1 John 3

CHAPTER III.

The extraordinary love of God towards mankind, and the effects

of it, 1-3.

Sin is the transgression of the law, and Christ was manifested

to take away our sins, 4-6.

The children of God are known by the holiness of their lives,

the children of the devil by the sinfulness of theirs, 7-10.

We should love one another, for he that hateth his brother is a

murderer; as Christ laid down his life for us, so we should lay

down our lives for the brethren, 11-16.

Charity is a fruit of brotherly love; our love should be active,

not professional merely, 17, 18.

How we may know that we are of the truth, 19-21.

They whose ways please God, have an answer to all their prayers,

22.

The necessity of keeping the commandment of Christ, that he may

dwell in us and we in him by his Spirit, 23, 24.

NOTES ON CHAP. III.

Verse 1. Behold, what manner of love] Whole volumes might be

written upon this and the two following verses, without exhausting

the extraordinary subject contained in them, viz., the love of God

to man. The apostle himself, though evidently filled with God,

and walking in the fulness of his light, does not attempt to

describe it; he calls on the world and the Church to behold it, to

look upon it, to contemplate it, and wonder at it.

What manner of love.-ποταπηναγαπην. What great love, both as

to quantity and quality; for these ideas are included in the

original term. The length, the breadth, the depth, the height, he

does not attempt to describe.

The Father hath bestowed] For we had neither claim nor merit

that we should be called, that is, constituted or made, the

sons of God, who were before children of the wicked one, animal,

earthly, devilish; therefore, the love which brought us from such

a depth of misery and degradation must appear the more

extraordinary and impressive. After κληθωμεν, that we might be

called, καιεσμεν, and we are, is added by ABC, seventeen others,

both the Syriac, Erpen's Arabic, Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic,

Slavonic, and Vulgate.

Therefore the world] The Jews, and all who know not God, and

are seeking their portion in this life; knoweth us not-do not

acknowledge, respect, love, or approve of us. In this sense the

word γενωσκειν is here to be understood. The world KNEW well

enough that there were such persons; but they did not approve of

them. We have often seen that this is a frequent use of the term

know, both in Hebrew and Greek, in the Old Testament and also in

the New.

Because it knew him not.] The Jews did not acknowledge Jesus;

they neither approved of him, his doctrine, nor his manner of

life.

Verse 2. Now are we the sons of God] He speaks of those who

are begotten of God, and who work righteousness. See the

preceding chapter.

And it doth not yet appear what we shall be] ουπωεφανερωθη.

It is not yet manifest; though we know that we are the children of

God, we do not know that state of glorious excellence to which, as

such, we shall be raised.

When he shall appear] εανφανερωθη. When he shall be

manifested; i.e., when he comes the second time, and shall be

manifested in his glorified human nature to judge the world.

We shall be like him] For our vile bodies shall be made like

unto his glorious body; we shall see him as he is, in all the

glory and majesty both of the Divine and human nature.

See Php 3:21; and Joh 17:24:

Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me

where I am, that they may behold my glory. John had seen his

glory on the mount when he was transfigured; and this we find was

ineffably grand; but even this must have been partially obscured,

in order to enable the disciples to bear the sight, for they were

not then like him. But when they shall be like him, they shall

see him as he is-in all the splendour of his infinite majesty.

Verse 3. And ever man that hath this hope in him] All who

have the hope of seeing Christ as he is; that is, of enjoying him

in his own glory; purifieth himself-abstains from all evil, and

keeps himself from all that is in the world, viz., the lusts of

the flesh, of the eye, and the pride of life. God having purified

his heart, it is his business to keep himself in the love of God,

looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

The apostle does not here speak of any man purifying his own

heart, because this is impossible; but of his persevering in the

state of purity into which the Lord hath brought him. The words,

however, may be understood of a man's anxiously using all the

means that lead to purity; and imploring God for the sanctifying

Spirit, to "cleanse the thoughts of his heart by its inspiration,

that he may perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his name."

