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Bible Commentaries

The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures
1 John 5

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 20

XXXV. The Objects of Our Love—The Children of God and God Himself

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments."— 1 John 4:20 to 1 John 5:3

THE apostle has just announced the law of love: "We love, because he first loved us." He has still in his mind the twofold test of God's giving us his Spirit;—our "believing on the name of his Son Jesus Christ," and our "loving one another" ( 1 John 3:23). The Spirit in us confesses,—we by the Spirit confess,—that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; that he is the Son of God. It is a confession implying the believing recognition of all God's love to us in him. It implies therefore also the perfecting of God's love with us, so as to exclude fear, and insure our loving as he has first loved us. We respond to his love and reciprocate it; it reproduces itself in us. And it does Song of Solomon , as love going forth to the seen, not the unseen; otherwise it would not be our loving with God's very love to us; it would not be our loving because God first loved us.

I. "We love, because he first loved us." Whom do we thus love? "Him who first loved us," we say. And we say well. But let us beware. Our saying so may be deceptive; in saying it we may lie; not perhaps deliberately, but deceiving ourselves. There is less risk when the question is made to turn upon loving our brother; for we cannot so readily say falsely or mistakenly that we love the visible, as we can say falsely or mistakenly that we love the invisible. Hence the reasonableness of this test: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" ( 1 John 4:20).

But it may be asked: Wherein precisely consists the impossibility? Is it merely that it is easier and more natural to love one whom we see than one whom we have not seen; that the first is a lower attainment, more within our reach, while the other is more transcendental, spiritual, and sublime; so that if we cannot acquire the terrestrial virtue of loving our brother whom we have seen, it is vain for us to aspire to the heavenly elevation of loving God whom we have not seen? Nay, to put the matter on that footing is to degrade the grace of brotherly love, and wholly to destroy and overthrow the apostle's noble argument. It is by no means clear that our seeing or not seeing the object of the affection, makes any real serious difference as regards our faculty or capacity of loving. There is no reason why one whom we have never seen, whom we have known only by report and fame, or by his friendly offices towards us, should not draw our hearts out towards him more even than the most familiar friend whom we see every day. Nay, in this very case it must be so. The unseen God, known only through the discoveries of himself which he makes to us in his word, and the communications of himself which he shares with us by his Spirit, must command our affections more than the best of created beings our eyes can ever light on, if the due order of the two great commandments is to be observed. Nor will it do to hold that our loving our brother is in the least degree more easy or more natural than our loving God; as if, beginning with loving our brother, because Hebrews , being nearest us, is the most palpably manifest object of our regard, we might through that means hope to find our love rising to the more remote and less palpably manifest object, even God. No. This love of our brother is not a natural attainment, but a divine gift or qualification, and therefore has this testing-place assigned to it here. Consider again what it is for us to "love because God first loved us." It is loving as he first loved us; loving with the very same sort of love. But the only person whom I can love with that sort of love with which God has loved me is my brother. It is vain for me to say, in this view, that I love God. I cannot love God, in the sense and on the ground required, otherwise than through the intervention of my brother.

For the unseen God cannot possibly be to me the object of the kind of love with which he first loved me. That is surely love, not to the unseen, but to the seen. It was when he saw me in my original state, like "an unpitied child, cast out in the open field, to the loathing of its person, in that day that it was born," that he first loved me. "When I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live." To me, if I am the conscious object of that love, it must ever seem so marvellous as to be all but incredible, that, seeing me as I was, he should have so loved me; nay more, that, seeing me as I Amos , under all his gracious dealing with me, he should so love me still. It is because he is God and not man. Well may I, whom, thus seeing me, he so loves, love him warmly, gratefully, in return. It appears almost natural that I Should spontaneously love him; I feel almost as if I could not help it. But how apt is such a frame of mind, especially in a highly sensitive and excitable temperament, to grow into a sort of vague, dreamy, mystical or sentimental pietism, such as may be really little better than a refined form of solitary self-indulgence! At all events, it is not the love wherewith he has first loved me; it is not my loving as he has loved me. If I am so to love, I must love, not the unseen, but the seen. My love must go forth toward those whom I see, as God saw me when he first loved me. And my love must be what his love is; no idle sentiment or barren sympathy, but a love that seeks them, and bears long with them, and knocks, and waits, and longs, and prays, for their salvation; a love that gives freely, and without upbraiding; a love self-sacrificing, self-denying; a love that will lay down life itself to save them. And when they become by grace, what by grace I Amos , I must love them, as God loves me, for what I see in them;—yes and in spite of what I see in them too. I may still see many things about them to offend me. But what does God see about me? Do I not try my loving Father's patience far more than any brother can ever try mine? But still he first loveth me. He is ever first in loving me; notwithstanding my being often last in loving him. And shall I not be loving my brother, first loving him, and that continually? Shall I withhold my love until he is all in my eyes that I would like him to be? How would it be with me if God so postponed his love to me? Surely, "if I say I love God, and thus hate my brother, I am a liar;" what I profess is an impossibility. Let me rather give heed to his own announcement of his will: "This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also" ( 1 John 4:21).

II. This commandment of God still further explains the importance attached to our loving our brother, as a sign of the Spirit being given to us. And it does so in two ways.

In the first place, I may be apt to think that this setting of me upon loving my brother, as the test of my "loving, because God has first loved me" disparages the prior claim which God has on me, that I should love him. But it is not so. For I am now told that it is his special good pleasure that the love I have to him should, as it were, expend itself upon my brother. I need have no fear therefore of my love to my brother on earth interfering with my love to my Father in heaven; or being imagined to be a substitute for it. There is indeed a spurious sort of brotherly love; a vague philanthropy; which is sometimes put in the place of what God is entitled to claim. People substitute a certain easy constitutional good nature, instead of piety towards God; and even quote the loving apostle as an authority for doing so. They little know the heart of the man they quote, or the real spirit of his writings. Whatever importance he assigns to your loving your brother, it is to your loving him, because God has first loved you; loving him with the very love with which God has first loved you. And more than that. He appeals to the express commandment of God requiring you in this way to manifest and prove your love to him.

For, secondly, love to God is not ignored, or set aside. On the contrary, the very reason why loving your brother is insisted on so peremptorily Isaiah , that it is loving your brother in obedience to God, and out of love to God. In loving your brother, you keep God's commandment; and you keep it under a very solemn appeal, as it were, from him to you.

Let us hear his voice. You "say that you love me." You have good cause to love me, and I give you credit for loving me. But first, I have to remind you generally, that if "you love because I have first loved you," your love, like mine, must. flow out upon visible objects; on your brethren, such as they are seen in the world and in the church. And next, I tell you that this is my commandment:—If you love me, and as you love me, love your brother. I do not ask that your love to me, which I willingly accept, should manifest itself in any other way than that.

Ah! what a constant tendency is there in my heart to think that I can love God otherwise, and manifest my love to him otherwise, than in the way of loving my brother, and loving him simply at God's command. I would fain try to lavish upon God directly proofs of my affection, such as, if he were man and not God, might please him. I would fain make him the object of immediate familiar and affectionate acts and offices of endearment; as if I might return and reciprocate his love, as I would that of an equal. But he checks me. "He is my Lord; my goodness reacheth not to him." It is not thus that you can really act out the very love with which I have first loved you. To do Song of Solomon , you must deal as I do with the seen, not the unseen. Nay more. It is not thus that I would have you to act out the very love with ‘which I have first loved you, assuming that you return and reciprocate it to the full. For this is my commandment to you, that loving me you love your brother also. It is my commandment now, and will be the criterion, the test of my judgment, in the great day. For, hear the words of my beloved Song of Solomon , who is then to sit on the throne of judgment: "Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me;"—"Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

III. There is yet another view of the connection between love to the brethren and love to God suggested in the next verse, which seems to bring out the real explanation and ultimate principle of John's teaching as to the law of divine love "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him" ( 1 John 5:1).

Let the precise point of the argument be once more observed. It is that God's love to us should work in us love to our brother; and that in fact its working in us love to our brother is a better test of our knowing and believing it, than our professing any amount of love to God himself. It is Song of Solomon , first, because it is only in loving our brother whom we see, not in loving God whom we do not see, that we can exercise the very love wherewith God has first loved us. It is Song of Solomon , secondly, because in loving our brother we are obeying the commandment of him whom we profess to love; and so proving our love. And it is Song of Solomon , thirdly, because in loving our brother we love one who is begotten of God; and we love him as begotten of God; on the ground of his filial relationship to him who first loved us, and on account of whose first love to us we love.

My brother whom I love, let it be noted, is now viewed as a believer, a child of God. He was not always Song of Solomon , when I loved him with a brother's yearning pity and a brother's desire to save him, any more than I was always Song of Solomon , when God loved me with a Father's yearning pity and a Father's desire to save me. But he is so now; and I love him as such. Why? Because he is born or "begotten of God." I, as begotten of God, love him, as begotten of God. The bond of love is our being both of us begotten of God, and it is a bond which God owns and sanctions; for the essence of it is love to himself. It is love to him, but it is love to him in a special aspect or character; as a Father—as one who begets. Is not that, however, the very aspect, the very character, in which he best loves to be loved? Is he not from the beginning bent on being loved as a Father, as one begetting? Is it not in that aspect and character, as a Father, as one begetting, that he would be known and loved, when, "bringing in the first begotten into the world, he says, Let all the angels of God worship him"? Is it otherwise than as a Father, as one begetting, that he would be known and loved, when a voice from heaven proclaims, "This is my beloved Song of Solomon , in whom I am well pleased"? He cares not to receive honour or worship or affection at our hands, unless it is rendered to him as a Father begetting; as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes; he cries: if you would love me, as I choose to beloved, you must love me as a Father begetting. And the only sure proof of your so loving me, is your loving him who is begotten of me.

First and primarily that must imply your loving Jesus, the Christ, who alone is my only begotten, well-beloved Son. Hear him;—worship him;—if you would love me;—love me as the eternal Father begetting him from everlasting; love me as sending him to save, and raising him from the dead with this acknowledgment, "Thou art my Song of Solomon , this day have I begotten thee. But now in him I am begetting others to be my sons; so begetting them by the power of my Spirit, as to make them one with him who is my only begotten Song of Solomon , that he may be the first-born among many brethren." One after another, I am thus begetting children to myself. And every one of them is to me what my only begotten Son is. Can you say that he is so to you? He will be Song of Solomon , if you love me;—"For every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him" ( 1 John 5:1).

It is at this point exactly that these two affections, or rather these two modes of the same affection of love,—our loving because God first loved us, loving God as our Father and men as our brethren,—come to be welded, as it were, together; and the mode of reasoning seems to be reversed. For whereas before, our loving our brother is made the proof of our loving God in obedience to his commandment, now the matter is put in the very opposite way: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God" ( 1 John 5:2).

It is a seasonable and salutary turn that is here given to the train of thought. It ushers in a new subject. But first, it fitly finishes off the present one. It is a useful closing caution. Much stress has been laid upon your loving your brother; loving him as you see him; loving him because God commands you; loving him as begotten of God. But your love to your brethren needs to be carefully watched. Is it really love to them, as brethren, as children of God? Is it love to them with a view to their being children of God? Is it love to them because they are children of God? For it may be on other grounds and for other reasons that you love them. It may be a love of mere natural sentiment and affection; a love merely human; having little or nothing in common with the love with which God first loved you. To be trustworthy at all, as a test of God's giving you of his Spirit, and so dwelling in you, it must be love having in it the element of godliness; love having respect to God; love to them because God loves them and you love God. "By this we know that we love the children of God," as the children of God, when we love them because "we love God, and keep his commandments" ( 1 John 5:2).


Verse 2-3

Part Fourth. The Divine Fellowship of Light, Righteousness, and Love, Overcoming the World and Its Prince

XXXVI. Love to God Keeping His Commandments and not Finding them Grievous

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous."— 1 John 5:2-3

THE three elements or conditions of the "fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ," in which John would have us to be joint partakers with himself and his fellow apostles;—Light, the primary; Righteousness, the intermediate; Love, the ultimate one;—having been considered;—we enter, as it seems to me, on a fourth section of this great treatise, in which the divine fellowship regarded as complete is viewed in its relation to the conflict that is ever going on between God and the world, between the Holy and True One and the father of lies. The position of one enjoying fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ in light, righteousness, and love, demands on the one hand very thorough loyalty, and on the other hand ensures very thorough victory; loyalty as regards God and his law; victory as regards the wicked one and the system, or state of society, which he organises and influences, the world lying in him.

Hence the fitness or propriety of the introductory text in this part of the Epistle being one that enforces not only obedience, but obedience so thoroughly loving and loyal as to be divested of all the feeling of irksomeness that is apt to embitter a state of subjection and subordination.

For the assertion,—"his commandments are not grievous,"—is not an incidental remark merely; it is of the essence of the apostle's argument. If the test of God's giving us of his Spirit, and so dwelling in us ( 1 John 3:24, and 1 John 4:13), is to be pre-eminently our loving our brother ( 1 John 4:7 and 1 John 4:20, etc.), it concerns us much that our love to our brother should be itself thoroughly tried and proved. Is it love to our fellow-men as seen by us in the same light in which God sees them and us when he loveth us? ( 1 John 4:20) Is it, moreover, a love that has respect to God ( 1 John 4:21); that loves the begotten for the begetter's sake ( 1 John 5:1); that loves the children for the relation in which they stand to the Father; out of love to the Father himself, and in obedience to him? ( 1 John 5:2) This last condition is what really connects our loving them with our loving him. And it does Song of Solomon , in virtue of a general law or principle:—"His commandments are not grievous."

The statement is not absolute but relative. It points out, not what the commandments of God are in themselves, but what they are to us, in our sense and apprehension of them. It may indeed be most truly said of them, considered in themselves, that they are not grievous; on the contrary, they are all most reasonable, equitable and beneficent. Nothing that God orders us to do, nothing that he requires us to suffer, can fairly be called grievous. But to me they are too often very grievous.. I feel them to be irksome and heavy. Yes! That is the exact word. They are heavy, weighty, burdensome.

That is my fault, you say. Be it so. Let us ask how it comes to be so; and let us ask also how it may cease to be so.

But first, let us fix it, as a first principle, in our understandings and hearts, that no keeping of God's commandments will suffice to meet the condition or requirement now in question, that is a keeping of them as grievous. They are not kept at all, in the sense of the identification,—"this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments,"—if they are kept by us as grievous; if in keeping them we feel them to be grievous. Under this conviction, let us look into this matter of the grievousness of God's commandments, and the way of delivery from any sense or suspicion of their being grievous.

1. Beginning at the lowest stage, it is not difficult to see how God's commandments must be grievous to me, if I am bent on giving full scope to the movements of my inner man which are opposed to them. I cannot shake off the sense of their being binding on me; and binding on me under the sanction of terrible responsibilities. Let me drown conviction as I may in pleasure's bowl, or stifle it in the din and whirl of worldly business, conscience will not let me take ray ease; I cannot get rid of God's commandments. They haunt and harass me; they disturb and trouble me; they are grievous; often beyond expression grievous. How shall I ever shake off the feeling of their grievousness?

2. Shall it be by keeping them scrupulously, according to the strictest letter of the law? I become a painstaking Pharisee; a rigid and exact observer of all the commandments. They shall not be grievous to me any more, on account of my wilful opposition to them. But alas! they are grievous still. I may reduce them to a minimum of obligations, and stretch my keeping of them to a maximum of fulfilment. I may make the least I can of them, by turning their living spirit into outward formal acts; and I may make the most of myself and my obedience, in the way of exaggerating my sacrifices and services. Still God's commandments are grievous to me. My religion, such as it Isaiah , is a mere burden and oppression. I would shake it off if my conscience would allow me.

3. But my conscience will not allow me. It works in me deeper and deeper; carrying into the innermost recesses of my spiritual nature, not the letter only, but the spirit also of God's commandments. And now, their grievousness comes out in a new and most distressing experience. For now, not only is my conscience convinced, but my will is renewed, with reference to these commandments of God. Both of these results or effects are of the Spirit. They are wrought simultaneously, and in harmony with one another; they act and reset on one another. My conscience, quickened by the Spirit, sensitively apprehends a spirituality in God's commandments,—my heart reconciled by the Spirit, lovingly owns an excellency and beauty in them,—unperceived and unfelt before. I become alive in my conscience to the imperative necessity of real spiritual conformity in my spirit to the holy and loving spirit of the law; and that precisely when I am smitten in my heart of hearts with love to it, because it is so spiritually holy and loving. And what follows? If the work of the Spirit goes on, I sink deeper and deeper, as under a heavy burden, growing always heavier. There is an increasingly oppressive sense, in my conscience, riot only of obligation unfulfilled, but of new guilt contracted. There is an increasingly despairing feeling, in my heart, of the opposition of my nature to the commandments of God's law which I love. My very love to the commandments of God, my very "delight in the law after the inner Prayer of Manasseh ," brings out now more than ever the feeling of grievousness. Oh, how grievous to me are these commandments of my God, which I so heartily approve and love, but which, alas, I more and more helplessly complain that I cannot satisfy and keep! ( Romans 7:21-25)

4. But "there is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" ( Romans 8:1). The element of grievousness is extracted from God's commandments, only through my believing consciousness and experience of that great life-giving truth.

How complete is the provision thus made for eradicating every root of bitterness that might make us feel God's commandments to be grievous!

There Isaiah , first, a removal of the curse, or the condemnation, and a complete restoration of our right standing with God. The element of grievousness arising out of the law's righteous sentence of wrath is removed, in a way that completely divests the very sentence itself of all its grievousness. I cannot rebel against the judgment, however terrible, which the righteous law, with its broken com-rounds, entails on me; I cannot complain of it as grievous when, embracing the cross, I am one with him who there on my behalf endured and exhausted it. Nor can the demand of perfect compliance with the spirit of all the commandments, as the only condition of life, grieve me now, when I see it so fully met on my behalf by the obedience unto death of God's own beloved Son.

Then, secondly, there is the renewal of my whole moral nature, bringing it back to its original conformity to the nature of God, as that nature is expressed and manifested in his commandments. This also is essential to the removal of the feeling of grievousness, If I am a spiritual man as regards the commandments of God, then,—apart from the feeling of the utter hopelessness of my ever being justified, in the only way in which I now care to be justified, in terms of the law, fully vindicated and satisfied,—there is the other feeling of she utter hopelessness of my ever being sanctified, after the fashion of the only sort of holiness that can now content me, the holy loving law of the holy loving God. But here too my case is met. In Christ Jesus my Lord I have not only justifying righteousness but renewing grace. The grievousness of a felt discrepancy between my nature and God's commandments, between my spirit and theirs, need not continue. There may still be a vast difference in degree; but there need be no difference in kind. My moral nature and that of God are now one, if I am renewed after his image. May not the grievousness of his commandments now cease for ever?

5. An ominous fact here looms out from across the gulf that separates the primeval paradise from our present world. Before the fall, in the garden of Eden, God's commandment was felt to be grievous; the only commandment which he saw fit formally to give. The reptile insinuation—"Yea, hath God said ye shall not?"—found entrance into the ear, the mind, the heart of righteous innocence, created after the image of God. To Eve, to Adam, yet unfallen, with the divine likeness in which they were made still entire, the commandment of God came to be grievous. What are we to make of that?

It was the devil's fault, be it so; let him bear the blame. But what of his own sin and fall, the sin and fall of himself and all his host? There was no tempter admitted into their abode. There were no outward circumstances to explain the rise of any feeling of grief in their breasts. Yet to them, still unfallen, the commandment of God was grievous. What shall we say to these things? How do they affect us?

Ah! do they not serve to bring out a new and most blessed view of the gospel method of salvation? John says expressly and absolutely, without qualification or reserve, that "God's commandments are not grievous." He says this with reference to himself and all believers. His meaning must be, that he and they are in such a state, and of such a mind, as to preclude the possibility of God's commandments ever being, or ever becoming, grievous either to him or to them. And what does that imply?

If the plan of grace made provision only for our being restored, in respect of position and nature, to what our first parents were before they fell,—if we were to be even as the angels were,—however thoroughly that end might be accomplished, it would not afford any adequate security against God's commandments being felt to be grievous. For in fact, the risk to be obviated, the evil to be remedied and guarded against, is not that God's commandments in detail are grievous, some more so and some less, but that his commandments as a whole are grievous. The grievance is that he commands us at all. Even when the thing commanded is most easy and pleasant, most manifestly right and good, its being commanded may make it grievous. That was the case in heaven, when the commandment to "worship the Song of Solomon ," turned out to be grievous to so many of the yet unfallen angels. It was the case also in paradise, when the commandment not to eat of the forbidden tree became grievous to our first parents. It might be the case again, in paradise restored, in heaven gained, if we who are redeemed and renewed were to be merely such, in position and in nature, as the angels were in heaven, and our first parents were in paradise, before they fell. (See "Lectures on the Fatherhood of God;" especially Appendix I.)

The real seat of the mischief is not reached unless the very possibility of our ever feeling it grievous to be commanded is thoroughly, conclusively, and effectually pre-eluded and barred. And what potent spell, what resistless charm, is to secure that blessed result? What but the spell, the charm of love? And what love? What but the love which is God's very essence, manifested in a way altogether new and inconceivable beforehand; in a way in which, but for the entrance of sin and evil into his moral creation, it never could have been manifested? Yes. That love of God manifested in his sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,—known and believed by us,-bringing us into a perfect love-relationship to him and working in us love of the very same sort with itself,—that love of him who is love, thus manifested to us, apprehended by us, and reproduced in us,—that love it Isaiah , and that alone, which puts finally and for ever away out of our hearts every shred and vestige of the old spirit, the old leaven, which, jealous of restraint and aspiring to independence, counts it a grievance to be commanded. This is that new thing under the sun for which sin or moral evil gave occasion, and for which that alone could give occasion. This is God's method of overcoming evil with good; higher good than could ever otherwise have been reached. This is the triumph of love; reconciling man's proud soul to dependence and obedience; expelling the last lingering feeling of soreness because he is under authority; the last lingering feeling of desire to be his own master, or to rule himself.

Ah! if that love has its free course in me; if I know it and believe it; if I enter cordially into that perfect relationship and fellowship of love for which it makes provision, and consent to be on that footing of perfect love with God on which he would have me to be; if now, in consequence, all servile fear is clean gone out of me, and only filial reverence and affection reign within me; how can it ever, at any time, seem to me grievous that this God should command me?

Grievous! O my redeeming God, my loving Father, the loving Father of my Lord! Grievous that thou shouldst command me! Grievous that I should be under thee! Grievous that I am not independent of thee; left to choose for myself, instead of having thee to choose for me; left free to do my own will, and not thine! Nay, I will not, I cannot any more take exception to thy rightful rule over me, O thou loving God and Father who so lovingly makest me thine own! No, nor to any instance of its exercise, be the instance what it may. Whatever thou commandest, in the line of doing or of suffering, shall please me now, simply because thou commandest it. I dare not promise that there shall be no groans, and tears, and cries, in the doing or the suffering of it. There were groans, and tears, and cries, in the doing and suffering of thy will, when the doer and sufferer of it was thine own beloved Son. But to this I will seek to attain, thy grace helping me, that to me now, as one with him, not one of thy commandments shall ever be more grievous than was that "commandment" to him, in obedience to which "he laid down his life for the sheep."

That was his loving us, with a true brother's love, because "he loved God and kept his commandments." That also was his "overcoming the world," and the world's prince. Thus he proved his love to God, by keeping his commandments; keeping them as not finding any of them to be grievous. Not grievous to him was the commandment to save his people by dying in their stead. Not grievous to him was the commandment to encounter Satan on their behalf, and win for them the victory over Satan's world.

And now what is his word to you? Is it not a word giving you the assurance that you in him will find God's commandments no more grievous to you than they were to him? Yes! Once more hear his voice: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." All ye that labour and are heavy laden; ye who are painfully seeking to fulfil the letter of God's law and finding it very hard; working laboriously at religion as at a weary task; feeling God's service to be a very drudgery and weariness of the flesh;—or ye who, smitten with a sense of the beauty of holiness, the spirituality of the commandment, and the exceeding sinfullness of sin, are desperately striving to get rid of indwelling corruption, and bring your whole inner man into subjection to God and to godliness;—"all ye who labour and are heavy laden," not succeeding, not attaining, not able to rise above the feeling of its being, after all, a heavy load that is imposed upon you in the keeping of God's commandments,—"Come unto me; I will give you rest."

But how? "Take my yoke upon you." "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Thy yoke, O blessed Jesus, easy! Thy burden light! The yoke thou didst take on thyself when thou didst consent to serve and obey, even to the laying down of thy life for us,—was that easy? The burden thou hadst to bear when, all thy life long and in thy death, thou hadst, in obedience to the Father, and as his servant, to carry our sicknesses, our sorrows, our sins,—was that light? Is it that yoke of thine that thou invitest us to take upon us? Is it that burden of thine that thou callest us to bear? And is it in the taking upon us of that yoke of thine, and in the bearing of that burden of thine, that thou assurest us we shall find rest unto our souls?

