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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
1 John 5

 

 

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Verses 1-5

The nature of faith and love

1 John 5:1-5

The twofold theme of this epistle, saving faith and brotherly love, continues in this chapter as the apostle deals with the nature of faith and love and Christ, the object of both. Saving faith cannot be separated from love.

v.1. All who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ. The title, ‘the Christ,’ signifies ‘anointed’ and includes all the offices of the Son of God. To believe him to be the Christ is to believe him to be that Prophet Moses said should come, who has declared the whole mind and will of the Father. It is to believe he is that Priest that should arise after the order of Melchizedek and make atonement for sin and intercession for transgressors. It is to believe that he is that King whom God hath set over all things.

This believing is not a mere assent to the fact nor merely acknowledging it as the devils have done (Luke 4:41). It is to believe with the heart (Romans 10:9-10). It is to look to Christ, trust in him and receive him as our righteousness, to rest in his blood for cleansing, to lay hold of him as our only Saviour, Redeemer and Mediator.

Such faith is far above the reach of the human mind. It is the gift of God; it is the result of regeneration and a new birth, for we must be drawn to Christ by the Father (John 6:44-45).

Those who are born of God will love all who are born of God. Some understand this to be Christ, and it is true that Christ is the object of faith and love (John 8:42); but the apostle is saying, as in 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:12; 1 John 4:20, that all who love God love one another!

v.2. In this verse, John shows what true love is, the nature of true love! True love is when God holds the supremacy and pre-eminence! We may profess love to someone because of natural relationship, or social friendship, or from a benefit of favour received, or from a natural attraction; but this is not brotherly love, spiritual love, or continuing love. True love for others springs from true heart love for God. Carnal love stops when the relationship, the attraction, or the favors stop. This is self-love. But when we love God, we love them that belong to God and will never cease to love him or them.

v.3. Keeping God’s commandments is an evidence of love to God. This shows that love is not in word and tongue (in profession only) but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). If our hearts are really devoted to our Lord, then our chief desire will be to do his will and obey his word.

The commandments of Christ are not burdensome, heavy or disagreeable to one who is born of God and loves God (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 7:22). While we struggle with the motions and desires of the flesh, and while there is always a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the difficulty does not arise from the commandments of Christ, or our love for them, or our desire to be like him, but from our corrupt flesh (Romans 7:21-24; Psalms 17:15).

v.4. ‘Everyone that is born of God is victorious over the world, and this is the victory — even our faith.’

The word ‘world’ has a wide meaning: it includes whatever is contrary to the Spirit of God. The corruption of our nature is part of the world; all lusts, all the crafts of Satan, all evil are of the world. Though we are exposed to these, yet the Spirit of God declares we are already victorious; the enemy has been defeated and put to flight and in Christ we are more than conquerors! Our warfare continues through life, our conflicts are daily, but in Christ we have the victory (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).

v.5. Who has this victory? Who has this confidence and assurance? Who has this eternal life and deliverance? No one but the person who believes in, receives and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ obtains the victory — not trust and confidence in self, or in works, or even in our faith, but only in Jesus Christ. It is seeing the Son in the glory, fulness and suitability of his person, office and grace; going to him, trusting and living upon him. This shows that the victory over the world is not owing to the faith itself, but to its object, Christ, who has overcome it and made us conquerors in him.


Verses 6-10

Jesus Christ is the Son of God

1 John 5:6-10

v.6. In order that our faith and confidence may rest safely and securely on Christ (as stated in 1 John 5:5), John says that he is the complete substance and fulfillment of all that is typified in the ceremonial law. In the Levitical law, we meet continually with water and blood — by pure water all filth was washed away, so that men might come before God pure and clean, and by blood expiation was made, that men might come before God reconciled and justified! The whole perfection of sanctification and justification is fulfilled in Christ! (1 Corinthians 1:30). Christ’s side became the fountain of blood and water (John 19:34) in order that believers may know that cleansing (of which the ancient baptisms were types) is found in him and atonement (of which the ancient sacrifices were types) is found in him. He is our righteousness and redemption.

