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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
1 John 3



Verses 1-24


1 John 3:1 to 1 John 5:12


1 John 3:1-24

(1) The evidence of sonship. Righteousness.

1 John 3:1-3

The Divine birth is the outcome of the Divine love.

1 John 3:1

Behold what manner of love! ποταπός; literally, "of what country," in the New Testament always implies amazement; but, as the original meaning leads us to expect, it implies marvelous quality rather than marvelous size. Love must be taken literally: the Divine love itself, and not a mere proof of it, has been given. ποταπὴν ἀγάπην strikes the key-note of the whole section. "And the goal of this love ἵνα is that once for all (aorist) we have received the title 'children of God.'" And, whatever cavilers may say, the title is rightfully ours. (The words, "and (such) we are," are quite rightly inserted in the Revised Version after "children of God.") This is shown by the fact that the world does not recognize us as such, because from the first it did not recognize God. Had it known the Father, it would have known the children, διὰ τοῦτο in St. John refers to what precedes (John 5:16, John 5:18; John 7:22; John 8:47; John 10:17; John 12:18, John 12:27, John 12:39); it does not merely anticipate the ὅτι which follows it. In logical phraseology we have here first the major premise, then the conclusion introduced by διὰ τοῦτο, then (to clench the argument) the minor premise introduced by ὅτι,—

We are children of God;

Therefore the world knows us not;

For the world knows not God.

But we must beware of supposing that every one who fails to recognize our form of Christianity is necessarily of the world. St. John invariably (but comp. Revelation 21:7) speaks of "children of God" τέκνα θεοῦ, St. Paul generally of "sons of God", υἱοὶ θεοῦ. The latter expression can apply to adopted sons; the former, strictly speaking, implies actual parentage. In saying κληθῶμεν καὶ ἐσμεν, St. John appeals to the conscious nobility of Christians: we have this magnificent title with its corresponding dignity.

1 John 3:2

Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest (or, it never yet was manifested) what we shall be. The emphatic νῦν is in opposition to οὔπω: our present state is known; our future remains still unrevealed. Again (1 John 2:27, 1 John 2:29), we are in doubt about the construction. What is the nominative to "shall be manifested" φανερωθῇ, "he" or "it"? The context is strongly in favour of "it," i.e., "if it shall be manifested what we shall be;" 1 John 2:28 seems to favour "he," i.e., "if Christ shall be manifested." The context must prevail. "Our future state is not yet made manifest. We know that on its manifestation we shall find ourselves like God." The two things will be contemporaneous. The 'Speaker's Commentary' quotes the following anecdote: "When some heathen converts to Christianity were translating a Catechism into their own language, they came upon 1 John 3:2. They stopped. 'No; it is too much,' they said; 'let us write that we shall be permitted to kiss his feet.'" Beware of inverting the meaning of the last clause, ὅτι, ὀψόμεθα κ. τ. λ.. It does not mean that the seeing God is a proof or sign of our being like him (Matthew 5:8), but the cause of our being like him: "We shall be like him, because we shall see him." God is light (1 John 1:5), and light is seen. In this life νῦν we cannot see the light of the Divine nature "as it is," but only as it is reflected; and the reflected light cannot transmit to us the nature of the Divine original, though it prepares us to receive it. Hereafter the sight, "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12), of the Light itself will illuminate us through end through, and we shall become like it. Rothe takes "like him" to mean like Christ (Romans 8:16, Romans 8:17, Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; comp. John 17:24; Colossians 3:18); comp. Revelation 22:4; Revelation 1:7.

1 John 3:3

Such being our hope, based upon God's promises ἐπ ̓ αὐτῷ, of becoming like him, we must keep this prospect ever in view, and live up to it. Commentators differ as to whether αὐτῷ refers to the Father or Christ, and so also with regard to ἐκεῖνος. The best way is to take αὐτῷ as God, and ἐκεῖνος as Christ: this agrees with αὐτόν in 1 John 3:2, with ἐκεῖνος in 1 John 3:5, and with the common use of the two pronouns. It is doubtless possible, especially in St. John, to take ἀκεῖνος as merely recalling the person already indicated by αὐτός or otherwise, and make both pronouns here refer to God. At first sight this seems to make a better sequence between verses 2 and 3: hereafter we shall be like God; therefore here we must strive to become pure as he is. Moreover, it is of the Father that it is written, "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (Le John 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15, 1 Peter 1:16); and again, "Ye shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). But the other is simpler grammatically, and preserves the logical sequence equally well. Hereafter we shall be like God. Every one who has such a hope as this will aim at becoming like God here; even as Jesus Christ has set us an example, a perfect realization of human conformity to God.

1 John 3:4-12

Sin is absolutely incompatible with Christ's work of redemption and our union with him (1 John 3:4-8), and also with being born of God, as is shown by the presence or absence of brotherly love (1 John 3:9-12).

1 John 3:4

Once more the apostle turns from the positive to the negative. Having shown what birth from God involves, he goes on to show what it excludes. "Every one that doeth sin" evidently balances "every one that hath this hope" (1 John 3:3), and "to do sin" is the exact opposite of "to do righteousness" (1 John 2:29). Sin is lawlessness ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. Both words having the article, the two terms are exactly equivalent—all sin is lawlessness, and all lawlessness is sin. ἀνομία, like "lawlessness,'' expresses the ignoring of the law rather than the absence of it. "The law" means the law of God in the fullest sense, not the Mosaic Law. In short, sin is defined as the transgression of God's will.

1 John 3:5

Two additional reasons for the absolute separation of the children of God from sin.

1 John 3:6

Every one that abideth in Christ ipso facto sinneth not; for, if he sins, he ceases to abide in him. Just in so far as he abides, he does not sin. Or it may mean that be who abides in Christ cannot deliberately and habitually sin. But then would not St. John have written, "He that abideth in Christ abideth not in sin"? But the main difficulty is in the second half. In what sense is it true that every one that sinneth hath not seen Christ? In the main two explanations are given.

1 John 3:7

St. John repeats his declaration with emphasis and fresh considerations; hence the repetition of the tender address (1 John 2:1), "Little children, let no one ever seduce you into the belief that character and practice can be separated. He that doeth righteousness is righteous; for a righteous man inevitably practices righteousness." There are always persons who endeavour to reconcile religion with moral laxity, and in St. John's day some Gnostics definitely taught that conduct was immaterial to the spiritual man, for no external acts could defile such. "The external acts," says St. John, "prove the man's spiritual character and origin. He that doeth righteousness is righteous and is of God: he that doeth sin is of the devil." Note the difference between "even as" in verses 3 and 7. There καθώς introduces a pattern as a fresh motive for self-purification; here it introduces a comparison. Christ is righteous, and his character produces nothing but righteousness; so also is it with the righteous Christian.

1 John 3:8

The contrary position given to make the statement clear and emphatic. The devil ὁ διάβολος is the great accuser or slanderer, as in Job 1:1-22 and Job 2:1-13 (comp. John 13:2; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 12:9, Revelation 12:12; Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:10). The devil sinneth from the beginning ἀπ ἀρχῆς. From the beginning of what? From the beginning of sin. The devil was the first sinner, and has never ceased to sin. Other answers are: from the beginning

Some of these are scarcely in harmony with Scripture; none, perhaps, fit the context so well as the explanation adopted. If the devil committed the first sin, and has sinned unceasingly ever since, then whoever sins is akin to him, is morally his offspring (John 8:44). There is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the evil one, and man cannot find or make a third domain; if he is not in the one he is in the other. This verse, like John 8:44, seems to be conclusive as to the personal existence of the devil. ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου balances ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ: if the one is a mere personification of a tendency, why not the other? Both should be personal or neither. "It is not true that St. John speaks so confidently of a devil because he was a Jew and was filled with Hebrew opinions. For once that the devil is introduced in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, he is spoken of twenty times in any Gospel or Epistle" (Maurice), and not least in the Gentile Luke. With the latter half of verse 8. comp, verse 5. Christ's act in removing our sins from us destroys the devil's works; for by the manifestation of the Light (John 1:5) the darkness is dispersed and destroyed. Our sins are the evil one's works: what is sin in us is his natural occupation. (For λύειν in the sense of unbinding or dissolving, and therefore destroying—a use specially frequent in St. John—comp. John 2:19; John 5:18; John 7:23; John 10:35.) The φανέρωσις includes the whole work of Christ on earth.

1 John 3:9-12

Sin is absolutely incompatible with being born of God, as is shown by the presence or absence of brotherly love.

1 John 3:9

Having stated that every one that doeth sin is of the devil, St. John now states the opposite truth, but from the other side; not "every one that doeth no sin is of God," which hardly needs to be stated; but every one that is begotten of God doeth no sin, which is startling. Who, then, can be begotten of God? But the statement is similar to that in verse 6, and is to be similarly understood. So far as any man sins, his regeneration is incomplete. If the new birth from God were perfect, sin would be morally impossible οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτεῖν. The new principle of life abides and grows in him, and, under perfect conditions, it entirely prevents the old unregenerate nature from rebelling. Note that St. John does not say οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτεῖν," cannot commit a sin," but οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, "cannot be a sinner." An act is different from a state of sin. This is an ideal to which every Christian is bound to aspire—inability to sin. But to some extent this ideal is a fact in the case of every true Christian. There are sins which to a good man are by God's grace quite impossible. The meaning of σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει is uncertain: either

1 John 3:10

The question whether "in this" ἐν τούτῳ refers to what precedes or to what follows is here unimportant, for both are similar in meaning; and "in this" may refer to both. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The children of God do righteousness, and not sin; the children of the devil do sin, and not righteousness. Of course, moral parentage is meant in both cases. Nothing here lends any countenance to the view that the writer is a dualist and inculcates two principles of existence—God and the devil. All, whether good or bad, are God's creatures (John 1:3); but while all are his children by creation, some become his children spiritually also, while others become the children of Satan. St. John's "teaching about the devil is not at all agreeable to those who dwell exclusively on the sunny aspects of the world and of life, and would shut their eyes to what is dark and terrible. They like to hear of a Being who is all-gracious and loving; the vision of one who is the enemy of all that is gracious and loving shocks them—they wish to suppose that it belongs to the world's infancy, and that it disappears as we know more" (Maurice). The expression, "the children of the devil," must not be confounded with the Hebraistic expressions, "children of perdition, children of darkness," "children of light, son of death," "son of perdition," etc. As so often, St. John not only restates the case in a new form, but adds a new thought to it—he that loveth not his brother. This forms the link with the next section (verses 13-24), on brotherly love. Of all failures in doing righteousness this is the most conspicuous—failing to love one's brother. And who is my brother? The answer is the same as to the question, "And who is my neighbour?" Mankind at large. The meaning cannot be limited to the children of God. Even τοὺς ἀδελφούς (verses 14, 16) does not exclude unbelievers, still less does τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ. This is confirmed:

1 John 3:11

Because the message ( ἀγγελία: see on 1 John 1:5) which ye heard from the beginning is this. Not merely in the beginning, but from the beginning; it was among the first announcements, and it had never ceased to be in force. Jerome, in his 'Commentary on Galatians' (Galatians 6:10), tells us that when St. John became too infirm to preach, he used often to say no more than this, "Little children, love one another." His hearers at last wearied of it, and said, "Master, why dost thou always say this?" "It is the Lord's command," he replied; "and if this alone is done, it is enough."

1 John 3:12

The sentence is of an elliptical form, common in language. The full sense is, "Not that we should do even as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother." Cain's conduct typifies the attitude of the world towards Christians. σφάζειν in the New Testament occurs only here and in Revelation. In the LXX and the New Testament it seems to mean "slay" without necessarily implying the cutting the throat of a victim. That Cain's works were evil is not stated in Genesis, but is inferred from God's rejection of him. Compare carefully the remarkably parallel passage, Hebrews 11:4. The wicked envy the good the blessedness of their goodness, and try to destroy what they cannot share. The war between good and evil is one of extermination; but the wicked would destroy the righteous, while the righteous would destroy wickedness by converting the wicked.

1 John 3:13-24

Hate and death contrasted with love and life (1 John 3:13-15); generous love, which has its pattern in the self-sacrifice of Christ (1 John 3:16, 1 John 3:17); sincere love, which is the ground of our boldness toward God, who has commanded us to love (1 John 3:18-24).

1 John 3:13

Human nature is the same as of old. There is still a Cain, the world, hating its Abel, the Church. Therefore marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. Here only does St. John use the address, "brethren," which is appropriate to the subject of brotherly love. Elsewhere his readers are "children" or "beloved." The "if" ( ει) with indicative) expresses no doubt as to the fact, but states it gently and conditionally.

