Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (1 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (1 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 1

Evidence given concerning Christ’s person and excellency (1Jo 1:1, 1Jo 1:2). The knowledge thereof gives us communion with God and Christ (1Jo 1:3), and joy (1Jo 1:4). A description of God (1Jo 1:5). How we are thereupon to walk (1Jo 1:6). The benefit of such walking (1Jo 1:7). The way to forgiveness (1Jo 1:9). The evil of denying our sin (1Jo 1:8-10.

1 John 1:1-4

The apostle omits his name and character (as also the author to the Hebrews does) either out of humility, or as being willing that the Christian reader should be swayed by the light and weight of the things written rather than by the name that might recommend them. And so he begins,

I. With an account or character of the Mediator’s person. He is the great subject of the gospel, the foundation and object of our faith and hope, the bond and cement that unite us unto God. He should be well known; and he is represented here, 1. As the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. In the gospel these two are disjoined, and he is called first the Word, Joh 1:1, and afterwards Life, intimating, withal, that he is intellectual life. In him was life, and that life was (efficiently and objectively) the light of men, Joh 1:4. Here both are conjoined: The Word of life, the vital Word. In that he is the Word, it is intimated that he is the Word of some person or other; and that is God, even the Father. He is the Word of God, and so he is intimated to issue from the Father, as truly (though not in the same manner) as a word (or speech, which is a train of words) from a speaker. But he is not a mere vocal word, a bare logos prophorikos, but a vital one: the Word of life, the living word; and thereupon, 1. As eternal life. His duration shows his excellency. He was from eternity; and so is, in scripture-account, necessary, essential, uncreated life. That the apostle speaks of his eternity, à parte ante (as they say) and as from everlasting, seems evident in that he speaks of him as he was in and from the beginning; when he was then with the Father, before his manifestation to us, yea, before the making of all things that were make; as Joh 1:2, Joh 1:3. So that he is the eternal, vital, intellectual Word of the eternal living Father. 3. As life manifested (1Jo 1:2), manifested in the flesh, manifested to us. The eternal life would assume mortality, would put on flesh and blood (in the entire human nature), and so dwell among us and converse with us, Joh 1:14. Here were condescension and kindness indeed, that eternal life (a person of eternal essential life) should come to visit mortals, and to procure eternal life for them, and then confer it on them!

II. With the evidences and convictive assurances that the apostle and his brethren had of the Mediator’s presence and converse in this world. There were sufficient demonstrations of the reality of his abode here, and of the excellency and dignity of his person in the way of his manifestation. The life, the word of life, the eternal life, as such, could not be seen and felt; but the life manifested might be, and was so. The life was clothed with flesh, put on the state and habit of abased human nature, and as such gave sensible proof of its existence and transactions here. The divine life, or Word incarnate, presented and evinced itself to the very senses of the apostles. As, 1. To their ears: That which we have heard, 1Jo 1:1, 1Jo 1:3. The life assumed a mouth and tongue, that he might utter words of life. The apostles not only heard of him, but they heard him himself. Above three years might they attend his ministry, be auditors of his public sermons and private expositions (for he expounded them in his house), and be charmed with the words of him who spoke as never man spoke before or since. The divine word would employ the ear, and the ear should be devoted to the word of life. And it was meet that those who were to be his representatives and imitators to the world should be personally acquainted with his ministrations. 2. To their eyes: That which we have seen with our eyes, 1Jo 1:1-3. The Word would become visible, would not only be heard, but seen, seen publicly, privately, at a distance and at nearest approach, which may be intimated in the expression, with our eyes – with all the use and exercise that we could make of our eyes. We saw him in his life and ministry, saw him in his transfiguration on the mount, hanging, bleeding, dying, and dead, upon the cross, and we saw him after his return from the grave and resurrection from the dead. His apostles must be eye-witnesses as well as ear-witnesses of him. Wherefore, of these men that have accompanied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection, Act 1:21, Act 1:22. And we were eye-witnesses of his majesty, 2Pe 1:16. 3. To their internal sense, to the eyes of their mind; for so (possibly) may the next clause be interpreted: Which we have looked upon. This may be distinguished from the foregoing perception, seeing with the eyes; and may be the same with what the apostle says in his gospel (Joh 1:14), And we beheldetheasametha, his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father. The word is not applied to the immediate object of the eye, but to that which was rationally collected from what they saw. “What we have well discerned, contemplated, and viewed, what we have well known of this Word of life, we report to you.” The senses are to be the informers of the mind. 4. To their hands and sense of feeling: And our hands have handled (touched and felt) of the Word of life. This surely refers to the full conviction our Lord afforded his apostles of the truth, reality, solidity, and organization of his body, after his resurrection from the dead. When he showed them his hands and his side, it is probable that he gave them leave to touch him; at least, he knew of Thomas’s unbelief, and his professed resolution too not to believe, till he had found and felt the places and signatures of the wounds by which he died. Accordingly at the next congress he called Thomas, in the presence of the rest, to satisfy the very curiosity of his unbelief. And probably others of them did so too. Our hands have handled of the Word of life. The invisible life and Word was no despiser of the testimony of sense. Sense, in its place and sphere, is a means that God has appointed, and the Lord Christ has employed, for our information. Our Lord took care to satisfy (as far as might be) all the senses of his apostles, that they might be the more authentic witnesses of him to the world. Those that apply all this to the hearing of the gospel lose the variety of sensations here mentioned, and the propriety of the expressions, as well as the reason of their inculcation and repetition here: That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo 1:3. The apostles could not be deceived in such long and various exercise of their sense. Sense must minister to reason and judgment; and reason and judgment must minister to the reception of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel. The rejection of the Christian revelation is at last resolved into the rejection of sense itself. He upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not those who had seen him after he had risen, Mar 16:14.

III. With a solemn assertion and attestation of these grounds and evidences of the Christian truth and doctrine. The apostles publish these assurances for our satisfaction: We bear witness, and show unto you, 1Jo 1:2. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, 1Jo 1:3. It became the apostles to open to the disciples the evidence by which they were led, the reasons by which they were constrained to proclaim and propagate the Christian doctrine in the world. Wisdom and integrity obliged them to demonstrate that it was not either private fancy or a cunningly-devised fable that they presented to the world. Evident truth would open their mouths, and force a public profession. We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard, Act 4:20. It concerned the disciples to be well assured of the truth of the institution they had embraced. They should see the evidences of their holy religion. It fears not the light, nor the most judicious examination. It is able to afford rational conviction and solid persuasion of mind and conscience. I would that you knew what great conflict (or concern of mind) I have for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts might be knit together in love, and unto all riches of full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even of the Father, and of Christ, Col 2:1, Col 2:2.

IV. With the reason of the apostle’s exhibiting and asserting this summary of sacred faith, and this breviate of evidence attending it. This reason is twofold: –

1. That the believers of it may be advanced to the same happiness with them (with the apostles themselves): That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you may have fellowship with us, 1Jo 1:3. The apostle means not personal fellowship nor consociation in the same church-administrations, but such as is consistent with personal distance from each other. It is communion with heaven, and in blessings that come thence and tend thither. “This we declare and testify, that you may share with us in our privileges and happiness.” Gospel spirits (or those that are made happy by gospel grace) would fain have others happy too. We see, also, there is a fellowship or communion that runs through the whole church of God. There may be some personal distinctions and peculiarities, but there is a communion (or common participation of privilege and dignity) belonging to all saints, from the highest apostle to the lowest believer. As there is the same precious faith, there are the same precious promises dignifying and crowning that faith and the same precious blessings and glories enriching and filling those promises. Now that believers may be ambitious of this communion, that they may be instigated to retain and hold fast the faith that is the means of such communion, that the apostles also may manifest their love to the disciples in assisting them to the same communion with themselves, they indicate what it is and where it is: And truly our fellowship (or communion) is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. We have communion with the Father, and with the Son of the Father (as 2Jo 1:3, he is most emphatically styled) in our happy relation to them, in our receiving heavenly blessings from them, and in our spiritual converse with them. We have now such supernatural conversation with God and the Lord Christ as is an earnest and foretaste of our everlasting abode with them, and enjoyment of them, in the heavenly glory. See to what the gospel revelation tends – to advance us far above sin and earth and to carry us to blessed communion with the Father and the Son. See for what end the eternal life was made flesh – that he might advance us to eternal life in communion with the Father and himself. See how far those live beneath the dignity, use, and end of the Christian faith and institution, who have not spiritual blessed communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

2. That believers may be enlarged and advanced in holy joy: And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full, 1Jo 1:4. The gospel dispensation is not properly a dispensation of fear, sorrow, and dread, but of peace and joy. Terror and astonishment may well attend mount Sinai, but exultation and joy mount Zion, where appears the eternal Word, the eternal life, manifested in our flesh. The mystery of the Christian religion is directly calculated for the joy of mortals. It should be joy to us that the eternal Son should come to seek and save us, that he has made a full atonement for our sins, that he has conquered sin and death and hell, that he lives as our Intercessor and Advocate with the Father, and that he will come again to perfect and glorify his persevering believers. And therefore those live beneath the use and end of the Christian revelation who are not filled with spiritual joy. Believers should rejoice in their happy relation to God, as his sons and heirs, his beloved and adopted, – in their happy relation to the Son of the Father, as being members of his beloved body, and coheirs with himself, – in the pardon of their sins, the sanctification of their natures, the adoption of their persons, and the prospect of grace and glory that will be revealed at the return of their Lord and head from heaven. Were they confirmed in their holy faith, how would they rejoice! The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost, Act 13:52.

1 John 1:5-7

The apostle, having declared the truth and dignity of the author of the gospel, brings a message or report from him, from which a just conclusion is to be drawn for the consideration and conviction of the professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this glorious gospel.

I. Here is the message or report that the apostle avers to come from the Lord Jesus: This then is the message which we have heard of him (1Jo 1:5), of his Son Jesus Christ. As he was the immediate sender of the apostles, so he is the principal person spoken of in the preceding context, and the next antecedent also to whom the pronoun him can relate. The apostles and apostolical ministers are the messengers of the Lord Jesus; it is their honour, the chief they pretend to, to bring his mind and messages to the world and to the churches. This is the wisdom and present dispensation of the Lord Jesus, to send his messages to us by persons like ourselves. He that put on human nature will honour earthen vessels. It was the ambition of the apostles to be found faithful, and faithfully to deliver the errands and messages they had received. What was communicated to them they were solicitous to impart: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you. A message from the Word of life, from the eternal Word, we should gladly receive: and the present one is this (relating to the nature of God whom we are to serve, and with whom we should covet all indulged communion) – That God is light, and in him is no darkness at all, 1Jo 1:5. This report asserts the excellency of the divine nature. He is all that beauty and perfection that can be represented to us by light. He is a self-active uncompounded spirituality, purity, wisdom, holiness, and glory. And then the absoluteness and fulness of that excellency and perfection. There is no defect or imperfection, no mixture of any thing alien or contrary to absolute excellency, no mutability nor capacity of any decay in him: In him is no darkness at all, 1Jo 1:5. Or this report may more immediately relate to what is usually called the moral perfection of the divine nature, what we are to imitate, or what is more directly to influence us in our gospel work. And so it will comprehend the holiness of God, the absolute purity of his nature and will, his penetrative knowledge (particularly of hearts), his jealousy and injustice, which burn a a most bright and vehement flame. It is meet that to this dark world the great God should be represented as pure and perfect light. It is the Lord Jesus that best of all opens to us the name and nature of the unsearchable God: The only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, the same hath declared him. It is the prerogative of the Christian revelation to bring us the most noble, the most august and agreeable account of the blessed God, such as is most suitable to the light of reason and what is demonstrable thereby, most suitable to the magnificence of his works round about us, and to the nature and office of him that is the supreme administrator, governor, and judge of the world. What more (relating to and comprehensive of all such perfection) could be included in one word than in this, God is light, and in him is no darkness at all? Then,

II. There is a just conclusion to be drawn from this message and report, and that for the consideration and conviction of professors of religion, or professed entertainers of this gospel. This conclusion issues into two branches: – 1. For the conviction of such professors as have no true fellowship with God: If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. It is known that to walk, in scripture account, is to order and frame the course and actions of the moral life, that is, of the life so far as it is capable of subjection to the divine law. To walk in darkness is to live and act according to such ignorance, error, and erroneous practice, as are contrary to the fundamental dictates of our holy religion. Now there may be those who may pretend to great attainments and enjoyments in religion; they may profess to have communion with God; and yet their lives may be irreligious, immoral, and impure. To such the apostle would not fear to give the lie: They lie, and do not the truth. They belie God; for he holds no heavenly fellowship or intercourse with unholy souls. What communion hath light with darkness? They belie themselves, or lie concerning themselves; for they have no such communications from God nor accesses to him. There is no truth in their profession nor in their practice, or their practice gives their profession and pretences the lie, and demonstrates the folly and falsehood of them. 2. For the conviction and consequent satisfaction of those that are near to God: But, if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. As the blessed God is the eternal boundless light, and the Mediator is, from him, the light of the world, so the Christian institution is the great luminary that appears in our sphere, and shines here below. A conformity to this in spirit and practice demonstrates fellowship or communion with God. Those that so walk show that they know God, that they have received of the Spirit of God, and that the divine impress or image is stamped upon their souls. Then we have fellowship one with another, they with us and we with them, and both with God, in his blessed or beatific communications to us. And this is one of those beatific communications to us – that his Son’s blood or death is applied or imputed to us: The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. The eternal life, the eternal Son, hath put on flesh and blood, and so became Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ hath shed his blood for us, or died to wash us from our sins in his own blood. His blood applied to us discharges us from the guilt of all sin, both original and actual, inherent and committed: and so far we stand righteous in his sight; and not only so, but his blood procures for us those sacred influences by which sin is to be subdued more and more, till it is quite abolished, Gal 3:13, Gal 3:14.

1 John 1:8-10

Here, I. The apostle, having supposed that even those of this heavenly communion have yet their sin, proceeds here to justify that supposition, and this he does by showing the dreadful consequences of denying it, and that in two particulars: – 1. If we say, We have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, 1Jo 1:8. We must beware of deceiving ourselves in denying or excusing our sins. The more we see them the more we shall esteem and value the remedy. If we deny them, the truth is not in us, either the truth that is contrary to such denial (we lie in denying our sin), or the truth of religion, is not in us. The Christian religion is the religion of sinners, of such as have sinned, and in whom sin in some measure still dwells. The Christian life is a life of continued repentance, humiliation for and mortification of sin, of continual faith in, thankfulness for, and love to the Redeemer, and hopeful joyful expectation of a day of glorious redemption, in which the believer shall be fully and finally acquitted, and sin abolished for ever. 2. If we say, We have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us, 1Jo 1:10. The denial of our sin not only deceives ourselves, but reflects dishonour upon God. It challenges his veracity. He has abundantly testified of, and testified against, the sin of the world. And the Lord said in his heart (determined thus with himself), I will not again curse the ground (as he had then lately done) for man’s sake; for (or, with the learned bishop Patrick, though) the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, Gen 8:21. But God has given his testimony to the continued sin and sinfulness of the world, by providing a sufficient effectual sacrifice for sin, that will be needed in all ages, and to the continued sinfulness of believers themselves by requiring them continually to confess their sins, and apply themselves by faith to the blood of that sacrifice. And therefore, if we say either that we have not sinned or do not yet sin, the word of God is not in us, neither in our minds, as to the acquaintance we should have with it, nor in our hearts, as to the practical influence it should have upon us.

II. The apostle then instructs the believer in the way to the continued pardon of his sin. Here we have, 1. His duty in order thereto: If we confess our sins, 1Jo 1:9. Penitent confession and acknowledgment of sin are the believer’s business, and the means of his deliverance from his guilt. And, 2. His encouragement thereto, and assurance of the happy issue. This is the veracity, righteousness, and clemency of God, to whom he makes such confession: He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1Jo 1:9. God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors. He is just to himself and his glory who has provided such a sacrifice, by which his righteousness is declared in the justification of sinners. He is just to his Son who has not only sent him for such service, but promised to him that those who come through him shall be forgiven on his account. By his knowledge (by the believing apprehension of him) shall my righteous servant justify many, Isa 53:11. He is clement and gracious also, and so will forgive, to the contrite confessor, all his sins, cleanse him from the guilt of all unrighteousness, and in due time deliver him from the power and practice of it.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (2 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (2 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 2

Here the apostle encourages against sins of infirmity (1Jo 2:1, 1Jo 2:2), shows the true knowledge and love of God (1Jo 2:3-6), renews the precept of fraternal love (1Jo 2:7-11), addresses the several ages of Christians (1Jo 2:12-14), warns against worldly love (1Jo 2:15-17), against seducers (1Jo 2:18, 1Jo 2:19), shows the security of true Christians (1Jo 2:20-27), and advises to abide in Christ (1Jo 2:28, 1Jo 2:29).

1 John 2:1-2

These verses relate to the concluding subject of the foregoing chapter, in which the apostle proceeds upon the supposition of the real Christian’s sin. And here he gives them both dissuasion and support.

1. Dissuasion. He would leave no room for sin: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that you sin not, 1Jo 2:1. The design or purport of this letter, the design of what I have just said concerning communion with God and the overthrow of it by an irreligious course, is to dissuade and drive you from sin.” See the familiar affectionate compellation with which he introduces his admonition: My little children, children as having perhaps been begotten by his gospel, little children as being much beneath him in age and experience, my little children, as being dear to him in the bonds of the gospel. Certainly the gospel most prevailed where and when such ministerial love most abounded. Or perhaps the judicious reader will find reason to think that the apostle’s meaning in this dissuasion or caution is this, or amounts to this reading: These things write I unto you, not that you sin. And so the words will look back to what he had said before concerning the assured pardon of sin: God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, etc., 1Jo 1:9. And so the words are a preclusion of all abuse of such favour and indulgence. “Though sins will be forgiven to penitent confessors, yet this I write, not to encourage you in sin, but upon another account.” Or this clause will look forward to what the apostle is going to say about the Advocate for sinners: and so it is a prolepsis, a prevention of like mistake or abuse: “These things write I unto you, not that you sin, but that you may see your remedy for sin.” And so the following particle (as the learned know) may be rendered adversatively: But, if a man sin, he may know his help and cure. And so we see,

II. The believer’s support and relief in case of sin: And (or but) if any man sin (any of us, or of our foresaid communion), We have we an Advocate with the Father, etc., 1Jo 2:1. Believers themselves, those that are advanced to a happy gospel-state, have yet their sins. There is a great distinction therefore between the sinners that are in the world. There are Christianized (such as are instated in the sacred saving privileges of Christ’s mystical or spiritual body) and unchristianized, converted and unconverted sinners. There are some who, though they really sin, yet, in comparison with others, are said not to sin, as 1Jo 3:9. Believers, as they have an atonement applied unto them at their entrance into a state of pardon and justification, so they have an Advocate in heaven still to continue to them that state, and procure their continued forgiveness. And this must be the support, satisfaction, and refuge of believers (or real Christians) in or upon their sins: We have an Advocate. The original name is sometimes given to the Holy Ghost, and then it is rendered, the Comforter. He acts within us; he puts pleas and arguments into our hearts and mouths; and so is our advocate, by teaching us to intercede for ourselves. But here is an advocate without us, in heaven and with the Father. The proper office and business of an advocate is with the judge; with him he pleads the client’s cause. The Judge with whom our advocate pleads is the Father, his Father and ours. He who was our Judge in the legal court (the court of the violated law) is our Father in the gospel court, the court of heaven and of grace. His throne or tribunal is the mercy-seat. And he that is our Father is also our Judge, the supreme arbitrator of our state and circumstances, either for life or death, for time or eternity. You have come – to God, the Judge of all, Heb 12:23. That believers may be encouraged to hope that their cause will go well, as their Judge is represented to them in the relation of a Father, so their advocate is recommended to them upon these considerations: – 1. By his person and personal names. It is Jesus Christ the Son of the Father, one anointed by the Father for the whole office of mediation, the whole work of salvation, and consequently for that of the intercessor or advocate. 2. By his qualification for the office. It is Jesus Christ the righteous, the righteous one in the court and sight of the Judge. This is not so necessary in another advocate. Another advocate (or an advocate in another court) may be an unjust person himself, and yet may have a just cause (and the cause of a just person in that case) to plead, and may accordingly carry his cause. But here the clients are guilty; their innocence and legal righteousness cannot be pleaded; their sin must be confessed or supposed. It is the advocate’s own righteousness that he must plead for the criminals. He has been righteous to the death, righteous for them; he has brought in everlasting righteousness. This the Judge will not deny. Upon this score he pleads, that the clients’ sins may not be imputed to them. 3. By the plea he has to make, the ground and basis of his advocacy: And he is the propitiation for our sins, 1Jo 2:2. He is the expiatory victim, the propitiatory sacrifice that has been offered to the Judge for all our offences against his majesty, and law, and government. In vain do the professors of Rome distinguish between and advocate of redemption and an advocate of intercession, or a mediator of such different service. The Mediator of intercession, the Advocate for us, is the Mediator of redemption, the propitiation for our sins. It is his propitiation that he pleads. And we might be apt to suppose that his blood had lost its value and efficacy if no mention had been made of it in heaven since the time it was shed. But now we see it is of esteem there, since it is continually represented in the intercession of the great advocate (the attorney-general) for the church of God. He ever lives to make intercession for those that come to God through him. 4. By the extent of his plea, the latitude of his propitiation. It is not confined to one nation; and not particularly to the ancient Israel of God: He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only (not only for the sins of us Jews, us that are Abraham’s seed according to the flesh), but also for those of the whole world (1Jo 2:2); not only for the past, or us present believers, but for the sins of all who shall hereafter believe on him or come to God through him. The extent and intent of the Mediator’s death reach to all tribes, nations, and countries. As he is the only, so he is the universal atonement and propitiation for all that are saved and brought home to God, and to his favour and forgiveness.

1 John 2:3-6

These verses may seem to relate to the seventh verse of the former chapter, between which and these verses there occurred an incidental discourse concerning the believer’s duty and relief in case of sin, occasioned by the mention of one of the believer’s privileges – his being cleansed from sin by the Mediator’s blood. In that verse the apostle asserts the beneficial consequence of walking in the light: We have then fellowship with one another, such divine fellowship and communion as are the prerogative of the church of Christ.” Here now succeeds the trial or test of our light and of our love.

I. The trial of our light: And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments, 1Jo 2:3. Divine light and knowledge are the beauty and improvement of the mind; it becomes the disciples of the Mediator to be persons of wisdom and understanding. Young Christians are apt to magnify their new light and applaud their own knowledge, especially if they have been suddenly or in a short time communicated; and old ones are apt to suspect the sufficiency and fulness of their knowledge; they lament that they know God, and Christ, and the rich contents of his gospel, no more: but here is the evidence of the soundness of our knowledge, if it constrain us to keep God’s commandments. Each perfection of his nature enforces his authority; the wisdom of his counsels, the riches of his grace, the grandeur of his works, recommend his law and government. A careful conscientious obedience to his commands shows that the apprehension and knowledge of these things are graciously impressed upon the soul; and therefore it must follow in the reverse that he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 1Jo 2:4. Professors of the truth are often ashamed of their ignorance, or ashamed to own it; they frequently pretend to great attainments in the knowledge of divine mysteries: Thou makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest (in thy rational judgment) the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law and art confident that thou thyself art (or art fit to be) a guide to the blind, etc., Rom 2:17, etc. But what knowledge of God can that be which sees not that he is most worthy of the most entire and intense obedience? And, if that be seen and known, how vain and superficial is even this knowledge when it sways not the heart unto obedience! A disobedient life is the confutation and shame of pretended religious knowledge; it gives the lie to such boasts and pretences, and shows that there is neither religion nor honesty in them.

