me not" (John 20:17). In both cases "touch" is somewhat too weak a rendering; the meaning is rather, "lay hold of," "hold fast." The Magdalene wished, not merely to touch, but to hold the Lord fast, so as to have his bodily presence continually. And here the meaning is that, though the evil one may attack the children of God, yet he cannot get them into his power.
1 John 5:19
Omit the "and" before "we know." There is no καί or δέ in the true text; and the asyndeton is impressive. The whole world lieth in the evil one. This is the second great fact of which Christians have certainty. They, as children of God, and preserved from the evil one by his Son, have nothing to do with the world, which still lies in the power of the evil one. That "the evil" τῷ πονηρῷ is here not neuter but masculine is evident from the context, as well as from 1Jn 2:13, 1 John 2:14; 1 John 4:4. "By saying that it lieth in the evil one (in maligno) he represents it as being under the dominion of Satan. There is, therefore, no reason why we should hesitate to shun the world, which contemns God and delivers up itself into the bondage of Satan; nor is there any reason why we should fear its enmity, because it is alienated from God" (Calvin).
1 John 5:20
And we know. The "and" δέ is here rightly given—it sums up the whole with a final asseveration. Whatever the world and its philosophy chooses to assert, Christians know that the Son of God has come in the flesh, and has endowed them with mental faculties capable of attaining to a knowledge of the true God. The Christian's certainty is not fanaticism or superstition; he is "ready always to give answer to every man that asketh a reason concerning the hope that is in him" (1 Peter 3:15); by the gift of Christ he is able to obtain an intelligent knowledge of him who is indeed God. "Him that is true" does not mean God, who is not, like the devil, a liar, but "very God," as opposed to the idols against which St. John goes on to warn them. The Greek is ἀληθινός, not ἀληθής. Thus the Epistle ends as it began, with a fulfillment of Christ's prayer. In John 1:3 we had, "That ye also may have fellowship with us," which is identical with "That they may be one, even as we are" (John 17:11). And here we have, "That we know him that is true," which coincides with "That they should know thee the only true God" (John 17:3). This prayer of the great High Priest is fulfilled. "We are in him that is true," says the apostle, "(by being) in his Son Jesus Christ." This is the true God, and eternal life. Does "this" refer to God or to Christ? We must be content to leave the question open; both interpretations make excellent sense, and none of the arguments in favour of either are decisive. The question is not important. "That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God," who was with the Father from all eternity, is the very foundation of St. John's teaching in Gospel and Epistles; and it is not of much moment whether this particular text contains the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ or not. But if, with St. Athanasius, we interpret "this" of Christ, the conclusion of the letter is brought into striking harmony with the opening of it, in which (1 John 1:2) Christ is spoken of as "the Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested to us." Moreover, we obtain a striking contrast with what follows. "This Man, Jesus Christ, is the true God: it is no idolatry to worship him. Whosoever says that he is not God makes us idolaters. But idolatry is to us an abomination."
1 John 5:21
Keep yourselves from idols; or, guard yourselves from the idols. In 1 John 5:18 we had τηρεῖ; here the verb is φυλάχατε. The aorist, rather than the present imperative, is used to make the command more forcible, although the guarding is not momentary, but will have to continue (Compare μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, John 15:4; τὰς ἐντολὰς τὰς ἐμὰς τηρήσατε John 14:15). What is the meaning of "the idols" τῶν εἰδώλων here? In answering this question it will be well to hold fast to the common canon of exegesis, that where the literal interpretation makes good sense, the literal interpretation is probably right. Here the literal interpretation makes excellent sense. Ephesus was famous for its idols. To be "temple-keeper of the great Artemis" (Acts 19:35) was its pride. The moral evils which had resulted from the abuse of the right of sanctuary had caused the Roman senate to cite the Ephesians and other states to submit their charters to the government for inspection. Ephesus had been the first to answer to the summons, and bad strenuously defended its claims. It was famous, moreover, for its charms and incantations; and folly of this kind had found its way into the Christian Church (Acts 19:13-20). As so often happens with converts from a religion full of gross superstition, a good many of the superstitious observances survived the adoption of Christianity. With facts such as these before us, we can hardly be wrong in interpreting "the idols" quite literally. The apostle's "little children" could not live in Ephesus without coming constantly in contact with these polluting but attractive influences. They must have absolutely nothing to do with them: "Guard yourselves and abjure ἀπό them." Of course, this literal interpretation places no limit on the application of the text. To a Christian anything is an idol which usurps the place of God in the heart, whether this be a person, or a system, or a project, or wealth, or what not. All such usurpations come within the sweep of the apostle's injunction, "Guard yourselves from your idols."
1 John 5:1-5
The victory of faith.
Connecting link: The preceding chapter closed with a statement of the two-foldness of love, showing us that love of our brother must follow our love to God, and is, in fact, the commanded and the only outward expression thereof. But, so far, at any rate, as our redeemed brethren in Christ are concerned, they being believers in Christ have been begotten of God. Consequently they are members of one family with us. And every one who loves the Father will, as a matter of fact, love those who are begotten of him, and so bear his image. With this new birth, and the faith and love which are its fruits, there comes to be a spring of holy obedience, so that there is not only an external command telling us we ought to love, but a spirit within leading us on to love. We do not by any means feel the yoke of a command to be grievous; for all that would otherwise have made it so has been overcome by a living faith born from above. Topic—Faith victorious over the world, and faith alone. It will be noted that in 1 John 5:4 the verb "overcome" is twice used. In the first instance it is in the present, in the second in a past tense. "Overcometh" is overcoming, continuously—"hath overcome," rather, "which did overcome" (aorist), referring to some victory which was gained once for all. The continuous overcoming is attributed to "whatsoever is begotten of God." The overcoming, which is accomplished once for all, is attributed to" our faith." Hence our lines of homiletic exposition are at once suggested.
I. WE HAVE A GLORIOUS FAITH WHEREBY THE WORLD HAS BEEN OVERCOME, It is hardly possible to regard the "faith" hero as other than objective, as in Jude 1:3; Luke 18:8 (Greek). We have, moreover, the contents thereof clearly stated here, "that Jesus is the Son of God." This is the mighty fact by which the world has been conquered. How? In three senses.
1. The Lord Jesus as the Son of God has himself overcome the world; i.e., he has grappled with and put to open shame the sinful element in the world—that of self-rule and opposition to God.
(1) By his obedience unto death.
(2) By his conflict with and conquest of the evil one.
(3) By his atoning death the prince of this world was cast out.
(4) By his intercession he secures a like victory to all his followers (John 16:33).
2. By the use of his Name, the powers of the world had been met and worsted. (2 Corinthians 2:14; Acts 19:20; Philippians 1:12; Colossians 1:13.)
3. This glorious objective truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, is that whereby God, in his wondrous grace, has come to have new-born sons in whom the world is overcome. All things are through Christ. By his wondrous work he has come to be the Firstborn among many brethren. Every one of these is a fresh trophy of grace. The creation and sustenance of the Church is a conquest of the world, being so much snatched from it!
II. THIS FAITH, ACCEPTED, BECOMES A LIVING FORCE IN NEW-BORN SOULS, WHEREBY THEY CONTINUOUSLY OVERCOME THE WORLD. (Luke 18:4.)
1. God's own begotten ones are born to a new life.
(1) Of faith (Luke 18:1).
(2) Of love (1 John 4:7).
(3) Of righteousness (1 John 2:29).
(4) Of inability to be sinning (1 John 3:9).
2. This new life of theirs is sustained by the Lord Jesus as the Son of God. Faith laying hold of him appropriates his power. They are "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." They can do all things through him that strengtheneth them.
3. Thus strengthened, their faith achieves a continuous victory over the world. By Christ, the world is crucified to them and they to the world. And however so many may be the aspects of wrong-thinking and wrong-doing which are seen in the world, so many will be the ways in which the children of God will meet and overcome them. They will overcome its errors, its glare, its enticements, its threats, its unbelief, its hatred, its opposition, its persecution. They will overcome by powerful argument, by holy living, by sturdy resistance, by faithful testimony. "By the Word of truth, by the power of God." They will maintain the fight earnestly, fearlessly, joyously, persistently, even to the end; and they will
"Win the day,
Though death and hell obstruct the way."
And all—all through the unconquerable might imparted by him in whom they believe—Jesus the Son of God! What a glorious series of continuous victories over the world have our eighteen Christian centuries witnessed! £ How great a chapter, like to the eleventh in the Epistle to the Hebrews, might be compiled from the histories of God's faithful ones, who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of his testimony; for they loved not their lives unto the death!
III. THIS VICTORY OVER, THE WORLD IS WON ONLY BY BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST. (Luke 18:5.) "Who… but." Those who are not in Christ are still in the world; hence they cannot even fight against it, much less overcome it! Apart from Christ's light, men's vision is bounded by things seen and temporal; apart from Christ's life, their pursuits are entirely of the earth, earthy; apart from Christ's love, their aims are all for self—"They turn every one to his own way." Hence the world is ever conquering them, and will make them first its tools, then its slaves, and at last its victims.
Note: Three matters are suggested here for pungent and powerful application.
1. If these things be so, then whoever casts away the doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God leaves himself helpless in life's struggle.
2. It is only by a living faith in Jesus that we receive power to carry on the struggle. A mental adhesion to the doctrine only will not suffice. A living cling to the Person is needed.
3. We see the purpose intended to be secured by religion, viz. a victory over all that is false and wrong.
1 John 5:6-9
The Divine witness objectively given.
Connecting link: If the victory over the world can be secured only by those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then it is of vast importance that the Divine testimony to him should be unmistakably clear to the upright. As if this or some such thought had been suggested to his mind while writing, the apostle proceeds, in one of his most striking passages (one of the most striking paragraphs, indeed, in the New Testament), to show, first, that the testimony of God concerning his Son is objectively given (1 John 5:6-9), and then that it is subjectively proven and confirmed (1 John 5:9-12). To each of these topics we must devote our attention. Topic—God's three witnesses to his Son. The student is specially requested here to compare the Authorized Version with the Revised Version. We follow, in this homily, the Revisers' Greek text. This passage has an intense charm for us. It is so manifestly the echo of words which the apostle had heard from his Master's lips (John 5:32-39), together with such addition as the facts consequent on our Lord's death and resurrection had enabled the apostle to furnish. As bearing on the Christian evidences the paragraph is unique. It is of infinite value, and deserves more elaborate exposition than, so far as we know, it has ever yet received.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD COMES TO US THROUGH TESTIMONY. We gain some knowledge through the senses; other knowledge through mental observation; some through experience; some through reasoning. Knowledge of necessary truth may be gained by intuition, or by reasoning. Knowledge of contingent truth, i.e., of truth that is dependent on the will of another, can be gained only as we have information concerning that will. Such information is ordinarily gained, and in some cases exclusively, by testimony. The whole of the gospel message comes to us in this way, by testimony (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1). An inquiry into the laws of trustworthy testimony will disclose the fact that the evidence on which we should feel bound to receive the testimony of men is far exceeded by the evidence for the testimony of God (see homily on 1 John 5:9, 1 John 5:10).
II. THERE ARE THREE HISTORIC INCIDENTS BEARING ON THE TESTIMONY THAT JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD. "There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood." "This is he that came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood."
1. The water. To what does the apostle refer when he says that Christ came "by water"? Undoubtedly to the baptism of the Christ by John the Baptist. When the herald baptized his Lord as the great High Priest, and so set him apart to his calling by that act, the race of prophets was closed, and the Messiah was ushered in. It was the first step taken by our Lord in his official ministry. But why such a step? Why should HE be baptized? Under the Law of Moses the priests had to be cleansed before entering on the sacred office. Still, the wonder is that he who knew no sin should submit to a rite which, whatever else it might or might not signify, implied impurity of nature in the baptized One from which he required to be cleansed. We do not wonder at John the Baptist shrinking back from baptizing the Holy One; it surely could not be fitting that the Sinless One should do just as the vilest of the vile had done—come and let Jordan's stream roll over him as if he had been a sinner along with the rest! Yet, somehow or other, it was needful that so it should be, in order to "fulfill all righteousness." What was that righteousness the Saviour had to fulfill? First of all, as he came to be the sinner's Representative by bearing the liabilities of the race, it was becoming that he should openly, formally, avowedly, step into the sinner's place, and take up the burden of sin, as if it were his own. This he did when he was "baptized for us." It was the first act which showed that he was "numbered with the transgressors." And mysterious as it was before to John the Baptist, yet he saw its meaning afterwards, and forthwith began to announce him, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, that is bearing away the sin of the world"—bearing it on himself, and bearing it off from us. This is he that came "by water."
2. The blood. "Jesus bare our sins in his own body upon the tree." In the margin of the Authorized Version read. "to." He took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses. He offered himself without spot to God. He laid down his life for us. He gave it up of himself. He poured out his blood. It was "precious blood," as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (cf. Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:20; Revelation 1:5). "Not by water only, but by water and blood."
3. The Spirit. Our Lord left a promise, "the promise of the Father," that when he had gone from earth the Spirit would supply his place. The Holy Ghost would be the Gift of a risen Saviour. He it was who "should baptize with the Holy Ghost." The narratives in the Acts of the Apostles are the confirmation of this. The four Gospels rake the work of Christ up to the point when the atonement was "finished;" the Acts or' the Apostles continue the record of Christ from the point when the baptism with the Holy Ghost was bestowed (see Acts 2:1-47., et seq.). This was the crowning seal that Christ was the Son of God. Note: In John 1:29-36 the threefold witness concerning our Lord is summed up. John had baptized him with water; had heard the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son;" had pointed out Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, and yet as the Baptizer with the Holy Ghost; and on the whole he remarks, "I saw and bare record, that this is the Son of God."