Even so. Thus and not otherwise will I give you rest when you come to me,—"Take my yoke upon you." But that it may be really my yoke that you take upon you,—"Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." Learn of me my own meekness and lowliness of heart. Learn of me, coming to me, abiding in me, growing up into me, getting it from me and in me,—learn of me that meek, lowly, hearty love and loyalty to my Father,—having in it no element at all of the servile, for all in it is filial,—which makes the hardest yoke easy, the heaviest burden light. For it is thus that, in the consciousness of unbroken filial oneness with him who lays on me the yoke and the burden, I can lift up to him the eye of quiet resignation and reliance, and say,—"Father, glorify thy name:" "Father, not my will, but thine be done;" "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Thy commandments are not grievous to me, for "by keeping them I abide in thy love" ( John 15:10).


Verse 4-5

XXXVII. Filial Faith Overcoming the World

"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"— 1 John 5:4-5

HERE again the apostle brings in "the world;" and he does so in the very midst of a singularly high estimate of the believer's standing and character. He has placed him in a relation of close intimacy with God, and of serious responsibility as regards the special duty which that implies. For what is brotherly love, as John describes it? It is our letting the very love with which God has loved us go forth, through us, to all men; and our embracing all who accept that love as brethren in the Lord. John has associated this exercise of love on our part, not only with God's love to us, but with our obligation of loving obedience to God. That loving obedience, if it is to be the obedience of persons accepting and transmitting the love of God, must be uncomplaining and ungrudging. It must be obedience counting none of God's commandments grievous; because it owns freely God's absolute right to command, and therefore confesses that nothing which he commands can be wrong.

But the world comes in; and it must be somehow disposed of, and got rid of. It must be disposed of, and got rid of, in its bearing on our position and our duty as now brought out. In this view I ask you to consider—I. What the world Isaiah , and how it is that the only way of dealing with it is to overcome it. And II. How the world is to be overcome by the new birth and through faith.

I. The indefiniteness,—the sort of unsatisfactory vagueness,—that is sometimes felt to attach to the scriptural idea of the world, is here somewhat obviated by the connection or train of thought, in which it occurs. The fact ( 1 John 5:4), that "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world," is given apparently as the reason why to such a one ( 1 John 5:3) "the commandments of God are not grievous." The world, therefore, it might seem, must be characterised by an impression or feeling to the opposite effect;—that the commandments of God are grievous. Wherever that. impression or feeling prevails, there is the world Of course, there are other characteristic features by which the world may be recognised and identified; some of which are brought out elsewhere in this epistle, as well as in other books of the New Testament. For the most part, indeed, when the world is spoken of in any passage of scripture as the antagonist of God, of his kingdom, his cause, his people, his law, there Isaiah , in the passage itself, some clue to guide or help us to a right apprehension of what particular aspect of the world is meant. And it might serve to give point and precision to the teaching of any scriptural text on the subject of the world,—its relation to us as believers and our attitude towards it,—if instead of contenting ourselves with a general notion of it, as a system or society somehow opposed to godliness, we fastened on the exact sort of opposition which the text in question may be fitted to suggest. As to our present text, for instance, we can have little difficulty. What is the world which faith overcomes? It is whatever system or way of life, whatever society or companionship of men, tends to make us feel God's commandments, or any of them, to be grievous.

Here then, at all events, we have no mere vague denunciation of some formidable, but somewhat dim and shadowy enemy; but a definition sufficiently intelligible, and sufficiently precise and practical. Ponder it for a little, and apply it as a test. What is the world to you? It is whatever, it is whoever, is apt to make you feel God's commandments to be grievous. That is a searching test, if faithfully applied by one deeply conscious of that carnal nature in himself, even in his renewed self, which is ever ready to prompt or to welcome the suggestion. That carnal nature in you is not necessarily the world; but all that ministers to it is the world. The natural disposition in you to count the commandments of God grievous is very strong. Do you feel its strength? Are you sensitively alive to its continual and powerful working? Does it vex and distress you? If Song of Solomon , and in proportion as it is Song of Solomon , you are in a position to discern this mark by which the world may be known; whether as an order of things, or as a fellowship of men.

There is an order, or, if you will, a disorder, of things; a way of occupying the mind, amusing the fancy, gratifying the taste, stimulating the passions, warming the imagination, interesting the heart; which, if you are spiritual, and honest in your spirituality, you must feel, when you try it by this touchstone, to be the world. Ask yourself, at the close of an hour or two, or half an hour, spent in reading, or in musing, or in walking abroad, or at table, or at any sort of work, or recreation, or elegant accomplishment that you like:—Has the occupation left you less inclined than you were before to comply with a call of duty, to submit to a sacrifice of inclination, to engage in prayer, to go forth on an errand of pious love? Are you more disposed than otherwise you might have been to feel any such demand upon you to be a sort of interruption, and as such to be somewhat irksome? I am not concerned to maintain that absolutely and always this is of itself proof positive that what you have been occupied about is the world. But this I say; it is at least a very strong presumption. And when you find that upon your being occupied in the same way a second time, or a third, the effect is much the same, the presumption rises into certainty. Whatever it may be as regards others, so far as you are concerned, to all practical intents and purposes, that is the world. So also, in the matter of your intercourse with men, this rule of judgment will often help you to separate the precious from the vile. Who are they from whose company, however otherwise pleasant and profitable, you come, a little, just a very little, more apt than is your wont, to think that God is pressing rather hard upon you, or upon some other child of God whose case you pity? You are tempted slightly to lose patience and temper. You may be at a loss to explain how this comes about; for you cannot perhaps lay your finger on anything particular in what has been going on that may explain it. But you feel it; and that should be enough for you. Do not hesitate to acknowledge that such meetings and companionships are to be regarded and treated by you as the world. Let it be fixed in your minds as a great truth, that the world to be overcome comprehends all that you come in contact with which has any tendency to awaken in you the feeling that "God's commandments are grievous."

If this is a true account of the world, as here presented to us, it must be very evident that it is a world to be "overcome." We cannot deal with it, if we would avoid its deleterious and deadly influence, in any other way. We cannot escape from it, or put it aside. As regards some of its forms and manifestations we may do so. Where we have freedom of choice, we may shun its occupations and companionships. And when these are of such a nature in themselves, or have such influence upon us,—or upon any brother whom we are called to love,—as to foster the impression of God's commandments being grievous, we are bound to shun them. We are under no obligation whatever to frequent the theatre, the ball-room, the racecourse; to court the friendship of dissolute hunters after pleasure or frivolous votaries of fashion; to expose ourselves to the contamination of unprofitable reading and discourse. So far we may and must "come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing, if we would be the sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty." But we do not thus get rid of the world. It still presses hard upon us, with its suggestions from every side that the service of God is not perfect freedom. All the ongoings and arrangements of its necessary business, even the customary usages of the home circle itself, are but too ready to convey impressions to that effect. Nay, in the loneliest desert, in the remotest cell hermit ever dwelt in, we cannot shut out airy voices whispering in the ear that something we have to do or bear is hard; we cannot lay an arrest on ideal fascinations shedding a gloom on the cloister's austere devotion, or on the real trials of life. No; the world cannot be shunned. Neither can it be conciliated. We cannot make any compromise with it. The only effectual, the only possible, way is to overcome it.

And the manner of overcoming it must be peculiar. It must be such as thoroughly to meet and obviate that tendency to minister to a rebellious frame of mind which constitutes the chief characteristic, and indeed the very essence, of what is here called the world.

II. Two explanations accordingly, of this overcoming of the world are given; the one having reference to the original source, the other to the continued following out of the victory ( 1 John 5:4).

1. "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." So the victory begins; that is its seed or germ. And as to its seed or germ, it is complete; potentially complete, though not so in actual result, fully and in detail. Being born or begotten of God implies the overcoming of the world. For whatever is born of God necessarily, ipso facto, overcomes the world. The statement is very wide; and it seems evidently to imply that there is positively no other way of overcoming the world except by our being born or begotten of God: that God himself could not enable us to do this otherwise. There is that in our being born or begotten of God which secures, and which alone can secure, our overcoming the world. And what can that be but the begetting in us of a frame of mind which cuts up by the roots the whole strength of the world's hold over us;—the idea, namely, of God's commandments being grievous?

Consider, in this view, what it is to be born or begotten of God. It is more than being created, or even created anew. It is not our being made anew, or made over again; as if the simple fiat of omnipotence went forth: Let what has made itself corrupt be Revelation -read, pure as at the first. That would not be begetting on God's part, or being begotten on ours. The new birth is indeed a new creation; but it is something more; at least it is a new creation of a very special sort. Christ's birth was a creation. In his birth there was created for him a body, a holy humanity, in the Virgin's womb. But the angel said, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." He was to be called the Son of God in a higher sense than any sense in which the first man might have been so called; and that with reference even,—nay with reference especially,—to his human nature and condition. He was made Prayer of Manasseh , not by a mere creative act as Adam was, but by generation; being "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit." So also in us the new creation is a new birth. When the Holy Spirit makes us new creatures, we are "begotten of God;" "his seed is in us," the divine germ of a new nature and a new life.

This, let it be noted also, is something more than God's consenting to reckon us his children, by a gracious act of adoption. It is his making us really, in our very nature, his children. It is not merely that he takes us to be on a new footing with him, as I might take a houseless orphan to be to me as a son. Literally and truly he begets us as children to himself. The houseless orphan whom I desire to have for my son may never be really a son to me. I may fail in all my attempts to make him, in any true or valid sense, my son. He will be my servant, because he cannot help it; he will render to me punctual, and even punctilious, obedience. But alas! it is not such obedience as I care for. I see too clearly that he often looks on me still as a hard master, and feels my commandments to be grievous. No such disappointment can await the Almighty Father. He begets by his Spirit those whom he adopts in his Son. They are begotten of God; begotten by the agency of his Spirit, as his incarnate Son was; begotten, to be to him what he is; to feel towards him as he feels. That ensures their overcoming whatever might tempt them to count God's commandments grievous; or, in other words, their overcoming the world.

"Look unto Jesus." Was ever any servant of God,—for such he was,—placed in circumstances more likely to make the commandments of God be felt as grievous, such commandments especially as he had to fulfil? Go with him through all his experience in the world. The commandments of God laid on him; the things he had to do, the things he had to suffer; were surely capable of being represented to him as grievous, and regarded by him as grievous. They were so represented to him by the world and its prince. Were they so regarded by him? And if not, why not? Because he was "begotten of God;" begotten of God, not merely as to his divine nature, but as to his human nature also; as "God manifest in the flesh;" "Jesus Christ come in the flesh;" "the man Christ Jesus." In respect of his manhood, as well as his Godhead, he is the only begotten Son of God; occupying a son's place in the heart of God; having a son's affection towards God in his own heart. Therefore no commandment of God, whatever tears and groans and cries it might exhort from his feeble flesh, could ever be grievous to his filial spirit. Song of Solomon , in virtue of his being born of God, he overcame the world.

And so also we in virtue of our being born of God, overcome the world; the world which is ever insinuating that the commandments of God are grievous; that the things he requires us to do, and the things he requires us to suffer, are hard. We never can withstand these insinuations of the world, fitting in so well into our own carnal disposition, unless we stand in a filial relation to God, and are possessed of a filial frame of mind, a filial heart, towards him; being not only adopted by him, but begotten of him. But being his children indeed; standing to him in the relation of sons, and having our whole inner man renewed into harmony and correspondence with that relation; being to him all that his only begotten Son Isaiah , and feeling towards him as his only begotten Son feels; we have such personal knowledge of him as our Father, such loving acquaintance with him, such insight into his character and plans, such cordial sympathy with him in the great work which he is carrying on in the earth, as must convince us that nothing he can demand of us as his ministers and servants, nothing he can lay upon us, can be anything else than what we ought to welcome in the words and in the spirit of Jesus: "I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.

2. This implies faith; and faith in constant and lively exercise. Our overcoming the world is not an achievement completed at once, and once for all, in our being begotten of God. It is a life-long business; a prolonged and continuous triumph in a prolonged and continuous strife. We are to be always anew, all our days, overcoming the world; "and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Our being born of God does indeed give us the victory; it puts us in the right position, and endows us with the needful power, for overcoming the world. But we have still before us the work of actually, from day to day, all our lifelong, in point of fact, overcoming the world. And it is by faith that we do so. Our being born of God is the source of the victory; our faith is the realisation of it, or the acting of it out. Our being born of God fits and qualifies us for overcoming the world; our faith really overcomes it.

Nor is it difficult to harmonise these two things; our being born of God and so overcoming the world, and the victory which overcometh the world being our faith. For our being born of God, which is the secret of our overcoming the world, is itself intimately connected with faith; it originates faith and culminates in faith; its immediate outgoing in activity is faith. And therefore faith, continually exercised, constantly acting, is the instrument of victory. Nor is it merely faith apprehending a past event in our moral history, an accomplished change in our spiritual condition, our being "born of God." It is faith exercised upon a present object; not looking back or looking in, but looking out; "looking unto Jesus." For "who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Jesus is the ever-present object of this ever acting faith; Jesus considered as the Son of God. For it is the sonship of Jesus that our faith grasps, embraces, and appropriates. And it is because it does so that it is "the victory which overcometh the world." Who is he who is at any given moment, and with reference to any given trial or temptation, really overcoming the world? Is it not he who, at that very moment, and with special reference to that very trial or temptation, is "believing that Jesus is the Son of God;" so believing as to be one with him in his being so; of one mind and of one heart, then and there, as to the precise matter in hand or the particular question raised; of one mind and heart with Jesus the Son of God; judging the case as Hebrews , the Son of God, would have. judged it; feeling as. Hebrews , the Son of God, would have felt; acting as in the circumstances Hebrews , the Son of God, would have acted?

Jesus himself had to overcome, and did overcome, the world. How? Was it not by faith by faith in his own sonship, or rather faith in God as his Father, faith ever intensely and vividly realising it as a truth that God was his Father? It was as the Son of God that he looked out upon the world; from his Father's point of view. It was as the Son of God that he met the world's attractions; the consciousness of his Father's love stripped them in his eyes of all their charms. It was as the Son of God that he was tempted; trust in his Father's faithfulness kept him without sin. It was as the Son of God that he suffered, and suffered willingly, that his Father might be glorified. Into his pure, calm, filial spirit, there never did, there never could, enter the very faintest shadow of a suspicion that anything his Father ordered or ordained could be otherwise than just, and right, and good. Therefore the world had no hold over him; "the prince of the world had nothing in him." There was not in him any latent or lurking element of possible impatience under the yoke, to which the world might appeal, and by means of which, persuading him that God's way was harsh, the world might subdue him. For though he became the servant of the Father, he was still the Son; and therefore in serving the Father, being still the Song of Solomon , he overcame the world. So we also, believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and being ourselves sons of God in him, may find that in this way we can overcome the world. At all events, we may be very sure that there is no other "victory that overcometh the world" but only this faith; this filial faith in God our Father; giving the lie to all the world's aspersions on his character, and all the world's complaints against his government and law.

O child of God, wouldest thou overcome the world? Is it thine earnest, anxious, longing desire so to overcome the world that it shall never have power any more to make thee feel any one of thy God's commandments to be grievous? Is it a distress to thee that such a feeling still prevails so much and so often in thy secret soul; that thy walk before God, thy fellowship with God, thy service of God, are all so marred, tainted, cramped, and hindered, by the ever-recurring suggestion that this or that thing required of thee is hard? Yes; it is hard to cut off a right hand and pluck out a right eye; hard to deny self and take up the cross; hard to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; hard to go forth unto Christ without the camp bearing his reproach; hard to forego a seemingly harmless pleasure; hard to part with one dearly beloved; hard to bear excruciating pain; hard to die by premature decay; hard to lay down life for a brother! Ah! is it a grief to thee, a sore mortification and disappointment, that thou art so easily moved by the world; for it is thy love of the world, or the world's power over thee, that moves thee; thus to think, thus to feel, if not even thus to speak? Here, and only here, is the remedy. Believe, be always believing, that Jesus, so called because he saves his people from their sins, is the Son of God; that it is as the Son of God that he saves thee; and that he saves thee so as to make thee a son; being himself the first-born among many brethren. Rise to the full height of that great position. Realise its greatness; the greatness of its freedom; "the glorious liberty of the sons of God." That is "the victory which overcometh the world," even such faith as that.


Verses 5-8

XXXVIII. The Three Witnesses and Their Agreement

"This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. And there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." (I acquiesce of course in the rejection of the7th verse, and of the words "in earth" in the8th verse, as not in the original. I need not argue the point, for it is now all but universally admitted by intelligent critics.)— 1 John 5:5 and 1 John 5:8

THE faith which is "the victory that overcometh the world" has for its object Jesus, viewed as the Son of God; for "who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" This faith, however, does not simply contemplate Jesus as the Son of God; dwelling exclusively either on his original and eternal sonship, or on that sonship as manifested in his human nature. It has to deal with his work as well as with his person. It has to deal with him as "come:" "come in the flesh;" "come into the world." And in particular, it has to deal with two accessories or accompaniments of his coming; two distinguishing facts or features characteristic of the manner of his coming and its design. He came, he is come, through the medium, or in the element, not of water only, but of blood also. So coming he is "Jesus the Christ;" the anointed Saviour; and it is our faith in him as the Son of God so come, as Jesus Christ coming by or with water and blood, which is the victory that overcometh the world. "He is come by water and blood;" not "by water only," as his forerunner came, "but by water and blood;" himself undergoing a baptism of blood as well as of water, and so having blood and water available for those who are one with him.

This was conclusively indicated when on the cross his side was pierced, and "forthwith came there out blood and water" ( John 19:34). Then he was seen coming by water and by blood. And the fact was verified on the spot. "He that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" ( John 19:35). So John writes in his Gospel, very emphatically giving us his testimony, as an eyewitness, for a ground of our faith.

Here, in his epistle, he points to testimony still higher; not human, but divine; testimony, not to the mere matter of fact which he saw, but to its spiritual significance and power, that we may so believe as by our faith to overcome the world: it is the Spirit that beareth witness." And of the Spirit as bearing witness, not only may it be said that "his record is true and he knoweth that he saith true," he is truth itself; "he is himself truth," and he guides into all truth. This is a greater witness than John could be; for the Spirit attests, not the outward historical occurrence merely, but its inward meaning and saving virtue.

But even the Spirit can thus bear witness only by associating with himself two other witnesses. These are "the water and the blood;" the very water and the very blood by which Jesus Christ came. Bearing witness that he so "cometh by water and blood," the Spirit makes the water and the blood themselves witnesses along with him; so that "there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood and these three agree in one" ( 1 John 5:8).

Two topics here suggest themselves for inquiry—I. The manner of this threefold testimony; and II. Its harmony and completeness.

I. Let the manner of this threefold testimony be considered. Let the witnesses be, as it were, called in court; first the single witness indicated in the sixth verse, the Spirit; and then the other two pointed out in the eighth, the water and the blood.

In the first place, "the Spirit beareth witness." He is the first and principal witness: preeminently, the witness-bearer. That he is a fitting witness cannot be doubted; the only question Isaiah , how does he give his testimony? For he does not appear visibly; he does not speak audibly; we neither "see his shape at any time, nor hear his voice." And yet it is to us that he testifies; and he testifies to us personally, as the living Spirit to living men, present with us here and now. How then does he make his presence known? And how does he make the purport of his testimony understood? We are called in this matter to take evidence and decide a cause; and, strange to say, the first and principal witness cited is one whom we neither see nor hear.

But there may be evidence of his presence as satisfactory as sight; and there are modes of conveying testimony as intelligible and unequivocal as spoken language. The Spirit may announce his presence by "a rushing mighty noise," or by his swift descent, like a dove, from on high. By lambent flames, "cloven tongues as of fire," resting or flickering over the heads of an assembled company; by new and strange languages proceeding from their mouths; by some evidently supernatural work wrought; by some supernatural gift, or endowment, or power imparted; or by moral miracles of converting and quickening grace, as indisputable as any of these; the presence of the Spirit may be ascertained. And if now having him actually with us, we inquire what as a witness he has to say; then, in the inseparable connection which is to be observed between these signs of his presence and certain facts or statements otherwise known to us, we may obtain a silent indeed, but a sufficiently explicit reply. We have the word spoken at first, and then written, by holy men of old as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit, by whose inspiration that word was originally given, may significantly acknowledge it now as his own, by accompanying tokens of his influence not to be mistaken. He may, as it were, in our presence and to our satisfaction, before whom he is cited as a witness, homologate what he dictated ages ago; and so expressly signify, by some unquestionable demonstration of his power, his actual concurrence now in what was said or written then, as to make it strictly and directly his testimony to us personally; and his testimony brought down to the present hour. Thus, in the word, we have the deposition of the Spirit as first and principal witness in this great cause; we have the precise matter of his testimony. And we have it, not merely as the written report of former evidence, but as evidence emitted anew by him to us now.

This is especially important. The appeal is clearly made, not to the Spirit as having borne witness formerly, and left his testimony on record, but to the Spirit as bearing witness now. For the witness in this case is not, as in other and ordinary cases, one who dies or goes out of the way. In such cases, we must content ourselves with the notes of the deposition, the report or record of the testimony, as given by him and taken down at the time. Here, the witness is ever living and ever accessible. He is not afar off; he is always at hand; to verify his own evidence. Nor can he be at a loss for ways and means of doing so. He is indeed determined, so to speak, to preserve his incognito and keep himself concealed. But he is almighty, the Spirit of power, having command over all the moving forces of the world, the world both of matter and of mind. Therefore he can give intimation of his presence by works peculiarly his own. And these works now he may so connect with words spoken or written of old, as to make us feel, not only that he then suggested the words as his, but that he is addressing them to us now as his; not only that he did once bear witness, but that he is now bearing witness, and that this is his testimony. Thus the Spirit bears present witness through his own inspired word.

And now, secondly, in the course of giving this testimony, in his very manner of giving it, the Spirit associates with himself other two witnesses, "the water and the blood." And these, like the first, are present witnesses. The Spirit, in bearing witness, "takes of what is Christ's and shows it unto us." He points to the Son of God, Jesus Christ come in the flesh; and especially to his coming "by water and blood."

But how, it may be asked, can the water and the blood be brought forward as witnesses now? They might bear silent testimony at the time when they flowed from the smitten side of Jesus on the cross, and they to whom the Spirit was then bearing witness might see, through his teaching, as the dying thief did, in the pure water and the precious blood, a confirmation of the truth concerning Christ, that in him there is not only renewal of nature, but redemption also, and remission of sins. But the water and the blood are not accessible to us now. The water was spilt on the ground; and the earth opened her mouth to receive the blood. We would seek in vain, where the cross stood, for any traces of the drops that then fell beside it; and even if some of these drops had been preserved and handed down to us, they would have been but dead relics, such as superstition loves to dote upon, not living witnesses, such as the living Spirit may associate in witness-bearing with himself. The water then and the blood are removed out of the way; we have them no more within our reach. We have indeed sacramental signs and seals of them, in the water of baptism and the wine of communion. But these elements are really as dead as are the water and the blood which they represent. There cannot be more life in the water of baptism, than there is now in the water that came from the Saviour's side; nor in the wine of communion than in the blood. But the water and the blood are, as to the matter of them, irrecoverably lost. Still therefore the question remains, How do they now give present living evidence along with the living Spirit?

The real explanation is to be found in this consideration, that though the event itself, the flowing of water and blood from the pierced side, was of brief duration and soon passed away, the relation in which it stands to heaven and earth is permanent and perpetual. For it is the relation in which it stands to heaven and earth, to the divine government and to our human interests, which alone gives to the event, or to any circumstance connected with the event, its significance as a testimony. The death of Christ, as a mere fact, occupied but a point of time in the lapse of eternal ages; but in its bearing upon the designs of God and the destinies of Prayer of Manasseh ,—and it is that alone which renders it important,—it has properly no date at all. "From before the foundation of the world," Jesus is "the Lamb slain;" he is the Lamb slain, to the close of all things. Whatever therefore took place or was going on at Christ's death, we are to regard as taking place and going on now. Viewed as mere incidents of a historical transaction, the water and the blood flowed once, and have long ceased to flow; but then, viewed merely in that light, they tell us nothing, they bear witness to nothing, beyond the bare fact of a human being having died. It is only when they are viewed in their relation to God and to Prayer of Manasseh , that the water and the blood have a tale to tell, a testimony to give. And considered in that light, they must be held as having flowed from the beginning, and as continuing to the end to flow.

