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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Observe here, 1. The grand proposition laid down as the object of our faith, namely, that Jesus is the Christ; that is, that Jesus of Nazareth, who was born with, and lived amongst the Jews, was the Saviour of the world, the person whom Moses and the prophets foretold to be the Messiah.

Observe, 2. The duty required of us, namely, to believe that Jesus is the Christ; that is, not historically only, to assent that Jesus is the predicted and promised Messiah, but to express the truth of that faith in a suitable conversation.

Observe, 3. How evidential such a faith is of our regeneration; whosoever thus believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God; faith in Christ Jesus, as the great King, Priest, and Prophet of his church, accompanied with a holy life, is a sure mark and undoubted evidence of our new birth. Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.

Observe, 4. The affection which every person that is born of God bears unto God, He loveth him that begat; this is the ingratiating and endearing quality; it is this that commends both our persons and performances to God's acceptation; the service of love is therefore most acceptable, because most honourable to God, and most durable and lasting from us; the obedience of love will be lasting.

Observe, 5. What is the genuine effect, and natural product of this love to God, namely, a sincere affection to all the children of God: Whosoever loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him, every Christian that sincerely loves God, certainly loves the image of God in his saints and children; he that loves the father for his own sake, cannot but love the child for his father's sake, if like him, and the more like him, the more he loves him: He that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.

Verse 2

Observe here, That the sincerity of our love to the children of God is best discovered by our love to God, and obedience to his commands.

Quest. 1. What kind of love is required towards the children of God?

Ans. A love of esteen, a love of desire, a love of delight, and a love of service and beneficence.

Quest. 2. What kind of obedience towards God is that which springs from love?

Ans. It is uniform and universal; love regardeth the whole law in all its injunctions and prohibitions, and studieth to please the law-giver; it is pleasant and delightful, not a melancholy task, but a pleasing exercise; it is accurate and exact, it produces a severe circumspection over our ways, that nothing be done or allowed by us that is displeasing to the divine eye; and it is constant and persevering; that motion which is caused by outward poises will cease when the weights are down, but that which proceeds from an inward principle, or life, is continual; and such a principle is the love of God planted in the Christian's breast: By this then may we know that we love the children of God, if we love God and keep his commandments.

Verse 3

Our apostle in these words gives a threefold description of a sincere Christian. He describes him,

1. By his inward affection to God and Christ, and that is love; this is shed abroad in his heart.

2. By the action which flows from this affection, namely, obedience to God in keeping his commandment.

3. By the disposition and inclination from which that obedience doth proceed and flow, namely, a delight and cheerfulness in the doing of our duty. His commandments are not grievous; that is, they have nothing in them heavy or burdensome, but every thing that may render them at once both our duty and delight.

Learn hence, 1. That obedience is the most natural and necessary product of love; where love is the governing principle, it rules all the inclinations of the heart and actions of the life.

Learn, 2. That love makes our obedience to God cheerful and constant, delightful and lasting. Love is seated in the will, and that obedience which proceeds from it is out of choice, and purely voluntary. No commandment is grievous that is performed from love, and it makes obedience also constant. That which is forced from impressions of fear is unsteadfast, but that which flows from delight is lasting.

Learn hence, That the service of Christ is a very gracious, a most desirable and delightful service, not to sinners, whose minds the God of this world has blinded, whose consciences are cauterized, who have not only grieved, but quenched the Holy Spirit of God.

But, 1. It is not grievous in itself.

2. Nor is it grievous to a regenerate person: a sound eye never complains of light, but a sore eye is uneasy under it.

The commands of Christ cannot be grievous, because they exact things of us which are agreeable to our reason, suitable to our natures, consonant to our rational desires. We cannot give an instance of any one of the commands of Christ which is in itself grievous; that command of his, To do to others as we would have others do by us, is a dictate of nature as well as the law of Christ.

Verse 4

Two things are here observable, namely, a proposition, and the explication of that proposition.

Observe, 1. The proposition, Whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world. Every regenerate Christian is a victorious Christian, he is a conqueror, yea, the greatest of conquerors, he conquers the whole world.

Observe, 2. The exposition of this proposition, This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. It is a spiritual conquest, and spiritually obtained, even by faith.