The Holy Spirit of truth, whose authority is unquestionable, bears witness in every believer to the sufficiency of Christ, that our faith might not vacillate and that we might have confidence before God (Romans 8:16). We do not go to the blood of Christ for justification and to the law for sanctification, but to Christ for both.

v.7. God, in order to confirm our faith in Christ as the Son of God, our Redeemer and eternal Lord and Saviour, bring forth the proper witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1; John 5:31). The heavenly witnesses of Christ’s sonship and redemption are the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one in essence, unity, purpose and testimony. At the baptism of Christ, all bore witness (Matthew 3:16-17; John 1:32-34) to his sonship and glory.

v.8. There are some that believe that these three on earth, that bear witness to his sonship, his redemptive work and his glory, are water baptism, the Lord’s table and the gospel. While it is true that these are witnesses of our Lord’s saving office, they are not the earthly witnesses referred to in this verse. Staying with the context, we will have to conclude that on the cross it happened by God’s purpose that both water and blood flowed from the side of Christ; so the Holy Spirit bears witness, through the word of God and the blood of Christ that not only some part of our salvation is found in Christ, but the whole of it. The heavenly witnesses are one and the earthly witnesses are in perfect unison with God’s righteousness, justice and purpose — the Spirit, the word and the blood.

v.9. If the witness of a sufficient number of credible men is accepted and believed by us, how much more should we receive the witness of God, which he has testified of his Son Christ Jesus, even the witness of the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the water, the blood and the Spirit in our hearts! (John 5:31-39.) God has not left himself without a witness. We have sufficient witnesses for a firm and strong faith in the Lord Jesus.

v.10. He who believes on the Lord Jesus as the eternal Lord, who came in the flesh, obeyed and honoured the law, brought in everlasting righteousness and justification for all who believe, has the witness of God in himself. His faith is not just a religious creed but a heart experience, not just a set of facts accepted but a living Lord revealed in him by the Holy Spirit. He knows his sin against God, the insufficiency of his own righteousness, his inability to please God or atone for sin and that without Christ he can do nothing. He has experienced the peace, joy and rest that come from finding all in Christ (Colossians 2:9-10).

He who does not believe on Christ is guilty of the greatest blasphemy. It is God (not men) that he does not believe, and he has made the God of truth to be a liar because he refuses the heavenly witness concerning Christ! Some wonder why God commends faith so much and condemns unbelief so severely. The glory of God is implicated in this. It is God who has borne witness of salvation in Christ.


Verses 11-15

Eternal life is in his Son

1 John 5:11-15

vv.11. This is the record, the sum and substance of all that is declared, written and preached. God, out of his pure free grace, because of his sovereign will and pleasure, is pleased to give to some of the fallen sons of Adam eternal life! This life is the spiritual life lost in the Fall, the life of God, the life of glory and fellowship with God, the life of righteousness and happiness and freedom from sin, sorrow and death forever.

This eternal life is in Jesus Christ — not only the promise of it, the purpose of it and the purchase of it, but life itself is in Christ (Colossians 3:4; John 14:6; John 11:25; Galatians 2:20). Three things are included here: first, we are al dead until God in grace restores us to life; second, this life comes to us through a vital union with Christ by faith and, third, we cannot otherwise partake of this life except in Christ.

v.12. The person who has Christ (that is, a spiritual and experimental knowledge of him, true faith in him and in whose heart Christ dwells) has eternal life. He possesses it now and has a right to that good hope of the fulness of the inheritance (1 John 3:1-2).

The person who has no saving knowledge of Christ (no faith in him nor enjoyment of him) is dead in sin, alienated from the life of God and shall die the second death (John 3:36).

v.13. The things that are written concerning salvation in Christ are not only written to encourage sinners to believe on Christ and come to him that they might be saved, but they are written to confirm and give confidence and assurance to those who already believe on Christ. There ought to be a daily progress in faith, a growth in faith, grace and the knowledge of Christ. How is faith confirmed? How is faith increased? Even by having the person and work, the office and power of Christ explained to us again and again. Eternal life is to be found nowhere but in Christ, and in order that those who are already in Christ might have assurance and make progress in faith, the preacher is to magnify over and over again the grace of Christ.

v.14. This is the confidence that we have in Christ (our Saviour, Mediator and Redeemer) that we dare to call boldly on God (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19-22). We dare to call God ‘Father’ (Romans 8:14-16; Hebrews 11:6).

