1 John 5

CHAPTER V.

He that believeth is born of God; loves God and his children;

and keeps his commandments, which are not grievous, 1-3.

Faith in Christ overcomes the world, 4, 5.

The three earthly and heavenly witnesses, 6-9.

He that believeth hath the witness in himself, 10.

God has given unto us eternal life in his Son, 11, 12.

The end for which St. John writes these things, 13-16.

The sin unto death, and the sin not unto death, 16, 17.

He that is born of God sinneth not, 18.

The whole world lieth in the wicked one, 19.

Jesus is come to give us understanding, that we may know the

true God, 20.

All idolatry to be avoided, 21.

NOTES ON CHAP. V.

Verse 1. Whosoever believeth, &c.] Expressions of this kind

are to be taken in connection with the subjects necessarily

implied in them. He that believeth that Jesus is the Messiah, and

confides in him for the remission of sins, is begotten of God; and

they who are pardoned and begotten of God love him in return for

his love, and love all those who are his children.

Verse 2. By this we know that we love the children of God]

Our love of God's followers is a proof that we love God. Our love

to God is the cause why we love his children, and our keeping the

commandments of God is the proof that we love him.

Verse 3. For this is the love of God] This the love of God

necessarily produces. It is vain to pretend love to God while we

live in opposition to his will.

His commandments] To love him with all our heart, and our

neighbour as ourselves, are not grievous-are not burdensome; for

no man is burdened with the duties which his own love imposes.

The old proverb explains the meaning of the apostle's words, Love

feels no loads. Love to God brings strength from God; through his

love and his strength, all his commandments are not only easy and

light, but pleasant and delightful.

On the love of God, as being the foundation of all religious

worship, there is a good saying in Sohar Exod., fol. 23, col. 91:

"Rabbi Jesa said, how necessary is it that a man should love the

holy blessed God! For he can bring no other worship to God than

love; and whoever loves him, and worships him from a principle of

love, him the holy blessed God calls his beloved."

Verse 4. Whatsoever is born of God] παντογεγεννημενον.

Whatsoever (the neuter for the masculine) is begotten of God:

overcometh the world. "I understand by this," says Schoettgen,

"the Jewish Church, or Judaism, which is often termed

olam hazzeh, this world. The reasons which induce me to think so

are, 1. Because this κοσμος, world, denied that the Messiah was

come; but the Gentiles did not oppose this principle. 2. Because

he proves the truth of the Christian religion against the Jews,

reasoning according to the Jewish manner; whence it is evident

that he contends, not against the Gentiles, but against the Jews.

The sense therefore is, he who possesses the true Christian faith

can easily convict the Jewish religion of falsity." That is, He

can show the vanity of their expectations, and the falsity of

their glosses and prejudices. Suppose we understand by the world

the evil principles and practices which are among men, and in the

human heart; then the influence of God in the soul may be properly

said to overcome this; and by faith in the Son of God a man is

able to overcome all that is in the world, viz., the desire of the

flesh, the desire of the eye, and the pride of life.

Verse 5. He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?]

That he is the promised Messiah, that he came by a supernatural

generation; and, although truly man, came not by man, but by the

power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The

person who believes this has the privilege of applying to the Lord

for the benefits of the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ,

and receives the blessings which the Jews cannot have, because

they believe not the Divine mission of Christ.

Verse 6. This is he that came by water and blood] Jesus was

attested to be the Son of God and promised Messiah by water, i.e.

his baptism, when the Spirit of God came down from heaven upon

him, and the voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, in

whom I am well pleased. Jesus Christ came also by blood. He shed

his blood for the sins of the world; and this was in accordance

with all that the Jewish prophets had written concerning him.

Here the apostle says that the Spirit witnesses this; that he came

not by water only-being baptized, and baptizing men in his own

name that they might be his followers and disciples; but by blood

also-by his sacrificial death, without which the world could not

be saved, and he could have had no disciples. As, therefore, the

Spirit of God witnessed his being the Son of God at his baptism,

and as the same Spirit in the prophets had witnessed that he

should die a cruel, yet a sacrificial, death; he is said here to

bear witness, because he is the Spirit of truth.

Perhaps St. John makes here a mental comparison between CHRIST,

and Moses and Aaron; to both of whom he opposed our Lord, and

shows his superior excellence. Moses came by water-all the

Israelites were baptized unto him in the cloud and in the sea, and

thus became his flock and his disciples; 1Co 10:1, 2.