II. The trial of our love: But whoso keepeth his word in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in him, 1Jo 2:5. To keep the word of God, or of Christ, is sacredly to attend thereto in all the conduct and motion of life; in him that does so is the love of God perfected. Possibly, some may here understand God’s love to us; and doubtless his love to us cannot be perfected (or obtain its perfect design and fruit) without our practical observance of his word. We are chosen, to be holy and blameless before him in love; we are redeemed, to be a peculiar people, zealous of good works; we are pardoned and justified, that we may be partakers of larger measures of the divine Spirit for sanctification; we are sanctified, that we may walk in ways of holiness and obedience: no act of divine love that here terminates upon us obtains its proper tendency, issue, and effect, without our holy attendance to God’s word. But the phrase rather denotes here our love to God; so 1Jo 2:15, The love of (to) the Father is not in him; so 1Jo 3:17, How dwelleth the love of (to) God in him? Now light is to kindle love; and love must and will keep the word of God; it enquires wherein the beloved may be pleased and served, and, finding he will be so by observance of his declared will, there it employs and exerts itself; there love is demonstrated; there it has its perfect (or complete) exercise, operation, and delight; and hereby (by this dutiful attendance to the will of God, or Christ) we know that we are in him (1Jo 2:5), we know that we belong to him, and that we are united to him by that Spirit which elevates and assists us to this obedience; and if we acknowledge our relation to him, and our union with him, it must have this continued enforcement upon us: He that saith he abideth in him ought himself to walk even as he walked, 1Jo 2:6. The Lord Christ was an inhabitant of this world, and walked here below; here he gave a shining example of absolute obedience to God. Those who profess to be on his side, and to abide with him, must walk with him, walk after his pattern and example. The partisans of the several sects of philosophers of old paid great regard to the dictates and practice of their respective teachers and sect-masters; much more should the Christian, he who professes to abide in and with Christ, aim to resemble his infallible Master and head, and conform to his course and prescriptions: Then are you my friends if you do whatsoever I command you, Joh 15:14.

1 John 2:7-11

The seventh verse may be supposed either to look backward to what immediately preceded (and then it is walking as Christ walked that is here represented as no new, but an old commandment; it is that which the apostles would certainly inculcate wherever they brought Christ’s gospel), or to look forward to what the apostle is now going to recommend, and that is the law of fraternal love; this is the message heard from the beginning (1Jo 3:11), and the old commandment, 2Jo 1:5. Now, while the apostle addresses himself to the recommendation of such a practice, he is ready to give an instance thereof in his affectionate appellation: “Brethren, you who are dear to me in the bond of that love to which I would solicit you;” and so the precept of fraternal love is recommended,

I. As an old one: I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which you had from the beginning, 1Jo 2:7. The precept of love must be as old as human nature; but it might admit divers enactions, enforcements, and motives. In the state of innocence, had human nature then been propagated, men must have loved one another as being of one blood, made to dwell on the earth, as being God’s offspring, and bearing his image. In the state of sin and promised recovery, they must love one another as related to God their Maker, as related to each other by blood, and as partners in the same hope. When the Hebrews were peculiarly incorporated, they must accordingly love each other, as being the privileged people, whose were the covenants and the adoption, and of whose race the Messiah and head of the church must spring; and the law of love must be conveyed with new obligations to the new Israel of God, to the gospel church, and so it is the old commandment, or the word which the children of the gospel Israel have heard from the beginning, 1Jo 2:7.

II. As a new one: “Again, to constrain you to this duty the more, a new commandment I write unto you, the law of the new society, the Christian corporation, which thing is true in him, the matter of which was first true in and concerning the head of it; the truth of it was first and was abundantly in him; he loved the church, and gave himself for it: and it is true in you; this law is in some measure written upon your hearts; you are taught of God to love one another, and that because” (or since, or forasmuch as) “the darkness is past, the darkness of your prejudiced unconverted (whether Jewish or Gentile) minds, your deplorable ignorance of God and of Christ is now past, and the true light now shineth (1Jo 2:8); the light of evangelical revelation hath shone with life and efficacy into your hearts; hence you have seen the excellency of Christian love, and the fundamental obligation thereto.” Hence we see that the fundamentals (and particularly the fundamental precepts) of the Christian religion may be represented either as new or old; the reformed doctrine, or doctrine of religion in the reformed churches, is new and old – new, as taught after long darkness, by the lights of the reformation, new as purged from the adulterations of Rome; but old as having been taught and heard from the beginning. We should see that that grace or virtue which was true in Christ be true also in us; we should be conformable to our head. The more our darkness is past, and gospel light shines unto us, the deeper should our subjection be to the commandments of our Lord, whether considered as old or new. Light should produce a suitable heat. Accordingly, here is another trial of our Christian light; before, it was to be approved by obedience to God; here by Christian love. 1. He who wants such love in vain pretends his light: He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even unto now, 1Jo 2:9. It is proper for sincere Christians to acknowledge what God has done for their souls; but in the visible church there are often those who assume to themselves more than is true, there are those who say they are in the light, the divine revelation has made its impression upon their minds and spirits, and yet they walk in hatred and enmity towards their Christian brethren; these cannot be swayed by the sense of the love of Christ to their brethren, and therefore remain in their dark state, notwithstanding their pretended conversion to the Christian religion. 2. He who is governed by such love approves his light to be good and genuine: He that loveth his brother (as his brother in Christ) abideth in the light, 1Jo 2:10. He sees the foundation and reason of Christian love; he discerns the weight and value of the Christian redemption; he sees how meet it is that we should love those whom Christ hath loved; and then the consequence will be that there is no occasion of stumbling in him (1Jo 2:10); he will be no scandal, no stumbling-block, to his brother; he will conscientiously beware that he neither induce his brother to sin nor turn him out of the way of religion, Christian love teaches us highly to value our brother’s soul, and to dread every thing that will be injurious to his innocence and peace. 3. Hatred is a sign of spiritual darkness: But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, 1Jo 2:11. Spiritual light is instilled by the Spirit of grace, and one of the first-fruits of that Spirit is love; he then who is possessed with malignity towards a Christian brother must needs be destitute of spiritual light; consequently he walks in darkness (1Jo 2:11); his life is agreeable to a dark mind and conscience, and he knows not whither he goes; he sees not whither this dark spirit carries him, and particularly that it will carry him to the world of utter darkness, because darkness hath blinded his eyes, 1Jo 2:11. The darkness of regeneracy, evidenced by a malignant spirit, is contrary to the light of life; where that darkness dwells, the mind, the judgment, and the conscience will be darkened, and so will mistake the way to heavenly endless life. Here we may observe how effectually our apostle is now cured of his once hot and flaming spirit. Time was when he was for calling for fire from heaven upon poor ignorant Samaritans who received them not, Luk 9:54. But his Lord had shown him that he knew not his own spirit, nor whither it led him. Having now imbibed more of the Spirit of Christ, he breathes out good-will to man, and love to all the brethren. It is the Lord Jesus that is the great Master of love: it is his school (his own church) that is the school of love. His disciples are the disciples of love, and his family must be the family of love.

1 John 2:12-17

This new command of holy love, with the incentives thereto, may possibly be directed to the several ranks of disciples that are here accosted. The several graduates in the Christian university, the catholic church, must be sure to preserve the bond of sacred love. Or, there being an important dehortation and dissuasion to follow, without the observance of which vital religion in the love of God and love of the brethren cannot subsist, the apostle may justly seem to preface it with a solemn address to the several forms or orders in the school of Christ: let the infants or minors, the adults, the seniors (or the adepti, the teleioi, the most perfect), in the Christian institution, know that they must not love this world; and so,

I. We have the address itself made to the various forms and ranks in the church of Christ. All Christians are not of the same standing and stature; there are babes in Christ, there are grown men, and old disciples. As these have their peculiar states, so they have their peculiar duties; but there are precepts and a correspondent obedience common to them all, as particularly mutual love and contempt of the world. We see also that wise pastors will judiciously distribute the word of life, and give to the several members of Christ’s family their several suitable portions: I write unto you children, fathers, and young men. In this distribution the apostle addresses,

1. The lowest in the Christian school: I write unto you, little children, 1Jo 2:12. There are novices in religion, babes in Christ, those who are learning the rudiments of Christian godliness. The apostle may seem to encourage them by applying to them first; and it may be useful to the greater proficients to hear what is said to their juniors; elements are to be repeated; first principles are the foundation of all. He addresses the children in Christianity upon two accounts: – (1.) Because their sins were forgiven them for his name’s sake, 1Jo 2:12. The youngest sincere disciple is pardoned; the communion of saints is attended with the forgiveness of sins. Sins are forgiven either for God’s name’s sake, for the praise of his glory (his glorious perfections displayed in forgiveness), or for Christ’s name’s sake, upon his score, and upon the account of the redemption that is in him; and those that are forgiven of God are strongly obliged to relinquish this world, which so interferes with the love of God. (2.) Because of their knowledge of God: I write unto you, little children, because you have known the Father, 1Jo 2:13. Children are wont to know none so soon as their father. Children in Christianity must and do know God. They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, Heb 8:11. Children in Christ should know that God is their Father; it is their wisdom. We say, It is a wise child that knows his father. These children cannot but know theirs; they can well be assured by whose power they are regenerated and by whose grace they are adopted. Those that know the Father may well be withdrawn from the love of this world. Then the apostle, proceeds,

2. To those of the highest station and stature, to the seniors in Christianity, to whom he gives an honourable appellation: I write unto you, fathers (1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14), unto you, Mnasons, you old disciples, Act 21:16. The apostle immediately passes from the bottom to the top of the school, from the lowest form to the highest, that those in the middle may hear both lessons, may remember what they have learned and perceive what they must come to: I write unto you, fathers. Those that are of longest standing in Christ’s school have need of further advice and instruction; the oldest disciple must go to heaven (the university above) with his book, his Bible, in his hand; fathers must be written to, and preached to; none are too old to learn. He writes to them upon the account of their knowledge: I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning, 1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14. Old men have knowledge and experience, and expect deference. The apostle is ready to own the knowledge of old Christians, and to congratulate them thereupon. They know the Lord Christ, particularly him that was from the beginning; as 1Jo 1:1. As Christ is Alpha and Omega, so he must be the beginning and end of our Christian knowledge. I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, Phi 3:8. Those who know him that was from the beginning, before this world was made, may well be induced thereby to relinquish this world. Then,

3. To the middle age of Christians, to those who are in their bloom and flower: I write unto you, young men, 1Jo 2:13, 1Jo 2:14. There are the adult in Christ Jesus, those that have arrived at the strength of spirit and sound sense and can discern between good and evil. The apostle applies to them upon these accounts: – (1.) Upon the account of their martial exploits. Dexterous soldiers they are in the camp of Christ: Because you have overcome the wicked one, 1Jo 2:13. There is a wicked one that is continually warring against souls, and particularly against the disciples: but those that are well taught in Christ’s school can handle their arms and vanquish the evil one; and those that can vanquish him may be called to vanquish the world too, which is so great an instrument for the devil. (2.) Upon the account of their strength, discovered in this their achievement: Because you are strong, and you have overcome the wicked one, 1Jo 2:14. Young men are wont to glory in their strength; it will be the glory of youthful persons to be strong in Christ and in his grace; it will be their glory, and it will try their strength, to overcome the devil; if they be not too hard for the devil, he will be too hard for them. Let vigorous Christians show their strength in conquering the world; and the same strength must be exerted in overcoming the world as is employed in overcoming the devil. (3.) Because of their acquaintance with the word of God: And the word of God abideth in you, 1Jo 2:14. The word of God must abide in the adult disciples; it is the nutriment and supply of strength to them; it is the weapon by which they overcome the wicked one; the sword of the Spirit, whereby they quench his fiery darts: and those in whom the word of God dwells are well furnished for the conquest of the world.

II. We have the dehortation or dissuasion thus prefaced and introduced, a caution fundamental to vital practical religion: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, 1Jo 2:15. Be crucified to the world, be mortified to the things, to the affairs and enticements, of it.” The several degrees of Christians should unite in this, in being dead to the world. Were they thus united, they would soon unite upon other accounts: their love should be reserved for God; throw it not away upon the world. Now here we see the reasons of this dissuasion and caution. They are several, and had need to be so; it is hard to dispute or dissuade disciples themselves from the love of the world. These reasons are taken,

1. From the inconsistency of this love with the love of God: If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him, 1Jo 2:15. The heart of man is narrow, and cannot contain both loves. The world draws down the heart from God; and so the more the love of the world prevails the more the love of God dwindles and decays.

2. From the prohibition of worldly love or lust; it is not ordained of God: It is not of the Father, but is of the world, 1Jo 2:16. This love or lust is not appointed of God (he calls us from it), but it intrudes itself from the world; the world is a usurper of our affection. Now here we have the due consideration and notion of the world, according to which it is to be crucified and renounced. The world, physically considered, is good, and is to be admired as the work of God and a glass in which his perfections shine; but it is to be considered in its relation to us now in our corrupted state, and as it works upon our weakness and instigates and inflames our vile affections. There is great affinity and alliance between this world and the flesh, and this world intrudes and encroaches upon the flesh, and thereby makes a party against God. The things of the world therefore are distinguished into three classes, according to the three predominant inclinations of depraved nature; as, (1.) There is the lust of the flesh. The flesh here, being distinguished from the eyes and the life, imports the body. The lust of the flesh is, subjectively, the humour and appetite of indulging fleshly pleasures; and, objectively, all those things that excite and inflame the pleasures of the flesh. This lust is usually called luxury. (2.) There is the lust of the eyes. The eyes are delighted with treasures; riches and rich possessions are craved by an extravagant eye; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. There is the pride of life. A vain mind craves all the grandeur, equipage, and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this is ambition, and thirst after honour and applause. This is, in part, the disease of the ear; it must be flattered with admiration and praise. The objects of these appetites must be abandoned and renounced; as they engage and engross the affection and desire, they are not of the Father, but of the world, 1Jo 2:16. The Father disallows them, and the world should keep them to itself. The lust or appetite to these things must be mortified and subdued; and so the indulging of it is not appointed by the Father, but is insinuated by the ensnaring world.

3. From the vain and vanishing state of earthly things and the enjoyment of them. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof, 1Jo 2:17. The things of the world are fading and dying apace. The lust itself and the pleasure of it wither and decay; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, Ecc 12:5. And what has become of all the pomp and pleasure of all those who now lie mouldering in the grave?

4. From the immortality of the divine lover, the lover of God: But he that doeth the will of God, which must be the character of the lover of God, in opposition to this lover of the world, abideth for ever, 1Jo 2:17. The object of his love in opposition to the world that passeth away, abideth for ever; his sacred passion or affection, in opposition to the lust that passeth away, abideth for ever; love shall never fail; and he himself is an heir of immortality and endless life, and shall in time be translated thither.

From the whole of these verses we should observe the purity and spirituality of the apostolical doctrine. The animal life must be subjected to the divine; the body with its affections should be swayed by religion, or the victorious love of God.

1 John 2:18-19

Here is, I. A moral prognostication of the time; the end is coming: Little children, it is the last time, 1Jo 2:18. Some may suppose that the apostle here addresses the first rank of Christians again; the juniors are most apt to be seduced, and therefore, “Little children, you that are young in religion, take heed to yourselves that you be not corrupted.” But it may be, as elsewhere, a universal appellation, introductive of an alarm to all Christians: “Little children, it is the last time; our Jewish polity in church and state is hastening to an end; the Mosaic institution and discipline are just upon vanishing away; Daniel’s weeks are now expiring; the destruction of the Hebrew city and sanctuary is approaching, the end whereof must be with a flood, and to the end of the war desolations are determined,” Dan 9:26. It is meet that the disciples should be warned of the haste and end of time, and apprised as much as may be of the prophetic periods of time.

II. The sign of this last time: Even now there are many antichrists (1Jo 2:18), many that oppose the person, doctrine, and kingdom of Christ. It is a mysterious portion of providence that antichrists should be permitted; but, when they have come, it is good and safe that the disciples should be informed of them; ministers should be watchmen to the house of Israel. Now it should be no great offence nor prejudice to the disciples that there are such antichrists: 1. One great one has been foretold: As you have heard that antichrist shall come, 1Jo 2:18. The generality of the church have been informed by divine revelation that there must be a long and fatal adversary to Christ and his church, 2Th 2:8-10. No wonder then that there are many harbingers and forerunners of the great one: Even now there are many antichrists, the mystery of iniquity already worketh. 2. They were foretold also as the sign of this last time. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect, Mat 24:24. And these were the forerunners of the dissolution of the Jewish state, nation, and religion: Whereby we know it is the last time, 1Jo 2:18. Let the prediction that we see there has been of seducers arising in the Christian world fortify us against their seduction.

III. Some account of these seducers or antichrists. 1. More positively. They were once entertainers or professors of apostolical doctrine: “They went out from us (1Jo 2:19), from our company and communion;” possibly from the church of Jerusalem, or some of the churches of Judea, as Act 15:1, Certain men came down from Judea, and taught the brethren, etc. The purest churches may have their apostates and revolters; the apostolic doctrine did not convert all whom it convinced of its truth. 2. More privately. “They were not inwardly such as we are: But they were not of us; they had not from the heart obeyed the form of sound doctrine delivered to them; they were not of our union with Christ the head.” Then here is, (1.) The reason upon which it is concluded that they were not of us, were not what they pretended, or what we are, and that is their actual defection: “For, if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us (1Jo 2:19); had the sacred truth been rooted in their hearts it would have held them with us; had they had the anointing from above, by which they had been made true and real Christians, they would not have turned antichrists.” Those that apostatize from religion sufficiently indicate that, before, they were hypocrites in religion: those who have imbibed the spirit of gospel truth have a good preservative against destructive error. (2.) The reason why they are permitted thus to depart from apostolical doctrine and communion – that their insincerity may be detected: But this was done (or they went out) that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us, 1Jo 2:19. The church knows not well who are its vital members and who are not; and therefore the church, considered as internally sanctified, may well be styled invisible. Some of the hypocritical must be manifested here, and that for their own shame and benefit too, in their reduction to the truth, if they have not sinned unto death, and for the terror and caution of others. You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, etc., 2Pe 3:17, 2Pe 3:18.

1 John 2:20-27

Here, I. The apostle encourages the disciples (to whom he writes) in these dangerous times, in this hour of seducers; he encourages them in the assurance of their stability in this day of apostasy: But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things. We see, 1. The blessing wherewith they were enriched – an unguent from heaven: You have an unction. True Christians are anointed ones, their name intimates as much. They are anointed with the oil of grace, with gifts and spiritual endowments, by the Spirit of grace. They are anointed into a similitude of their Lord’s offices, as subordinate prophets, priests, and kings, unto God. The Holy Spirit is compared to oil, as well as to fire and water; and the communication of his salvific grace is our anointing. 2. From whom this blessing comes – from the Holy One, either from the Holy Ghost or from the Lord Christ, as Rev 3:7, These things saith he that is holy – the Holy One. The Lord Christ is glorious in his holiness. The Lord Christ disposes of the graces of the divine Spirit, and he anoints the disciples to make them like himself, and to secure them in his interest. 3. The effect of this unction – it is a spiritual eye-salve; it enlightens and strengthens the eyes of the understanding: “And thereby you know all things (1Jo 2:20), all these things concerning Christ and his religion; it was promised and given you for that end,” Joh 14:26. The Lord Christ does not deal alike by all his professed disciples; some are more anointed than others. There is great danger lest those that are not thus anointed should be so far from being true to Christ that they should, on the contrary, turn antichrists, and prove adversaries to Christ’s person, and kingdom, and glory.

II. The apostle indicates to them the mind and meaning with which he wrote to them. 1. By way of negation; not as suspecting their knowledge, or supposing their ignorance in the grand truths of the gospel: “I have not written unto you because you know not the truth, 1Jo 2:21. I could not then be so well assured of your stability therein, nor congratulate you on your unction from above.” It is good to surmise well concerning our Christian brethren; we ought to do so till evidence overthrows our surmise: a just confidence in religious persons may both encourage and contribute to their fidelity. 2. By way of assertion and acknowledgment, as relying upon their judgment in these things: But because you know it (you know the truth in Jesus), and that no lie is of the truth. Those who know the truth in any respect are thereby prepared to discern what is contrary thereto and inconsistent therewith. Rectum est index sui et obliqui – The line which shows itself to be straight shows also what line is crooked. Truth and falsehood do not well mix and suit together. Those that are well acquainted with Christian truth are thereby well fortified against antichristian error and delusion. No lie belongs to religion, either natural or revealed. The apostles most of all condemned lies, and showed the inconsistency of lies with their doctrine: they would have been the most self-condemned persons had they propagated the truth by lies. It is a commendation of the Christian religion that it so well accords with natural religion, which is the foundation of it, that it so well accords with the Jewish religion, which contained the elements or rudiments of it. No lie is of the truth; frauds and impostures then are very unfit means to support and propagate the truth. I suppose it had been better with the state of religion if they had never been used. The result of them appears in the infidelity of our age; the detection of ancient pious frauds and wiles has almost run our age into atheism and irreligion; but the greatest actors and sufferers for the Christian revelation would assure us that no lie is of the truth.

III. The apostle further impleads and arraigns these seducers who had newly arisen. 1. They are liars, egregious opposers of sacred truth: Who is a liar, or the liar, the notorious liar of the time and age in which we live, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? The great and pernicious lies that the father of lies, or of liars, spreads in the world, were of old, and usually are, falsehoods and errors relating to the person of Christ. There is no truth so sacred and fully attested but some or other will contradict or deny it. That Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God had been attested by heaven, and earth, and hell. It should seem that some, in the tremendous judgment of God, are given up to strong delusions. 2. They are direst enemies to God as well as to the Lord Christ: He is antichrist who denieth the Father and the Son, 1Jo 2:22. He that opposes Christ denies the witness and testimony of the Father, and the seal that he hath given to his Son; for him hath God the Father sealed, Joh 6:27. And he that denies the witness and testimony of the Father, concerning Jesus Christ denies that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently abandons the knowledge of God in Christ, and thereupon the whole revelation of God in Christ, and particularly of God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself; and therefore the apostle may well infer, Whosoever denies the Son the same has not the Father (1Jo 2:23); he has not the true knowledge of the Father, for the Son has most and best revealed him; he has no interest in the Father, in his favour, and grace, and salvation, for none cometh to the Father but by the Son. But, as some copies add, he that acknowledgeth the Son has the Father also, 1Jo 2:23. As there is an intimate relation between the Father and the Son, so there is an inviolable union in the doctrine, knowledge, and interests of both; so that he who has the knowledge of, and right to, the Son, has the knowledge of, and right to, the Father also. Those that adhere to the Christian revelation hold the light and benefit of natural religion withal.

IV. Hereupon the apostle advises and persuades the disciples to continue in the old doctrine at first communicated to them: Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning, 1Jo 2:24. Truth is older than error. The truth concerning Christ, that was at first delivered to the saints, is not to be exchanged for novelties. So sure were the apostles of the truth of what they had delivered concerning Christ, and from him, that after all their toils and sufferings they were not willing to relinquish it. The Christian truth may plead antiquity, and be recommended thereby. This exhortation is enforced by these considerations: –

1. From the sacred advantage they will receive by adhering to the primitive truth and faith. (1.) They will continue thereby in holy union with God and Christ: If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son and in the Father, 1Jo 2:24. It is the truth of Christ abiding in us that is the means of severing us from sin and uniting us to the Son of God, Joh 15:3, Joh 15:4. The Son is the medium or the Mediator by whom we are united to the Father. What value then should we put upon gospel truth! (2.) They will thereby secure the promise of eternal life: And this is the promise that he (even God the Father, 1Jo 5:11) hath promised us, even eternal life, 1Jo 2:25. Great is the promise that God makes to his faithful adherents. It is suitable to his own greatness, power, and goodness. It is eternal life, which none but God can give. The blessed God puts great value upon his Son, and the truth relating to him, when he is pleased to promise to those who continue in that truth (under the light, and power, and influence of it) eternal life. Then the exhortation aforesaid is enforced,

2. From the design of the apostle’s writing to them. This letter is to fortify them against the deceivers of the age: “These things have I written to you concerning those that seduce you (1Jo 2:26), and therefore, if you continue not in what you have heard from the beginning, my writing and service will be in vain.” We should beware lest the apostolical letters, yea, lest the whole scripture of God, should be to us insignificant and fruitless. I have written to him the great things of my law (and my gospel too), but they were counted as a strange thing, Hos 8:12.