‘If we ask anything according to his will.’ This passage is added to remind us that there is a right way or rule of prayer. Even when we subject our own wishes to the will of God we come to God only through Christ, we are persuaded that our prayers are heard (that he is to be believed) and we pray according to his will! (Romans 8:26.)

v.15. Since we know that God hears us — we have his promise, we are commanded in scripture to pray, we are taught by our Lord to pray (‘When ye pray say, Our Father’) and we have the example of the apostles, who were men of prayer — we can be sure that in God’s own time and way we shall have everything that we ask which is in accordance with his will (Luke 18:1; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 5:16).


Verses 16-21

The sin unto death - apostasy

1 John 5:16-21

v.16. John has been writing about prayer and encouraging believers to pray with confidence that God will hear us and grant those petitions that are according to his will. Those who have an interest at the throne of grace should make use of it for others, and especially for weak brothers and for those who are overtaken with sin. We are encouraged to pray for the lost, that God will save them (Romans 10:1); but this verse says if a brother (a born-again member of the church) is observed to sin (as the best of men do in word, thought and deed) or falls into sin, we are to pray for him! God will hear and give the brother life, by which may be meant comfort, peace and causing him to live cheerfully and not be swallowed up with sorrow and despair. Of course, the brother does not continue in the sin; he has a sense of it, a sorrow for it, is ashamed of it and forsakes it. ‘There is a sin unto death,’ which is not only deserving of death, as all sin is, but which shall certainly lead to death for all who commit it, with exception. John Gill says, ‘This sin unto death is the sin against the Holy Spirit — it is sinning wilfully, not in a practical, but doctrinal way by denying the truth of the gospel of Christ.’ John Calvin says, ‘This sin unto death is not a partial fall or a transgression of a single commandment, but apostasy, by which men alienate themselves from Christ and surrender themselves to Satan. We ought not rashly to conclude that any professed believer has apostatized; love should make us believe the best; but if one has departed, let us not contend with the justice of God or seek to be more merciful than he is!’ We are not urged to pray for apostates.

v.17. All unrighteousness is sin against God and is deserving of death; yet all unrighteousness is not unto death, first, because of the grace of God, second, because of the blood of Christ, by which we are justified and freely forgiven and, third, because of the mercy of God. David’s sin, Jacob’s sins, Peter’s sins were not unto death. They enjoyed repentance unto life and a fresh application of pardoning grace. Weak believers may read the preceding verse and be overcome with despair, so John adds, ‘There is a sin which is not unto death’ (Hebrews 8:12; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1).

v.18. We know that those who are regenerated by the grace of God, (who have Christ formed in them and are partakers of the divine nature) do not sin the sin unto death, which is apostasy, or a denial or the gospel of substitution and free grace. They do not fall away from the grace of God. They keep themselves in the fear of God, the faith of Christ and do not suffer themselves to be led away by Satan and surrender themselves to the deadly wound of Satan (Hebrews 6:4-6). All true believers sin, else why would we be taught to pray ‘Forgive us our sin’? Why should we be instructed to confess our sins? But true believers never deny Christ, his person, or work.

v.19. In order to be prepared for the contest of life, for the allurements and attractions prepared by Satan to draw men away from God, for the trials and difficulties ahead, we need to know two things: first, that ‘we are of God,’ born of God, loved of God, redeemed by God, called of God, sons of God and seated in Christ; and second, that ‘the whole word lieth in the wicked one,’ or is under the dominion of Satan. Therefore, we do not hesitate to shun the world, we do not fear its enmity and we do not covet its honors, because we are of God and the world is alienated from God.

v.20. The second person in the Godhead, equal to the Father and of the same nature with him, is come from the Father into this world, in the flesh, to work our salvation for his people by his obedience, suffering and death. He has given us a knowledge of spiritual things, of himself, of God in him, of the truths of the gospel and the mysteries of grace, that we may know the Father, the true and living God (John 17:3), and that we may know we are in Christ by covenant mercies, by faith and by the will of God. Christ is the true God and Christ is eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

v.21. ‘Little children, keep yourselves from false gods, from anyone and anything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God; keep yourselves from traditions, superstitions, images and religious practices and observances introduced by those who call themselves Christians, if these things are not according to the scripture and glorifying to God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/1-john-5.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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