As he is pure.] Till he is as completely saved from his sins

as Christ was free from sin. Many tell us that "this never can be

done, for no man can be saved from sin in this life." Will these

persons permit us to ask, how much sin may we be saved from in

this life? Something must be ascertained on this subject: 1. That

the soul may have some determinate object in view; 2. That it may

not lose its time, or employ its faith and energy, in praying for

what is impossible to be attained. Now, as he was manifested to

take away our sins, 1Jo 3:5, to destroy the works of the devil,

1Jo 3:8; and as his blood cleanseth from all sin and

unrighteousness, 1Jo 1:7, 9; is it not evident that God means

that believers in Christ shall be saved from all sin? For if his

blood cleanses from all sin, if he destroys the works of the

devil, (and sin is the work of the devil,) and if he who is born

of God does not commit sin, 1Jo 3:9, then he must be cleansed

from all sin; and, while he continues in that state he lives

without sinning against God, for the seed of God remaineth in him,

and he cannot sin because he is born, or begotten, of God,

1Jo 3:9. How strangely warped and blinded by prejudice and

system must men be who, in the face of such evidence as this, will

still dare to maintain that no man can be saved from his sin in

this life; but must daily commit sin, in thought, word, and deed,

as the Westminster divines have asserted: that is, every man is

laid under the fatal necessity of sinning as many ways against God

as the devil does through his natural wickedness and malice; for

even the devil himself can have no other way of sinning against

God except by thought, word, and deed. And yet, according to

these, and others of the same creed, "even the most regenerate sin

thus against God as long as they live." It is a miserable salvo

to say, they do not sin so much as they used to do; and they do

not sin habitually, only occasionally. Alas for this system!

Could not the grace that saved them partially save them perfectly?

Could not that power of God that saved them from habitual sin,

save them from occasional or accidental sin? Shall we suppose

that sin, how potent soever it may be, is as potent as the Spirit

and grace of Christ? And may we not ask, If it was for God's

glory and their good that they were partially saved, would it not

have been more for God's glory and their good if they had been

perfectly saved? But the letter and spirit of God's word, and the

design and end of Christ's coming, is to save his people from

their sins. Dr. Macknight having stated that αγνιζει, purifieth,

is in the present tense, most ridiculously draws this conclusion

from it: "In this life no one can attain to perfect purity; by

this text, therefore, as well as by 1Jo 1:8, those fanatics are

condemned who imagine they are able to live without sin." Yes,

doctor, the men you call fanatics do most religiously believe

that, by the grace of Christ cleansing and strengthening them,

they can love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength,

and their neighbour as themselves; and live without grieving the

Spirit of God, and without sinning against their heavenly Father.

And they believe that, if they are not thus saved, it is their own

fault. But a blind man must ever be a bad judge of colours.

Verse 4. Sin is the transgression of the law.] The spirit of

the law as well as of the Gospel is, that "we should love God with

all our powers, and our neighbour as ourselves." All disobedience

is contrary to love; therefore sin is the transgression of the

law, whether the act refers immediately to God or to our

neighbour.

Verse 5. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our

sins] He came into the world to destroy the power, pardon the

guilt, and cleanse from the pollution of sin. This was the very

design of his manifestation in the flesh. He was born, suffered,

and died for this very purpose; and can it be supposed that he

either cannot or will not accomplish the object of his own coming?

In him is no sin.] And therefore he is properly qualified to

be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of men.

Verse 6. Whosoever abideth in him] By faith, love, and

obedience.

Sinneth not] Because his heart is purified by faith, and he is

a worker together with God, and consequently does not receive the

grace of God in vain. See Clarke on 1Jo 3:3.

Hath not seen him] It is no unusual thing with this apostle,

both in his gospel and in his epistles, to put occasionally the

past for the present, and the present for the past tense. It

is very likely that here he puts, after the manner of the Hebrew,

the preterite for the present: He who sins against God doth not

see him, neither doth he know him-the eye of his faith is

darkened, so that he cannot see him as he formerly did; and he has

no longer the experimental knowledge of God as his Father and

portion.

Verse 7. Let no man deceive you] Either by asserting that

"you cannot be saved from sin in this life," or "that sin will do

you no harm and cannot alter your state, if you are adopted into

the family of God; for sin cannot annul this adoption." Hear God,

ye deceivers! He that doeth righteousness is righteous, according

to his state, nature, and the extent of his moral powers.