Aaron came by blood-he entered into the holy of holies with the

blood of the victim, to make atonement for sin. Moses initiated

the people into the covenant of God by bringing them under the

cloud and through the water. Aaron confirmed that covenant by

shedding the blood, sprinkling part of it upon them, and the rest

before the Lord in the holy of holies. Moses came only by water,

Aaron only by blood; and both came as types. But CHRIST came

both by water and blood, not typically, but really; not by the

authority of another, but by his own. Jesus initiates his

followers into the Christian covenant by the baptism of water, and

confirms and seals to them the blessings of the covenant by an

application of the blood of the atonement; thus purging their

consciences, and purifying their souls.

Thus, his religion is of infinitely greater efficacy than that

in which Moses and Aaron were ministers. See Schoettgen.

It may be said, also, that the Spirit bears witness of Jesus by

his testimony in the souls of genuine Christians, and by the

spiritual gifts and miraculous powers with which he endowed the

apostles and primitive believers. This is agreeable to what St.

John says in his gospel, Joh 15:26, 27:

When the Comforter is come, the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth

from the Father, he shall testify of me; and ye also shall bear

witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. This

place the apostle seems to have in his eye; and this would

naturally lead him to speak concerning the three witnesses, the

SPIRIT, the WATER, and the BLOOD, 1Jo 5:8.

Verse 7. There are three that bear record] The FATHER, who

bears testimony to his Son; the WORD or λογος, Logos, who bears

testimony to the Father; and the HOLY GHOST, which bears testimony

to the Father and the Son. And these three are one in essence,

and agree in the one testimony, that Jesus came to die for, and

give life to, the world.

But it is likely this verse is not genuine. It is wanting in

every MS. of this epistle written before the invention of

printing, one excepted, the Codex Montfortii, in Trinity College,

Dublin: the others which omit this verse amount to one hundred and

twelve.

It is wanting in both the Syriac, all the Arabic, AEthiopic,

the Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, &c., in a word, in all

the ancient versions but the Vulgate; and even of this version

many of the most ancient and correct MSS. have it not. It is

wanting also in all the ancient Greek fathers; and in most even of

the Latin.

The words, as they exist in all the Greek MSS. with the

exception of the Codex Montfortii, are the following:-

"6. This is he that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not

by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that

beareth witness because the Spirit is truth. 7. For there are

three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and

these three agree in one. 9. If we receive the witness of man,

the witness of God is greater, &c."

The words that are omitted by all the MSS., the above excepted,

and all the versions, the Vulgate excepted, are these:-

[ln heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and

these three are one, and there are three which bear witness in

earth.]

To make the whole more clear, that every reader may see what

has been added, I shall set down these verses, with the inserted

words in brackets.

"6. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the

Spirit is truth. 7. For there are three that bear record [in

heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three

are one. 8. And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the

Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in

one. 9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is

greater, &c." Any man may see, on examining the words, that if

those included in brackets, which are wanting in the MSS. and

versions, be omitted, there is no want of connection; and as to

the sense, it is complete and perfect without them; and, indeed

much more so than with them. I shall conclude this part of the

note by observing, with Dr. Dodd, "that there are some internal

and accidental marks which may render the passage suspected; for

the sense is complete, and indeed more clear and better preserved,

without it. Besides, the Spirit is mentioned, both as a witness

in heaven and on earth; so that the six witnesses are thereby

reduced to five, and the equality of number, or antithesis between

the witnesses in heaven and on earth, is quite taken away.

Besides, what need of witnesses in heaven? No one there doubts

that Jesus is the Messiah; and if it be said that Father, Son,

and Spirit are witnesses on earth, then there are five witnesses

on earth, and none in heaven; not to say that there is a little

difficulty in interpreting how the Word or the Son can be a

witness to himself."

It may be necessary to inquire how this verse stood in our

earliest English Bibles. In COVERDALE'S Bible, printed about

1535, for it bears no date, the seventh verse is put in brackets

thus:-

And it is the Sprete that beareth wytnes; for the Sprete is the

truth. (For there are thre which beare recorde in heaven: the

Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.)

And there are thre which beare record in earth: the Sprete, water,

and bloude and these thre are one. If we receyve, &c.

TINDAL was as critical as he was conscientious; and though he

admitted the words into the text of the first edition of his New

Testament printed in 1526, yet he distinguished them by a

different letter, and put them in brackets, as Coverdale has done;

and also the words in earth, which stand in 1Jo 5:8, without

proper authority, and which being excluded make the text the same

as in the MSS., &c.

Two editions of this version are now before me; one printed in

English and Latin, quarto, with the following title:-

The New Testament, both in Englyshe and Laten, of Master

Erasmus translation-and imprinted by William Powell-the yere of

out Lorde M.CCCCC.XLVII. And the fyrste yere of the kynges (Edw.