Hence their testimony is inseparable from that of the Spirit. For it is not in or by themselves, but only in and with and by the Spirit, that the water and the blood are or can be witnesses at all. Only through the Spirit have the wounds of Jesus an intelligible voice and utterance to convince and move the soul. For in truth it may be emphatically said of the water and the blood, and of any testimony they may bear, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing." The water and the blood carnally apprehended, regarded and understood after the flesh, are not witnesses at all; at least not witnesses of any heavenly transaction, or of any divine and spiritual truth; and of course not witnesses of the bearing of any such transaction or any such truth on the highest spiritual and heavenly interests of men. But "spiritually discerned," the water and the blood, the water for purification and the blood for atonement, like all the words and works of Jesus, are "spirit and life" ( John 6:63). And thus the whole truth concerning Christ and his death attested by the Spirit, and by the water and the blood associated with the Spirit and rendered significant and saving by him, becomes the source of spiritual life and strength to every one who believes that "Jesus is the Son of God," and enables him therefore "to overcome the world." For "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;" that faith of ours which grasps the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Here is Jesus Christ coming by water and blood; very specially by blood; "not by water only, but by water and blood." And the Spirit, with the water and the blood, and by means of them as joint-witnesses with himself, testifies to him as "coming by water and blood," and as, in virtue of his so coming, giving us the victory over the world. Not otherwise than by taking the water and the blood as joint-witnesses with himself, can the Spirit commend to us Jesus Christ, as triumphing in his own person, and causing us who are one with him to triumph, over sin, and the guilt of sin, and the power of sin; over all that makes God's service a bondage to us and his commandments grievous; over what constitutes the essence of the world which we have to overcome if we would walk as children with our Father in heaven.

II. Such being the nature of this threefold testimony, let us look now at its harmony: "These three agree in one." This may perhaps be best brought out by putting the supposition of a partial reception of the testimony in different aspects; and showing how, in every case, the partial reception, if fairly followed out, requires and demands the acceptance of the whole, and must lead the earnest soul to that result.

1. There are some who seem to acquiesce in the testimony of the Spirit, but without having respect either to the water or to the blood. To this extent at least they may go, that they admit the reality of those supernatural works by which the Spirit of old bore witness to the word, and generally they admit the authority of the word as attested by the Spirit to be the word of God. They acknowledge, in a sort of vague and general way, that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world. He is declared and proved to be so by the Spirit of truth, and they do not question what the Spirit says. Theirs is a kind of indefinite, blind, stupid reliance on something, one knows not what, that the Spirit says in the Scriptures about Christ. But do they really receive the testimony, even of the Spirit alone, in any sense consistent with fairness or intelligence? What would be thought of such conduct in reference to temporal things? Take a somewhat analogous instance.

I come to you with information to give you, on a point deeply affecting your welfare. I hold in my hands a document which I assure you is of urgent consequence to you, securing you against the hazard of loss, putting you in the way of great gain. And how do you receive me? You take the document out of my hands, with many formal compliments and thanks, and many professions of personal respect for me. You will prize it very highly, pay it all due attention, and seek to profit by it. But I have much to say to you regarding the document and its contents. I seek to prolong the conversation with yea upon the document. I wish to press upon your regard certain parts of it which I am willing to open up to you; and in particular, I am most anxious to help you in turning its discoveries to good practical account. You listen impatiently; for I weary you. Is it not enough that you take the document as I desire you, and really intend not to neglect it? Song of Solomon , getting rid of me, you retain my paper. You treat it with considerable deference; you duly look into it; you find in it some hints that you may follow, some directions with which you can comply; and if you do stumble at a few dark things in it, this is no more than might have been anticipated beforehand. At all events, you are in possession of the deed, which you have been told Isaiah , somehow or other, to secure to you safety and victory.

Is it thus that we are treating the blessed Spirit of God? We receive his testimony; that Isaiah , we take the Bible at his hands, and on the whole admit as true what he told the world about Christ when he inspired the Bible. But we do not suffer him to bear witness to us now. If we did, he would not indeed give evidence now by such signs as of old; but he would give evidence by tokens no less satisfactory, because no less divine. In particular, the Spirit would bear witness, not generally and vaguely to Christ coming as a Saviour, but specially to his coming by water and blood. This he would do by his divine agency, appealing to our whole inner Prayer of Manasseh , and working there, with and by the word.

Allow the Holy Spirit to have full scope and free course in testifying to you now. Give the Spirit his own place; let him follow out his own plan. What plan? you ask. Ah! is he not already giving you some hint of his plan? He would have you let him keep hold of you, when he has begun to deal with you, to deal with your conscience in the way of conviction, with your heart in the way of persuasion. Does Felix tremble? Is Agrippa almost persuaded? The Spirit is testifying of Christ. Are you beginning to suspect that there may be more in the gospel than you once thought; that you may require to go deeper into religion; that the vague kind of confidence you have been cherishing, and the loose sort of piety you have been cultivating, will scarcely suffice much longer; that you need something more distinct, a more thorough search into what is the real state of the case as between your God and you, a more thorough settlement of the footing on which you are to be with him, a far more thoroughly decided walk? Have you misgivings now as to those generalities in doctrine and those formalities in duty which used to content you? Do not doubt that the Spirit is testifying to you of Christ, and do not resist or grieve him. Let him carry on his own work in his own way, the way in which he has already begun it. And he will soon make you right glad to welcome Jesus Christ "coming by water and blood;" having in himself and in his cross precious blood to atone for all guilt, as well as pure water to cleanse from all pollution.

2. You may lean to the water as bearing witness, rather than to the blood. The influence of the gospel in purifying the heart and life may be that feature by which mainly it approves itself to your mind. You recognise the necessity of being renewed to holiness or virtue, and therefore you can apprehend and appreciate the testimony of the water by which Jesus Christ came; his requiring and providing for that result. But this purifying virtue in Christ, or in the gospel of Christ, you view very much apart from his blood of atonement; so that the change of heart towards God becomes to you, not only the chief part, but almost the whole of personal religion. You may not set altogether aside the blood; but practically you may be placing little reliance upon it and feeling little need of it. In that case, you set little value on the testimony of the blood; to the water and the Spirit you give all the preference.

Then, let me say again, give these two witnesses fair scope; let their testimony be fully carried out in other words, follow out your own convictions. You see now in some degree, and feel what alone can satisfy your God; what he is really entitled to claim and to expect at your hands. The law has come home to you, to your conscience and heart, in the full extent of its obligations, as binding you to perfect love, and making even a sin of thought exceeding sinful. That law approves itself as infinitely excellent; altogether reasonable; "holy, and just, and good." You perceive now that to this law you must become a willingly subject, that you must be brought into that state in which it shall be your meat to do the will of God, even as it was Christ's. Under these impressions, having now a vivid perception of what holiness really Isaiah , you may set about being holy, in right earnest and with all your might. Do you succeed? Nay, the very effort defeats itself; the struggle sinks you deeper in conscious guilt, and helpless subjection to the evil that is in you. The corruption of your nature is provoked and stimulated; you feel yourself paralysed, enchained, imprisoned. And while this new discovery of the "desperate wickedness of the heart," this sad proof that you are so very far from being what God would have you to be, grieves you to the quick, the distress is aggravated by the consciousness of utter inability, the bitter impression that it is almost useless to think of being godly at all. For in this state even the assurance of the Spirit's supernatural aid avails you nothing. It is not help in obeying that you need; the very principle of obedience is wanting, and it seems hopeless to think of ever attaining it.

Hopeless, except only in one direction. Let the Spirit not only undertake to assist you, as with purifying water, in your work of holiness; but let him also, and first of all, bear witness to Christ as coming not by purifying water only, but also by atoning blood. Let the blood itself give testimony; and your case is precisely met. For what is it that lies at the bottom of such experience as Paul describes in the passage of his writings to which I have been alluding? ( Romans 7) Is it not the unsettled controversy between your God and you? But the precious blood of Jesus, his perfect obedience unto death, meets your case. It furnishes the very element you need; for it furnishes the element of instant and complete reconciliation to your God. It cancels your guilt; it sets you free from condemnation; it seals your peace. And now the heart, so crushed and depressed before, springs up as with elastic rebound, and wings its eagle flight to heaven, while the feet run in the way of God's commandments.

3. In another manner, the reverse of the former, this blessed harmony of the divine testimony may be disturbed. Instead of a preference for the water apart from the blood, there may be a leaning to the blood, to the omission of the water; as if Christ came not both by water and by blood, but by blood only. The idea of an expiation of guilt may commend itself to the minds of conscious offenders, who feel their sin and fear the wrath of God. They may welcome the blood which testifies of sin atoned for, and God pacified and reconciled. They may be inclined to acquiesce in the testimony of the Spirit and the blood, as if the gospel were intended simply to pacify the troubled conscience and set sinful men at their ease.

But here again, I say as before, Give heed fairly to the testimony of the Spirit and the blood; and it will be found to require for its completion the testimony of the water. You are open to the impression of the blood; you see and feel the reasonableness and the reality of the atonement made by blood for your sin. But if the Spirit is at all bearing witness with the blood, it must be a spiritual view of the necessity and the meaning of that atonement that he is causing you to take. You cannot, if the Spirit is witnessing along with it, regard it as an expedient for soothing the personally vindictive feelings of an offended God, and purchasing his indulgence for your frailties; a mere provision for averting judgment and giving you security and quiet. No. You take a spiritual view of the shedding of the blood of Christ, as on the one hand vindicating the righteousness and manifesting the love of God; and on the other hand laying a foundation for a holy and loving walk with him. The blood, if you rightly receive its testimony along with that of the Spirit, speaks, not of God weakly persuaded to be indulgent and sinners allowed to escape unpunished; but of God righteously justifying believing men, and on the footing of a righteous justification freely restoring them to his favour. Its very end is to bring men near to God; and so far from setting them free from the obligation of being washed, this is its highest value, that it secures their being "washed," so as to be "sanctified as well as justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."

Thus in these three instances it may be seen that every attempt to give undue prominence to one of the witnesses, to the comparative slighting of the others, necessarily implies an unfair treatment of the testimony even of the very witness that is preferred. If the Spirit alone is viewed as bearing witness; then his testimony is frittered down till it is nothing more than a sort of vague intimation of there being a revelation and a plan of salvation, without any distinct reference either to what the revelation contains or to what the plan of salvation is. If again the water is selected, and the sanctifying and purifying virtue of the gospel is chiefly commended there is danger lest a low standard of holiness be set up, such as may be consistent with a conscience still unpacified and a heart still unreconciled. And if, once more, the blood is the witness on whose testimony we dwell; we are led to misconceive altogether both the design and the efficacy of the atonement; making it a mere scheme of accommodation, instead of a glorious plan for upholding the divine righteousness and more than restoring the primeval dignity of man. "There are three that bear witness;" and it is only when all the three are received with equal faith, that they are found to "agree in one."

4. But there is one other case to which I must briefly advert. The water and the blood may be received as bearing witness, without a due regard to the testimony of the living Spirit. The gospel may be understood in its full and comprehensive import, and may approve itself to the conscience and the heart. Christ may be known as coming both by water and by blood; the minister alike of renewal and of redemption; of purifying as well as of pardoning grace. But what, you ask, what is all that to me?. Christ is set forth crucified before you, and from him all blessings freely flow. The plan of saving mercy, as it comes from heaven, is complete; Christ coming both by water and blood is the very Saviour you need. But you have difficulty about his really saving you; about the application of his complete salvation to you; about your want of faith to lay hold of him and of it.

Beware here of the temptation of the spirit of evil; receive rather the testimony of the Spirit of truth. These thoughts and misgivings, so dishonourable to God, whose purpose of free love they impede, so injurious to you, whose return to God they arrest, are from the father of lies. Resist them, as of the devil; for they are false as he is himself. He may give them some air of plausibility, in order that if possible he may confuse more and more the question of your relation to God and the footing on which you are to be with God, so as to make you give up the care of your salvation as hopeless. But you must see that they are contrary to the plain testimony of the water and the blood; for surely these witnesses, the water and the blood, do most emphatically speak to you of the fullness of God's grace, and the ample foundation he has laid at once for your peace and for your holiness.

And even when you are tempted to yield to the surmises of Satan, are you not conscious of other thoughts? Is it not sometimes borne in upon your mind that this hesitating and halting unbelief is but an unworthy way of meeting such overtures as God is making, and that you might at least make the trial, and venture your soul on his faithful promises? It is the Spirit that thus bears witness; and "the Spirit is truth." Put the matter to an experimental test; commit yourself to Christ, of whom the Spirit testifies, as having water from his smitten side to wash, and blood, precious blood, to take away all guilt. For it is in this way of actual trial that you will have the witness of the Spirit, which is the witness of God. In the peace which flows from the settlement of his controversy with you and your justification in' his sight; in the glad relief which a simple acceptance of his mercy imparts; ia the sense of his love shed abroad in your hearts; in the growing clearness of your views of his character, and the growing enlargement and elevation of your soul for his service; in the laying aside of all reserve on your part, as all reserve is laid aside on his; in the entrusting of your whole way, in darkness and distress, to him, and the surrender of your whole soul and body and spirit into his hands; you will understand, with increasing clearness, the consenting testimony of the three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. And through faith in that testimony you will overcome the world. For no commandment of God will ever be grievous to you, if it comes to you in the power of the Spirit, and through the double channel of the water and the blood.


Verse 9-10

XXXIX. The Witness or Testimony of God to and in Believers

"If we receive the witness [testimony] of men, the witness [testimony] of God is greater: for this is the witness [testimony] of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness [testimony] in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record [testimony] that God gave [hath testified] of his Son."— 1 John 5:9-10 (It is much to be regretted that in these verses our Translators should have so unwarrantably, and to the utter obscuring of the sense, sacrificed exactness to variety; using four different English words for one and the same verb, with its cognate noun, in the original Greek.)

THE question is still about faith; the faith which is the victory that overcometh the world ( 1 John 5:4-5). For that is the particular function here ascribed to faith; that is the light in which faith is to be regarded. Doubtless, gospel faith is the same, in whatever light, and with reference to whatever function, it is contemplated; it has always the same object, and the same ground or warrant. But the manner of its exercise may not be the same. And therefore it is to be noted that it is not faith as justifying; nor faith simply as working generally by love; but faith specially as overcoming the world; that is spoken of in this passage. It is as "the victory that overcometh the world," that faith is commended or extolled.

This faith rests on testimony; as all faith must do. And the testimony on which it rests is sufficient to sustain it; for it is divine: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater: for this is the testimony of God which he hath testified of his Son" ( 1 John 5:9). Human testimony is a trustworthy ground of faith; we rely on it every day, and act accordingly. That is assumed as admitted. But we have what is far better and stronger than human testimony; we have "the testimony of God." Men are fallible and frail; the Psalmist "said in his haste, All men are liars." Still we receive their testimony; and we cannot help it; we must come to a dead-lock or stand-still, if we do not. How much more confidently may we receive the testimony of him who can neither deceive nor be deceived; who knows all things and is truth itself. To reject his testimony, and refuse to proceed on the faith of it, while we receive and act upon the testimony of men, is inconsistency and utter folly.

But what is the testimony of God, and how is it given?

First, What is his testimony? That is not expressly stated in this verse; it is left to be inferred. But it is not difficult to say what it is; whether we look back on the preceding context or forwards to that which follows. Of course, it is the preceding context that must chiefly guide us; but the two very much agree. As it stands in the preceding context, it is that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God, coming by water and blood." As it stands in the following context, it is that "God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."

Secondly, How is his testimony given? As to that, this ninth verse says nothing. But it plainly connects the preceding and following contexts. John evidently means to say that he has been describing, and that he is going on to describe still further, this testifying, on God's part, of his Song of Solomon , with special reference to the manner of it.

For he draws at this point a broad line of distinction. In what goes before, he has been speaking of God's testimony from without, or to us; in what follows, he is to speak of God's testimony within, or in us. It is the testimony of God in both cases; his bearing witness of his Son; and it is to be received as such. But whereas it has been put in the former passage as operating on us; it is now to be put as ascertained, apprehended, and felt, by us and in us: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the testimony that God hath testified of," or about, "his Son" ( 1 John 5:10).

"He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself;" the testimony, that Isaiah , of God; for it is upon the warrant of "the testimony of God which he has testified about his Song of Solomon ," that he believes on the Son of God. But in his so believing, that testimony of God becomes to him a matter of inward consciousness. He has it within him; in himself. It is not now merely God testifying to us of his Song of Solomon , but God testifying in us of his Son; causing us to know experimentally the truth of what he testifies. We find, by actual trial and experience, that the Son is exactly what the Father has been testifying him to be: "the Son of God, Jesus Christ, coming by water and blood." Thus the inward verifies the outward.

It is as if a friend should introduce to me his Song of Solomon , with a high testimony to his personal excellency and rank, as well as to his power and willingness to assist me in an emergency, and be of service to me all my days. I believe the testimony, and on the faith of it welcome the new-comer to my home and heart. He soon approves himself to me as all that his father said I would find him to be. Then I have the testimony in a sense in me, in myself. So far the analogy may hold and be helpful. But, like all earthly analogies of what is divine, it is imperfect. It is only in a sense somewhat vague and loose that, in the case supposed, I can be said to have the testimony of my friend about his son in me. For it is not really my friend testifying in me, as something distinct from his testifying to me; it is I myself who am proving and verifying his testimony. In this ease, also, it is that, no doubt; that at least. But is it not something more? For the testifier is God; and he of whom he testifies is his own Son. Literally, therefore, and in the strictest and fullest sense, I can have God's testimony in me; I can have God himself testifying in me. And I can have him testifying in me, not of his Son offered and given to me, as "coming by water and by blood;" but of his Song of Solomon , so coming by water and by blood, and now dwelling in my heart; "Christ in me, the hope of glory." This is something quite different from our own consciousness apprehending the truth, and feeling the reality, of what God testifies of his Son. It is rather like what Paul indicates when he says: "The Spirit itself beareth witness," or testifies, "with our Spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."

An indispensable condition of this inward testifying of God in us, our having in us his testimony, is our believing on his Son: "He that believeth on the Son of God," and he alone, "hath the testimony in himself." Evidently it must be so. For it is our believing on his Son that brings God into these hearts of ours, in which he is to testify of his Son in us more and more. And just as evidently, this believing on his Song of Solomon , which thus leads to our having the testimony within us, must rest on the testimony from without. It is our believing on his Song of Solomon , on the ground and warrant of his testifying to us of his Song of Solomon , that opens the way for our having him testifying in us of his Son. And so we are brought back to this, that we are to believe on the Son of God, not because God testifies of him in us, but because he testifies of him to us. Is not that, however, warrant enough? Is it not sufficient of itself to win faith the most confiding, since it is the testimony of him who is the truth? Does it not make unbelief inexcusable? For refusing to believe, on the strength of the outward testimony alone, even without the inward, is simply giving God the lie: "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the testimony that God hath testified of his Son."

Thus, I. The ground and reward or fruit of faith; and II. The sin of unbelief; are to be viewed in the light of its being God's testimony and not man's that is to be believed.

I. Faith stands here between two divine testimonies, or two modes of the one divine testimony; it is the effect of the first, and the cause or means of the second. In the first place, as an effect, faith flows from the threefold testimony of "the Spirit, the water, and the blood;" which is the primary testimony of God, from without or from above. You who believe on the Son of God believe on him as witnessed or attested by God; you believe on him because it is really God who has testified or testifies of him. And the testimony of God, upon which you believe on him, is substantially of the same sort as the testimony of men, to which you are accustomed to give credit. That is implied in what is said: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater." For it is indeed the testimony of God that you are to receive, "the testimony which he hath testified of his Son." It is testimony to you; not in you. It may be in some sense and to some extent in you, in so far as it enlists on its behalf, or is fitted to enlist, your inward convictions, tastes, and tendencies. But as long as it is testimony, not received and admitted, but claiming to be received and admitted, it is testimony to you. And it is upon that testimony that your faith must lay hold and lean.

I have said that this testimony of God to you may, in some sense and to some extent, be in you; it may be testimony appealing to certain inward instincts or principles of your nature. It is so in the present instance. For in fact, the testimony of God as to his Son which is here compared with the testimony of men, and preferred to it, is altogether and exclusively of an internal nature; it is God dealing with your whole inner Prayer of Manasseh , through the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. There is no reference to what are called the external evidences of Christianity; the historical proofs of the gospel. The Spirit, the water, and the blood, are not represented as testifying through the medium of outward events or signs; authenticated, as these usually are, by the evidence, not of mere tradition, transmitting hearsay at secondhand, but of competent witnesses, leaving on record what they actually saw and heard. That would be the testimony of men. We have that, God be praised we have it most abundantly; and we do well to receive it, and on the strength of it to accept the Bible as a divine revelation and the gospel as a divine message. But the testimony of God is greater; not only because it is the testimony of God and not of men, but because, being his, it adapts and addresses itself to the inner man in us; to the whole inner man; to all our sensibilities and susceptibilities of conscience, emotion, will.

For in this testifying or witness-bearing, the Spirit, having the water and the blood associated with him, makes a direct appeal to the moral sense and feeling within us. He does so altogether apart from all the logical arguments and historical demonstrations which may be brought to confirm our belief in Christianity. These are valuable in their place. But the direct and immediate testimony of God, in the threefold witness-bearing of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, is largely independent and irrespective of them. It is a very straightforward dealing of the Spirit with us; of the Spirit testifying along with, and by means of, the water and the blood. It is the Spirit pressing home upon us Christ; making us feel our need of Christ; showing us Christ's suitableness and sufficiency for us. In particular, it is the Spirit bringing near to us Jesus, as the Son of God, eager to make us one with him in his sonship, and for that very end coming by water and blood; so that neither sin's defilement nor sin's condemnation may stand in the way of our being partakers of his filial relation to the Father. He is come by water to purify, and by blood to atone, that we may be sons of God in him. That is the testimony of God to us, here and now. Is it not so? Who is there among us to whom the Spirit is not thus, more or less sensibly, bearing witness along with the water and the blood, here and now?

Ah! let me assume that I address some spiritually-awakened and spiritually-exercised soul. Has your sin, brother, found you out? Is the Spirit convincing you of its exceeding sinfullness? Are you in earnest longing for purity and peace? Have you been made to feel that you do really need for your Saviour one who can place you on a very different footing with your God and Father in heaven from that on which you naturally are, and create in you very different dispositions towards him from those which you naturally cherish? And is there dawning upon you more and more brightly the apprehension that Jesus, as God's own Song of Solomon , coming by water and by blood, is just such a Saviour, and that if he were but yours all would be well? Is not this the testimony of God to you, warranting and requiring you to believe on his Song of Solomon , so coming, as really yours, "loving you and giving himself for you"? Is it not far greater and better than any human testimony? What need have you of my assurance, or any man's assurance, to build your faith on? Here is God's threefold testimony; the Spirit commending to you, all vile and guilty as you are, God's own Son as come by water and by blood, to sanctify and save. Having this testimony, you may well "believe on the Son of God." Yes. Believing because of the Lord's own word, approving itself to your spiritually-quickened soul, you may say, as the Samaritans said to the woman, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying; for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world."

And now, secondly, thus believing, you may look for a new and additional testimony of God; not to you, but most truly and fully in you. For this simple honest faith, the effect or fruit of one mode of the divine testimony, becomes the cause or means of another. That other is not outward at all, but altogether inward; not to you, but in you: "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself."

Understand well and keep ever in mind, that having the testimony of God in you is not the preliminary to your believing on the Son of God, but the result or consequence of your doing so. Do not imagine that you are to have any knowledge or experience of this inward testimony of God before you believe on his Son; as if it were to be a ground of your believing, or a help to your believing. It is a sort of knowledge or experience which can never go before faith, but must always follow it. For, in truth, it is nothing more than faith in exercise; faith unfolding and developing its energy; faith acting out its purpose; faith realising mere and more its object and itself.

In fact, as to its substance, this testimony of God in you is identically the same as his testimony to you. It is the same threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Only now the Spirit has won for himself, and for the water and the blood, a place within your consciousness; deep down in your inmost soul, as no longer merely appealed to and assailed by this testimony, but cordially acquiescing in it. That, however, makes a vast difference indeed. It is the difference between Christ "standing at the door and knocking," and Christ, "when you hear his voice and open to him, coming in to sup with you and you with him." The testimony is the same; the testifiers are the same. But your believing acquiescence, I repeat, makes all the difference. The testifiers, the Spirit, the water, and the blood,—are now, all three of them, in you; witnessing not to, but from, the far back recess of your willing mind and consenting heart. Their testimony, which is God's, and therefore far better than man's, is in you now; not as a stream forcing its way, as it were, into the depths of your spiritual experience; but as "a well of water" divinely opened in these depths, and "springing up into everlasting life."

For the real and blessed explanation of the whole matter is simple enough. He to whom the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood relates, is himself in you now; not given to you, with ample warrant for your embracing him; but in you, as embraced by you; in you, as the very Son of God, coming by water and blood. Thus, believing on the Son of God, you have the testimony of God in you. The Spirit is testifying in you, with the water and the blood; not now in order to win your assent and consent, but with your assent and consent already won. And that being Song of Solomon , there is no limit to the gracious assurance and enlargement to be looked for from your thus having the testimony of God in you. For now, not only your conviction, but your cordial choice also, goes along with the divine testimony, and is all in the line of it. You make full proof of it; or rather you suffer the Spirit himself to make full proof of it in you. He does so by "taking of what is Christ's and showing it more and more to you." He gives you an ever-increasing clearness and intensity of insight into Jesus being the Son of God; and into his coming, as the Christ, by water and blood. So believing, you have the testimony in yourselves; God testifying in you by the Spirit, the water, and the blood; the Spirit testifying in you of the Son of God coming by water and by blood.