III. THESE THREE WITNESSES ALL AGREE IN ONE. (Verse 8.) By which we understand, not merely that they confirm one another as to the one fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, however true that unquestionably is, but that they all agree in setting forth the glory of his mission. For the testimony is "that God hath given to us eternal life," as well as that "this life is in his Son." And the Son of God brings about the life by taking out of the way what would prevent it, in order that he may grant what would ensure it. Now, "the Spirit, the water," "the blood," all bear, primarily and directly, on man's great enemy "sin." By the water sin is acknowledged; by the blood sin is atoned; by the Spirit sin is destroyed. The voice from heaven owned the first; the Resurrection ratified the second; the living Church is the standing result of the third.
IV. THESE WITNESSES, THUS AGREEING IN ONE, ARE GIVING FORTH THE PERPETUAL TESTIMONY OF GOD TO US CONCERNING HIS SON. These historic facts—the baptism, the sacrifice, the gift of the Holy Spirit—are not events that once had a significance and now are done with; they are not merely incidents unwoven into the texture of history, which cannot be torn out of it without leaving a disfiguring rent, but they are continuous voices of God, which are now speaking to us, and which will continue to speak to men in tones as loud and clear as ever. And the message they give forth is ever this: "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." They say:
1. Here is One who, by the dignity of his nature, is the Son of God, though through the lowliness of his form you see him only as the Son of man.
2. He, the Son of God, the Lord of man, has taken human flesh and blood, that, coming into the race, he might bear its liabilities on himself, and, by bearing their burden on him, might throw it off for ever.
3. In stepping into the stream, and numbering himself with the transgressors, he publicly assumed the sinner's place, as if laden with the sinner's guilt.
4. Thus laden with the guilt of the race, through having voluntarily taken it on himself, he bore the burden to the cross, there atoned for sin, cried out, "It is finished!" and the burden was flung off for ever.
5. The validity of his work was sealed by his resurrection and his ascension to heaven.
6. The Gift of the Heir Ghost was his own promised proof of his having received all power in heaven and on earth; and now he reigns Head over all, having received gifts for men, to bestow on us the gift of eternal life, having atoned for the sin which forfeited the life, and. having received authority and power to give and to sustain the life. This is "the testimony of God."
1 John 5:9-12
The Divine witness subjectively verified.
Connecting link: The main topic is now the witness of God. In the preceding sketch we dwelt upon the witness of God objectively given. Now we have for our topic—The witness of God verified in the individual experience. The apostle gives us this in two forms—the positive and the negative.
(1) Negative: "He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life."£
(2) Positive: "He that hath the Son hath the life." We deal now only with the positive statement (save as in the footnote). In so doing, we join with it the corresponding one: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10). There are two well-known laws concerning testimony.
(1) That it is appropriate and even obligatory to receive adequate testimony objectively given.
(2) That it is impossible to question such testimony when it is subjectively verified. It is the latter of these two laws the operation of which we are now to consider.
I. LET US INQUIRE WHAT THIS INWARD WITNESS IS. "The witness in himself." So far as the expression is concerned, apart front the context, the apostle's words might bear either of two meanings:
(1) "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself that he believes;" or
(2) "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself that God's testimony concerning his Son is true." The context decides for the latter, and it is set by the apostle in form most exactly logical First step: "This is the witness—that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son." Second step: "He that hath the Son hath the life." Conclusion: "He has the witness in himself of the truth of God's testimony." Had we time to elaborate this part of our theme, we would do so in four distinct stages.
1. God gives man life through Christ, and premises it to all that believe.
2. Man believes unfeignedly in the testimony God has given of his Son.
3. Believing in Jesus, he already enjoys the life which God has promised to bestow.
4. Therefore he has within him an actual verification of God's own faithful Word. He believed the testimony was true, and no he knows it to be so.
II. WHAT IS THE SPECIAL VALUE OF THIS INWARD EVIDENCE? It has a sevenfold value.
1. It is a distinctively personal verification of the truth of God's Word concerning his Son. It is emphatically the believer's own, which may be paralleled in the experience of others, but cannot be shared by them. There is first of all a firm and unwavering certitude that he has a life above and beyond that of nature. Then there is the knowledge gained by continuous experience that only by and through Christ has such a life been initiated, nourished, and sustained.
2. It is an evidence that attends him everywhere. It is always with him. He affirms, "The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." This is what Dr. Chalmers used to call "the portable evidence of Christianity." It can be carried about with a man, go where he will. It takes up no space on the shelves in his library, but ever fills a snug corner of his heart.
3. It is an evidence which is independent of what man may say. At one time, when the only evidence he knew of was that which is external to the man, he was dependent on what this or that one might say, and his belief would be stronger or weaker according to the speaker's success or failure in argument. But his faith is no longer a traditional one. It is the result of the Spirit's work within him; and if no other advocate for the Saviour should appear, what Christ has done for him and in him would lead him to say from his own experience, "I know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."
4. It is an evidence which brings a joy along with it, with which a stranger intermeddleth not. Evidence which merely shows a man the glory of what he ought to believe, and that it is binding on him to believe, may but irritate, and will, if there, be a dislike to the truth. But when a man has God's witness within himself, then he knows whom he has believed, and the knowledge brings a joy unspeakable and full of glory. His may be—yea, is—a life of calm resting in the promise, "Where I am there shall also my servant be."
5. Such an evidence gives him power as a pleader for God. With what zest can he tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour he has found! He can speak, not from hearsay, not merely out of a book, but of "what he has tasted and handled and felt of the Word of life."
6. This evidence accumulates in strength with advancing years. The longer his experience of the power and grace of Christ to sustain in him the eternal life, the more he has received from the fullness of the Saviour, and the severer and the more frequent the trials which have thrown him on his Redeemer for sympathy and for strength,—the stronger will this inward evidence become. The value of the testimony, "Not one thing hath failed of all that the Lord hath spoken," must needs increase with the number of the years that such testimony includes.
7. This is an evidence of which its possessor cannot be deprived. All evidences that are without a man—historical, philosophical, moral—may lose their hold on him, "when mind and memory flee." And besides, of any evidence for which he is dependent on man, by man he can be deprived. An evidence of which man cannot rob us must be an evidence man cannot give us. And here it is: "The witness in himself"—the life within, which, when nature sinks, will rise the higher, and which will enable the believer even in death to shout, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory!"
1. When we summon up before our imagination the thousands and millions of this and of past ages who have known and declared that life in Christ is their certain experience, we see how great the problem which the destructive skeptic has to solve ere he can demolish the evidences of and for Christianity! He might as well try to put out the sun's light! If it were possible (which it is not) for an unbeliever to know all the evidence of Christianity, objective and subjective, he would give up his puny attempts at disproof thereof.
2. Let those who do not possess this inward witness look at the fact that, unless they arc to disbelieve in, or to regard as fools, the holiest of their friends who speak of the life in Christ as theirs, this evidence, though inward to their friends, is outward to themselves, and as such must be taken into account by them as pertaining to human experience. For it is by no means allowable to claim experience as a basis of evidence, and at the same time to decide a priori what that experience ought to be.
3. If a man knows that some have an experimental and living faith which he himself lacks, if he feels painfully that religion is as yet something entirely outside him, how great should be his desire to pass from a dead faith which is dependent on man, to a living one imparted and sustained by God!
4. Let us use the doctrine of the text as the basis of an earnest and loving appeal; and say, "We know what Christ is, for he is our Saviour; we know how freely he forgives, for he has forgiven us; we 'speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen,' we have tried his own words, and have found them true, 'He that believeth on me hath the everlasting life.'"
1 John 5:9, 1 John 5:10
Human and Divine testimony compared.
Connecting link: There is a topic suggested in these verses closely bearing on the themes of the two preceding homilies. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world, bearing a message from the eternal throne. Of the contents and value of the message there are three witnesses—the Spirit, the water, and the blood. The message is that God has given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son. Where the Son of God has been received by faith, there is the life actually existing; and this inward life is a distinctive personal seal of the truth of God's words, whereby they are verified by every one who shares the life. But, granting that this verification is lacking (as it is) in those who have not the life, and that in consequence the only testimony to the truth of God's words is that which comes to them from without, how, then, does the case stand as to the sufficiency of that outer testimony? Thus there are certain well-understood laws which govern belief in human testimony; there are circumstances under which no one would think of rejecting such testimony—under which, if he were to reject it, be would be doing a manifold wrong. Much more is this the case with regard to the testimony of God concerning Jesus Christ. It is in every respect greater, fuller, clearer, than the testimony of man. "If we receive," etc., Faith in God's testimony concerning his Son is required by the laws which ordinarily govern human belief.
I. THERE ARE CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH THE TESTIMONY OF MAN WOULD BE UNHESITATINGLY ACCEPTED. "If we receive the testimony of man," etc. If, not as expressing a doubt whether we do or no. The "if" is nearly equivalent to "since" or "inasmuch as." The fact is taken for granted, as one well known, that receiving testimony from man is a commonly accepted way of gaining knowledge. We can but offer in our limited space the very barest outline of how this matter stands.
1. More than three-fourths of every man's knowledge comes to him from the testimony of others. Even those who demand "verification" are content to accept the verification of another in every department save their own. If it were not so, the progress of man would be slow indeed.
2. What is required in a witness is
(2) competent knowledge.
Let these conditions be fulfilled, and few would gainsay his testimony.
3. If for a particular fact, call it x, there were not only one, two, or three, but twelve witnesses.
4. If the twelve witnesses were all men of unimpeachable character, and teachers and examples of the loftiest morality the world has ever known.
5. If they one and all gave up all that the world holds dear, and risked, or even forfeited, life itself in giving their testimony.
6. If it was well-known that the testimony was directly opposed to the very strongest prepossessions in which they had been nursed and nurtured; and if:
7. The effect of their testimony was to impart soundness, joy, life, love, where only disease, sorrow, death, and selfishness reigned before;—in such a case, we venture to say, such testimony would be regarded as warranting, and even demanding, belief. It could not and would not be rejected. Be it so: then observe—
II. THE TESTIMONY OF GOD IS STILL WEIGHTIER THAN EVEN SUCH HUMAN TESTIMONY WOULD BE. Evidently the apostle's meaning is that, if we feel it incumbent on us not to reject human testimony when clear and adequate, much more ought we to feel it binding on us to receive the testimony of God. For this (and specially this concerning Christ) is greater than any human testimony could possibly be. In what sense? In many.
1. It is greater in its origin. "God." It may, and probably would, be urged by an unbeliever here, "I grant that at once, that God's testimony is greater than man's; but the difficulty with me is, is it God's testimony?" That is just the thing to be shown. The following hints may serve.
(1) It is admitted by the philosopher that at the back of all things there is an infinite energy.£We can take this pagan text for a starting-point, and we affirm, if the energy is infinite, it can let us know something about itself.
(2) If the infinite energy deigns to tell us something about itself, it must be through such channels of life, thought, and words as we can apprehend.
(3) The fact that the channel of communication may be human is entirely consistent with the origin of communication being Divine.
(4) When this is the case, then such human communication has to be interrogated and tested as to its whence and how.
(5) If it stands this test, i.e., if
(a) it claims to be from God, if
(b) it justifies that claim,£ and if
(c) there is nothing inconsistent with the claim,—then the proof of the validity of its testimony is complete.
The carrying out of this argument will Trove that the Christian testimony is from God. We have a heavenly treasure, though put into earthen vessels.
2. It is greater in its contents. It is a grand proclamation that "the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
3. It is greater in the manifoldness and strength of the evidence. Let all the tests suggested under the first division be applied, e.g., to the testimony for the resurrection of Christ, and it will stand them all, while the evidence from the perfection of the moral character of the Christ is absolutely unique and sufficient.
4. It is greater, consequently, in its binding force. Well we know, alas! that, inevitable as this conclusion is, it is precisely the one many would evade and avoid; and, in fact, it may even be that, because they see this to be the issue of the inquiry, some decline to enter upon it. They do not like to be bound. Their spirit is Psalms 2:3. And the clearer the evidence, the greater their wrath. But John 7:17 (Greek) shows us what the conclusion will be with a man who is "of God" (John 8:47).
III. IF GOD'S TESTIMONY CONCERNING HIS SON BE SO GREAT AND SO CLEAR, WHAT THEN?
1. The believer is abundantly justified in his faith; so that he is doubly happy, for the outer evidence justifies his faith when he believes, and the inner evidence verifies the faith after he believes.
2. The unbeliever is condemned. The apostle makes a terrible charge against him—he maketh God a liar. How? Thus: he declares the greatest work which God has ever done in the world to have its basis in a delusion and a lie. The noblest life that the world has received has been grounded on the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. The man denies that. In doing so he consequently declares that God builds up his noblest lives on an untruth. What is this but making God a liar?
3. The sinner has abundant warrant for saying—
"Hence and for ever from my heart
I bid my doubts and fears depart,
And to those hands my soul resign
That bear credentials so Divine."
1 John 5:13
On believers knowing that they have eternal life.
Connecting link: The statements which have just been made point out very clearly who have the eternal life and who have it not. But it is quite possible that such statements may exist, may be before a man's eye, may have been read over again and again, and yet they may have been left unapplied to himself by him who reads them. But it is not enough to know what the eternal life is, and what are the marks of its existence. It is all-important for the individual himself to possess the life, and to indicate it by its appropriate signs. And it is also important—though it cannot be said to be equally so—that, if a man has this life, he should know that he has it. Hence the apostle declares that the object of his writing thus has been that those who believe on the Name of the Son of God should know, clearly and decisively, that they have life, and that the life they have is an eternal one. Topic—On believers knowing that they have eternal life.
I. TO EVERY ONE WHO BELIEVES IN CHRIST THE GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE BELONGS. This is the repeated and clear declaration of the Word of God (John 5:24; John 6:47; John 3:36; John 3:12; Romans 6:23; John 1:12 compared with Romans 8:17, Romans 8:38, Romans 8:39). (For remarks on the meaning and contents of eternal life, see homily on 1 John 2:25.)