VI.) moste gratious reygne.

In this edition the text stands thus:-

And it is the Spirite that beareth wytnes, because the Spirite

is truth (for there are thre whiche beare recorde in heaven, the

Father, the Worde, and the Holy Ghost, and these thre are one.)

For there are thre which beare recorde, (in earth,) the Spirite,

water, and blode, and these thre are one. If we receyve, &c.

The other printed in London "by William Tylle, 4to; without the

Latin of Erasmus in M.CCCCC.XLIX. the thyrde yere of the reigne of

our moost dreade Soverayne Lorde Kynge Edwarde the Syxte," has,

with a small variety of spelling, the text in the same order, and

the same words included in brackets as above.

The English Bible, with the book of Common Prayer, printed by

Richard Cardmarden, at Rouen in Normandy, fol. 1566, exhibits the

text faithfully, but in the following singular manner:-

And it is the Spyryte that beareth witnesse, because the

Spyryte is truthe. (for there are three which beare recorde in

heaven, the Father, the Woorde, and the Holy Ghost; and these

Three are One) And three which beare recorde* (in earth) the

Spirite, and water, and bloode; and these three are one.

The first English Bible which I have seen, where these

distinctions were omitted, is that called The Bishops' Bible,

printed by Jugge, fol. 1568. Since that time, all such

distinctions have been generally disregarded.

Though a conscientious believer in the doctrine of the ever

blessed, holy, and undivided Trinity, and in the proper and

essential Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which doctrines I

have defended by many, and even new, arguments in the course of

this work, I cannot help doubting the authenticity of the text in

question; and, for farther particulars, refer to the observations

at the end of this chapter.

Verse 8. The Spirit, and the water, and the blood] This verse

is supposed to mean "the Spirit-in the word confirmed by miracles;

the water-in baptism, wherein we are dedicated to the Son, (with

the Father and the Holy Spirit,) typifying his spotless purity,

and the inward purifying of our nature; and the blood-represented

in the Lord's Supper, and applied to the consciences of believers:

and all these harmoniously agree in the same testimony, that Jesus

Christ is the Divine, the complete, the only Saviour of the

world."-Mr. Wesley's notes.

By the written word, which proceeded from the Holy Spirit, that

Spirit is continually witnessing upon earth, that God hath given

unto us eternal life.

By baptism, which points out our regeneration, and the renewing

of the Holy Ghost, and which is still maintained as an initiatory

rite in the Christian Church, we have another witness on earth of

the truth, certainty, importance, and efficacy of the Christian

religion. The same may be said of the blood, represented by the

holy eucharist, which continues to show forth the death and

atoning sacrifice of the Son of God till he comes.

See Clarke on 1Jo 5:6.

Verse 9. If we receive the witness of men] Which all are

obliged to do, and which is deemed a sufficient testimony to truth

in numberless cases; the witness of God is greater-he can neither

be deceived nor deceive, but man may deceive and be deceived.

Verse 10. He that believeth on the Son of God] This is God's

witness to a truth, the most important and interesting to mankind.

God has witnessed that whosoever believeth on his Son shall be

saved, and have everlasting life; and shall have the witness of it

in himself, the Spirit bearing witness with his spirit that he is

a child of God. To know, to feel his sin forgiven, to have the

testimony of this in the heart from the Holy Spirit himself, is

the privilege of every true believer in Christ.

Verse 11. This is the record] The great truth to which the

Spirit, the water, and the blood bear testimony. God hath

given us eternal life-a right to endless glory, and a meetness

for it. And this life is in his Son; it comes by and through

him; he is its author and its purchaser; it is only in and

through HIM. No other scheme of salvation can be effectual; God

has provided none other, and in such a case a man's invention must

be vain.

Verse 12. He that hath the Son hath life] As the eternal life

is given IN the Son of God, it follows that it cannot be enjoyed

without him. No man can have it without having Christ; therefore

he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath

not life. It is in vain to expect eternal glory, if we have not

Christ in our heart. The indwelling Christ gives both a title to

it, and a meetness for it. This is God's record. Let no man

deceive himself here. An indwelling Christ and GLORY; no

indwelling Christ, NO glory. God's record must stand.

Verse 13. That ye may know that ye have eternal life] I write

to show your privileges-to lead you into this holy of holies-to

show what believing on the Son of God is, by the glorious effects

it produces: it is not a blind reliance for, but an actual

enjoyment of, salvation; Christ living, working, and reigning in

the heart.