Let me ask you, in all faithfulness, do you believe in the Son of God, on God's own testimony to you about him and not man's? Then, what do you know of this testimony of God in you? "It is the Spirit that testifieth." What do you know of his testifying, not merely in his striving with you, but in his dwelling in you, and revealing in you God's own Song of Solomon , Jesus Christ, coming by water and blood? What, first, of the blood by which he comes? Is God by his Spirit giving you, not only a sight of your need of it as a sinner, and its sufficiency for you as for all sinners, but a sense of its actual efficacy in your case, as bringing you personally near to God, on the footing of your personal guilt being atoned for, and yourselves being personally reconciled? What, secondly, of the water, by which, as well as by blood, he comes? Is God by his Spirit giving you real personal experience of Christ's being the purifier and sanctifier, in your being "holy, as he is holy?" What, thirdly, of the sonship, of its being God's own Son who comes by water and by blood? Is God by his Spirit giving you an apprehension of your adoption as sons, and moving you to cry, as sons, Abba, Father?

These, unquestionably, are the three kinds of experience in the line of which your having the testimony of God in you will make itself known and felt. And if you believe on the Son of God, you will have some growing practical acquaintance with all the three. The blood;—does it really first pierce and then pacify your conscience, pierce and pacify it evermore, constantly, day by day, more and more every day? The fountain filled with that blood;—do you bathe your guilty souls in it every morning, every night? Do you feel it ever opening your wounds more painfully, and more sensibly pouring itself, as oil and balm, into the very wounds it opens? The water;—are you consciously coming more and more under its power? Is the holiness of Christ filling your soul, fixing your eye, drawing your heart? Is your loathing of sin growing more intense? Do you welcome and value Christ as the minister of purity, even more than as the minister of peace, and rejoice in his blood purging your conscience from dead works, mainly because it thus sets you free to serve the living God? The sonship of him who comes by water and blood;—are you entering into that? He is come by water and by blood, not only to make you one with himself in his atoning death and in his holy life, but to make you sons of God in him. Are you realising that? Are you entering into the position which, as the Son of God, he occupies; and into his mind and heart, as the Son of God? Thus, and only thus, "he that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself."

II. Over against the power or virtue or efficacy of faith, turning God's testimony to us into his testimony in us, John places in very emphatic contrast the exceeding sinfulness of the sin of unbelief: "He that believeth not God hath made him a liar." The two opposite ways of dealing with the testimony of God are here sharply distinguished. Either you believe his testimony to you, and so honour him that he himself gives you an inward, experimental confirmation of it; you taste and see that God is good; you prove him, and see if he does not open the windows of heaven and pour down on you a blessing; you open your mouth wide and he fills it; giving you peace of conscience, purity of heart, filial liberty, enlargement, assurance, love. Or else, you disbelieve his testimony, and Song of Solomon , by your unbelief, not only hinder him from testifying in you, but dishonour him by virtually giving him the lie when he testifies to you.

And let it be well observed that it is the very same testimony of God to you in both cases, whether you receive it or disbelieve it. You may not shelter your unbelief under the excuse or apology that you have not proof or evidence enough. In particular, you may not plead that you have not the inward testimony. Neither had we, when we believed, may be the reply of those who deal otherwise than you deal with the testimony from without and from above. You have the same ground or warrant for believing that we had; the sure word of the true and faithful God. We were not asked to believe on the ground and warrant of any inward testimony of God in us; any witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits to our being the sons of God. It was not as being the sons of God; it was not as having any title to be the sons of God, or any consciousness of our being the sons of God; that we believed. It was simply as hearing the word or testimony of God, commending to us powerfully and persuasively, by his Spirit, Jesus Christ his Son coming by water and blood; coming to save, with a complete and full salvation, sinners, and of sinners us, the chief. That was all that our faith had to grasp; all that it had to lay hold of and lean on. We found it sufficient; we tested it, and it has stood the test. Why should not you? Why should you wait for anything else, or anything more? We had not any inward sign, we had not any inward experience, on which to build our belief. We had simply God speaking to us; to our understandings, our consciences, our hearts; testifying to us concerning our sin, and the sufficiency for us of his Song of Solomon , coming by water and by blood to save. You have the same. You have all that we had. You have God, in his Son whom he sent to be the propitiation for your sins; you have God, in his Son coming by water and by blood; you have God, in his Son to whom he points, hanging on the cross, pierced by you, while out of his side come water and blood to wash and heal you; you have God, in his Son thus set forth crucified before your eyes; you have this God thus testifying to you; assuring you; swearing to you; and beseeching you—oh! how importunately and affectionately!—to give him credit when he testifies to you, and assures you, and swears to you: "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his wickedness and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"

Will you still refuse to give him credit? Will you still dare to question his sincerity, his being in earnest, when he thus pleads with you? Will you not believe that he means what he says, when he tells you that, in his Son coming by water and by blood, he is waiting to be gracious? Do him not so great injustice as to treat him in a way in which you would not venture to treat an honourable man. You receive the testimony of such a man. Is not the testimony of God greater? Is he not entitled to be believed on his simple word, much more on his solemn oath? Is he not one whom you can trust, so far at least as to make trial of his faithfulness? Ah! let there be an end of doubt, hesitancy, halting, delay. All that is most insulting to him; for it is really making him a liar. Do not commit so great a sin; do not shut your eyes to its greatness. Consider well how it is not with mere facts of history or the dead letter of books of evidence that you are dealing, but with the true and living God himself. Alleged facts you might question, books of evidence you might criticise, without offence to the recorders of the facts or the writers of the books. But here is God, the God of truth, commending to you his Son from heaven, and summoning you, on the warrant and assurance of his truth, to believe on his Son. Your refusal to do so is a personal affront; it cannot but be construed as giving him the lie, "making him a liar."


Verse 11-12

XL. The Substance of the Testimony—Eternal Life God's Gift in His Son

"And this is the record that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." 1 John 5:11-12

THESE two verses close what John has to say about the faith which overcometh the world, and they explain and apply the statement, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the testimony in himself" ( 1 John 5:10). It is the testimony of God that the believer has in himself; but he has it as not now God testifying to him, but God testifying in him. It is no longer objective and outward merely; it becomes subjective and inward. When it is believed or received, it enters into, and, as it were, passes through the receiving mind; effects a lodgment for itself behind, far back, deep down, in the innermost soul; and makes itself known and felt there, not as an external fact or proposition, but as an internal power or principle of activity. But what is it that gives this testimony of God its ability so to change its position? Is it not its having in it, not truth merely, but life? It is not mere truth-telling, it is life-giving, also; for "this is the testimony, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" ( 1 John 5:11). Therefore the receiving of it is not merely being convinced, as by evidence or authority from without or from above, but being quickened by a mighty agency and influence within. It Isaiah , in short, not merely truth admitted into the inner Prayer of Manasseh , hut life communicated to the inner man. It must therefore be inward; intimately and intensely inward: "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" ( 1 John 5:12).

The testimony of God is first, that he bestows on us life as a gift; "he hath given to us eternal life;" and secondly, that "this life is in his Son." He gives us therefore this eternal life when he gives us his Son.

Consider in what sense and manner this eternal life is in his Son. It is in him, as being possessed by him as his own; he has it in himself. In his incarnate state he has it thus; not as God only, but as man also, as "Jesus Christ come in the flesh." Let us hear his own words: "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" ( John 5:26). That cannot surely be the life which, as the Son of God, he has from everlasting. It must be life belonging to him as man; life of which his human nature, as well as his divine nature, is capable. And yet it is strangely identified with the Father's own life. It is connected with it and compared to it. And it is connected with it and compared to it, in respect of what might be thought to be the highest and most peculiar property of the everlasting God, his incommunicable attribute of self-existence.

What can this mean? Is it really self-existence that our Lord claims for himself as "the man Christ Jesus," for his manhood as well as his Godhead? That can scarcely be his meaning; for he speaks of this life as derived. It is not his originally, like the life which he has with the Father and the Holy Spirit from everlasting to everlasting. It is his by the Father's gift. It is life having necessarily, in that view, a beginning, though it may know no end. It is not therefore self-existence; it cannot be. And yet it must be something not quite unlike that manner of life which self-existence implies, and not far from being akin to it.

For the statement respecting the Father himself, that he hath "life in himself," may have reference here, not to the abstract nature of his life as being underived and self-subsistent, but rather to the manner of its exercise. The Father lives, not simply as existing; but as existing ever consciously and actively, realising and enjoying existence, if one may dare to say so; thinking, feeling, doing. His life is thought, feeling, action. And what, under that aspect of it, must be held to be one chief characteristic of his life? What but this, that he does not adapt himself to things without, or draw from things without the grounds and reasons of his procedure; of his thinking, feeling, acting, in any case or instance, thus and not otherwise; that these are always found within his own holy mind and heart; that so he "has his life in himself?" Is not that, in truth, the perfection of the Father's "eternal life?" Is it not thus that it is essentially eternal? It is not moved or moulded by what is seen and temporal. It is determined by his own indwelling purpose, which is unseen and eternal.

But, it may be asked, is any creature capable of a life like that? Can any creature, in that sense, have life in himself? Not certainly as a creature living apart from the Creator, or separate from the Creator. Assuredly fallen man has no such life. He does not live a life that is independent, as to its ongoing of things without. Is he not, on the contrary, in large measure the creature and the child of circumstances? What, in fact, is his life but a struggle to accommodate himself to the state of matters that he finds pressing upon him, all around him, in the world? Selfish he may be to the heart's core; consulting only for his own ease and pleasure. Or, in his philosophy, he may affect to rise above external influences, to bid defiance to all foreign forces, and consult no will but his own. It is all in vain. With all his selfishness, and all his philosophy, he cannot shake himself free from subjection to things seen and temporal. He cannot be, in that respect, "as God." It would not be good for him if he could; not at least unless he was so united and allied to God as to be really and thoroughly one in mind and heart with God.

But was not that the case with the Son of God on the earth, "the man Christ Jesus"? He was united and allied to God as no other man ever was or could be. In him the human nature was perfectly one in character with the divine. He therefore, while living always as self-moved and self-regulated, altogether independently of things without, never could live otherwise than as the Father liveth. Therefore it was possible for him, as Son of man as well as Son of God, to have "life in himself" by the Father's gift, exactly as "the Father hath life in himself."

Look at Jesus Christ come in the flesh; the Father's Own Son given to be the Saviour of the world. What was his life? Was it not all from within? He was not insensible to things without; they deeply and powerfully affected him; he felt them keenly. But his life; his real life; the life he lived by purpose and determination, by ultimate choice of will; was not outwardly dictated, but inwardly originated. He had it in himself. Take a testing instance, his saying, "Not my will, but thine be done." "My will!" That was the effect of an impression from without; it was the outer world and its prince pressing him very closely; it was the horror of the cross brought to bear upon him very vehemently. And he had in him sensibilities and susceptibilities that laid his inner man very open to the pressure. His very holiness, his holy love to God and holy hatred of Sin, made the thought of his being forsaken of God and enduring the penal curse inconceivably terrible. "Father, let the cup pass," is what his will would be if it were moved from without. But no. Even in his worst straits he will not yield altogether, he will not yield at all, to his will being moved from without. He will give uttterance indeed to what his will as so moved would be, if he were to yield to it. Thanks that for our sakes he does so! But it is not as if he were yielding to it. "If it be possible" is still the qualification. And then he falls back upon his real inmost self; his real inner life: "Nevertheless, Father, not my will, but thine be done."

That is surely something like "having life in himself;" having power to pass over, or pass through, the will which outward circumstances of suffering or temptation would prompt; to get far back, far down, within; and to find and feel there an inward impulse overbearing the impression from without and moving the real inward choice; "Not my will, but thine be done."

Is this "eternal life"? Is it "the eternal life which is in the Son"? Is it the power, or privilege, or prerogative of living from within himself, because it is living from within the Father, in whose bosom he dwells; from within the Father's nature, with which his own is always in harmony; from within the Father's will, to which his own is always thoroughly conformed? It is a life quite compatible with the obligation of subjection to authoritative rule or law; and that too in the utmost severity of penal infliction, as well as in the strictest bond of holy requirement. It was so in Jesus as "made under the law." He still had this life in himself, even when he took our death as his own. If it had not been so; if his life had been not from within but from without; if he had been one who lived according to the stress and strain of the external world; he never would have taken our death as his own. But "having life in himself," as one with the Father, he "finished the work which the Father gave him to do."

Now therefore, in an eminent and blessed sense, this life is in the Son for us. There is in him for us such a life as even the death of criminality and condemnation which for us he takes as his own cannot destroy. It would be ruin to us, that death; but it is not ruin to him. If the sentence takes effect upon us, it is without our choice, and against our consent; we cannot walk up to it as "having life in ourselves," or as moved from within ourselves to bear it, as the Father is necessarily moved from within himself to inflict it. But Jesus can, and does ( John 10:17-18). Even in dying for us he has therefore "life in himself." "Eternal life is thus in the Son" as "sent by the Father to be the propitiation for our sins."

And this life is something more than his surviving the endurance of our death. It is a living apprehension and appropriation for us of the Father's life. For it is as the Father hath life in himself, that Hebrews , on our behalf and as our head and representative, has life in himself. In that capacity he shares the Father's life; his manner of living is the same as the Father's. It is not a life of shifts and expedients; a life contingent and conditional on the chances of time and tide; a life of afterthoughts, altering the course to suit every current, setting the sails to every change in the fickle wind. It is a calm serene purpose; working itself out steadily "without variableness or shadow of turning." It is living for that for which God lives; living therefore as God lives. Is not that the eternal life of which God testifies as being in his Son? It is in his Son alone; and in him inalienably. It is in him in such a sense that he cannot part with it or give it away. We do not receive this eternal life of God from his Son; we share it with him. The Father's testimony is that the eternal life which he gives us is in his Son.

Here let me remind you that it is the Spirit who bears this testimony on the Father's behalf; the Spirit, with the water and the blood by which Jesus Christ came. The Father's gift of eternal life to you is in his Son; that is the testimony. And it is the Spirit that bears the testimony; the Spirit who takes of what is Christ's and shows it to you; the Spirit making you Christ's and Christ yours; the Spirit making you partakers of Christ's own very life, "the eternal life which is in the Son." Because he lives, you live; as he lives, you live. In him the Father gave, has given, and is giving you, "eternal life;" life that, in and with Christ, can undergo and survive the death of guilt and wrath; life that, in and with Christ, can in a sense become identical in character with God's own life; sharing, in a measure, its inward, self-moving energy, and its independence of things without. For that, and nothing short of that, is the eternal life that he gives; the life that is in his Son. So he is testifying to us; testifying to us by his Spirit; by his Spirit striving with us, and shutting us up into Christ. This eternal life in his Son is his gift to us.; already bestowed; assured to us by his own testimony; awaiting our acceptance; ours if we will but have it to be ours, if we will have him in whom it is ours.

Therefore "he that hath the Son hath life." If only he has the Song of Solomon , he has the very life which is in the Son. Thus the way is made plain and simple; God the Father has made it so. Very wonderfully has he made it so. The end is very high. It is our living as God lives. It is our living as God lives, from within; not as acted upon, but as acting; and that from some inward motive, or impulse, or principle, common to both, to God and to us. And the common motive or impulse or principle, that which is common to God and to us as regards this eternal life,—what is it? Is it not Christ? Is it not Christ having in him this life? God in Christ; we in Christ; is it not thus that God and we meet in a common life?

1. Hence, in the first place, an essential preliminary or condition of this life, nay one chief part of it so far as we are concerned, is the abolishing of death. No one can have this life; a life self-possessed and self-contained, being a life God-possessed and God-contained; who is not consciously and believingly right with himself, because fight with God; right in law and judgment; on a right footing; unimpeached and uncondemned. The conscience must be pacified and the heart reconciled. With a sense of sin upon the conscience and enmity in the heart, it is impossible for me to have anything like that free and independent life, in and with himself, which God means me to have, as his gift to me. If he is to give me that life of his, he must first give me deliverance from this death of mine, from my conscious guilt and felt liability to wrath, and the consequent dread, discomfort, and dislike, with which that life of his is wholly incompatible. And so he does; for if I have the Song of Solomon , I have life, in the sense and to the effect of complete and final deliverance from death. I pass from death to life.

2. But, secondly, the life to which I pass is something more than the undoing of my death; the reversal of the sentence and destruction of the power of my death. It is a new endowment; it is the imparting to me of a new power, or privilege, or capacity; it is the accession or addition of a new faculty of life, over and above any I ever naturally possessed, or ever could have got for myself, even though the blight of sin's guilt and curse had never come upon me.

For he whom I have is the Son; and I have him, if I have him at all, as the Son. I have him, not merely as he ii set before me in his relation to sinners, and to me, of sinners the chief; himself made sin for me and making me righteous in his righteousness. I must indeed first have him in that character and capacity. But I have him also as the Song of Solomon , in his filial relation to the Father; as the Son to whom "the Father hath given to have life in himself." I speak not of what he was to the Father from before all worlds, in the past eternity, ere he came into this world: it is not the life he then had that the Father gives me. I speak of him as he has been since his incarnation, and as he will continue to be all through the eternity that is to come. When I have him, I have him thus; as he now is and ever will be. I have the Son; and in him I have the very life which the Father has given him.

And that life is "life eternal;" it is "having life in himself." It is having life in himself because it is having life in God his Father. For he and the Father are one; and their life is one. Whatever constitutes the Father's life; whatever the everlasting Father may be said to live in, or to live for; that is the life of the Son. And it is the life which you have, if you have the Son. It is your having life in yourself. It is so host emphatically when it is viewed in contrast with any life you may be supposed, or may suppose yourself, to have when you have not the Son. What is your life out of Christ? What is your life in your unconverted state; when you are unrenewed and unreconciled? Is it anything like your having life in yourselves? Is it independent of things without? Take it in any sense you choose. Take it secularly, as the life you live in the world. What keeps you alive, alert, interested, not dull and drowsy, as you too often are, but lively? Is it an inherent inward principle of activity? Or are you conscious that you depend almost entirely on outward stimulants, outward means of occupation, or excitement, outward events or news of company, for what you can really reckon the life of the day; and that without these you flag and droop, and for the time are as good as dead? You can bestir yourself on occasion. You can be roused to sentimental interest or energetic exertion, bodily or mental, when some appliance from without is brought to bear upon you. But when you are left to yourself and your own inward resources, what stagnation is apt to come upon you! Or take the life you live religiously, in the sense of your trust and hope before God! What is it? What is it that ministers to your quiet and peace? Is it an indwelling and abiding assurance, an outgoing and out-flowing affection? Or is it an observance of formal rites and a compliance with devout customs? Is it as being alone with God, or is it as one of a company, lost in a crowd or admitted into a coterie, that you feel yourself to be safe enough and comfortable enough? Certainly, if you are out of Christ, if you have not the Son; your life, in either view of it, whatever real vitality you have, is contingent upon things without; bound up, more or less, with what passes away and is not eternal. For the world, the religious as well as the secular world, passes away; and any life to which it ministers must be fleeting and not eternal.

But now, if you have the Song of Solomon , how different is your life! First and chiefly, in a spiritual sense, how is it that you now live? What is the seat, what the source, of your life; your confidence; your fellowship; your worship; your joy in God? Is it not Christ in you? Having him as the Song of Solomon , you are complete in him. You have his life, the life which he has with God, communicated to you and shared with you. Your life, in the sense of your standing with God and your relation to God, is identical with his. Having the Song of Solomon , you have the Son's life, as being sons yourselves. And now, therefore, the ruling, active, moving principle of your life is identical with his. You live for flint for which Hebrews , as the Song of Solomon , lived and lives. And what was, what is that? Not certainly anything out of himself, save only God. He lived here on earth, not for things external, any more than he lived by things external. He drew no inspiration from without himself. He owned no rule without or outside of himself. He said, "Lo, I come; to do thy will, O God. Yea thy law is within my heart." Hebrews , being the Song of Solomon , walked abroad as the Son on his Father's earth, "having life in himself," because he lived with the Father and for the Father; the Father living in him and giving him without measure the Spirit. That was his life. And you have it as yours, if you have the Son himself as yours. You also walk abroad on this earth, which is your Father's, having your Father's love abiding in you, as it abode in him; receiving, as he did, the Spirit.

If then you realise your position, if really and truly, consciously and constantly, you "have the Son;" if you have him as yours, your own very portion and possession, yours now, to hold, to grasp, to identify with yourself; if you thus have the Son and his sonship, what ought to be your port and bearing towards things without, things seen and temporal? Are you still to be the sport of circumstances, swayed to and fro by accidents, dependent on chances and contingencies, leaning on props that an hour may overthrow, fain to snatch a trembling joy from the brief and troubled sunshine of a wintry noon? Nay rather, having the Song of Solomon , live as having in you "life eternal;" life that can defy the vicissitudes, as it will outlast the limits, time; life standing, not in the world's or the church's fleeting forms, but m the favour, love, fellowship; in the law, commandments, ordinances: of the everlasting Father, "his Father and your Father, his God and your God."

Let a few words of practical application be allowed.

1. "He that hath the Son hath life;" he has this life, and no other. Hence a searching question: Are you willing upon that condition to have the Son? You may be willing to have the Song of Solomon , and along with him, and through him, some sort of life. You would have him as providing for you life, in the sense of mere safety from death; securing your ultimate impunity in the day of judgment. But you cannot have him thus; for "he that hath the Son hath life," "eternal life;" the life meant when it is said, "as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have in himself." If you have the Son at all, you must have him in all the fullness of his filial oneness with the Father; for that is his life: that alone is "life eternal."

2. "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life;" he has not this life. Eternal life, in a sense, he has—life without end; and after death, life without change. Life also in himself it will then be in a very terrible sense: for then all external accessories and alleviations are gone; the world is not. But the soul not having the Son is. It continues to exist, and that for ever. It lives, with nothing out of itself to lean on, or look to! There is no congenial earthly system or sphere around to mitigate its pain; no Saviour waiting to be gracious; no Holy Spirit striving any morel For him there Isaiah , and that for ever, eternal death, instead of eternal life. It must be so because he has not the Son.

3. Eternal life is the gift of God, his present gift; his present gift to all, to all unreservedly, to all unconditionally. It is the life that is in his Son; the life which his Son lives now, and lives for evermore. This, and nothing short of gratuitous gift. It is not a prize; "the prize of your high calling of God in Christ." That is the consummation of this life; for which you have to wait and work, to wrestle in the fight and run the race that is set before you. But the life itself, in the full sense of its being not only deliverance from the criminal's curse through the Son being made a curse for you, but also oneness with the Song of Solomon , as in his atoning death and justifying resurrection, so also in his filial oneness with the Father- this life is God's gift, his gift now; not to be waited for; not to be worked for; not to be paid for; but to be accepted and appropriated by faith alone. He gives freely this eternal life.

4. Still he gives it only as life in his Son. He cannot separate this life from his Son; it is so precious, so divine. It is a filial life, and therefore it is in his Son. And it cannot be otherwise. You must have the Son if you would have it. But is that a painful or an irksome condition? Is it any objection, can you feel it to be any objection, that God insists on giving you his Son? Not a boon, a benefit, a blessing through his Song of Solomon , but that Son himself, his own very Song of Solomon , Jesus whom he loveth? Would you indeed have it otherwise? Would you rather not have the Son himself, if only you could get the good of his coming between you and eternal death? Oh, be not so ungrateful! Refuse not to receive and embrace him whom the Father is bringing near to you now. Obey the Father's gracious command and call; "This is my beloved Song of Solomon , hear him."


Verses 13-15

XLI. Eternal Life Connected with Confidence in Prayer

"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."— 1 John 5:13-15 1]

1] I incline to the opinion of those who reject the last clause of the13th verse, "and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." On the whole, the authority of manuscripts seems to be against it. The words come in, moreover, awkwardly, and with no real addition to the sense of the passage. And I can see how the introduction of them into certain manuscripts, through the fault of transcribers, is more easily accounted for than the omission of them from any manuscripts, if they had been genuine. That, as I think, is usually a good test.

THIS would seem to be the beginning of the end of the epistle. Whether the "these things" which "I have written unto you" are simply the things contained in the immediately preceding context, or must be held to reach further back, is not material. John is evidently summing up; he is pointing his discourse or argument to its close. And he points it very clearly and cogently. He puts very strongly the final end he has in view. It is that you may "know" certain things. Over and over again he uses that word "know;" not less than six or seven times in the course of about as many verses. The knowledge meant is evidently of a high order, in a spiritual point of view; not speculative and intellectual merely, out experimental and practical. It is not simply faith, although it is connected with faith, as flowing from it, and involved in it. Still it is something more than faith. It Isaiah , if one may say Song of Solomon , faith realised; faith proved inwardly or subjectively, by being acted out and acted upon outwardly or objectively; the believer ascertaining, by actual trial and experience, the truth and trustworthiness of his belief. It is not now with us—we think, we are persuaded, we hope; but "we know."

