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Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament Schaff's NT Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ scn/ 1-john-5.html. 1879-90.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://studylight.org/
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1 John 5:1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God, and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. Faith in Jesus as the Christ has here the only meaning that St. John ever gives it: that divinely wrought trust in the work as well as the person of Jesus which the Spirit produces, though He does not say, and which the Spirit seals, which He does say (chap. 1 John 3:24). The exact link between faith and regeneration is untouched. In both members of the sentence our brother is meant. The argument is, like that of chap. 1 John 4:20, derived from the general nature of the case; but it is carried to the highest region, and here has the emphasis. It may be true generally, but it must be true here.
The ruling idea of the third part is Faith in the Spirit’s testimony concerning the Son of God incarnate. The close of chap. 3 introduces the theme by the first explicit mention of faith and the Spirit. In chap. 1 John 4:1-6 the two opposite confessions, resulting from two opposite hearings of two opposite classes of spirits, are dwelt upon, with the exhortation to apply the test referred to in the second chapter. The remainder of chap. 4 is occupied with the relation between the love of God manifested in the atonement and its perfect reflection in those who received the evangelical witness of that love: the confession of the Son of God being still the leading principle. Down to chap. 1 John 5:5 we have the victory of faith in Jesus as the only source of that love to God in the strength of which we can love our brethren and overcome the world: these two being strictly interwoven. From 1 John 3:6 to 1 John 3:13, the apostle gives his full and final teaching as to the Spirit’s witness to the manifested Christ, and the nature of that witness. The remainder, from 1 John 3:14 to 1 John 3:17, is occupied with the confidence in prayer inspired by this faith.
1 John 5:2. This is the converse of chap. 1 John 4:20, and as such stands here alone: we know that we love God by the token that we love the brethren; but we also know that we love God’s children by the very fact of our loving Him. The two cannot be separated. Still, remembering that the commandment is now uppermost, we must closely unite when we love God and do his commandments. The last words introduce the customary enlargement upon 1 John 5:1, which is otherwise only repeated. We love all that are begotten of Him because we love Him: the consciousness of loving God is guarantee that we have in us all that brotherly love means; especially as that love feels in itself the energy of all obedience.
1 John 5:3. For, the love of God is this it is in us for this end, that we should keep his commandments. Here, as constantly, some truths are suppressed. The apostle had seemed to assert that the love of brethren seen was easier than the love of God unseen. But there are some who might and who did pervert that principle: having a speculative, transcendent, emotional love of God, they might and they did undervalue the security, the depth, the universality of the self-renouncing devotion to others that brotherly love as the commandment of Christ includes. But he whose love of God is a love of universal obedience, knows that such brotherly love, as the ‘fulfilment of the law,’ is in itself difficult: it is indeed the ‘hard’ part of the love of God. And his commandments are not grievous is the reply to every suggestion of the failing heart: this is an axiomatic saying, standing here alone; of deep importance and boundless application. The laws of God are reasonable, and in harmony with the purest ethical principles of reason, even the severest of them. But apart from what follows, they are intolerable.
1 John 5:4-5. For whosoever is begotten of God a new form of words, the ‘we’ of the previous verse with ‘that which is born of the Spirit’ (John 3:6) overcometh the world: is victorious over the kingdom of evil generally, and particularly that sphere of the natural man and of self in the atmosphere of which the commandment of brotherly love weighs heavily.
And this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. Not love here, for faith is the leading thought: faith IS the victory, its strength for that habitual overcoming of every obstacle to obedience which was in it as an original germ, and of the final attainment of which it is the pledge. The past and the present and the future are really here; but the stress is on the present. How it conquers, not in an ideal but a present and perfect victory, then follows in a sentence which takes a negative form but includes the positive reason.
And who is he that overcometh the world, but for no other can, ‘he and only he’ he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? He who in union with ‘the Son of God’ the name that always opposes Him to the world and its prince, partakes His victory: ‘I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). So much for the words: theology both dogmatic and practical takes them up, and finds in them its richest material. Observe that the discussion of our external relation ends here: the apostle’s warning against love of the world, and his encouragement of opposition to the errors in the world, closes with finished and abiding victory over it.