3. From the instructive blessing they had received from heaven: But the anointing which you have received from him abideth in you, 1Jo 2:27. True Christians have an inward confirmation of the divine truth they have imbibed: the Holy Spirit has imprinted it on their minds and hearts. It is meet that the Lord Jesus should have a constant witness in the hearts of his disciples. The unction, the pouring out of the gifts of grace upon sincere disciples, is a seal to the truth and doctrine of Christ, since none giveth that seal but God. Now he who establisheth us with you (and you with us) in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, 2Co 1:21. This sacred chrism, or divine unction, is commended on these accounts: – (1.) It is durable and lasting; oil or unguent is not so soon dried up as water: it abideth in you, 1Jo 2:27. Divine illumination, in order to confirmation, must be something continued or constant. Temptations, snares, and seductions, arise. The anointing must abide. (2.) It is better than human instruction: “And you need not that any man teach you, 1Jo 2:27. Not that this anointing will teach you without the appointed ministry. It could, if God so pleased; but it will not, though it will teach you better than we can: And you need not that any man teach you, 1Jo 2:27. You were instructed by us before you were anointed; but now our teaching is nothing in comparison to that. Who teacheth like him?” Job 36:22. The divine unction does not supersede ministerial teaching, but surmount it. (3.) It is a sure evidence of truth, and all that it teaches is infallible truth: But as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, 1Jo 2:27. The Holy Spirit must needs be the Spirit of truth, as he is called, Joh 14:17. The instruction and illumination that he affords must needs be in and of the truth. The Spirit of truth will not lie; and he teacheth all things, that is, all things in the present dispensation, all things necessary to our knowledge of God in Christ, and their glory in the gospel. And, (4.) It is of a conservative influence; it will preserve those in whom it abides against seducers and their seduction: “And even as it hath taught you you shall abide in him, 1Jo 2:27. It teaches you to abide in Christ; and, as it teaches you, it secures you; it lays a restraint upon your minds and hearts, that you may not revolt from him. And he that hath anointed us is God, who also hath sealed us for himself, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” 2Co 1:21, 2Co 1:22.

1 John 2:28-29

From the blessing of the sacred unction the apostle proceeds in his advice and exhortation to constancy in and with Christ: And now, little children, abide in him, 1Jo 2:28. The apostle repeats his kind appellation, little children, which I suppose does not so much denote their diminutiveness as his affection, and therefore, I judge, may be rendered dear children. He would persuade by love, and prevail by endearment as well as by reason. “Not only the love of Christ, but the love of you, constrains us to inculcate your perseverance, and that you would abide in him, in the truth relating to his person, and in your union with him and allegiance to him.” Evangelical privileges are obligatory to evangelical duties; and those that are anointed by the Lord Jesus are highly obliged to abide with him in opposition to all adversaries whatever. This duty of perseverance and constancy in trying times is strongly urged by the two following considerations: – 1. From the consideration of his return at the great day of account: That when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming, 1Jo 2:28. It is here taken for granted that the Lord Jesus will come again. This was part of that truth they had heart from the beginning. And, when he shall come again, he will publicly appear, be manifested to all. When he was here before, he came privately, in comparison. He proceeded from a womb, and was introduced into a stable: but, when he shall come again, he will come from the opened heavens, and every eye shall see him; and then those who have continued with him throughout all their temptations shall have confidence, assurance, and joy, in the sight of him. They shall lift up their heads with unspeakable triumph, as knowing that their complete redemption comes along with him. On the contrary, those that have deserted him shall be ashamed before him; they shall be ashamed of themselves, ashamed of their unbelief, their cowardice, ingratitude, temerity, and folly, in forsaking so glorious a Redeemer. They shall be ashamed of their hopes, expectations, and pretences, and ashamed of all the wages of unrighteousness, by which they were induced to desert him: That we may have confidence, and may not be ashamed. The apostle includes himself in the number. “Let not us be ashamed of you,” as well as, “you will not be ashamed of yourselves.” Or mē aischunthōmen ap’ autouthat we be not ashamed (made ashamed, or put to shame) by him at his coming. At his public appearance he will shame all those who have abandoned him, he will disclaim all acquaintance with them, will cover them with shame and confusion, will abandon them to darkness, devils, and endless despair, by professing before men and angels that he is ashamed of them, Mar 8:38. To the same advice and exhortation he proceeds, 2. From the consideration of the dignity of those who still adhere to Christ and his religion: If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him, 1Jo 2:29. The particle here rendered if seems not to be vox dubitantis, but concedentis; not so much a conditional particle, as a suppositional one, if I may call it so, a note of allowance or concession, and so seems to be of the same import with our English inasmuch, or whereas, or since. So the sense runs more clearly: Since you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. He that doeth righteousness may here be justly enough assumed as another name for him that abideth in Christ. For he that abideth in Christ abideth in the law and love of Christ, and consequently in his allegiance and obedience to him; and so must do, or work, or practise, righteousness, or the parts of gospel holiness. Now such a one must needs be born of him. He is renewed by the Spirit of Christ, after the image of Christ, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath fore-ordained that he should walk in them, Eph 2:10. “Since then you know that the Lord Christ is righteous (righteous in his quality and capacity, the Lord our righteousness, and the Lord our sanctifier or our sanctification, as 1Co 1:30), you cannot but know thereupon” (or know you, it is for your consideration and regard) “that he who by the continued practice of Christianity abideth in him is born of him.” The new spiritual nature is derived from the Lord Christ. He that is constant to the practice of religion in trying times gives good evidence that he is born from above, from the Lord Christ. The Lord Christ is an everlasting Father. It is a great privilege and dignity to be born of him. Those that are so are the children of God. To as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, Joh 1:12. And this introduces the context of the following chapter.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (3 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (3 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 3

The apostle here magnifies the love of God in our adoption (1Jo 3:1, 1Jo 3:2). He thereupon argues for holiness (1Jo 3:3), and against sin (v. 4-19). He presses brotherly love (1Jo 3:11-18). How to assure our hearts before God (1Jo 3:19-22). The precept of faith (1Jo 3:23). And the good of obedience (1Jo 3:24).

1 John 3:1-3

The apostle, having shown the dignity of Christ’s faithful followers, that they are born of him and thereby nearly allied to God, now here,

I. Breaks forth into the admiration of that grace that is the spring of such a wonderful vouchsafement: Behold (see you, observe) what manner of love, or how great love, the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called, effectually called (he who calls things that are not makes them to be what they were not) the sons of God! The Father adopts all the children of the Son. The Son indeed calls them, and makes them his brethren; and thereby he confers upon them the power and dignity of the sons of God. It is wonderful condescending love of the eternal Father, that such as we should be made and called his sons – we who by nature are heirs of sin, and guilt, and the curse of God – we who by practice are children of corruption, disobedience, and ingratitude! Strange, that the holy God is not ashamed to be called our Father, and to call us his sons! Thence the apostle,

II. Infers the honour of believers above the cognizance of the world. Unbelievers know little of them. Therefore (or wherefore, upon this score) the world knoweth us not, 1Jo 3:1. Little does the world perceive the advancement and happiness of the genuine followers of Christ. They are here exposed to the common calamities of earth and time; all things fall alike to them as to others, or rather they are subject to the greater sorrow, for they have often reason to say, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable, 1Co 15:19. The unchristian world, therefore, that walks by sight, knows not their dignity, their privileges, the enjoyments they have in hand, nor what they are entitled to. Little does the world think that these poor, humble, contemned ones are the favourites of heaven, and will be inhabitants there ere long. And they may bear their case the better since their Lord was here unknown as well as they: Because it knew him not, 1Jo 3:1. Little did the world think how great a person was once sojourning here, that the Maker of it was once an inhabitant of it. Little did the Jewish world think that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was one of their blood, and dwelt in their land; he came to his own, and his own received him not. He came to his own, and his own crucified him; but surely, had they known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, 1Co 2:8. Let the followers of Christ be content with hard fare here, since they are in a land of strangers, among those who little know them, and their Lord was so treated before them. Then the apostle,

III. Exalts these persevering disciples in the prospect of the certain revelation of their state and dignity. Here, 1. Their present honourable relation is asserted: Beloved (you may well be our beloved, for you are beloved of God), now are we the sons of God, 1Jo 3:2. We have the nature of sons by regeneration: we have the title, and spirit, and right to the inheritance of sons by adoption. This honour have all the saints. 2. The discovery of the bliss belonging and suitable to this relation is denied: And it doth not yet appear what we shall be, 1Jo 3:2. The glory pertaining to the sonship and adoption is adjourned and reserved for another world. The discovery of it here would put a stop to the current of affairs that must now proceed. The sons of God must walk by faith, and live by hope. 3. The time of the revelation of the sons of God in their proper state and glory is determined; and that is when their elder brother comes to call and collect them all together: But we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him. The particle, ean, usually translated if, is here well rendered when; for the Hebrew particle am (to which this is thought to correspond) is observed so to signify, as Dr. Whitby has here noted; and not only is ean sometimes used for hotan, but some copies even here read hotan, when. And accordingly it seems proper so to render it in Joh 14:3, where we read it, And if I go, and prepare a place; but more naturally and properly, When I shall have gone, and shall have prepared the place, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, or paralēpsomaiI will take you along with myself, that where I am there you may be also. When the head of the church, the only-begotten of the Father, shall appear, his members, the adopted of God, shall appear and be manifested together with him. They may then well wait in faith, hope, and earnest desire, for the revelation of the Lord Jesus; as even the creation itself waiteth for their perfection, and the public manifestation of the sons of God, Rom 8:19. The sons of God will be known and be made manifest by their likeness to their head: They shall be like him – like him in honour, and power, and glory. Their vile bodies shall be made like his glorious body; they shall be filled with life, light, and bliss from him. When he, who is their life, shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory, Col 3:4. Then, 4. Their likeness to him is argued from the sight they shall have of him: We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Their likeness will be the cause of that sight which they shall have of him. Indeed, all shall see him, but not as they do; not as he is, namely, to those in heaven. The wicked shall see him in his frowns, in the terror of his majesty, and the splendour of his avenging perfections; but these shall see him in the smiles and beauty of his face, in the correspondence and amiableness of his glory, in the harmony and agreeableness of his beatific perfections. Their likeness shall enable them to see him as the blessed do in heaven. Or the sight of him shall be the cause of their likeness; it shall be a transformative sight: they shall be transformed into the same image by the beatific view that they shall have of him. Then the apostle,

IV. Urges the engagement of these sons of God to the prosecution of holiness: And every man that hath this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure, 1Jo 3:3. The sons of God know that their Lord is holy and pure; he is of purer heart and eyes than to admit any pollution or impurity to dwell with him. Those then who hope to live with him must study the utmost purity from the world, and flesh, and sin; they must grow in grace and holiness. Not only does their Lord command them to do so, but their new nature inclines them so to do; yea, their hope of heaven will dictate and constrain them so to do. They know that their high priest is holy, harmless, and undefiled. They know that their Go and Father is the high and holy one, that all the society is pure and holy, that their inheritance is an inheritance of saints in light. It is a contradiction to such hope to indulge sin and impurity. And therefore, as we are sanctified by faith, we must be sanctified by hope. That we may be saved by hope we must be purified by hope. It is the hope of hypocrites, and not of the sons of God, that makes an allowance for the gratification of impure desires and lusts.

1 John 3:4-10

The apostle, having alleged the believer’s obligation to purity from his hope of heaven, and of communion with Christ in glory at the day of his appearance, now proceeds to fill his own mouth and the believer’s mind with multiplied arguments against sin, and all communion with the impure unfruitful works of darkness. And so he reasons and argues,

I. From the nature of sin and the intrinsic evil of it. It is a contrariety to the divine law: Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also (or even) the law (or, whosoever committeth sin even committeth enormity, or aberration from law, or from the law); for sin is the transgression of the law, or is lawlessness, 1Jo 3:4. Sin is the destitution or privation of correspondence and agreement with the divine law, that law which is the transcript of the divine nature and purity, which contains his will for the government of the world, which is suitable to the rational nature, and enacted for the good of the world, which shows man the way of felicity and peace, and conducts him to the author of his nature and of the law. The current commission of sin now is the rejection of the divine law, and this is the rejection of the divine authority, and consequently of God himself.

II. From the design and errand of the Lord Jesus in and to this world, which was to remove sin: And you know that he was manifested to take away our sins, and in him is no sin, 1Jo 3:5. The Son of God appeared, and was known, in our nature; and he came to vindicate and exalt the divine law, and that by obedience to the precept, and by subjection and suffering under the penal sanction, under the curse of it. He came therefore to take away our sins, to take away the guilt of them by the sacrifice of himself, to take away the commission of them by implanting a new nature in us (for we are sanctifies by virtue of his death), and to dissuade and save from it by his own example, and (or for) in him was no sin; or, he takes sin away, that he may conform us to himself, and in him is no sin. Those that expect communion with Christ above should study communion with him here in the utmost purity. And the Christian world should know and consider the great end of the Son of God’s coming hither: it was to take away our sin: And you know (and this knowledge should be deep and effectual) that he was manifested to take away our sins.

III. From the opposition between sin and a real union with or adhesion to the Lord Christ: Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not, 1Jo 3:6. To sin here is the same as to commit sin (1Jo 3:8, 1Jo 3:9), and to commit sin is to practise sin. He that abideth in Christ continues not in the practice of sin. As vital union with the Lord Jesus broke the power of sin in the heart and nature, so continuance therein prevents the regency and prevalence thereof in the life and conduct. Or the negative expression here is put for the positive: He sinneth not, that is, he is obedient, he keeps the commandments (in sincerity, and in the ordinary course of life) and does those things that are pleasing in his sight, as is said 1Jo 3:22. Those that abide in Christ abide in their covenant with him, and consequently watch against the sin that is contrary thereto. They abide in the potent light and knowledge of him; and therefore it may be concluded that he that sinneth (abideth in the predominant practice of sin) hath not seen him (hath not his mind impressed with a sound evangelical discerning of him), neither known him, hath no experimental acquaintance with him. Practical renunciation of sin is the great evidence of spiritual union with, continuance in, and saving knowledge of, the Lord Christ.

IV. From the connection between the practice of righteousness and a state of righteousness, intimating withal that the practice of sin and a justified state are inconsistent; and this is introduced with a supposition that a surmise to the contrary is a gross deceit: “Little children, dear children, and as much children as you are, herein let no man deceive you. There will be those who will magnify your new light and entertainment of Christianity, who will make you believe that your knowledge, profession, and baptism, will excuse you from the care and accuracy of the Christian life. But beware of such self-deceit. He that doeth righteousness in righteous.” It may appear that righteousness may in several places of scripture be justly rendered religion, as Mat 5:10, Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, that is, for religion’s sake; 1Pe 3:14, But if you suffer for righteousness’ sake (religion’s sake) happy are you; and 2Ti 3:16, All scripture, or the whole scripture, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine – and for instruction in righteousness, that is, in the nature and branches of religion. To do righteousness then, especially being set in opposition to the doing, committing, or practising, of sin, is to practise religion. Now he who practiseth religion is righteous; he is the righteous person on all accounts; he is sincere and upright before God. The practice of religion cannot subsist without a principle of integrity and conscience. He has that righteousness which consists in pardon of sin and right to life, founded upon the imputation of the Mediator’s righteousness. He has a title to the crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge will give, according to his covenant and promise, to those that love his appearing, 2Ti 4:8. He has communion with Christ, in conformity to the divine law, being in some measure practically righteous as he; and he has communion with him in the justified state, being now relatively righteous together with him.

V. From the relation between the sinner and the devil, and thereupon from the design and office of the Lord Christ against the devil. 1. From the relation between the sinner and the devil. As elsewhere sinners and saints are distinguished (though even saints are sinners largely so called), so to commit sin is here so to practise it as sinners do, that are distinguished from saints, to live under the power and dominion of it; and he who does so is of the devil; his sinful nature is inspired by, and agreeable and pleasing to, the devil; and he belongs to the party, and interest, and kingdom of the devil. It is he that is the author and patron of sin, and has been a practitioner of it, a tempter and instigator to it, even from the beginning of the world. And thereupon we must see how he argues. 2. From the design and office of the Lord Christ against the devil: For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil, 1Jo 3:8. The devil has designed and endeavoured to ruin the work of God in this world. The Son of God has undertaken the holy war against him. He came into our world, and was manifested in our flesh, that he might conquer him and dissolve his works. Sin will he loosen and dissolve more and more, till he has quite destroyed it. Let not us serve or indulge what the Son of God came to destroy.

VI. From the connection between regeneration and the relinquishment of sin: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. To be born of God is to be inwardly renewed, and restored to a holy integrity or rectitude of nature by the power of the Spirit of God. Such a one committeth not sin, does not work iniquity nor practise disobedience, which is contrary to his new nature and the regenerate complexion of his spirit; for, as the apostle adds, his seed remaineth in him, either the word of God in its light and power remaineth in him (as 1Pe 1:23, Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever), or, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit; the spiritual seminal principle of holiness remaineth in him. Renewing grace is an abiding principle. Religion, in the spring of it, is not an art, an acquired dexterity and skill, but a new nature. And thereupon the consequence is the regenerate person cannot sin. That he cannot commit an act of sin, I suppose no judicious interpreter understands. This would be contrary to 1Jo 1:9, where it is made our duty to confess our sins, and supposed that our privilege thereupon is to have our sins forgiven. He therefore cannot sin, in the sense in which the apostle says, he cannot commit sin. He cannot continue in the course and practice of sin. He cannot so sin as to denominate him a sinner in opposition to a saint or servant of God. Again, he cannot sin comparatively, as he did before he was born of God, and as others do that are not so. And the reason is because he is born of God, which will amount to all this inhibition and impediment. 1. There is a light in his mind which shows him the evil and malignity of sin. 2. There is that bias upon his heart which disposes him to loathe and hate sin. 3. There is the spiritual seminal principle or disposition, that breaks the force and fulness of the sinful acts. They proceed not from such plenary power of corruption as they do in others, nor obtain that plenitude of heart, spirit, and consent, which they do in others. The spirit lusteth against the flesh. And therefore in respect to such sin it may be said, It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. It is not reckoned the person’s sin, in the gospel account, where the bent and frame of the mind and spirit are against it. Then, 4. There is a disposition for humiliation and repentance for sin, when it has been committed. He that is born of God cannot sin. Here we may call to mind the usual distinction of natural and moral impotency. The unregenerate person is morally unable for what is religiously good. The regenerate person is happily disabled for sin. There is a restraint, an embargo (as we may say), laid upon his sinning powers. It goes against him sedately and deliberately to sin. We usually say of a person of known integrity, “He cannot lie, he cannot cheat, and commit other enormities.” How can I commit this great wickedness, and sin against God! Gen 39:9. And so those who persist in a sinful life sufficiently demonstrate that they are not born of God.

VII. From the discrimination between the children of God and the children of the devil. They have their distinct characters. In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil, 1Jo 3:10. In the world (according to the old distinction) there are the seed of God and the seed of the serpent. Now the seed of the serpent is known by these two signatures: – 1. By neglect of religion: Whosoever doeth not righteously (omits and disregards the rights and dues of God; for religion is but our righteousness towards God, or giving him his due, and whosoever does not conscientiously do this) is not of God, but, on the contrary, of the devil. The devil is the father of unrighteous or irreligious souls. And, 2. By hatred of fellow-christians: Neither he that loveth not his brother, 1Jo 3:10. True Christians are to be loved for God’s and Christ’s sake. Those who so love them not, but despise, and hate, and persecute them, have the serpentine nature still abiding in them.

1 John 3:11-13

The apostle, having intimated that one mark of the devil’s children is hatred of the brethren, takes occasion thence,

I. To recommend fraternal Christian love, and that from the excellence, or antiquity, or primariness of the injunction relating thereto: And this is the message (the errand or charge) which you heard from the beginning (this came among the principal parts of practical Christianity), that we should love one another, 1Jo 3:11. We should love the Lord Jesus, and value his love, and consequently love all the objects of it, and thereupon all our brethren in Christ.

II. To dissuade from what is contrary thereto, all ill-will towards the brethren, and that by the example of Cain. His envy and malignity should deter us from harbouring the like passion, and that upon these accounts: – 1. It showed that he was as the first-born of the serpent’s seed; even he, the eldest son of the first man, was of the wicked one. He imitated and resembled the first wicked one, the devil. 2. His ill-will had no restraint; it proceeded so far as to contrive and accomplish murder, and that of a near relation, and that in the beginning of the world, when there were but few to replenish it. He slew his brother, 1Jo 3:12. Sin, indulged, knows no bound. And, 3. It proceeded so far, and had in it so much of the devil, that he murdered his brother for religion’s sake. He was vexed with the superiority of Abel’s service, and envied him the favour and acceptance he had with God. And for these he martyred his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous, 1Jo 3:12. Ill-will will teach us to hate and revenge what we should admire and imitate. And then,

III. To infer that it is no wonder that good men are so served now: Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you, 1Jo 3:13. The serpentine nature still continues in the world. The great serpent himself reigns as the God of this world. Wonder not then that the serpentine world hates and hisses at you who belong to that seed of the woman that is to bruise the serpent’s head.

1 John 3:14-19

The beloved apostle can scarcely touch upon the mention of sacred love, but he must enlarge upon the enforcement of it, as here he does by divers arguments and incentives thereto; as,

I. That it is a mark of our evangelical justification, of our transition into a state of life: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren, 1Jo 3:14. We are by nature children of wrath and heirs of death. By the gospel (the gospel-covenant or promise) our state towards another world is altered and changed. We pass from death to life, from the guilt of death to the right of life; and this transition is made upon our believing in the Lord Jesus: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not hath the wrath of God abiding on him, Joh 3:36. Now this happy change of state we may come to be assured of: We know that we have passed from death to life; we may know it by the evidences of our faith in Christ, of which this love to our brethren is one, which leads us to characterize this love that is such a mark of our justified state. It is not a zeal for a party in the common religion, or an affection for, or an affectation of, those who are of the same denomination and subordinate sentiments with ourselves. But this love,

1. Supposes a general love to mankind: the law of Christian love, in the Christian community, is founded on the catholic law, in the society of mankind, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Mankind are to be loved principally on these two accounts: – (1.) As the excellent work of God, made by him, and made in wonderful resemblance of him. The reason that God assigns for the certain punishment of a murderer is a reason against our hatred of any of the brethren of mankind, and consequently a reason for our love to them: for in the image of God made he man, Gen 9:6. (2.) As being, in some measure, beloved in Christ. The whole race of mankind – the gens humana, should be considered as being, in distinction from fallen angels, a redeemed nation; as having a divine Redeemer designed, prepared, and given for them. So God loved the world, even this world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life, Joh 3:16. A world so beloved of God should accordingly be loved by us. And this love will exert itself in earnest desires, and prayers, and attempts, for the conversion and salvation of the yet uncalled blinded world. My heart’s desire and prayer for Israel are that they may be saved. And then this love will include all due love to enemies themselves.

2. It includes a peculiar love to the Christian society, to the catholic church, and that for the sake of her head, as being his body, as being redeemed, justified, and sanctified in and by him; and this love particularly acts and operates towards those of the catholic church that we have opportunity of being personally acquainted with or credibly informed of. They are not so much loved for their own sakes as for the sake of God and Christ, who have loved them. And it is God and Christ, or, if you will, the love of God and grace of Christ, that are beloved and valued in them and towards them. And so this is the issue of faith in Christ, and is thereupon a note of our passage from death to life.

II. The hatred of our brethren is, on the contrary, a sign of our deadly state, of our continuance under the legal sentence of death: He that loveth not his brother (his brother in Christ) abideth in death, 1Jo 3:14. He yet stands under the curse and condemnation of the law. This the apostle argues by a clear syllogism: “You know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him; but he who hates his brother is a murderer; and therefore you cannot but know that he who hates his brother hath not eternal life abiding in him,” 1Jo 3:15. Or, he abideth in death, as it is expressed, 1Jo 3:14, Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; for hatred of the person is, so far as it prevails, a hatred of life and welfare, and naturally tends to desire the extinction of it. Cain hated, and then slew, his brother. Hatred will shut up the bowels of compassion from the poor brethren, and will thereby expose them to the sorrows of death. And it has appeared that hatred of the brethren has in all ages dressed them up in ill names, odious characters, and calumnies, and exposed them to persecution and the sword. No wonder, then, that he who has a considerable acquaintance with the heart of man, or is taught by him who fully knows it, who knows the natural tendency and issue of vile and violent passions, and knows withal the fulness of the divine law, declares him who hates his brother to be a murderer. Now he who by the frame and disposition of his heart is a murderer cannot have eternal life abiding in him; for he who is such must needs be carnally-minded, and to be carnally-minded is death, Rom 8:6. The apostle, by the expression of having eternal life abiding in us, may seem to mean the possession of an internal principle of endless life, according to that of the Saviour, Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, shall never be totally destitute thereof; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life, Joh 4:14. And thereupon some may be apt to surmise that the passing from death to life (1Jo 3:14) does not signify the relative change made in our justification of life, but the real change made in the regeneration to life; and accordingly that the abiding in death mentioned 1Jo 3:14 is continuance in spiritual death, as it is usually called, or abiding in the corrupt deadly temper of nature. But as these passages more naturally denote the state of the person, whether adjudged to life or death, so the relative transition from death to life may well be proved or disproved by the possession or non-possession of the inward principle of eternal life, since washing from the guilt of sin is inseparably united with washing from the filth and power of sin. But you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God, 1Co 6:11.