Note here, 1. That the world is a Christian's grand enemy. A conquest supposes a combat and a combat supposes an enemy.

2. That every regenerate Christian is a victorious conqueror over this enemy. The Christian is a soldier as soon as he is a believer, and he is a conqueror as soon as he is a soldier. This is the victory; he hath his enemy under his feet, even whilst he is in the fight.

Note, 3. That the special weapon by which the Christian conquers the world, and his spiritual enemies, is his faith. Many warriors have done great things in conquering kingdoms, but this is a greater conquest than all theirs; their conquest was but poor and partial, only of some small parts of earth, but the Christian's conquest is unviersal; those conquerors whilst they prevailed abroad were slaves at home; whilst they were lords of nations, they were vassals to their own lusts; but these conquerors, which the text speaks of, begin their victories at home, and enlarge their triumphs over all enemies abroad: This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

Verse 5

Our apostle having spoken of the usefulness of faith in the former verse, that it overcometh the world, next discovers the object of this faith, which is this proposition, that Jesus is the Son of God.

Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? That faith which overcomes the world, is faith in the divinity and sonship of Jesus Christ. We overcome the world by believing in him that overcame it, even Jesus Christ, who hath purchased, promised, and prepared a better world than what we do see, or can see, with our bodily eyes, and has made us heirs of eternal glory.

Observe next, The argument by which the apostle proves that Jesus is the Son of God, the true Messias and the Saviour of mankind, namely, because he came by water and blood; that is, say some, by the testimony given him when he was in the water, at his baptism, both by John the Baptist, and the voice from heaven; he came by his Spirit, say others, as by water, to sanctify those that believe in him; and by his blood to make a full atonement for them; and admirable symbol of both, which was the flowing of water and blood both out of Christ's side, when he hung upon the cross.

It is a sweet meditation that Christ comes by water as well as by blood, by way of sanctification as well as by way of justification; his death not only discharges from guilt, but cleanses also from pollution and filth; blessed be God there is a fountain opened in the side of our Saviour for sin, and for uncleanness to wash in, and to be purged from.

Sanctification is as great, and in some respects a greater privilege than justification; for justification frees us only from misery and punishment, but sanctification frees us from sin, which is worse than punishment.

Again, real perfections are above relative perfections; now justification by Christ's blood is only a relative perfection, it makes us stand in a new relation to the law, by which before we stood guilty and condemned: but sanctification by the Spirit of Christ, signified here, and set forth elsewhere frequently, by water, is a real moral perfection, it changes the heart and nature, and makes us like unto God, yea, like unto him in his highest perfection, which is that of holiness.

Come then, O blessed Redeemer, by water and blood into our souls, with thy renewing grace and sanctifying Spirit, to purge our consciences from dead works, and to deliver us not only from the danger, but from the dominion of our sins.

Some by the Spirit's bearing witness understand the testimony which the Holy Spirit gave to Christ here upon earth, as touching the truth of his doctrine, the reality of his miracles,and the certainty of his mission; others understand by it, the Spirit's testimony in the Holy Scriptures, and in the consciences of believers, that Jesus Christ, is a divine person, and came by water and blood, both to save us at once from the wrath of God, and the rage of our lusts.

Learn thence, That the Holy Spirit of God speaking in the Scriptures, and breathing in the consciences of believers, bears witness to their soul, that Jesus Christ came to save them by the water of sanctification, as well as with and by the blood of redemption; and that the Spirit thus witnessing is a Spirit of truth.

Verse 7

That is, "There are three in heaven which do bear record to this truth here upon earth, namely, that Jesus is the Christ; that is to say, the three persons in the Holy Trinity, The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; the Father bore witness both at Christ's baptism and transfiguration also, when with an audible voice he declared, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

The Word bore record of himself, affirming frequently, plainly, and directly, that he was the Son of God, and making it manifest, by his doctrine and miracles, that he came from the Father; the Spirit bore witness to this, partly by descending on Christ at his baptism in the shape of a dove, and partly by descending on his apostles in the feast of Pentecost in the figure of fiery tongues, Acts 2:1 "

Learn hence, 1. That it was no easy matter to believe the truth of our Saviour's mission and miracles, and that Jesus Christ was the essential and natural Son of God. Though by the mouth of two or three witnesses every truth is established, yet in this and the next verse we have no less than six witnesses produced to prove our Jesus to be the Son of God, three heavenly, and three earthly witnesses. -- It is added, these three are one, one in testimony, say the adversaries of the Trinity, but not one in essence. One in both, say we, as one in testimony, so one in essence.