The Divine Testimony to Jesus Christ as the ground of faith: this is first viewed objectively, as a witness in history; then subjectively, as a witness enjoyed by the believer.
1 John 5:6. This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth. It must be remembered in the exposition of this difficult passage, first, that it is governed by the idea of testimony, human and Divine, that ‘Jesus is the Christ’ (1 John 5:1), and ‘that Jesus is the Son of God’ (1 John 5:5); secondly, that the very terms used imply a symbolical meaning underlying the literal, for we cannot understand ‘water’ and ‘blood’ as pointing to merely historical facts; thirdly, that the apostle has in view the errors of his own time concerning the manifestation of Jesus in the flesh. ‘This Person Jesus Christ’ who ‘came’ not into the world, but into His Messianic office as the Christ, ‘by water and blood.’ There are two leading interpretations of those words. One of them understands by the ‘water’ the baptismal institute of John, which inaugurated Jesus into His Christly office, and by the ‘blood’ the passion and death. The other regards St. John as fixing his thought upon the mysterious ‘sign’ that he beheld after the Saviour’s death: when the piercing of His side was followed by the double stream of blood and of water the blood of expiation and the water of life which flowed together as the symbol of one eternal life from the living death of the sacrifice. The latter we hold to as the true meaning. But let us do justice to the former: it runs thus.
The error of antichrist concerning the incarnation of the Son of God has been already condemned. The witness borne to this Son of God as the perfected Christ or Saviour is now adduced; and the two great events are made prominent which rounded the Messianic history: the Baptism with its testimony to the Son of God, and the atoning death with its testimony. Jesus came ‘by’ them as the accompanying media through which He discharged His ministry and the accompanying seals which authenticated Him: these being first viewed as one, giving unity to the design of His coming into His office. St. John might have said, ‘He came in the baptism which to Him was the sealing of the Spirit, and in the atonement which finished the work to which He was sealed,’ but he is using symbols, and makes the word ‘water’ stand for the whole transaction at the Jordan, and ‘blood’ for the whole mystery of the passion and cross. The readers of this Epistle are supposed to have the Fourth Gospel in their hands, and the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews in their minds: moreover, Ephesian Christians knew well the relation of John’s baptism to the baptism of Jesus (Acts 19:0). ‘Not in the water only, but in the water and in the blood.’ The ‘by’ now becomes ‘in,’ to mark more impressively the essential connection between the Messiahship of Jesus and that which the water and the blood signified.
Now let us turn to the other interpretation. We mark that the two elements are separated, and each has the article: noting not merely the sacredness of the well-known symbols, but their distinction and relations. No intelligent reader could fail to think of what the writer had certainly had in his thoughts, the mysterious and miraculous effusion of blood and water when the Saviour’s side was pierced. That signified, not the fact of the real humanity or real death of the Redeemer, but that the fountain was now opened for the removal of guilt by the blood, and of death by the Spirit, of the crucified; baptism and the Lord’s Supper being the abiding emblems and pledges of these gifts. But St. John leaves these reflections to his readers and to us. He simply declares that Jesus came ‘not by water only,’ but ‘in the water and in the blood:’ not only was there one stream of life flowing from His death for us, but life under two essential aspects. Eternal life is the removal of the death of condemnation: that is symbolized by the ‘blood;’ for it is the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin. Eternal life is also the ‘well of water springing up within the soul unto everlasting life,’ of which the Saviour spoke to the Samaritan woman (John 4:0): in other words, it is the life of Christ Himself imparted, and of that the water is the symbol. It is usual to say that the ‘water’ symbolizes the washing from sin, and the ‘blood’ the sprinkling from guilt. But since the death of Christ the only washing both from sin and from guilt is by blood. The water signifies here the very well-spring of eternal life itself in Christ opened up within the soul.
The advocates of the other interpretation thus expound ‘not by water only.’ John the Baptist bore witness to himself as baptizing ‘only with water,’ and to Christ as ‘the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.’ The Redeemer was not only authenticated in His baptism as the Son of God, the revealer of the Father and His will, but as the Lamb of God who should die for mankind: not the one without the other. He came at the Jordan that He might go on to Calvary. The apostle silently protests against those in his own day who united the Christ to Jesus in His baptism, but separated them at the cross; and He openly protests against all who limit our own baptism into Christ to mere discipleship of obedience, and forget that He is our master only because as an atonement ‘He died and revived that He might be Lord of the dead and the living.’