III. The example of God and Christ should inflame our hearts with this holy love: Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, 1Jo 3:16. The great God has given his Son to the death for us. But since this apostle has declared that the Word was God, and that he became flesh for us, I see not why we may not interpret this of God the Word. Here is the love of God himself, of him who in his own person is God, though not the Father, that he assumed a life, that he might lay it down for us! Here is the condescension, the miracle, the mystery of divine love, that God would redeem the church with his own blood! Surely we should love those whom God hath loved, and so loved; and we shall certainly do so if we have any love for God.

IV. The apostle, having proposed this flaming constraining example of love, and motive to it, proceeds to show us what should be the temper and effect of this our Christian love. And, 1. It must be, in the highest degree, so fervent as to make us willing to suffer even to death for the good of the church, for the safety and salvation of the dear brethren: And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1Jo 3:16), either in our ministrations and services to them (yea, and if I be offered upon the service and sacrifice of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all – I shall congratulate your felicity, Phi 2:17), or in exposing ourselves to hazards, when called thereto, for the safety and preservation of those that are more serviceable to the glory of God and the edification of the church than we can be. Who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles, Rom 16:4. How mortified should the Christian be to this life! How prepared to part with it! And how well assured of a better! 2. It must be, in the next degree, compassionate, liberal, and communicative to the necessities of the brethren: For whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 1Jo 3:17. It pleases God that some of the Christian brethren should be poor, for the exercise of the charity and love of those that are rich. And it pleases the same God to give to some of the Christian brethren this world’s good, that they may exercise their grace in communicating to the poor saints. And those who have this world’s good must love a good God more, and their good brethren more, and be ready to distribute it for their sakes. It appears here that this love to the brethren is founded upon love to God, in that it is here called so by the apostle: How dwelleth the love of God in him? This love to the brethren is love to God in them; and where there is none of this love to them there is no true love to God at all. 3. I was going to intimate the third and lowest degree in the next verse; but the apostle has prevented me, by intimating that this last charitable communicative love, in persons of ability, is the lowest that can consist with the love of God. But there may be other fruits of this love; and therefore the apostle desires that in all it should be unfeigned and operative, as circumstances will allow: My little children (my dear children in Christ), let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth, 1Jo 3:18. Compliments and flatteries become not Christians; but the sincere expressions of sacred affection, and the services or labours of love, do. Then,

V. This love will evince our sincerity in religion, and give us hope towards God: And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him, 1Jo 3:19. It is a great happiness to be assured of our integrity in religion. Those that are so assured may have holy boldness or confidence towards God; they may appeal to him from the censures and condemnation of the world. The way to arrive at the knowledge of our own truth and uprightness in Christianity, and to secure our inward peace, is to abound in love and in the works of love towards the Christian brethren.

1 John 3:20-22

The apostle, having intimated that there may be, even among us, such a privilege as an assurance or sound persuasion of heart towards God, proceeds here,

I. To establish the court of conscience, and to assert the authority of it: For, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, 1Jo 3:20. Our heart here is our self-reflecting judicial power, that noble excellent ability whereby we can take cognizance of ourselves, of our spirits, our dispositions, and actions, and accordingly pass a judgment upon our state towards God; and so it is the same with conscience, or the power of moral self-consciousness. This power can act as witness, judge, and executioner of judgment; it either accuses or excuses, condemns or justifies; it is set and placed in this office by God himself: the spirit of man, thus capacitated and empowered, is the candle of the Lord, a luminary lighted and set up by the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly, taking into scrutiny and viewing the penetralia – the private recesses and secret transactions of the inner man, Pro 20:27. Conscience is God’s vicegerent, calls the court in his name, and acts for him. The answer of a good conscience towards God, 1Pe 3:21. God is chief Judge of the court: If our heart condemn us God is greater than our heart, superior to our heart and conscience in power and judgment; hence the act and judgment of the court are the act and judgment of God; as, 1. If conscience condemn us, God does so too: For, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, 1Jo 3:20. God is a greater witness than our conscience, and knoweth more against us than it does: he knoweth all things; he is a greater Judge than conscience; for, as he is supreme, so his judgment shall stand, and shall be fully and finally executed. This seems to be the design of another apostle when he says, For I know nothing by myself, that is, in the case wherein I am censured by some. “I am not conscious of any guile, or allowed unfaithfulness, in my stewardship and ministry. Yet I am hereby justified; it is not by my own conscience that I must ultimately stand or fall; the justification or justifying sentence of my conscience, or self-consciousness, will not determine the controversy between you and me; as you do not appeal to its sentence, so neither will you be determined by its decision; but he that judgeth me (supremely and finally judgeth me), and by whose judgment you and I must be determined, is the Lord,” 1Co 4:4. Or, 2. If conscience acquit us, God does so too: Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God (1Jo 3:21), then have we assurance that he accepts us now, and will acquit us in the great day of account. But, possibly, some presumptuous soul may here say, “I am glad of this; my heart does not condemn me, and therefore I may conclude God does not.” As, on the contrary, upon the foregoing verse, some pious trembling soul will be ready to cry out, “God forbid! My heart or conscience condemns me, and must I then infallibly expect the condemnation of God?” But let such know that the errors of the witness are not here reckoned as the acts of the court; ignorance, error, prejudice, partiality, and presumption, may be said to be faults of the officers of the court, or of the attendants of the judge (as the mind, the will, appetite, passion, sensual disposition, or disordered brain), or of the jury, who give a false verdict, not of the judge itself; consciencesuneidēsis, is properly self-consciousness. Acts of ignorance and error are not acts of self-consciousness, but of some mistaken power; and the court of conscience is here described in its process, according to the original constitution of it by God himself, according to which process what is bound in conscience is bound in heaven; let conscience therefore be heard, be well-informed, and diligently attended to.

II. To indicate the privilege of those who have a good conscience towards God. They have interest in heaven and in the court above; their suits are heard there: And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, 1Jo 3:22. It is supposed that the petitioners do not desire, or do not intend to desire, any thing that is contrary to the honour and glory of the court or to their own intended spiritual good, and then they may depend upon receiving the good things they ask for; and this supposition may well be made concerning the petitioners, or they may well be supposed to receive the good things they ask for, considering their qualification and practice: Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight, 1Jo 3:22. Obedient souls are prepared for blessings, and they have promise of audience; those who commit things displeasing to God cannot expect that he should please them in hearing and answering their prayers, Psa 66:18; Pro 28:9.

1 John 3:23-24

The apostle, having mentioned keeping the commandments, and pleasing God, as the qualification of effectual petitioners in and with Heaven, here suitably proceeds,

I. To represent to us what those commandments primarily and summarily are; they are comprehended in this double one: And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment, 1Jo 3:23. To believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ is, 1. To discern what he is, according to his name, to have an intellectual view of his person and office, as the Son of God, and the anointed Saviour of the world. That every one that seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life, Joh 6:40. 2. To approve him in judgment and conscience, in conviction and consciousness of our case, as one wisely and wonderfully prepared and adapted for the whole work of eternal salvation. 3. To consent to him, and acquiesce in him, as our Redeemer and recoverer unto God. 4. To trust to him, and rely upon him, for the full and final discharge of his saving office. Those that know thy name will put their trust in thee, Psa 9:10. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day, 2Ti 1:12. This faith is a needful requisite to those who would be prevalent petitioners with God, because it is by the Son that we must come to the Father; through his grace and righteousness our persons must be accepted or ingratiated with the Father (Eph 1:6), through his purchase all our desired blessings must come, and through his intercession our prayers must be heard and answered. This is the first part of the commandment that must be observed by acceptable worshippers; the second is that we love one another, as he gave us commandment, 1Jo 3:23. The command of Christ should be continually before our eyes. Christian love must possess our soul when we go to God in prayer. To this end we must remember that our Lord obliges us, (1.) To forgive those who offend us (Mat 6:14), and, (2.) To reconcile ourselves to those whom we have offended, Mat 5:23, Mat 5:24. As good-will to men was proclaimed from heaven, so good-will to men, and particularly to the brethren, must be carried in the hearts of those who go to God and heaven.

II. To represent to us the blessedness of obedience to these commands. The obedient enjoy communion with God: And he that keepeth his commandments, and particularly those of faith and love, dwelleth in him, and he in him, 1Jo 3:24. We dwell in God by a happy relation to him, and spiritual union with him, through his Son, and by a holy converse with him; and God dwells in us by his word, and our faith fixed on him, and by the operations of his Spirit. Then there occurs the trial of his divine inhabitation: And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us (1Jo 3:24), by the sacred disposition and frame of soul that he hath conferred upon us, which being a spirit of faith in God and Christ, and of love to God and man, appears to be of God.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (4 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (4 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 4

In this chapter the apostle exhorts to try spirits (1Jo 4:1), gives a note to try by (1Jo 4:2, 1Jo 4:3), shows who are of the world and who of God (1Jo 4:4-6), urges Christian love by divers considerations (1Jo 4:7-16), describes our love to God, and the effect of it (1Jo 4:17-21).

1 John 4:1-3

The apostle, having said that God’s dwelling in and with us may be known by the Spirit that he hath given us, intimates that that Spirit may be discerned and distinguished from other spirits that appear in the world; and so here,

I. He calls the disciples, to whom he writes, to caution and scrutiny about the spirits and spiritual professors that had now risen. 1. To caution: “Beloved, believe not every spirit; regard not, trust not, follow not, every pretender to the Spirit of God, or every professor of vision, or inspiration, or revelation from God.” Truth is the foundation of simulation and counterfeits; there had been real communications from the divine Spirit, and therefore others pretended thereto. God will take the way of his own wisdom and goodness, though it may be liable to abuse; he has sent inspired teachers to the world, and given us a supernatural revelation, though others may be so evil and so impudent as to pretend the same; every pretender to the divine Spirit, or to inspiration, and extraordinary illumination thereby, is not to be believed. Time was when the spiritual man (the man of the Spirit, who made a great noise about, and boast of, the Spirit) was mad, Hos 9:7. 2. To scrutiny, to examination of the claims that are laid to the Spirit: But try the spirits, whether they be of God, 1Jo 4:1. God has given of his Spirit in these latter ages of the world, but not to all who profess to come furnished therewith; to the disciples is allowed a judgment of discretion, in reference to the spirits that would be believed and trusted in the affairs of religion. A reason is given for this trial: Because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1Jo 4:1. There being much about the time of our Saviour’s appearance in the world a general expectation among the Jews of a Redeemer to Israel, and the humiliation, spiritual reformation, and sufferings of the Saviour being taken as a prejudice against him, others were induced to set up as prophets and messiahs to Israel, according to the Saviour’s prediction, Mat 24:23, Mat 24:24. It should not seem strange to us that false teachers set themselves up in the church: it was so in the apostles’ times; fatal is the spirit of delusion, sad that men should vaunt themselves for prophets and inspired preachers that are by no means so!

II. He gives a test whereby the disciples may try these pretending spirits. These spirits set up for prophets, doctors, or dictators in religion, and so they were to be tried by their doctrine; and the test whereby in that day, or in that part of the world where the apostle now resided (for in various seasons, and in various churches, tests were different), must be this: Hereby know you the Spirit of God, Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (or that confesseth Jesus Christ that came in the flesh), is of God, 1Jo 4:2. Jesus Christ is to be confessed as the Son of God, the eternal life and Word, that was with the Father from the beginning; as the Son of God that came into, and came in, our human mortal nature, and therein suffered and died at Jerusalem. He who confesses and preaches this, by a mind supernaturally instructed and enlightened therein, does it by the Spirit of God, or God is the author of that illumination. On the contrary, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (or Jesus Christ that came in the flesh) is not of God, 1Jo 4:3. God has given so much testimony to Jesus Christ, who was lately here in the world, and in the flesh (or in a fleshly body like ours), though now in heaven, that you may be assured that any impulse or pretended inspiration that contradicts this is far from being from heaven and of God.” The sum of revealed religion is comprehended in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. We see then the aggravation of a systematic opposition to him and it. And this is that spirit of antichrist whereof you have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world, 1Jo 4:3. It was foreknown by God that antichrists would arise, and antichristian spirits oppose his Spirit and his truth; it was foreknown also that one eminent antichrist would arise, and make a long and fatal war against the Christ of God, and his institution, and honour, and kingdom in the world. This great antichrist would have his way prepared, and his rise facilitated, by other less antichrists, and the spirit of error working and disposing men’s minds for him: the antichristian spirit began betimes, even in the apostles’ days. Dreadful and unsearchable is the judgment of God, that persons should be given over to an antichristian spirit, and to such darkness and delusion as to set themselves against the Son of God and all the testimony that the Father hath given to the Son! But we have been forewarned that such opposition would arise; we should therefore cease to be offended, and the more we see the word of Christ fulfilled the more confirmed we should be in the truth of it.

1 John 4:4-6

In these verses the apostle encourages the disciples against the fear and danger of this seducing antichristian spirit, and that by such methods as these: – 1. He assures them of a more divine principle in them: “You are of God, little children, 1Jo 4:4. You are God’s little children. We are of God, 1Jo 4:6. We are born of God, taught of God, anointed of God, and so secured against infectious fatal delusions. God has his chosen, who shall not be mortally seduced.” 2. He gives them hope of victory: “And have overcome them, 1Jo 4:4. You have hitherto overcome these deceivers and their temptations, and there is good ground of hope that you will do so still, and that upon these two accounts:” – (1.) “There is a strong preserver within you: Because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world, 1Jo 4:4. The Spirit of God dwells in you, and that Spirit is more mighty than men of devils.” It is a great happiness to be under the influence of the Holy Ghost. (2.) “You are not of the same temper with these deceivers. The Spirit of God hath framed your mind for God and heaven; but they are of the world. The spirit that prevails in them leads them to this world; their heart is addicted thereto; they study the pomp, the pleasure, and interest of the world: and therefore speak they of the world; they profess a worldly messiah and saviour; they project a worldly kingdom and dominion; the possessions and treasures of the world would they engross to themselves, forgetting that the true Redeemer’s kingdom is not of this world. This worldly design procures them proselytes: The world heareth them, 1Jo 4:5. They are followed by such as themselves: the world will love its own, and its own will love it. But those are in a fair way to conquer pernicious seductions who have conquered the love of this seducing world.” Then, 3. He represents to them that though their company might be the smaller, yet it was the better; they had more divine and holy knowledge: “He that knoweth God heareth us. He who knows the purity and holiness of God, the love and grace of God, the truth and faithfulness of God, the ancient word and prophecies of God, the signals and testimonials of God, must know that he is with us; and he who knows this will attend to us, and abide with us.” He that is well furnished with natural religion will the more faithfully cleave to Christianity. He that knoweth God (in his natural and moral excellences, revelations, and works) heareth us, 1Jo 4:6. As, on the contrary, “He that is not of God heareth not us. He who knows not God regards not us. He that is not born of God (walking according to his natural disposition) walks not with us. The further any are from God (as appears in all ages) the further they are from Christ and his faithful servants; and the more addicted persons are to this world the more remote they are from the spirit of Christianity. Thus you have a distinction between us and others: Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error, 1Jo 4:6. This doctrine concerning the Saviour’s person leading you from the world to God is a signature of the Spirit of truth, in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is the more likely is it to be of God.”

1 John 4:7-13

As the Spirit of truth is known by doctrine (thus spirits are to be tried), it is known by love likewise; and so here follows a strong fervent exhortation to holy Christian love: Beloved, let us love one another, 1Jo 4:7. The apostle would unite them in his love, that he might unite them in love to each other: “Beloved, I beseech you, by the love I bear to you, that you put on unfeigned mutual love.” This exhortation is pressed and urged with variety of argument: as,

I. From the high and heavenly descent of love: For love is of God. He is the fountain, author, parent, and commander of love; it is the sum of his law and gospel: And every one that loveth (whose spirit is framed to judicious holy love) is born of God, 1Jo 4:7. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love. The new nature in the children of God is the offspring of his love: and the temper and complexion of it is love. The fruit of the Spirit is love, Gal 5:22. Love comes down from heaven.

II. Love argues a true and just apprehension of the divine nature: He that loveth knoweth God, 1Jo 4:7. He that loveth not knoweth not God, 1Jo 4:8. What attribute of the divine Majesty so clearly shines in all the world as his communicative goodness, which is love. The wisdom, the greatness, the harmony, and usefulness of the vast creation, which so fully demonstrate his being, do at the same time show and prove his love; and natural reason, inferring and collecting the nature and excellence of the most absolute perfect being, must collect and find that he is most highly good: and he that loveth not (is not quickened by the knowledge he hath of God to the affection and practice of love) knoweth not God; it is a convictive evidence that the sound and due knowledge of God dwells not in such a soul; his love must needs shine among his primary brightest perfections; for God is love (1Jo 4:8), his nature and essence are love, his will and works are primarily love. Not that this is the only conception we ought to have of him; we have found that he is light as well as love (1Jo 1:5), and God is principally love to himself, and he has such perfections as arise from the necessary love he must bear to his necessary existence, excellence, and glory; but love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty: God is love. This is argued from the display and demonstration that he hath given of it; as, 1. That he hath loved us, such as we are: In this was manifest the love of God towards us (1Jo 4:9), towards us mortals, us ungrateful rebels. God commandeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, Rom 5:8. Strange that God should love impure, vain, vile, dust and ashes! 2. That he has loved us at such a rate, at such an incomparable value as he has given for us; he has given his own, only-beloved, blessed Son for us: Because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him, 1Jo 4:9. This person is in some peculiar distinguishing way the Son of God; he is the only-begotten. Should we suppose him begotten as a creature or created being, he is not the only-begotten. Should we suppose him a natural necessary eradication from the Father’s glory or glorious essence, or substance, he must be the only-begotten: and then it will be a mystery and miracle of divine love that such a Son should be sent into our world for us! It may well be said, So (wonderfully, so amazingly, so incredibly) God loved the world. 3. That God loved us first, and in the circumstances in which we lay: Herein is love (unusual unprecedented love), not that we loved God, but that he loved us, 1Jo 4:10. He loved us, when we had no love for him, when we lay in our guilt, misery, and blood, when we were undeserving, ill-deserving, polluted, and unclean, and wanted to be washed from our sins in sacred blood. 4. That he gave us his Son for such service and such an end. (1.) For such service, to be the propitiation for our sins; consequently to die for us, to die under the law and curse of God, to bear our sins in his own body, to be crucified, to be wounded in his soul, and pierced in his side, to be dead and buried for us (1Jo 4:10); and then, (2.) For such an end, for such a good and beneficial end to us – that we might live through him (1Jo 4:9), might live for ever through him, might live in heaven, live with God, and live in eternal glory and blessedness with him and through him: O what love is here! Then,

III. Divine love to the brethren should constrain ours: Beloved (I would adjure you by your interest in my love to remember), if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another, 1Jo 4:11. This should be an invincible argument. The example of God should press us. We should be followers (or imitators) of him, as his dear children. The objects of the divine love should be the objects of ours. Shall we refuse to love those whom the eternal God hath loved? We should be admirers of his love, and lovers of his love (of the benevolence and complacency that are in him), and consequently lovers of those whom he loves. The general love of God to the world should induce a universal love among mankind. That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust, Mat 5:45. The peculiar love of God to the church and to the saints should be productive of a peculiar love there: If God so loved us, we ought surely (in some measure suitably thereto) to love one another.

IV. The Christian love is an assurance of the divine inhabitation: If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, 1Jo 4:12. Now God dwelleth in us, not by any visible presence, or immediate appearance to the eye (no man hath seen God at any time, 1Jo 4:12), but by his Spirit (1Jo 4:13); or, “No man hath seen God at any time; he does not here present himself to our eye or to our immediate intuition, and so he does not in this way demand and exact our love; but he demands and expects it in that way in which he has thought meet to deserve and claim it, and that is in the illustration that he has given of himself and of his love (and thereupon of his loveliness too) in the catholic church, and particularly in the brethren, the members of that church. In them, and in his appearance for them and with them, is God to be loved; and thus, if we love one another, God dwelleth in us. The sacred lovers of the brethren are the temples of God; the divine Majesty has a peculiar residence there.”

V. Herein the divine love attains a considerable end and accomplishment in us: “And his love is perfected in us, 1Jo 4:12. It has obtained its completion in and upon us. God’s love is not perfected in him, but in and with us. His love could not be designed to be ineffectual and fruitless upon us; when its proper genuine end and issue are attained and produced thereby, it may be said to be perfected; so faith is perfected by its works, and love perfected by its operations. When the divine love has wrought us to the same image, to the love of God, and thereupon to the love of the brethren, the children of God, for his sake, it is therein and so far perfected and completed, though this love of ours is not at present perfect, nor the ultimate end of the divine love to us.” How ambitious should we be of this fraternal Christian love, when God reckons his own love to us perfected thereby! To this the apostle, having mentioned the high favour of God’s dwelling in us, subjoins the note and character thereof: Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit, 1Jo 4:13. Certainly this mutual inhabitation is something more noble and great than we are well acquainted with or can declare. One would think that to speak of God dwelling in us, and we in him, were to use words too high for mortals, had not God gone before us therein. What this indwelling imports has been briefly explained on 1Jo 3:24. What it fully is must be left to the revelation of the blessed world. But this mutual inhabitation we know, says the apostle, because he hath given us of his spirit; he has lodged the image and fruit of his Spirit in our hearts (1Jo 4:13), and the Spirit that he hath given us appears to be his, or of him, since it is the Spirit of power, of zeal and magnanimity for God, of love to God and man, and of a sound mind, of an understanding well instructed in the affairs of God and religion, and his kingdom among men, 2Ti 1:7.