1 John 3:14

We know that we have passed over out of death into life (John 5:24), because, etc. "We" is emphatic; whatever the world may feel about us, we have certain knowledge (not γινώσκομεν, but ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν). The love of the brethren is the cause, not of the passing over, but of our knowing it. It proves that we have passed. And this test every one can apply to himself; "Do I, or do I not, find the love of the brethren within me?" A Christian can no more live without love than a plant can live without growth. He that loveth not abideth in death: he has not made the passage over. There is no accusative after "loveth," τὸν ἀδελφόν being a gloss. The statement is quite general; absence of love implies an atmosphere of death.

1 John 3:15

As in 1 John 4:20, St. John passes at once from not loving to hating, treating the two as equivalent. He takes no account of the neutral ground of indifference. He that is not for his brother is against him. Indifference is hate quiescent, there being nothing to excite it. Love is the only security against hate. And as every one who does not love is potentially a hater, so every hater is potentially a murderer. A murderer is a hater who expresses his hatred in the most emphatic way. A hater who does not murder abstains for various reasons from this extreme way of expressing his hate. But the temper of the two men is the same; and it is obvious ( οἴδατε "ye know what needs no evidence") that every murderer is incapable of possessing eternal life. It is the murderous temper, not the act of homicide, that excludes from eternal life. St. John, of course, does not mean that murder is an unpardonable sin; but he shows that hate and death go together, as love and life, and that the two pairs are mutually exclusive. How can life and the desire to extinguish life be compatible? It is very forced to interpret ἀνθρωποκτόνος as either "destroyer of his own soul," or "destroyer of the hated man's soul," by provoking him to return hate for hate.

1 John 3:16, 1 John 3:17

The nature of love as shown by Christ, and its obligation on Christians. Love has been declared the criterion for distinguishing the children of God from the children of the devil. It remains to show what love is; and this is best seen in a concrete example. "The Eternal Word, incarnate and dying for the truth, inspires St. John to guard it with apostolic chivalry; but also this revelation of the heart of God melts him into tenderness towards the race which Jesus has loved so well. To St. John a lack of love for men seems sheer dishonour to the love of Christ" (Liddon).

1 John 3:16

In this (1 John 3:10; 1 John 2:3)we have come to know (have acquired and possess the knowledge of) love (what love is), in that he laid down his life for us. This is better than "We have come to know love as consisting in this, that he laid down his life for us," which would have been ἐν τούτῳ οὖσαν. Cain is the type of hate; Christ, of love. Cain took his brother's life to benefit himself; Christ laid down his own life to benefit his enemies (see on John 10:12). This realized ideal of love we must imitate; ready to sacrifice ourselves, and even our lives, for the good of others. The effacement of another's rights and perhaps existence for one's own sake is the essence of hatred; the effacement of one's self for another's sake is the essence of love. Christ died for those who hated him; and the Christian must confront the hatred of the world with a love that is ready even to die for the haters. This shows that the "brethren" here and in 1 John 3:14, though used primarily of Christians, does not exclude unbelievers; otherwise the parallel with Christ would be spoiled (see on 1 John 3:10).

1 John 3:17

"But δέ if a man not only fails to do this, but even steadily contemplates θεωρῇ another's distress, and forthwith. "The world's goods" τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου is literally "the world's means of life" (see on 1 John 2:16, and Trench on 'New Testament Synonyms,' for the difference between βίος and ζώη. (For τὰ σπλάγχνα as the seat of the affections, comp. Luke 1:78; 2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1; Philippians 1:7, Philippians 1:12.) The ἀπ ̓ αὐτοῦ is graphic; closes his heart and turns away from him (1 John 2:28).

1 John 3:18-24

As in 1 John 2:28, St. John bursts out into personal exhortation (comp. verse 13; John 4:1, John 4:7), based upon the preceding statements. He then restates the motive in a new form both positively and negatively.

1 John 3:18

Little children ( τεκνία, the μου being spurious). This address, as in 1 John 2:28, introduces the summing up of the section. It may be doubted whether the absence of ἐν with the first pair λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ and its presence with the second ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ indicates any marked difference, as if λόγῳ expressed the instrument, and ἐν ἔργῳ the element or sphere. This introduces a false antithesis, like "Do not dig with a stick, but dig in the earth." (For the Hebraic ἐν to express the instrument, comp. Revelation 13:10.) "Nor yet with the tongue" is not a tautological addition. One may love in word only, and yet the affectionate words may be quite sincere; and this is a common case. People say kind things which they mean at the moment, but afterwards they do not take the trouble to act kindly. But to love with the tongue only is far worse. This is to say kind things which one does not mean, and which one knows to be unreal. Deeds are needed to complete the kind word; truth is needed to correct the insincere tongue.

1 John 3:19

In this; or, hereby ἐν τούτῳ, here clearly refers to what precedes; and the thought is similar to that in 1 John 3:14. By sincere and active love we shall come to know γνωσόμεθα that we are children of the truth. "The truth" here is almost equivalent to "God;" and we seem to have here an echo of Christ's words to Pilate, "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice". The construction in what follows contains several doubtful points:

In all three cases the first alternative is perhaps preferable: And hereby we shall persuade our heart before him (that we are of the truth, and therefore have nothing to fear), whereinsoever our heart condemn us. But on the third point see Dr. Field's note in 'Otium Norvicense,' pars 3. Before him is very emphatic; it is in God's sight that the children of the truth are able to quiet their hearts, not merely in their own eyes. (For πείθω used absolutely, comp. Matthew 28:14; Acts 12:20; 2 Corinthians 5:11.)

1 John 3:20

Our heart means our conscience, not the affections, which would be σπάγχνα (1 John 3:17). If we are conscious of sincere and habitual love, this will calm us when conscience reproaches us. St. John never uses the more technical term συνείδησις, which occurs in the Acts and 1 Peter, and is very frequent in St. Paul. God is greater than our heart. It is asked whether this means that he is more merciful or more rigorous. Neither the one nor the other. It means that, although our conscience is not infallible, God is. Our hearts may be deceived; he cannot be. He knoweth all things. An awful thought for the impenitent, a blessed and encouraging thought for the penitent, He knows our sins; but he also knows our temptations, our struggles, our sorrow, and our love.

1 John 3:21

Beloved (1 John 2:7; 1 John 3:2), there is a still more blessed possibility. If the consciousness of genuine love will sustain us before God when our heart reproaches us, much more may we have confidence towards him (1 John 2:28) when it does not reproach us.

1 John 3:22

And (as a guarantee that this confidence is not baseless or misdirected) whatsoever we ask, we receive from him. Note the present tense: λαμβάνομεν, not ληψόμεθα. Whatever the child of God asks as such, he ipso facto obtains (John 15:7). This is the ideal condition of things; for the child of God cannot ask what displeases his Father. And we are his children "because we keep his commandments." The ὅτι must not be connected too closely with λαμβάνομεν, as if our obedience were the cause of God's hearing our prayers. Our obedience shows that we are such as can pray efficaciously. (For the parallelism, comp. Exodus 15:26; Isaiah 38:3.)

1 John 3:23

And his commandment is this, that we should believe the Name, etc. "Do not forget," St. John would say, "what the full scope of his commandment is. It is not exhausted by loving the brethren; we must also believe in his Son: and the one implies the other." What is the meaning of "believing the Name πιστεύειν τῷ ὀνόματι"? We can believe a document (John 2:22; John 5:47), or a statement (John 5:47; John 12:38), or a person (John 10:37, John 10:38); but how can we believe a name? By believing those truths which the name implies: in the present case by believing that Jesus is the Saviour, is the Messiah, is the Son of God. To produce this belief and its consequence, eternal life, is the purpose of St. John's Gospel (John 20:31); it is also the will of God (John 6:40), and the command of his Son (John 14:1). This belief will inevitably produce as its fruit that we "love one another [present tense of what is habitual], even as Christ gave us commandment'' (John 13:34; John 15:12, John 15:17). Throughout the Epistle, and especially in this passage (verses 22-24), the references to Christ's farewell discourses in the Gospel are frequent. Here the main ideas of those discourses are represented—obedience to the Divine commands, particularly as to faith and love; promised answer to prayer, abiding in God; the gift of the Spirit (see on 1 John 4:5).

1 John 3:24

We are again in doubt as to whether αὐτοῦ and αὐτός refer to God the Father or to Christ. The former seems better on account of 1 John 3:22; but the latter may be right (John 14:15; John 15:5). Compare the conclusion of the first main division (1 John 2:24-28). In this (or, hereby) probably refers to what follows; the ἐν does not disprove this, in spite of the ἐκ which follows. St. John has combined two constructions: "In this we know… in that" ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομενὅτι, as in verse 16; and "From this we know… from" ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομενἐκ τοῦ; comp. 1 John 4:6. From the Spirit which he gave us. "He" is probably the Father (John 14:16, John 14:17), and the aorist ἔδωκεν refers to the special occasion of Pentecost. Hitherto St. John has mentioned only the Father and the Son; now the Spirit also (alluded to in 1 John 2:20, 1 John 2:27) is introduced by name as a witness and test of the truth. The sentence forms the transition to the subject of the next section (1 John 4:1-6), which is a sort of digression, the subject of love being mentioned in verse 7. This verse is said to have been a favourite with Spinoza.


1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2

"What manner of love!"

Connecting link: The apostle has just spoken about being "born of God." This suggests the thought that, if born of God, then are we children! A relation so near and dear, a privilege so great, inspires him with a rapturous joy. He lingers exultingly on the thought, and calls on his fellow-believers to contemplate it as an amazing proof of the love of God. Whence our topic—So great love an object for adoring contemplation. There are some texts which actually oppress the preacher with their grandeur. This is certainly one of them. The utmost that we can do is to ask the reader to follow us as we endeavour to point out what it contains, and then to invite to its full and loving contemplation. This is our order of exposition. "Behold," etc.

I. LET US OPEN UP THE CONTENTS OF THIS GREAT LOVE OF GOD AS POINTED OUT IN THE TEXT. Need we ask, "What is love?" The question would have been needless were it not that human handling has so vitiated the New Testament teachings concerning it. Evidently here love is regarded in action. So looked at, love is righteousness and benevolence acting in harmony. Apart from righteousness, benevolence would be a maudlin sentimentalism, Righteousness without benevolence would seem rigid and frigid. Benevolence is the beauty of righteousness. Righteousness is the strength of benevolence. "Strength and beauty" are both in God; and, together, they make up love. Here we have:

1. Love's origin. "The Father." Here is love's fount, love's central fire. A self-kindled, self-sustaining love. Needing no pleading from without, but gushing forth spontaneously from the "righteous Father," from the very delight of loving! Yes, and loving, as the Father, all the rights of the Ruler being guarded, and his rectitude being demonstrated in a way which he appointed. This being indeed the very perfection of his love, that it is so manifested that we can say of it, "The righteousness thereof is like the great mountains." But we have here also:

2. Love's objects. "Us." The impression this makes on any one will depend on the opinion he has of himself. If he is convicted of sin, and has traced the hidden windings of evil in his own heart, it will ever be to him the marvel of marvels that the All-pure One could ever love him, and seek to purge him from guilt by the Divine process of loving!

3. Love's freeness. "Hath given to us δεδώκεν ἡμῖν." Love not only exists for us, goes out towards us, but it is given to us, as a rich and priceless treasure. Confers on us the noblest gifts from its vast stores, and all freely (Hosea 14:4).

4. Love's actual achievements. "That we should be called children of God: and such we are." We were rebels. As subjects of the great Governor, we had revolted. And love has re-made us. We have been born a second time, and have thus become children in God's family. We are such. We are called such. It is not, indeed, as yet openly manifested. "Our life is hid with Christ in God." There is no outward visible sign by which the world can distinguish us. Nor, indeed, have they the spiritual perception to discern nor the judgment to appreciate the marks of God's own. Their wisdom fails to show them God. They did not know the Christ. They do not know us. And for the same reason in every case. But their ignorance does not alter the glorious fact. "The Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God."

5. Love's ultimate intentions. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be," etc. It is not merely for the sake of what we are today that our Father loves us so. See that baby-boy in his cradle. Say, over and above the instinctive fondness of parents for their children, are there not big hopes that gather round the little one's head? It is not merely for what he is today that he is loved like this; but for what he is to be! So with us. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." God's children are as yet so young, so immature; their evolution is as yet so incomplete, that none can tell, from what they are with all their imperfections attending them, what they will be when all the imperfections are removed and their growth is unchecked. Still, three days are before us certain.