‘And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.’ Hitherto the water and the blood have not been termed witnesses: they were facts themselves witnessed by men. But the Supreme Witness of Jesus is the Holy Ghost, to whom the Saviour Himself bore witness as ‘the Spirit of the truth.’ St. John singles out His testimony as the only and abiding one, with express reference to the Lord’s words: ‘not we, the Baptist, the apostles, but the Spirit.’ And the tense is changed: the Son of God ‘came’ once in the great ministry of which water and blood were the symbols; but in the Gospels, and in the preached word, and in the sacraments, the Holy Ghost gives abiding testimony.
1 John 5:7-8. For there are three who bear witness [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth], the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one. The bracketed words, if genuine, would, in their present position, be unconnected with the context, making a sudden ascent to the testimony borne by the Three Persons of the Trinity in heaven or from heaven to the Incarnate Son: by the Father generally and at the great crisis of the history of the Redeemer, by the Son to Himself in His exalted estate, and by the Holy Spirit in the administration of redemption. These heavenly Witnesses are but one; and to Them ‘the testimony of God’ in 1 John 5:9 refers. Then the three witnesses on earth must be supposed to be, in relation to that other testimony, ‘the witness of men:’ testifying to the perfected Gospel of the ascended Lord under the influence of the Spirit, to the baptism of our Lord and our baptism, to the finished atonement and the sacramental commemoration of it. This introduces a very violent abruptness into the apostle’s strain. Without these words the sense runs smoothly on. The Spirit now takes precedence as being still the one and only witness, who bears the testimony throughout revelation and in the history of the Christian Church. But He bears His witness to Christ now and continuously through the records which gather round His baptism ‘in water’ and His baptism ‘in blood;’ and through the effects of the faith in His name as the dispenser of pardon and renewal. ‘And these three agree in one:’ they had been made three, and two of them personified as witnesses, because of the supreme importance of the anointing of the human nature of Christ by the Holy Ghost and of the pouring out of His blood. If there is any allusion to the ‘two or three witnesses’ by which truth must be established, that allusion is very faint. The apostle hastens to say that the threefold witness converges to one truth, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, faith in whom overcomes the world.
1 John 5:9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son. The ‘three witnesses’ suggested the perfection of merely human testimony. The apostle supposes as a general truth that we receive the testimony of credible witnesses. But he does not set the Divine witness over against the human: the human and the Divine concur, the divine being ‘greater’ as accompanying and rendering infallible the human witness to the Saviour’s Messiahship and salvation. For, the entire series of attestations borne in the Old Testament and in the New by evangelists and apostles is no other than one grand attestation of God Himself, who witnesseth one thing only, that all His witness by man’s agency is concerning His Son. But the Divine testimony is given through the Spirit; ‘we are witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost.’ ‘Concerning His Son’ is sublimely general. What the witness is we find afterwards: here it is declared that all the objective testimony of revelation has but one object, the establishment of the claim of the Son of God to human faith.
1 John 5:10. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. The testimony has become subjective: the ‘three agree in one’ within the believer’s consciousness. He has for we must anticipate 1 John 5:11 eternal life within him: the gift of the Spirit of life received by Christ for us at His baptism, the forgiveness of sin or release from the condemnation of death through His blood, and the Holy Ghost effecting and assuring both. Faith is followed by full assurance; but the assurance is here the possession of life itself.