But suppose that we should grant that the oneness spoken of in the text is to be expounded of consent in testimony, agreement, and will, principally, yet will it prove the Godhead of Christ, and of the Holy Ghost; for in free agents, where there is the same will, there is the same nature: With men it is the same specifical nature; but with God, because there in but one only God, therefore it must be the same numerical nature.

Learn, 2. That there are three persons, yet but one God, that do bear witness to the divinity of Christ, and of the plenteous redemption wrought by him.

Verse 8

As if the apostle had said, "As there are three in heaven who have given us their testimony to the divinity of Christ and his doctrine here on earth, so there are three witnesses here below testifying the same thing, namely, the Spirit, in the preaching of the gospel, and in the souls of believers: the water, or sacrament of baptism, wherein we are baptized in the name of the Son, as well as of the Father and the blood, that is, the death of Christ, and the sufferings of those who have sealed this truth with their blood; all these do give testimony on earth to Christ's divinity from heaven."

Note here, That though much of these two verses be left out in many ancient copies of the Bible, as the learned Dr. Hammond takes notice, yet in copies more ancient they are found, and we have more reason to believe that the Arians left them out, that that the orthodox put them in, other texts that assert the truth being so abused. It has been the common course of heretics to disown the authority of such texts as do gall and pinch them.

Note farther, That the doctrine of the blessed Trinity stands built upon holy Scripture, as a firm basis, and impregnable rock, and the doctrine of the Anti-Trinitarians falls to the ground like Dagon before the ark.

Lord, let our understandings evermore stoop and yield to this divine revelation, though it contains such a doctrine as doth exceed the comprehension of human reason.

Verse 9

Our apostles's argument in these words is taken from the less to the greater, thus: "If, says he, for the believing of any thing it be ordinarily thought sufficient to have the testimony of two or three credible men, then surely the testimony of the faithful and infallible God, given from heaven, is much more worthy of belief; but the testimony given concerning Christ, that he is verily the Son of God, is evidently the testimony of the faithful God that cannot lie: therefore he that, after all the assurance which God has given of his Son's being a true and real Saviour, shall yet reject and disown him as such, does in effect accuse God of falsehood, and make him a liar, because he believes not the record which God has given of his Son: whereas the person that believes on Christ as the Son of God, and the true Messiah, is safe, having the testimony of God the Father without him, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within him as the Spirit of holiness, wisdom, and power: He that believeth on the Son hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not the Son, has made God a liar."

Learn hence, 1. That every testimony which God gives us is infallibly true.

2. That the testimony which God has given us concerning his Son Jesus Christ being the true and promised Messiah, has had its confirmation abundantly above and beyond other testimonies.

3. Therefore such as do not believe on our Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the world, they disbelieve the most undoubted and infallible testimony of God, and in his account make him a liar.

Lord! what a bold, presumptuous, and daring sin is unbelief? It gives God the lye, and makes the God of truth a liar.

Verse 11

As if our apostle had said, "The sum of God's testimony recorded in the gospel is this, concerning his Son Jesus Christ, namely, that God for his sake has made a free deed of gift, of pardon and salvation to the world, assuring them of grace here, and eternal life hereafter, upon condition of their believing acceptance, that is, of faith and obedience; and accordingly he that thus has Christ, he that accepts the merit of his blood, and submits to the authority of his law, hath eternal life, that is, he has an undoubted right unto it, and assurance of it, yea, he has it already initally, and in the first fruits; but he that, either by unbelief or disobedience, refuses Christ, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Learn hence, 1. That eternal life is the gift of God.

2. That this gift of eternal life is laid up for us in his Son.

3. That upon our having or not having union with and interest in the Son, depends our having or not having eternal life. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son, &c.

Verse 13

Our apostle entering now upon the conclusion of his excellent epistle, acquaints them with his design and end in the writing of it, namely,

1. That they might know they had eternal life, that is, both a right and title to eternal life, and might also attain to the knowledge and assurance of it.