Now one thing which you are thus believingly to know is "that you have eternal life." And you are to know this, not in the way of a mere reflex ascertaining of it, but in the way of a direct acting of it out; for "this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." It is thus, in the actual use of it, that you are to know your having eternal life. In plain terms, the outgoing or forthcoming of our boldness, as having eternal life, is in prayer. Prayer is the exercise or expression of it; as it has been said before to be: "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight" ( 1 John 3:22).

I. There Isaiah , however, as it might seem, a qualification here which is not there; "according to his will." What that means it is important to see. It cannot well mean that before asking anything we must know certainly that what we ask is according to his will. This would really preclude us, in ordinary circumstances, from asking anything, or at least from asking anything definite and precise. I say in ordinary circumstances. For we may be situated as Daniel was, when, upon an interpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy, he was infallibly led by inspiration to the conclusion that the period of the Babylonian captivity was expired, or expiring, and that Israel's restoration was certainly due. Without claiming, or having any right to claim, inspiration or infallibility, men have considered themselves entitled, on some extraordinary occasions, to ask certain things to be done by God in his providence, in the full assurance that they were according to his will. That there may be such instances of confidence in asking, upon a clear and certain conviction beforehand that what is asked is according to God's will, confidence, not given by fresh inspiration, but reached by faith in exercise upon inspiration previously recorded, may be admitted. But these exceptionable cases can scarcely be held to meet the apostle's broad and general statement as to the efficacy of all believing prayer. Nor will it do to make this seeming qualification, "according to his will," a mere tag or appendix to all prayer and every prayer; as meaning simply that whatever we ask, we are to ask with this proviso, expressed or understood, "if it be according to thy will." No doubt, when we pray for anything which implies that God should order his providence one way rather than another, thus and not otherwise;—and we can hardly pray for anything specific or definite which does not imply that;—we must, if we would not be guilty of presumption or impiety, virtually attach always the reservation which that formula implies. But this is so evidently indispensable, as a condition of all genuine and reverential prayer, that it could hardly be needful for John to state it. He must surely be pointing to some higher function of the prayer of faith.

"If we ask anything according to his will,"—may not this mean, "If we ask anything as we believe that he wills it"? We ask it as he wills it. In asking it, we put ourselves in the same position with him in willing it. He and we look at it from the same point of view. We who ask identify ourselves with him who wills. Whatever we ask, we ask as from within the circle of his will; we being one in our asking with him in his willing.

This may seem too high a position for us to occupy or aim at; too divine a standpoint; that we in asking, and God in willing, should be at one. And yet is it not the only fair, the only possible, alternative or antithesis to what is the only notion of prayer which the natural man can take in, the notion of bending God's will to his? For that, unquestionably, is what, when tie prays, the natural man desires.

The priests of Baal, when, in answer to Elijah's challenge, "they cried aloud and cut themselves after their manner" sought by their fierce and bloody importunity to bend the object of their mad worship to their purpose, and make him subservient to their pleasure. The sailors in the ship with Jonah , when they called every man upon his god, simply thought that they might be "heard for their much speaking." The instinct of physical pain in acute disease, or of natural affection in an anxious crisis, or of blank despair in sudden peril, may wring from unaccustomed lips a defiant or an abject appeal to the Ruler over all. It is an unknown God who is invoked, on the mere chance that he may be got to do their bidding. The heathen view of prayer, like the heathen view of sacrifice, proceeds upon that notion of subjecting God's determination to men's desire; the prayer and the sacrifice being both alike intended to work upon the divine mind so as to change it into accordance with that of the worshipper. The idea is that God needs to be appeased, and that he may be persuaded; that he needs to be appeased by sacrifice, so that wrath may give place to pity; and that he may be persuaded by prayer to act otherwise than his inner nature might prompt, in compliance with solicitations, or in deference to pressure, from without.

But a right spiritual apprehension of God, as "having in himself eternal life" and "giving us that eternal life in his Son" places both sacrifice and prayer in an entirely different light. Eternal life must necessarily, in its nature as well as in its duration, be independent of time, and consequently also of time's changes and contingencies, its influences and motives. As it is in God himself, it is self-moved, self-originated, self-inspired. He has within himself the grounds and reasons of all his proceedings. In so far as it is communicable to us through his Son and in his Song of Solomon , it must possess substantially the same character of self-containedness, if I may use such a term, or independence of things without. Only, in our case, this life of ours is "hid with Christ in God." It is his life in us.

How then does God himself, having life, this eternal life, in himself, stand related to prayer, or to sacrifice and prayer together? Both must be from within himself. They are alike and equally means of his own appointment or ordination. Sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice of his Son for us, is his own way of opening up communication between himself and us. Prayer, our prayer to him in his Son's name, is his own way of carrying on and carrying oat the communication. Hebrews , having eternal life in himself, moved from within himself, gives to us this eternal life in his Son. And all the fruit or benefit of it he is pleased to give through prayer. For the eternal life which is now, in a sense, common to him and us, comes out in prayer. We meet in prayer, he and we together. And we meet, be it said with reverence, on the footing of our joint possession, in a measure, of the same eternal life; life in ourselves; he and we thus meet together.

Thus prayer, as it is here introduced, becomes a very solemn, because a very confidential, dealing with God. It is asking. But it is asking upon the ground of a very close union and thorough identity between God and us, as regards the life to which the asking has respect, and of which it is the acting out. In plain terms, it is our asking as one in interest, in sympathy, in character, in end and aim—one, in short, m life or manner of living, with him whom we ask; through his giving us eternal life; that life being in his Song of Solomon , and being indeed the very life itself of his Son.

This is not, however, to be regarded as of the essence of prayer, so that none may appeal to the throne of grace without it. God forbid that I should restrict the efficacy of prayer, however and whenever it is offered, out of a smitten conscience and broken heart, Not merely as a sinner out of Christ, but as a believer in Christ, I find my need, daily and hourly, of that liberty of access, as it were from without, to my God and Father, which I have in and with him who has taught me so to approach him.

But it is a somewhat different attitude that I am here called to assume; different, and yet after all the same. I pray as having eternal life; the very eternal life which God gives, and which is in his Son Jesus Christ. What sort of prayer does that mean? Are we not, in offering it, brought into the position of offering the prayer from the very same standpoint, if one may say Song of Solomon , on which God himself stands, when he answers the prayer? We offer our prayer as having eternal life; God's own eternal life, made over to us as ours in his Son. And that is the ground of the confidence which we have, "that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."

II. Hence we are to "know that we have eternal life" through our thus asking, in this confidence; for "if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." We are to know our privilege in the using of it; we are to know our position by taking advantage of it. We receive, in the Song of Solomon , as the Father's gift, a new life. In its nature and manner of acting, it is analogous to the Father's own life, and indeed, in some sense, identical with it. The identity manifests itself in this confidence of prayer. In so far as my prayer is the working out of that identity, it must be confident, confiding, free, and bold. It must be real and actual conversation with God within his own holy place; in his own inmost chamber; upon the matter, whatever it Isaiah , that is the subject of my prayer. I get in now within the veil. I am a dweller in the secret place of the Most High. I Amos , as it were, behind the scenes of his great providential drama, his great economy of grace and judgment. I am with him; one with him; one with him in sympathy of mind and heart as to the eternal principles and laws upon which the whole plan of his moral administration proceeds. From that point of view I consider the question at issue; the question to which my prayer relates; and my prayer regarding it is framed accordingly. It is a setting forth of the matter, as, in all its aspects, it presents itself to me. It is a spreading of it out before God, as it appears to me;—to me, however, as having God's gift to me of eternal life in his Son. For the case is now under my eye, not as it might present itself to me, judging after the flesh, looking at things in the light of merely natural predilections and opinions;—but as it presents itself to me, judging spiritually; looking at things in the light of the eternal life which God gives me in his Son. Whatever I so ask must be according to his will; and therefore I may have absolute confidence that I have it.

I may possibly see my way, upon this footing, to ask altogether unconditionally. I may so realise God's giving to me eternal life in his Song of Solomon ,—and so clearly and unmistakably and assuredly perceive how, in the view of that eternal life, the event at issue might best be ordered,—as to have the utmost boldness in preferring a specific request, absolutely and without qualification. Eminent saints of God have felt themselves entitled, and have warrantably felt themselves entitled, especially in critical emergencies, to be thus precise and peremptory; all the more if a brotherhood of them conferred and consulted together, under the guidance of God's word, as applied by the Spirit's help to his providence. All of them being led by the Spirit to the same conclusion, finding that the case presented itself to them all in the same aspect, and being of one mind as to what would best subserve the ends of the eternal life which they all have in common as God's gift in his Son;—they may have considered themselves at liberty to condescend with great assurance upon the particular step which they would have God to take. And therefore they might unhesitatingly ask him to take it, and fearlessly reckon on his taking it. I suppose that this is partly the Lord's meaning in that remarkable promise: "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."

Even in such a case, however, the prayer is not mere importunate solicitation, as from without; it partakes more of the nature of confidential conversation, within the circle of God's house and family. To adopt a homely phrase, it is as if, using the liberty of trusted children, we were telling our Father how the case under consideration strikes us; how it strikes us when we are looking at it, or trying to look at it, from his point of view; looking at it in the light of that "eternal life which he gives us in his Son."

And what does it really matter, in such intercourse as this, on such a footing as this, with the only wise God, if we should ordinarily count it safer and more becoming to ask conditionally; under the reservation and with the qualification of deference and submission to his better judgment? Our asking anything thus conditionally, if only we ask in the spirit of the eternal life which we have in his Song of Solomon , is very eminently "according to his will." He cannot but approve of it. Nor does it in the least detract from our confidence in asking.

There is room indeed here for different degrees, not of our confidence in asking, but of the conditionality or un-conditionality, if I may say Song of Solomon , with which we ask. Our confidence in asking is the same; the only difference is as to our making up our mind what to ask. As to that, we may well have some hesitation for the most part in being very definite and positive. Even when we honestly and truly ask as having eternal life given to us by God in his Song of Solomon , we may be at a loss. Nay, the more we so ask, the more may we be at a loss We try to look at the matter at issue as God looks at it; not under the influence of things without, and the considerations which they might suggest; but under the rule, and in the light, of that higher life which he has in himself. We seek to judge as God judges; in the view, not of temporal interests merely, but of eternal issues. Well may we pause and be very cautious; well may there be a certain reserve in any judgment we form, and a certain reservation in any prayer we frame upon that judgment; well may there be some dubiety, not as to our having what we ask, but as to what we are to ask; what we would have God to do.

But what then? Is this confidence in prayer a delusion, a sort of juggle? I am told that in virtue of the eternal life which God gives me in his Song of Solomon , I may have whatever I choose to ask. And in the same breath I am told that this very eternal life, which I thus have, may hinder me, for the most part, from ever asking almost anything definitely and positively. Is this not a kind of double-dealing? Is it not putting me off as with the Barmecide's empty feast, or the visionary mirage of the desert? Nay, it is far otherwise.

Let us consider practically our real position; let us take a specific instance.

Our brother Lazarus is sick; and the sickness seems to be unto death. What are we to ask? What is to be our petition, and what our request? If we have respect simply to life temporal; if we take account merely of such considerations as this present earthly scene suggests; we cannot hesitate a moment. Looking at the case from a human standpoint, we need no time for deliberation. The instinct of natural affection will prompt, and many reasons of Christian expediency will occur to enforce, the loud wailing cry to the Lord to spare so precious and useful a life. But we feel that, as admitted to a participation with the Son in the eternal life of God, we have a higher standing and a weightier responsibility in this matter of prayer. We are lifted up to the very footstool on which the throne of the hearer of prayer itself rests; and from thence we look at the question, as he looks at it. Finding ourselves thus placed, our first impulse may be to shrink and hang back altogether. We refuse even to attempt to form a judgment, and to frame the judgment into a prayer, however guarded. But that is not his will; nor on second thoughts is it our wish. It is indeed a singularly high and holy position, in respect of insight and sympathy, that we are called to occupy in fellowship with God. But we are to occupy it boldly, and with all confidence. And now from that position we apply our mind, as it were, along with him, to the determination of what is best to be done; and we express our mind freely to him all along as we do so. We talk the whole affair over with him; conversing about it without reserve. We reason, we expostulate, we plead. We spread out before him all the views and considerations, of whatever sort, that seem to us to have any bearing on the case; not excluding those suggested by warm natural affection and urgent earthly interests, but not limiting our regard to these. We say whatever occurs to us, whatever it is in our heart to say.

What though in all this close and confidential dealing with God we should not be able to say positively what is best? Is it not a blessed intercourse notwithstanding? We may be reduced to utter straits: "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?" In our anguish of spirit, distracted between conflicting motives; altogether at a loss to decide what we would have God to do; driven out of reasoning and speech; we may be reduced to groaning and weeping; to "strong crying and tears." What then? Is our confidence in prayer gone? Nay, it was when Jesus "in the days of his flesh made supplication with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death" that he had the most complete assurance of his being "heard in that he feared." And it is when "we know not what to pray for as we ought, that the Spirit, helping our infirmities, maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered." Our unutterable groanings the blessed Spirit takes as his own, turning them into prayers; prayers very specially acceptable to the hearer of prayer. For "he who searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit when he" thus "maketh intercession for the saints." His doing so is "according to the will of God."

Let us look then at the light which John's teaching in these verses casts on the privilege and duty of prayer.

1. In the first place, let us consider what prayer Isaiah , as thus viewed, in all the fullness and variety of its confident assurance. It is not simply petitioning; it is not monotonous reiteration; the incessant sending up to heaven again and again of the same appeal, the same demand for some specific deliverance, some precise and definite benefit, that may seem to us indispensable, that we feel as if we could not do without. It is a far more confidential dealing with God than that. It is our becoming "the men of his secret." It is our getting into the inmost chamber of his house, and consulting with him there; seeking to know his mind; ready to make his mind ours. I say it is consulting with God. And the consultation may and must be full and free. It will embrace as its topics whatever can be of interest to him or to us; to him primarily, to us as under him. Hence everywhere and always, and with reference to everything, we must be thus consulting with God; not only upon cases of difficulty or distress, but upon all sorts of cases; common cases, everyday cases; little cases, as well as cases of rare and grave emergency.

Prayer of this kind may be short, like the Lord's strong cry of agony in the garden; it may be silent, like his groaning and weeping at Bethany. But it may be long, ever so long, without falling under the Lord's censure of the long prayers of the Pharisees. In such prayer he himself often spent the whole long night, He was at home then and there with his Father; consulting with him about many things; about all things bearing on his Father's glory and his own work; laying his own views and feelings and wishes unreservedly before his Father; and reverently learning his.

Brethren, pray thus without ceasing. "In everything, by such prayer and supplication, make your requests known to God." Carry everything; literally everything; everything that befalls you, or seems likely to befall you; every choice you have to make; whatever you have to say or do; every care, every duty, every trial, every glad relief; carry everything to God. Converse with God about it. Turn it over, as between God and you, in every possible way. Look at it from every possible point of view. Do not be in haste to make up your mind as to what is best; as to what you should definitely ask. Rather prolong the blessed interview. The very suspending of your judgment, as the consultation goes on, may make the interview more blessed. And the issue will be the clear, calm "peace of God keeping your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ your Lord;" "the single eye, making the whole body full of light."

2. Then, secondly, let us consider how close and intimate is the connection between life and prayer; between God's giving us eternal life in his Song of Solomon , and our asking thus confidently and confidentially. The two are really one; the eternal life is realised and acted out in this asking. The life is prayer; and prayer is the life. It is as partakers of the life which the Father has in himself, and which, by his gift, the Son also has in himself, that we ask and pray. The essential characteristic of that life is its self-containedness, if I may repeat the phrase; its independence of things without; its drawing from within itself the motives of all its voluntary determinations. So the Father lives; not affected by impulses and influences of a temporal sort from without; but purposing and decreeing, willing and acting, always from himself and for himself. So the Son also lives, not as God merely, but as "the man Christ Jesus;" being, as to his manhood as well as his Godhead, in an intimate sense one with the Father; one in purpose and decree, in will and action; one in mind and heart. So also in a measure we, having the Song of Solomon , live. Our real life is apart from the contingencies and accidents of time, being "hid with Christ in God." It is as so living, living that hidden life, that we ask and pray. What harmony, what concord and agreement, what entire oneness, between God and us, does this imply! It is oneness of opinion, sentiment, feeling, desire; first, on the great fundamental question, What is life?—life worthy of the name,—life worth the living; and then, in subordination to that, upon every question which can touch that life. We form the same idea of life that God has, and that Christ has; the same idea of what it is worth while to live for. And it is under that idea, fixed and fastened deep in our inmost spirit, that we ask and pray. We settle in the Spirit with ourselves,—as well as with Christ and with God,—what is the only true, the only perfect, the only desirable life, for beings possessed of a divine faculty of intelligence, and destined to a divine immortality. Having that life, we commune with the living One, as our Father in Christ, upon all the great eternal aims and hopes which it contains, and all the small temporal casualties by which, for a season, these aims and hopes may be environed and beset. Such communing about eternity, and about time as related to eternity, is prayer; the prayer which acts out "the eternal life which we have as God's gift in his Son."

3. In the third place, let us consider how very holy this life Isaiah , and how very holy therefore must be the prayer which acts it out. It is indeed our being "partakers of God's holiness." For such living fellowship and communion as is implied in the life and the prayer, sensitively shrinks from all unholy handling. Sense may not mar it; sin may not pollute it; the touch of earth's vanity or man's corruption breaks its sacred spell, and dissolves its peaceful charm. For the charm of this life of prayer is peace; the peace of God; the peace of conscious sympathy with the God of peace. But all earthliness, worldliness, and selfishness,—all diversity of judgment or feeling on any point between us and him whose eternal life we share,—in a word, all unholiness,—disturbs that peace. No unsanctified bosom can be its dwelling-place on earth, for its dwelling-place in heaven is the holy bosom of God. Therefore, "as he who hath called us is holy, let us also be holy."

4. For, in the fourth place, this faculty of praying as having eternal life, is itself to be sought by prayer. The life is God's gift in Christ, to be appropriated by faith; the Spirit shutting us up into Christ, and making us one with Christ. The prayer is in the Spirit and of the Spirit. It is the Spirit making intercession for us, with us, in us. It is the Spirit of his Son sent forth by God into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. But the Spirit is given in answer to prayer. Therefore let us ask, seek, knock, that we may receive the Spirit; that he may dwell in us; that he may move us, as having eternal life in the Song of Solomon , to pray, as the Son himself was wont to pray, in the Spirit. So moved, we may be praying confidently, as the Son prayed, in all sorts of ways; not only in prolonged midnight meditations, but in brief ejaculations as occasion calls; in hasty utterances; or when utterance fails, in sighs and tears and groans. For we have all boldness to be ever praying, after whatever sort of prayer may suit the times and seasons of our praying. Let us pray that we may receive the Spirit thus to embolden us always to pray;—to "ask according to his will" even as the Spirit "maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God."


Verse 16-17

XLII. Prayer for a Brother's Sin, but not for a Sin unto Death

"If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. Ail unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death." 1 John 5:16-17 1]

1] I incline to read this17th verse (, 1 John 5:17) without the negative in the last clause. The sense of the entire passage is not materially affected whether we keep in or leave out the "not." But the authority of manuscripts is rather against it. And certainly the omission of it makes the meaning more plain and pointed. (See page283.)

JOHN assumes that one chief use which you will be disposed to make of your right and power to pray will be to pray for others. He puts a case. You see your brother sinning. He is "your brother." This does not necessarily imply that he who sins is a true brother in the Lord. It has been already made manifest more than once in this epistle, that the relation of brotherhood, in the apostle's sense of the term is of much wider reach and range. It arises not so much out of the character and standing of him whom you call your brother, as out of the nature of the affection with which you regard him. True, your brother, in the highest point of view, is he who, being really to God a Song of Solomon , is really to you on that account a brother. But whoever he may be whom you love with a brotherly love; with a love that treats him as a brother; not as a mere instrument to be used or companion to be enjoyed for a day, but as one having an immortal soul to be saved for eternity; every one so loved by you is your brother. When he sins, his sin vexes you as the sin of a brother. You cannot look on and see him sinning with indifference or amusement or contempt, as if he were a stranger, or a helot, or a dog. It is your brother whom you see sinning. And therefore you speak to him as to a brother about his sin; not harshly, with sharp reproach or cutting sarcasm, or cold magisterial severity. With a brother's voice, coming out of the depths of a brother's bosom, you earnestly expostulate and affectionately plead with him. Alas! he turns to you a deaf ear, and you have no power to open it. But another ear is open to you, the ear of your Father in heaven; and he can open your brother's ear. To your Father in heaven you go. You deal with him about your sinning brother's case. You ask that life may be given to him; the "eternal life" which the sin he is committing justly forfeits. You grow importunate in asking; your importunity being in proportion to the truth and warmth of your brotherly love; you feel almost as if you could converse with God about nothing else. And you do converse with God about it,—oh, how pathetically! In all this you do well; using the liberty you have, as receiving "eternal life in his Son" to "ask anything, knowing that he hears you."

But is there no risk of excess or of error? May you not be too one-sided in looking at the case yourself, and in representing it to God? May you not be so concerned about the one terrible aspect of it, its bearing on your brother's doom, as to shut out the other aspect of it, Which ought never to be lost sight of, its bearing on the Father's throne; on the holy and righteous sovereignty of his government and law? May not your sympathy with your sinning brother overbear somewhat your sympathy with him against whom he is sinning? May you not thus be led to overstep the limits of warrantable confidence, so as to ask that life may be given to him, on any terms, at any cost, in any way, irrespectively altogether of what, in your calmer moments, you would yourself recognise as the paramount claims of the Most High? Thus your prayer for your sinning brother may slide insensibly into an apologetic pleading for indulgence to his sin. You may be tempted to represent as excusable what God regards as inexcusable; and to feel as if, whatever your brother's criminality may be, there may still be favour shown to him notwithstanding. It is to guard you against such a frame of mind that the solemn warning is given: "If a man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it."

I am persuaded that it is in the line of this train of thought that the solution of the difficult problem here suggested is to be sought. The whole analogy of the faith, as well as the bearing of the context, favours this view. If I am right in this persuasion, some important consequences would seem to follow.

In the first place, there is no warrant in this text for the doctrine which Rome seeks to draw from it as to the distinction, in themselves,—in their own nature or in their accompanying aggravations,—between venial and mortal sins. Let the distinction be admitted as otherwise proved, it is nothing to the purpose here. A Romanist, in his anxious prayer for his sinning brother, may be tempted to put his sin into the wrong category, and to speak of it to God as venial, whereas it is really mortal. It is a temptation of the same sort that besets me; I admit it to be so. Hebrews , praying according to his creed which allows the distinction, is admonished, precisely as I who deny it am admonished. We are both warned against asking God to regard as venial what, in the view of his righteous judgment and holy supremacy, is and must be mortal. But this text itself does not decide between us. And if it appears from all the rest of Scripture that the Romanist's idea is not only unproved but disproved, the circumstance that this text might possibly be interpreted in consistency with his idea avails him nothing; since it turns out that it can be equally well, or even much better, interpreted in consistency with mine.

Secondly, there is no occasion to be solicitous in attempting to identify any particular sin, or any particular manner of sinning, as what is here said to be "unto death." The attempt, as all experience shows, is as vain as it is presumptuous. And yet, in spite of all experience, the attempt is ever renewed. Morbid minds, or minds in a morbid state, become sensitive on the point; but without warrant or reason. Even if there were "a sin unto death" that might be ascertainable in a man's own consciousness, the mention of it would not be to the purpose here, unless it were ascertainable also in the judgment of his neighbour or his brother. For the question is as to your praying for me. Even if I myself could know that I had sinned the sin unto death, how could you know that I had? However it might affect my praying for myself, how could it affect your praying for me? And as you have no right to judge me to that effect, so neither have I any right to judge myself. Let it be settled and fixed as a great truth, according to this and many other passages of Scripture, that there cannot be any such thing as my sinning a sin unto death, in such a sense as might warrant me, from my fear of my having committed it, to cease to pray for myself;—far less warrant you, from an opinion on your part that I have committed it, to cease to pray for me.

For, thirdly, the real and only object of the apostle is to put in a caveat and lodge a protest against the intrusion into the sacred province of confidential prayer, especially when it is prayer for a sinning brothel of a tendency which is too natural and too apt to prevail, even in one having the eternal life which the Father gives in his Son; the tendency, I mean, to subordinate the divine claims to considerations of human expediency or human pity. It is the same tendency which, when the case is our own, is apt to bias and mislead us. Let us trace its working.

1. It is of course strongest in the unrenewed mind and unreconciled heart. While under their dominion, we cannot be expected to consult for God at all; we consult only for ourselves. In forming a notion as to how God may, and as we think, ought to deal with us, we take little or no account of what may be due to him, to the honour of his holy name and the glorious majesty of his throne and law. We pay little or no regard to what the principles of his righteous moral administration and the interests of his loyal subjects may require. We think only of our own relief and safety; our own convenience and accommodation. And hence we see no difficulty in our slight offences being overlooked and our infirmities indulged, upon our making certain formal submissions, and going through some routine of service. Thus we accept the serpent's lie: "Ye shall not surely die" no sin of ours being, in our view, if all extenuating circumstances are taken into account "a sin unto death."