II. IT IS POSSIBLE FOR A TRUE BELIEVER TO BE UNAWARE OF HIS WEALTH. He may have the life eternal and not know it. So, at any rate, the Apostle John declares, by implication, in this verse. We gather this:
1. From such Scriptures as the one before us.
2. From observation. Have we not known many of the most devout believers in Christ "go mourning all their days" through the lack of the full assurance of faith and hope?
3. From experience. There are times, even with those who usually live in the sunshine of God's love, when their joys seem clouded over. It may be asked—What are the causes of this uncertainty? They are various. Probably no two cases are exactly alike; but, among others, we suggest
(1) lack of intelligence;
(2) mistaken self-probing, which often causes men to miss that which they are seeking for;
(3) ill health, when the nervous system is out of order;
(4) decline in communion with God;
(5) natural excess of caution. But whatever the cause may be—
III. SUCH IGNORANCE OF OUR REAL POSITION IS MOST UNDESIRABLE.
1. It seriously hinders spiritual joy. Who can glory in the hope of heaven when he cannot tell whether he is an heir of its bliss?
2. It dishonours God; for it casts reflection on the completeness of his provision for his children's peace, when believers seem as if they never knew whether they were children of God or no.
3. It cripples their advocacy of the cause of God. How unattractive the invitation to believe in Christ will seem when it comes from one who is moaning and groaning, instead of singing the songs of Zion!
4. It will seriously interfere with their progress. Men cannot walk fast if their legs are like lead rather than like cork.
IV. THE TEACHING OF GOD'S WORD IS INTENDED AND ADAPTED TO REMOVE THAT IGNORANCE.
1. There are four things clearly unfolded concerning the life eternal.
(1) That it is the gift of God.
(2) That it belongs to those who are Christ's.
(3) That the life is a present possession (cf. Ephesians 2:6).
(4) That there are distinctive signs and marks of the life (cf. 1Jn 3:14; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 2:1)
—even faith, righteousness, love; where these are, the man is born of God and has the eternal life.
2. By the careful and candid application to his own case of these four lines of teaching, a man may come to a distinct and decisive conclusion as to his possession of eternal life. For, be it ever remembered, this eternal life is not to be regarded as something which is to commence in the next state of being, but as something already possessed, to be tested and verified now, as a blessed possession over which death will have no power.
1. It is no virtue to be the subject of "doubts and fears."
2. If we are uncertain, or if we remain in uncertainty as to our having this greatest of all boons, it is time that we
(1) restudied the Word of God to see the condition on which eternal life is granted, and then re-examined ourselves to see if we have fulfilled that condition; and
(2) that we restudied the Word of God to see what are the invariable marks of that life, and then re-examined ourselves to see if we bear those marks.
3. Our religious life has not blossomed into its full beauty until we are perfectly at home in the love of God in Christ, and move as freely and step as firmly there as children in their Father's house that the question "whether we are children," or "whether we are at home," never comes up at all. A loving confidence never to be disturbed—this, oh! this is "knowing that we have the eternal life."
1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15
Liberty and prevalence in prayer.
Connecting link: The knowledge that we have eternal life is, in fact, a coming to feel perfectly at home in the redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. Where this is the case, confidence, freedom of speech, is enjoyed towards God; and this holy freedom will find expression in prayer. The thought uttered here by the apostle is nearly akin to that in 1 John 3:22 (see homily on 1 John 3:19-22). There are, however, one or two not uninteresting points of detail peculiar to these verses, which will suggest a very brief homiletic outline. Topic—Liberty and success in prayer.
I. ONE OF THE PRIVILEGES OF KNOWING THAT WE HAVE ETERNAL LIFE IS FREEDOM IN PRAYER. (See closing sentences of preceding homily.) The word παῤῥησία, as remarked in homilies on 1 John 2:24, 1Jn 2:28; 1 John 3:19-22; 1 John 4:17, 1 John 4:18, is equivalent to "freedom of speech." If we know that we have eternal life, we shall have unreserved openness in communing with our God. The relation between the knowledge and that freedom is clear.
1. Knowing thereby that we are the sons of God, we can speak freely to the Father.
2. Knowing that we are redeemed and saved, we can be at entire liberty in communing with our Saviour.
3. Knowing that we are "alive unto God," we can breathe out that life towards its Giver and Sustainer.
II. ONE FORM OF PRAYER WILL BE "MAKING REQUEST UNTO GOD."£ Ἐάν τι αἰτώμεθα. "One form," we say, and that advisedly. For the outbreathing of love and desire to God will be the habit of the soul, and will include vastly more than the asking for specific objects. So that we must regard the apostle here as not covering the whole ground of prayer, but as simply indicating one direction that prayer may take (in the next homily a still further limitation is noted). We may freely "make our requests known unto God." Faith, reverence, and love will, however, regulate this boldness in prayer. "If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." Even so. God's will is infinitely wiser than ours. And our faith in him wilt lead us to offer all our petitions subject to that will. This is not, however, a fetter upon our freedom. It is a safeguard to it. Otherwise the greater the freedom the greater the peril.
III. SUCH REQUESTS WILL CERTAINLY BE GRANTED, There are two issues of such a prayer.
1. We know that he hears us. The ἐὰν in 1 John 4:15 does not indicate any uncertainty. If we know, as we certainly do, that he hears us,£ our petitions are not wasted breath; they go not forth to empty air (Psalms 50:15). This fellows from the truth in Psalms 103:13.
2. We know that we have the petitions we desired of him. Τὰ αἰτήματα, if not τὰ αἰτηθέντα, "The substance of the requests, if not necessarily the actual things asked for," says Canon Westcott, beautifully. The mother of Augustine prayed earnestly that he might not go to Rome, fearing it would be his bane. Her son, however, went to Rome; but his going was one of the steps which led to his conversion. As Augustine himself said afterwards, God regarded the hinge of the petition. So it ever is. God hears the prayer, but answers it according to his infinite wisdom rather than according to our limited foresight. Note: Though this at first sight seems a restriction upon prayer, yet it is precisely this which makes us free to pray. Were it otherwise, we could not open our lips to ask aught which we deemed a boon, should the gift asked for be. granted even though it would prove a bane. God, in his love, buries our mistakes in prayer, and gives us just what we should most desire could we see as he sees.
1 John 5:15-17
Intercessory prayer: its sphere and its issues.
Connecting Sink: We have freedom in prayer. That freedom will show itself in making intercession for others. At once there is suggested our topic—Intercessory prayer. There are six matters here requiring notice.
I. HERE IS AN OUTLOOK PRESENTED. We are surrounded with brethren—not only Christian brethren, whether those that are really or those that are nominally such; but with "brethren" in the world, those of our own race, of our own flesh and blood, owned as "brethren" by him who took human nature on himself, and certainly not to be disowned as such by his followers.£ Such may be seen giving way to sin. Sins are of two kinds—those "unto death" and "sin not unto death." Inasmuch as all sin persisted in and unrepented of is "unto death," we seem to be shut up to the inference that there is a state of sinning which is beyond the boundary-line of hope; while there are also sins which by no means involve any such sad conclusion. The case they present may be grievous, but it is by no means hopeless. It is to be hoped that the absolutely hopeless cases are rare indeed. "All injustice is sin;" it stains the soul, but need not destroy it.
II. A CASE SUPPOSED. A believer sees a brother sin a sin which is not unto death (for of the hopeless cases we do not just now speak). Such a case may fall under one of three heads.
1. It may be the case of a real Christian surprised into a fault (Galatians 6:1).
2. It may be that of a nominal Christian who says he has faith, but has not works.
3. It may be that of one entirely outside the Christian camp—who is
(1) alienated from God;
(2) sunk in the mire of uncleanness;
(3) entangled in temptation;
(4) bewildered with doubt;
(5) hardened, careless, dead.
In all such instances there is cause for grief, there is urgent need of laying the case before God; but there is no need for despair.
III. A COURSE ADOPTED. "He will ask," i.e., he will plead for such a one with God. The apostle does not lay this down as an injunction; he says "he will" do it, as if by the instinctive promptings of an earnest spirit. It is not said for what he will ask; that is understood. He will ask for "life"—for new life where there has been none, for more life where it is feeble, for revived life where it is flagging. Note also that it is here supposed that the intercessory prayer will not lose its point by wandering over general themes and spheres, but will aim at laying the case of one sinning brother before God. How much point and power would our prayers gain if they were more intercessory! How much force would accrue to intercessory prayer if it were more specific!
IV. A BOON SECURED. "He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death ;" and these are those for whom the petitions are offered. There are four points to be noted.
1. The gift is life. This suggestive word includes all spiritual good in each case as it is needed.
2. The Giver is God; the Divine name is not specified, but we cannot be in doubt, since
(1) none but God can give life, and
(2) it is to him the prayer is addressed, therefore from him the answer comes.
3. The gift of life is for those who have sinned, but not unto death. These are the wanderers whose case was borne upon the pleader's heart.
4. This gift of life for the dead and dying ones is God's gift to the anxious pleader. Beautiful gift! To see life from God coming to those for whom we pray is surely the largest gift our hearts can desire. It is the "open reward" of the prayers offered to the Father in secret. Not thousands of gold and silver, yea, not the wealth of worlds, can compare with a boon like this! What must be the joy of him who can point to a thousand living souls turned from the error of their ways in answer to his prayer!
V. A QUESTION RESERVED "There is sin unto death" (not "a sin." Whether that be so or no, it is not what the apostle says here. He is speaking rather of the state than of a specific act). Great obscurity rests on this phrase; for the reason given in division I, we regard it as necessarily meaning a state of sinning that is beyond the hope-line.
1. What is this state? The following texts sum up nearly all that we know: John 15:6; Luke 12:10; Philippians 3:19; Hebrews 6:4-6.
(1) Severance from Christ;
(2) the sin against the Holy Ghost;
(4) final and fixed impenitence.
Either of these is a state of "sin unto death." There are rocks out at sea in perpetual mist. Such is this rock of fatal sin. We cannot sketch it, nor point out its exact locus. God keep us all far away from it! But granting such a case:
2. What is to be done?£ Is no intercessory voice to go up for such a one? The apostle is alarmingly silent. He does not say. An appalling thought is here brought into the field of vision. That possibly a man may be so far gone in sin that not the fondest intercessor could offer up a prayer for him, if he knew how far the sin had gone. We cannot venture to write on such a theme without fear and trembling. But we ask the reader to note the words we have italicized, "If he knew," etc. We are never in a position to pronounce a case hopeless; hence there is nothing to bar our pleading for the worst of sinners. Besides, if a man be a man of prayer, the Spirit of God will guide him for whom to pray and what to pray for; and wherever a praying man is borne along by God's Spirit to pray without ceasing for the conversion of this one or that one, such inward groaning, divinely born, is a pledge of a gracious answer. In the life of a medical missionary (Dr. Henderson) we are told by him that he had ten thousand cases under his care in the hospital. For some cases he could not open his lips in prayer. In other cases he was borne along to plead again and again for their recovery; and when this was so, he never lost a case.
VI. THE RESULT, when all such reserved cases are allowed for. The boon secured as touched on in division IV will still remain, a witness to the power of prayer, a seal to the reality of communion with God, and a blessed reward for the "strong crying and tears" of the faithful pleader. Note:
1. "The apostolic teaching recognizes a mysterious dependence of man on man in the spiritual order, like that which is now being shown to exist in the physical order" (Canon Westcott). Even so. There are wandering souls whose weal is bound up with the intercession of the saints.
2. It is by this intercessory service that the priesthood of believers is to become a practical reality. We are "kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6). No priest was ever made such for his own sake. Priests are for others. We are to go into the holy of holies, and there to bear precious souls upon our heart before God.
3. What vast possibilities of life are wrapped up in a believer's prayers! When the breath of prayer rises up from man to God, the breath of life will be unbreathed by God to man.
4. Who would not wish to spend and be spent in prayer, if we may receive, as God's blessed boon, life for souls! Why are we not more unselfish in our prayers? Why is so large a portion of them for ourselves, so small a portion for others? And why are we not more specific in prayer? Let us call up before us some brother or brethren for whose return to God we long and yearn; for them let us plead, and never, never give up. And if by our pleading many are visited by Heaven's best gift of life, they may never know who prayed for them; but our prayers will go up for a memorial before God, and we shall find it true that "they that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
1 John 5:18, 1 John 5:19
The strong foe and the stronger Friend.
Connecting link: It is not without reason that the apostle had just written of life from God as the needed gift to those who are sinning, whether their state be that of sin unto death or no; for the fact is that whosoever is born of God is not sinning. By the fact of the new birth he has been delivered out of that state in which the evil one would fain have held him, as that evil one still holds the world. But now the evil one is powerless, for his power is neutralized by the watchful care of the only begotten Son of God. Note: According to the Authorized Version this verse seems to teach that the believer has and exercises an instinct of self-preservation. The Revised Version and the Revisers' Greek text should be studied. Instead of ἑαυτὸν, we now read αὐτὸν. And further, the ὁ γεννηθεὶς plainly points to another than ὁ γεγεννημένος, even to him that was and is the Begotten One of God. He it is who so watches over the new-born child of God that the evil one has no power to touch him. Topic—The conquering and the conquered ones.
I. THERE IS A GREAT FOE, OF MAN. "The evil one." The personality of the evil one is clearly implied in such passages as these: Matthew 4:1; Matthew 13:39; Matthew 25:41; John 8:44; John 13:2; Ephesians 4:27; 1 Timothy 3:6; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 3:8; Luke 22:31; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 4:4. It is not possible fairly to interpret all these passages as indicating only an all-pervasive, impersonal evil. If any demur, let them consider these two points.
1. It is not possible for moral evil to exist apart from some personal being in whom it exists.
2. Whatever evil is in man is there whether there be a devil or no. If there be no devil, and all man's evil is self-originated, then man's nature is a great deal worse than the Scriptures declare it to be.
II. THOUGH MAN HAS A GREAT FOE, HE HAS A GREATER FRIEND. This Friend is the "Begotten One of God;" "the only begotten Son." He beheld this world usurped by the destroyer, and came to set it free. His work is fourfold.