6. Such love that can and will effect all this is wonderful. "What manner of love!" It is marvelous:

II. SUCH LOVE IS WORTHY OF DEVOUT AND ABSORBING REGARD. "Behold!" "See!" By such a word had John's attention first been called to Jesus (John 1:29). By such a word would he now arrest ours and fasten it on Heaven's wondrous love, which had been the Object of his adoring gaze for more than half a century when he wrote these words. And still to each new-comer, as he reads this Epistle, the words address themselves, Look at this sight! There is no other object so gloriously enchanting. And no other object will so infinitely repay the longest and profoundest study. Then look! But:

1. How?

2. When?

3. How long? Not fitfully or occasionally, but continuously, let the sight be turned, not inwardly on your own dark, sinful self, but outwardly, on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Then in the clear light of God's love many a perplexity will vanish; for love is the key, and the only key, to unlock the secrets of the universe. Then doubt and dread will give place to perfect peace, and in a rapturous appropriation you will feel and say and sing, "All is mine, since the love of God is mine." Look! look! look! "till the day break, and the shadows flee away," and you see "face to face."

1 John 3:3

The hope: its purifying power.

Connecting link: The apostle has just pointed out the blessedness which gathers round the new relationship of children of God, both as to its present privilege and as to its future glory. And if any one should suggest that it is very questionable doctrine, to assert merely that the sight of Christ by-and-by will make them all that they ought to be, the anticipative reply is ready. That sight will but complete the resemblance which is even now being aimed at and approximated; and it will do this in every case, for even now the expectation of such an issue has a purifying power on all who cherish it. Whence our topic—Purified by hope.

I. THE CHILDREN OF GOD HAVE A DISTINCT AND SPECIFIC HOPE. This is frequently referred to by Paul (Romans 5:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16); also by Peter (1 Peter 1:3); but only here by John. But with all three apostles the content of this hope is the same. It is, in fact, the possession of this hope which in the apostles' time marked off the Christian from the pagan and unbelieving world (cf. Ephesians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). And such is the case now. Never was it more strikingly so. Even those who are most positive as to the evolution of the race are absolutely hopeless as to the survival of the individual. But the Christian hope is both a personal and collective one. Its features, as indicated here, are twofold.

1. "This hope." The Apostle Paul, by the use of the definite article (Romans 5:5), marks it off just as distinctly. For the antecedent matter of "this," we must go back to the preceding verses, and note the three data there specified (see previous homily).

2. "In him;" rather, "upon him." The initial letter of the pronoun should be a capital, indicating that the Lord Jesus is he on whom the hope is set. He it is who is at once the central Object of the hope itself. He it is who has promised to fulfill it. His death and resurrection set the seal to its validity. He by his Spirit will consummate and crown it. The hope is set on Christ from beginning to end. These two features mark off the Christian hope from all vain and inferior ones.

II. THIS HOPE HAS IN EVERY CASE A PURIFYING POWER. This cannot be truly said concerning any other hope whatsoever. It is true of this only. He who cherishes it has the instinct of self-preservation within him; he will discipline and train his nature in doing, bearing, resisting, and thus will aim to "perfect holiness in the fear of God." And the good hope that he shall not fall short is a constant inspiration to him. There are three ways in which this may be set forth.

1. It is necessarily so from the nature of the hope itself. Hope is commonly (and truly) defined as "a compound of desire and expectation." But either element of the hope has special weight here. Desire after the beatific vision includes delight in purity; therefore he who cherishes it will aim at being pure. Expectation of the beatific vision is regulated by the Word of God. It declares, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" and therefore he knows that, apart from holiness, hoping is impossible. Hence the conditions of the realization of the hope lead him to purify£ himself.

2. It is a part of God's gracious plan that it should be so.

3. The fact that in this hope the believer is actually clinging to a living Saviour ensures it. The charm of this hope is Christ himself. But the expectation of seeing him hereafter keeps us by his side now. And, abiding in him, we grow like him, and are preparing to stand before him at his coming.


1. Let us admire the grace of God in drawing men out of sin by the force of "this blessed hope." God does not terrify and drive, but loves and wins and saves.

2. Let us use the text as a touchstone. No pretence of hope avails apart from growth in purity. A man may, indeed, apart therefrom, have some hope, but it is not "this hope."

3. To refuse to indulge such a hope is a grievous sin, since it throws doubt upon the love of God, by insinuating that he does not care enough for his creatures to prepare such good for them as the Word reveals. Let us not thus wrong our God.

4. In the presence of such solid grounds of hope as are disclosed in the gospel, how great a wrong is done to a man's own nature when his indifference or unbelief has reduced him to such a state of hopelessness that his highest achievement is that of submitting to the inevitable. We do not know, and have no intention of trying to discover, to what degree of acquiescence in this a man may attain. But it is absolutely certain that in such a case anything approximating, anything worthy to be compared with, the "joy unspeakable and full of glory" is absolutely impossible. The peace of God can never make the face radiant with heavenly brightness when once the light of hope is gone. When there is nothing to lighten the heart there can be nothing to brighten the face.

5. And when this catastrophe occurs in human nature, the spur to purity is gone. Abstractly, a ground and reason for purity may exist quite apart from any hope of immortality. This is possible. But in actual fact, take away the hope, and life's inspiration is gone! It becomes forthwith a mere question of time as to how soon the hopeless one will succumb to the maxim, "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die!"

1 John 3:4-12

Sinning in every way incompatible with the Christian life.

Connecting link: The apostle had just said that every one with the Christian hope would purify himself" as Christ the Lord is pure." As if to guard this absolutely universal statement, "every one," against the possibility of question, he goes on to illustrate the varied aspects of sin—in its bearing on law; as regards the Person and work of Christ; as related to the new life of the children of God; and with reference to the everlasting statute of the gospel. Thus giving an overwhelming force to the doctrine indicated by the topic before us. Topic—Sinning impossible to the children of God.£ The apostle deals here, not with detailed sins, but with sinning; not with isolated acts (if, indeed, there can be any such), but with the continuous life of sinning. As ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην is "one who lives a life of righteousness," so ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν is "one who lives a life of sin." Terrible thought (and yet how true to fact!) that of living a life which is all sin, without any righteousness in it at all! The man who lives for self-pleasing rather than for the sake of pleasing God—who consults his fancies, and not his duty; who cares only for himself, and not at all for his brother—is living in sin every day and all the day long, however glossy his external self may seem. It is to the manifold contrarieties of such a life that the apostle here calls our attention. Let us look at such a life—

I. AS IT CONCERNS THE LAW OF GOD. "Sin is the transgression of law;" literally, "lawlessness." "It is," says Westcott, "the assertion of the selfish will against a paramount authority. He who sins breaks, not only by accident or in an isolated detail, but essentially, the 'Law' which he was created to fulfill"—of right government of self, of concern for our brother, of loyalty to God. Hence the spirit of the Law is broken in its entirety, whatever form the details of his life may assume.


1. As to his person. "In him there is no sin." How black does a sinful, selfish life appear by the side of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ!

2. As to his work. "He was manifested to take away sins;" not only (as Paul shows in Romans 3:1-31) to demonstrate God's righteousness in forgiving sin, but also "to take away sins£ "(Revised Version)—to remove them altogether. To this end his whole earthly manifestation was directed, from the manger to the cross. And in thus doing, he would destroy "the works of the devil," who "sinneth from the beginning" (cf. John 12:31; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15). Hence it is clear that one who is leading a sinful life is in constant opposition to the Person, will, and work of the Son of God!


1. Sinning is altogether inconsistent with abiding in Christ (1 John 3:6; cf. John 15:5).

2. It is altogether opposed to the true knowledge of Christ (1 John 3:6).

3. It is contrary to the features which always mark God's children (1 John 3:10). God's children are re-born—born to a life of righteousness and love. Hence (1 John 3:9) whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for the seed of another life is in him.

4. It is impossible to a child of God. "He cannot sin, because he is born of God." Impossibility of sinning is one mark of the new birth. "He cannot sin." Blessed inability! Cannot be sinning, or living a life out of harmony with God's will and Word. Cannot! Why? Because in the new product of God's Spirit the principle of righteousness is so active that a sinning life is entirely out of the question. Virtue is so strong that it expels its opposite. A true child of God cannot be in alienation of spirit from his Father in heaven, even for one moment. So an honest servant cannot steal, a faithful husband cannot be unfaithful. One passionately fond of accuracy cannot be systematically inaccurate. So, also a child of God cannot be opposed to his Father's will, simply because, ex hypothesi, the product of the new birth is a child who will will as his Father wills. Into errors of judgment he may fall, by sudden gusts of temptation he may be overtaken and so surprised into a fault; but from sin, from the sin of living alien to God, he was delivered once and for ever, when, by the change in his nature, he was born again! He was "renewed… after the image of him that created him."

IV. THE SINNING LIFE IS OPPOSED TO THE EVERLASTING STATUTE OF THE GOSPEL. So the apostle argues here. The sinning life is one of lawlessness, one of selfishness. Unlovingness and unrighteousness are not of God. He who drifts away from loyalty to God will soon drift away also from consideration to man. Disloyal self-will Godward, breeds selfish isolation manward. And this is contrary to the commandment that we heard" from the beginning," i.e., from the beginning of Divine revelation (Genesis 9:9), or from the beginning of our Saviour's teaching (Matthew 5:44), or from the beginning of our Christian profession (Galatians 6:10). Consequently, one who receives and obeys the gospel began to unlearn selfishness the moment he was won for God. He is bound by his Lord's precepts to do good unto all men.£


1. How very serious a matter sin is! It is not a mere question of a few wrong deeds, but of a false bias of the will, which turns the entire life into a wrong channel. E.g. think of the prodigal son. During his guilty wanderings he may have been entirely faithful to the citizen who hired him, but he was sinning against his father all the while he was away from him. So the disloyal man. He may do acts that are right as towards A and B and C but so long as he is disloyal to God, he is sinning against him all the while.

2. How manifold are the forces employed against sin! A Law to condemn it, a Saviour to redeem from it, a Spirit to destroy it, a gospel to testify against it, a whole family of new-born sons to be living witnesses of his deliverance from its power.

3. How blessed and honourable to be a child of God, and so to be numbered among the forces which God would bring to bear against sin! God's children are enlisted on his side, that they may be workers together with their Father in declaring eternal war against sin. Even under the Mosaic economy this principle was recognized. Jehovah called for the united voice of the people to join with him in branding sin with a curse (see homily on Deuteronomy 27:1-26). But then the more prominent force was a law without; now it is a life within.

4. How distinctively Divine is the life of the true child of God! and how clear and manifest a proof of the reality of redemption and of regeneration! Of the former, because he is redeemed out of the region of sin altogether; of the latter, because a new life, higher than nature knows, has been actually begotten in him, and is being sustained by the power of God.

5. How sure the triumph of God's children! They have to fight against the world's selfishness and sin, and in doing this they fight along with One who was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil. The purport of that manifestation shall be realized; and when their Lord triumphs, his victory will be theirs.

6. What a sorry outlook for those who are not the children of God! What can they be thinking of to fight against so much? But all I they do not think. They pause not to ask—What am I doing? How forlorn their prospect! Alien from God, rushing against his Law, neglecting his gospel, despising the Son of God: to what humiliation and destruction are they rushing on? Siding with the evil one, like him they must be cast down (Luke 10:18) and cast out (John 12:31).

1 John 3:13-15

The world's hatred of Christians.

Connecting link: In setting forth the broad contrast between sin and righteousness, the apostle had taken occasion to refer to Cain as the earliest illustration of the wide gulf between the two. The violent contrast between him and his brother generated as violent an antipathy on his part towards him. And even now the contrast between sin and righteousness is just as wide as ever. From the very nature of the case they are an immeasurable distance asunder; so that it is not to be wondered at if a sinful world chafes under the silent and effective rebuke administered to it by the lives of holy men, and if in consequence thereof hatred is felt by men of the world towards the living Church of God. For our part, says the apostle, we know it is so, because we used to cherish it ourselves; and if now we love the brethren, it is because we have undergone so great a change that it is no less than passing from death unto life. And even though that hatred which we once felt may never have broken out into a murderous act, yet that hatred itself is the very germ out of which such an act would develop itself; and hence, in the eye of God, he that hateth his brother is a murderer; and you know, certainly and absolutely, that no man, desiring to kill his brother, has an eternal life abiding in him. The whole passage reminds us of John 15:13-21, with which it should be compared. Topic—The world's hatred of Christians no surprising fact.