1 John 4:14-16

Since faith in Christ works love to God, and love to God must kindle love to the brethren, the apostle here confirms the prime article of the Christian faith as the foundation of such love. Here,

I. He proclaims the fundamental article of the Christian religion, which is so representative of the love of God: And we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world, 1Jo 4:14. We here see, 1. The Lord Jesus’s relation to God; he is Son to the Father, such a Son as no one else is, and so as to be God with the Father. 2. His relation and office towards us – the Saviour of the world; he saves us by his death, example, intercession, Spirit, and power against the enemies of our salvation. 3. The ground on which he became so – by the mission of him: The Father sent the Son, he decreed and willed his coming hither, in and with the consent of the Son. 4. The apostle’s assurance of this – he and his brethren had seen it; they had seen the Son of God in his human nature, in his holy converse and works, in his transfiguration on the mount, and in his death, resurrection from the dead, and royal ascent to heaven; they had so seen him as to be satisfied that he was the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 5. The apostle’s attestation of this, in pursuance of such evidence: “We have seen and do testify. The weight of this truth obliges us to testify it; the salvation of the world lies upon it. The evidence of the truth warrants us to testify it; our eyes, and ears, and hands, have been witnesses of it.” Thereupon,

II. The apostle states the excellency, or the excellent privilege attending the due acknowledgment of this truth: Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God, 1Jo 4:15. This confession seems to include faith in the heart as the foundation of it, acknowledgment with the mouth to the glory of God and Christ, and profession in the life and conduct, in opposition to the flatteries or frowns of the world. Thus no man says that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost, by the external attestation and internal operation of the Holy Ghost, 1Co 12:3. And so he who thus confesses Christ, and God in him, is enriched with or possessed by the Spirit of God, and has a complacential knowledge of God and much holy enjoyment of him. Then,

III. The apostle applies this in order to the excitation of holy love. God’s love is thus seen and exerted in Christ Jesus; and thus have we known and believed the love that God hath to us, 1Jo 4:16. The Christian revelation is, what should endear it to us, the revelation of the divine love; the articles of our revealed faith are but so many articles relating to the divine love. The history of the Lord Christ is the history of God’s love to us; all his transactions in and with his Son were but testifications of his love to us, and means to advance us to the love of God: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, 2Co 5:19. Hence we may learn,

1. That God is love (1Jo 4:16); he is essential boundless love; he has incomparable incomprehensible love for us of this world, which he has demonstrated in the mission and mediation of his beloved Son. It is the great objection and prejudice against the Christian revelation that the love of God should be so strange and unaccountable as to give his own eternal Son for us; it is the prejudice of many against the eternity and the deity of the Son that so great a person should be given for us. It is, I confess, mysterious and unsearchable; but there are unsearchable riches in Christ. It is a pity that the vastness of the divine love should be made a prejudice against the revelation and the belief of it. But what will not God do when he designs to demonstrate the height of any perfection of his? When he would show somewhat of his power and wisdom, he makes such a world as this; when he would show more of his grandeur and glory, he makes heaven for the ministering spirits that are before the throne. What will he not do then when he designs to demonstrate his love, and to demonstrate his highest love, or that he himself is love, or that love is one of the most bright, dear, transcendent, operative excellencies of his unbounded nature; and to demonstrate this not only to us, but to the angelic world, and to the principalities and powers above, and this not for our surprise for a while, but for the admiration, and praise, and adoration, and felicity, of our most exalted powers to all eternity? What will not God then do? Surely then it will look more agreeable to the design, and grandeur, and pregnancy of his love (if I may so call it) to give an eternal Son for us, than to make a Son on purpose for our relief. In such a dispensation as that of giving a natural, essential, eternal Son for us and to us, he will commend his love to us indeed; and what will not the God of love do when he designs to commend his love, and to commend it in the view of heaven, and earth, and hell, and when he will commend himself and recommend himself to us, and to our highest conviction, and also affection, as love itself? And what if it should appear at last (which I shall only offer to the consideration of the judicious) that the divine love, and particularly God’s love in Christ, should be the foundation of the glories of heaven, in the present enjoyment of those ministering spirits that comported with it, and of the salvation of this world, and of the torments of hell? This last will seem most strange. But what if therein it should appear not only that God is love to himself, in vindicating his own law, and government, and love, and glory, but that the damned ones are made so, or are so punished, (1.) Because they despised the love of God already manifested and exhibited. (2.) Because they refused to be beloved in what was further proposed and promised. (3.) Because they made themselves unmeet to be the objects of divine complacency and delight? If the conscience of the damned should accuse them of these things, and especially of rejecting the highest instance of divine love, and if the far greatest part of the intelligent creation should be everlastingly blessed through the highest instance of the divine love, then may it well be inscribed upon the whole creation of God, God is love.

2. That hereupon he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him, 1Jo 4:16. There is great communion between the God of love and the loving soul; that is, him who loves the creation of God, according to its different relation to God, and reception from him and interest in him. He that dwells in sacred love has the love God shed abroad upon his heart, has the impress of God upon his spirit, the Spirit of God sanctifying and sealing him, lives in the meditation, views, and tastes of the divine love, and will ere long go to dwell with God for ever.

1 John 4:17-21

The apostle, having thus excited and enforced sacred love from the great pattern and motive of it, the love that is and dwells in God himself, proceeds to recommend it further by other considerations; and he recommends it in both the branches of it, both as love to God, and love to our brother or Christian neighbour.

I. As love to God, to the primum amabile – the first and chief of all amiable beings and objects, who has the confluence of all beauty, excellence, and loveliness, in himself, and confers on all other beings whatever renders them good and amiable. Love to God seems here to be recommended on these accounts: – 1. It will give us peace and satisfaction of spirit in the day when it will be most needed, or when it will be the greatest pleasure and blessing imaginable: Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, 1Jo 4:17. There must be a day of universal judgment. Happy they who shall have holy fiducial boldness before the Judge at that day, who shall be able to lift up their heads, and to look him in the face, as knowing he is their friend and advocate! Happy they who have holy boldness and assurance in the prospect of that day, who look and wait for it, and for the Judge’s appearance! So do, and so may do, the lovers of God. Their love to God assures them of God’s love to them, and consequently of the friendship of the Son of God; the more we love our friend, especially when we are sure that he knows it, the more we can trust his love. As God is good and loving, and faithful to his promise, so we can easily be persuaded of his love, and the happy fruits of his love, when we can say, Thou that knowest all things knowest that we love thee. And hope maketh not ashamed; our hope, conceived by the consideration of God’s love, will not disappoint us, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given to us, Rom 5:5. Possibly here by the love of God may be meant our love to God, which is shed abroad upon our hearts by the Holy Ghost; this is the foundation of our hope, or of our assurance that our hope will hold good at last. Or, if by the love of God be meant the sense and apprehension of his love to us, yet this must suppose or include us as lovers of him in this case; and indeed the sense and evidence of his love to us do shed abroad upon our hearts love to him; and thereupon we have confidence towards him and peace and joy in him. He will give the crown of righteousness to all that love his appearing. And we have this boldness towards Christ because of our conformity to him: Because as he is so are we in this world, 1Jo 4:17. Love hath conformed us to him; as he was the great lover of God and man, he has taught us in our measure to be so too, and he will not deny his own image. Love teaches us to conform in sufferings too; we suffer for him and with him, and therefore cannot but hope and trust that we shall also be glorified together with him, 2Ti 2:12. 2. It prevents or removes the uncomfortable result and fruit of servile fear: There is no fear in love (1Jo 4:18); so far as love prevails, fear ceases. We must here distinguish, I judge, between fear and being afraid; or, in this case, between the fear of God and being afraid of him. The fear of God is often mentioned and commanded as the substance of religion (1Pe 2:17; Rev 14:7); and so it imports the high regard and veneration we have for God and his authority and government. Such fear is constant with love, yea, with perfect love, as being in the angels themselves. But then there is a being afraid of God, which arises from a sense of guilt, and a view of his vindictive perfections; in the view of them, God is represented as a consuming fire; and so fear here may be rendered dread; There is no dread in love. Love considers its object as good and excellent, and therefore amiable, and worthy to be beloved. Love considers God as most eminently good, and most eminently loving us in Christ, and so puts off dread, and puts on joy in him; and, as love grows, joy grows too; so that perfect love casteth out fear or dread. Those who perfectly love God are, from his nature, and counsel, and covenant, perfectly assured of his love, and consequently are perfectly free from any dismal dreadful suspicions of his punitive power and justice, as armed against them; they well know that God loves them, and they thereupon triumph in his love. That perfect love casteth out fear the apostle thus sensibly argues: that which casteth out torment casteth out fear or dread: Because fear hath torment (1Jo 4:18) – fear is known to be a disquieting torturing passion, especially such a fear as is the dread of an almighty avenging God; but perfect love casteth out torment, for it teaches the mind a perfect acquiescence and complacency in the beloved, and therefore perfect love casteth out fear. Or, which is here equivalent, he that feareth is not made perfect in love (1Jo 4:18); it is a sign that our love is far from being perfect, since our doubts, and fears, and dismal apprehensions of God, are so many. Let us long for, and hasten to, the world of perfect love, where our serenity and joy in God will be as perfect as our love! 3. From the source and rise of it, which is the antecedent love of God: We love him, because he first loved us, 1Jo 4:19. His love is the incentive, the motive, and moral cause of ours. We cannot but love so good a God, who was first in the act and work of love, who loved us when we were both unloving and unlovely, who loved us at so great a rate, who has been seeking and soliciting our love at the expense of his Son’s blood; and has condescended to beseech us to be reconciled unto him. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at such love! His love is the productive cause of ours: Of his own will (of his own free loving will) begat he us. To those that love him all things work together for good, to those who are the called according to his purpose. Those that love God are the called thereto according to his purpose (Rom 8:28); according to whose purpose they are called is sufficiently intimated in the following clauses: whom he did predestinate (or antecedently purpose, to the image of his Son) those he also called, effectually recovered thereto. The divine love stamped love upon our souls; may the Lord still and further direct our hearts into the love of God! 2Th 3:5.

II. As love to our brother and neighbour in Christ; such love is argued and urged on these accounts: – 1. As suitable and consonant to our Christian profession. In the profession of Christianity we profess to love God as the root of religion: “If then a man say, or profess as much as thereby to say, I love God, I am a lover of his name, and house, and worship, and yet hate his brother, whom he should love for God’s sake, he is a liar (1Jo 4:20), he therein gives his profession the lie.” That such a one loves not God the apostle proves by the usual facility of loving what is seen rather than what is unseen: For he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? 1Jo 4:20. The eye is wont to affect the heart; things unseen less catch the mind, and thereby the heart. The incomprehensibleness of God very much arises from his invisibility; the member of Christ has much of God visible in him. How then shall the hater of a visible image of God pretend to love the unseen original, the invisible God himself? 2. As suitable to the express law of God, and the just reason of it: And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also, 1Jo 4:21. As God has communicated his image in nature and in grace, so he would have our love to be suitably diffused. We must love God originally and supremely, and others in him, on the account of their derivation and reception from him, and of his interest in them. Now, our Christian brethren having a new nature and excellent privileges derived from God, and God having his interest in them as well as in us, it cannot but be a natural suitable obligation that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 1 John (5 of 5)

Commentary on

1 John (5 of 5)

By

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)

Copyright Public Domain

An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of The First Epistle General of John

Introduction to the Book of The First Epistle General of John

Though the continued tradition of the church attests that this epistle came from John the apostle, yet we may observe some other evidence that will confirm (or with some perhaps even outweigh) the certainty of that tradition. It should seem that the penman was one of the apostolical college by the sensible palpable assurance he had of the truth of the Mediator’s person in his human nature: That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life, 1Jo 1:1. Here he takes notice of the evidence the Lord gave to Thomas of his resurrection, by calling him to feel the prints of the nails and of the spear, which is recorded by John. And he must have been one of the disciples present when the Lord came on the same day in which he arose from the dead, and showed them his hands and his side, Joh 20:20. But, that we may be assured which apostle this was, there is scarcely a critic or competent judge of diction, or style of argument and spirit, but will adjudge this epistle to the writer of that gospel that bears the name of the apostle John. They wonderfully agree in the titles and characters of the Redeemer: The Word, the Life, the Light; his name was the Word of God. Compare 1Jo 1:1 and 1Jo 5:7 with Joh 1:1 and Rev 19:13. They agree in the commendation of God’s love to us (1Jo 3:9; 1Jo 4:7; and 1Jo 5:1; Joh 3:5, Joh 3:6). Lastly (to add no more instances, which may be easily seen in comparing this epistle with that gospel), they agree in the allusion to, or application of, that passage in that gospel which relates (and which alone relates) the issuing of water and blood out of the Redeemer’s opened side: This is he that came by water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Thus the epistle plainly appears to flow from the same pen as that gospel did. Now I know not that the text, or the intrinsic history of any of the gospels, gives us such assurance of its writer or penman as that ascribed to John plainly does. There (viz. Joh 21:24) the sacred historian thus notifies himself: This is the disciple that testifieth of these things and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. Now who is this disciple, but he concerning whom Peter asked, What shall this man do? And concerning whom the Lord answered, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? (Joh 21:22). And who (Joh 21:20) is described by these three characters: – 1. That he is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Lord’s peculiar friend.  2. That he also leaned on his breast at supper.  3. That he said unto him, Lord, who is he that betrayeth thee? As sure then as it is that that disciple was John, so sure may the church be that that gospel and this epistle came from the beloved John.

The epistle is styled general, as being not inscribed to any particular church; it is, as a circular letter (or visitation charge), sent to divers churches (some say of Parthia), in order to confirm them in their stedfast adherence to the Lord Christ, and the sacred doctrines concerning his person and office, against seducers; and to instigate them to adorn that doctrine by love to God and man, and particularly to each other, as being descended from God, united by the same head, and travelling towards the same eternal life.

1 John 5

In this chapter the apostle asserts,  I. The dignity of believers (1Jo 5:1).  II. Their obligation to love, and the trial of it (1Jo 5:1-3).  III. Their victory (1Jo 5:4, 1Jo 5:5).  IV. The credibility and confirmation of their faith (1Jo 5:6-10).  V. The advantage of their faith in eternal life (1Jo 5:11-13).  VI. The audience of their prayers, unless for those who have sinned unto death (1Jo 5:14-17).  VII. The preservation from sin and Satan (1Jo 5:18).  VIII. Their happy distinction from the world (1Jo 5:19).  IX. Their true knowledge of God (1Jo 5:20), upon which they must depart from idols (1Jo 5:21).

1 John 5:1-5

I. The apostle having, in the conclusion of the last chapter, as was there observed, urged Christian love upon those two accounts, as suitable to Christian profession and as suitable to the divine command, here adds a third: Such love is suitable, and indeed demanded, by their eminent relation; our Christian brethren or fellow-believers are nearly related to God; they are his children: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, 1Jo 5:1. Here the Christian brother is, 1. Described by his faith; he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ – that he is Messiah the prince, that he is the Son of God by nature and office, that he is the chief of all the anointed world, chief of all the priests, prophets, or kings, who were ever anointed by God or for him, that he is perfectly prepared and furnished for the whole work of the eternal salvation – accordingly yields himself up to his care and direction; and then he is, 2. Dignified by his descent: He is born of God, 1Jo 5:1. This principle of faith, and the new nature that attends it or from which it springs, are ingenerated by the Spirit of God; and so sonship and adoption are not now appropriated to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, not to the ancient Israel of God; all believers, though by nature sinners of the Gentiles, are spiritually descended from God, and accordingly are to be beloved; as it is added: Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him, 1Jo 5:1. It seems but natural that he who loves the Father should love the children also, and that in some proportion to their resemblance to their Father and to the Father’s love to them; and so we must first and principally love the Son of the Father, as he is most emphatically styled, 2Jo 1:3, the only (necessarily) begotten, and the Son of his love, and then those that are voluntarily begotten, and renewed by the Spirit of grace.

II. The apostle shows, 1. How we may discern the truth, or the true evangelical nature of our love to the regenerate. The ground of it must be our love to God, whose they are: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, 1Jo 5:2. Our love to them appears to be sound and genuine when we love them not merely upon any secular account, as because they are rich, or learned, or kind to us, or of our denomination among religious parties; but because they are God’s children, his regenerating grace appears in them, his image and superscription are upon them, and so in them God himself is loved. Thus we see what that love to the brethren is that is so pressed in this epistle; it is love to them as the children of God and the adopted brethren of the Lord Jesus. 2. How we may learn the truth of our love to God – it appears in our holy obedience: When we love God, and keep his commandments, 1Jo 5:2. Then we truly, and in gospel account, love God, when we keep his commandments: For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and the keeping of his commandments requires a spirit inclined thereto and delighting herein; and so his commandments are not grievous, 1Jo 5:3. Or, This is the love of God, that, as thereby we are determined to obedience, and to keep the commandments of God, so his commandments are thereby made easy and pleasant to us. The lover of God says, “O how I love thy law! I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart (Psa 119:32), when thou shalt enlarge it either with love or with thy Spirit, the spring of love.” 3. What is and ought to be the result and effect of regeneration – an intellectual spiritual conquest of this world: For whatsoever is born of God, or, as in some copies, whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world, 1Jo 5:4. He that is born of God is born for God, and consequently for another world. He has a temper and disposition that tend to a higher and better world; and he is furnished with such arms, or such a weapon, whereby he can repel and conquer this; as it is added, And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, 1Jo 5:4. Faith is the cause of victory, the means, the instrument, the spiritual armour and artillery by which we overcome; for, (1.) In and by faith we cleave to Christ, in contempt of, and opposition to, the world. (2.) Faith works in and by love to God and Christ, and so withdraws us from the love of the world. (3.) Faith sanctifies the heart, and purifies it from those sensual lusts by which the world obtains such sway and dominion over souls. (4.) It receives and derives strength from the object of it, the Son of God, for conquering the frowns and flatteries of the world. (5.) It obtains by gospel promise a right to the indwelling Spirit of grace, that is greater than he who dwells in the world. (6.) It sees an invisible world at hand, with which this world is not worthy to be compared, and into which it tells the soul in which it resides it must be continually prepared to enter; and thereupon,

III. The apostle concludes that it is the real Christian that is the true conqueror of the world: Who is he then that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? 1Jo 5:5. It is the world that lies in our way to heaven, and is the great impediment to our entrance there. But he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God believes therein that Jesus Came from God to be the Saviour of the world, and powerfully to conduct us from the world to heaven, and to God, who is fully to be enjoyed there. And he who so believes must needs by this faith overcome the world. For, 1. He must be well satisfied that this world is a vehement enemy to his soul, to his holiness, his salvation, and his blessedness. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world, 1Jo 2:16. 2. He sees it must be a great part of the Saviour’s work, and of his own salvation, to be redeemed and rescued from this malignant world. Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, Gal 1:4. 3. He sees in and by the life and conduct of the Lord Jesus on earth that this world is to be renounced and overcome. 4. He perceives that the Lord Jesus conquered the world, not for himself only, but for his followers; and they must study to be partakers of his victory. Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. 5. He is taught and influenced by the Lord Jesus’s death to be mortified and crucified to the world. God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world, Gal 6:14. 6. He is begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to the lively hope of a blessed world above, 1Pe 1:3. 7. He knows that the Saviour has gone to heaven, and is there preparing a place for his serious believers, Joh 14:2. 8. He knows that his Saviour will come again thence, and will put an end to this world, and judge the inhabitants of it, and receive his believers to his presence and glory, Joh 14:3. 9. He is possessed with a spirit and disposition that cannot be satisfied with this world, that look beyond it, and are still tending, striving, and pressing, towards the world in heaven. In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven, 2Co 5:2. So that it is the Christian religion that affords its proselytes a universal empire. It is the Christian revelation that is the great means of conquering the world, and gaining another that is most pure and peaceful, blessed and eternal. It is there, in that revelation, that we see what are the occasion and ground of the quarrel and contest between the holy God and this rebellious world. It is there that we meet with sacred doctrine (both speculative and practical), quite contrary to the tenour, temper, and tendency of this world. It is by that doctrine that a spirit is communicated and diffused which is superior and adverse to the spirit of the world. It is there we see that the Saviour himself was not of this world that his kingdom was not and is not so, that it must be separated from the world and gathered out of it for heaven and for God. There we see that the Saviour designs not this world for the inheritance and portion of his saved company. As he has gone to heaven himself, so he assures them he goes to prepare for their residence there, as designing they should always dwell with him, and allowing them to believe that if in this life, and this world only, they had hope in him, they should at last be but miserable. It is there that the eternal blessed world is most clearly revealed and proposed to our affection and pursuit. It is there that we are furnished with the best arms and artillery against the assaults and attempts of the world. It is there that we are taught how the world may be out-shot in its own bow, or its artillery turned against itself; and its oppositions, encounters, and persecutions, be made serviceable to our conquest of the world, and to our motion and ascent to the higher heavenly world: and there we are encouraged by a whole army and cloud of holy soldiers, who have in their several ages, posts, and stations, overcome the world, and won the crown. It is the real Christian that is the proper hero, who vanquishes the world and rejoices in a universal victory. Nor does he (for he is far superior to the Grecian monarch) mourn that there is not another world to be subdued, but lays hold on the eternal world of life, and in a sacred sense takes the kingdom of heaven by violence too. Who in all the world but the believer on Jesus Christ can thus overcome the world?

1 John 5:6-9

The faith of the Christian believer (or the believer in Christ) being thus mighty and victorious, it had need to be well founded, to be furnished with unquestionable celestial evidence concerning the divine mission, authority, and office of the Lord Jesus; and it is so; he brings his credentials along with him, and he brings them in a way by which he came and in the witness that attends him.

I. In the way and manner by which he came; not barely by which he came into the world, but by and with which he came, and appeared, and acted, as a Saviour in the world: This is he that came by water and blood. He came to save us from our sins, to give us eternal life, and bring us to God; and, that he might the more assuredly do this, he came by, or with, water and blood. Even Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ, I say, did so; and none but he. And I say it again, not by or with water only, but by and with water and blood, 1Jo 5:6. Jesus Christ came with water and blood, as the notes and signatures of the true effectual Saviour of the world; and he came by water and blood as the means by which he would heal and save us. That he must and did thus come in his saving office may appear by our remembering these things: –

1. We are inwardly and outwardly defiled. (1.) Inwardly, by the power and pollution off sin and in our nature. For our cleansing from this we need spiritual water; such as can reach the soul and the powers of it. Accordingly, there is in and by Christ Jesus the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. And this was intimated to the apostles by our Lord, when he washed their feet, and said to Peter, who refused to be washed, Except I wash thee, thou hast no part in me. (2.) We are defiled outwardly, by the guilt and condemning power of sin upon our persons. By this we are separated from God, and banished from his favourable, gracious, beatific presence for ever. From this we must be purged by atoning blood. It is the law or determination in the court of heaven that without shedding of blood there shall be no remission, Heb 9:22. The Saviour from sin therefore must come with blood.

2. Both these ways of cleansing were represented in the old ceremonial institutions of God. Persons and things must be purified by water and blood. There were divers washings and carnal ordinances imposed till the time of reformation, Heb 9:10. The ashes of a heifer, mixed with water, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, Heb 9:13; Num 19:9. And likewise almost all things are, by the law, purged with blood, Heb 9:22. As those show us our double defilement, so they indicate the Saviour’s two-fold purgation.

3. At and upon the death of Jesus Christ, his side being pierced with a soldier’s spear, out of the wound there immediately issued water and blood. This the beloved apostle saw, and he seems to have been affected with the sight; he alone records it, and seems to reckon himself obliged to record it, and seems to reckon himself obliged to record it, as containing something mysterious in it: And he that saw it bore record, and his record is true. And he knoweth, being an eye-witness, that he saith true, that you might believe, and that you might believe this particularly, that out of his pierced side forthwith there came water and blood, Joh 19:34, Joh 19:35. Now this water and blood are comprehensive of all that is necessary and effectual to our salvation. By the water our souls are washed and purified for heaven and the region of saints in light. By the blood God is glorified, his law is honoured, and his vindictive excellences are illustrated and displayed. Whom God hath set forth, or purposed, or proposed, a propitiation through faith in his blood, or a propitiation in or by his blood through faith, to declare his righteousness, that he may be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, Rom 3:25, Rom 3:26. By the blood we are justified, reconciled, and presented righteous to God. By the blood, the curse of the law being satisfied, and purifying Spirit is obtained for the internal ablution of our natures. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit, the promised Spirit, through faith, Gal 3:13, etc. The water, as well as the blood, issued out of the side of the sacrificed Redeemer. The water and the blood then comprehend all things that can be requisite to our salvation. They will consecrate and sanctify to that purpose all that God shall appoint or make use of in order to that great end. He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, Eph 5:25-27. He who comes by water and blood is an accurate perfect Saviour. And this is he who comes by water and blood, even Jesus Christ! Thus we see in what way and manner, or, if you please, with what utensils, he comes. But we see his credentials also,

II. In the witness that attends him, and that is, the divine Spirit, that Spirit to whom the perfecting of the works of God is usually attributed: And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, 1Jo 5:6. It was meet that the commissioned Saviour of the world should have a constant agent to support his work, and testify of him to the world. It was meet that a divine power should attend him, his gospel, and servants; and notify to the world upon what errand and office they came, and by what authority they were sent: this was done in and by the Spirit of God, according to the Saviour’s own prediction, “He shall glorify me, even when I shall be rejected and crucified by men, for he shall receive or take of mine. He shall not receive my immediate office; he shall not die and rise again for you; but he shall receive of mine, shall proceed on the foundation I have laid, shall take up my institution, and truth, and cause, and shall further show it unto you, and by you to the world,” Joh 16:14. And then the apostle adds the commendation or the acceptableness of this witness: Because the Spirit is truth, 1Jo 5:6. He is the Spirit of God, and cannot lie. There is a copy that would afford us a very suitable reading thus: because, or that, Christ is the truth. And so it indicates the matter of the Spirit’s testimony, the thing which he attests, and that is, the truth of Christ: And it is the Spirit that beareth witness that Christ is the truth; and consequently that Christianity, or the Christian religion, is the truth of the day, the truth of God. But it is meet that one or two copies should alter the text; and our present reading is very agreeable, and so we retain it. The Spirit is truth. He is indeed the Spirit of truth, Joh 14:17. And that the Spirit is truth, and a witness worthy of all acceptation, appears in that he is a heavenly witness, or one of the witnesses that in and from heaven bore testimony concerning the truth and authority of Christ. Because (or for) there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And so 1Jo 5:7 most appositely occurs, as a proof of the authenticity of the Spirit’s testimony; he must needs be true, or even truth itself, if he be not only a witness in heaven, but even one (not in testimony only, for so an angel may be, but in being and essence) with the Father and the Word. But here,

1. We are stopped in our course by the contest there is about the genuineness of 1Jo 5:7. It is alleged that many old Greek manuscripts have it not. We shall not here enter into the controversy. It should seem that the critics are not agreed what manuscripts have it and what not; nor do they sufficiently inform us of the integrity and value of the manuscripts they peruse. Some may be so faulty, as I have an old printed Greek Testament so full of errata, that one would think no critic would establish a various lection thereupon. But let the judicious collators of copies manage that business. There are some rational surmises that seem to support the present text and reading. As,

(1.) If we admit 1Jo 5:8, in the room of 1Jo 5:7, it looks too like a tautology and repetition of what was included in 1Jo 5:6, This is he that came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. This does not assign near so noble an introduction of these three witnesses as our present reading does.