But he that believeth not God hath made him a liar: because he hath not believed the witness that God hath borne concerning His Son. He is not only without the internal testimony, but he has also rejected the external testimony, which has been given to one who hears the Gospel record so abundantly that he is without excuse. Once before St. John had spoken of making God a liar: he who denies that he has sinned is a liar himself, and contradicts the express testimonies of God. Similarly, he who believes not the witness given by God concerning His Son rejects the utmost possible evidence that God, knowing man’s necessity, could give him. It is supposed that he has the evidence before him, and that in the form of spoken or written evidence; it is further supposed that he deliberately rejects the testimony, knowing it to be Divine. There is nothing stronger, scarcely anything so strong, in all the Scriptures, concerning the moral wilfulness of unbelief. It is not said that he who refuses to accept the testimony to the divinity and incarnation of the Son loses the benefit; nor simply that he blinds his own mind; but that he hears the voice of God and makes Him a liar. Nor are the last words, as has been thought by some, mere vehement repetition. God is made a liar by the man who rejects the eternal life which has been once for all given. The witness rejected is not this or that saying or miraculous demonstration, but the whole strain of proof brought by the Christian revelation that both light and life are come into the world as the heritage of every man who does not wilfully reject both.
1 John 5:11-12. And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. These closing words concerning that testimony of which the beginning of the Epistle spoke, go beyond anything yet said. They declare that the witness of the apostles concerning ‘the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us’ is the witness of God Himself, and moreover that it is the one supreme testimony, the sum and substance of all testimonies. Here we have the close of the whole section; and this last saying must throw its light back upon all. The witness of the water and the blood was simply this, that One had come who was the gift of eternal life to man: His baptism with the Spirit was His reception of the Spirit of life for us; His baptism of blood was our deliverance from death. The witness of the blood and water which flowed from His side was simply the testimony of heaven that deliverance from death and the impartation of new life were the one gift of His atoning passion: the one mingled stream for ever flowing from His Person lifted up. He who rejects this, resists the drawing of the Son of man, and makes the Lord who gave the seals a liar. The next words really end the Epistle by an emphatic aphoristic saying that repeats the words concerning the subjective witness, the presence and absence of which is the final test of truth for all profession of Christianity. St. John knows no ‘believing in God’ which is not ‘trusting in the witness;’ and he knows of no trusting in the witness which is not followed by ‘the witness in himself;’ and the internal witness is not to have the knowledge of forgiveness, or the assurance of sonship, as in St. Paul, but these as contained in the possession of ‘the life;’ and, finally, the life is with him nothing less than the Son Himself possessed. The Son of God hath life in Himself eternally; He is the source of redeemed life; and He is the author or Prince of that life in every believer. The closing testimony of the Bible for there is nothing after these words is that he that hath the Son hath the life: the life which is fellowship with God, which sin forfeited, is given back to him in union with Jesus. It can by no other means be restored than by union with the Divine life which has been given to man ‘bodily’ in Christ: the disbeliever or unbeliever, who rejects the witness of God concerning His Son, is in this testimony said to abide in death, or rather to be without the life. He that hath not the Son hath not the life. There are many terrors threatened elsewhere against the despiser of God and the rejecter of Christ; but here in the final witness, the sad issue of all is stated in its awful negation, ‘the life he has not.’
1 John 5:13. St. John returns now to his one great design, the fulfilling of the Joy of those who believe. These things have I written to you the whole Epistle, that is, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, unto you that believe in the name of the Son of God. It was not his purpose to establish their assurance, and on that to superinduce a challenge to faith, or to a higher faith, as the reading of our present translation might suggest. Assurance is the final point, and all the blessedness that assurance brings. ‘That ye may know:’ this is one of the watchwords of the Epistle; and it is here finally introduced in such a way as to show that, while it is the gift of God’s Spirit, it is the bounden duty and privilege of every Christian to live in the enjoyment of it.
The confidence in prayer which this faith in Jesus inspires; with its one exception.
1 John 5:14-15. A second time the apostle dwells on the boldness of prayer: this closed the second part as the confidence of obedient love; it closes here the third part as the confidence in the Son of God, which was there introduced as the transition to the third part, and is now resumed.
And this is the boldness, the more specific characterization of the confidence before referred to, that we have toward him, toward God, whose children we are in virtue of the eternal life, the life of regeneration. Throughout the New Testament, confidence towards the Father in prayer is represented as the first privilege of the adoption: we have received ‘the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). St. Paul says of that Spirit that He ‘helpeth our infirmity: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.’ This, and our Lord’s word, ‘All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive’ (Matthew 21:22), furnish the best commentary on our passage. As Jesus, the Intercessor in heaven, presents with confidence for us the prayers which the Spirit, the Intercessor in the heart corresponding with Him, teaches us according to the will of God, we may be assured that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: He in fact heareth the voice of His own Spirit within us, and we do not really pray when we ask not according to His mind. This is the sublime perfection of the only prayer which St. John knows; and it is in harmony with the tenor of the whole Epistle, always and in everything making real the highest ideal.