And that ye may believe] That is, continue to believe: for

Christ dwells in the heart only by FAITH, and faith lives only by

LOVE, and love continues only by OBEDIENCE; he who BELIEVES loves,

and he who LOVES obeys. He who obeys loves; he who loves

believes; he who believes has the witness in himself: he who has

this witness has Christ in his heart, the hope of glory; and he

who believes, loves, and obeys, has Christ in his heart, and is a

man of prayer.

Verse 14. This is the confidence] παρρησια, The liberty of

access and speech, that if we ask any thing according to his will,

that is, which he has promised in his word. His word is a

revelation of his will, in the things which concern the salvation

of man. All that God has promised we are justified in expecting;

and what he has promised, and we expect, we should pray for.

Prayer is the language of the children of God. He who is begotten

of God speaks this language. He calls God Abba, Father, in the

true spirit of supplication. Prayer is the language of dependence

on God; where the soul is dumb, there is neither life, love, nor

faith. Faith and prayer are not boldly to advance claims upon

God; we must take heed that what we ask and believe for is

agreeable to the revealed will of God. What we find promised,

that we may plead.

Verse 15. And if we know that he hear us] Seeing we are

satisfied that he hears the prayer of faith, requesting the things

which himself has promised; we know, consequently, that we have

the petitions-the answer to the petitions, that we desired of him;

for he cannot deny himself; and we may consider them as sure as if

we had them; and we shall have them as soon as we plead for and

need them. We are not to ask to-day for mercy that we now need,

and not receive it till to-morrow, or some future time. God gives

it to him who prays, when it is needful.

Verse 16. A sin which is not unto death] This is an extremely

difficult passage, and has been variously interpreted. What is

the sin not unto death, for which we should ask, and life shall be

given to him that commits it? And what is the sin unto death, for

which we should not pray?

I shall note three of the chief opinions on this subject:-

1. It is supposed that there is here an allusion to a

distinction in the Jewish law, where there was chattaah

lemithah, "a sin unto death;" and chattaah lo

lemithah, "a sin not unto death;" that is, 1. A sin, or

transgression, to which the law had assigned the punishment of

death; such as idolatry, incest, blasphemy, breach of the Sabbath,

and the like. And 2. A sin not unto death, i.e. transgressions

of ignorance, inadvertence, &c., and such is, in their own nature,

appear to be comparatively light and trivial. That such

distinctions did exist in the Jewish synagogue both Schoettgen and

Carpzovius have proved.

2. By the sin not unto death, for which intercession might be

made, and unto death, for which prayer might not be made, we are

to understand transgressions of the civil law of a particular

place, some of which must be punished with death, according to the

statutes, the crime admitting of no pardon: others might be

punished with death, but the magistrate had the power of commuting

the punishments, i.e. of changing death into banishment, &c., for

reasons that might appear to him satisfactory, or at the

intercession of powerful friends. To intercede in the former case

would be useless, because the law would not relax, therefore they

need not pray for it; but intercession in the latter case might

be prevalent, therefore they might pray; and if they did not, the

person might suffer the punishment of death. This opinion, which

has been advanced by Rosenmuller, intimates that men should feel

for each other's distresses, and use their influence in behalf of

the wretched, nor ever abandon the unfortunate but where the case

is utterly hopeless.

3. The sin unto death means a case of transgression,

particularly of grievous backsliding from the life and power of

godliness, which God determines to punish with temporal death,

while at the same time he extends mercy to the penitent soul. The

disobedient prophet, 1Ki 13:1-32, is, on this interpretation, a

case in point: many others occur in the history of the Church, and

of every religious community. The sin not unto death is any sin

which God does not choose thus to punish. This view of the

subject is that taken by the late Rev. J. Wesley, in a sermon

entitled, A Call to Backsliders.-WORKS, vol ii. page 239.

I do not think the passage has any thing to do with what is

termed the sin against the Holy Ghost; much less with the popish

doctrine of purgatory; nor with sins committed before and after

baptism, the former pardonable, the latter unpardonable, according

to some of the fathers. Either of the last opinions (viz., 2 and

3) make a good sense; and the first (1) is not unlikely: the

apostle may allude to some maxim or custom in the Jewish Church

which is not now distinctly known. However, this we know, that

any penitent may find mercy through Christ Jesus; for through him

every kind of sin may be forgiven to man, except the sin against

the Holy Ghost; which I have proved no man can now commit.

See the note on Mt 12:31, 39.

Verse 17. All unrighteousness is sin] πασααδικια, Every act

contrary to justice is sin-is a transgression of the law which

condemns all injustice.

Verse 18. Whosoever is born of God sinneth not] This is

spoken of adult Christians; they are cleansed from all

unrighteousness, consequently from all sin, 1Jo 1:7-9.