Learn thence, That believers may in this life, without the help of extraordinary revelation, attain to a knowledge and well-grounded assurance of life eternal. These things have I written unto you that believe, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.

There is a threefold knowledge;

notional, which is barely the work of the understanding; experimental, which is seated in the heart, and visible in the life; fiducial, when a person is ascertained and assured of what he knows:

Thus here, these things I write, that ye may know that ye know, that is , be assured that ye know; a Christian may believe, and yet not be assured that he does believe; many have a vital act which have not fiducial act of faith; many have a faith of adherence that want a faith of evidence: Faith and assurance in a saint, differ as much as reason and learning in a man; every man has reason, but every man that has reason has not learning, which is the improvement of reason; thus every good man has faith, but every one that has faith has not assurance, which is the special fruit of faith.

This therefore was the first design and end of St. John's writing, that they might know they did believe; the second follows,

that those that did believe, might believe on the name of the Son of God; the meaning is, that they might more firmly believe, be more rooted, grounded, settled, and confirmed in the faith, so as to remain unshaken by all the storms of persecution that might fall upon them; this seems to be the sense of the apostle when he exhorts believers to believe.

These things write I unto you that believe, that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. The strongest believers may be exhorted to strengthen their faith, and to persevere in the faith, which they are strengthened and established in.

Verse 14

To enforce the foregoing exhortation to believers, namely, to be confirmed and constant in the faith, he shews them here what a special advantage believers have above other persons, namely, confidence in all their approaches to God; and a full assurance,

1. In general, that whatever they ask in faith according to his will, they shall obtain.

2. In particular, that our several petitions which we present unto God, shall in his own time, in his own way, and after his own manner, be granted by him, provided our persons and our prayers be qualified according to the gospel for the receiving of his promise.

Hence learn, That through our interest in Christ, and for the sake of his meritorious satisfaction and prevailing intercession, our prayers are certainly heard by God, and we shall assuredly have what God has promised to give, and we are fit to receive. God indeed does not always, nay, not often, come with an answer of prayer at our time, but he never stays a moment beyond his own time.

Learn, 2. That in all the prayers we present and put up to God, a special eye and regard must be had to the will of God, if we expect to be heard and answered. If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.

The will of God is the rule, not only of things to be done by us, but also of those things which we crave of God to do for us. The will of God under a threefold revelation is the rule and matter of prayer.

1. The will of God in his commands; whatever God hath required us to do, we may pray for power that we may do.

2. THe will of God in his promises; what God hath said he will give, we may pray that we may receive.

3. The will of God in prophecies; what God hath foretold shall come to pass, we may and ought to pray that it may come to pass.

The prayer of man gives birth to the prophecies of God, yea, and to the promises of God too. I will be enquired of, to do it for them. Ezekiel 36:37 Though God be a sure paymaster, yet he expects that we should put his bond in suit before he pays.

Learn, 3. That a prayer made according to God's will, shall certainly be granted according to our will. If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. When we pray for any thing in obedience to God's will, and with submission to his will, we know that we have the petitions that we ask of him.

Verse 16

Our apostle informed us in the foregoing verse of the comfort which believers have in their prayers for themselves, all that is requested by them is granted by God: now in the verse before us he relates the benefit which others receive by their prayers as well as themselves, assuring them, that if any of them did pray for an offending brother, they should be heard in what they desired, unless the person they prayed for had sinned the unpardonable sin, the sin unto death, by which we are to understand apostacy from the Christian religion unto idolatry, as appears from the following words, Keep yourselves from idols, which caution has no manner of dependence upon what went before, unless we understand the sin unto death in this sense; or if (with others) he call it the sin against the Holy Ghost, it comes to the same; for what is that sin but a renouncing of Christianity, denying the truth of the Christian faith, after illumination and conviction by the Holy Ghost, and maliciously persecuting the sincere professors of it?

Here note, 1. That a believer is not to hide his eyes from observing, but may and ought to take notice of the sins and miscarriages of his brethren: If any man see his brother sin, which he cannot do if he he neglect to observe him.

Note, 2. That a believer discerning and observing the sin of his brother, may and ought to pray for him. Let him ask, that is, importune God on his behalf.