And, if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, all forbidden and doubtful petitions being left out of consideration, as being suppressed before they are uttered, we know for the hearing means hearing with acceptance that we have the petitions that we have asked of him. These last words are very emphatic. We have in the very asking; there is a blessed sense in which the highest prayer is the very experience of the thing prayed for; such asking for forgiveness and peace and holiness is the enjoyment of holiness and peace and pardon. Moreover, ‘we have,’ and not, as before, ‘we receive;’ for the Christian life is no other than the constant inheritance of multiplied prayers ‘that we have asked’ from the beginning, that have been the sum of past supplications. Observe here, without being reminded by the apostle, that the ‘fellowship with the Father and the Son,’ the main subject of the Epistle, reaches here its highest consummation, so far as the present life and its privileges are concerned.
1 John 5:16-17. The transition from prayer in general to intercessory prayer seems to be abrupt; but it must be remembered that brotherly love is made identical with Christian life, and its offices with doing the will of God. Passing by innumerable other objects of intercession on behalf of a fellow-Christian, the apostle at once rises to its highest function, prayer for his sinning soul. Two phrases just used are still in his thoughts: ‘whatever we ask’ and ‘eternal life,’ which the regenerate has in himself, and may obtain by prayer for others.
If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death: already the exception is stated, the solemnity of which requires enlargement upon it afterwards. The sin not unto death is supposed to be seen in a brother, as an act and a state in which he is continuing. He shall ask: this is the imperative future, and implies more than is expressed, the admonition and penitence of the offender and the joining him in prayer; these are omitted because the great point is here, as with St. James, the power of one in close fellowship with God, who is supposed in this wonderful sentence to be the very administrant of the Divine will. And shall give the same he in union with God shall give him life: according to the high doctrine of the Epistle, he who sins at all is by the sin cut off from spiritual life; that life is, as it were, suspended. The words that follow, for them that sin not unto death, do not simply repeat and generalize the former words, but at the same time qualify the ‘life’ given and prepare for what follows; the life is only suspended in this case. The ‘him’ is changed into ‘them,’ to show the commonness of the fault and the universality of intercession.
There is a sin unto death; which is not only suspended life, but the actual rejection of the Son of God in whom the life is, and whose rejection has been the supreme sin aimed at throughout the Epistle. It is not asserted that the Christian can know that sin to be committed; nor was it said that he knows the brother for whom he prays to have sinned not unto death: He shall give him life if he have not so sinned. The fellowship with God in prayer does not imply fellowship with God’s omniscience. The sin unto death is unto eternal death, as the opposite of ‘eternal life,’ though death and eternal are never combined. No other death is mentioned once in this Epistle; nor is the apostle referring, as St. James does in his similar close of his Epistle, to bodily sickness and recovery of physical health. As there was in our Saviour’s time an unpardonable blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which was unto death because it rejected the Spirit’s appeal on behalf of Christ, and as in the Epistle to the Hebrews there is a rejection of the atonement which cuts off necessarily all hope, so in this Epistle the same sin is referred to in the light of its final issue. Those who harden themselves against the Spirit’s revelation of the Son are sinning unto death; and prayer for them is unavailing, because they have shut their hearts against the only power that can save them.