I. LET US LOOK AT THE CASE HERE SUPPOSED. "If the world hate you." Close analysis will yield us several distinct facts here.

1. There is a society of brethren in Christ. "You." There is evidently a fellowship of believers in Jesus, who, having passed from death unto life, naturally magnetized each other, and came together by the mutual attraction of the spiritual life they shared in common.

2. There is an outside world, composed of those who are of the earth, earthy, out of which these believers have been drawn, and from which they have become separated. While "the brethren" are among the living, the outer "world" is still among the dead.£

3. Those who had been gathered out of the world devoted themselves to testifying against its sin, and to the manifestation of another and a purer life.

4. This double condemnation of the world's sin—that of witness-bearing on behalf of One who came to take it away, and that of the silent condemnation of a holy life—roused the hostility of the world (cf. John 16:1, John 16:2; John 15:18-25).

II. LET US INQUIRE IF THE CASE HERE SUPPOSED HAS ANY PRESENT-DAY PARALLEL. Does "the world" really hate Christians now? Is not the time past and gone for anything of the kind? Certainly there is a very great difference, on the surface at any rate, between "the world" as we know it and as the Apostle John knew it. And as certainly there is a vast difference between the Church life of our days and that of his. It is well, therefore, that we should set distinctly and clearly before us the thing as it exists under our own eye. How are we to apportion the two apparently contradictory propositions—

1. There are some professors, and possibly some Churches, that there is no likelihood of the world's ever hating, since, though baptized into the Christian name, they are entirely worldly in spirit—they have but a name to live. They will never convert, nor startle, nor disturb the world. They will be deemed "highly respectable" and "inoffensive." They will never be hated.

2. A true Christian even, and a true Church, may be so lacking in outspoken testimony for God's truth, and in aggressive attacks on the world's sin, that they arouse no hostility whatever. And in such a case they will be allowed to pursue their course in peace.

3. Further, it is certainly the case that, with the advance of civilization, the old element of a personal hatred is very largely modified; to persecute any man for his religious faith, or for a holy Christian life, would not be tolerated now m any social circle where there is clue regard for the laws of mutual courtesy.

4. Consequently, whatever dislike there may be in the world to the doctrines of the gospel, it will now show itself less towards men than towards systems. And when we come to this point, it is abundantly clear that hatred, and a virulent hatred, too, exists on the part of the world towards the doctrines maintained in the Church. The dislike will vary in detail according to the standpoint of the individual. The worldling will hate the demands for a life consecrated to Christ. The formalist will hate what he calls "Puritanism." The easy-going man will hate the call to strive to enter in at the strait gate. The rationalist will hate the doctrine of the atonement. The man of "broad thought" will hate the exclusive claims of the Saviour. The scientist will hate the suggestion that an Infinite Will rules all. The philosopher will scorn the doctrine of the Incarnation. The positivist will refuse to rise to the hyper-phenomenal. The agnostic will prefer his ignorance, because he hates to receive the kingdom of God as a little child. The free-thinker will hate to subject his thinking to the supreme laws of righteousness. In all these ways men "hate the doctrine of the cross."

5. Nevertheless, though the hatred ordinarily is more towards systems than men, yet, let any man move out of the common, methods, of easy-going Christianity and set forth on a crusade for some Christian doctrine or against some antichristian heresy;—let him expose and condemn men's favourite sins,—and no one among men will be hated more intensely than he! Illustrations are ready to hand in abundance. Revivalists: dead Churches and dead ministers intensely hate living ones. Temperance reformers, etc. Those who expose the crying sins of covetousness, landlordism, land monopoly, etc. In a word, let but a man aim at bringing gospel doctrine to bear on needed social reform in every direction, the old-world greed will assert itself, and Faithful will have all the showmen in Vanity Fair wishing he were dead!

6. So that, practically, the whole matter may be summed up thus: The world, even if more refined in manner (as it most certainly is) than it was in John's time, yet is as self-willed, as selfish, as indisposed to the yoke of Christ as ever. If we are faithful in bearing testimony for God, we shall meet with our share of hatred. If we were more faithful, we should have the more hatred to endure. True, we have a large number of Christ's followers to speed us on, and so may present a larger front to the enemy; consequently, the hatred will be less felt by the individual—so many will share it with him. And it follows that, unless we make the world wince and writhe under our rebuke of its faithlessness towards God and its wrongs towards man, we are not truly representing him whose we are and whom we are pledged to serve.

1 John 3:16-18

Love others, for God hath loved thee!

Connecting link: The great contrast has been presented between the love abiding in those who have passed from death unto life and the enmity abiding in the world. That hatred has been illustrated by a reference to Cain, and believers are told they must not be surprised if the murderous spirit still survives. The apostle then reverts to his favourite theme—love. He seems to say, "As for us, we have learnt a different lesson. We have come to know ἐγνώκα 'the love' [the words 'of God' are not in the Greek nor the Revised Version] the supreme love in the universe. The lesson it has taught us is that we ought to love as God loves. He [emphatic] laid down his life for us: we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Divine love has not merely been taught us merely in a book, or by teachers, but in the most stupendous act of self-sacrifice that was possible either in heaven or on earth. If, after this, any one can close up his heart against a needy brother, it is too clear that no love, either of God, or like to God's, dwells in him. Be it ours to show, as God has shown, that with us, love is not merely in word, but also in power. Topic—The supreme love: its act and its lessons.

I. LET US STUDY LOVE'S GREATEST ACT. "He ἐκεῖνος laid down his life for us." We have already had one study in God's love (homily on 1 John 3:2). But the theme is exhaustless. The precise point here is that by what God has done for us we have come to learn the supreme love; such a love as outshines all else—a love which is not only unique as a model, but also as a creative power! Nine features thereof may here be suggested.

1. Love in its highest origin. God (cf. 1 John 4:10).

2. Love's manifestation. Through the Son.

3. Love's channel. The incarnate Son.

4. Love's method. "Laid down his life."

5. Love's meaning in its method. "A propitiation" (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10); "A demonstration of righteousness" (Romans 3:20, Romans 3:21); "An offering for sin" (Hebrews 9:26-28).

6. Love under strangest circumstances. "When we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8); "Ye who sometime were alienated," etc. (Colossians 1:21; cf. Romans 5:6).

7. Love's extent. "A propitiation for… the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2); "He died for all" (2 Corinthians 5:15).

8. Love's intent. To save from sin. To purify. To remove for ever the one stumbling-block and bar to human progress. To see men perfect (cf. Ephesians 5:25-28; Colossians 1:26-28; Titus 2:14). This—this is love; this is the love; herein is love. This is the supreme lesson taught us in Christ—that the supreme energy is infinite, eternal, boundless, out-gushing love! Mr. Herbert Spencer tells us that "amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are ever in presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed". Where the agnostic ends, acknowledging that there is an Infinite Energy, though he knows not what it is, the gospel messenger begins, and says, "That Energy I declare unto you." The Infinite Energy is a self-existing, self-outpouring love!—a love that makes the greatest possible sacrifice in order to redeem the lost!

II. LET US LEARN LOVE'S GREATEST LESSON. How much the lesson of love needed to be taught can only be learnt from the study of the period at which the Apostle John wrote.£ The space at our disposal forbids our doing more than to refer the student to works touching thereon. This love of God for man is seen to have a fivefold effect.

1. It teaches new truth about man.

(a) of removing obstructions to human advancement, whether

( α) from within or

( β) from without; and

(b) of creating and sustaining such new forces as will raise him in the scale of being.

2. It creates a new duty, viz. that of laying ourselves out for others. "And we ought," etc. The vastly higher plane to which the revelation of Divine love lifted human nature, ipso facto made the claims of manhood on redeemed and sanctified man enormously greater than before. It warranted and even demanded the "enthusiasm of humanity." The measure of self-devotion to others' weal, indicated in the words, "we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren," is very far greater than the phrase just quoted implies. The Church of God has "left its first love;" a return to it would revolutionize and regenerate society.

3. It becomes a new inspiration in man. Of this the text, looked at historically, is a proof. Such precepts as it contains were never considered a part of human duty till God so loved the world. The apostles and the early Christians had learnt of God to love one another and to do good unto all men.£

4. It at once led to the adoption of a new test of character. E.g., take the case of a rich man and a poor one—of Dives and Lazarus. "Whoso hath this world's good βίος, and seeth his brother have need," etc. In such a hard-hearted one it is perfectly clear the love of God does not dwell, i.e., either the love which is like God's, or which he imparts, or which he commands, or of which he is the Object. For love to God is nothing if it be not loyal. He commands us to love our brethren. Therefore, if we do not, we cannot truly love God.

5. It supplies a new and tender persuasive plea. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." In every case our love is to become a practical power. If a man, out of passionate love for his Lord, spends his strength in defending the doctrines of the gospel, it is so far well. But in doing this, his work is but half-done. He is equally bound to devote himself to insisting on the practice of the gospel, and to inspire men to practical philanthropy as well as to penitence and faith. And while the former ages have been those in which Christian doctrines had

We confess we are jealous for the honour of our glorious faith. We see men by thousands deserting the Christian camp because they think Christianity has nothing to say to the temporal concerns of working men. We see secularists and others taking up such questions, and coming to the front as the working men's benefactors! and all because we Christians have so much more ground yet to occupy in working out and solving the social problems of the age.£ Oh! let us to the fore at once in God's Name, and, inspired by everlasting love, let us show to men of every class and calling that while there is not a sin of man against man which the gospel does not condemn, neither is there a right of man which the gospel does not press on his behalf, when it summons us to be "imitators of him" who laid down his life to save our race.

1 John 3:19-22

The privileges of Christian loyalty.

Connecting link: The ἔν τούτῳ with which our present paragraph begins is the connecting link between the material of this homily and that of the last. It connects the privileges here specified with the duties there enjoined. No verses of the Epistles of John lead us more into the very heart-work of religion than do these; nor are there any the construction of which is so complex, and the exact meaning thereof less easy to ascertain. We have no space to reproduce here the exegesis of the various clauses. [The reader will turn for that to the Exposition. Westcott's remarks thereon are finely discriminating and clear.] We do but give the results of our own anxious study. This we will do by a paraphrase of the four verses, the meaning of which, as we understand them, can be thus expressed: "By means of such a life of self-devotion to man for God's sake, we shall come to know that we are of the truth, and shall be able to cherish a calm persuasion of heart towards him in whose presence we habitually and consciously move. We may, indeed, often be condemned by our own hearts for constantly falling short of our ideal; still, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things, and can estimate the desire even when the execution is defective. Or if, as may be the case, we cannot reproach ourselves with any conscious divergence from his will, we can then open our lips freely in our addresses to God; and not only so, but he will open his hands freely to us, in answer to our prayers, knowing that it is our reverent care and study to obey his commands and to do habitually what will please him." Topic—A life of studied loyalty to God is one of highest privilege. The case supposed here is that a believer carries out his love to God by a self-abandoning devotion to his brother-man. He makes it his reverent concern to obey every precept, and, living as in the sight of God, habitually aims at being well-pleasing to him. Surely it is not surprising if such have some privileges and enjoyments that others know nothing of. Not that they are regarded as payments for any meritorious act; that is quite out of the question. They are privileges conferred on one who is stirred by the Spirit of God to a life of devoted and exact obedience to the Father's will. What are they? The apostle specifies six.

I. A SURE STEP. "We shall know that we are of the truth." It is not possible for the heart in loving loyalty to God to doubt if it be the right thing to follow God's commands. Many other points may be doubtful, but not this!

II. A RESTFUL HEART. "We shall assure our hearts before him." There will be a holy confidence of uprightness; and the believer knows well that God is not a hard Master. It is much easier to please God than to please the dearest friend on earth! "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him."

III. A CONFIDING EYE. ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, "before him;" as in his sight. As a loving, trustful child aiming to please his father looks up with placid confidence to catch the glance of his father's eye, delighted to think of its loving vigilance, so the child of God lives as before the eye of his Father in heaven, happy beyond expression to think that that eye is ever upon him. He looks up to catch the Father's smile; the Father looks down to watch the child's upturned glance.

IV. A LOVING REFERENCE TO HIS FATHER WHEN A SENSE OF FAILURE BURDENS HIS SOUL. There will be times when the child's heart chides him that he has fallen so far below his own ideal and desire£ (verse 20). Well, his Father knows how far, better than the child does. But if the habitual set of the life is towards pleasing God, he can rely upon his father's love in any case of faultiness of detail, assured that he who said," The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," will be the kindest possible Judge of the acts of an obedient child.£

"There is no place where earth's sorrows

Are so felt as up in heaven;

There is no place where earth's failings

Have such kindly judgment given."