Even as he is righteous.] Allowing for the disparity that must

necessarily exist between that which is bounded, and that which is

without limits. As God, in the infinitude of his nature, is

righteous; so they, being filled with him, are in their limited

nature righteous.

Verse 8. He that committeth sin is of the devil] Hear this,

also, ye who plead for Baal, and cannot bear the thought of that

doctrine that states believers are to be saved from all sin in

this life! He who committeth sin is a child of the devil, and

shows that he has still the nature of the devil in him; for the

devil sinneth from the beginning-he was the father of sin, brought

sin into the world, and maintains sin in the world by living in

the hearts of his own children, and thus leading them to

transgression; and persuading others that they cannot be saved

from their sins in this life, that he may secure a continual

residence in their heart. He knows that if he has a place there

throughout life, he will probably have it at death; and, if so,

throughout eternity.

For this purpose] ειςτουτο. For this very end-with this

very design, was Jesus manifested in the flesh, that he might

destroy, ιναλυση, that he might loose, the bonds of sin, and

dissolve the power, influence, and connection of sin.

See Clarke on 1Jo 3:3.

Verse 9. Whosoever is born of God] γεγεννημενος, Begotten of

God, doth not commit sin: "that is," say some, "as he used to do,

he does not sin habitually as he formerly did." This is bringing

the influence and privileges of the heavenly birth very low

indeed. We have the most indubitable evidence that many of the

heathen philosophers had acquired, by mental discipline and

cultivation, an entire ascendency over all their wonted vicious

habits. Perhaps my reader will recollect the story of the

physiognomist, who, coming into the place where Socrates was

delivering a lecture, his pupils, wishing to put the principles of

the man's science to proof, desired him to examine the face of

their master, and say what his moral character was. After a full

contemplation of the philosopher's visage, he pronounced him "the

most gluttonous, drunken, brutal, and libidinous old man that he

had ever met." As the character of Socrates was the reverse of

all this, his disciples began to insult the physiognomist.

Socrates interfered, and said, "The principles of his science may

he very correct, for such I was, but I have conquered it by my

philosophy." O ye Christian divines! ye real or pretended Gospel

ministers! will ye allow the influence of the grace of Christ a

sway not even so extensive as that of the philosophy of a heathen

who never heard of the true God?

Verse 10. In this the children of God are manifest] Here is a

fearful text. Who is a child of the devil? He that commits sin.

Who is a child of God? He that works righteousness. By this text

we shall stand or fall before God, whatever our particular creed

may say to the contrary.

Neither he that loveth not his brother.] No man is of God who

is not ready on all emergencies to do any act of kindness for the

comfort, relief, and support of any human being. For, as God made

of one blood an the nations of men to dwell upon the face of the

whole earth, so all are of one family; and consequently all are

brethren, and should love as brethren.

Verse 11. For this is the message] See 1Jo 1:5. From the

beginning God hath taught men that they should love one another.

How essentially necessary this is to the comfort and well-being of

man in this state of trial and difficulty, every sensible man must

see. All are dependent upon all; all upon each, and each upon

all. Mutual love makes this dependence pleasant and doubly

profitable. Nothing can be more pleasing to an ingenuous and

generous mind than to communicate acts of kindness.

Verse 12. Not as Cain] Men should not act to each other as

Cain did to his brother Abel. He murdered him because he was

better than himself. But who was Cain? εκτουπονηρουην, he was

of the devil. And who are they who, through pride, lust of power,

ambition, gain, &c., murder each other in wars and political

contentions? εκτουπονηρουεισι. To attempt to justify the

principle, and excuse the instigators, authors, abettors, &c., of

such wars, is as vain as it is wicked. They are opposed to the

nature of God, and to that message which he has sent to man from

the beginning: Love one another. Love your enemies. Surely this

does not mean, Blow out their brains, or, Cut their throats.

O, how much of the spirit, temper, and letter of the Gospel have

the nations of the world, and particularly the nations of Europe,

to learn!

And wherefore slew he him?] What could induce a brother to

imbrue his hands in a brother's blood? Why, his brother was

righteous, and he was wicked; and the seed of the wicked one which

was in him induced him to destroy his brother, because the seed of

God-the Divine nature, was found in him.