Not of that do I say that he should make request. With deep tenderness the apostle excludes this object of intercession, two shades of his expression pointing to his deep feeling: he changes the ‘asking’ into ‘requesting,’ as if the awful urgency of the case might prompt a stronger prayer, which would be unavailing; and he simply says, ‘Concerning that I do not speak in what I say concerning intercessory prayer.’ Now the difference of sins seems to require explanation, especially after what the apostle had said in chap. 1 John 3:4, ‘Sin is transgression of law,’ and ‘He was manifested to take away sins,’ and ‘He is faithful and just, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Hence St. John quotes himself, inverting the phrase, and says here, All unrighteousness is sin, substituting the deeper word ‘unrighteousness’ for ‘lawlessness.’ Even the slightest deviation from law and from the perfect principles of right is sin, whether in the believer or in the unbeliever; and therefore the possessor of eternal life must never think lightly of it, but must abhor it as contrary to the life that is in him. Nevertheless there may be traces of death that must be cleansed away, and there is a sin not unto death. In the old law there was ‘sin unto death,’ transgression which was punished with loss of life (Numbers 18:22); and the Rabbins made the very distinction which St. John here makes. The apostle, however, carries it into the eternal sphere; and leaves the subject with a consolatory word which is itself very stern. He does not say that ‘all unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not unto death. What he says is that such sin only as is forgiven and cleansed away is not unto death.
The Epistle winds up with three summarizing declarations, each of which repeats the watchword, ‘we know,’ taken, but in a better sense, from the Gnostic ‘we know:’ the first, 1 John 5:18, asserts the fundamental opposition between life and sin; the second, 1 John 5:19, the fundamental opposition between the regenerate and the world; the third, 1 John 5:20, pays its final homage to the Son of God, in whom we are through an intelligent faith wrought of God. These three are linked, as always, one with the other; the evil one toucheth us not in the first, but in the second the world lieth in his arms, and in the third we, rescued from him, are in God and His Son. The final words close the whole, and close the Bible, with an exhortation against every false conception of God. Hence fellowship with God is the keynote into which all melts at the last: individually, it is communion with His holiness; collectively, it is perfect separation from the world; and both these go up to the Son in whom we are one with God, and safe from idols. This final ‘we know’ is therefore an exhibition of the Christian privileges in their highest form.
1 John 5:18. We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the evil one toucheth him not. Having admitted that the children of the Divine birth may sin, both unto death and not unto death, the apostle reminds them most solemnly of what had been established before, that the regenerate life is in itself inconsistent with both kinds. The characteristic and privilege of a child of God is to live without violation of law: all sin is of death, and there is no death in the regenerate life. This is a repetition of what had been said in chap. 3, but the apostle never repeats himself without some change in his thought. Here is said for the first time, that not only he who has been and is born of God, but he who has been once born of God, sinneth not. He has not been, therefore, all along speaking of the un-sinning state as the fruit of a finished regeneration, however true that may be. Again, as his manner is, he gives a specific reason for the assertion. The act of regeneration sundered the Christian from the empire of Satan; and it is his privilege to keep himself, in sedulous watchfulness and dependence on the Keeper of his soul, from the approach of the tempter; not from his approach as a tempter, but from any such approach as shall touch him to his hurt. It is wrong to limit this great saying by interpolating ‘sin wilfully’ or ‘sin unto death’ or ‘sin habitually;’ it must stand as the declaration of a privilege which is an ideal, but an attainable ideal, that of living without that which God shall call sin. St. John does not rise to the word which only One could say, ‘He hath nothing in Me.’ Concupiscence is in the Christian still, and it may conceive and bring forth sin; not, however, if the wicked one toucheth him not. And the concupiscence that the enemy has in us must die if it have not its desire in the soul ‘purified as He is pure.’ This ‘we know’ to be the privilege of the Christian estate, as in the middle of the Epistle the apostle has established it. ‘We know’ is not without protest against all future doubt; it is like one of the ‘faithful sayings’ with which St. Paul sealed his final doctrine. To understand ‘he that is born of God’ of the Only-begotten who keepeth the saint, is contrary to the analogy of New Testament diction; and to suppose that the principle of regeneration keepeth him, introduces a certain harshness without obviating any difficulty. There is indeed no difficulty to the expositor who remembers that St. John never disjoins the Divine efficiency in man from man’s own co-operation.