Keepeth himself] That is, in the love of God, Jude 1:21,

by building up himself on his most holy faith, and praying in the

Holy Ghost; and that wicked one-the devil, toucheth him not-finds

nothing of his own nature in him on which he can work, Christ

dwelling in his heart by faith.

Verse 19. We know that we are of God] Have the fullest proof

of the truth of Christianity, and of our own reconciliation to God

through the death of his Son.

The whole world lieth in wickedness.] εντωπονηρωκειται.

Lieth in the wicked one-is embraced in the arms of the devil,

where it lies fast asleep and carnally secure, deriving its heat

and power from its infernal fosterer. What a truly awful state!

And do not the actions, tempers, propensities, opinions and maxims

of all worldly men prove and illustrate this? "In this short

expression," says Mr. Wesley, "the horrible state of the world is

painted in the most lively colours; a comment on which we have in

the actions, conversations, contracts, quarrels and friendships of

worldly men." Yes, their ACTIONS are opposed to the law of God;

their CONVERSATIONS shallow, simulous, and false; their CONTRACTS

forced, interested, and deceitful; their QUARRELS puerile,

ridiculous, and ferocious; and their FRIENDSHIPS hollow,

insincere, capricious, and fickle:-all, all the effect of their

lying in the arms of the wicked one; for thus they become instinct

with his own spirit: and because they are of their father the

devil, therefore his lusts they will do.

Verse 20. We know that the Son of God is come] In the flesh,

and has made his soul an offering for sin; and hath given us an

understanding-a more eminent degree of light than we ever enjoyed

before; for as he lay in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared

him unto us; and he hath besides given us a spiritual

understanding, that we may know him who is true, even the TRUE

GOD, and get eternal life from him through his Son, IN whom we are

by faith, as the branches in the vine, deriving all our knowledge,

light, life, love, and fruitfulness from him. And it is through

this revelation of Jesus that we know the ever blessed and

glorious Trinity; and the Trinity, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost,

in the eternal, undivided unity of the ineffable Godhead.

Verse 21. Little children] τεκνια. Beloved children; he

concludes with the same affectionate feeling with which he

commenced.

Keep yourselves from idols.] Avoid the idolatry of the

heathens; not only have no false gods, but have the true God.

Have no idols in your houses, none in your churches, none in your

hearts. Have no object of idolatrous worship; no pictures,

relics, consecrated tapers, wafers, crosses, &c., by attending to

which your minds may be divided, and prevented from worshipping

the infinite Spirit in spirit and in truth.

The apostle, says Dr. Macknight cautioned his disciples against

going with the heathens into the temple of their idol gods, to eat

of their feasts upon the sacrifices they had offered to these

gods; and against being present at any act of worship which they

paid them; because, by being present, they participated of that

worship, as is plain from what St. Paul has written on the

subject, 1Co 8:10, where see the notes.

That is a man's idol or god from which he seeks his happiness;

no matter whether it be Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Minerva, Venus, or

Diana; or pleasure, wealth, fame, a fine house, superb furniture,

splendid equipage, medals, curiosities, books, titles, human

friendships, or any earthly or heavenly thing, God, the supreme

good, only excepted. That is a man's idol which prevents him from

seeking and finding his ALL in God.

Wiclif ends his epistle thus: My little sones, kepe ye you fro

mawmitis, i.e. puppets, dolls, and such like; for thus Wiclif

esteemed all images employed in religious worship. They are the

dolls of a spurious Christianity, and the drivellings of religion

in nonage and dotage. Protestants, keep yourselves from such

mawmets!

Amen.] So be it! So let it be! And so it shall be, God being

our helper, for ever and ever!

Subscriptions in the VERSIONS:-

The end of the Epistle of the Apostle John.-SYRIAC.

The First Epistle of John the apostle is ended.-SYR.

Philoxenian.

Nothing in either the COPTIC or VULGATE.

Continual and eternal praise be to God!-ARABIC.

The end.-AETHIOPIC;

In this version the epistle is thus introduced:-

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy

Spirit, one God, the Epistle of John, the son of Zebedee, the

evangelist and apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ; may his

intercession be with us for ever and ever! Amen.

In the MANUSCRIPTS:-

The First of John.-AB.

The First Epistle of John the evangelist.

The First catholic Epistle of St. John the divine, written from

Ephesus.

The Epistle to the Parthians.-See several Latin MSS.

The word amen is wanting in all the best MSS. and in most of

the versions.

For other matters relative to the epistle itself see the

preface: and for its heavenly doctrine and unction read the text,

in the original if you can; if not, in our own excellent

translation.

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