Verse 13. Marvel not-if the world hate you.] Expect no better

treatment from unconverted Jews and Gentiles than Abel received

from his wicked and cruel brother. This was a lesson to the

Church, preparatory to martyrdom. Expect neither justice nor

mercy from the men who are enemies of God. They are either full

of malice and envy, hateful, hating one another, or they are

specious, hollow, false, and deceitful.

"A foe to GOD was ne'er true friend to MAN."

Verse 14. We know that we have passed from death unto life]

Death and life are represented here as two distinct territories,

states, or kingdoms, to either of which the inhabitants of either

may be removed. This is implied in the term μεταβεβηκαμεν, from

μετα, denoting change of place, and βαινω, I go. It is the

same figure which St. Paul uses, Col 1:13:

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated

us into the kingdom of the Son of his love. The believers to whom

St. John writes had been once in the region and shadow of death,

in the place where sin and death reigned, whose subjects they

were; but they had left that kingdom of oppression, wretchedness,

and wo, and had come over to the kingdom of life, whose king was

the Prince and Author of life; where all was liberty, prosperity,

and happiness; where life and love were universally prevalent,

and death and hatred could not enter. We know, therefore, says

the apostle, that we are passed over from the territory of death

to the kingdom of life, because we love the brethren, which those

who continue in the old kingdom-under the old covenant, can never

do; for he that loveth not his brother abideth in death. He has

never changed his original residence. He is still an unconverted,

unrenewed sinner.

Verse 15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer] He has

the same principle in him which was in Cain, and it may lead to

the same consequences.

No murderer hath eternal life] Eternal life springs from an

indwelling God; and God cannot dwell in the heart where hatred and

malice dwell. This text has been quoted to prove that no murderer

can be saved. This is not said in the text; and there have been

many instances of persons who have been guilty of murder having

had deep and genuine repentance, and who doubtless found mercy

from his hands who prayed for his murderers, Father, forgive them;

for they know not what they do! It is, however, an awful text for

the consideration of those who shed human blood on frivolous

pretences, or in those wars which have their origin in the worst

passions of the human heart.

Verse 16. Hereby perceive we the love of God] This sixteenth

verse of this third chapter of John's first epistle is, in the

main, an exact counterpart of the sixteenth verse of the third

chapter of St. John's gospel: God so loved the world, that he gave

his only-begotten Son, &c. Here the apostle says, We perceive,

εγνωκαμεν, we have known, the love of God, because he laid down

his life for us. Of God is not in the text, but it is preserved

in one MS., and in two or three of the versions; but though this

does not establish its authenticity, yet τουθεου, of God, is

necessarily understood, or τουχριστου, of Christ, as Erpen's

Arabic has it; or αυτουειςημας, his love to us, as is found in

the Syriac. A higher proof than this of his love Christ could not

have possibly given to the children of men.

We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.] We should

risk our life to save the lives of others; and we should be ready

to lay down our lives to redeem their souls when this may appear

to be a means of leading them to God.

Verse 17. But whoso hath this worlds good] Here is a test of

this love; if we do not divide our bread with the hungry, we

certainly would not lay down our life for him. Whatever love we

may pretend to mankind, if we are not charitable and benevolent,

we give the lie to our profession. If we have not bowels of

compassion, we have not the love of God in us; if we shut up our

bowels against the poor, we shut Christ out of our hearts, and

ourselves out of heaven.

This worlds good.-τουβιοντουκοσμου. The life of this world,

i.e. the means of life; for so βιος is often used.

See Mr 12:44; Lu 8:43; 15:12, 30; 21:4, and other places.

How dwelleth the love of God in him?] That is, it cannot

possibly dwell in such a person. Hardheartedness and God's love

never meet together, much less can they be associated.

Verse 18. My little children] τεκνιαμου, My beloved

children, let us not love in word-in merely allowing the general

doctrine of love to God and man to be just and right;

Neither in tongue] In making professions of love, and of a

charitable and humane disposition, and resting there; but in deed-

by humane and merciful acts;

And in truth.] Feeling the disposition of which we speak.