1 John 5:19. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one. The exquisite propriety of the words must be noted here. There is no ‘but,’ as before: we know by infallible assurance of our regenerate life that we are of God. This is all we are assured of, and there is no emphatic ‘we’ opposed to the world: it is as if the apostle would avoid even the semblance of exultation against the ungodly. But the awful contrast is laid down. It is the same ‘wicked one’ as in the preceding verse holds the entire world, so far as the new life has not transformed it, in his power. It is not said that the world is ‘of the wicked one:’ if the ‘children of the devil’ had been spoken of in a similar connection (chap. 1 John 3:10), that is here explained and softened. The men of the world are ‘in him that is false;’ but the ‘in’ is not used in its bare simplicity, but ‘lieth in,’ a phrase nowhere else occurring, and to be interpreted according to the tenor of the Epistle. The ‘whole world’ is not, however, the men of the world only; but its entire constitution, its entire economy, its lusts and principles and motives, and course and end: all that is not ‘of God’ lies in the power and bondage of the wicked one. This the apostle adds as an old truth, never so fearfully expressed as here. The diametrical contrariety between the regenerate who have fellowship with God, and the unregenerate whose fellowship is with Satan, could not be more keenly defined.
1 John 5:20. And we know moreover, we know finally that the Son of God is come: this word ‘is come’ St. John reserves for the end. He who was sent and was manifested is here said to ‘be present’ with us; and His abiding presence is as it were a sun which reveals and approves itself to all who have eyes to see. We are reminded of the only occasion on which the word is used in this sense, when our Lord declared to the Jews in one sentence the mystery of His eternal Sonship, His presence in the world by incarnation, and His mediatorial mission: ‘I proceeded forth from God I have come He sent me’ (John 8:44). The children of God know with an assurance that is above all doubt that the Son of God is incarnate with the human race and ‘dwells among us:’ this is the triumphant close of the Epistle, both as it is a testimony to the manifestation of the eternal life, and as it is a protest against all anti-christian error. Keeping both these objects still in view, the apostle goes on: and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true: this new word ‘understanding’ signifies the inner faculty of the Spirit which discriminates in order to know, which is the result of the ‘unction from the Holy One.’ Thus inwardly enlightened by Him who is the Truth, through His Spirit, we know ‘Him that is true,’ that ‘only true God’ whom thus to know, in His unapproachable distinction from all false gods or objects of hope, is eternal life. In the words of Jesus, which St. John here quotes, ‘and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent,’ is added. But He ‘is come’ as the revelation of the Father, and St. John hastens from the spiritual knowledge to the spiritual experience of fellowship with that Father, not ‘and Jesus Christ,’ but ‘in Him.’
And we are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. The absence of the ‘and,’ leaving the plain assertion that we are in the true God by being in His Son thus making the true God and His Son one is the solution of the question to whom the next clause refers: This is the true God and eternal life. This His Son Jesus Christ is Himself the true God, His revelation and presence with us; nor know we any other. Those who see not God in Him, since He has come, serve a god of their own imagination. When the apostle adds ‘and eternal life,’ he turns from the protest against anti-christian error, which was silently involved in the former part of the clause, to the happy privilege of all believing Christians. They have in the Son that perfect life ‘which was with the Father and was manifested unto us.’ Thus the end of the Epistle revolves back to the beginning. Christian doctrine is the revelation of the true God in Christ; and Christian blessedness is life everlasting in the Father and the Son.
1 John 5:21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. This brief but all-comprehensive sentence closes the Epistle, the entire apostolical testimony, and probably the entire revelation of God. Accordingly it must have a large interpretation. It is a solemn warning, most affectionate but most rigorous, against everything that may invade the supremacy of ‘the true God’ as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, whether in the doctrine and worship of the Church or in the affections of the regenerate heart. External idols, as still retained in heathenism, though fast passing away, are not excluded from the exhortation of course; but there has been no allusion to them throughout the Epistle, nor did the danger of the ‘little children’ lie in that direction. Though St. John does not use the Pauline expression that Christians are the temple of the Holy Ghost, the idea of this pervades his whole doctrine. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him: therefore every thought of the mind, every feeling of the heart, and every movement of the will must be faithful in all homage to Him. As addressed to the first readers of the Epistle, the warning was against the false theosophy of the Gnostics; as a prophetic exhortation, it foresaw and guarded against all violations of the doctrine of the Mediatorial Triunity; and, as spoken to the inmost soul of every regenerate Christian, it proclaims the one immutable principle of the Christian religion, that God must be to him. All in all.