Note, 3. That a believer's prayers may prevail with God for us, when our own prayers will not prevail for ourselves. Let him ask, and he shall give him life, temporal life at least, and upon his repentance and faith eternal life also.

Note, 4. That the state of some wicked men may be such, that were it certainly known, it might be a Christian's duty to cease praying for them. There is a sin unto death, that is, which doth not only deserve death, as all sin doth, and bespeak a person in a state of death, but a sin that argues a person to be twice dead, dead in respect of unregeneracy, and dead in respect of wilful and sinful apostacy. I do not say that ye shall pray for it, that is, for the person guilty of it, seing God never intends to forgive it.

Lord! how deplorable is the condition of those whose sins are past prayers, who give over praying for themselves, and others are stopt from praying for them! How sad is it, when the Lord shuts up the hearts of any of his from praying for us! It shews the sin of that man to be apprehended as being the sin unto death, when the faithful cease praying for him.

Yet note, 5. The apostle doth not here explicitly and simply forbid praying for such wretched persons, but only says, I do not say that ye shall pray for them; that is, I cannot give you any encouragement to pray for such, nor dare I promise you any good success in praying for them who have sinned unto death. I do not say; that is, I give you no warrant, I lay you under no command, I can give you no promise, that your prayers for such shall be heard and answered.

Verse 18

That is, we are all well assured that sincere Christians, who are begotten and born of God, do not commit this sin unto death, namely, apostacy from Christianity to the Heathen idolatry: But he keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not: that is, he preserveth himself from the contagion of idolatry, into which the devil was so busy to seduce a great part of mankind.

It may be further added, that he that is born of God, so far as he is a partaker of the divine nature, sinneth not; that is, suffers not any sin to have dominion over him, but takes care to preserve himself, through the assistance of divine grace, from Satan's deadly wound. He toucheth him not; that is, doth not touch him so as to leave an impression of his devilish spirit upon him. Non tangit tactu qualitativo, vel tactu lethali et martifero; "He shall not mortally touch them, to make them sin unto death."

Verse 19

That is, the far greater part of the world are under the dominion of that wicked one, being sunk into idolatry, and become worshippers of the devil, continuing in the midst of their impurity and malignity, and wholly set upon mischief and wickednes.

See here the darkness and horror of an unregenerate and unconverted state. Persons in it are under the dominion of Satan, that wicked one. But behold the blessed change that Christianity makes, not in the profession, but in the practice of it, it delivers from the power of darkness, and from the power of Satan, the prince of darkness, and translates us into the kingdom of God's dear Son.

Verse 20

As if the apostle had said, "We Christians are better taught by our religion, to acknowledge and worship the only true God by his Son Jesus Christ our only Mediator, and therefore exhort you to keep from idols;" intimating hereby, that the worshipping of any other besides this only true God, and by any other mediator, besides Jesus Christ, is idolatry, or the words may be sensed thus: "We are sure that the Son of God is come, and that Christ is he, who by his dcotrine and spirit hath enlightened us to know the true and living God, whilst the greatest part of the world worship false Gods, yea, adore the devil himself."

And farther, We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ; that is, we are by faith implanted into Jesus Christ, who is the author, purchaser, and disposer of eternal life, and therefore is true God. This text, which proves undeniably the divinity of Christ, the Socinians pervert by applying these words, This is the true God, not to Christ but to God the Father. But this makes the apostle guilty of a grand tautology, by saying, "The true God is the true God."

Besides, it is here said of the same person that he is the true God, and eternal life. Now, eternal life is thrice in this very chapter attributed to Jesus Christ, as the author and dispenser of it, 1 John 5:11-13. If then Christ be meant by eternal life, he must be also meant by the true God, for they are spoken of together when the apostle says, This is the true God and eternal life.

Lastly, our apostle concludes his epistle with this cautionary direction. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. As if he had said, "My advice to you is as that of a father to his own children, having received by the gospel the knowledge of the true God, keep yourselves from idols, or false gods of the Heathen, among whom ye live; abandon all idolatry, superstition, sacrificing to idols, frequenting idol-feasts, and all idolatrous communion, these things being inconsistent with the worship of the true God, and real Christianity. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/1-john-5.html. 1700-1703.
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