1. He came and worsted the evil one in single combat.
2. He laid down his life for men, and claims the globe as his.
3. He has assumed the sovereignty over all, and dethroned the evil one (John 12:31, John 12:32).
4. He is now engaged by his Word and Spirit in
(1) snatching men from the power of darkness, and transferring them to his own kingdom (Colossians 1:13); and
(2) in guarding those thus rescued (Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32). Note: The great mystery of evil has its origin elsewhere than here, and a vaster field than this globe, although it is only here that we can trace it.
III. THROUGH THIS FRIEND (the only begotten Son of God) THERE ARE THOSE WHO ESCAPE THE EVIL.
1. Who are these? Those who are born again (2 Corinthians 4:18). All of them.
2. How do they escape the evil? Through the watchful care of the Lord Jesus. He guards πηρεῖ them. The word "expresses a watchful regard from without, rather than safe custody" (so Westcott). This guardianship is exercised
(1) by gracious intercession (Luke 22:31);
(2) by providential care (Psalms 121:1-8.);
(3) by sustaining the inward life (John 15:1-27.);
(4) by bringing to naught the plans of the evil one (Romans 16:20).
3. What is the effect? The wicked one does not touch them with a contaminating, poisoning hand. lie would, but he cannot. This must be the issue.
(1) The strong one is outwitted by the Stronger (Luke 11:21, Luke 11:22);
(2) has been, as matter of history (Revelation 12:10, Revelation 12:11);
(3) is, as matter of observation (1 John 4:4);
(4) we know it as matter of experience (verse 19).£
The life which is guarded without and sustained within by the Son of God is a perpetual proof that there are some whom evil cannot touch. They move amid the evil, but it harms them not. Let the world get more and more corrupt, they do but become more and more like their Lord.
IV. WE HAVE HERE THE SECRET OF VICTORY OR DEFEAT IN LIFE; i.e., of conquest over evil or conquest by it. All depends on whether we are ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου or ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ (cf. 1 John 4:4); i.e., whether we have a life that is inspired by God or a life upon the lower level of this world.£ If our being is still of the earth earthy, we are in that region which lieth wholly in the wicked one, "in all its parts and elements." It is in his domain, in his grasp. He is the "god of this world," blinding men's minds. Its darkness is the realm in which he moves. And if we remain in this sphere, and are never extricated from it by a mightier power, with darkness and sin we must "lie down in sorrow." Who can consent to remain a prey to evil when the great Redeemer stands ready with a mighty hand to pluck us out of it, and to guard us so securely that no evil shall touch us?
V. ALL THIS IS AMONG THE CONTENTS OF THE BELIEVER'S KNOWLEDGE. "We know."
1. Who know it? "We"—we who are born of God. Much is known by us that is hidden from the world.
2. How do they know it?
(1) Partly by testimony (a) of God, (b) of history.
(2) Partly by observation.
(3) Partly by experience. (But see next homily, division II.)
1 John 5:20
Life's hardest problems solved.
Connecting link: The connection between this verse and those before it is indicated by the adversative particle δὲ, which is equivalent to "but." "We know," etc., as if John had said, "I am quite aware of the vastness of the mystery in the conflict between good and evil. Still, I have rot spoken at random. There are before us positive, verifiable data which enable us to see something of the wonders of the spiritual world. The Son of God has poured a flood of light upon the invisible realm, and has given us discerning power, so that we see what he has revealed." Topic—The Son of God the Solver of life's greatest problems. At this point we must indicate the conclusion to which we have come upon the verse before us. The student will be well aware of the controversy which has gathered round its last clause, owing to some obscurity which rests on the questions:
(1) What is the antecedent of οὑτός—is it "Jesus Christ" or "him that is true"?
(2) When the apostle says, "We are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ," does he mean, "We are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ," or "We are in him that is true, [being] in his Son Jesus Christ"? For a discussion of the questions, the student can turn to the writers named below.£ As the structure of this homily depends on the answer given thereto, we must needs indicate the conclusion to which we have come.
1. The answer must be given without doctrinal bias, and simply on exegetical grounds. For our own part, we have the most unhesitating conviction of the true and proper Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have never quoted this verse in proof thereof; not because it does not contain it by implication, hut on account of the dispute as to its grammatical construction.
2. In reply to the second question above named, we accept the last-mentioned form of the phrase, viz. "We are in him that is true, [being] in his Son Jesus Christ."
3. It almost follows therefrom that the antecedent of οὑτός is "him that is true;" and as, according to that expression when used in the preceding clause of the verse, the apostle evidently means the Father, whom we know through the Son—"that we know him that is true"—the antecedent of οὑτός being" him that is true," which is equivalent to "the Father." The theological question here at stake, however, is not whether the Son is of like nature with the Father, nor whether the Son be the very "Image of the invisible God," but whether in this particular verse the apostle declares that we know the true God in the Son or through him.
4. The full point before "This" cuts off the following sentence too completely. It may be a complete sentence grammatically; it is not an independent one either exegetically or doctrinally.
5. The word οὑτός includes much more than the "Being." It is equivalent to the "Being "plus the entire revelation which he is and brings: "This is the true God and eternal life," the masculine form, οὑτός, being used on account of the noun first following. In the text, so understood, three lines of thought open up to us.
I. WE HAVE A CERTAIN FACT DIRECTLY AND ABSOLUTELY KNOWN. "We know that the Son of God is come;" rather, "is here," i.e., has come and remains with us. According to the usage of the apostle, this would include the Incarnation, or his coming from the heavenly home to earth (1 John 4:1-4). It also distinctly declares that the Son of God is on earth still—that he remains with us. Nor can the student of Scripture be at a loss to understand how that is (Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). His people are his representatives. His Spirit supplies his place. His words are still among us. So that we may assign a manifold meaning to the expression. Jesus Christ is here:
1. In his words.
2. In the influence and power of his holy life. It abides in the world, the ideal standard of humanity.
3. In the people in whom he dwells.
4. In the living Church which he inspires.
5. By his Spirit, by whom he, though now bodily in heaven, is converting the world and educating the Church. Note: It is quite possible to do our Saviour a great wrong by representing his Church as mourning an absent Lord. He is much more fully with believers now than when his feet walked the earth.
II. A BLESSED EXPERIENCE as the outcome of the coming of the Son of God. This is declared in the text to be fourfold.
1. We owe to Jesus Christ the gift of a spiritual understanding διάνοιαν, sensum; cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 1:18 (Greek, T.R.); Matthew 5:8; Matthew 13:14; Matthew 6:22, Matthew 6:23). As is the heart, so is the eye. When Christ by his Spirit renews the one, there is new power of sight in the other. More is included, however, than a clear perception. The word also bears the meaning of a power of sound reasoning. Sin vitiates the reasoning powers by warping the will which directs them (Ephesians 4:17, Ephesians 4:18, Ephesians 4:23). When men are born again, their powers of reasoning become rectified and sanctified, being governed by the Spirit of God.
2. Having this new understanding, we know, through Christ, him that is true, i.e., the Father. Christ being himself the "Effulgence of" the Father's "glory, and the very Image of his substance," in knowing him we know the Father. As by his incarnation he discloses the Object, and by imparting a new understanding enables us to see the Object, there comes to be through Christ the meeting of subject and Object, which constitutes knowledge.
3. The Lord Jesus has also brought us into a living and abiding union with himself. "We are in his Son Jesus Christ." The knowledge we gain is not that of One who is far off from us, and from whom we remain far off. It is attended with a vital union with him. We are "in him." How?
(1) In him as our Life; from him we draw our own.
(2) In him as the Sphere of our communion and abiding fellowship.
(3) In him as our Mediator; in whom the Father sees us.
(4) In him as "the Lord our Righteousness" and Strength.
(5) In him as our Refuge from the storm.
(6) In him as our eternal Joy.
No less expressive phrase than this, "in him," will suffice to tell how closely Christ and his own are locked in each other's embrace.
4. Being brought into this vital union with the Son, we are in living and loving union with the Father. "We are in him that is true," through being "in his Son Jesus Christ" (cf. 1 John 4:15, 1 John 4:16, 1 John 4:12). We are "born of God," "begotten of him."
III. IN THIS BLESSED EXPERIENCE IS THE ACHIEVED SOLUTION OF LIFE'S VASTEST PROBLEMS. "This is the true God, and Eternal Life." There are two problems which men have been for ages attempting to solve—one concerning the Supreme Being; another concerning the meaning and destiny of human life. The one the greatest objective, the other the greatest subjective problem. Both find their solution in Christ, and only in him. For:
1. In Christ, or through him (whichever view of the text be taken), we come to know the true God. The word thrice translated "true" is not the one which means true in distinction from the false; it means "true" in distinction from the inferior, partial, defective, and incomplete. "True" as fulfilling completely the highest ideal, as "in contrast with all imaginary and imperfect objects of worship," and as fully satisfying "the idea of Godhead in the mind of man." This perfect ideal of the great Supreme, and this Being who answers to that perfect ideal, we know through Christ.
2. In Christ, eternal life, too, is revealed as existing in him, as imparted by him to those who believe on his Name. Note: Obviously we have here, and here alone, the absolutely universal religion, not only for all the world, but for all the worlds. It is so, not simply because it is too exclusive to tolerate any other, but because in it, and in it alone, are secured all to which any religion anywhere can aspire—even a knowledge of the very God, and such a union with him as ensures a life of eternal and ever-growing blessedness. What more can any religion show us? The whole ground of possible yearning is covered. And is there any other in the world that professes to secure all this, and that verifies its claims by giving now, in a living experience, the actual foretaste of the life to come? Verily in and through Christ alone have we "the very God, and the eternal life."
1 John 5:21
Beware of the idols!
Closing warning. By how much the evidence is clear that in Christ we have the true God, and eternal life, by so much should we be sternly jealous over ourselves that we suffer naught to take the place in our regard which he alone should fill. Hence it is not unnatural that a sentence like this should come from the apostle's pen ere he closes the letter. It is easy to detect an undertone of deep emotion, as the apostle, having discharged his responsibilities in unfolding the truth, now reminds his readers most tenderly of theirs, in cleaving to it and rejecting all besides. Topic—A warning against the idolatry of cleaving to any but Christ.
I. WE ARE UNIFORMLY TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE TO CHERISH AN ABHORRENCE OF IDOLS. The second commandment forbids any worship to them. Isaiah poured scorn on idol-worship. "Idols" (εἴδωλα, simulacra)—images, dead representations of the Living One. Anything which fills the place in the understanding, the heart, the life, which is due to God alone, is an idol. Note: None have ever been more noted for horror of idolatry than those who have paid the most reverent worship to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God. It is, in fact, in connection with the most distinct avowal of him as "the true God and eternal life," that this warning against all idolatry is found. But the verse is not general and indefinite, for observe—
II. THE APOSTLE HAS BEFORE HIS EYE THE VARIOUS "IDOLS" WITH WHICH HIS LEADERS WOULD BE SURROUNDED. "Guard yourselves from the idols ἀπὸ τῶν εἰδώλων." It is absolutely necessary to study with close attention the actual surroundings of John and the Churches of his care, if we would rightly apprehend and expound the caution here recorded.£ There appears to be no reason to doubt that the apostle wrote this Epistle at Ephesus. The worship of the great goddess Diana had its seat there. The temple of Ephesus was a wonder of the world. And, over and above the dark black mass of people who cared not either for religion or morals, Gnosticism and Dualism were prominent there. The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes was taught there, and there too a spurious and magic spiritualism had its seat (see Acts 19:19, Acts 19:26, Acts 19:35; Revelation 2:6). There was both a denial of the true and a presentation of the false claim to the regard of men.
III. WITH ALL THESE FORMS OF ERROR BEFORE HIM, THE APOSTLE HAD CALLED THEM BY THE ONE NAME—ANTICHRIST. With this one word he indicates the one feature they all have in common. They so mar the representation of Christ that he is no longer the Christ; and set up in his place a substitute of their own, which is no better than an antichrist. There were many of them; but their huge denials of the truth were not to be tolerated (1 John 2:22, 1 John 2:23; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7). If the Incarnation were denied, along therewith must be the denial of the Propitiation, the Redemption, the cleansing, the fellowship, the life. All goes if the Christ goes. And inasmuch as men will have a faith of some kind, so that when they have dethroned the true, they will enthrone the false, there will at once come to be some antichrist—some rival to the Son of God. It may appear in the form of some worldly attachment, eliciting a false affection (John 2:15-18); or in the disguise of some intellectual subtlety, leading to or from a false philosophy (1 John 4:1-3); or in some manifest depravity of morals denying the need of an atonement or of cleansing grace, through denying the fact of sin (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10). The "many antichrists" which John espied were but so many εἴδωλα, and whoever followed them would be, in fact, an idolater.
IV. FROM ALL THESE FORMS OF IDOLATRY IT IS NECESSARY FOR BELIEVERS TO GUARD THEMSELVES. The preposition ἀπὸ is significant here. They must keep away from them. From everything that
(1) denies, or
(2) lowers, or
(3) opposes, or
(4) dishonours, or
(5) supplements the Christ.
"Keep yourselves, guard yourselves, the word is—as in a watch-tower φυλάχατε. But what is the fortress? Can we be wrong in saying:
1. The truth is the stronghold in which they were to remain, while keeping a vigilant watch on the foe? The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Saviour of men, the Propitiation for sins, the final Judge of men, the true Object of a devout and adoring worship, the Life, the Mediator, the Model, the Leader, the Lord.
2. They were to ensure remaining in this stronghold of truth by cultivating fellowship in him who is the Truth. (1 John 2:28; cf. also the analogous phrase in Philippians
4. Φρουρήσει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν Communion with God will ensure a holy peace that will guard the heart from restlessness and the thinkings from error.