(2.) It is observed that many copies read that distinctive clause, upon the earth: There are three that bear record upon the earth. Now this bears a visible opposition to some witness or witnesses elsewhere, and therefore we are told, by the adversaries of the text, that this clause must be supposed to be omitted in most books that want 1Jo 5:7. But it should for the same reason be so in all. Take we 1Jo 5:6, This is he that came by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. It would not now naturally and properly be added, For there are three that bear record on earth, unless we should suppose that the apostle would tell us that all the witnesses are such as are on earth, when yet he would assure us that one is infallibly true, or even truth itself.

(3.) It is observed that there is a variety of reading even in the Greek text, as in 1Jo 5:7. Some copies read hen eisiare one; others (at least the Complutensian) eis to hen eisinare to one, or agree in one; and in 1Jo 5:8 (in that part that it is supposed should be admitted), instead of the common en tē gēin earth, the Complutensian reads epi tēs gēsupon earth, which seems to show that that edition depended upon some Greek authority, and not merely, as some would have us believe, upon the authority either of the vulgar Latin or of Thomas Aquinas, though his testimony may be added thereto.

(4.) The seventh verse is very agreeable to the style and the theology of our apostle; as, [1.] He delights in the title the Father, whether he indicates thereby God only, or a divine person distinguished from the Son. I and the Father are one. And Yet I am not alone; because the Father is with me. I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. Grace be with you, and peace from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, 2Jo 1:3. Then, [2.] The name the Word is known to be almost (if not quite) peculiar to this apostle. Had the text been devised by another, it had been more easy and obvious, from the form of baptism, and the common language of the church, to have used the name Son instead of that of the Word. As it is observed that Tertullian and Cyprian use that name, even when they refer to this verse; or it is made an objection against their referring to this verse, because they speak of the Son, not the Word; and yet Cyprian’s expression seems to be very clear by the citation of Facundus himself. Quod Johannis apostoli testimonium beatus Cyprianus, Carthaginensis antistes et martyr, in epistolâ sive libro, quem de Trinitate scripsit, de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu sancto dictum intelligit; ait enim, Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus; et iterum de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu sancto scriptum est, Et hi tres unum sunt. – Blessed Cyprian, the Carthaginian bishop and martyr, in the epistle or book he wrote concerning the Trinity, considered the testimony of the apostle John as relating to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit; for he says, the Lord says, I and the Father are one; and again, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit it is written, And these three are one. Now it is nowhere written that these are one, but in 1Jo 5:7. It is probable than that St. Cyprian, either depending on his memory, or rather intending things more than words, persons more than names, or calling persons by their names more usual in the church (both in popular and polemic discourses), called the second by the name of the Son rather than of the Word. If any man can admit Facundus’s fancy, that Cyprian meant that the Spirit, the water, and the blood, were indeed the Father, Word, and Spirit, that John said were one, he may enjoy his opinion to himself. For, First, He must suppose that Cyprian not only changed all the names, but the apostle’s order too. For the blood (the Son), which Cyprian puts second, the apostle puts last. And, Secondly, He must suppose that Cyprian thought that by the blood which issued out of the side of the Son the apostle intended the Son himself, who might as well have been denoted by the water, – that by the water, which also issued from the side of the Son, the apostle intended the person of the Holy Ghost, – that by the Spirit, which in v. 6 is said to be truth, and in the gospel is called the Spirit of truth, the apostle meant the person of the Father, though he is nowhere else so called when joined with the Son and the Holy Ghost. We require good proof that the Carthaginian father could so understand the apostle. He who so understands him must believe too that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are said to be three witnesses on earth. Thirdly, Facundus acknowledges that Cyprian says that of his three it is written, Et hi tres unum sunt – and these three are one. Now these are the words, not of 1Jo 5:8, but of 1Jo 5:7. They are not used concerning the three on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; but the three in heaven, the Father, and the Word, and the Holy Ghost. So we are told that the author of the book De baptismo haereticorum, allowed to be contemporary with Cyprian, cites John’s words, agreeably to the Greek manuscripts and the ancient versions, thus: Ait enim Johannes de Domino nostro in epistolâ nos docens, Hic es qui venit per aquam et sanguinem, Jesus Christus, non in aquâ tantum, sed in aquâ et sanguine; et Spiritus est qui testimonium perhibet, quia Spiritus est veritas; quia tres testimonium perhibent, Spiritus et aqua et sanguis, et isti tres in unum sunt – For John, in his epistle, says concerning our Lord, This is he, Jesus Christ, who came by water and blood, not in water only, but in water and blood; and it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth; for there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one. If all the Greek manuscripts and ancient versions say concerning the Spirit, the water, and the blood, that in unum sunt – they agree in one, then it was not of them that Cyprian spoke, whatever variety there might be in the copies in his time, when he said it is written, unum sunt – they are one. And therefore Cyprian’s words seem still to be a firm testimony to v. 7, and an intimation likewise that a forger of the text would have scarcely so exactly hit upon the apostolical name for the second witness in heaven, the Word. Them, [3.] As only this apostle records the history of the water and blood flowing out of the Saviour’s side, so it is he only, or he principally, who registers to us the Saviour’s promise and prediction of the Holy spirit’s coming to glorify him, and to testify of him, and to convince the world of its own unbelief and of his righteousness, as in his gospel, Joh 14:16, Joh 14:17, Joh 14:26; Joh 15:26; Joh 16:7-15. It is most suitable then to the diction and to the gospel of this apostle thus to mention the Holy Ghost as a witness for Jesus Christ. Then,

(5.) It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy, it being obliterated or defaced on the top or bottom of a page, or worn away in such materials as the ancients had to write upon, to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it. He must be very bold and impudent who could hope to escape detection and shame; and profane too, who durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book. And,

(6.) It can scarcely be supposed that, when the apostle is representing the Christian’s faith in overcoming the world, and the foundation it relies upon in adhering to Jesus Christ, and the various testimony that was attended him, especially when we consider that he meant to infer, as he does (1Jo 5:9), If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this (which he had rehearsed before) is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. Now in the three witnesses on earth there is neither all the witness of God, nor indeed any witness who is truly and immediately God. The antitrinitarian opposers of the text will deny that either the Spirit, or the water, or the blood, is God himself; but, upon our present reading, here is a noble enumeration of the several witnesses and testimonies supporting the truth of the Lord Jesus and the divinity of his institution. Here is the most excellent abridgment or breviate of the motives to faith in Christ, of the credentials the Saviour brings with him, and of the evidences of our Christianity, that is to be found, I think, in the book of God, upon which single account, even waiving the doctrine of the divine Trinity, the text is worthy of all acceptation.

2. Having these rational grounds on out side, we proceed. The apostle, having told us that the Spirit that bears witness to Christ is truth, shows us that he is so, by assuring us that he is in heaven, and that there are others also who cannot but be true, or truth itself, concurring in testimony with him: For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one, 1Jo 5:7.

(1.) Here is a trinity of heavenly witnesses, such as have testified and vouched to the world the veracity and authority of the Lord Jesus in his office and claims, where, [1.] The first that occurs in order is the Father; he set his seal to the commission of the Lord Christ all the while he was here; more especially, First, In proclaiming him at his baptism, Mat 3:17. Secondly, In confirming his character at the transfiguration, Mat 17:5. Thirdly, In accompanying him with miraculous power and works: If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though you believe not me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him, Joh 10:37, Joh 10:38. Fourthly, In avouching at his death, Mat 27:54. Fifthly, In raising him from the dead, and receiving him up to his glory: He shall convince the world – of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and you see me no more, Joh 16:10, and Rom 1:4. [2.] The second witness in the Word, a mysterious name, importing the highest nature that belongs to the Saviour of Jesus Christ, wherein he existed before the world was, whereby he made the world, and whereby he was truly God with the Father. He must bear witness to the human nature, or to the man Christ Jesus, in and by whom he redeemed and saved us; and he bore witness, First, By the mighty works that he wrought. Joh 5:17, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Secondly, In conferring a glory upon him at his transfiguration. And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, Joh 1:14. Thirdly, In raising him from the dead. Joh 2:19, Destroy this temple, and in three days will I raise it up. [3.] The third witness is the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit, and august, venerable name, the possessor, proprietor, and author of holiness. True and faithful must he be to whom the Spirit of holiness sets his seal and solemn testimony. So he did to the Lord Jesus, the head of the Christian world; and that in such instances as these: – First, In the miraculous production of his immaculate human nature in the virgin’s womb. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, Luk 1:35, etc. Secondly, In the visible descent upon him at his baptism. The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, Luk 3:22, etc. Thirdly, In an effectual conquest of the spirits of hell and darkness. If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come unto you, Mat 12:28. Fourthly, In the visible potent descent upon the apostles, to furnish them with gifts and powers to preach him and his gospel to the world after he himself had gone to heaven, Act 1:4, Act 1:5; Act 2:2-4, etc. Fifthly, In supporting the name, gospel, and interest of Christ, by miraculous gifts and operations by and upon the disciples, and in the churches, for two hundred years (1Co 12:7), concerning which see Dr. Whitby’s excellent discourse in the preface to the second volume of his Commentary on the New Testament. These are witnesses in heaven; and they bear record from heaven; and they are one, it should seem, not only in testimony (for that is implied in their being three witnesses to one and the same thing), but upon a higher account, as they are in heaven; they are one in their heavenly being and essence; and, if one with the Father, they must be one God.

(2.) To these there is opposed, though with them joined, a trinity of witnesses on earth, such as continue here below: And there are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one, 1Jo 5:8. [1.] Of these witnesses the first is the spirit. This must be distinguished from the person of the Holy Ghost, who is in heaven. We must say then, with the Saviour (according to what is reported by this apostle), that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, Joh 3:6. The disciples of the Saviour are, as well as others, born after the flesh. They come into the world endued with a corrupt carnal disposition, which is enmity to God. This disposition must be mortified and abolished. A new nature must be communicated. Old lusts and corruptions must be eradicated, and the true disciple become a new creature. The regeneration or renovation of souls is a testimony to the Saviour. It is his actual though initial salvation. It is a testimony on earth, because it continues with the church here, and is not performed in that conspicuous astonishing manner in which signs from heaven are accomplished. To this Spirit belong not only the regeneration and conversion of the church, but its progressive sanctification, victory over the world, her peace, and love, and joy, and all that grace by which she is made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. [2.] The second is the water. This was before considered as a means of salvation, now as a testimony to the Saviour himself, and intimates his purity and purifying power. And so it seems to comprehend, First, The purity of his own nature and conduct in the world. He was holy, harmless, and undefiled. Secondly, The testimony of John’s baptism, who bore witness of him, prepared a people for him, and referred them to him, Mar 1:4, Mar 1:7, Mar 1:8. Thirdly, The purity of his own doctrine, by which souls are purified and washed. Now you are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you, Joh 15:3. Fourthly, The actual and active purity and holiness of his disciples. His body is the holy catholic church. Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, 1Pe 1:22. And this signed and sealed by, Fifthly, The baptism that he has appointed for the initiation or introduction of his disciples, in which he signally (or by that sign) says, Except I wash thee, thou hast no part in me. Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God, 1Pe 3:21. [3.] The third witness is the blood; this he shed, and this was our ransom. This testifies for Jesus Christ, First, In that it sealed up and finished the sacrifices of the Old Testament, Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Secondly, In that it confirmed his own predictions, and the truth of all his ministry and doctrine, Joh 18:37. Thirdly, In that it showed unparalleled love to God, in that he would die a sacrifice to his honour and glory, in making atonement for the sins of the world, Joh 14:30, Joh 14:31. Fourthly, In that it demonstrated unspeakable love to us; and none will deceive those whom they entirely love, Joh 14:13-15. Fifthly, In that it demonstrated the disinterestedness of the Lord Jesus as to any secular interest and advantage. No impostor and deceiver ever proposes to himself contempt and a violent cruel death, Joh 18:36. Sixthly, In that it lays obligation on his disciple to suffer and die for him. No deceiver would invite proselytes to his side and interest at the rate that the Lord Jesus did. You shall be hated of all men for my sake. They shall put you out of their synagogues; and the time comes that whosoever kills you will think that he doeth God service, Joh 16:2. He frequently calls his servants to a conformity with him in sufferings: Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach, Heb 13:13. This shows that neither he nor his kingdom is of this world. Seventhly, The benefits accruing and procured by his blood (well understood) must immediately demonstrate that he is indeed the Saviour of the world. And then, Eighthly, These are signified and sealed in the institution of his own supper: This is my blood of the New Testament (which ratifies the New Testament), which is shed for many, for the remission of sins, Mat 26:28. Such are the witnesses on earth. Such is the various testimony given to the author of our religion. No wonder if the rejector of all this evidence he judged as a blasphemer of the Spirit of God, and be left to perish without remedy in his sins. These three witnesses (being more different than the three former) are not so properly said to be one as to be for one, to be for one and the same purpose and cause, or to agree in one, in one and the same thing among themselves, and in the same testimony with those who bear record from heaven.

III. The apostle justly concludes, If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God, that he hath testified of his Son, 1Jo 5:9. Here we have, 1. A supposition well founded upon the premises. Here is the witness of God, the witness whereby God hath testified of his Son, which surely must intimate some immediate irrefragable testimony, and that of the Father concerning his Son; he has by himself proclaimed and avouched him to the world. 2. The authority and acceptableness of his testimony; and that argued from the less to the greater: If we receive the witness of men (and such testimony is and must be admitted in all judicatories and in all nations), the witness of God is greater. It is truth itself, of highest authority and most unquestionable infallibility. And then there is, 3. The application of the rule to the present case: For this is the witness, and here is the witness of God even of the Father, as well as of the Word and Spirit, which he hath testified of, and wherein he hath attested, his Son. God, that cannot lie, hath given sufficient assurance to the world that Jesus Christ is his Son, the Son of his love, and Son by office, to reconcile and recover the world unto himself; he testified therefore the truth and divine origin of the Christian religion, and that it is the sure appointed way and means of bringing us to God.

1 John 5:10-13

In those words we may observe,

I. The privilege and stability of the real Christian: He that believeth on the Son of God, hath been prevailed with unfeignedly to cleave to him for salvation, hath the witness in himself, 1Jo 5:10. He hath not only the outward evidence that others have, but he hath in his own heart a testimony for Jesus Christ. He can allege what Christ and the truth of Christ have done for his soul and what he has seen and found in him. As, 1. He has deeply seen his sin, and guilt, and misery, and his abundant need of such a Saviour. 2. He has seen the excellency, beauty, and office of the Son of God, and the incomparable suitableness of such a Saviour to all his spiritual wants and sorrowful circumstances. 3. He sees and admires the wisdom and love of God in preparing and sending such a Saviour to deliver him from sin and hell, and to raise him to pardon, peace, and communion with God. 4. He has found and felt the power of the word and doctrine of Christ, wounding, humbling, healing, quickening, and comforting his soul. 5. He finds that the revelation of Christ, as it is the greatest discovery and demonstration of the love of God, so it is the most apt and powerful means of kindling, fomenting, and inflaming love to the holy blessed God. 6. He is born of God by the truth of Christ, as 1Jo 5:1. He has a new heart and nature, a new love, disposition, and delight, and is not the man that formerly he was. 7. He finds yet such a conflict with himself, with sin, with the flesh, the world, and invisible wicked powers, as is described and provided for in the doctrine of Christ. 8. He finds such prospects and such strength afforded him by the faith of Christ, that he can despise and overcome the world, and travel on towards a better. 9. He finds what interest the Mediator has in heaven, by the audiency and prevalency of those prayers that are sent thither in his name, according to his will, and through his intercession. 10. He is begotten again to a lively hope, to a holy confidence in God, in his good-will and love, to a pleasant victory over terrors of conscience, dread of death and hell, to a comfortable prospect of life and immortality, being enriched with the earnest of the Spirit and sealed to the day of redemption. Such assurance has the gospel believer; he has a witness in himself. Christ is formed in him, and he is growing up to the fulness and perfection, or perfect image of Christ, in heaven.

II. The aggravation of the unbeliever’s sin, the sin of unbelief: He that believeth not God hath made him a liar. He does, in effect, give God the lie, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son, 1Jo 5:10. He must believe that God did not send his Son into the world, when he has given us such manifold evidence that he did, or that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, when all that evidence relates to and terminates upon him, or that he sent his Son to deceive the world and to lead it into error and misery, or that he permits men to devise a religion which, in all the parts of it, is a pure, holy, heavenly, undefiled institution, and so worthy to be embraced by the reason of mankind, and yet is but a delusion and a lie, and then lends them his Spirit and power to recommend and obtrude it upon the world, which is to make God the Father, the author and abettor, of the lie.

III. The matter, the substance, or contents of all this divine testimony concerning Jesus Christ: And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son, 1Jo 5:11. This is the sum of the gospel. This is the sum and epitome of the whole record given us by all the aforesaid six witnesses. 1. That God hath given to us eternal life. He has designed it for us in his eternal purpose. He has prepared all the means that are necessary to bring us to it. He has made it over to us by his covenant and promise. And he actually confers a right and title thereto on all who believe on and actually embrace the Son of God. Then, 2. This life is in the Son. The Son is life; eternal life in his own essence and person, Joh 1:4; 1Jo 1:2. He is eternal life to us, the spring of our spiritual and glorious life, Col 3:4. From him life is communicated to us, both here in heaven. And thereupon it must follow, (1.) He that hath the Son hath life, 1Jo 5:12. He that is united to the Son is united to life. He who hath a title to the Son hath a title to life, to eternal life. Such honour hath the Father put upon the Son: such honour must we put upon him too. We must come and kiss the Son, and we shall have life. (2.) He that hath not the Son of God hath not life, 1Jo 5:12. He continues under the condemnation of the law (Joh 3:36); he refuses the Son, who is life itself, who is the procurer of life, and the way to it; he provokes God to deliver him over to endless death for making him a liar, since he believes not this record that God hath given concerning his Son.

IV. The end and reason of the apostle’s preaching this to believers. 1. For their satisfaction and comfort: These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, 1Jo 5:13. Upon all this evidence, and these witnesses, it is but just and meet that there should be those who believe on the name of the Son of God. God increase their number! How much testimony from heaven has the world to answer for! And to three witnesses in heaven must the world be accountable. These believers have eternal life. They have it in the covenant of the gospel, in the beginning and first-fruits of it within them, and in their Lord and head in heaven. These believers may come to know that they have eternal life, and should be quickened, encouraged, and comforted, in the prospect of it: and they should value the scriptures, which are so much written for their consolation and salvation. 2. For their confirmation and progress in their holy faith: And that you may believe on the name of the Son of God (1Jo 5:13), may go on believing. Believers must persevere, or they do nothing. To withdraw from believing on the name of the Son of God is to renounce eternal life, and draw back unto perdition. Therefore the evidences of religion and the advantage of faith are to be presented to believers, in order to hearten and encourage them to persevere to the end.

1 John 5:14-17

Here we have,

I. A privilege belonging to faith in Christ, namely, audience in prayer: This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us, 1Jo 5:14. The Lord Christ emboldens us to come to God in all circumstances, with all our supplications and requests. Through him our petitions are admitted and accepted of God. The matter of our prayer must be agreeable to the declared will of God. It is not fit that we should ask what is contrary either to his majesty and glory or to our own good, who are his and dependent on him. And then we may have confidence that the prayer of faith shall be heard in heaven.

II. The advantage accruing to us by such privilege: If we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him, 1Jo 5:15. Great are the deliverances, mercies, and blessings, which the holy petitioner needs. To know that his petitions are heard or accepted is as good as to know that they are answered; and therefore that he is so pitied, pardoned, or counselled, sanctified, assisted, and saved (or shall be so) as he is allowed to ask of God.

III. Direction in prayer in reference to the sins of others: If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for those that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it, 1Jo 5:16. Here we may observe, 1. We ought to pray for others as well as for ourselves; for our brethren of mankind, that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved; for our brethren in the Christian profession, that they may be sincere, that their sins may be pardoned, and that they may be delivered from evils and the chastisements of God, and preserved in Christ Jesus. 2. There is a great distinction in the heinousness and guilt of sin: There is a sin unto death (1Jo 5:16), and there is a sin not unto death, 1Jo 5:17. (1.) There is a sin unto death. All sin, as to the merit and legal sentence of it, is unto death. The wages of sin is death; and cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them, Gal 3:10. But there is a sin unto death in opposition to such sin as is here said not to be unto death. There is therefore, (2.) A sin not unto death. This surely must include all such sin as by divine or human constitution may consist with life; in the human constitution with temporal or corporal life, in the divine constitution with corporal or with spiritual evangelical life. [1.] There are sins which, by human righteous constitution, are not unto death; as divers pieces of injustice, which may be compensated without the death of the delinquent. In opposition to this there are sins which, by righteous constitution, are to death, or to a legal forfeiture of life; such as we call capital crimes. [2.] Then there are sins which, by divine constitution, are unto death; and that either death corporal or spiritual and evangelical. First, Such as are, or may be, to death corporal. Such may the sins be either of gross hypocrites, as Ananias and Sapphira, or, for aught we know, of sincere Christian brethren, as when the apostle says of the offending members of the church of Corinth, For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep, 1Co 11:30. There may be sin unto corporal death among those who may not be condemned with the world. Such sin, I said, is, or may be, to corporal death. The divine penal constitution in the gospel does not positively and peremptorily threaten death to the more visible sins of the members of Christ, but only some gospel-chastisement; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, Heb 12:6. There is room left for divine wisdom or goodness, or even gospel severity, to determine how far the chastisement or the scourge shall proceed. And we cannot say but that sometimes it may (in terrorem – for warning to others) proceed even to death. Then, Secondly, There are sins which, by divine constitution, are unto death spiritual and evangelical, that is, are inconsistent with spiritual and evangelical life, with spiritual life in the soul and with an evangelical right to life above. Such are total impenitence and unbelief for the present. Final impenitence and unbelief are infallibly to death eternal, as also a blaspheming of the Spirit of God in the testimony that he has given to Christ and his gospel, and a total apostasy from the light and convictive evidence of the truth of the Christian religion. These are sins involving the guilt of everlasting death. Then comes,

IV. The application of the direction for prayer according to the different sorts of sin thus distinguished. The prayer is supposed to be for life: He shall ask, and he (God) shall give them life. Life is to be asked of God. He is the God of life; he gives it when and to whom he pleases, and takes it away either by his constitution or providence, or both, as he thinks meet. In the case of a brother’s sin, which is not (in the manner already mentioned) unto death, we may in faith and hope pray for him; and particularly for the life of soul and body. But, in case of the sin unto death in the forementioned ways, we have no allowance to pray. Perhaps the apostle’s expression, I do not say, He shall pray for it, may intend no more than, “I have no promise for you in that case; no foundation for the prayer of faith.” 1. The laws of punitive justice must be executed, for the common safety and benefit of mankind: and even an offending brother in such a case must be resigned to public justice (which in the foundation of it is divine), and at the same time also to the mercy of God. 2. The removal of evangelical penalties (as they may be called), or the prevention of death (which may seem to be so consequential upon, or inflicted for, some particular sin), can be prayed for only conditionally or provisionally, that is, with proviso that it consist with the wisdom, will, and glory of God that they should be removed, and particularly such death prevented. 3. We cannot pray that the sins of the impenitent and unbelieving should, while they are such, be forgiven them, or that any mercy of life or soul, that suppose the forgiveness of sin, should be granted to them, while they continue such. But we may pray for their repentance (supposing them but in the common case of the impenitent world), for their being enriched with faith in Christ, and thereupon for all other saving mercies. 4. In case it should appear that any have committed the irremissible blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and the total apostasy from the illuminating convictive powers of the Christian religion, it should seem that they are not to be prayed for at all. For what remains but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, to consume such adversaries? Heb 10:27. And these last seem to be the sins chiefly intended by the apostle by the name of sins unto death. Then, 5. The apostle seems to argue that there is sin that is not unto death; thus, All unrighteousness is sin (1Jo 5:17); but, were all unrighteousness unto death (since we have all some unrighteousness towards God or man, or both, in omitting and neglecting something that is their due), then we were all peremptorily bound over to death, and, since it is not so (the Christian brethren, generally speaking, having right to life), there must be sin that is not to death. Though there is no venial sin (in the common acceptation), there is pardoned sin, sin that does not involve a plenary obligation to eternal death. If it were not so, there could be no justification nor continuance of the justified state. The gospel constitution or covenant abbreviates, abridges, or rescinds the guilt of sin.