There is a good saying in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 145, 4, on this

point: "If love consisted in word only, then love ceaseth as soon

as the word is pronounced. Such was the love between Balak and

Balaam. But if love consisteth not in word, it cannot be

dissolved; such was the love of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the

rest of the patriarchs which were before them."

Verse 19. Hereby we know that we are of the truth] That we

have the true religion of the Lord Jesus, and shall assure our

hearts-be persuaded in our consciences, that we have the truth as

it is in Jesus; as no man can impose upon himself by imagining he

loves when he does not: he may make empty professions to

others, but if he loves either God or man, he knows it because he

feels it; and love unfelt is not love, it is word or tongue.

This the apostle lays down as a test of a man's Christianity, and

it is the strongest and most infallible test that can be given.

He that loves feels that he does love; and he who feels that he

loves God and man has true religion; and he who is careful to show

the fruits of this love, in obedience to God and humane acts to

man, gives others the fullest proof that he has the loving mind

that was in Jesus.

Verse 20. If our heart condemn us] If we be conscious that

our love is feigned, we shall feel inwardly condemned in

professing to have what we have not. And if our heart condemn us,

God is greater than our heart, for he knows every hypocritical

winding and turning of the soul, he searches the heart, and tries

the reins, and sees all the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness

of the heart which we cannot see, and, if we could see them, could

not comprehend them; and as he is the just Judge, he will condemn

us more strictly and extensively than we can be by our own

conscience.

Verse 21. If our heart condemn us not] If we be conscious to

ourselves of our own sincerity, that we practise not deceit, and

use no mask, then have we confidence toward God-we can appeal to

him for our sincerity, and we can come with boldness to the throne

of grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

And therefore says the apostle,

Verse 22. Whatsoever we ask] In such a spirit, we receive of

him, for he delights to bless the humble, upright, and sincere

soul.

Because we keep his commandments] Viz., by loving him and

loving our neighbour. These are the great commandments both of

the old covenant and the new. And whoever is filled with this

love to God and man will do those things which are pleasing to

him; for love is the very soul and principle of obedience.

The word heart is used in the preceding verses for conscience;

and so the Greek fathers interpret it, particularly Origen,

Nicephorus, and OEcumenius; but this is not an unfrequent meaning

of the word in the sacred writings.

Verse 23. That we should believe on the name of his Son] We

are commanded to believe on Christ, that for the sake of his

passion and death we may be justified from all things from which

we could not be justified by the law of Moses; and being through

him redeemed from the guilt of sin, restored to the Divine favour,

and made partakers of the Holy Ghost, we are enabled to love one

another as he gave us commandment; for without a renewal of the

heart, love to God and man is impossible, and this renewal comes

by Christ Jesus.

Verse 24. Dwelleth in him] i.e. in God; and he-God, in

him-the believer.

And hereby we know] We know by the Spirit which he hath given

us that we dwell in God, and God in us. It was not by conjecture

or inference that Christians of old knew they were in the favour

of God, it was by the testimony of God's own Spirit in their

hearts; and this testimony was not given in a transient manner,

but was constant and abiding while they continued under the

influence of that faith that worketh by love. Every good man is a

temple of the Holy Ghost, and wherever he is, he is both light and

power. By his power he works; by his light he makes both

himself and his work known. Peace of conscience and joy in the

Holy Ghost must proceed from the indwelling of that Holy Spirit;

and those who have these blessings must know that they have them,

for we cannot have heavenly peace and heavenly joy without knowing

that we have them. But this Spirit in the soul of a believer is

not only manifest by its effects, but it bears its own witness to

its own indwelling. So that a man not only knows that he has

this Spirit from the fruits of the Spirit, but he knows that he

has it from its own direct witness. It may be said, "How can

these things be?" And it may be answered, By the power, light,

and mercy of God. But that such things are, the Scriptures

uniformly attest, and the experience of the whole genuine Church

of Christ, and of every truly converted soul, sufficiently proves.

As the wind bloweth where it listeth, and we cannot tell whence it

cometh and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the

Spirit: the thing is certain, and fully known by its effects; but

how this testimony is given and confirmed is inexplicable. Every

good man feels it, and knows he is of God by the Spirit which God

has given him.

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