He would rather have his very faultiness estimated by God than by the kindest friend on earth. Very likely he will be reproaching himself that he has not wrought deeds more worthy of God; but even then he can say with infinite content, "Lord, thou knowest all things;" and in the perfect judgment of the All-seeing he is content lovingly to leave the estimate and the award.

V. A FREE TONGUE. It may be that his heart does not condemn him with a sense of conscious failure. He may be able to use Paul's words (1 Corinthians 4:4). In such a case he will have παῤῥησία freedom of speech towards God. He will be able to unburden his whole soul, without restraint, to his Father in heaven, and pour forth words that he would on no account whatever utter in a human ear. But what an infinite relief to be able to pour out the whole burden of one's soul to a Friend who will never misunderstand us! No such freedom of speech as this can we have elsewhere than before God; and only there when loyally living to please God.

VI. A FULL HAND. Free words to God; free gifts from God. Such is the order (verse 22). "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him." Happy the man who can get everything he asks for! No, not necessarily. If he were to ask for a bane, thinking it would be a boon, it would be anything but a blessing to him to receive it. But the remarkable statement at the beginning of verse 22 is qualified, or rather fenced round and guarded from abuse. Of whom is this true? The children of God, not of men indiscriminately. Under what circumstances is it true? When they keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight. How, then, does it become true? Obviously

1. There are vast privileges to be enjoyed by man. But God will not fling them away indiscriminately.

2. There is an infinite reasonableness in the connection between duty and privilege laid down in this text.

3. Although the salvation of each and all is freely bestowed on the ground of Divine grace alone, yet the fullness of that salvation, the measure of enjoyment therein, and the degree of freedom with which he can hold fellowship with God, will depend on the exactitude and the measure of his loyalty (Matthew 5:19; 1 Corinthians 3:8).

1 John 3:23, 1 John 3:24

Outward precept and inward life.

Connecting link: The word ἐντολὴ which marked the preceding verse, is caught up in this, and the life of obedience thereto, which had been shown to be the condition of freedom in fellowship with God and of success in prayer, is here declared to be the seal and fruit of the living Spirit, creating and sustaining an inward life corresponding to the outward rule. Topic—The life enjoined by the command of Christ a seal of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. The following order of thought is suggested.


1. That we should believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ. The title here given to Christ is "a compressed creed" (Westcott); comp. John 1:12. The man who believes in Christ is one to which the privilege of becoming a child of God belongs, as the apostle had taught in his Gospel (see also John 6:28, John 6:29). This faith in Christ is here regarded as the basis on which the second duty rests.

2. That we should love one another. The first includes the sum of religion Godward; the latter, the whole of practical Christianity manward. The second is in every way so obviously admirable that many contend for it who yet ignore the first. But it will be found, practically, that the two cannot be disjoined. Such love to men as Christ commands never has been, will be, or can be sustained apart from faith in Christ. No building can be put up without a foundation, however admirably its outline may be drawn on paper. The cross is love's inspiration as well as its model.


1. Man abides in God by faith and fellowship.

2. God abides in man by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22).

III. THIS FRUITFUL INDWELLING OF THE SPIRIT IS THE SEAL OF GOD'S LIFE IN THE SOUL. When by an inspiration net of man nor by man we are led to a life which is above and beyond nature, "we know that be abides in us." The Spirit which he gave us when we believed (Ephesians 1:13) is the seal to us of God's own life. His command used to be an outside letter, bidding us to live a life that was high above us. Now we have an inward force, inspiring a life that conforms to the letter! In a word, God's Spirit in the soul brings about, in actual life, what the precept enjoins. By the Word we were taught that such a life was the right one to lead. By the Spirit we are so inspired that we cannot lead any other! Note:

1. The Law without is a great gift. The Spirit within is a greater. It is a blessing to be shown the right way. It is a greater blessing to be disposed to walk therein.

2. As we all have the blessing of the Word, since we know there is a greater one obtainable, ought we not to seek for it? For observe:

3. The gift of the Holy Ghost, albeit it is the greatest possible blessing, is precisely that of which we may make most sure, when sought by fervent prayer.

4. Let those who have the Spirit of God seek for a richer fullness of his indwelling power.£ The more of the Holy Ghost we have, the easier will it be to obey; and just as it is the penitent's duty to receive pardon from Christ by faith, even so it is the believer's duty to receive the Spirit from him by faith.


1 John 3:1

"Behold what manner of love!"

Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us," etc.! The "behold" summons our attention to the kind of love which God has given to us. It is not the greatness of the love, but the "manner of love," that we are called to contemplate. And the nature of this love is to be inferred from its expression; hence St. John says "that we should be called children of God." God has bestowed his love upon us; not simply the gifts of it, or the proof of it, but itself. Yet of what kind it is can only be discovered from its manifestations. He has given to us not only streams of blessing, but the very fountain of blessing; yet we can know the nature of the fountain only from the streams which flow from it. Thus let us meditate upon the love of the Divine Father to us as it is exhibited in the text.

I. LOVE OF IMMEASURABLE CONDESCENSION. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!" The Creator gave his love to his creature whom he had created in his own likeness. He made him capable of fellowship with himself, and, looking upon him with complacency, pronounced him "very good." God gave his love to man. But our text does not refer to man as he was created by God, but as he was when marred by sin against him. The infinitely Holy bestowed his love upon the unholy, the sinful; the unspeakably Glorious, upon the deeply degraded. He did not give his love to the amiable, the attractive, the worthy, or the lovable. He did not bestow it upon those who were merely immeasurably beneath him, but upon those who were in active rebellion against him. "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." His love to us, then, was not that of complacency, but of compassion; not that of admiration, but of benevolence and pity. It was "love seeking not its own," but our well-being; not rejoicing over the good and beautiful, but seeking with deepest solicitude for the salvation of the unworthy and sinful.

II. Love WHICH EXALTS AND DIGNIFIES ITS OBJECTS. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God!" He himself calls us his children. Our Lord. taught us to say, "Our Father, which art in heaven." He said, "My Father and your Father, my God and your God." But in what sense does he call us his children? Not as being his by creation, but by regeneration. The words immediately preceding the text place this beyond dispute: "Every one that doeth righteousness is begotten of him." He has created them anew. They are "born from above." They are made "partakers of the Divine nature." No new faculties or capacities are given to them; nor do they need them; for man lost none of them by sin. His powers were corrupted and perverted, but not destroyed. The true relation and. harmony and. direction of his faculties man lost by his sin: he lost holiness. Being begotten of God, he is changed from an attitude of distrust, suspicion, or aversion from God, to an attitude of love to him; and holy love is the life of the soul. "Every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God" (1 John 4:7). They are "called children of God," then:

1. Because they are sharers in his life. In some humble measure they participate in that life of truth and righteousness, purity and love, which is his essentially and infinitely, and which flows from him to all his intelligent creatures who are in union with him.

2. Because they morally resemble him. Like him in their inward life, they are also in a measure like him in their outward action. As regards both their character and conduct, they bear some moral resemblance to him. He calls them his children because they are his children restored through Christ to his fatherly heart, animated with the Divine life of love, and growing in their conformity to his perfect character. How glorious is the love which thus blesses its objects!

III. LOVE WHICH INSPIRES ITS OBJECTS WITH THE MOST BLESSED ASSURANCE. "Called children of God: and such we are." True Christians are conscious that they are children of God. They have a cheering and. strengthening conviction that they are accepted of him, not only as his subjects, but as his sons and daughters. "The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Romans 8:14-16); "Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:4-6). We have this sacred testimony in our consciousness of the Spirit's presence and work within us. He imparts unto us the filial spirit, "whereby we cry, Abba, Father." He inspires within us holy desires and purposes, he restrains us from sin, he comforts us in sorrow, he strengthens us to produce the fruit of the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance." The presence of these things in our lives is a testimony that we are children of God. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."

IV. LOVE WHICH ENNOBLES THE CHARACTER OF ITS OBJECTS ABOVE THE RECOGNITION OF THE UNCHRISTIAN WORLD. "Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." "The world" is the same here as in 1 John 2:15.

1. The unchristian world knew not the Divine Father. "It knew him not." The "him" must be God the Father. If it refer to Jesus Christ at all, it must be as the Revelation of the Father. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, "Ye know neither me nor my Father: if ye knew me, ye would know my Father also" (John 8:19; John 16:3; John 17:25).

2. The unchristian world knows not the children of the Divine Father. "Therefore the world knoweth us not." Because they are his children and resemble him, they are enigmas to the world. By the love which he hath bestowed upon them they are so ennobled in their disposition and character, their principles and practice, that the unchristian world cannot understand them.

Behold, then, "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us"! Believe it; contemplate it; admire it; reciprocate it - W.J.

1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:3

The present and the future of the good.

"Beloved, now are we children of God," etc. Here is—

I. A GLORIOUS FACT OF PRESENT EXPERIENCE. "Beloved, now are we children of God."

1. As sharing in his life.£

2. As morally resembling him

3. As possessing the filial spirit.

II. A GRACIOUS MYSTERY AS TO OUR FUTURE CONDITION. "And it is not yet made manifest what we shall be." Ebrard: "While we are already God's children, we are nevertheless yet in the dark as to the nature of our future condition."

1. The mode of our being in the future is at present a mystery to us. We know that the soul exists consciously and at once after passing from our present mode of life. We infer this from such Scriptures as these: "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43); "We are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8); "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.… Having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better" (Philippians 1:21, Philippians 1:23). But how the soul exists when it has departed from the "natural body," or what is its mode of existence, we know not. At present the body is the organ and instrument of the soul. Does the soul after death require some vehicle of expression, some instrument of action? If so, of what kind will these be? Or will the soul be independent of such things? What is the clothing (2 Corinthians 5:2-4) which awaits the soul when it passes from the earthly house of this tabernacle? Of these things we know nothing. "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be."

2. The exaltation of our being in the future is at present a mystery to us. The glory of our future being and condition is hidden from us as yet. What developments of being await us, to what services God will appoint us, with what honours he will crown us in the hereafter,—of these things we are altogether ignorant. Presumptuous are they who speak of the details of the condition and circumstances and occupations of the children of God after death. They who knew something of these things and were recalled to this life maintained unbroken silence concerning them (Luke 7:11-16; John 11:38-44). Paul was caught up into Paradise, but he said that it was not lawful to utter what he heard there (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Wisely and graciously God has left a veil over our future condition and circumstances. Mystery in these things is perhaps inevitable. Probably in our present condition we have no symbols by which the future glories could be revealed unto us. Our languages could not describe them. Music, as we have it, could not express them. Painting could not set them forth. Moreover, mystery in these things is merciful. We could not bear the revelation of the bright future, and continue in the faithful and patient performance of our duties in the present. There is one sense in which the children of God will ever say, "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be." Their progress will be interminable. The development of their being and blessedness will never come to an end.

III. A GRAND ASSURANCE AS TO OUR FUTURE CONDITION. "We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is." (It seems to us that the rendering should be, "if it shall be manifested."£ But the chief points of the apostle's teaching are the same whether, we translate, "if it" or "if he shall be manifested.") Here is an assurance:

1. Of moral assimilation to God in Christ. "We shall be like him." Like him in character and sympathies and aims. Like him too, in some respects, corporeally; for he "shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory" (Philippians 3:21).

2. Of the vision of God in Christ. "For we shall see him even as he is." Some measure of likeness to him is indispensable to our seeing him. Spiritual resemblance to him qualifies the soul to see him even as he is. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." But the truth here is that the vision of God in Christ will perfect the likeness of his children unto him. Ebrard: "The being like unto God will be effected by the beholding of God." The vision of God is transforming in its effect. After Moses had been with the Lord forty days and forty nights upon Mount Sinai, when he came down from the mount the skin of his face shone, and the people were afraid to come nigh him (Exodus 34:29-35). "We all, with unveiled face reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). By the operation of the same principle, when the children of God see him as he is they will become like unto him. How blessed and inspiring is this assurance! To see him and to be like him has been the dearest hope of the noblest souls. Thus David, "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness," etc. (Psalms 18:15); and St. Paul, "Having the desire to depart and be with Christ;" and St. John, "The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein; and his servants shall do him service; and they shall see his face." "We shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is."

IV. A SALUTARY INFLUENCE OF OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE ON OUR CONDITION IN THE PRESENT. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself," etc.

1. The character of this hope. It is the assured expectation and the sincere desire of the vision of God in Christ, and of complete moral assimilation to him.