1 John 5:18-21

Here we have,

I. A recapitulation of the privileges and advantages of sound Christian believers. 1. They are secured against sin, against the fulness of its dominion or the fulness of its guilt: We know that whosoever is born of God (and the believer in Christ is born of God, 1Jo 5:1) sinneth not (1Jo 5:18), sinneth not with that fulness of heart and spirit that the unregenerate do (as was said 1Jo 3:6, 1Jo 3:9), and consequently not with that fulness of guilt that attends the sins of others; and so he is secured against that sin which is unavoidably unto death, or which infallibly binds the sinner over unto the wages of eternal death; the new nature, and the inhabitation of the divine Spirit thereby, prevent the admission of such unpardonable sin. 2. They are fortified against the devil’s destructive attempts: He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, that is, is enabled to guard himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not (1Jo 5:18), that is, that the wicked one may not touch him, namely, to death. It seems not to be barely a narration of the duty or the practice of the regenerate; but an indication of their power by virtue of their regeneration. They are thereby prepared and principled against the fatal touches, the sting, of the wicked one; he touches not their souls, to infuse his venom there a he does in others, or to expel that regenerative principle which is an antidote to his poison, or to induce them to that sin which by the gospel constitution conveys an indissoluble obligation to eternal death. He may prevail too far with them, to draw them to some acts of sin; but it seems to be the design of the apostle to assert that their regeneration secures them from such assaults of the devil as will bring them into the same case and actual condemnation with the devil. 3. they are on God’s side and interest, in opposition to the state of the world: And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness, 1Jo 5:19. Mankind are divided into two great parties of dominions, that which belongs to God and that which belongs to wickedness or to the wicked one. The Christian believers belong to God. They are of God, and from him, and to him, and for him. They succeed into the right and room of the ancient Israel of God, of whom it is said, The Lord’s people is his portion, his estate in this world; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance, the dividend that has fallen to him by the lot of his own determination (Deu 32:9); while, on the contrary, the whole world, the rest, being by far the major part, lieth in wickedness, in the jaws in the bowels of the wicked one. There are, indeed, were we to consider the individuals, many wicked ones, many wicked spirits, in the heavenly or the ethereal places; but they are united in wicked nature, policy, and principle, and they are united also in one head. there is the prince of the devils and of the diabolical kingdom. There is a head of the malignity and of the malignant world; and he has such sway here that he is called the god of this world. Strange that such a knowing spirit should be so implacably incensed against the Almighty and all his interests, when he cannot but know that it must end in his own overthrow and everlasting damnation! How tremendous is the judgment of God upon that wicked one! May the God of the Christian world continually demolish his dominion in this world, and translate souls into the kingdom of his dear Son! 4. They are enlightened in the knowledge of the true eternal God: “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given as an understanding, that we may know him that is true, 1Jo 5:20. The Son of God has come into our world, and we have seen him, and know him by all the evidence that has already been asserted; he has revealed unto us the true God (as Joh 1:18), and he has opened our minds too to understand that revelation, given us an internal light in our understandings, whereby we may discern the glories of the true God; and we are assured that it is the true God that he hath discovered to us. He is infinitely superior in purity, power, and perfection, to all the gods of the Gentiles. He has all the excellences, beauties, and riches, of the living and true God. It is the same God that, according to Moses’s account, made the heavens and the earth, the same who took our fathers and patriarchs into peculiar covenant with himself, the same who brought our ancestors out of Egypt, who gave us the fiery law upon mount Sinai, who gave us his holy oracles, promised the call and conversion of the Gentiles. By his counsels and works, by his love and grace, by his terrors and judgments, we know that he, and he alone, in the fulness of his being, is the living and true God.” It is a great happiness to know the true God, to know him in Christ; it is eternal lie, Joh 17:3. It is the glory of the Christian revelation that it gives the best account of the true God, and administers the best eye-salve for our discerning the living and true God. 5. They have a happy union with God and his Son: “And we are in him that is true, even (or and) in his Son Jesus Christ, 1Jo 5:20. The Son leads us to the Father, and we are in both, in the love and favour of both, in covenant and federal alliance with both, in spiritual conjunction with both by the inhabitation and operation of their Spirit: and, that you may know how great a dignity and felicity this is, you must remember that this true one is the true God and eternal life” or rather (as it should seem a more natural construction), “This same Son of God is himself also the true God and eternal life” (Joh 1:1, and here, 1Jo 1:2), “so that in union with either, much more with both, we are united to the true God and eternal life.” Then we have,

II. The apostle’s concluding monition: “Little children” (dear children, as it has been interpreted), “keep yourselves from idols, 1Jo 5:21. Since you know the true God, and are in him, let your light and love guard you against all that is advanced in opposition to him, or competition with him. Flee from the false gods of the heathen world. They are not comparable to the God whose you are and whom you serve. Adore not your God by statues and images, which share in his worship. Your God is an incomprehensible Spirit, and is disgraced by such sordid representations. Hold no communion with your heathen neighbours in their idolatrous worship. Your God is jealous, and would have you come out, and be separated from among them; mortify the flesh, and be crucified to the world, that they may not usurp the throne of dominion in the heart, which is due only to God. The God whom you have known is he who made you, who redeemed you by his Son, who has sent his gospel to you, who has pardoned your sins, begotten you unto himself by his Spirit, and given you eternal life. Cleave to him in faith, and love, and constant obedience, in opposition to all things that would alienate your mind and heart from God. To this living and true God be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Epistle of James (Ch 1)

Commentary on Epistle of James

(Chapter 1 of 5)

By

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Copyright: Public Domain

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Epistle of James

THE ARGUMENT

It appears from the writings of Jerome and Eusebius, that this Epistle was not formerly received by many Churches without opposition. There are also at this day some who do not think it entitled to authority. I, however, am inclined to receive it without controversy, because I see no just cause for rejecting it. For what seems in the second chapter to be inconsistent with the doctrine of free justification, we shall easily explain in its own place. Though he seems more sparing in proclaiming the grace of Christ than it behooved an Apostle to be, it is not surely required of all to handle the same arguments. The writings of Solomon differ much from those of David; while the former was intent on forming the outward man and teaching the precepts of civil life, the latter spoke continually of the spiritual worship of God, peace of conscience, God’s mercy and gratuitous promise of salvation. But this diversity should not make us to approve of one, and to condemn the other. Besides, among the evangelists themselves there is so much difference in setting forth the power of Christ, that the other three, compared with John, have hardly sparks of that full brightness which appears so conspicuous in him, and yet we commend them all alike.

It is enough to make men to receive this Epistle, that it contains nothing unworthy of an Apostle of Christ. It is indeed full of instruction on various subjects, the benefit of which extends to every part of the Christian life; for there are here remarkable passages on patience, prayer to God, the excellency and fruit of heavenly truth, humility, holy duties, the restraining of the tongue, the cultivation of peace, the repressing of lusts, the contempt of the world, and the like things, which we shall separately discuss in their own places.

But as to the author, there is somewhat more reason for doubting. It is indeed certain that he was not the Son of Zebedee, for Herod killed him shortly after our Lord’s resurrection. The ancients are nearly unanimous in thinking that he was one of the disciples named Oblias and a relative of Christ, who was set over the Church at Jerusalem; and they supposed him to have been the person whom Paul mentioned with Peter and John, who he says were deemed pillars, (Gal  2:9.) But that one of the disciples was mentioned as one of the three pillars, and thus exalted above the other Apostles, does not seem to me probable. I am therefore rather inclined to the conjecture, that he of whom Paul speaks was the son of Alpheus. I do not yet deny that another was the ruler of the Church at Jerusalem, and one indeed from the college of the disciples; for the Apostles were not tied to any particular place. But whether of the two was the writer of this Epistle, it is not for me to say. That Oblias was actually a man of great authority among the Jews, appears even from this, that as he had been cruelly put to death by the faction of an ungodly chief-priest, Josephus hesitated not to impute the destruction of the city in part to his death.

 

James 1:1

1 To the twelve tribes. When the ten tribes were banished, the Assyrian king placed them in different parts. Afterwards, as it usually happens in the revolutions of kingdoms (such as then took place,) it is very probable that they moved here and there in all directions. And the Jews had been scattered almost unto all quarters of the world. He then wrote and exhorted all those whom he could not personally address, because they had been scattered far and wide. But that he speaks not of the grace of Christ and of faith in him, the reason seems to be this, because he addressed those who had already been rightly taught by others; so that they had need, not so much of doctrine, as of the goads of exhortations. (98) 

(98) The salutation is peculiar; but in the same form with the letter sent to Antioch by the Apostles, (of whom James was one,) and the church at Jerusalem, Act  15:23. It is therefore apostolic, although adopted from a form commonly used by the heathen writers. See Act  23:26. John in Joh  2:10 and Joh  2:11 uses the verb χαίρειν in a similar sense; and it means properly to rejoice. It being an infinitive, the verb λέγω, to say or to bid, is put before it by John, and is evidently understood here. Hence the salutation may thus be rendered, —

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, bids, (or sends, or wishes) joy to the twelve tribes who are in their dispersion.”

There had been an eastern and a western dispersion, the first at the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity, and the second during the predominancy of the Grecian power, which commenced with Alexander the Great. As this epistle was written in Greek, it was no doubt intended more especially for those of the latter dispersion. But the benefit of the eastern dispersion was soon consulted, as the very first version of the New Testament was made into this language, that is, the Syriac; and this was done at the beginning of the second century.

James 1:2

2 All joy. The first exhortation is, to bear trials with a cheerful mind. And it was especially necessary at that time to comfort the Jews, almost overwhelmed as they were with troubles. For the very name of the nation was so infamous, that they were hated and despised by all people wherever they went; and their condition as Christians rendered them still more miserable, because they held their own nation as their most inveterate enemies. At the same time, this consolation was not so suited to one time, but that it is always useful to believers, whose life is a constant warfare on earth.

But that we may know more fully what he means, we must doubtless take temptations or trials as including all adverse things; and they are so called, because they are the tests of our obedience to God. He bids the faithful, while exercised with these, to rejoice; and that not only when they fall into one temptation, but into many, not only of one kind, but of various kinds. And doubtless, since they serve to mortify our flesh, as the vices of the flesh continually shoot up in us, so they must necessarily be often repeated. Besides, as we labor under diseases, so it is no wonder that different remedies are applied to remove them.

The Lord then afflicts us in various ways, because ambition, avarice, envy, gluttony, intemperance, excessive love of the world, and the innumerable lusts in which we abound, cannot be cured by the same medicine.

When he bids us to count it all joy, it is the same as though he had said, that temptations ought to be so deemed as gain, as to be regarded as occasions of joy. He means, in short, that there is nothing in afflictions which ought to disturb our joy. And thus, he not only commands us to bear adversities calmly, and with an even mind, but shews us that this is a reason why the faithful should rejoice when pressed down by them.

It is, indeed, certain, that all the senses of our nature are so formed, that every trial produces in us grief and sorrow; and no one of us can so far divest himself of his nature as not to grieve and be sorrowful whenever he feels any evil. But this does not prevent the children of God to rise, by the guidance of the Spirit, above the sorrow of the flesh. Hence it is, that in the midst of trouble they cease not to rejoice.

James 1:3

3 Knowing this, that the trying. We now see why he called adversities trials or temptations, even because they serve to try our faith. And there is here a reason given to confirm the last sentence. For it might, on the other hand, be objected, “How comes it, that we judge that sweet which to the sense is bitter?” He then shews by the effect that we ought to rejoice in afflictions, because they produce fruit that ought to be highly valued, even patience. If God then provides for our salvation, he affords us an occasion of rejoicing. Peter uses a similar argument at the beginning of his first Epistle, “That the trial of your faith, more precious than gold, may be,” etc. [1Pe  1:7.] We certainly dread diseases, and want, and exile, and prison, and reproach, and death, because we regard them as evils; but when we understand that they are turned through God’s kindness unto helps and aids to our salvation, it is ingratitude to murmur, and not willingly to submit to be thus paternally dealt with.

Paul says, in Rom  5:3, that we are to glory in tribulations; and James says here, that we are to rejoice. “We glory,” says Paul, “in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” What immediately follows seems contrary to the words of James; for he mentions probation in the third place, as the effect of patience, which is here put first as though it were the cause. But the solution is obvious; the word there has an active, but here a passive meaning. Probation or trial is said by James to produce patience; for were not God to try us, but leave us free from trouble, there would be no patience, which is no other thing than fortitude of mind in bearing evils. But Paul means, that while by enduring we conquer evils, we experience how much God’s help avails in necessities; for then the truth of God is as it were in reality manifested to us. Hence it comes that we dare to entertain more hope as to futurity; for the truth of God, known by experience, is more fully believed by us. Hence Paul teaches that by such a probation, that is, by such an experience of divine grace, hope is produced, not that hope then only begins, but that it increases and is confirmed. But both mean, that tribulation is the means by which patience is produced.

Moreover, the minds of men are not so formed by nature, that affliction of itself produces patience in them. But Paul and Peter regard not so much the nature of men as the providence of God through which it comes, that the faithful learn patience from troubles; for the ungodly are thereby more and more provoked to madness, as the example of Pharaoh proves. (99) 

(99) The word used by James is δοχίμιον, trial, the act of testing, and by Paul δοχιμὴ, the result of testing, experience. James speaks of probation, and Paul of the experience gained thereby.

James 1:4

4 But let patience have her perfect work. As boldness and courage often appear in us and soon fail, he therefore requires perseverance. “Real patience,” he says, “is that which endures to the end.” For work here means the effort not only to overcome in one contest, but to persevere through life. His perfection may also he referred to the sincerity of the soul, that men ought willingly and not feignedly to submit to God; but as the word work is added, I prefer to explain it of constancy. For there are many, as we have said, who shew at first an heroic greatness, and shortly after grow weary and faint. He therefore bids those who would be perfect and entire, (100) to persevere to the end. But what he means by these two words, he afterwards explains of those who fail not, or become not wearied: for they, who being overcome as to patience, be broken down, must, by degrees, be necessarily weakened, and at length wholly fail.

(100) “Perfect, τέλειοι,” fully grown, mature; “entire, ὁλόχληζοι, ” complete, no part wanting. The first refers to the maturity of grace; and the second to its completeness, no grace being wanting. They were to be like men full grown, and not maimed or mutilated, but having all their members complete.

James 1:5

5 If any of you lack wisdom. As our reason, and all our feelings are averse to the thought that we can be happy in the midst of evils, he bids us to ask of the Lord to give us wisdom. For wisdom here, I confine to the subject of the passage, as though he had said, “If this doctrine is higher than what your minds can reach to, ask of the Lord to illuminate you by his Spirit; for as this consolation alone is sufficient to mitigate all the bitterness of evils, that what is grievous to the flesh is salutary to us; so we must necessarily be overcome with impatience, except we be sustained by this kind of comfort.” Since we see that the Lord does not so require from us what is above our strength, but that he is ready to help us, provided we ask, let us, therefore, learn, whenever he commands anything, to ask from him the power to perform it.

Though in this place to be wise is to submit to God in the endurance of evils, under a due conviction that he so orders all things as to promote our salvation; yet the sentence may be generally applied to every branch of right knowledge.

But why does he say If any one, as though all of them did not want wisdom. To this I answer, that all are by nature without it; but that some are gifted with the spirit of wisdom, while others are without it. As, then, all had not made such progress as to rejoice in affliction, but few there were to whom this had been given, James, therefore, referred to such cases; and he reminded those who were not as yet fully convinced that by the cross their salvation was promoted by the Lord, that they were to ask to be endued with wisdom. And yet there is no doubt, but that necessity reminds us all to ask the same thing; for he who has made the greatest progress, is yet far off from the goal. But to ask an increase of wisdom is another thing than to ask for it at first.

When he bids us to ask of the Lord, he intimates, that he alone can heal our diseases and relieve our wants.

That giveth to all men liberally. By all, he means those who ask; for they who seek no remedy for their wants, deserve to pine away in them. However, this universal declaration, by which every one of us is invited to ask, without exception, is very important; hence no man ought to deprive himself of so great a privilege.

To the same purpose is the promise which immediately follows; for as by this command he shews what is the duty of every one, so he affirms that they would not do in vain what he commands; according to what is said by Christ,

“Knock, and it shall be opened.”
(
Mat  7:7; Luk  11:9.)

The word liberally, or freely, denotes promptitude in giving. So Paul, in Rom  12:8, requires simplicity in deacons. And in 2Co  8:0 and 2Co  9:0, when speaking of charity or love, he repeats the same word several times. The meaning, then, is, that God is so inclined and ready to give, that he rejects none, or haughtily puts them off, being not like the niggardly and grasping, who either sparingly, as with a closed hand, give but little, or give only a part of what they were about to give, or long debate with themselves whether to give or not. (101) 

And upbraideth not. This is added, lest any one should fear to come too often to God. Those who are the most liberal among men, when any one asks often to be helped, mention their formal acts of kindness, and thus excuse themselves for the future. Hence, a mortal man, however open-handed he may be, we are ashamed to weary by asking too often. But James reminds us, that there is nothing like this in God; for he is ready ever to add new blessings to former ones, without any end or limitation.

(101) The literal meaning of ἁπλῶς is simply without any mixture; the noun, ἁπλότης, is used in the sense of sincerity, which has no mixture of hypocrisy or fraud, (2Co  1:12.) and in the sense of liberality, or disposition free from what is sordid or parsimonious, having no mixture of niggardliness, (2Co  8:2.) This latter is evidently the meaning here, so that “liberally,” according to our version, is the best word.

James 1:6

6 But let him ask in faith. He shews here, first the right way of praying; for as we cannot pray without the word, as it were, leading the way, so we must believe before we pray; for we testify by prayer, that we hope to obtain from God the grace which he has promised. Thus every one who has no faith in the promises, prays dissemblingly. Hence, also, we learn what is true faith; for James, after having bidden us to ask in faith, adds this explanation, nothing wavering, or, doubting nothing. Then faith is that which relies on God’s promises, and makes us sure of obtaining what we ask. It hence follows, that it is connected with confidence and certainty as to God’s love towards us. The verb διακρίνεσθαι, which he uses, means properly to inquire into both sides of a question, after the manner of pleaders. He would have us then to be so convinced of what God has once promised, as not to admit a doubt whether he shall be heard or not.

He that wavereth, or doubteth. By this similitude he strikingly expresses how God punishes the unbelief of those who doubt his promises; for, by their own restlessness, they torment themselves inwardly; for there is never any calmness for our souls, except they recumb on the truth of God. He, at length, concludes, that such are unworthy to receive anything from God.

This is a remarkable passage, fitted to disprove that impious dogma which is counted as an oracle under the whole Papacy, that is, that we ought to pray doubtingly, and with uncertainty as to our success. This principle, then, we hold, that our prayers are not heard by the Lord, except when we have a confidence that we shall obtain. It cannot indeed be otherwise, but that through the infirmity of our flesh we must be tossed by various temptations, which are like engines employed to shake our confidence; so that no one is found who does not vacillate and tremble according to the feeling of his flesh; but temptations of this kind are at length to be overcome by faith. The case is the same as with a tree, which has struck firm roots; it shakes, indeed, through the blowing of the wind, but is not rooted up; on the contrary, it remains firm in its own place.

James 1:8

8 A double-minded man, or, a man of a double mind. This sentence may be read by itself, as he speaks generally of hypocrites. It seems, however, to me to be rather the conclusion of the preceding doctrine; and thus there is an implied contrast between the simplicity or liberality of God, mentioned before, and the double-mindedness of man; for as God gives to us with a stretched out hand, so it behooves us in our turn to open the bosom of our heart. He then says that the unbelieving, who have tortuous recesses, are unstable; because they are never firm or fixed, but at one time they swell with the confidence of the flesh, at another they sink into the depth of despair. (102) 

(102) “The double-minded,” or the man with two souls, δίψυχος, means here no doubt the man who hesitates between faith and unbelief, because faith is the subject of the passage. When again used, in Jas  4:8, it means a hesitation between God and the world.

James 1:9

9 Let the brother of low degree. As Paul, exhorting servants submissively to bear their lot, sets before them this consolation, that they were the free-men of God, having been set free by his grace from the most miserable bondage of Satan, and reminds them, though free, yet to remember that they were the servants of God; so here James in the same manner bids the lowly to glory in this, that they had been adopted by the Lord as his children; and the rich, because they had been brought down into the same condition, the world’s vanity having been made evident to them. Thus the first thing he would have to do is to be content with their humble and low state; and he forbids the rich to be proud. Since it is incomparably the greatest dignity to be introduced into the company of angels, nay, to be made the associates of Christ, he who estimates this favor of God aright, will regard all other things as worthless. Then neither poverty, nor contempt, nor nakedness, nor famine nor thirst, will make his mind so anxious, but that he will sustain himself with this consolation. “Since the Lord has conferred on me the principal thing, it behooves me patiently to bear the loss of other things, which are inferior.”

Behold, how a lowly brother ought to glory in his elevation or exaltation; for if he be accepted of God, he has sufficient consolation in his adoption alone, so as not to grieve unduly for a less prosperous state of life.

James 1:10

10 But the rich, in that he is made low, or, in his lowness. He has mentioned the particular for the general; for this admonition pertains to all those who excel in honor; or in dignity, or in any other external thing. He bids them to glory in their lowness or littleness, in order to repress the haughtiness of those who are usually inflated with prosperity. But he calls it lowness, because the manifested kingdom of God ought to lead us to despise the world, as we know that all the things we previously greatly admired, are either nothing or very little things. For Christ, who is not a teacher except of babes, checks by his doctrine all the haughtiness of the flesh. Lest, then, the vain joy of the world should captivate the rich, they ought to habituate themselves to glory in the casting down of their carnal excellency. (103) 

As the flower of the grass. Were any one to say that James alludes to the words of Isaiah, I would not much object; but I cannot allow that he quotes the testimony of the Prophet, who speaks not only of the things of this life and the fading character of the world, but of the whole man, both body and soul; [Isa  40:6;] but here what is spoken of is the pomp of wealth or of riches. And the meaning is, that glorying in riches is foolish and preposterous, because they pass away in a moment. The philosophers teach the same thing; but the song is sung to the deaf, until the ears are opened by the Lord to hear the truth concerning the eternity of the celestial kingdom. Hence he mentions brother; intimating that there is no place for this truth, until we are admitted into the order of God’s children.

(103) The opinion of Macknight and some others, that the reference is to the lowness to which the rich were reduced by persecution, does not comport with the passage, for the Apostle afterwards speaks of the shortness of man’s life and its uncertainty, and not of the fading nature of riches, which would have been most suitable, had he in view to comfort the rich at the loss of property. The Christian state was “lowness” according to the estimation of the world.

James 1:11

Though the received reading is ἐν ταῖς πορείαις, yet I agree with Erasmus, and read the last word, πορίαις, without the diphthong “in his riches,” or, with his riches; and the latter I prefer. (104) 

(104) The received text is regarded as the best reading; the other is found in very few copies.