V. THIS KEEPING OF THEMSELVES IN GUARD AGAINST THE IDOLS IS HERE THROWN ON THEIR OWN PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. "Guard yourselves." It is as if the apostle had said, "I have done what I can in writing down the truth and in warning you against the errors of the day. Now, where my responsibility ends, yours begins." Compare the parting words of Moses (Deuteronomy 29:9-29; Deuteronomy 31:2-13) and of Paul (Acts 20:28-31).
VI. THIS REMINDER OF THEIR PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IS GIVEN WITH THE UTMOST TENDERNESS OF PASTORAL SOLICITUDE. The last stroke of the pen reminds the apostle of his own inability to do more than he has done. He cannot always be with the Churches. And as if the thoughts that they and he must soon part, and that he, the last surviving apostle, must leave the Churches "as sheep in the midst of wolves," as their Lord had said, were almost overwhelming, his tone at parting is that of the utmost tenderness: "Little children, hold yourselves aloof from all the idols."
VII. THE PRECEPT, THOUGH IT HAS A LOCAL AND TEMPORAL REFERENCE, IS OF WORLD-WIDE AND PERMANENT SIGNIFICANCE. Forms of antichrist still abound, and there is as much need for vigilant watchfulness on the part of believers now as there was in the apostle's time. Can we think of pantheism, agnosticism, positivism, materialism, rationalism, anti-supernaturalism, without seeing how many forms of error would supplant the Christ, and put a rival in his place? Can we think of sacerdotalism, rampant and wild, without seeing how many there are who would put a priest between the soul and the Saviour; who teach that the Church is to be our bulwark, by remaining in which we shall keep from idols;£ who would make an idol of the sacramental bread, as if it would nourish the spiritual life, and even of the baptismal water, as if it could initiate it? And we venture to think that these sacerdotal εἴδωλα are more perilous to many than those of the unbelieving world. They are more specious, and therefore more deceptive. May the Holy Ghost grant us his enlightening unction, that we may discern and detect error with a glance of the eye! Amen.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
1 John 5:1-3
The reason, and the evidence of brotherly love.
"Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," etc. Our text is vitally related to the last two verses of the preceding chapter. To our mind it presents two important aspects of love amongst Christian brethren.
I. THE REASON OF THE OBLIGATION OF BROTHERLY LOVE. The duty to love our Christian brethren is here based upon our common relation to God. The order of the apostle's thought seems to be this:
1. The Christian brother is a true believer in Jesus the Christ. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ" is included by St. John among the Christian fraternity. The genuine Christian accepts Jesus as the Christ of God, the Anointed of the Father for the great work of human redemption. He looks to him as the Being in whom ancient prophecies are fulfilled, and in whom the noblest expectation and the purest desire of the human race are realized. And the belief of which the apostle writes is not the mere intellectual acceptation of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ, but the hearty acceptation of Jesus himself as the Saviour appointed by God. Every one who thus receives him is a true member of the Christian brotherhood.
2. Every true believer in Jesus the Christ is a child of God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God." Where there is genuine faith in our Lord and Saviour there is a new moral disposition. The Christian believer is born anew of the Spirit of God. "As many as received him [i.e., Jesus the Christ], to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his Name," etc. (John 1:12, John 1:13). "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:17)—he has new sympathies, new purposes, new principles, new relationships, a new spirit. He has the filial spirit, "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
3. Every child of God should be loved by the children of God. "Whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him."
(1) It is taken for granted that the child of God loves his Divine Parent. In whomsoever the new life beats there is love to God. In the spiritual realm love is life. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God." The highest life is that of supreme love to God; and, where this is, love to the brotherhood will not be absent. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," etc. (1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21).
(2) From the fact that the child of God loves his Divine Parent, St. John makes this deduction, that he will love the children of God. It is natural and right that he who loves the Father should also love his children, or that the children of the one Father should love each other. Here, then, is the reason of the obligation to love our Christian brethren. We believe in one Lord and Saviour; we are children of the one Divine Father; we are members of one spiritual family; we are characterized by some measure of moral resemblance to each other, for each is to some extent like unto the Father of all; we are animated by the same exalted and invigorating hope; and we are looking forward to the same bright and blessed home. That we should love each other is in the highest degree natural and reasonable.
II. THE EVIDENCE OF THE: GENUINENESS OF BROTHERLY LOVE. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God," etc. (verses 2, 3). Two remarks, we think, will help us to apprehend the meaning of St. John.
1. Our love to the brethren is genuine when we love God. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do his commandments." We may love our Christian brethren for other and inferior reasons than that of their relation to the heavenly Father; we may love them because they are rich in worldly goods, or because they are gifted and clever, or because they arc amiable and attractive, or because they bold the same political principles, or believe the same theological opinions, or belong to the same ecclesiastical party, as we do. But love for any of these reasons is not necessarily and essentially Christian love. The genuine Christian affection towards the brethren is to love them because they believe that Jesus is the Christ, and they are the children of God. In the consciousness of our love to God we have evidence that we love our Christian brethren as his children.
2. Our love to God is genuine when we cheerfully keep his commandments. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous."
(1) The divinely appointed test of love to God is obedience to his commandments. "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me," etc. (John 14:15, John 14:21, John 14:23); "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," etc. (John 15:10); "This is love, that we should walk after his commandments" (2 John 1:6). Genuine love is not a merely sentimental, but a practical thing.
(2) The obedience which springs from love is cheerful. "His commandments are not grievous" to them that love him. Love is not only life, but inspiration, courage, and strength; therefore, as love to God increases, obedience to his commands becomes easier and more delightful. "I confess," says Watson, "to him that hath no love to God, religion must needs be a burden; and I wonder not to hear him say, ' What a weariness is it to serve the Lord!' It is like rowing against the tide. But love oils the wheels; it makes duty a pleasure. Why are the angels so swift and winged in God's service, but because they love him? Jacob thought seven years but little for the love he did bear to Rachel. Love is never weary; he who loves money is not weary of toiling for it; and he who loves God is not weary of serving him." Says Miss Austin, "Where love is there is no labour; and if there he labour, that labour is loved." Will our love to God bear this test of cheerful obedience to his commands? Then do we love him truly; and so loving him, we shall love all his children - W.J.
1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:5
The victorious life.
"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world," etc. St. John here presents the victorious life in four aspects.
I. IN ITS ORIGIN. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world." The true Christian is "born anew;" he is "born of the Spirit;" he "is begotten of God." This relationship involves:
1. Participation in the life of God, especially the life of love (cf. 1 John 4:7).£
2. Resemblance to the character of God.
3. Possession of the filial spirit in relation to God.
4. The title to a glorious inheritance from God. "We are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16, Romans 8:17); God "hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible," etc. (1 Peter 1:3-5).
II. IN ITS CONFLICT. Our text speaks of overcoming, and overcoming is suggestive of struggle. "Victory" implies combat. The Divine life in man and the life of the ungodly world are essentially antagonistic.£ Satan is "the prince of this world"—"the god of this world." "St. John constantly teaches," says Canon Liddon, "that the Christian's work in this state of probation is to conquer 'the world.' It is, in other words, to fight successfully against that view of life which ignores God, against that complex system of attractive moral and specious intellectual falsehood which is marshaled and organized by the great enemy of God, and which permeates and inspires non-Christianized society. The world's force is seen especially in ' the lust of the flesh, in the lust of the eyes, and in the pride of life.' These three forms of concupiscence manifest the inner life of the world," and against them the Christian has to contend. It is the battle of truth against error, of light against darkness, and of love against hatred.
III. IN ITS CONQUEST. "Whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." The Divine life in the children of God is by its nature mightier than the life and spirit of the unchristian world. There is conflict, but the conflict issues in the victory of the child of God. He is not overcome of evil, but overcomes evil with good. He is not led astray by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the vain-glory of life," but rises superior to them. In proportion as he who "is begotten of God" participates in the life of God, he vanquishes the world and its temptations, both its seductions and its tribulations. And all the evil world, of which the apostle wrote, is destined to be completely conquered by the life of God working in and through men.
IV. IN THE SECRET OF ITS POWER. "This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Notice:
1. The nature of this faith. It is not the mere intellectual acceptation of a theological proposition or propositions; "not that heartless assent which never touches the practice nor moulds the affections." This faith is quite as much a moral as an intellectual act; it is of the heart as well as of the head; and it infuses courage, moulds character, and directs conduct.
2. The Object of this faith. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
(1) Faith in Jesus as truly human. St. John, in thus mentioning Jesus, evidently took for granted that his readers believed in the reality of his human life. We must believe in him as toiling and tired, tempted and tried, suffering and sorrowful, persecuted and crucified, risen and ascended. Yet he was never the vanquished, but always the Victor. Even on the cross he conquered.
(2) Faith in Jesus as essentially Divine. Not that he is a son of God, but "that Jesus is the Son of God"—"His only begotten Son" (1 John 4:9). If the Christian would overcome the world, "he must have a strong faith," as Canon Liddon says—"a faith in a Divine Saviour. This faith, which introduces the soul to communion with God in light, attained through communion with his blessed Son, exhibits the world in its true colours. The soul spurns the world as she clings believingly to the Divine Son." We have said that Jesus was always victorious. As we truly believe in him, we are partakers of his life and sharers in his victory. This is in accordance with his own word to his disciples: "In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Says Dr. Stier, "Our faith in him is the victory which has already overcome the world. 'The conflict and suffering which we now have is not the real war, but only the celebration, a part of the glory, of this victory' (Luther)." So St. Paul, "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me."
3. The exclusiveness of this faith as the means of victory over the world. "Who is he that overcometh the world, See this and the following points more fully stated in our homily on 1 John 3:1. On the meaning of" the world" in this Epistle, see our homily on 1 John 2:15-17. but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" The complete victory over the world can be attained only by genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God - W.J.
1 John 5:6-11
The fourfold witness to the Divine Sonship of Jesus.
"This is he that came by water and blood," etc. We omit the interpolated clauses, and take the text as it is given in the Revised Version. St. John here states the basis of that faith by means of which the Christian overcomes the world. We have the most convincing testimony that the confidence which is reposed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is well founded. That testimony is manifold. We have—
I. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BAPTISM. "This is he that came by water,… even Jesus Christ." The coming here meant is not that of his incarnation, his entrance into this world; but his coming forth from the retirement of Nazareth to enter upon his great redemptive mission. His coming "by water" we regard as referring to his baptism by John. That baptism was:
1. The inauguration of his great mission. When Jesus went to John for baptism he had finally left his private life, and was just about to enter upon his public ministry, and his baptism was a fitting introduction to that ministry.
2. An inauguration characterized by supernatural and Divine attestation. Probably it is for this reason that St. John here refers to our Lord's baptism: "Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway from the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him," etc. (Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17). And John the Baptist testified, "This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel," etc. (John 1:30-34).
II. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS CRUCIFIXION. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood." The reference is to the blood which he shed upon the cross for the redemption of mankind. But how did his death witness to the truth that he was the Son of God?
1. By the extraordinary phenomena associated with his death. "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.… And Jesus yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom," etc. (Matthew 27:45, Matthew 27:50-54; Luke 23:1-56. Luke 23:47, Luke 23:48).
2. By the transcendent moral grandeur expressed in his death. He voluntarily submitted himself to death for the salvation of the lost world. Our Lord said, "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me," etc. (John 10:17, John 10:18); "He gave himself for our sins," etc. (Galatians 1:4); "He gave himself a Ransom for us," etc. (1 Timothy 2:6); "He gave himself for us," etc. (Titus 2:14); "Christ also suffered for sins once, the Righteous for the unrighteous," etc. (1 Peter 3:18). He freely surrendered himself to the most painful and shameful death, not for himself, or for his friends, but for sinners and rebels against him and his Father, and in order that they might have eternal life. Such self-sacrifice was more than human, more than angelic,—it was strictly and properly Divine.
"This was compassion like a God,
That when the Saviour knew
The price of pardon was his blood,
His pity ne'er withdrew."
III. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS SPIRIT. "And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth, For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." Notice:
1. The nature of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. At our Lord's baptism the Spirit bore witness that he was the Son of God (Matthew 3:16, Matthew 3:17). Our Lord said, "The Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall bear witness of me" (John 15:26). Again he said, "The Spirit of truth… he shall glorify me; for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto you." He bore witness to the Messiahship of Jesus by coming down, according to his promise, upon the apostles, and by making the gospel of Christ which they preached a saving power to thousands of souls (Acts 2:1-47; Acts 4:31). And he bears witness for Christ in the hearts of Christians (John 3:24; 1 Corinthians 12:3).
2. The value of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. "The Spirit, is the truth;" "The Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; John 15:26); "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth." His testimony is of the utmost value and importance, because it is perfectly free from error or fraud; proceeding from the Spirit of truth, the Spirit who is the truth, it is light without any darkness, truth without any error. And his testimony is that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF HIS BELIEVING PEOPLE. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him.… And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." "The object of the Divine testimony being," says Alford, "to produce faith in Christ, the apostle takes him in whom it has wrought this its effect, one who habitually believes in the Son of God, and says of such a one that he possesses the testimony in himself." All genuine believers in Jesus Christ have the witness of their own consciousness "that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." They are conscious that the life of love—love to God and. to man—is theirs. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." And we know that this life was quickened within us through the exercise of faith in Christ. To us individually this is the most convincing of all witnesses. "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see."
V. THE TESTIMONY OF ALL THE BEFORE-MENTIONED COMBINED. All the foregoing witnesses are united and concurrent in their evidence. "The three agree in one." We may say that the four agree in one. Their testimony is unanimous. There is no contradiction, no discrepancy in their evidence. With one voice they declare, "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel." "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Notice two points in conclusion:
1. The claim which this testimony has upon, our acceptance. "if we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater," etc. We receive human testimony, notwithstanding that
(1) The witness may unintentionally be untrue. Human observations and impressions and recollections are not always accurate; hence the witness of men is sometimes undesignedly incorrect. But in the manifold and Divine testimony to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God there cannot be any inaccuracy or imperfection.