2. The ground of this hope. "This hope set on him." On what he has promised, and on what he is, his children base their great hope. "God is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19); "In hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal" (Titus 1:2).

3. The influence of this hope. "Purifieth himself, even as he is pure." It is clearly implied that, while in this world, the children of God need moral purification. They are not yet entirely freed from sin, and sin pollutes the soul. Their sanctification is not yet perfected. But the precious and assured hope which they cherish stimulates them to seek for perfect moral purity. To indulge in sin, or to cease to strive after holiness, would be virtually to renounce their hope. They endeavour to attain to a holiness like unto that of Christ—to be pure as he is pure. His purity is the pattern of theirs. So that we have here a test of Christian character. Does our religion exert a sanctifying power in our hearts and lives?

"O Living Will, that shalt endure

When all that seems shall suffer shock,

Rise in the spiritual rock,

Flow through our deeds and make them pure?"


1 John 3:4-6

Dissuasives from sin.

"Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the Law," etc. The apostle, having stated that the influence of the hope of the Christian stimulates him to seek for moral purity, proceeds to present forcible reasons against the commission of sin. Of these reasons we have three chief ones in the text, and these are repeated, with some additional particulars, in 1 John 3:7-9.

I. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE HOLY LAW OF GOD. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness: and sin is lawlessness."

1. Sin in its abstract nature. "Sin is the transgression of the Law," or "lawlessness." This is said of sin in general: it is true of every sin, that it is a violation of the Law of God. This is opposed to several modem theories concerning sin. Some say that sin is a natural imperfection of the creature—the crude effort of untrained man for right conduct. Our text says that it is not imperfection, but transgression of a holy Law. And others charge all sin upon defective social arrangements: human society is not rightly organized, and because of this men err. But St. John charges sin upon the individual, and charges it as a disregard or a breach of Divine Law. And others apply the word "misdirection" to what the Bible calls sin, and thus endeavour to get rid of guilt. But misdirection implies a misdirector; that misdirector is man. And sin is more than misdirection; it is the infraction of the holy Law and beautiful order of the Supreme. The sacred Scriptures everywhere assert this. The cherubim and the flaming sword of Eden (Genesis 3:24), the awful voices of Sinai (Exodus 20:1-26), and the mournful but glorious sacrifice of Calvary unite in. declaring that sin is the transgression of the Law of God. And the voice of conscience confirms this testimony of Holy Writ. The unsophisticated and awakened conscience cries, "I acknowledge my transgression," etc. (Psalms 2:3, Psalms 2:4).

2. Sin in its actual commission. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness." The expression seems to indicate the practice of sin—voluntariness, deliberateness, and activity in wrong-doing. It is the antithesis of the conduct of the child of God in purifying himself. It is not sin as an occasional or exceptional thing, but as a general thing. Persistent activity in doing evil is suggested by the form of expression. We are reminded by it of the expression of the royal and inspired poet, "the workers of iniquity"—persons who habitually practice sin, who work wickedness as though it were their business. Here, then, are reasons why we should not sin.

II. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. The holy will of God the Father and the redemptive work of God the Son are both essentially antagonistic to iniquity. "Ye know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin."

1. The end of Christ's mission was the abolition of sin. "He was manifested to take away sins. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." The bearing of our sins in his own body on the tree is not the fact here mentioned. It is involved; for "once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26); but it is not brought out in this place. The manifestation denotes his incarnation, and his life and work in the flesh. His entire mission was opposed to sin. He became incarnate, he prayed and preached, he wrestled with temptation, and wrought mighty and gracious works, he suffered and died, he arose from the dead, and he ever lives, to take away sins. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

2. A great characteristic of Christ's Person was his freedom from sin. "In him is no sin." He asserted his own sinlessness: "Which of you convicteth me of sin?… The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me." And this claim he consistently maintained. His enemies tacitly or openly confessed that they could find no sin in him. The Pharisees keenly watched him to discover some matter of accusation against him, but their watching was vain. And when they had preferred a false charge against him before Pilate, the Roman judge said, "I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this Man touching those things whereof ye accuse him;" "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous Man." Judas Iscariot had known Jesus intimately for three years, and after he had traitorously betrayed him, in intolerable anguish he cried, "I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood." And his friends, who had been closely and constantly associated with him for three years, invariably asserted the perfect moral purity of his character and conduct. The sinlessness of our Lord should check every inclination to sin in his disciples, and stimulate them to the pursuit of holiness. To commit sin is to run counter to our Saviour's personal character, and to the gracious spirit and grand aim of the redemption which he has wrought.

III. SIN IS OPPOSED TO THE DIVINE LIFE IN MAN. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him."

1. Participation in the Divine life precludes the practice of sin. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not." We abide in Christ by believing on him, loving him, communing with him, drawing our life from him (cf. John 15:1-7).£ That this part of our text cannot mean that sin is impossible to a Christian is evident from 1 John 1:8-10; 1 John 2:1,

2. But in so far as the child of God abides in Christ he is separated from sin. In the degree in which the Divine life is realized by him, in that degree he is unable to sin (cf. 1 John 2:9).

2. The practice of sin proves the absence of a true knowledge of Jesus Christ. "Whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him." The sight and knowledge here spoken of are not merely intellectual, but spiritual; not theoretical, but experimental. And the "sinneth" does not denote sin as an occasional and exceptional thing, but as general and habitual. He who lives in the practice of sin thereby proclaims that he does not know the Lord Jesus Christ.

By all these reasons let Christians watch and pray that they sin not, and "follow after sanctification, without which no man shall see the Lord."—W.J.

1 John 3:14

Love the evidence of life.

"We know that we have passed from death unto life," etc. To know our true character and condition in the sight of God is of the greatest importance. An earnest consideration of our text will help us to attain such knowledge. Notice—

I. THE GREAT CHANGE HERE SPOKEN OF. "We have passed out of death into life." Consider:

1. The state from which the Christian has passed. It is here spoken of as "death." The death is not physical, or intellectual, or social, but moral and spiritual. "Ye were dead through your trespasses and sins;" "alienated from the life of God." God is the Life of the soul. In union with him the soul lives; separated from him the soul dies. Sin separates from him. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God ;" "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Sin is fatal to all that constitutes the life of the soul—to truth and trust, to reverence and love, etc. A state of sin is a state of death.

2. The state upon which the Christian has entered. He has "passed out of death into life." He is united to God by faith in Jesus Christ, and thus participates in the Divine life. He has passed over from the sphere of the darkness into that of the light; from the dreary realm of death into the blessed kingdom of life. "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17); "And you, being dead through your trespasses… he quickened together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses" (Colossians 2:13). This great and blessed change is effected

II. THE EVIDENCE OF THIS GREAT CHANGE. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." There may he a reference in the term "brethren" to the common brotherhood of all men; but it seems to us that its chief meaning is the Christian brethren. The love spoken of is not simply natural affection, as the love of parent for child, child for parent, husband for wife, wife for husband, etc. Again, there may be certain social qualities in a Christian which are attractive to others, yet not distinctively Christian. He may be a useful man; in society he may be interesting and agreeable, and therefore he is admired and loved; but such love does not prove that they who exercise it "have passed out of death into life." Again, we may love Christians, not because they are Christians, but because they belong to our ecclesiastical party or share our theological opinions; but this affection is not to be taken as an evidence that we have experienced the great and saving change. The love of which St. John writes is a love of the brethren, not because they belong to us or to our party, but because they belong to the Lord Jesus. The affection which is a proof that we have passed from death unto life is a love of the brethren:

1. Because of their relation to Christ and God. They are one with Christ by faith and love. Through the Saviour they are children of the Divine Father. They are regarded by him with complacency. They are loved by him with the love of approbation. And they possess the filial spirit in relation to him (Romans 8:14-16). If we love God we shall love them, because they are his. "Whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him" (1 John 5:1). And such love is an evidence "that we have passed out of death into life."

2. Because of their resemblance to God in Christ. Our Lord and Saviour is the Supreme Revelation of God the Father to our race; and his character, "as he lived upon earth," as Hooper has said, "is like a perfect, many-sided crystal. Whichever way you look at it, it is without flaw. Whichever way you turn it, some new beauty of colour is reflected from the rays of light shining through it. The character of the Christian is like a crystal too, but a small one, full of cracks and flaws, which break up and disfigure the brilliant gleams reflected from the sunlight.… The Christian must be like Christ, or he is nothing; but it is a likeness with a vast distance between—the likeness of the infant to the strong man; the likeness of a feeble sapling to the full-grown giant oak." To love Christians because we discover in them this moral resemblance to God in Christ is an evidence "that we bare passed out of death into life."

1. If we have this holy, fraternal affection, let us draw from it the assurance which our text warrants. "We know that we have passed," etc.

2. Let us cultivate more and more of this Christian love - W.J.

1 John 3:16-18

The exhibition and obligation of true love.

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us," etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two main branches.

I. THE EXHIBITION OF THE NATURE OF TRUE LOVE. "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us." "The meaning is not," as Ebrard says, "wherein we (subjectively) have perceived love, but in what (objectively) the nature of love consists."

1. It is of the nature of love to make sacrifices. Love is essentially communicative. It seeks to impart itself and its treasures to others. It does not ask—What shall I receive? but—What shall I give? It takes upon itself the burdens and sorrows of others.

2. The greatest sacrifice is the surrender of life. The strongest self-love in human nature is that of life. Man will perform any labours, confront any perils, make almost any sacrifice, to save his life. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." Therefore the surrender of life is the costliest sacrifice that even true love can offer. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us."

3. But Christ sacrificed his life for his enemies. "For us." That it was for sinners is not mentioned here; but it is elsewhere. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us," etc. (1 John 4:10). "Christ died for the ungodly," etc. (Romans 5:6-8). And the manner in which his life was sacrificed was most painful. He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." The derision and degradation, the ignominy and anguish, associated with his great self-sacrifice were such that death itself was but a small portion of what he endured for us. Behold, then, in him who laid down his life for us what genuine love is.

II. THE OBLIGATION TO EXERCISE TRUE LOVE. "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods," etc. It is implied that all true love is one in its essential nature; the love in the heart of God and pure love in the heart of man are alike in kind; the love which we ought to exercise should resemble that of our Lord Jesus Christ. It should be like his, not in its degree, but in its character; not in its intensity and force, but in its kind. Like his in extent and degree our love can never be; for his is infinite, ours must ever be finite. "A pearl of dew will not hold the sun, but it may hold a spark of its light. A child, by the sea, trying to catch the waves as they dash in clouds of crystal spray upon the sand, cannot hold the ocean in a tiny shell, but he may hold a drop of the ocean water." So our love, though utterly unlike Christ's in its measure, may be like it in its essential nature—it may be as a spark from the infinite fire. Two forms of expression of genuine affection are here set forth as obligatory.

1. Willingness to make the great sacrifice for our brethren. "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The principle, as we apprehend it, may be thus stated, that, when a greater good will be accomplished by the sacrifice of our life than by the saving of it, we should be willing to surrender it. We should have such love for the brethren as would inspire us to lay down our life for them, if it were necessary, and we could thereby effectually promote their salvation. Such was the love of St. Paul: "Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all." Love which would enable us to imperil our life if by so doing we may save others from death. Such love for our Lord and Saviour as would lead us to choose death rather than deny him. Such love for his cause as would impel us to sacrifice our comforts, our home, and even life itself, if thereby we may advance its interests and spread its triumphs. So St. Paul: "I hold not my life of any account, as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." And zeal in this cause is surely one of the highest forms of love for our brethren.

2. Readiness to relieve the needs of our brethren. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need," etc. (1 John 3:17). True love expresses itself not only in great and heroic acts, but in little deeds of thoughtful kindness, in lowly ministries to the poor and needy. Our Lord not only gave his life for men, but he helped them in other ways. He fed the hungry thousands (Mark 8:1-9). He vindicated the loving woman who, having anointed him with her costly perfume, was blamed for so doing (Matthew 26:6-13). He prepared a meal for his hungry, weary, and discouraged disciples (John 21:4-13). We ought to imitate him in this respect. We shall not fail to do so if true love dwells in our hearts. If we do not help our needy brethren when it is in our power to do so, it is clear that a love like Christ's is not in us. Look at the case stated in the text.

"Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and in truth." Let our love be not merely a profession, but a reality; not an empty sentiment, but a hearty service. Let the beneficence of our hand be joined with the benevolence of our heart. In the spirit of our Lord, let us give to our brethren, not only genuine sympathy, but generous self-sacrifice whenever it is needful so to do - W.J.

1 John 3:19-22

The judicial function of conscience.

"And hereby we know that we are of the truth," etc. Our text suggests the following observations.