2. It should be otherwise with us now; now that "having the Son we have life." We surely ought to be, as. the Son Isaiah , on the Father's side; one in interest and sympathy with him; ready to give him the pre-eminence in alt things, and to subordinate even what most pertains to our own welfare to the glorifying of his name and the doing of his will. We may be thankful that this does not entail on us the suffering and sacrifice which it entailed on him, when Hebrews , in the matter of the cup given him to drink, submitted his own will to the Father's. Well may we be thankful that, through his taking our death as his and our having his life as ours, we may have the same mind that was in him, without its bringing such pain on us. Nay, for us, our putting God and his claims first, and putting ourselves and our concerns second, is in fact the secret of our safety and our rest.

All the more on that account is it reasonable to expect that in whatever we ask of God for ourselves, in our closest communing with him about our own affairs, whether temporal or spiritual, we should allow this principle to have full scope. But is it so? Alas! the old selfish spirit is ever apt to come back and come out again. It comes out, perhaps almost unconsciously, in our secret pleading that something in us or about us may be spared which God has doomed to destruction; be it some unmortified lust in the heart, or some doubtful practice of worldly conformity in the life. If indeed we are honestly communing with God about it, placing his honour first and our case only second, we can be at no loss what to ask. We can ask but one thing; the grace of instant decision to deal with what offends, as we know that God would have it dealt with. Are we asking that, asking it in faith, and acting accordingly? Or are we still irresolute, putting in a plea for some slight indulgence, some short delay; as if, after all, the evil were not so very serious, nor the danger of tolerating it for a little longer so very great? Brother, let me solemnly and affectionately warn you,—or rather, let the beloved apostle warn you: —"All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin unto death."

3. In intercessory prayer, the tendency of which I speak operates powerfully and painfully. A rude and vulgar notion prevails amongst those who reject, the gospel which we embrace, that we who embrace it, hugging ourselves in our own security, have a sort of pleasure in consigning all outside of our circle to inevitable and everlasting ruin. Alas! they know not, either the weakness of our filial faith, or the strength, if not of our brotherly love, yet of our natural affection. The temptation is all the other way. It is all in the direction of our tampering and taking liberties with the sovereign authority and grace of God, in accommodation to the weakness, and even the wickedness, of men. We do not say, abstractly and absolutely, that there is not a sin unto death; but we fondly hope that our brother's sin may not be held to be so. It is not hoping that he may repent of it. Such hope cannot well be too strong; nor can our asking in terms of it be too confident. But here lies the danger. Our asking that he may repent of it, if his repenting of it is delayed, is apt,—oh, how apt!—apt in proportion as we love him, to slide unawares into our virtually asking that, though not repented of, it may be overlooked; that at least it may not be reckoned to him as "a sin unto death."

It is often a very terrible test of our loyalty to God our Father, and our allegiance to his crown and his commandments, that is in such a case to be applied.

4. Take an extreme instance. One whom you loved with truest brotherly love, with most intense longing to welcome him as a brother in Christ to your heart, has gone without affording you that joy; he has died, giving no sign. He was lovely, amiable, pleasant. You and he were one in kin; still more one in kind and in kindness. But he has passed away, continuing to the last in a course of life scarcely, if at all, reconcilable with even the profession of godliness. What is your temptation in such a case? Ah, it is a very awful one! It is to prefer his interest to the gospel of God, and the law of God. It is to think that, culpable as he may have been, his culpability may not have proved fatal. It is to cherish the fond imagination that, in spite of the law which he has broken and the gospel which he has rejected, he may still, on the ground of qualities which won your admiration, or sufferings which moved your compassion, find some measure of mercy in the end.

It is very tender ground on which I tread; I know it; experimentally I know it. Far, very far, be it from me, to insist on your judging a departed brother, however he may have sinned, and continued in his sin to the last. He is in the hands of God. Leave him there without questioning. Think of the old rhyming adage—

"Between the stirrup and the ground,

Mercy I sought, mercy I found."

Think too of the more authentic instance of the thief on the cross; by all means think of that, and take what comfort you can from that. But beware! Sorely,—oh, how sorely!—are you tempted first to wish that there were some room for such as he was, even continuing still the same, within the holy city of the most high God; and then to hope that there may be. It Isaiah , I repeat, a very sore temptation. Many a brokenhearted mourner in Zion has felt it; you and I have felt it; and we have felt that, under the influence of it, we have been beginning to underrate the need of regeneration, and conversion, and a living faith, and a holy walk; to dream of men who gave no evidence here of anything like such grace, being possibly safe without it hereafter. And what next? We become insensibly more tolerant than we were of sin in ourselves; less alive to the necessity of immediate repentance and faith; more inclined to temporise and compromise; to look at things not from God's point of view but from our own; as if he had not "given to us his own eternal life in his Son."

Let us see to it above all things, though it may cost us often many a struggle and many a tear, that we do not suffer our firm faith in God, and our loving loyalty to him, to fall a sacrifice to the fond relentings of our own weak hearts. Whatever may be its bearing on the fate of any brother, let us, for God's sake and our own, for God's honour and our own salvation, accept it as a great and solemn fact, that "all unrighteousness is sin, and that there is a sin unto death."

5. You do not pray for the dead; you do not think it lawful. It is in the indulgence of a trembling hope concerning them that the temptation of which I speak besets you. But the same temptation besets you also when you pray for the living. It is the temptation to wish that, in its application to the sin which you see your brother sinning, God's holy law were not so very uncompromising, nor his righteous judgment so very unrelenting, as they are declared to be. No doubt you ask that your brother may receive grace to repent of his sin. But what if he should not? You have a sort of reserved notion that, even in that case and upon that supposition, there may be some chance of safety for him. That is the temptation. And it is often a most severe and stern trial of your faith to resist it; to ask life for your sinning brother; but to ask it evermore under the deep conviction that "all unrighteousness is sin, and that there is a sin unto death."

Let us see, once for all, what the apostle's solemn statement really implies.

In the first place, let it be very specially noted that this is the one only limitation which John puts upon the liberty of intercessory prayer. And let us mark well where the limitation applies. It does not really touch our privilege of asking life for our brother, in the true and full sense of life;—the eternal life which God gives, and which is in his Son. We may not ask for him this life, if we ask it for him as sinning, and contemplated by us as possibly sinning unto death. And for the best of all reasons we may not thus ask; for it is asking what, even with God, is an impossibility. But, short of that impossibility, there is no restriction laid on our asking; we may ask life for him, to the utmost of our heart's desire. We may use the utmost freedom in asking life for him, provided only we do not ask it for him as sinning, and continuing to sin, unto death. Be his sin ever so heinous, let it be the sin of a whole long lifetime of ungodliness, we may ask life for him, in the line of his repenting and believing the gospel, provided only, I repeat, that we do not ask it as if life could be given him in any other way.

I know that a question may be raised even here, as to the extent to which we may absolutely and unconditionally ask for our sinning brother faith and repentance, and having asked, may positively know that "we have the petition that we have desired of God." I know that there are difficulties in the direction now indicated. They are difficulties connected with that decree of election which alone secures the salvation of any sinner;—but they are difficulties which we may conceive of as possibly hindering the salvation of some sinner for whom we pray. They are difficulties, however, which do not touch such intercessory prayer more than they touch any other sort of prayer;—and indeed all prayer, generally and universally. The decree of election can no more hinder my praying confidently for my sinning brother, than it can hinder my praying confidently for my sinning self. In either case, it is one of "the secret things belonging to the Lord our God" not one of "the revealed things belonging to us and to our children." At all events, this text has nothing to do with that. It imposes no restriction on our prayer arising out of God's eternal purpose. The only restriction which it does impose is one rendered necessary by our own infirmity, and the temptation to which it exposes us. We are not to ask, what we are tempted to ask, that our brother, continuing in sin, may yet be saved; that while still sinning unto death, he may nevertheless somehow live. But under that reservation, reasonable surely, and necessary, we have all liberty, so far as this text is concerned;—and it is the only text in all the Bible that can by any possibility be supposed to fetter or abridge our liberty;—we have all liberty, I say, to ask life for our brother. It is a wide charter, altogether broad and free.

But, secondly, there is an obvious practical application suggested by the reservation. If we ask life for our brother, knowing that he cannot have it while sinning unto death; or, in other words, that he cannot have it otherwise than in the way of believing and repenting; our prayer for him, if sincere, must imply our personal dealing with him with a view to his believing and repenting. If what we asked for him were simply life,—life in any sense and on any terms,—we might let him alone. Having asked, we might think that we could do nothing more to help in bringing about the desired result. But it is not so; it is far otherwise. We may take part along with him whom we ask, the hearer of prayer, in what we ask him to do; we must take part along with him, if our asking is real and earnest. To ask God to give life to our sinning brother while we ourselves "suffer sin upon him"—not warning him even with tears;—sin, the very sin that is hurrying him on to death;—what mockery!—how insulting to our God, and oh, how cruel to our poor brother himself!

Finally, in the third place, let our conviction be clear, strong and deep, that "all unrighteousness is sin, and that there is a sin unto death." Let us see that there is no faltering, no hesitancy as to that great fact or truth. Upon both the parts of this solemn declaration let our faith be firm, and let our trumpet give no uncertain sound. It is at this point that a stand is to be resolutely made against all antinomian licence in religion; for it is at this point that the enemy has always pressed the church most hardly, and alas! the church has too often shown herself weak. The knowing ones who corrupted the gospel in John's own day undermined the citadel at this very point. They held and taught that unrighteousness, unholiness, uncleanness, which would be sin in any one else, might be no sin in the spiritual man It could only defile the body. And what of that, the body being perishable? It could not touch the essence of the living and immortal soul. Sin therefore, even when persevered in to the end, might yet be not unto death. John does not reason with these wicked men; it is not a case for reasoning. He meets their vile, foul, base imagination with the stern assertion of law and appeal to conscience: "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin unto death."

Ever and anon, from age to age, the same abominable devil's creed has troubled and polluted the church of God. Nay, even when the church is undisturbed by it, still, ever and anon, it troubles and pollutes the child of God, in some one or other of its insidious temptations.

For alas! alas! it is but too congenial to the sloth and selfishness and sensuality that still prevail too much within him. Ah me! how apt am I to cherish the secret, half-unconscious notion, that flush, or that infirmity besetting me, or besetting my much-loved brother,—infirmity which, if I saw it attached to any one else, I would not scruple for a moment to denounce as sin,—may somehow in my case, or in my brother's, be more mildly characterised and more gently dealt with! How apt am I to hope that this or that little secret sin which I feel cleaving still to me, or see cleaving still to my brother, may after all, and in the long run, not prove fatal! Ah, if there be but the faintest taint of this damnable heresy lurking in your inner Prayer of Manasseh , how can you be prosecuting, with anything like earnestness, the work of your own personal sanctification, or seeking, with anything like faithfulness, the sanctification of your brother;—asking God to give you life, or to give him life? Be very sure that if you would be safe yourself, and if you would save him, you need to shun, as you would a pestilential blast, or the very breath of hell, whatever tends, however remotely, to confound the everlasting distinctions of right and wrong, or shake the foundations of truth and virtue which are the very pillars of the universe and of the throne of God. It is a "word which doth eat as a canker." Beware, and again I say beware, of scepticism on the great eternal principles of moral duty—of the moral law. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." "The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God." "All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin unto death.


Verse 17-18

XLIII. The Believer as Born of God Keeping Himself so as not to Sin

"All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."— 1 John 5:17-18

THE last clause of the seventeenth verse may best be read without the negative. There Isaiah , I believe, preponderating manuscript authority for so reading it. And, as regards internal evidence, it seems easier to explain,—and this is a good criterion,—how, if not originally in the text, it might creep in, than how, if originally in the text, it could fall out. The insertion of it by copyists, perhaps first as a conjectural marginal reading, can easily be explained by their supposing it necessary to harmonise the statement in the seventeenth verse with that in the verse before, so as to bring in again the idea of the lawfullness of praying for life for them that sin not unto death. This seventeenth verse, howewer, rather points the thought, not backwards to the sixteenth, but onwards and forwards to the eighteenth. Do not imagine that in praying for a sinning brother, you may overlook the possibility of his sin being unto death. Do not pray for him as if you thought that in accommodation to his case God's law might be relaxed, and Hebrews , though sinning so as to deserve to die, and continuing so to sin, might yet not surely die. Beware of that; for your own sake, as well as for his sake; for your own sake, even more than for his sake. For you are in danger of being led to tolerate in yourselves what you are inclined to palliate in a brother. You secretly hope that there may be impunity for him, even though he is continuing in sin. Is there no risk of your being tempted to cherish a similar hope for yourselves; and so to forget the great truth that "all unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin unto death"?

But you may be saying within yourselves, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" ( 1 John 3:9). You, therefore, as born of God, may hold yourselves safe in extenuating sin and deprecating on his behalf its terrible doom. Still beware! It is true that, as it has been explained, whosoever is born of God does not and cannot sin. "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not." Yes, we know that. But we know also that his not sinning, however it may be connected with his being born of God, and secured by God's seed, the seed of the divine nature and eternal life, remaining in him,—is not so connected with that fact, or so secured by it, as to preclude the necessity of care and watchfullness. He has "to keep himself;" and that too in the presence of a formidable enemy. "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not." But why not? Because "he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not."

He "keepeth himself." The phrase might suggest two ideas: that of keeping, as if restraint were needed; or that of keeping, as if care and culture were intended. This last is probably to be regarded as the right sense, not however by any means to the exclusion of the other. He has to guard himself against the touch of "that wicked one" from without; and he has carefully to watch and foster the growth of the divine seed within. His thus keeping himself is the effect of his being born of God; and it is the cause, or means, of his not sinning. Not otherwise than in the way of his keeping himself, can one born of God be safe from sinning. In an important and practical point of view, he must be his own keeper. And his keeping himself will be earnest, sedulous, anxious, in proportion to the sense he has of the value of what is to be kept, on the one hand, and of its liability to sustain damage, or be lost, on the other.

I. What is to be kept, O child of God? Yourself! Not yourself as you are by nature, but yourself as born of God. Consider, first, what is implied in that solemn thought. Even as regards the life that now Isaiah , you have to keep yourself. Self-preservation is both your right and your duty; your right, which you are to vindicate though your doing so may involve an assailant's death; your duty, which, whatever you may think about your own worth or value, you are not at liberty to renounce or to neglect. You are not entitled to throw yourself away; you are bound to keep yourself. And that, not only in the sense of your not literally committing suicide; for you may abstain from suicide and yet be virtually a self-destroyer. You are bound to keep yourself as one,—whatever you are, and wherever you are,—that is too costly to be cast away, being still, as you are, within the reach of divine grace and eternal life. You have no more right, in any circumstances, or in any mood or frame of mind, to give yourself up to despair, than you have to give yourself up to death.

But it is as a child of God that you are here said to keep yourself. Consider, I say again, what that means.

Try for a moment to separate in imagination yourself as the, keeper, from yourself as what is to be kept. Look upon yourself objectively; as if you were looking at another person. Or, to make this easier, look first at another person, as if he were yourself. Suppose yourself your brother's keeper; keeping him as if he were yourself. And, to make the analogy a fair one, suppose yourself to be, under God, his only keeper. And suppose also that your are his keeper in the sense of having most intimate access to his inner Prayer of Manasseh , as well as entire control over his outward actions.

Well, you keep him; you, as born of God, keep him, as born of God;—would that we were all thus keeping one another! But what sort of keeping will it be? That will depend on the vividness of the apprehension which you have of your own sonship, and of his; of your being born of God, and his being born of God. He whom you have to keep is no ordinary piece of goods. He may have been once vile; a condemned criminal; and as such, unclean. But "what God has cleansed you cannot call common or unclean." He is very precious now, and very pure. He has the seed of God abiding in him; the germ and principle of an absolutely sinless character and life. It is in that view, and upon that supposition, that you have to "keep" him. Your whole treatment of him must be accommodated to that fact. Need I bid you ask yourself what your treatment of him would, or at any rate should, be if you had to keep him as thus "born of God"?

Now if your keeping yourself is to be at all such as you feel that your keeping of your brother ought to be in the case supposed, it must proceed upon as clear and explicit a recognition of your own standing as, in that case, there would be of his. If you are really to keep yourself, you must distinctly understand, and strongly realise, what it is about you that is to be kept; what is the character in which, and what the standard by which, and what the end for which, you are to keep yourself.

For instance, I may feel that I have to keep myself as a good worldly Prayer of Manasseh , or a good moral Prayer of Manasseh , or a good man of business, or a good man of society, or a good neighbour and friend; a good husband, father, brother, son. I can only keep myself, in any of these characters, by first making it thoroughly, inwardly, intensely, my own, and then thoroughly acting it out. It will not do to assume it, or to imagine it; neither will it do to admit it in any doubtful or hesitating way. If I am to keep myself, I must know and apprehend myself actually to be what I mean, by keeping myself, to continue to be.

In keeping myself as born of God, this personal and realising faith is especially needful. The secret of my not keeping myself, with enough of watchfullness and prayer, is too often to be found in the want of it. I keep myself, perhaps, with tolerably decent consistency, as a professing member of the church; I keep myself as an upright, charitable, and correctly religious man. But do I take home to myself the obligation of keeping myself as more than that? Do I adequately apprehend the fact that t am more than that; that I am really and truly "born of God"? Do I sufficiently apprehend what that means? Nothing else will ensure my "keeping myself."

I do not speak now of assurance, in a doctrinal point of view. No question is raised here as to a believing man being assured, for his own comfort, of his present standing and of his final salvation. The whole strain of John's teaching is practical. Whether or not he that is born of God is to sit down and conclude reflexly that he is born of God, is not said. It is not even said that he is to raise the question. All that is said Isaiah , that he is to treat himself; he is to keep himself; as born of God. He is so to use and deal with himself, as he would use and deal with what is born of God. It is not to any reflex or subjective exercise of faith, ascertaining itself simply for its own confirmation and confidence, that he is called, but to the direct, objective acting out of his faith. And that is all in the line of his practically keeping himself, as he feels that what is born of God ought to be and must be kept.

What sort of keeping of one's self should grow out of such a vivid and realising sense as this implies of what being born of God means, it is not necessary to describe minutely or at large. The working out of the problem may well be left to our own consciences and hearts. The main thing is to secure here, as everywhere, singleness of eye. Only let us settle it decidedly, firmly, unequivocally, as the deep conviction of our souls, that it is as "born of God" that we are to "keep ourselves."

Ah! if we did Song of Solomon , would there be Song of Solomon -much careless living among us; so much unsteadfast walking; so much indifference to the way in which our customary manner of spending our time and occupying our thoughts tells on our spiritual state? Would there not be more of earnest prayer, of secret fellowship with God, of diligent study of his word, of anxious watchfullness; more of an eager pressing on to higher attainments in divine insight and sympathy, in holiness and love?

For to keep ourselves as born of God, is to aim at exhausting experimentally all that the privilege involves. It is to keep ourselves, as sons and heirs, in the full enjoyment of our Father's love and in the full view of the many mansions of our Father's house.

II. This keeping of ourselves, as born of God, will be felt to be the more necessary, when we consider, secondly, how liable that which is to be kept is to suffer damage and be lost. If we are born of God, and if it is in that character that we are to keep ourselves; let us remember how apt that character is to be marred and injured by the outer world with which we are ever coming in contact; how apt it is to lose its marked distinctiveness and fresh life in our own souls.

As born of God, we have to "keep ourselves unspotted from the world;" we have to keep ourselves also unspotted from the evil that is in us, as born in iniquity and conceived in sin. In both views, what is above all things needed is to cherish a deep, abiding, personal, practical persuasion that "all unrighteousness is sin, and that there is a sin unto death."

The risk of relaxed diligence in "keeping ourselves as born of God" lies mainly in our ceasing, more or less consciously, to regard sin as exceeding sinful, and the doom of sin as inevitably certain. Hence, in order to our keeping ourselves, it is of the utmost consequence, first of all, that we truly and fully apprehend that we are to keep ourselves as being born of God. And it is of equal consequence, secondly, that we truly and fully apprehend the absolute incompatibility of our sinning with our being born of God. Sin from without and from within is ever besetting us. And the temptation is very strong to begin to think that, in some form or degree, it may not be altogether damaging to our spiritual life, as born of God, or altogether fatal to our heavenly prospects, as having eternal life. The instant such a thought finds harbour in our bosom, all our faithfulness in keeping ourselves is gone. "Whosoever is born of God keepeth himself,"—only when he realises his own sacredness as "born of God;" and when moreover he realises,—and that too with special reference, not merely to the world with which he is ever in contact, but also to himself and his own tendencies and liabilities,—the solemn truth that "all unrighteousness is sin, and that there is a sin unto death."

There is no room for any question being raised here as to the certainty of his final salvation, or the security for his preservation in grace to the end. That is not the point. Be it that God keeps him, and will keep him, infallibly safe; God does Song of Solomon , and can do Song of Solomon , only through his keeping himself. And his keeping himself implies a constant sense of his liability, after all, so far as he is himself concerned, to be lost. So Paul kept himself: "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away." So will every one that is born of God keep himself; remembering the exhortations, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;" "Thou standeth by faith; be not highminded, but fear."

And this fear, not slavish fear of an angry God, but filial fear of a loving Father, the fear of filial love, will grow, and will become more and more "fear and trembling." It will do so in proportion as I apprehend, with growing vividness, on the one hand, all the holy blessedness that there is in being born of God, and on the other hand, all that there is in sin; in any sin; in every sin; of deep and deadly malignity, making it the very bane of that blessedness. Thus, with increasing sensitiveness, will I be keeping myself "as born of God, and not sinning." Thus will I be "working out my own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God which worketh in me both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

I do not now enter on the consideration of the promise annexed to this self-keeping: "The wicked one toucheth him not." I prefer to take that promise in connection with what follows. I content myself with one observation on its connection with what precedes.

"The wicked one" seeks to touch you; to touch you at the tenderest and most sensitive point, where alone lies your security against sinning; your being "born of God."

For it is only as born of God that you sin not. It is in your filial standing thoroughly realised, and in your filial spirit thoroughly cherished and exercised, that the secret of your not sinning lie. The wicked one knows that right well; he quite understands it. Full well he knows and understands that if he can get you, be it only for a brief hour or moment, to step off from the platform of your sonship;—or if he can insinuate into your breast at arty time a single unchildlike thought of God;—he has you at his mercy. And you sin. You listen to his whispered suggestion that this or that commandment of God is grievous. You suffer his wily insinuation,—"Yea, hath God said that ye shall not?"—to poison your ear, to poison your soul. You let in the spirit of bondage again. The light and liberty of your loving cry, "Abba, Father" are gone. Shorn of your strength, you repine, you murmur, you sin.

Ah, friends! "keep yourselves." And see to it that you keep yourselves as "born of God." Keep yourselves in your conscious sonship, and in the spirit of it. Then "the wicked one toucheth you not." Be very sure that it is sonship believingly apprehended and realised, it is the spirit of sonship faithfully cherished and exercised, that is your only real shield and defence against the touch of the wicked one. For his touch, his stinging touch, is the suggestion of the poor servile thought that God's commandments are grievous. The filial, loving confidence of one keeping himself as a child of God instinctively and indignantly casts away the insinuation. The wicked one therefore cannot touch one living as a son of God. He could not touch, terribly as he tried to touch, the Son of God while he lived on earth; for never did he live otherwise than as the Son of God. He cannot touch any one to whom God gives "the Spirit of his Song of Solomon , crying, Abba, Father." For no one can be, at any moment, crying, in the Spirit, Abba, Father, and at the same moment counting any of God's commandments grievous. Therefore when "he that is begotten of God" keepeth himself as so begotten, "the wicked one toucheth him not."


Verse 18-19

XLIV. Our Being of God—The World Lying in the Wicked One

"And that [the] wicked one toucheth him not. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" [the wicked one].— 1 John 5:18-19

INSTEAD of "wickedness" in the nineteenth verse, we may rather read "the wicked one." There is now a general agreement among critics and interpreters to that effect. There is no good reason for any change in this verse from the rendering in the verse before. There it must unavoidably be personal, "the wicked one toucheth him not." It is quite unnecessary and unwarrantable to make it impersonal and abstract here, "the whole world lieth in wickedness." It is the same expression and should be translated in the same way, "the whole world lieth in the wicked one." For the change mars the sense, and destroys the obvious contrast that there is between the child of God, whom that wicked one does not touch, and the world which, so far from being safe from his touch, lies wholly in him.

We know this last fact, as knowing ourselves to be of God; and it is our thus knowing it that mainly contributes to our security.