(2) The human witness may intentionally be untrue. Man may endeavour to deceive; he may willfully bear false witness. But "the witness of God is greater." The Spirit of truth cannot lie. Therefore this testimony has the most commanding claims upon our acceptance.
2. The issue involved in type non-acceptance of this testimony. "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." Is any one prepared to discredit God? Will any one implicitly charge him with falsehood? Be it ours to receive his testimony with larger, fuller confidence, and to rest in his Son with deeper, more loving, and more reverent trust - W.J.
1 John 5:12
The supreme possession.
"He that hath the Son hath the life," etc. In our text the apostle expresses—
I. A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. "He that hath the Son." What are we to understand by these words? What is involved in them?
1. Realizing faith in him.
(1) In his existence. Saving faith in Christ is faith, not in his historic reality only, but in his present existence—that he is. "He ever liveth."
(2) In his perfection. It will profit me nothing to believe in Jesus as an ordinary Man, having the imperfections, weaknesses, and sins of our human nature. Faith in such a being would not result in any accession of strength. Faith must be exercised m him as "holy, harmless, undefiled," etc. Thus believing in him we are, as it seems to us, necessarily led on to faith in his proper Divinity—"that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:5).
(3) In his interest in us. Faith in his existence and perfection and Divinity will not benefit us unless we believe in his regard for us—that he cares for us, desires to bless and save us. Now, we need what I have called a realizing faith in him. The faith of which St. John and St. Paul wrote, and which our Lord required in himself, is a far greater and deeper thing than intellectual assent. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "When the soul in very truth responds to the message of God," says Canon Liddon, "the complete responsive act of faith is threefold. This act proceeds simultaneously from the intelligence, from the heart, and from the will of the believer. His intelligence recognizes the unseen object as a fact. His heart embraces the object thus present to the understanding; his heart opens instinctively and unhesitatingly to receive a ray of heavenly light. And his will, too, resigns itself to the truth before it; it places the soul at the disposal of the object which thus rivets its eye and conquers its affections." With a faith like this, the Christian apprehends Jesus Christ as a grand, living, spiritual, Divine Person; enshrines him in the heart's innermost and holiest temple; and offers to him humblest and deepest reverence. Thus the Christian "hath the Son."
2. Acceptance of his teaching. The Christian is intellectually and practically loyal to the teaching of Jesus Christ. In a very true and important sense Plato may be said to have had Socrates. He had so studied his utterances, so mastered his method, so thoroughly acquainted himself with his views and theories and principles; moreover, he held him in such high esteem, regarded him with such reverence, that we may, without exaggeration, say that he possessed Socrates. "We have the mind of Christ." By means of his teaching we have intellectual communion with him. His precious utterances, his glorious revelations, we believe; they are ours. All that he spake we receive as true; so his mind becomes ours; and in this sense we have him.
3. Supreme sympathy with him. He gave himself for us, and in return we give ourselves to him. "We love him, because he first loved us." By reciprocal affection we have him. This is the trust, completest, highest way in which one person can have another. He by whom I am truly loved, and whom I truly love, is mine indeed. Thus we have the Son. He dwells in us by his Spirit. His teaching, his presence, his love, his life, his Spirit, are ours; himself is ours, inalienably and for ever. St. John frequently represents this relationship to Christ as conditioned simply by faith in him (verse 13; John 3:14-16, John 3:34). In his vocabulary "faith "is a comprehensive word. It "is not merely a perception of the understanding; it is a kindling of the heart, and a resolve of the will; it is, in short, an act of the whole soul, which, by one simultaneous complex movement, sees, feels, and obeys the truth presented to it." He who thus believes on the Lord Jesus Christ "hath the Son."
II. THEY WHO HOLD THIS RELATIONSHIP ARE POSSESSORS OF THE HIGHEST LIFE. "He that hath the Son hath the life." What are we to understand by "the life" τὴν ζωήν?
1. Not mere existence. The most wicked among men have this. Fallen angels have existed through thousands of years (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). To argue for either the perpetuity or the non-perpetuity of existence from the teaching of the apostle concerning "the life" is a gross perversion of his teaching.
2. Not mere intellectual life. Voltaire, Byron, et al., possessed this in a high degree; but who would affirm that they had "the Son" and "the life"?
3. Not mere emotional life. There are many whose sympathies are abundant and active, who sincerely pity the wretched, who have often been moved to tears as they have contemplated the woes of the Man of sorrows, who yet have neither" the Son" nor "the life." The life of which St. John writes is "the new life of God in humanity." This new life may be viewed as a new reigning affection. By faith in Christ man is regenerated, his ruling love is changed. His deepest and strongest affection is no longer earthly, selfish, or sinful, but heavenly, self-abnegating, holy; he loves God supremely. He is thus brought into vital and blessed relationship with God. Holy love is life. "The mind of the Spirit is life" (Romans 8:6). He who has the Son has this life. He has it now, not in its most glorious development, but really and increasingly (Galatians 2:20). Under the influence of this supreme love to God all the faculties of the spiritual nature advance towards perfection in blessed harmony with his holy will.
III. THIS LIFE IS ATTAINABLE ONLY THROUGH CHRIST. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." What is essential to this life? That man's strongest and deepest love shall be fixed on God. And we have no revelation of God adequate to inspire this affection save that which is given unto us in Jesus Christ. On viewing the life as consisting of the union of the soul of man with God, we affirm that it is only through the mediation of Jesus Christ that this union can be effected. Man is estranged from God by sin, "alienated from the life of God," and under condemnation because of sin. "The Son of man has power to forgive sins." "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." By the manifestation of the love of God in his life, and especially in his death, he destroys the enmity of the sinful heart, and reconciles man unto God. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Christ reveals God as a Being possessing in infinite degree those attributes which are necessary to command the soul's supreme love. He manifests the perfect righteousness of God. The cross of Jesus Christ is the grand declaration of God's unappeasable hatred of sin, and his zeal for the maintenance of rectitude. It is the perfect revelation of religious truth for man's intellect and heart. He is "the Truth." In him truth was incarnate. In him the love of God is most perfectly expressed. Divine love toiling, sorrowing, suffering, dying, to save the unlovely, the unworthy, the ill deserving, is manifest in him. He shows us the ineffable mystery of God in self-sacrifice for us. He reveals, as fully as is possible to our dim vision, the transcendent beauty of the Divine character, for our admiration and reverence. In a word, taking holiness as expressing the summation of the Divine perfections, he reveals the infinite holiness of God. Hero in him we have such a revelation of the Supreme Being as is perfectly fitted to command the homage of conscience, to quicken and strengthen the intellect, to expel all enmity, and beget in the soul the purest, deepest, intensest love, and to call forth the reverent devotion of our being. Such a revelation believed in and brought home to our spirit by the Holy Spirit, is life-giving; and such a revelation we have in Christ alone. Only through him can we attain the highest life (cf. John 3:36; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
1. This relationship may be attained by every one. (John 3:16.)
2. God seeks to bring all men into this relationship. He invites, exhorts, entreats, etc.
3. If any have not this life, it is because they refuse to comply with the condition of its bestowment. "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life."—W.J.
1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15
The Christian's confidence toward God in relation to prayer.
"And this is the confidence that we have in him," etc. We have in our text.
I. AN ASSURANCE THAT GOD HEARS PRAYER. "This is the boldness that we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." Prayer is much more than petition. Canon Liddon admirably defines it: "Prayer is the act by which man, conscious at once of his weakness and of his immortality, puts himself into real and effective communication with the Almighty, the Eternal, the self-existent God.… Prayer is not only—perhaps in some of the holiest souls it is not even chiefly—a petition for something that we want and do not possess. In the larger sense of the word, as the spiritual language of the soul, prayer is intercourse with God, often seeking no end beyond the pleasure of such intercourse. It is praise; it is congratulation; it is adoration of the Infinite Majesty; it is a colloquy in which the soul engages with the All-wise and the All-holy; it is a basking in the sunshine, varied by ejaculations of thankfulness to the Sun of Righteousness for his light and his warmth Prayer is not, as it has been scornfully described, 'only a machine warranted by theologians to make God do what his clients want;' it is a great deal more than petition, which is only one department of it: it is nothing less than the whole spiritual action of the soul turned towards God as its true and adequate Object.… It is the action whereby we men, in all our frailty and defilement, associate ourselves with our Divine Advocate on high, and realize the sublime bond which in him, the one Mediator between God and man, unites us in our utter unworthiness to the strong and all-holy God." Such is prayer in its highest and largest significance. But in our text prayer is viewed simply as petition. "If we ask anything;… whatsoever we ask.… the petitions which we have asked of him." Notice:
1. The offering of prayer. This implies
(1) consciousness of need. How many are man's wants! Regular supplies for the requirements of the body, forgiveness of sin, daily guidance and grace, reliable hope as to our future, etc. We are creatures of constant and countless necessities. Every moment we are dependent upon the power and grace of the Supreme. The exercise of prayer implies
(2) belief that God is able and willing to supply our needs. Without this faith man would never address himself in his times of need to God. Moreover, the "we" of our text refers to Christians, even unto them "that believe on the Name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:13). Their belief in the reality of prayer springs out of their faith in Christ. And the exercise of prayer is an expression of their spiritual life.
2. The hearing of prayer. How marvelous is the fact that God hears the innumerable prayers that are ever being presented unto him! None but an Infinite Being could hear them. And a Being of infinite intelligence cannot fail to observe every longing which is directed towards him. No utterance whatever escapes the Divine ear. None but a gracious Being would regard the prayers which are offered by such unworthy suppliants. Great is the condescension of God in attending to our requests. That he does graciously hear and attend to them is repeatedly declared in the sacred Scriptures (see 2 Samuel 22:7; Psalms 22:4, Psalms 22:5, Psalms 22:24; Psalms 30:2, Psalms 30:8-12; Psalms 31:22; Psalms 34:4-6; Psalms 50:15; Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 16:23, John 16:24; James 1:5; James 5:16).
II. AN IMPORTANT LIMITATION OF THE SCOPE OF ACCEPTABLE PRAYER. "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
1. This limitation is necessary. God's will is supreme. The well-being of the universe is bound up with the execution of his will. Therefore he cannot grant the petitions which are not in harmony therewith. This limitation is necessary also, inasmuch as different suppliants may be seeking from him at the same time things which are thoroughly opposed to each other. Thus in time of war between two Christian nations, prayer is presented to God for the success of each of the contending armies. The requests of both cannot be granted.
2. This limitation is beneficial. The judicious and kind parent does not give to his child the thing which he asks for, if it will prove hurtful or perilous to him. In our ignorance we may pray to God for such things as would be injurious to us, in which case it is well for us to be denied. Thus the request of St. Paul was not granted, though his prayer was graciously answered (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). On the other hand, the clamorous cry of the unbelieving and self-willed Israelites for flesh was acceded to, to their sore injury (Numbers 11:4-6, Numbers 11:31-34; Psalms 106:15).
3. This limitation allows a large sphere for the exercise of prayer. There are many things which we know are "according to his will," and these are the most important things; e.g., supplies for bodily and temporal needs, forgiveness of sins, grace to enable us to do or to bear his will, guidance in our quest of truth and in our way of life, the sanctification of our being, and possession of an inheritance in heaven. We may seek the salvation of others, the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the final triumph of his cause throughout the world. These and other things we know accord with his will.
III. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE THINGS SOLICITED IN SUCH PRAYERS WILL BE GRANTED. "And if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him." Alford calls attention to the present,… "we have the petitions," with the perfect, "which we have asked of him." "The perfect reaches through all our past prayers to this moment. All these 'we have;' not one of them is lost: he has heard, he has answered them all: we know that we have them in the truest sense, in possession." It is important to bear in mind here the character of those to whom St. John writes. They are genuine Christians; possessors of Jesus Christ, and of eternal life in him. Their will is that God's will may be done. In them is fulfilled the inspiring assurance of the sacred psalmist: "Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart." In whomsoever this character is realized, the desires are in harmony with the will of God, and the things solicited in prayer are such as God takes pleasure in bestowing and man is blessed in receiving. And this assurance which the apostle expresses is confirmed by the experience of the godly in all ages (cf. Exodus 32:11-14, Exodus 32:31-34; Numbers 11:1, Numbers 11:2; 1 Kings 17:17-24; 1Ki 18:42-45; 2 Kings 4:28-36; Psalms 116:1-8; Isaiah 38:1-8; Daniel 9:20-23; Acts 12:1-17). Let us seek a character like that indicated by the apostle (verses 11-13), and then this inspiring and strengthening "confidence toward God" may be ours also - W.J.
1 John 5:16, 1 John 5:17
The Christian's prayer for his brethren.
"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death," etc. Having expressed his assurance as to the efficacy of the prayers of Christians generally (1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15), the apostle here brings forward a special case in which prayer may be beneficently exercised, viz. on behalf of an erring brother, Notice—
I. THE OCCASION OF PRAYER FOR THE BRETHREN. We do not mean that St. John would restrict our prayers to any one occasion, but he mentions one in which they may be profitably exercised. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask," etc.
1. The liability of a brother to sin. Whether we limit the term "brother" to those who are believers in Christ—Christian brethren, or take it in its broadest signification of our fellow-men, it is true that they are liable to sin. Genuine Christians are so (cf. 1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:10). The grave fact of temptation to sin, the proneness of man to sin, the moral weakness in some respects of even good men, the history of the godly, the teachings of tile Bible, and our own experience,—these show our liability to sin.
2. The knowledge of a brother's sin. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin." The sin spoken of is not a secret one. The knowledge of it is not derived either from irresponsible rumour or from malignant slander. To these we should pay no heed. We should discredit them, and seek to extinguish them. But it is immediate, direct, and certain.