I. THAT CONSCIENCE EXERCISES A. JUDICIAL FUNCTION IN MAN. By "our heart" in the text St. John means, as Alford says, "the heart as the seat of the conscience, giving rise there to peace or to terror, according as it is at rest or in disquietude.… The heart here is the inward judge of the man." Many are the definitions of "conscience." "Man's conscience is the oracle of God." "Conscience is God's monitor in the soul of man." "The sense of right." "God's vicegerent in the soul." Dr. Whewell: "Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation." The function of conscience is not to give the Law unto us, but to pronounce whether we have kept the Law or not. "It is the great business of conscience," says Archbishop Leighton, "to sit, and examine, and judge within; to hold courts in the soul; and it is of continual necessity that it be so." It is most important that we bear in mind that for us conscience is not an infallible guide in the ethics of conduct. Some of the darkest crimes that were ever committed have been sanctioned by conscience. Saul of Tarsus was conscientious in his fierce persecution of the early Christians. "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9-11). And in subsequent ages many a persecutor has resembled him in this respect while perpetrating the most revolting cruelties. That the judgment of conscience may invariably be true and perfect it must needs be regulated by the revealed will of God, and be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We should take the will of God in Christ Jesus for our law; and then let conscience, quickened by the Spirit of God, exercise its judicial function in condemning or approving us in our relation to that law.

II. THAT WHEN, IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS JUDICIAL FUNCTION, CONSCIENCE CONDEMNS US, MUCH MORE ARE WE CONDEMNED BY THE HOLY GOD. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." To my mind these words suggest two important considerations.

1. Our conscience is an imperfect judge, but God is absolutely and infinitely holy. Conscience has undoubtedly suffered by reason of human sin. Its judgments arc not always of the most exalted character. As a judge it is sometimes partial. Sometimes it allows what if it were perfectly pure it must condemn. But "God is greater than our heart." His righteousness is perfect. Sin in every form is utterly abhorrent to him. His holiness is without the slightest spot or the faintest shadow. The greatness of his mercy towards the sinner does not lead him to excuse any sin. If our heart condemn us, how much more does be? If our conscience, which is but a faint and imperfect echo of his voice, condemn us. bow much more does he?

2. Conscience may not take cognizance of every sin, but God "knoweth all things." There are sins which escape the vigilance of conscience. A man's secret sins may be of three classes:


1. Confidence in God as to its nature. "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." It is the firm persuasion, the assurance, of the heart that we are his children, and that we may look to him to be to us and to do for us all that he has promised to be to and to do for his children. Or, if we view it as indicated by the twenty-first verse, it is the confidence that he does not condemn us, but that he accepts us now and will own us in the great day. How precious is this assurance!

2. Confidence in God springing from the exercise of holy love and the approbation of conscience. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." The "hereby" refers to what has gone before. He who loves neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth, may know that he is "of the truth," etc. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren;" "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." Again, St. John speaks of this assurance towards God as springing from an approving conscience (verse 21). Apart from the approbation of the inward monitor, we cannot look Godward with confidence or with joy.

3. Confidence in God inspiring the conviction that he will answer our prayers to him. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." The keeping of his commandments is not meritorious; it does not give us a claim upon him for the blessings which we ask in prayer; but it is an indication of character which shows that the suppliant will ask only what is in accordance with his will. That we "do the things that are pleasing in his sight" is a guarantee that we shall desire only those things which he will be pleased to bestow upon us (cf. 1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15; Psalms 37:4). Having the assurance that we are his children and endeavouring to please him, we are persuaded that the wise and gracious Father will answer our prayers to him - W.J.


1 John 3:1-12

Righteousness and sin in relation to children of God.


1. -Present inner nature.

2. Future glory.

3. Action in view of the future. "And every one that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he [that One] is pure." The future glory is a matter of hope to us, arising out of our present consciousness of sonship, our present experience of assimilation to God. It is a hope that rests for its realization on God. It is for him to complete the assimilation, and, with that, to give us the direct vision of himself. But it has been said of God (1 John 2:29) that he is righteous. What, then, is the duty of every one who has his hope set on a righteous God—the hope of being made like to him in righteousness? It is to address himself to the work of self-purification. This implies that he has yet sin cleaving to him. It does not imply that he is to look to himself for purification, but simply that it rests with himself to use the appointed means, viz. as these have already been set forth—trust in the cleansing efficacy of Christ's blood, confessing sins, taking advantage of the services of the Advocate. We may think of these as associated with the exercises of prayer and reading of Scripture, and with the struggle after purity in the daily life. We have great assistance in the work of self-purification in the fact that we have a Model of purity set before us in that One, viz. Christ. That was purity attained to in the use of means, and within humanity, and in the midst of the world's defilements; and therefore meaning the goal of purity for us, while giving us direction and stimulus toward that goal. It is purity which is viewed as in the present, a gain which has come down to him from his earthly life, in parable from his being lost. Christ, at this moment, holds up before us an image of human purity, under the spell of which every one who hopes to get near to God should come.


1. Sin in its essence. "Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness: and sin is lawlessness." Every one who hopes to behold God's face in righteousness purifieth himself. What is to be said of every one who, instead of purifying himself, doeth sin? He is in conflict with law, or the Divine order. God lays down certain rules for our life, appoints certain means of purification. He who does not observe the rules, does not use the means, does not escape moral judgment or characterization. His whole doing takes the character of lawlessness: and sin, it is added, is lawlessness. Sin supposes a law which has authority over us, whether revealed simply in the conscience or in Christ; it is the fact of there being such a law that gives character to action. Righteousness has the approval of God, as being the observance of his Law; sin has the condemnation of God, as being the violation of his Law.

2. Sin incompatible with the purpose of Christ's manifestation. "And ye know that he [that One] was manifested to take away sins." Christ had not only been proclaimed, but had been received by his readers; he could therefore appeal to their consciousness. The manifestation (in the past) here referred to covers the whole of the earthly history of our Lord; and it is important to note that, though its culminating point was his death, yet it all had a bearing on the taking away sins. The language seems to go beyond the taking of our sins upon him as our Substitute, and the procuring of forgiveness for us. He was manifested to take away sins out of our life. It is manifest, then, how incompatible sin is with God's thought. He who was in the bosom of the Father was manifested in flesh, endured hardness in this world, brought his earthly life to a close by a death of unmitigated anguish; and all that he might take away our sins. And are we, instead of carrying out the Divine intention, and having our sins taken away, to clutch at them as what we cannot part with, thus putting self before God?

3. Sin incompatible with Christ's sinlessness. "And in him is no sin." The sinlessness (in keeping with verse 3) is carried down to the present moment. He is sinless now in heaven. No sin has come down to him from the earthly manifestation. "By his sinlessness is meant that he was filled at every moment of his life with the spirit of obedience, and with a love to God which surrendered itself unconditionally to his will, and with those powers which flow from an uninterrupted communion with God. The consequence of this was, not only that no distraction caused by sin could find a place either in his inner or his outer life, but, more than this, everything was both willed by him and carried into execution that the will of God appointed." The worldly minded judge of Jesus, who was a man by no means very susceptible of what is high and noble, felt constrained solemnly to recognize the innocence of the persecuted Jesus. And Pilate's wife, who, we may suppose, was more impressible than he, was so deeply convinced of the purity and blamelessness of Christ, that the thought of her husband imbruing his hands in the blood of that righteous Man haunted her even in sleep, and gave her no rest. A Roman warrior who commanded the guard at the cross was so overpowered by the impression that the Crucified made upon him, that he broke forth in words of deepest reverence, "Truly this was a righteous Man, this was the Son of God." And the malefactor who was crucified along with him, moved by his dying look, was made strong to give his whole confidence to his Person, and to apprehend the joy of a better life. Long and confidential intercourse had given Judas the most intimate knowledge of his Master; hence, if he could have found anything reproachable in his life, he would without doubt have brought it forward, in order to quiet his conscience in the view of the consequences of his treachery, and to palliate his crime. Among his friends, John the Baptist started back at the thought of baptizing him, saying, "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" Peter was so impressed with the presence of holiness in the miraculous draught of fishes, that he fell at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." As for Jesus himself, he was conscious of freedom from sin: "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" He claimed to be the Image and Reflection of perfect goodness: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." What, then, is the meaning to us of the sinlessness of Christ? It means that we are not to sin. Did he loathe sin, and reject it in every form? did he feel the attraction of all that was highest, and cleave to it with his whole being? and are we to feel the charm of sin, and take it unto us? are we to be insensible to the beauties of holiness, and put them away from us?

4. Sin incompatible with communion with Christ. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither knoweth him." "Abiding in Christ" is taken up from the close of the second chapter. It implies an entire surrender of ourselves to Christ. It is, in communion with Christ, getting into his thoughts and life. Whosoever finds his destiny in this sphere of things sinneth not; i.e., it is his principle not to sin. The principle is no doubt imperfectly carried out, and is accompanied with daily falls into sin, for which forgiving grace is needed; still, it is his principle not to sin. Whosoever sinneth, i.e., makes it his principle to sin, makes self the point of his thoughts and life—hath not seen him, neither knoweth him. He hath not yet truly east his eye on Christ, neither is he in the circle of his thoughts.

5. Same truth emphasized. "My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he [that One] is righteous." He addresses them as objects of his warm affection. His affection goes out to them as in danger. He cannot bear the thought of their being led astray. He has just been referring to knowing. That was a word which the Gnostic teachers used. Gnostic is literally "known." Those teachers said in one form or another, that, if men knew, it did not matter what their conduct was. Let no man, whatever his seeming authority, whatever his plausibility, whatever his use of the name of Christ, lead them astray. None can be placed above the demand for rightness of conduct. The only way in which a man can be regarded as righteous in the sight of God is by doing righteousness, i.e., carrying right principles into his whole conduct. It was so with that One; nay, it is so with him still. Even in his glorified life he can be thought of as held by Divine restraints. And, if we would maintain communion with him, we must love Divine restraints too.

6. Sin connects with an evil source. "He that doeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Taking up him that doeth sin, i.e., acts without regard to Divine restraints, he advances to the thought of his spiritual genesis. He is blessed with no high origin. He is connected with the name that is most repellent. The devil, originally good, "stood not in the truth." Appearing on the scene of human activity, he was the means of introducing sin into the world. That was his flagrant sin at the beginning; and he has not recoiled from his position. It is still his thought to baffle God, to destroy human happiness. This, then, is the spiritual parentage of him that doeth sin. God is not owned by him. He revels in such ungodly thoughts as Satan revels in, engages in such ungodly designs as Satan engages in. It is evident that he cannot have communion with Christ; for there is a deadly antagonism between Christ and the works of the devil. He was the Son of God, naturally zealous (so to think of it) for the Father's honour. It was no matter of indifference to him to think of the fair creation as marred, of human happiness as destroyed. And in the depths of eternity he burned to retrieve our lost position, and to this end, in the fullness of time, he was manifested, tie came to be a destroyer too, but not like Satan a destroyer of good things, but a destroyer of Satan's works, i.e., all works that have this common bond that they are done against God, in disregard or defiance of his authority. If a man, then, is Satan's worker, Christ has a controversy with him; he is the deadly antagonist of his works, he aims at their utter destruction.

7. Divine origin is shown in opposition to sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God." He starts here from the high origin. He takes a man who is begotten of God, and he uses the strong language regarding him that he doeth not sin, the reason given being that his seed, i.e., the principle of the Divine life, abideth in him. Nay, he uses the still stronger language that he cannot sin, the reason given being that it is of God and of no other that he is begotten. An animal (which is suggested) does not live, cannot live, but in accordance with the principle of life from which it has sprung, and which is being unfolded in it. So he who has received the Divine principle into his life, and is having it unfolded in him, is not as though he had only the seed of depravity in him. Though there is depravity remaining in him, coming out in sins for which he has to humble himself, yet it can be said that sin is utterly foreign to his life. A man can only have properly one principle in his life, and his principle is not, cannot be sin, because the Divine seed is there, and of God he is begotten.


1. Mark of brotherly love. "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother." So far as the principle of life is concerned, there are two, and only two, classes of men. We are either the children of God or the children of the devil. It becomes us to ask of ourselves to which class we belong. And, seeing Christ shall say of many who profess to have eaten and drunk in his presence, "I know not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity," we have need to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy. Let us not please ourselves with illusions, but let us keep close to reality. The apostle gives us a mark here by which we may be helped to classify ourselves. According to his manner, he catches up the former idea of doing righteousness, but only to fix upon its most glorious form. He is not the child of God that loveth not his brother. Loving our brother, then, is that by which we are marked off from the children of the devil. This is the mark which we are to be helped to apply.