For that is the precise point and purpose of the statement, "the whole world lieth in the wicked one." It is a statement introduced for a purely practical end; an end or purpose personal to us, as begotten of God, and, in that character, "keeping ourselves." It has no reference to any other persons besides ourselves; it is strictly applicable, and meant to be applied, to ourselves alone. There is no contrast intended between us and the rest of mankind. There is no emphasis in the "we,"—"we are of God,"—as in contradistinction to those of our fellow-men who may be classed as "the world." In fact the "we" is not in the original at all. It is supplied, and of course necessarily supplied, in our translation. But its not being expressed in the original is plain proof, as all scholars know, that it is not intended to be emphatic, or to suggest any contrast between us and any other body of men. We have nothing here to do with any but ourselves; the text is written solely for our learning, for our warning. It bids us remember that we, being of God, are not of that world which lies wholly in the wicked one. It bids us do Song of Solomon , in order that, being begotten of God, we may so "keep ourselves" as being begotten of God, that the "wicked one shall not touch us."

Thus the world is here to be viewed rather as a system than as a society; with reference not so much to the question who constitute the world, as to the question what the world is; what is its character and constitution; what are its arrangements; its habits of thought, feeling, and action; its pursuits, occupations, and pleasures.

One common feature is brought out, helping us to identify and characterise it. The whole of it "lieth in the wicked one."

It is a strong expression; going beyond any of John's previous intimations on this subject. He makes early mention of "the wicked one" ( 1 John 2:13-14). Believers are represented as, in the strength of their mature and vigorous spiritual youth, overcoming, or having overcome, "the wicked one." Thereafter, when "the wicked one" comes up again ( 1 John 3:12), he is plainly identified with the devil ( 1 John 3:8-10), in respect of his murderous hatred of God and of whatever is born of God; he kills or seeks to kill whatever and whoever is of God. Next, he appears as that "spirit of anti-Christ" which is in the world, as "the spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh" ( 1 John 4:3). Here it is said, not that he is in the world, but that the world lies in him. It lies, and lies wholly in him. He has got the world into his arms; the whole world.

I. "The world lieth in the wicked one." The figure may suggest several different ideas. A stranded vessel lying embedded in the sand; a lost sheep lying engulphed in the treacherous swamp; a sow contented to lie wallowing in the mire; a Samson, lying bewitched in Delilah's lap;—these are the images called forth; and they are all but too appropriate.

Considered in its origin, this lying of the world in the wicked one may be taken in a very literal and personal sense.

The fall is a fall out of the arms of God into the embrace of' the wicked one. He is ready to receive the fallen; and, in a measure, to break their fall. He has a bed of his own prepared on which the fallen may lie in him. It is shrewdly and plausibly framed. It is like himself. It is the embodiment of his mind and spirit; the acting out of his very self. It is a couch composed of the very materials he had before woven into the subtle cord of that temptation which drew the unfallen out of God's hold into his. The same elements of unbelief which he turned to such cunning account in his work of seduction, he employs with equal skill in getting the seduced to lie, and to lie quiet, in him. For the most part, he finds this an easy task. The world listens willingly to its seducer, now become its comforter and guide; and frames its creed and constitution according to his teaching and under his inspiration, faith, worship, discipline, and government are dictated by him. So "the world lies in him;" dependent on him and his theology for such assumed licence and imaginary peace as it affects to use and to enjoy.

For the essence of worldliness is at bottom the feeling that "God's commandments are grievous;" that his service is hard, and himself austere; but yet that somehow his indulgence may be largely reckoned upon in the end. It is as "lying in the wicked one" that the world so conceives of God, and acts upon that conception of him. It is as "lying in the wicked one" that it peevishly asks, "Who is the Almighty that we should serve him, and what profit shall we have if we bow down unto him?"—while at the same time it confidently presumes, "The Lord seeth not, the Lord regardeth not."

II. "The whole world thus lieth in the wicked one" he has it all in his embrace. There is nothing in or about the world that is not thus lying in the wicked one; so lying in the wicked one as to be infected with the contagion of his hard thoughts of God, and his affected bravery in defying God's righteous judgment.

Take the world at its very best; all its grossness put away; no vile lust or passion polluting it; much pure virtue adorning it; many pious sentiments coming forth from it, not altogether insincerely. What trace is there here of the wicked one's poisonous touch? What necessity for your being warned to be on your guard against it or him?

Nay, but look deeper into the heart of what is so seeming fair. Do you not see, do you not instinctively feel, that there is throughout its sphere of influence a sad want of that entire surrender of self to God, that unreserved owning of his sovereignty, the sovereignty of his throne, his law, his grace, that full, loyal, loving trust, which alone cam baffle Satan's wiles? Instead of that, is there not a hidden fear of coming to too close quarters and too confidential dealings with God; a disposition to stand aloof and make terms of compromise; a willingness to be persuaded that some questionable things may be tolerated and some slight liberties allowed? Is not all this what "lying in the wicked one" may best explain?

We are not safe unless we realise it as a fact that "the whole world lieth in the wicked one;" all of it; the best of it as well as the worst of it. Only thus can we "so keep ourselves that the wicked one shall not touch us." It is a sad fact, but we must realise it. And in the firm and full realisation of it, we must "keep ourselves."

For it is not with a view to our condemning or judging the world, but only in order to our "keeping ourselves" that we are to have this fact always before our eyes; it is in order to our so "keeping ourselves that the wicked one shall not touch us." For it is through the world which is lying in him that he seeks to touch us. We are coming constantly into contact with the world; we cannot help it; and yet we are to keep ourselves "unspotted from the world." How better may we hope, through grace, to do Song of Solomon , than by knowing, in the sense of always and everywhere acting upon the knowledge, that "we are of God and the whole world lieth in the wicked one"?

Let us recognise our own standing in God, and the world's lying in the wicked one. We are of God, born of God; his sons in his Son Jesus Christ. That is our character and position. It is in that character, and with reference to that position, that we are to "keep ourselves." Let us be ever mindful of our high and holy calling. And that we may be ever mindful of it, let us be ever sensitively alive to the risk of the wicked one's contamination. True, "the wicked one toucheth us not." But "the whole world lieth in him." And the world touches us, for we are in the world.

Ah! does not our danger spring from our practically forgetting that the world in which we are lieth wholly in the wicked one? Have not we found it so? We begin to think, or to live as if we thought, that after all the world does not lie absolutely and altogether in the wicked one; that it is not so thoroughly evil as that would imply. We find, or fancy that we find, some of it at least, such as we would not choose to characterise so offensively. The world may be mostly, or for the most part, lying in the wicked one. But surely some exception may be made in favour of this or that about it that looks so harmless and so good.

O child of God, beware. The wicked one is touching you very closely, through the world that lieth in him, when he gets you thus to plead. The Spirit teaches you a safer and better lesson when he moves you to say: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world"—all of it"—lieth in the wicked one."

This teaching of John , concerning the world as lying in the wicked one, is in striking accordance with that of Paul in two remarkable passages of his Epistle to the Ephesians ( Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 6:1). One would almost think indeed that John had Paul's teaching in his view. At all events, it may be interesting and useful to notice the parallelism and harmony between the two apostles.

I. Consider the first of the two passages ( Ephesians 2:1) "You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Writing to the Ephesians as now believers, Paul reminds them of their former walk. It was "according to the course of this world." But "the world, the whole world, lieth in the wicked one." Therefore, walking according to the course of this world, they walked according to the wicked one in whom the world lies. How the world lies in him, so that walking according to the world's course is really walking according to him, is explained in two ways.

1. He is "the prince of the power of the air." He rules, as a powerful prince, the world's atmosphere; its moral and spiritual atmosphere; impregnating it with his own venom; the poisonous vapour of his own dark and godless hell. The air which the world breathes is under his control; he is the prince of the power of it; its powerful prince. It Isaiah , as it were, compounded, concocted, and manufactured by him. Very wisely does he use his power; very cunningly does he compose the air which he would have his subjects and victims to breathe. He mingles in it many good ingredients. For the worst of men he does so; and indeed he must do Song of Solomon , if he is to make it palatable and seductive even to them. For the lowest company, he must needs prepare an atmosphere with something good in it; good fellowship at the least, and a large measure of good humour and good feeling. Then, as he rises to higher circles, how does he contrive, in the exercise of his princely power, to make the air that is to intoxicate his votaries, or lull them to unsuspecting sleep, all redolent, as it might seem, of good; good sense, good taste, good temper; good breeding and behaviour; good habits and good-heartedness! Many noisome vapours also that might offend he carefully excludes; so that the inhaling organ perceives nothing but what is pure and simple in what it imbibes and absorbs. But it is the wicked one's air or atmosphere after all; he is the prince of the power of it. He contrives to have it all pervaded with the latent influence of his own ungodliness; his godless spirit is in it all through. The whole world is lying in that subtle atmosphere of his; the air of which he is the powerful prince.

Have you not felt something of what it is to breathe the air of which the wicked one is thus the powerful prince, to breathe it at the time almost unconsciously, and afterwards to find the fruit of your having breathed it all but inexplicable? You come home from a business engagement, or a party of pleasure. You feel an unwonted indisposition to serious thought; you are less inclined than usual to prayer and meditation; anxious calculations or frivolous fancies, and vain if not vicious imaginations, intrude into the sanctuary of your inner worship; you are not so much at home as you were before in your closet-fellowship with your Father in heaven. You are at a loss to account for this. You have not been anywhere, or done anything, in known or conscious opposition to his will. But you have been living in an unwholesome atmosphere. You have been in scenes or societies; all decent and proper no doubt; but yet imbued with as thorough a spirit of indifference or alienation as the wicked one would care to inspire. You have forgotten that "the whole world lieth in the wicked one" as "the prince of the power of its air."

2. Nor is this all. He is "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." He is not content with exercising his power in concocting and compounding the world's atmosphere; he is busily moving to and fro, and up and down, in the ranks of those who breathe it, He prepares for them the air he would like them to inhale, making it as soothing and seductive as he can. And then, while they are inhaling it, he deals with them personally; going in and out among them; whispering his suggestions; speaking low into their ears; insinuating into their hearts such thoughts of God, and of his service, and of his gospel, as fit into the pervading godless spirit of the region into which he has got them to venture. In this view, he very specially works among them as "the children of disobedience." He takes advantage of every rising feeling of distrust and disaffection; he watches for the first beginnings of discontent. Wherever there is any disposition to count any of God's appointments or commandments grievous, he is at hand; to fan the flame; to irritate the sore; to widen the breach between the loving Father and his undutiful child, beginning to question and rebel.

So the whole world doubly, or in a double sense, lies in the wicked one; inasmuch as he is the prince of the power of its air on the one hand, and inasmuch as, on the other hand, he is ever working in it among the children of disobedience. And in both views, it concerns you deeply, as "knowing yourselves to be of God" and called to keep yourselves accordingly, to know that "the whole world lieth in the wicked one." Know this, that you may beware of its seductive atmosphere, of which he is the powerful prince. Know it, that you may beware of the first rising in you of that insubordinate and impatient spirit of which he avails himself so skilfully in his "working among the children of disobedience." If you would keep yourselves, as being of God, so that in respect of your being begotten of God the wicked one may not touch you, you must be ever alive to this double risk; the risk of your forgetting how thoroughly he controls the world's atmosphere; and the risk also of your forgetting how busily and persuasively he works among the children of disobedience in it.

Keep yourselves, in both views; unspotted from the world. Keep yourselves, as born of God, in the atmosphere into which your new birth introduces you; the atmosphere of pure light and love; the Father's own light; the Father's own love. And keep yourselves, as "obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy."

II. Look now for a little at the second of the two passages in Ephesians ( Ephesians 6:12): "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." There is a double view here given of the influence which the wicked one, with his principalities and powers, exerts. On the one hand, he "rules the darkness of this world." On the other hand, he is "spiritual wickedness in high places."

1. He rules the dark world which lies wholly in him; rules it as the prince of the power of its air, and as the spirit now working in the children of disobedience. If he finds you there, he finds you within his own territory; at once breathing the worldly atmosphere he has mixed; and open at the same time to his influence as he is busy in his vocation, plying all his wiles among those whom he finds harbouring thoughts of insubordination. He has an advantage over you on his own ground; you cannot there cope with him; your only safety is in flight. "Come out and be separate." Flee to the stronghold; "the heavenly places." The wicked one's world is not your home. You are not to know it at all; or to know it only as lying wholly in the wicked one; to beware of it; to renounce it; to keep yourself unspotted from it. Your home is in "the heavenly places" in which "you sit with Christ." Abide there, and "the wicked one toucheth you not." ("The heavenly places," or "the heavenlies," is the right rendering of the phrase in all the four connections in which it occurs in the Epistle to the Ephesians , where alone it is found:—i. (), as the home of blessing; ii. (1:20 , 2:6), as the seat of the risen life; iii. (3:10), as the theatre of the Divine drama; iv. (6:12), as the last retreat in the satanic struggle.)

2. Nay, but even into "the heavenly places" the wicked one may find access; and even in "the heavenly places" he may seek to touch you. But he does not, he cannot, really touch you there. He crept indeed into Paradise, which was "the heavenly places" before the fall; and touched fatally our first parents there. But in "the heavenly places" now, in your "heavenly places" you have a defence which they had not. You "sit with Christ in the heavenly places" being "begotten of God in his Son." You "know that you are of God" in a sense and to an effect that Adam and Eve, with all their innocence, could not realise. By redemption, by adoption, by regeneration; as bought and begotten; you are of God; his own very sons, as Jesus is. The wicked one may come to you in your heavenlies, as he came to them in theirs. He may come as "spiritual wickedness;" plying his old wicked spiritual arts of temptation, suggesting his old doubts of the love and equity and truth of God. But he "touches you not." He could touch you only by appealing to something in you of what he finds in the children of disobedience among whom he works in the world; something in you of their disobedience, some incipient leaning towards insubordination, some aptness to count the commandments of God grievous.

Is there at any time anything of that spirit in you? Is there any rising within you of the old feeling of impatience, of suspicion, in a word, of unbelief? Ah, then, even "in the heavenlies" you are not safe from the touch of the wicked one. Remember that you have to "wrestle against him even in the heavenlies;" to wrestle against him, not only as "ruling the world's darkness" but as "spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies."

For he comes into the secret place where you dwell with God as his children; transformed perhaps into an angel of light; insinuating his old doubts, surmises, questionings again; putting in his old cavils between your Father's loving heart and your simple trust. Let him not, O my brother! let him not succeed in his attempt. Stand against him by faith. Bid him begone. He has no right to be in your heavenlies, whatever right he may have to "rule in the world's darkness." If you have faith you may cast him out. Keep yourself, as "born of God" keep yourself in the vivid realising sense of all that your "sitting with Christ in the heavenlies" involves. So keep yourself in the heavenlies, and that wicked one touches you not.

What shall I say, in closing, to you who are not of God, but of the world; of the world that is altogether lying in the wicked one. Ah! do you not know that the prince of the world is judged; that for this purpose the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil? Are you still listening to the gospel of the wicked one: "Ye shall not surely die"? Nay rather, hear another gospel: "God is love; in this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his Son into the world, that we might live through him."


Verse 20

XLV. Knowing the True One and Being in Him

"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even 1] in his Son Jesus Christ." — 1 John 5:20

1] There is no occasion for the word "even" which our translators have inserted in the last clause of this verse; it is not in the original, as the italics indicate; and it is fitted to mislead. It is apt to suggest the idea that by "him that is true," or "the true one," we are to understand, not God the Father, but the Son of God. Some accordingly have so construed the clause; but as it seems to me unwarrantably. For he who is called "the true one" is expressly distinguished from his Son. "We are in him that is true." How? Through our being "in his Son Jesus Christ.")

THIS is the third and last "we know" in these closing verses of the epistle ( 1 John 5:18-20). John insists, in leaving us, upon our being Gnostics, or knowing ones, as the heretics of his day professed to be; but in a better and safer sense. They affected to be knowing, in the lofty and transcendental region of abstract speculation about the divine nature; whereas John would have us to be knowing, in the humbler yet really higher and holier experience of real, direct, personal acquaintance and fellowship with the Divine Being, as coming down to us, poor sinners, in his Song of Solomon , and taking us up, by his Spirit, to be sons and saints in his holy child Jesus.

That whosoever is born of God sinneth not, because he keepeth himself so that the wicked one touches him not; that we are thus of God, in contrast with the world which lies wholly in the wicked one; these are the two former "we know." And now the third "we know" has respect, neither to our standing as being of God, nor to the world's position as lying in the wicked one, but to him who causes or occasions the difference, "the Son of God." It would almost seem as if there was a regular syllogism here; an argument built up in three propositions; two premises and a conclusion. First there is the major premiss, in the general assertion, abstract and impersonal; "we know" that being born of God implies not sinning, inasmuch as "he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one touches him not." Then there is the minor premiss, in the assertion, particular and personal; "we know" that we individually "are of God" and, therefore, separated from "the world that lieth wholly in the wicked one." The strict logical conclusion would be; therefore "we know" that we do not sin. John , however, puts it somewhat differently, so as to place our not sinning on a surer footing; more humbling to us; more glorifying to God;—"We know that the Son of God is come."

And yet this is a fair enough inference, and fits well enough into the argument when viewed in its full spiritual import. Nor is it inconsistent with the other. For if he that is born of God sinneth not; and if we consequently, being of God, sin not, it is all in virtue of "the Son of God being come" come, in the first place, to "give us a knowledge of the True One" come, secondly, to secure in that way our "being in the True One."

I. "The Son of God is come, and hath given us understanding, that we may know him that is true" or "the True One." It is God who is to be known; and he is to be known as "the True One."

The truth here ascribed to God is not truthfullness, as opposed to falsehood; but reality, as opposed to fiction or imagination. That we may know God, as truly real, as a truly real being, "the Real One" strictly speaking, the only truly Real One, apart from whom all things and persons are shadowy and unreal; that Isaiah , in the first instance, the purpose for which his Son Jesus Christ is come, and "hath given us understanding" or insight "to know him that is true."

The inward working of the Holy Spirit is here assumed, or asserted; that is the "understanding" or insight that is meant. Jesus Christ coming as the Son of God has given us, not merely new outer light, but a new inner eye; otherwise even his coming could not make us know "the True One." His coming indeed may be said to be itself the outer light. His coming forth from the True One in whose bosom he dwells reveals the True One to us. But the discovery would be in vain if his coming did not secure to us, as his gift, "understanding to know" the True One when thus revealed. That Isaiah , we may say emphatically, his best gift; the best fruit of his "being come" and of all the travail of soul on our behalf which his "being come," includes in it. For the worst of our miserable state, from which he is come to save us, is that we have no understanding, no spiritual sense in us, by which we can discern and recognise, so as truly to know, him who alone is true. And the best part of his salvation is his giving us that knowledge, not only by revelation from without, but by enlightenment within.

It is a great thing to know God as he is here named "the True One;" to know him as true and real; no imagination or mere idea, but true and real. That I say, is a very great thing. It is indeed all in all; the one thing needful. What is God to me? Ah, momentous question! And as searching as it is momentous! Is he true? Is he real? Do I apprehend him to be so?

I know my friend when I see him and take him by the hand. I know him as true and real; no shadow, no myth, no visionary ghost, but verily real. There he is before me, not a wraith such as Highland seer beholds in the misty vapour, but invested with unmistakable, palpable reality. Is God thus ever before me? Whenever I think of my friend, even when he is out of my sight, I think of him as true and real; as having a real and actual existence; a real and actual personality. Do I always thus think of God? Do I always thus know him? There are two conditions of this knowledge.

In the first place, if I am to know any one as true and real, I must have a distinct and well-defined conception of him in my mind. He must present himself to me as having a certain special individuality of his own, marking him out to me as separate from others. I thus identify him as true and real. But how confused and incoherent is my conception of God apt to be! A number of vague notions about him and his ways may be floating hazily, as it were, before me. But they lack unity, and are therefore unreal. A heap or bundle of attributes, such as I can name, enumerate, and define, may be all that I have for my God. If Song of Solomon , it is a heap or bundle of rags. It has no life, no living personality, no oneness, no reality, no truth. To know any person as real and true, I must know him as one; one living personality; living and true.

But, secondly, can I so know any one otherwise than by personal intercourse and personal acquaintanceship? It is in that way that I know an actual living friend as true. When our eyes meet and our hands join and our tongues exchange words, I know him as true and real. I know him better thus, than when he and I communicate by letter merely, or by message at second-hand. My knowledge of him has in it a truth and reality, a true and vivid realisation, that does not belong to the notion I have of any hero or martyr; however graphic may be the history, however lifelike the picture, by means of which I am to set him before my mind's eye.

Now "the Son of God has come, and given us understanding that we may know the True One;" that we may truly and really know, know as a living person, the Father whose Son he is. The very object of his "coming and giving us understanding" is to put truth and reality into our knowledge of God. He does so by bringing God and us personally together. His "coming" provides for that on the part of God; his "giving us understanding" provides for it on our part.

It is indeed, I repeat, a great thing thus to know "him that is true" to have a true personal knowledge of him; such as you have of the friend you converse with every day about everything or anything that turns up, or of the father to whom you go every day and every hour for deeper counsel or for a passing embrace. The friend, the father, is a reality; a real and true friend, a real and true father. You feel him to be so. He is no dead, historical personage, exhibited on the stage of the historical drama. He is to you a real and living person: for there is life and reality in your present intercourse with him. And it is that there may be this present living intercourse with God as a living person, that "the Son of God is come" to make that possible on God's side; "and hath given us an understanding" to make it possible on ours. Only in that way, by his revelation of himself to us in the Son and by our fellowship with him in the Spirit, can we know "him that is true." Only thus can we know God personally; as "the True One;" a real person and not a mere abstraction or generalisation.

II. Knowing thus "him that is true" we are "in him." But we are Song of Solomon , only as being "in his Son Jesus Christ." The apostle's statement thus fits into the Lord's own saying, in his farewell prayer, "I in them and thou in me" ( John 17:23). Both of them rest on that higher appeal which the Lord makes to his Father:—"As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" ( 1 John 5:21). Thou in me, I in them, and so thou in them;—they in me, I in thee, and so they in thee;—such is the wondrous reciprocal line or chain between God and us. We are in the True One, as being in his Son Jesus Christ, who is himself in him. We are therefore in the True One as his Son Jesus Christ himself is in him. Thus our being in the True One rests on very sure ground, since it is in his Son Jesus Christ that we are in him. And it implies a very high ideal of what being in the True One means, and what it is.

I. It is in his Son Jesus Christ that we are in the True One. We are in him, not directly or immediately, but by mediation; through and in a mediator. It is only thus that we can be in God, as the one only living and true God. It must be so. If the God whom our conscience indicates and owns is indeed true and real; a real, true, living person; we cannot dream of being in him, in any sense implying rest and peace, or a refuge and home, otherwise than through and in a mediator.

No doubt, if there are many gods, all alike true, or all alike fabulous, though still imagined to be true; I may find among them one so congenial that I can conceive of his drawing me into his embrace, so that I may be in him. Or if the only true God is the universe, or universal being; all things and persons being but his parts; and all actions and events the unfoldings of his own self-consciousness: then necessarily I am in him; or rather I am he and he is I there is no personal distinction between us. Or if God, admitted to be a real, true, and living person, is not known by me as such, I may amuse or soothe myself with some name or notion of my being in him, so far as to secure my safety, if I do but say a prayer occasionally, no matter though my saying it is really little better than speaking to vacancy, addressing idle words to the empty air.

But let me know God as true, as a reality. Let me be confronted face to face with God, as no far-off vision, but a real, present, living person. Let my inner sense be quickened; and let there flash from heaven a light making clear as day the features of him in whose real presence I stand. Ah! what cry escapes me?—"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!" Now I see clearly; now I feel deeply; the full difficulty of the case. If God is true and real, my sin is true and real; and I, the sinner, am true and real. Guilt is real. Wrath is real. Judgment is real. Punishment is real.

Ah! this knowing of the True One, as the True One, by the spiritual understanding which the Son of God is come to give! It imparts to all things in heaven and earth and hell a terrible distinctness, an altogether new air of truth, an intense, vivid, burning reality, such as I cannot long stand without being maddened, if I am to stand alone; a real sinner before a real God.

For me to be in him! How utterly hopeless! Nay, but let me consider. Who is he who has come to give me understanding thus to know the True One? The Son of God; his Son Jesus Christ. It is he who by his coming makes the True One known as he really is; for he is himself "the image of the invisible God." It is he who by his Spirit gives me understanding that I may know the True One. And placing himself between the True One, whom now at last I truly know, and me, whom that knowledge must otherwise utterly appal, Hebrews , the very Son of this True One, his Son Jesus Christ, calls me to himself; to be one with him; to be "in him." It is not that he would again hide the True One from me, or hide me from the True One. No. But he makes it possible for me, if I will but consent to be in him, to be "in the True One" as he is himself in the True One.

For he says, I am a reality; the real Son of God, really come to you, in your real flesh. As his true and very Song of Solomon , I give you understanding to know him who is true and very God. And in me you know him, not so as to be a castaway from him; but so as to be in him, as I am in him. For in me, whatever in you might seem to stand in the way, and did stand in the way, of your being in the True One, is met and obviated. In the Son of God, his Son Jesus Christ, you can be in God, known as the True One, and can have perfect peace.