3. Prayer for a brother because of his sin. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask," etc. Without entering at present upon the inquiry of what is the "sin unto death," we may say, with Ebrard, that taking the statements and directions of the text as to "sin not unto death" "in their simple meaning, the only thing laid down and presupposed is this—that a sin which is not unto death may be surely known as such. That any particular sin which another may commit, as also the general state in which he may be found, is not unto death—that he may still repent and be converted—this may be easily and with the utmost confidence known. And where this is known with certainty, where there is no necessity for thinking another to be hardened and past salvation, there must prayer be offered." We know a great many sins which men commit for which there is forgiveness with God, and in all such cases, unhindered by any question as to the "sin unto death," we should pray to God for the sinner. But more than this, is not Barnes right in saying, "It may be said now with truth, that as we can never be certain respecting any one that he has committed the unpardonable sin, there is no one for whom we may not with propriety pray"? Let us, then, learn from our text what our conduct should be towards a sinning brother. We are not to sit in judgment on him and condemn him, not to spread abroad the fact of his sin, not to turn away from him as if he were unclean and we holy, not, on the other hand, to make light of his sin. Such, alas! is the treatment very often dealt to a brother who has sinned. But so should not we do. As Christians, our duty is to pray for him. Such prayer is not optional, but obligatory; it is not a thing which we may do, but which we ought to do. "He shall ask." In this spirit St. Paul exhorted the Galatian Christians, "Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one," etc. (Galatians 6:1).
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAY FOR THE BROTHER WHO HAS SINNED, "He shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death." How unspeakably great and precious is the blessing which by our prayers we may secure for our erring brother! As a result of our petitions on his behalf, God will grant him forgiveness of his sins and confer upon him spiritual life. How exalted and glorious a boon is this!£ The knowledge that we may obtain such a blessing for him should prove a powerful stimulus to us to pray for the brother who has sinned. How can we do other than pray for him when our prayers may have such a glorious issue? "My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19, James 5:20).
III. THE LIMITATION TO OUR PRAYERS FOR THE BROTHER WHO HAS SINNED. "There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request." What are we to understand by the "sin unto death"? With a view of ascertaining this, let us endeavour to fix upon the meaning of "death" here. There are three distinct uses of the word in the sacred Scriptures.
(1) The death of the body.
(2) That death of the spirit which is common to all men apart from the renewing grace of God. "Dead by reason of trespasses and sins."
(3) The eternal death, which is the antithesis of the "eternal life" which God gives through Jesus Christ (verses 11-13).
Now, "death" in the text cannot mean either
(1) the death of the body, for that is the lot of all men; or
(2) the spiritual death above mentioned, for every sin tends to such death. If we are right thus far, and in this also that the death must be the antithesis of the life, we conclude that it must be that death which is the just retribution of those who have deliberately and resolutely rejected the Christ. Such a sin involves the abiding loss of the life which is derived through him (verse 12). The rejection of the Christ necessarily involves the renunciation of the life. If a man deliberately and decidedly rejects the only Being through whom he can obtain eternal life, what remains for him hut to abide in the dark night of death? For such persons St. John does not encourage us to pray. He neither prohibits nor commands us to pray for them. The negation belongs to the "I say," not to the "he should make request." "Not concerning this do I say that he should make request." The encouragement to offer prayer for those whose sin is not unto death is withheld in respect to prayer for those who have committed the sin unto death.
1. Let the fact that it is possible to commit a sin which is unto death lead us to watchfulness and prayer against every sin and all sin. Beware of beginnings in evil.
2. Let this gracious assurance as to the result of prayer for those who have sinned lead us to he often at the throne of grace on behalf of our brethren - W.J.
1 John 5:18-20
The sublimest knowledge.
"We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not," etc. There are certain things of which St. John writes without even the faintest tone of hesitation or doubt, with the calmest and firmest assurance, and with the accent of deep conviction. And the things of which he writes with so much certainty are of the greatest and most important. So in the paragraph before us he utters his triple "we know" concerning some of the most vital and weighty questions. Let us notice each of these in the order in which they here stand.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Here are three points for consideration concerning true Christians.
##1. Their origination from God. They are "begotten of God?' They are "called children of God," and are such.£ f16
2. Their abstention from sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not." He will not commit the "sin unto death;" and in proportion as he participates in the Divine life he will shun sin in any form (cf. 1 John 3:6-9; and see our remarks on 1 John 3:6).
3. Their preservation from the evil one. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Danger is clearly implied here. "Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith." "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," etc. (Ephesians 6:11-18). "Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." Hence the danger. But notice:
(1) The means of preservation. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself." He is sober and watchful and prayerful in order that he may not be surprised by temptation and seduced into sin. It has been well said by John Howe, "He that is begotten of God keepeth himself from those deadly mortal touches which would endanger his precious life; that is, he is his own underkeeper. We are every one to be our brother's keeper, much more our own; but still in a subordinate sense, subservient to, and dependent upon, the Supreme One. Indeed, it were a kind of monstrous thing in the creation, that there should be so noble a life planted in us, but destitute of the self-preserving faculty or disposition; whereas every life, how mean soever, even that of a worm, a gnat, or a fly, hath a disposition to preserve itself." Christians are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
(2) The nature of the preservation. "The wicked one toucheth him not." This does not signify exemption from temptation, but victory over it. The great adversary shall not touch" the true-born child of God" so as to destroy his spiritual life or effect his overthrow.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF PERSONAL FILIAL RELATIONSHIP TO GOD. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." The assurance with which the apostle writes is remarkable. Not, "we are probably of God;' not," we hope we are of God," etc.; but "we know that we are of God," etc. We may know this:
1. By our consciousness of our Christian character. The genuine Christian can say of his spiritual condition, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." He is conscious of his faith in Christ. "I know whom I have believed," etc. (2 Timothy 1:12). He feels that the Saviour is precious unto him (1 Peter 2:7). He knows that he loves the Christian brotherhood; and "we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." He is conscious of his sincere desire and endeavour to follow Christ as his great Exemplar, and to obey him as his Divine Lord.
2. By our consciousness of our filial disposition toward God. We have "received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Our own hearts assure us that we trust and love and reverence our heavenly Father. Thus "we know that we are of God?
3. By the contrast between ourselves and the unchristian world. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one." We have already endeavoured to indicate the character of" the world" of which St. John writes.£ "Concerning the world, he says, not merely that it is of the wicked one, or has him for a father, and bears his nature, but also that it 'lies in him,' that is, lies in his bosom,… like an infant on the bosom of a mother or a father, which is absolutely given up to its parent's power" (Ebrard). The true Christian knows that he is not in such a condition, but in a decidedly opposite one—that he "abides in the Son, and in the Father" (John 2:24).
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF A TRANSCENDENT FACT, AND OF GREAT PERSONAL BENEFITS DERIVED THROUGH THAT FACT. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true," etc. Here are four points which require our attention.
1. That the Son of God came into our world. "We know that the Son of God is come." (This great fact has already engaged our attention in our homily on 1 John 4:9-11, and the apostle's assurance of it in that on 1 John 4:14.)
2. That the Son of God hath given to us spiritual discernment that we might know God. "And hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true." This does not mean that he has given to us any new faculty, but that he has brought our spiritual faculties into a right condition for the apprehension of the Divine Being. "As Christ has come (in the sense of 1 John 4:9)," says Ebrard, "and through this act of love has kindled love in us (1 John 4:10), thus communicating his nature to us, he has furnished us with the understanding necessary in order that we may know God. For God is, according to 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8, Light and Love; and only he who is penetrated by his light, and kindled by his love, can know him." God was not the Unknowable to St. John. He knew him through the revelation of Jesus Christ, by the conscious realization of his presence with his Spirit, and by hallowed communion with him.
3. That we are in vital union with God and with his Son Jesus Christ. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." (We have already considered what it is to be in God, in our homily on 1 John 2:6.) The true Christian is in God the Father through being in Christ the Son. He is in the Father through the mediation of the Son.
4. That the Son of God is truly and properly Divine. "This is the true God, and eternal life" (cf. verses 11-13).
Let us seek to realize the exalted and blessed knowledge which we have been considering. And if it be already ours, let us endeavour to possess it in clearer light and fuller measure. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord."—W.J.
1 John 5:21
Self-guardianship against idolatry.
"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." The connection of this verse with the preceding seems to be in the antithesis between the" true God" and "idols." Loyalty to the "true God" demands separation from all false gods. Notice—
I. THE AFFECTIONATE APPELLATION BY WHICH THE APOSTLE ADDRESSES HIS READERS, "Little children." "He parts from them with his warmest and most affectionate word of address." This form of address suggests:
1. The spiritual paternity of the apostle. Probably many of those to whom he was writing were his children in the Lord, begotten by his ministry—by his preaching, his prayers, and his faith. Very tender and sacred is this relationship (cf. 1 John 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Corinthians 4:15; Galatians 4:19; Philippians 1:10).
2. The spiritual affection of the apostle. This is delicately yet clearly indicated by the use of the diminutive.
3. The spiritual authority of the apostle. His relation to them, his affection for them, and his large and ripe experience, combined to invest him with sacred and commanding influence. And, as "little children," his readers needed guidance, and owed to him obedience.
II. THE IMPORTANT EXHORTATION WHICH THE APOSTLE ADDRESSES TO HIS READERS. "Keep yourselves from idols." Consider:
1. The nature of the sin to be guarded against. Idolatry. Originally it seems to have comprised two things:
(1) the attempt to represent the Divine Being by visible and material forms;
(2) the offering to these forms the worship which belongs only to God. Some are in danger to-day of falling into idolatry of this kind through the use in worship of pictures and statues designed to represent the Saviour. But the essence of idolatry is giving to another the love and reverence and devotion which are rightly due to God alone. Many make an idol of riches. Money is their god, and they devote all their powers and opportunities to the eager pursuit of it. "Covetousness… is idolatry." Others worship pleasure. They live but for amusement, and endeavour to subordinate everything to their personal gratification. And others make honour, or fame, or power, their god. We may make an idol of some beloved relative or friend—wife, husband, or child. Or, and this is in some respects worst of all, a man may make a god of himself—may think first and chiefly of himself, study his own interests and happiness, and love himself supremely. It has been well said, "Wooden idols are easily avoided, but take heed of the idols of gold. It is no difficult matter to keep from dead idols, but take heed that thou worship not the living ones, and especially thyself; for as soon as thou arrogatest to thyself either honour, or praise, or knowledge, or power, thou settest thyself in the place of God, and he has declared that he 'will not give his glory to another.'" And this sin offers the greatest dishonour and wrong and insult to God.
2. The damager of the sin to be guarded against. This may be seen from the following considerations.
(1) The worship of anything less than God cannot satisfy our spiritual nature. God has made us for himself, and our souls cannot rest until they rest in him.
(2) The worship of anything less than God dwarfs and degrades man's spiritual nature. The exercise of real worship transforms the worshipper into likeness to the object worshipped; e.g., the idolatry of riches will gradually mould man into a groveling, grasping miser; of power, into a ruthless, despotic tyrant, etc.
(3) The worship of anything less than God will lead to bitter disappointment and irretrievable loss. Sooner or later, the idolater will be awakened from his delusions, and then he will find that his god is a poor sham, and that, as for himself, he has "forsaken the Fountain of living waters, and hewed him out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." And how terrible is death to the idolater! Death may take from him the wife whom he loves more than he loves God, or the child, etc. And when he dies he must leave his idols behind him—his money, etc. "We brought nothing into the world, neither can we carry anything out." "When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him." And then will arise the bitter cry, "Ye have taken away my gods; and what have I more?"
3. The method of guarding against this sin. The most effective preservative against idolatry is growing fidelity to God. He who assiduously cultivates reverent attachment and hearty devotion to him cannot fall into idolatry. "The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."—W.J.
HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON
1 John 5:1-12
Faith and the Divine testimony.
1. A common faith with a common life is the foundation of brotherly love. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." A general aspect is given to the truth. Given a person who (according to what John has formerly taught) believes that Jesus is the Christ, it can be said of him that he is begetter, of God, i.e., is the subject of a Divine life. It is implied, but not expressed, that a child of God loves the Author of his life. This love is extended to him that shares with him the same Divine life. There is thus created a brotherhood, with a common source of life and a common stream of life. And shall not all who have a common origin and common movements love one another?
2. The reality of brotherly love is proved by the activity of obedience. "Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." There is here personal application of the truth. When can we say that we love the children of God? The answer given is (the converse being also true), when we love God. Have we some real love to God? then inseparable from that is love to his children. For along with love to God goes the doing of his commandments, under which is included love to the children of God. This is the love of God in its working, that we are careful about doing the commandments of God. If a child has a sincere love to his parents, and knows that they wish him to be kind to his brothers and sisters, he will not oppose that wish. So if we have love to God, and know that it is his will that we should extend our love to his children, we shall make an endeavour in that direction. Transitional thought. "And his commandments are not grievous." If a parent loves his children, he will not give them all that they are inclined for; but he will lay commandments on them, i.e., he will lay down certain rules for their conduct, lines in which they are to act, which will be for their benefit, and, he hopes, their ultimate emancipation. There is nothing grievous in these commandments; they are the expression, not only of righteousness, but of kindness. So with the Divine commandment. If God had not loved us, he might have left us without directions for our life; but because he loved us, and could not bear to see us straying in devious paths to our destruction, therefore he has commanded and warned us well. There is "line upon line, precept upon precept." So far from these commandments being grievous in their nature, they are beneficial, emancipating. They are the direct roads to our happiness. They are not arbitrarily laid on us, but are thoroughly reasonable and suited to our nature. Is there anything unreasonable or unnatural in our loving the God of our life, and with our whole soul? And, loving the Father, may we not be asked to love also those who share with us the life of God?