2. Commandment of brotherly love. "For this is the message which ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." It was of importance to consider brotherly love, because it was contained in the first message of Christianity. Did it announce the blessed fact that God made infinite sacrifice for us? Translated into a command that was that we should love one another. We have the command, with all the Master's authority. This contains the principle which is to operate in our life in our relations to one another.

3. Exemplification of the converse of brotherly love. "Not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous." He goes back to the first manifestations of evil for his example. Cain was the child of the devil. It is said here that he was "of the evil one." He was under the influence of him who was evil affected toward men. Being evilly affected toward his brother, he slew him. "And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil, and his brother's righteous." He disliked Abel's piety, not so much purely, as because it gave him a better standing with God. When evidence was given, in the most convincing manner, of what their relative standing was, Cain's dislike grew to hate and hot anger which could not be appeased - R.F.

1 John 3:13-24

The sign of brotherly love.


1. Not to be expected in the world. "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you." Cain hated Abel; after the same fashion the world hates Christ's people. Our Lord, whom John here echoes, points to the fact of his being hated before his people, and then adds, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Abel's tragic end was conclusive evidence that he was not to be classed with Cain; so when the world hates us, there is this consolation, that we have evidence of not being classed with the world.

2. Its presence the sign of a saving change. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Here again John echoes our Lord, who describes the saving change in the same language (John 5:24). The passage out of death into life is to be interpreted in accordance with being begotten of God and having his seed in us. It is not simply justification—a passage out of a state of condemnation into a state of acceptance. It is rather regeneration—a passage out of a dead, abnormal state of our thoughts, desires, volitions, into their living, normal state. This is a passage which must take place in the spiritual history of every one of us who would come forth into the light of God's countenance. It is not effected without Divine help, which is offered in the gospel. To every one to whom the gospel offer is made there is granted the assistance of the Spirit, that he may lay hold on Christ as his Saviour. With Christ there is a new principle introduced into our life, which now needs full manifestation for our perfect health and happiness. It is a matter, then, of the very greatest importance for us to know that we have made the passage out of death into life. We are not to take this for granted, but to be guided by evidence. The test given by our Lord is—hearing his Word, and believing him that sent him. John's interpretation of this is loving the brethren. We are to love those who are animated with the same Christian sentiment, not in the same way those who are animated with worldly sentiment. If we have the right feeling within the Christian circle, loving all who love Christ, then we may conclude that a saving change has taken place in us.

3. Its absence the sign of continuance in an unsaved state. "He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." The apostle singles out him who is not under the influence of love (without any specification of object), and says of him, that he abideth in death, i.e., has not made the passage—remains where he was. In confirming this, he assumes that want of love is equivalent to hatred of a brother. It is only where love is active that hatred is effectually excluded. "Whosoever hateth his brother [there seems to be a limitation to the Christian circle] is a murderer." He has the feeling of the murderer, in so far as he is not sorry to see the happiness of his brother diminished. If he is a murderer to any extent, then—according to the old law—his life is forfeited. It cannot be said of him, as it can be said of him that loves, that he has eternal life abiding in him. His true life, that which has eternal elements in it, has not yet commenced.


1. Love in its highest manifestation. "Hereby know we love, because he [that One] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The apostle has laid down love as the sign of a saving change; how are we to know what love is? He does not give any philosophical definition of it; he reaches his end better by pointing to its highest manifestation, viz. that One laying down his life for us. "I have power to lay it down," he said, "and I have power to take it again ;" but he elected to lay it down. It was laying down that which was dearest to him, that which cost him an infinite pang to lay down. There was not a little truth in what Satan said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." It was only love that could overcome the greatest natural aversion to dying—a love stronger than death, a love burning with a flame that waters and floods could not quench. It was love going out toward us, that sought to be of infinite service to us. He did not grudge his life, that we might have life—the pardon of our sins, and the quickening of his Spirit through our whole nature. To point to this is better than to give any definition of love—it is love meeting a great necessity, solving the problem of sin, triumphing over the greatest difficulty that could arise under the moral government of God. There was rebellion against the Divine authority: how was it triumphed over? Not by a resort to force, which would have been easy, but by drawing upon the resources of love, even by that which was fitted to excite the astonishment of the universe—the Son of God becoming incarnate, and laying down his precious life, that the guilt of rebellion and all its evil consequences might be removed. So John needs not to give any definition of love in abstract terms; he needs only to say, "Hereby know we love." This is its absolute realization—a realization from which we are to derive instruction and inspiration. For what does it say to us? John puts it thus, "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." As he represents those who hate as murderers, so he represents those who love as martyrs. If we take "laying down our lives" as actual martyrdom, then there is not an obligation to this raider all circumstances. In the early times Christians had often to face martyrdom—it was a matter of obligation to them from which they could not free themselves, from which they sought not to free themselves, because they were under the spell of Christ's sacrifice for them. It is to the honour of our Christianity that they went forth even joyfully to meet death in whatever form it came to them. If opportunity offered, it would be our duty to do the same. But observe the spirit of our great exemplification of love. It was not self-immolation for its own sake, but rather self-immolation for the sake of being of service to us. He who, like Lacordaire, has himself bound to a literal cross is doing a bold thing, but a mistaken thing, for the reason that there is no proper connection between his act and service done. Carried out, it would turn Christianity into a religion of suicide. What keeps us right, while still preserving the spell of Christ's sacrifice, is that we allow our love to go as far in sacrifice as our doing service to others requires.

2. An ordinary failure in love. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" It is very exceptional where our duty is to lay down our lives for the brethren; it is generally a much simpler matter. Here is a Christian who has the means of living for this world beyond what he absolutely requires. He is not rich, let us say, but is in good health, and employed, and has an ordinary living. Here, on the other hand, is a brother in need, who is in bad health, or is unemployed, or is incapacitated by age for work. "The poor ye have always with you." What, then, is the duty of a Christian to a needy brother? Is he not guided to it even by his natural feelings? As he beholds his brother in need, his heart opens in compassion toward him; and he goes and lays down for him, not his life in this case, but a little out of his worldly store, which goes to lighten the burden of his brother's poverty. That is the Christian part. But let us suppose the converse. Here is one who professes to be a Christian. Nature does not refuse him assistance. The spectacle of a brother's poverty opens his heart in compassion. But he selfishly shuts it—goes away, and finds prudential reasons for not making the little sacrifice that his feelings unchecked would lead him to make: have we not grounds, in this case, for doubting his Christianity? Of one who goes and lays down of his living for a needy brother we can think that he has the love of God abiding in him. Even in that little sacrifice he is acting in the same line in which God acted in making infinite sacrifice. But of one who cannot lay down, not his life, which is the highest test, but a little of his living, which is a very low test, what are we to think? What has he in common with that God whom he professes to love, of whose love the cross of Christ is the expression?

3. The requisite of reality in love. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth." With all affectionateness he would have them to attend to this lesson, calling them his little children, and including himself in what he inculcates. Love may very properly find expression in word. "Kind messages have a grand part to discharge in the system of utterances and acts by which the reign of love is maintained and advanced in so hard a world. As soon as we have passed beyond the limits of school into the real world, we find that it is sweet to be remembered with regard by friends at a distance—to learn that you have not faded out of their memory, like unfixed photographs in the sunshine; that you are sufficiently a distinct object of regard to be found worthy of a direct and affectionate salutation." It is very proper also to use the tongue in conveying love. The kindly feeling must be in the heart; but let the kindly expression also be on the tongue. There is nothing more beautiful in the picture of the virtuous woman drawn by King Lemuel than this touch: "In her tongue is the law of kindness." Let not the tongue be used as the vehicle of disagreeableness, of rancour; let love teach us how to use it. Kindliness of tone, especially when accompanied with the fitting word, does much to take away the hardness of life and the oppressive sense of isolation. But, when proper occasion arises, let us also love in deed. Withhold not from a needy brother when thou canst relieve him. Perform the act to which the kindly feeling prompts. Then only can we love in truth. Love that stops short of doing, that does not go beyond fine phrases, is characterized by unreality. To be true, it must penetrate into what is practical, however unromantic.


1. Assurance. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." The link of connection is truth as the sphere in which love moves. Let us go on loving, and we shall know that we are of the truth; i.e., have hold of eternal reality, so as to be steadied by it and wholly charactered by it. Knowing that we are of the truth, we shall assure our heart before him. It is of the utmost importance that we should have our heart assured as to our state and destiny. This can only be "before him;" for it is with him that we have to do—to whom we stand or fall. Does our heart tell us that we stand in a right relationship to him? We may have experience of sin, as we have already been taught, and yet stand in a right relationship to him. God's people are those who are being gradually cleansed from sin in the blood of Christ and in connection with confession of sins. Their titles, then, are not affected by remains of sin, if there is a new life operating in them, showing itself especially in the activity of brotherly love. The following course of thought cannot be ascertained with certainty. The difficulty is caused by the introduction of "for" before "God is greater." For its omission there is one very good authority of the fifth century; but the weight of authority is for its introduction. If we take the more authoritative reading, we have not a clear sense; on the other hand, if we take the less authoritative reading, we have a clear and excellent sense. It seems to be a case (very rare, indeed) in which the authority of manuscripts must yield to the authority of consistent thought. The way of getting over the difficulty in the Revised Version is far from satisfactory. It seems to teach that, if we only love, then, whereinsoever our heart condemn us, we may pacify it by the thought that God is greater than our hearts, especially in his omniscience—which is a latitudinarian sentiment. In the old version there is a distinction drawn between the case of our heart condemning us and the case of our heart not condemning us.

Having started the thought of assurance, John emphasizes it by putting forward the calamitousness of its opposite. If our heart condemn us, i.e., if, from the presence of unloving feelings and from other evidences, we do not have good ground for thinking that we have yet come into a covenant relationship to God, then our case is bad. We have not only self-condemnation—conscience turned against ourselves—but we have something worse. God is greater than our heart in this sense, that he has made it with its power of judgment upon ourselves. Conscience is only his legate; we must think of the great God himself pronouncing judgment upon us, and his judgment is more efficient than ours. We have but a limited knowledge even of ourselves. If with that limited knowledge our judgment is condemnatory, what must the judgment of God be? He has more to proceed upon; for he knoweth all things—things that have faded from our mind, things in the depths of our heart beyond our own power of clear discernment. This clear condemnation of ourselves, involving the weightier and more terrible condemnation of God, is not to be taken as equivalent to want of assurance, which only goes thus far—that the evidences do not warrant a clear judgment in our favour. This want of assurance, which not a few Christians have, is a painful state, which should stimulate to a laying firm hold upon Christ, in whom all our interests are secured.

2. Privilege of being heard. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." One form which our boldness takes is asking. We are full of wants; and it is natural for us, in the consciousness of our sonship, to express our wants to our Father. We go upon the ground of our covenant relationship in pleading. "Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee." "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" We ask not always with the full knowledge of what we really need, but with the reservation that respect may be had by God to our real need. And whatsoever we thus ask, we receive of him. He constantly blesses us out of his boundless stores. There is a ladder of communication between us and heaven, upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. We are heard, not apart from obedience. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." We must be conscious of an honest intention to bring our life into agreement with our prayers. It is only when we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight, that we have that boldness in asking which God rewards. Added explanation. "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment." He would leave no doubt as to what he means. The commandment is one in two parts. The first part of the commandment is that we believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ. This may be said to be his full Name. He was the historical Jesus, who stood in an essential relationship to God as his Son, and was sent forth to do his saving work. That is the blessed import of the Name here given to our Lord. His nature has thus been declared; and what we are commanded to do is to trust in the Name. We are, as sinners, to trust in the Name of him who has gloriously wrought out salvation for us. And what a Name to trust in! Not the name of one who can love a little, and can have no saving merit to transfer; but the Name of him who manifested the infinite desire of God for our salvation, and, in labour and in hiding of the Father's face, acquired infinite merit for transference to us. The second part of the commandment follows on the first. It is loving one another, and the manner is added (as commanded by Christ)—which is loving one another as he has loved us (John 15:12). He in whom we trust commands in accordance with his own nature, commands in accordance with his own example. We cannot trust in him and not love; and thus there is virtually one commandment.

3. Privilege of communion. "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him." The apostle here recurs to the key-note of the Epistle. When, trusting in Christ, we love one another, we keep the way clear for communion with God. Transition to a new section. "And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." The pledge of communion is possession of the Spirit, which is unfolded in the following paragraph - R.F.


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 John 3:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

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