Out of Christ, I can have peace only by not knowing truly the True One, not knowing him as he Isaiah , or by keeping away from him among the trees of the garden, and under the veil of some apron of fig-leaves. Satan belies him to me, and I hide or cover myself from him. But there is no need now of guile, or concealment, or disguise; no room for evasion or compromise. The True One may be truly known, and I, the chief of sinners, may be in him, truly known as the True One, "in his Son Jesus Christ."

2. If it is thus that in his Son Jesus Christ we are in the True One, it is after a high ideal or model that we are so. For our being in the True One in his Son Jesus Christ, must be after the manner of his Son Jesus Christ's being himself in him. What a manner of being in the True One is that! What truth, what reality is there in it!

I would keep fast hold of the apostle's ground-thought or leading idea in this passage; which is truth, reality, fact. There are other views that may be taken of the Son of God, his Son Jesus Christ, being in the True One, as the type and model, as well as the cause, of our being in the True One in him. But I fix on this one as chiefly relevant here; "we are in the True One in his Son Jesus Christ;" and therefore in him as truly as his Son Jesus Christ is in him. How truly then, how really, is his Son Jesus Christ in him!

His Son Jesus Christ! For it is not his Song of Solomon , as being in him from everlasting, that is here presented to us. It is with his Son as "being come" that we have to do. It is in his Son Jesus Christ as "being come" that we are in the True One. Let us look well and see how his Son Jesus Christ is in the True One; how, in the days of his flesh, "he is in him that is true!" How truly, really, thoroughly! How naturally too! He is in his native element when he is in the True One.

Who that ever followed Jesus in his earthly life could for a moment doubt that God was to him a reality, and that his being in God was a reality too? It was a true God that he served; and he himself was truly in him. My Father! he is ever saying; and so saying it as to show that it is a real and true Father he means; and that he is really and truly in him, as a real and true Son. Yes! his Son Jesus Christ is truly in the True One; never out of him; never away from him; never at home but with him; never thinking a thought, or feeling an emotion, that he did not think and feel in him; never speaking a word or doing a work but as having his Father with him. Truly, all through his real and true humiliation, and obedience, and sacrifice, "he is in him that is true;" in him, with a depth and intensity of real inness, if I may use the word, that the devout study of a lifetime will not suffice to fathom. Nay, the devout study of eternity will not suffice to exhaust the full truth of that ineffable complacency of the Everlasting Father of which his Son Jesus Christ, for his obedience unto the death in our stead even more than for his original relation to him, has become the object. Yes! "I in thee" says Jesus, as he leaves the world and goes to the Father Oh! that word "I in thee!" What a word, as spoken then and there! Who can understand its significance, its intense reality, its living truth? "I in thee!"

Can it be that I, a sinner, of sinners the chief, am to be in the True One as his Son Jesus Christ is thus in him? It must be Song of Solomon , at least in measure, if it is in his Son Jesus Christ that I am to be in the True One. My being in the True One must be after the model and manner of his being in the True One. It must at all events be as real and true as that. To me, as to him, God must be a reality; and my being in God must be a reality too.

Is this too high an aim? Does it seem to be beyond my reach? Nay, let me look again at the way in which God comes down to me that I may rise to him. "Thou in me; I in them" is the language of the Son. So "he that is true" the True One, first condescends to us. He is in the Song of Solomon , in his Son Jesus Christ; all his fullness dwells in him bodily—"Thou in me." And the Son is in us "I in them." The Holy Spirit takes of what is his and shows it to us; he forms Christ in us. So the Father, the True One, comes down to us; he in Christ; Christ in us. Let Christ then be in us. Let us open our hearts to him. Let us welcome, receive, embrace him; and the Father in him. Then we are in the Son as the Son is in the Father. "We are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."

Let me make a twofold practical appeal, in two opposite directions.

I. If you will not know the True One now, by the understanding which the Son of God is come to give; know him so as to be in him, in his Son Jesus Christ; the day is coming when you must be compelled, by another sort of awakening, to know the True One; and to know him terribly as a reality, as a real God dealing with a real sinner about real sin!

Here, for a little longer, God may be to you as if he were not. You may live on as you would live if he were not; almost as if, like the fool, you said in your heart, There is no God. You may live as you would live if you believed God to be no real being at all, but a mere creature of the imagination; like a character in fiction; an airy nothing. Have you no apprehension that it may be far otherwise soon? It will not always be possible for you thus to ignore God. For he exists.

Yes! He does indeed exist. You may find that out to your cost sooner than you think; too soon for you. It is a great fact, however little you may make of it, or it may make of you. Were it not better for you to know it now; to take account of it now; to accommodate yourselves to it now? "It is hard for you to kick against the pricks." The Son of God is come to make God known to you now, in all his glorious reality, as "light" and "love." He gives you understanding now that you may thus "know God." Better surely that, than to go on darkly, as in a dream, until there comes a shock. And lo! there is God! No shadow, but too truly real! And there is the Son of God; real also; too truly real! "Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." Yes! God, and the Son of God, are realities then, when men "hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?" ( Revelation 6:15-17)

2. Let me remind you who believe of the main end for which John would have you to "know the True One, and be in him, in his Son Jesus Christ." It is that "you may not sin;" that you may "keep yourselves so that the wicked one, in whom the whole world lieth, may not touch you." Mark the contrast here. The world lieth wholly in the wicked one; you are in the True One; in God truly known, in his Son Jesus Christ. Let that contrast be ever vividly realised by you. It is your great and only security. Look well to it that your being in the True One, in his Son Jesus Christ, is a reality. Let it be a true experience. Be evermore "dwelling in the secret place of the Most High, and abiding under the shadow of the Almighty." "Let him cover thee with his feathers, for under his wings you may trust." Is it not his Son Jesus Christ who thus addresses you—"Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling"?


Verse 20-21

XLVI. Jesus the True God and Eternal Life Against All Idols

"This is the true God and the eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols." 1 John 5:20-21

THE Lord Jesus Christ is the person here meant. Such seems to be the fair inference from the use of the pronoun "this;" which naturally and usually indicates the nearest person spoken of in the context; and therefore, in this instance, not "him that is true" but "his Son Jesus Christ."

That inference indeed is so clear, in a merely grammatical and exegetical point of view, that there would not probably have been any doubt about it, were it not for its implying an assertion of our Lord's supreme divinity; an assertion which no sophistry or special pleading can evade or explain away. It is true that some who strongly hold that doctrine have professed, on critical considerations, to take the same view which the deniers of it take. But there is room for suspecting that they have been half unconsciously influenced by a sort of chivalrous desire to concede debatable ground, rather than by a strict regard to the real merits of the question. It is a forced construction only that can get us past "his Son Jesus Christ" so as to send us back to him whose Son he is. Certainly the simple and natural reading of the words Isaiah , that "he who is come and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true," he in whom "we are in him that is true, his Son Jesus Christ" is "the true God, and eternal life."

He is "the true God" and as such he is "eternal life" or rather the eternal life. It is our realisation of him in that character, as" the true God and the eternal life" which constitutes our best and only security against idolatry, the idolatry which John exhorts us in his closing admonition to shun;—"Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

"This is the true God and the eternal life." First, he is the true God. That may be said of each of the three persons in the Godhead separately, as well as of the "three in one" unitedly, "the Triune." The entire Godhead, in all its reality and fullness, is in each one of the persons; each therefore is in himself really and verily "the true God." The mystery of the Holy Trinity involves this seeming paradox. But there is a peculiar significance in the Son's being thus designated here. He is "the Son of God" who "is come;" come in the flesh by water and blood; attested by the Spirit as come by water and blood; giving us an understanding that we may know the True One, and in him and with him may be in the True One. In that character and capacity, and with a view to these functions, he is declared to be "the true God." Again, secondly, in the same character and capacity, and with a view to the same functions, he is declared to be "eternal life" or "the eternal life."

Eternal life! How much is there in this little phrase! It suggests the ever awful idea of endless duration; existence, if not from everlasting, yet to everlasting; conscious existence running on for ever. But that is the least part of its meaning. The manner, rather than the term or duration, of the life is indicated; not so much the continuance of the life, as its kind, its character, its nature. It is life independent of time and its changes; of earth and its history; of the created universe itself. It is the life that God lives as the True One; in himself, from himself, for or to himself. His Son Jesus Christ is "this eternal life." As being "the true God" he is so. As the true God he is the eternally living one; in such sense the eternally living one that all who are m him are eternally living ones as he is himself. If I am one with him, then as he is "the eternal life" so also am I in him. My own life is not eternal. In a sense, indeed it is so as regards its duration, for it is to have no end. But it is not, as to its character, eternal life. On the contrary, it is eternal death. The life which I have naturally is the life of a doomed criminal, sentenced to perpetual servitude; bound over to penal suffering for the entire period of his existence. Such is the eternal death, of which the eternal life is the opposite. For that is the life which he who dooms the criminal to perpetual servitude has himself; the very life of him who binds the criminal over to penal suffering for ever. It must be, therefore, as being "the true God" that Jesus Christ is "the eternal life." He is Song of Solomon , and can only be Song of Solomon , as being one with that righteous Father whose judicial condemnation of us is our eternal death.

But if Song of Solomon , must not his being "the eternal life" be eternal death to us? Not so. For if, on the one hand, he is one with "him that is true" being his Song of Solomon , and therefore, like his Father, "the eternal life,"—he is one, on the other hand, with us, as his Son Jesus Christ. He becomes, with us and for us, "the eternal death" which is our portion and characteristic; which indeed we are, for it is our very nature. As he shares always his father's eternal life, so he shares once for all our eternal death; takes it as his; makes it his own. Yes; he dies our eternal death, that we may live his eternal life. Not otherwise, even as "the true God" could he be, in any sense that could be available for us, "the eternal life;" not otherwise than by being "made sin" and "made a curse "for us; which means his taking upon himself as his our "eternal death."

And let it be well noted that not even his being thus made sin and made a curse for us; not even his becoming our partner and our substitute, in our eternal death; could have been of any benefit to us, or of any use, but for his being, in that very act and experience, "the true God" and as such "the eternal life." It is his being "the true God" that alone can make that eternal death terminable in his case, which it cannot be in ours. His becoming our eternal death for us must involve him in its terrible endlessness, but for his being still in himself "the true God" and as such "the eternal life." We cannot die the eternal death and yet live; but he can; because he is "the true God and the eternal life." Therefore he says, "I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore;" and again he says, "Because I live ye shall live also."

I have died your eternal death that I may share with you my eternal life! can share with you this eternal life of mine, for it is as the true God that I have it;—"I am the true God and the eternal life." It is as the true God that I am the eternal life; as the true God; truly and verily the Son of "him that is true." For "this eternal life" is to know him and to be in him. I am the eternal life because I know him and am in him; being, as I Amos , myself "the true God." Were I not Song of Solomon , were I anything less than that; I might tell you about the eternal life; I might unfold it to you; I might show you the way to it. But I could not myself be that eternal life to you. I could not say to you, that having me you have the eternal life. But I do say that. I give you the assurance that having me you have the eternal life; ‘that being in me you are in the eternal life. All that you can imagine of peace, rest, joy; pure and holy love; perfect, endless, uninterrupted blessedness and glory;—and whatever else you may connect with that most pregnant phrase "the eternal life;"—you have it all when you have me; you are in it all when you are in me. For all that I am to the Father you are to the Father; all that I have from the Father you have from the Father; all that the Father is to me the Father is to you. Thus I Amos , for you and to you, "the true God and the eternal life."

This statement about Christ,—his being "the true God and the eternal life,"—has a very intimate connection with what is said of him as being come to give us knowledge of his Father, as the True One, and to secure our being in his Father, as the True One, in virtue of our being in him (ver20). And viewed in that light, it explains the earnest, emphatic, and affectionate appeal with which John closes his epistle:—"Little children, keep yourselves from idols" ( 1 John 5:21).

I. He "is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true;" and, so coming, he is "the true God and the eternal life." In him the true God becomes really true to us. In his person God stands forth ‘before our eyes as a reality, and is felt in our inmost hearts ‘to be a reality. This is what we need and often crave for; that the true and living God should be to us, not a notion, but a reality. He is so to us, and is so known by us, in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, because his Son Jesus Christ is "the true God and eternal life." We need not seek elsewhere for what we want. We may "keep ourselves from idols."

For what is the use of an idol? What is the design and aim of those who frame or fancy visible images of the invisible God, grotesque figures, in wood, or stone, or metal; the heavenly orbs; deified heroes; personified divine attributes and influences? Is it not to bring God more within the range of their actual and sensible apprehension than otherwise he would be, and so to have him before them as a true and palpable reality?

The idols are real, and, in a sense, even living. The hideous, misshapen block before which yonder dark Hindoo bows and worships has for him a certain real life, akin to his own. The beasts so sacred in old Egypt's eyes were real and living emblems of divine powers and qualities of some sort. The suns and stars on which rapt Chaldaean gazed had a real and living significance, as representative of deity. The men and women whom a more earthly superstition turned into gods and goddesses were real and living flesh and blood while on earth, and continued to be to their votaries much the same when they were gone. Even the strange, dreamy, mysterious spiritualities, with which the early heretics and Gnostic corrupters of Christianity peopled the divine fullness; the divine essences and emanations which they named as in some sense persons; had for their imaginative minds a living reality that they could grasp and feel. These last were the idols of John's day, within the church; from which, even more than from grossest idols outside, it concerned him to warn "his little children to keep themselves." They were the forerunners, as his prophetic eye partly saw, of idols still more seductive, with which Christendom was to be ere long tried; canonised martyrs and saints, with their images and pictures and relics; and high over all, alone in her glory, the blessed Virgin.

Now all these idolatries, however widely differing in their nature, and in their effects upon their devotees, have this principle in common, that they are all attempts to give actual form and substance, true and living embodiment and realisation, as it were, to men's conceptions of deity; those conceptions which otherwise are apt to be so indistinct, indefinite, misty, shadowy, as to be for the most part practically all but uninfluential. They bring what is divine within the range and grasp of humanity. The abstract becomes personal; the ideal becomes real. The infinite takes the clear and sharp outline of a form or a face that can be pictured to the mind's eye at least, if not to that of the body. And what is apt to be little more than a great blank vacancy, becomes instinct with living personality. Hence, even for refined natures, the more refined kinds of idol-worship have a strong fascination; witness the hold which Mariolatry has over intellects the highest and hearts the tenderest and purest.

It is indeed the crown and masterpiece of idolatry, this worship of the Virgin. Fairer, holier, more lovely and lovable idol was never formed or fancied. Never idol like her, the ideal mother of our Lord.

I say the ideal mother of our Lord. For it is an idealised Mary that is idolised. And yet we see and can understand how intensely real, even as thus idealised, she is and must be to her believing worshippers. In her they feel that they have a real mother, a real sister, a true and very woman; with all of woman's warm love and none of woman's weakness. And she has to them divinity about her, being, as they put it, "the mother of God." That Mary, thus ideal and yet real, should be adored and loved, chivalrously and yet devoutly, with human passion rising into divine enthusiasm, is so far from seeming to me strange, that I doubt if any of us have not sometimes had some secret sympathy, if not with the superstitious homage, at least with the frame of mind that prompts it.

I take this highest instance of the charm that there is in idolatry, because it comes nearest to what John puts as a safeguard against it. The virgin-mother of our Lord is alone in the created universe of God. No other being ever has occupied, or ever can occupy, the same position with her. She stands in a relation to deity altogether peculiar; absolutely singular. It is a natural thought that she may be invoked as well as her Son; nay, that she may be invoked instead of her Son; as, in fact, a most persuasive pleader with her Son. And she grows to be so very true and real, as a genuine woman, kind and pitying and relenting; while her divine Song of Solomon , as well as his heavenly Father, fades away in the dim distance of a sort of undefined and misty majesty; that knowing her, as it seems, so thoroughly and personally, one is fain to rest in her, and leave all to her, and be satisfied with her as virtually all in all. And it must be Song of Solomon , if we take her as our mediator. For she is not "the true God and eternal life." She Isaiah , when thus viewed, simply an idol. Now no idol brings us into communication with God as true and real. We accept the idol as real; but God, whose image he may profess to be, between whom and us he ought to mediate, is as unreal as ever, or more so. The virgin mother I know; in her I can lie. But as for the Son and the Father, I look to her to deal with them for me. To me they are but names.

Nothing like that can happen when he through whom I am to know God truly, is himself, as his Son Jesus Christ, "the true God and the eternal life." He is as human as is his virgin mother. He Isaiah , as much as she Isaiah , a real and living human person; as truly set before me as such. Nay, I have him, as a real and living person, more clearly and fully, with more of personal individuality, in my mind's eye, than ever I can have her.

The notices of Mary are few and far between; vague also and indefinite. We have nothing beyond the merest generalities to give us a notion of what sort of woman she was. But her divine Song of Solomon , the Son of the Highest, the Son of the True One, his Son Jesus Christ, is as a living man amongst us, a real person. He is more truly, vividly, intensely real to us than even his mother Mary. And if more so than she, then more by far than any saints or martyrs that ever were canonized; any heroes that ever were deified; any representatives of deity, dead or alive, that ever were worshipped; any effluxes or emanations of deity that the highest imagination ever invested with the property of personality. Yes; here is Jesus Christ the Son of God, truly, vividly, intensely real; a real and living person; going in and out among us; one of whom we can really form a truer, fuller, more intimate conception, than we can form of our dearest and most familiar associate and intimate; whose hand we clasp in ours more really, because more inwardly, than we can clasp the hand of any friend; with whom we can talk more confidentially than we can with any brother. Here he is. And it is through and in him that I am to "know God as the True One." He is to represent God to me; it is with him that I have directly and immediately to do; in him I am to know "the True One."

But does not this arrangement really put aside "the True One" and substitute in his stead "his Son Jesus Christ"? Doubtless he is the best possible or conceivable substitute. But still, is it not a substitution? Does it not tend in the direction of making Jesus Christ, the Son of "the True One" the real and living "True One" to me; while God, his Father, the absolute and ultimate "True One" becomes to me a dim and far-off vision? Is there no danger of idolatry here? Am I not on the point of falling into that sin, by setting him up instead of God? And is not that equivalent to making him an idol.

It has been so often; and it would be so always; were it not for the great and blessed fact that he is "the true God and the eternal life." But I cannot make an idol of him if I believe that. I cannot worship him in an idolatrous manner, or after an idolatrous fashion, if I really own him as being "the true God and the eternal life" and in that view take in the full meaning of his own words: "Whosoever hath seen me hath seen the Father."

Is it not a blessed thing to know that there can be no idolatry in your closest fellowship with Jesus, if only you bear in mind that he is "the true God and the eternal life?" Your warmest love to him, your most familiar intercourse with him, your most affectionate clinging to him, your most tender and trusting embrace of him, never can be idolatry for he is "the true God and the eternal life." You need have no fear of your making too much of him, or making an idol of him; as you must have in the case of any other being, real or imaginary, whom you let ia between God and you; for "he is the true God and the eternal life." You may admire others to excess, but you never can admire him to excess; for "he is the true God and the eternal life." You may be too devoted to others, but you can never be too devoted to him; for "he is the true God and the eternal life."

What ease and freedom may this thought impart to all your dealings with him, as come especially to "give you an understanding that you may know the True One;" that you may know him as true and real.

The most perfect of God's creatures, the highest angel, if he had come on such an errand, must have bid you look away from him. You may listen to my voice, he might say; you may hear what I have to tell you about God. I will do my best to set him before you as a reality, in as lifelike a representation as I can give. But beware of fixing your eyes too much, or indeed at all, on me. You may imagine that I am so like him, as living so near him and seeing so much of him, that when you have formed a clear notion of me you really know him. But it is not so; it is far otherwise. Your very knowledge of me may mislead you as to him; tempting you to form inadequate, if not erroneous, conceptions of him; to enshrine him in my frame and clothe him in my vesture; the frame and vesture of a mere creature at the best.

But no such caution is needed on the part of Jesus; for he is the true God and the eternal life. Therefore let not Jesus, the Son of God, be a name or a notion to you; if he is Song of Solomon , much more will God his Father be so. Let him be a true, present, living reality. Be sitting at his feet as really as did Mary of Bethany. Be welcoming him to your house and table as really as did Zaccheus. Be leaning on his bosom as really as did John. Be grasping his hand, when you are sinking in the stormy sea, as really as did Peter when he cried, Lord, save me, I perish. You may do so with all safety, and with no risk of idolatry; for he is "the true God and the eternal life."

II. But not only are we "in his Son Jesus Christ so as to know him that is true" we are to be "in him so as to be in him that is true." In that view also it is all-important thoroughly to apprehend and feel that "he is the true God and the eternal life." For were he not Song of Solomon , we could not really be in the True One by being in him. Nay, our being in him, so far from a help, might be a hindrance. We might be in the True One through him, but scarcely in him, unless he were himself "the true God and the eternal life."

This word "in" be it observed, though small in size, is very great in significance. It denotes a very close, real, and personal connection; and indeed almost, as it were, an identification; so much so that it may be said to be as impossible for me so be in the True One, and at the same time to be in any one else who is not "the true God and the eternal life" as it is for me to serve two masters, to serve God and Mammon. For what is this "inness" if I may so say, when it is spoken of a real and living person to whom I may sustain real and personal relations? Surely at the very least it implies that I give myself up entirely to him, and become wholly his. I consent to his taking me to be one with himself. It is a real unity, corresponding in its nature and character to the nature and character of him in whom I am; but still real; and intimate as real; so intimate as to be engrossing, absorbing, exclusive. He in whom I am is to me all in all. In a sense, I lose myself in him. I have no separate standing from him. I see, as it were, through his eyes; I judge with his understanding; I make his will my will; I make himself my supreme good, and my chiefest joy. Now if, in any such sense, I am in one who is not "the true God and the eternal life;" can that be compatible with my being also "in him that is true"?

It is not needful here to suppose that it is an enemy of God in whom I thus Amos , and with whom I am thus identified. The case is better put when he is supposed to be a friend of God. For then I look to him to deal with God for me. I am in him as being his; so thoroughly his, that I have nothing of my own; I myself am not my own. He has made me part and parcel of his own very self. It belongs to him to make terms with God for himself; and for me as being in him. He has to do with God; not I. So it must be with me, if he in whom I am is not "the true God and the eternal life;" if he and the True One are separate and distinct; if he and the Father are not one. The higher he Isaiah , the nearer he is to God, the more does my "being in him" supersede and supplant my "being in God."

But Jesus Christ is "the true God and the eternal life." I may be "in him" as much as ever I choose, as much as ever I can; his own good Spirit helping me; the more the better. For "in him I am in the True One." In the Son I am in the Father, even as he is in the Father. And all this is Song of Solomon , because "he is the True God and the eternal life."

It could not otherwise be so. I could not be in him as I long to be in him, without being not in, but out of, the True One, were he not himself "the true God and the eternal life." For how do I long to be in him, if I am at all awakened to a sense of what I am in myself? How do I long to be in Christ? How thoroughly would I be hidden, and, as it were, swallowed up in him! A poor, naked, shelterless, child of sin and wrath, shrinking from the presence of "him that is true" shrinking from the glance of his true eye and the searching scrutiny of his true judgment,—ah! how fain would I be lost and merged altogether in that holy, righteous, loving Saviour, who has come to answer for me; to take my place; to fulfil my righteousness; to bear my guilt; to die for me, and yet live, so that I may live in him. Oh! to be in him; shut up into him; lost and merged altogether, I repeat, in him; and because lost and merged in him, therefore also safe in him.

Safe? From whom? From the True One? Am I to be in his Son Jesus Christ so as to be away from himself? No. For he in whom I am is "the true God and the eternal life." Therefore, being in him, I am in the True One, "in him that is true."

I would be in Christ incarnate. I would be in Christ crucified. I must be in Christ both incarnate and crucified. I must be in him as he becomes bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. I must be in him as dying, yet not "given over to death" but rising again; the living one; who, having once died, dieth no more; who living, though he was dead, liveth for ever. I would be, I must be, thus in Christ. Is it as against God? Is it as if I were to be out of and away from God the True One? No! Emphatically no! For he in whom I am is himself "the true God and the eternal life."

"Little children, keep yourselves from idols." And let this be the test or criterion of what an idol is. Whatever worship or fellowship or companionship, whatever System or society, whatever work or way, whatever habit or pursuit or occupation, is of such a sort in itself, or has such influence over you, that you cannot be in it and at the same time be in God, or that you may be in it and yet not be in God, as little children in a loving Father; that to you is idolatry, be the object of your regard what it may. From all such idols keep yourselves. And that you may keep yourselves from them ail, abide evermore in the Son of God, your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To be in him is your only security, to be always "found in him." For to be in him is to be in the Father, even as he is in the Father. And there can be no idolatry in that.

 


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Bibliography Information
Candlish, Robert Smith. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rsc/1-john-5.html. 1877.

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Saturday, May 25th, 2019
the Fifth Week after Easter
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