3. The difficulties of obedience which are presented by what the world is are conquered by faith. "For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith." The apostle's thought is not of the world in its normal state, but as it has been made by sin. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is forgetfulness of God. "The wicked… and all the nations that forget God" (Psalms 9:17). Men may not be all wicked in the highest degree—deliberate and daring in sin; they may be divided against each other; but it is natural to all alike to wish to banish God out of their minds as an unwelcome, disagreeable subject. The world is that of which the pervading spirit is selfishness—the opposite of what is here inculcated. Men may not be all malevolent in the highest degree—devilish, according to the common conception—but it is natural to all alike to hurry on to their own satisfaction, without regard to the claims of others. The world is, further, that in social condition which is formed by following ungodly, selfish tendencies. Take such a social condition as is presented among the Jews. Long ago they took up a wrong position with regard to the Messiah. "His blood be on us, and on our children!" And in their generations, with few exceptions, they have stood to their position. Scattered among the nations, they have not conformed to the creeds of the nations. A common sentiment has pervaded them in many lands. Centuries of neglect and persecution have only served to burn into their minds the conviction that their forefathers were in the right. And now it would seem like a cutting off a right arm to acknowledge the Messiah. Take, again, such a social condition as is presented in the Church of Rome. It is well organized, is restlessly active, has a wonderful power of reaching minds, and yet it is identified with a system which is, to a great extent, in the name of Christ, a flattery of the human heart. Take a quasi-Christian condition of society. Without flagrant irreligiousness and vice, there is a worldly tone prevalent in families, in communities, in trades, in professions, even in Churches. There are views of life and practices that tend to lessen the sense of responsibility, and to divide men. When the world has on its side the influences of early training, of numbers, of dignitaries, of daily example, it is a formidable power to which to be opposed. And, if we look to ourselves, we are entirely at its mercy. But we are not hopeless, for a Divine power can be communicated to us, and all within us that is quickened by the Divine touch overcometh the world. What God does is to impart life; what we have to do is to exercise faith. We lay hold on what is outside of us, and thus we conquer. We lay hold on the infinite satisfaction there is in Christ, and thus we are not clogged, in our battle with the world, with the feeling of guilt. We lay hold on the conquest Christ obtained over the world. There is presented to our faith a God whom we are powerfully impelled to love. Thus situated, the commandments of God are not grievous. We may be said to conquer the world when no longer worldly ideas are influential with us. And when we have taken up the position of faith, the world becomes only the means of our discipline. The world will only be conquered in the fullest sense when the customs of society and influences which permeate it are such as to afford the greatest help to remembering God and living for the good of others. Appeal to experience. "And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" "Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a Christian, and endowed with this faith." In the apostle's day there were many who seemed hopelessly involved in heathen customs and traditions; but even out of their heathenism they reached forth the hand of faith to the incarnate Son of God, and conquered, in giving up their heathen life, and living according to Christian rule. It is only condescending love, apprehended by faith, that can break the spell of the world.
II. THE DIVINE TESTIMONY TO THE OBJECT OF FAITH.
1. Its nature. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one." The Bible is not so plain in every part that he that runneth can read. Peter found in Paul's writings some things hard to be understood. John uses simple words, but it is not always easy to catch his meaning. The present passage has been very perplexing. The historical basis is obvious. There was water at the commencement of our Lord's ministry; there was blood at its close. He came by water as baptized, he came by blood as crucified. Water signifies life in its purity; blood signifies life in all its purity sacrificed, and so made available for us. He came not with the water only; for his pure life by itself could not be available for us. But he came with the water and with the blood; for it was as sacrificed that his pure life was available for us. The fact that he had a pure life in the midst of sinful humanity testified to his being the Son of God. And so at his baptism there was the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The fact that by his death a fountain of life was open for men (significantly there gushed from his pierced side blood and water—first blood, and then water) also testified to his being the Son of God. And so there was the Divine attestation following in his resurrection. That is historical testimony belonging to a distant century. But the Spirit is the ever-present Witness, being the Truth. There are thus three present witnesses. There is the Spirit, placed first; because he witnesses through the water and the blood. There is the water, witnessing in the power of a new life in us. There is the blood, witnessing in redemptive virtue going into us to give us the power of a new life. And the three agree in one; their testimony converges to one point, viz. to the new life in us being the grand proof that Jesus is the Son of God.
2. Its sufficiency.
(1) It is Divine. "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son." It is implied that we receive the witness of men. If three human witnesses of ordinary intelligence and probity agree, we proceed upon their testimony even in matters affecting life and death. There is an important sense in which the condition of three witnesses is fulfilled with regard to the Divine testimony. Apart from that there is to be taken into account the infinite superiority of God to man. He is not a man, that he should be deceived; he is not a man, that he should lie; and, therefore, when he gives his testimony concerning his Son, he should be believed.
(2) It is in consciousness. "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son." The object of the Divine testimony is that we should believe on the Son of God. He that, accepting the Divine testimony, believes on the Son of God is made independent of it as external. He hath the (Divine) testimony in himself, so that he does not need to go beyond his own consciousness for testimony to the place of Jesus. In the case of him who believes not God who hath testified, this testimony in consciousness is forbidden by the very nature of his unbelief, which is making God a liar—believing what men say in ordinary matters, but not believing what God says about his Son.
(3) It is in the possession of life in Christ. "And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." We have here a better disclosure of the purport of the testimony, showing it to be fraught with the greatest blessing. It is testimony regarding God's own gift of life. One element in life is the enjoyment of the Divine favour; another element is the quickening of our powers. It is life that, even in what is begun of it here, is eternal in its nature. It is life not promised, but actually given. It is life intended for our appropriation by faith. It is life to be found in Christ, by whom, though free in reference to us, it has been meritoriously procured, in whom also its nature is exhibited. We who have appropriated the Divine gift in the Holder and Dispenser of it can testify to his being more than man, even God incarnate. Practical inference. "He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life." The boon, which is of unspeakable value, comes with the possession of the Son; therefore the all-important thing is to possess the Son. He that hath the Son hath the life gifted, enjoys the favour of God, has his spiritual powers quickened. He that hath not the Son of God hath not the life gifted, lies under the Divine disfavour, has his spiritual powers with the torpor of death on them. And the two states are the poles asunder. Let us believe on the Son of God, and we are at the pole of eternal sunshine. 'Let us refuse the Divine testimony, and we are at the opposite pole of eternal cold - R.F.
1 John 5:13-17
I. THE AIM OF THE EPISTLE CONNECTED WITH ASSURANCE. "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the Name of the Son of God." At the beginning of the Epistle, the apostle's aim was stated to be Divine fellowship and completed joy. In looking back, he feels that he has kept his end in view. In the restatement of his aim, he goes the length of completed joy. Beyond the quickening of their spiritual life, he has aimed at their having the joy of knowing that they had the life eternal actually begun in them. He has given them certain marks (usually introduced by "herein") by which to make clear to them their Divine birth, or possession of the Divine life as believers on the Name of the Son of God. When we have the right elements in our life, and can make a correct diagnosis of them, we have comfort. We are indebted to the apostle yet for the help he has given us, in this Epistle, to the right reading of cur life.
II. ASSURANCE IN RELATION TO PRAYER.
1. Confidence of being heard. "And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us." Knowing that we have the Divine life, we are reasonably bold toward God, as children are bold toward their parents. Our boldness comes out especially in our asking. We are full of wants, and so we need to be constantly asking. We ask in the confidence of being heard. If we ask anything, he heareth us—which has only this limitation, that we ask according to God's will (not properly a limitation; for God's will is our highest good). If we are to ask according to God's will, then the meaning of that is that we are to have our desires in a proper state—to have them educated up to God's will. We are to have them chastened by proper submission to God's appointments; and we are to have them thoroughly enlightened, so that we desire with God, and up to the largeness of the blessing that he holds out to us. As Jesus was praying in a certain place, after he ceased, the disciples, filled with a sense of their own deficiencies, said, "Lord, teach us to pray." It is not the language of our prayers that we need to have improved, so much as our simple responsiveness to the Divine will.
2. Certainty of having our petitions. "And if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him." We have actually presented our petitions in confidence of being heard: how do we stand? We know that we are richer than we were before. Hannah rose to accord with the Divine will, and, knowing that she had her petition, it happened to the "woman of a sorrowful spirit" that "her countenance was no more sad." The Master was in perfect accord with the Divine will; and he had his every petition. "And I knew that thou hearest me always" (John 11:42). In so far as we resemble him, in confidently expressing the Divine will, shall we know ourselves to be richer for our prayers.
III. ASSURANCE IN SPECIAL RELATION TO INTERCESSION.
1. Promise. "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death." This is asking suggested by the brotherly love which the apostle has been inculcating. Have we any ground of confidence to go upon in asking for a brother? We have here very distinct ground pointed to, even in the case of a brother who is seen sinning a sin. It is not a sin by which he is wholly deprived of life, but a sin by which his life is regarded as in part suspended. He is seen by one who is united to him by the tie of Christian brotherhood, who does not regard him with unconcern, who is moved by the sight to ask for him restoration of life. The promise is that the asker will be the instrument of giving life to those within the brotherhood of whom it can be said that they sin not unto death.
2. Limitation of the promise. "There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request." This must be taken in close connection with the context. The reference is simply to the brotherhood. Are we warranted in all cases to pray for an erring brother, in the expectation that we shall be the means, under God, of giving him life? The promise does not go that length. A (hitherto) recognized member of the brotherhood may unbrother himself, may cut himself off from fellowship with God, by denying (let us say) the force of the Incarnation. In such a case, the apostle does not say that we are to make request (familiarly) for him as for a brother. The virtue that there is in brotherhood and in brotherly intercession is there lost; and he is really to be dealt with as one unbrothered. That is not to say that we are not to pray for him at all; for we are to pray for all men.
3. Large scope of the promise. "All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." "Sin" is a wide word; it includes all violation of right. Every unbrotherly expression that we use is an offence against God. There is thus abundant room for the exercise of intercession. There is sinning through many degrees without sinning mortally. Let us, then, realize what is in our power. A brother, to our knowledge, sins even seriously. He does not sin, in our judgment, so as to put the Incarnate One decisively away from him; but he sins so as seriously to interrupt fellowship with God, which is his life. As belonging to the same privileged circle, we have a part to perform. We have to intercede with God on his behalf. We have to intercede confidently; for the promise of our giving him life is clearly applicable. In answer to our intercession there wilt be a wakening of him up out of the slumber that has been upon him, so that he enjoys renewed fellowship with God - R.F.
1 John 5:18-21
The three certainties of the Epistle.
I. THE CERTAINTY OF THE POWER OF THE DIVINE BIRTH. "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth him, and the evil one toucheth him not." This is doctrine which has already been laid down. In 1 John 3:6 sinlessness is connected with human action; here it is connected with Divine action. There is sin, as in the context has been admitted, within the Christian circle; but it is according to the norm of the Divine life not to sin. The language that is added here is unusual. Westcott would remove its unusual aspect by thinking of Christ, as the Begotten of God, opposed to the evil one. But it is God that is opposed to the evil one in the following verse; and the mere change of tense does not prepare for the introduction of Christ. In passing from the now begotten of God to the past begotten of God, we naturally think of the same person, only at a different moment, viz. that of the commencement of the Divine life. The new nature then received (ascribing all to God), it keepeth him; and the evil one, having nothing in the new nature to lay hold on, toucheth him not. He is indeed tempted; but he has a defense against temptation in his quickened sensibilities and activities.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF OUR POSSESSING LIFE FROM GOD. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." There is here the strength of personal assurance. We know that we are of God; we know that we draw our life from the highest source. But there is also the certitude of Christian pessimism—the worst view of the world. In the Christian judgment, the whole world lieth in the evil one. It is not only touched by the evil one (1 John 3:18), but the evil one is, as it were, the circumambient element in which it passively lies, and by which it is completely moulded in all its systems and customs and institutions. This is not a cheering view to take of the world; but it would be less cheering to think that the world is only as God intended it to be—that it has not suffered from a fall. The counterbalancing truth is that, bad as it is, it is loved by God, and is susceptible of redemption. And the Christian optimism, which we are warranted to entertain, is this—that the world, in all its thinking and fashions, will yet be on the right side, not fraught with peril, but fraught with deliverance to souls.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE REVEALING POWER OF THE INCARNATION. "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." This is the third "we know" which the apostle recalls. We know that the Incarnation is a fact. Through the Incarnation our understanding is Christianized, that we know him that is true, which is equivalent to being in him that is true, which again is equivalent to being in his Son Jesus Christ. This God whom Jesus Christ reveals, this is the true God, and eternal life. The proof of the Divinity of Christ here lies in this, that in his incarnation he absolutely reveals God as Father, as infinite Love, which is the highest truth about the nature of God, and also absolutely reveals eternal life, which is the highest happiness of God, he being, according to the thought of 1 John 3:11, the receptacle of it for us. From the center all things are made capable of ultimate explanation. The world, as it lies in the evil one, may seem to call up gloomy thoughts of God; but the Incarnation, the fact that Christ is come, and come into the midst of the world for its redemption, calls up bright, cheering thoughts of God. Parting word. "My little children, guard yourselves from idols." In parting, he naturally fixes on the word of special affection for his readers. In 1 John 3:18 he put forward Divine keeping—"he that was begotten of God [the Divine birth] keepeth him." Here he puts forward self-keeping—"guard ['keep,' with added emphasis] yourselves," i.e., in the use of means. The idols against which we are to be on our guard are the vain shadows that usurp the place of the true God. In connection with heathen idolatry, there are such false representations of God as these—that he is to be apprehended by sense; that he is confined to temples made with hands; that he has a divided sovereignty; that he takes delight in impurities and in the blood of human victims. In connection with idolatry, in the wide sense here to be thought of, there are such false representations of God as these—that he is pleased with our taking selfish gratification; that he does not extend his interest beyond our home, or some narrow circle with which we are connected; that he is indifferent to our happiness; that he does not notice our actions, and will not bring us into judgment for them. Let us oppose to these false representations of God the representation given in the Incarnation. Let us brood over this great fact till all vain shadows flee away, and God comes forth to us in all the splendour of his love. This is a word suitable for parting. We may think of John, now amid the realities of heaven, still beseeching us, and with greater intensity, to beware of the deceitful shadows that are here as often taken for God - R.F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 John 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24