James 1:12

12 Blessed is the man. After having applied consolation, he moderated the sorrow of those who were severely handled in this world, and again humbled the arrogance of the great. He now draws this conclusion, that they are happy who magnanimously endure troubles and other trials, so as to rise above them. The word temptation may indeed be otherwise understood, even for the stings of lusts which annoy the soul within; but which is here commended, as I think, is fortitude of mind in enduring adversities. It is, however, a paradox, that they are not happy to whom all things come according to their wishes, but such as are not overcome with evils.

For when he is tried. He gives a reason for the preceding sentence; for the crown follows the contest. If, then, it be our chief happiness to be crowned in the kingdom of God, it follows, that the contests with which the Lord tries us, are aids and helps to our happiness. Thus the argument is from the end or the effect: hence we conclude, that the faithful are harassed by so many evils for this purpose, that their piety and obedience may be made manifest, and that they may be thus at length prepared to receive the crown of life.

But they reason absurdly who hence infer that we by fighting merit the crown; for since God has gratuitously appointed it for us, our fighting only renders us fit to receive it.

He adds, that it is promised to those who love God. By speaking thus, he means not that the love of man is the cause of obtaining the crown, (for God anticipates us by his gratuitous love;) but he only intimates that the elect who love him are alone approved by God. He then reminds us that the conquerors of all temptations are those who love God, and that we fail not in courage when we are tried, for no other cause than because the love of the world prevails in us.

James 1:13

13 Let no man, when he is tempted. Here, no doubt, he speaks of another kind of temptation. It is abundantly evident that the external temptations, hitherto mentioned, are sent to us by God. In this way God tempted Abraham, (Gen  22:1,) and daily tempts us, that is, he tries us as to what are we by laying before us an occasion by which our hearts are made known. But to draw out what is hid in our hearts is a far different thing from inwardly alluring our hearts by wicked lusts.

He then treats here of inward temptations which are nothing else than the inordinate desires which entice to sin. He justly denies that God is the author of these, because they flow from the corruption of our nature.

This warning is very necessary, for nothing is more common among men than to transfer to another the blame of the evils they commit; and they then especially seem to free themselves, when they ascribe it to God himself. This kind of evasion we constantly imitate, delivered down to us as it is from the first man. For this reason James calls us to confess our own guilt, and not to implicate God, as though he compelled us to sin.

But the whole doctrine of scripture seems to be inconsistent with this passage; for it teaches us that men are blinded by God, are given up to a reprobate mind, and delivered over to filthy and shameful lusts. To this I answer, that probably James was induced to deny that we are tempted by God by this reason, because the ungodly, in order to form an excuse, armed themselves with testimonies of Scripture. But there are two things to be noticed here: when Scripture ascribes blindness or hardness of heart to God, it does not assign to him the beginning of this blindness, nor does it make him the author of sin, so as to ascribe to him the blame: and on these two things only does James dwell.

Scripture asserts that the reprobate are delivered up to depraved lusts; but is it because the Lord depraves or corrupts their hearts? By no means; for their hearts are subjected to depraved lusts, because they are already corrupt and vicious. But since God blinds or hardens, is he not the author or minister of evil? Nay, but in this manner he punishes sins, and renders a just reward to the ungodly, who have refused to be ruled by his Spirit. (Rom  1:26.) It hence follows that the origin of sin is not in God, and no blame can be imputed to him as though he took pleasure in evils. (Gen  6:6.)

The meaning is, that man in vain evades, who attempts to cast the blame of his vices on God, because every evil proceeds from no other fountain than from the wicked lust of man. And the fact really is, that we are not otherwise led astray, except that every one has his own inclination as his leader and impeller. But that God tempts no one, he proves by this, because he is not tempted with evils (105) For it is the devil who allures us to sin, and for this reason, because he wholly burns with the mad lust of sinning. But God does not desire what is evil: he is not, therefore, the author of doing evil in us.

(105) Literally, “untemptable by evils,” that is, not capable of being tempted or seduced by evils, by things wicked and sinful. He is so pure, that he is not influenced by any evil propensities, that he is not subject to any evil suggestions. It hence follows that he tempts or seduces no man to what is sinful. Being himself unassailable by evils, he cannot seduce others to what is evil. As God cannot be tempted to do what is sinful, he cannot possibly tempt others to sin. The words may thus be rendered, —

13 “Let no one, when seduced, say, ‘By God I am seduced;’ for God is not capable of being seduced by evils, and he himself seduceth no one.”

James 1:14

14 When he is drawn away by his own lust. As the inclination and excitement to sin are inward, in vain does the sinner seek an cause from an external impulse. At the same time these two effects of lust ought to be noticed — that it ensnares us by its allurements, and that it does us away; each of which is sufficient to render us guilty. (106) 

(106) The words are very striking, — “But every one is tempted (or, seduced) when, by his own lust, he is drawn away, (that is, from what is good,) and is caught by a bait (or, ensnared.)”

He is in the first drawn off from the line of duty, and then he is caught by something that is pleasing and plausible, but like the bait, it has in it a deadly hook.

James 1:15

15 Then when lust hath conceived. He first calls that lust which is not any kind of evil affection or desire, but that which is the fountain of all evil affections; by which, as he shews, are conceived vicious broods, which at length break forth into sins. It seems, however, improper, and not according to the usage of Scripture, to restrict the word sin to outward works, as though indeed lust itself were not a sin, and as though corrupt desires, remaining closed up within and suppressed, were not so many sins. But as the use of a word is various, there is nothing unreasonable if it be taken here, as in many other places, for actual sin.

And the Papists ignorantly lay hold on this passage, and seek to prove from it that vicious, yea, filthy, wicked, and the most abominable lusts are not sins, provided there is no assent; for James does not shew when sin begins to be born, so as to be sin, and so accounted by God, but when it breaks forth. For he proceeds gradually and shews that the consummation of sin is eternal death, and that sin arises from depraved desires, and that these depraved desires or affections have their root in lust. It hence follows that men gather fruit in eternal perdition, and fruit which they have procured for themselves.

By perfected sin, therefore, I understand, not any one act of sin perpetrated, but the completed course of sinning. For though death is merited by every sin whatever, yet it is said to be the reward of an ungodly and wicked life. Hence is the dotage of those confuted who conclude from these words, that sin is not mortal until it breaks forth, as they say, into an external act. Nor is this what James treats of; but his object was only this, to teach that there is in us the root of our own destruction.

James 1:16

16 Do not err. This is an argument from what is opposite; for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to him, and according to his nature; and from him all good things come to us. Then, whatever evil he does, is not agreeable to his nature. But as it sometimes happens, that he who quits himself well through life, yet in some things fails, he meets this doubt by denying that God is mutable like men. But if God is in all things and always like himself, it hence follows that well-doing is his perpetual work.

James 1:17

This reasoning is far different from that of Plato, who maintained that no calamities are sent on men by God, because he is good; for though it is just that the crimes of men should be punished by God, yet it is not right, with regard to him, to regard among evils that punishment which he justly inflicts. Plato, indeed, was ignorant; but James, leaving to God his right and office of punishing, only removes blame from him. This passage teaches us, that we ought to be so affected by God’s innumerable blessings, which we daily receive from his hand, as to think of nothing but of his glory; and that we should abhor whatever comes to our mind, or is suggested by others, which is not compatible with his praise.

God is called the Father of lights, as possessing all excellency and the highest dignity. And when he immediately adds, that there is in him no shadow of turning, he continues the metaphor; so that we may not measure the brightness of God by the irradiation of the sun which appears to us. (107) 

(107) This verse must be taken in connection with what as gone before. When he mentions “every good gift,” it is in opposition to the evil of which he says God is not the author. See Mat  7:11. And “every perfect free-gift,” as δώρημα means, has a reference to the correction of the evil which arises from man himself. And he calls free-gift perfect, because it has no mixture of evil, what he throughout denies that God is the author of. Then the latter part of the verse bears a correspondence with the first. He calls God “the Father of Lights.” Light in the language of scripture means especially two things, the light of truth, divine knowledge and holiness. God is the father, the parent, the origin, the source of these lights. Hence from him descends every good, useful, necessary gift, to deliver men from evil, from ignorance and delusion, and every perfect free-gift to free men from their evil lusts, and to render them holy and happy. And to shew that God is ever the same, he adds, “with whom there is no variableness or the shadow (or shade, of the slightest appearance) of a change;” that is, who never varies in his dealings with men, and shews no symptom of any change, being the author and giver of all good, and the author of no evil, that is, of no sin.

James 1:18

18 Of his own will. He now brings forward a special proof of the goodness of God which he had mentioned, even that he has regenerated us unto eternal life. This invaluable benefit every one of the faithful feels in himself. Then the goodness of God, when known by experience, ought to remove from them all a contrary opinion respecting him.

When he says that God of his own will, or spontaneously, hath begotten us, he intimates that he was induced by no other reason, as the will and counsel of God are often set in opposition to the merits of men. What great thing, indeed, would it have been to say that God was not constrained to do this? But he impresses something more, that God according to his own goodwill hath begotten us, and has been thus a cause to himself. It hence follows that it is natural to God to do good.

But this passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation of the world was gratuitous, so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth, so that our calling corresponds with our election. The Scripture shews that we have been gratuitously adopted by God before we were born. But James expresses here something more, that we obtain the right of adoption, because God does also call us gratuitously. (Eph  1:4.) Farther, we hence learn, that it is the peculiar office of God spiritually to regenerate us; for that the same thing is sometimes ascribed to the ministers of the gospel, means no other thing than this, that God acts through them; and it happens indeed through them, but he nevertheless alone doeth the work.

The word begotten means that we become new men, so that we put off our former nature when we are effectually called by God. He adds how God begets us, even by the word of truth, so that we may know that we cannot enter the kingdom of God by any other door.

That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. The word τινὰ, “some,” has the meaning of likeness, as though he had said, that we are in a manner firstfruits. But this ought not to be restricted to a few of the faithful; but it belongs to all in common. For as man excels among all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates them as a holy offering, to himself. (108) It is no common nobility into which God extols his own children. Then justly are they said to be excellent as firstfruits, when God’s image is renewed in them.

(108) The firstfruits being a part and a pledge of the coming harvest, to retain the metaphor, we must regard “creatures” here as including all the saved in future ages. Hence their opinion is to be preferred, who regard the first converts, who were Jews, as the firstfruits.

James 1:19

19 Let every man. Were this a general sentence, the inference would be farfetched; but as he immediately adds a sentence respecting the word of truth suitable to the last verse, I doubt not but that he accommodates this exhortation peculiarly to the subject in hand. Having then set before us the goodness of God, he shews how it becomes us to be prepared to receive the blessing which he exhibits towards us. And this doctrine is very useful, for spiritual generation is not a work of one moment. Since some remnants of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be through life renewed, until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness, or arrogance, or sloth, is a great impediment to God in perfecting in us his work. Hence, when James would have us to be swift to hear, he commends promptitude, as though he had said, “When God so freely and kindly presents himself to you, you also ought to render yourselves teachable, lest your slowness should cause him to desist from speaking.”

But inasmuch as we do not calmly hear God speaking to us, when we seem to ourselves to be very wise, but by our haste interrupt him when addressing us, the Apostle requires us to be silent, to be slow to speak. And, doubtless, no one can be a true disciple of God, except he hears him in silence. He does not, however, require the silence of the Pythagorean school, so that it should not be right to inquire whenever we desire to learn what is necessary to be known; but he would only have us to correct and restrain our forwardness, that we may not, as it commonly happens, unseasonably interrupt God, and that as long as he opens his sacred mouth, we may open to him our hearts and our ears, and not prevent him to speak.

Slow to wrath. Wrath also, I think, is condemned with regard to the hearing which God demands to be given to him, as though making a tumult it disturbed and impeded him, for God cannot be heard except when the mind is calm and sedate. Hence, he adds, that as long as wrath bears rule there is no place for the righteousness of God. In short, except the heat of contention be banished, we shall never observe towards God that calm silence of which he has just spoken.

James 1:21

21 Wherefore lay apart. He concludes by saying how the word of life is to be received. And first, indeed, he intimates that it cannot be rightly received except it be implanted, or strike roots in us. For the expression, to receive the implanted word, ought to be thus explained, “to receive it, that it may be really implanted.” For he alludes to seed often sown on and ground, and not received into the moist bosom of the earth; or to plants, which being cast on the ground, or laid on dead wood, soon wither. He then requires that it should be a living implanting, by which the word becomes as it were united with our heart.

He at the same time shews the way and manner of this reception, even with meekness. By this word he means humility and the readiness of a mind disposed to learn, such as Isaiah describes when he says,

“On whom does my Spirit rest, except on the humble and meek?” (Isa  57:15.)

Hence it is, that so far profit in the school of God, because hardly one in a hundred renounces the stubbornness of his own spirit, and gently submits to God; but almost all are conceited and refractory. But if we desire to be the living plantation of God, we must subdue our proud hearts and be humble, and labor to become like lambs, so as to suffer ourselves to be ruled and guided by our Shepherd.

But as men are never thus tamed, so as to have a calm and meek heart, except they are purged from depraved affections, so he bids us to lay aside uncleanness and redundancy of wickedness. And as James borrowed a comparison from agriculture, it was necessary for him to observe this order, to begin by rooting up noxious weeds. And since he addressed all, we may hence conclude that these are the innate evils of our nature, and that they cleave to us all; yea, since he addresses the faithful, he shews that we are never wholly cleansed from them in this life, but that they are continually sprouting up, and therefore he requires that care should be constantly taken to eradicate them. As the word of God is especially a holy thing; to be fitted to receive it, we must put off the filthy things by which we have been polluted.

Under the word κακία, he comprehends hypocrisy and obstinacy as well as unlawful desires or lusts. Not satisfied with specifying the seat of wickedness as being in the soul of man, he teaches us that so abounding is the wickedness that dwells there, that it overflows, or that it rises up as it were into a heap; and doubtless, whosoever will well examine himself will find that there is within him an immense chaos of evils. (109) 

Which is able to save. It is a high eulogy on heavenly truth, that we obtain through it a sure salvation; and this is added, that we may learn to seek and love and magnify the word as a treasure that is incomparable. It is then a sharp goad to chastise our idleness, when he says that the word which we are wont to hear so negligently, is the means of our salvation, though for this purpose the power of saving is not ascribed to the word, as if salvation is conveyed by the external sound of the word, or as if the office of saving is taken away from God and transferred elsewhere; for James speaks of the word which by faith penetrates into the hearts of men, and only intimates that God, the author of salvation, conveys it by his Gospel.

(109) What renders this passage unsatisfactory is the meaning given to περισσεία, rendered by some “superfluity,” and by others “redundancy.” The verb περισσεύω means not only to abound, but also to be a residue, to remain, to be a remnant. See Mat  14:20; Luk  9:17. And its derivative περίσσευμα is used in the sense of a remnant or a remainder, Mar  8:8; and this very word is used in the Sept., for יתר which means a residue, a remnant, or what remains, Eze  6:8. Let it have this meaning here, and the sense will not only be clear, but very striking. James was addressing those who were Christians; and he exhorted them to throw away every uncleanness and remnant of wickedness, or evil, as the word κακία more properly means. See Act  8:22; 1Pe  2:16

“Every uncleanness,” or filthiness, means every kind of uncleanness arising from lustful and carnal indulgences; and the “remnant of wickedness,” in thought and in deed, most suitably follows.

James 1:22

22 Be ye doers of the word. The doer here is not the same as in Rom  2:13, who satisfied the law of God and fulfilled it in every part, but the doer is he who from the heart embraces God’s word and testifies by his life that he really believes, according to the saying of Christ,

“Blessed are they who hear God’s word and keep it,”
(
Luk  11:28;)

for he shews by the fruits what that implanting is, before mentioned. We must further observe, that faith with all its works is included by James, yea, faith especially, as it is the chief work which God requires from us. The import of the whole is, that we ought to labor that the word of the Lord should strike root in us, so that it may afterwards fructify. (110) 

(110) Calvin takes no notice of the last sentence, “deceiving yourselves.” The participle means deceiving by false reasoning.; it may be rendered with Doddridge, “sophistically deceiving yourselves.”

James 1:23

23 He is like to a man. Heavenly doctrine is indeed a mirror in which God presents himself to our view; but so that we may be transformed unto his image, as Paul says in 2Co  3:18. But here he speaks of the external glance of the eye, not of the vivid and efficacious meditation which penetrates into the heart. It is a striking comparison, by which he briefly intimates, that a doctrine merely heard and not received inwardly into the heart avails nothing, because it soon vanishes away.

James 1:25

25 The perfect law of liberty. After having spoken of empty speculation, he comes now to that penetrating intuition which transforms us to the image of God. And as he had to do with the Jews, he takes the word law, familiarly known to them, as including the whole truth of God.

But why he calls it a perfect law, and a law of liberty, interpreters have not been able to understand; for they have not perceived that there is here a contrast, which may be gathered from other passages of Scripture. As long as the law is preached by the external voice of man, and not inscribed by the finger and Spirit of God on the heart, it is but a dead letter, and as it were a lifeless thing. It is, then, no wonder that the law is deemed imperfect, and that it is the law of bondage; for as Paul teaches in Gal  4:24, separated from Christ, it generates to condemn and as the same shews to us in Rom  8:13, it can do nothing but fill us with diffidence and fear. But the Spirit of regeneration, who inscribes it on our inward parts, brings also the grace of adoption. It is, then, the same as though James had said, “The teaching of the law, let it no longer lead you to bondage, but, on the contrary, bring you to liberty; let it no longer be only a schoolmaster, but bring you to perfection: it ought to be received by you with sincere affection, so that you may lead a godly and a holy life.”

Moreover, since it is a blessing of the Old Testament that the law of God should reform us, as it appears from Jer  31:33, and other passages, it follows that it cannot be obtained until we come to Christ. And, doubtless, he alone is the end and perfection of the law; and James adds liberty, as an inseparable associate, because the Spirit of Christ never regenerates but that he becomes also a witness and an earnest of our divine adoption, so as to free our hearts from fear and trembling.

And continueth. This is firmly to persevere in the knowledge of God; and when he adds, this man shall be blessed in his deed, or work, he means that blessedness is to be found in doing, not in cold hearing. (111) 

(111) It may be rendered thus, — “The same shall be blessed in (or by) the doing of it,” that is, the work. The very doing of the law of liberty, of what the gospel prescribes, makes a man blessed or happy.

James 1:26

26 Seem to be religious. He now reproves even in those who boasted that they were doers of the law, a vice under which hypocrites commonly labor, that is, the wantonness of the tongue in detraction. He has before touched on the duty of restraining the tongue, but for a different end; for he then bade silence before God, that we might be more fitted to learn. He speaks now of another thing, that the faithful should not employ their tongue in evil speaking.

It was indeed needful that this vice should be condemned, when the subject was the keeping of the law; for they who have put off the grosser vices, are especially subject to this disease. He who is neither an adulterer, nor a thief, nor a drunkard, but, on the contrary, seems brilliant with some outward shew of sanctity will set himself off by defaming others, and this under the pretense of zeal, but really through the lust of slandering.

The object here, then, was to distinguish between the true worshippers of God and hypocrites, who are so swollen with Pharisaic pride, that they seek praise from the defects of others. If any one, he says, seems to be religious, that is, who has a show of sanctity, and the meantime flatters himself by speaking evil of others, it is hence evident that he does not truly serve God. For by saying that his religion is vain, he not only intimates that other virtues are marred by the stain of evil-speaking, but that the conclusion is, that the zeal for religion which appears is not sincere.

But deceiveth his own heart. I do not approve of the version of Erasmus — “But suffers his heart to err;” for he points out the fountain of that arrogance to which hypocrites are addicted, through which, being blinded by an immoderate love of themselves, they believe themselves to be far better than they really are; and hence, no doubt, is the disease of slandering, because the wallet, as Aesop says in his Apologue, hanging behind, is not seen. Rightly, then, has James, wishing to remove the effect, that is, the lust of evil-speaking, added the cause, even that hypocrites flatter themselves immoderately. For they would be ready to forgive were they in their turn to acknowledge themselves to be in need of forgiveness. Hence the flatteries by which they deceive themselves as to their own vices, make them such supercilious censors of others.

James 1:27

27 Pure religion. As he passes by those things which are of the greatest moment in religion, he does not define generally what religion is, but reminds us that religion without the things he mentions is nothing; as when one given to wine and gluttony boasts that he is temperate, and another should object, and say that the temperate man is he who does not indulge in excess as to wine or eating; his object is not to express the whole of what temperance is, but to refer only to one thing, suitable to the subject in hand. For they are in vain religious of whom he speaks, as they are for the most part trifling pretenders.

James then teaches us that religion is not to be estimated by the pomp of ceremonies; but that there are important duties to which the servants of God ought to attend.

To visit in necessity is to extend a helping hand to alleviate such as are in distress. And as there are many others whom the Lord bids us to succor, in mentioning widows and orphans, he states a part for the whole. There is then no doubt but that under one particular thing he recommends to us every act of love, as though he had said, “Let him who would be deemed religious, prove himself to be such by self denial and by mercy and benevolence towards his neighbors.”

And he says, before God, to intimate that it appears in deed otherwise to men, who are led astray by external masks, but that we ought to seek what pleases him. By God and Father, we are to understand God who is a father.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Epistle of James (Ch 2)

Commentary on Epistle of James

(Chapter 2 of 5)

By

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Copyright: Public Domain

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Epistle of James

James 2:1

 

This reproof seems at first sight to be hard and unreasonable; for it is one of the duties of courtesy, not to be neglected, to honor those who are elevated in the world. Further, if respect of persons be vicious, servants are to be freed from all subjection; for freedom and servitude are deemed by Paul as conditions of life. The same must be thought of magistrates. But the solution of these questions is not difficult, if what James writes is not separated. For he does not simply disapprove of honor being paid to the rich, but that this should not be done in a way so as to despise or reproach the poor; and this will appear more clearly, when he proceeds to speak of the rule of love.

Let us therefore remember that the respect of persons here condemned is that by which the rich is so extolled, wrong is done to the poor, which also he shews clearly by the context and surely ambitions is that honor, and full of vanity, which is shewn to the rich to the contempt of the poor. Nor is there a doubt but that ambition reigns and vanity also, when the masks of this world are alone in high esteem. We must remember this truth, that he is to be counted among the heirs of God’s kingdom, who disregards the reprobate and honors those who fear God. (Psa  15:4.)

Here then is the contrary vice condemned, that is, when from respect alone to riches, anyone honors the wicked, and as it has been said, dishonors the good. If then thou shouldest read thus, “He sins who respects the rich,” the sentence would be absurd; but if as follows, “He sins who honors the rich alone and despises the poor, and treats him with contempt,” it would be a pious and true doctrine.

1 Have not the faith, etc. , with respect of persons. He means that the respect of persons is inconsistent with the faith of Christ, so that they cannot be united together, and rightly so; for we are by faith united into one body, in which Christ holds the primacy. When therefore the pomps of the world become preeminent so as to cover over what Christ is, it is evident that faith hath but little vigor.

In rendering τὢς δόξης, “on account of esteem,” (ex opinione ,) I have followed Erasmus; though the old interpreter cannot be blamed, who has rendered it “glory,” for the word means both; and it may be fitly applied to Christ, and that according to the drift of the passage. For so great is the brightness of Christ, that it easily extinguishes all the glories of the world, if indeed it irradiates our eyes. It hence follows, that Christ is little esteemed by us, when the admiration of worldly glory lays hold on us. But the other exposition is also very suitable, for when the esteem or value of riches or of honors dazzles our eyes, the truth is suppressed, which ought alone to prevail. To sit becomingly means to sit honorably.

 

James 2:4

 

4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves ? or, are ye not condemned in yourselves. This may be read affirmatively as well as interrogatively, but the sense would be the same, for he amplifies the fault by this, that they took delight and indulged themselves in so great a wickedness. If it be read interrogatively, the meaning is, “Does not your own conscience hold you convicted, so that you need no other judge?” If the affirmative be preferred, it is the same as though he had said, “This evil also happens, that ye think not that ye sin, nor know that your thoughts are so wicked as they are.” (112) 

(112) It is commonly admitted to be an interrogatory sentence: “And do ye not make a difference among (or, in) yourselves, and become judges, having evil thoughts?” literally, “judges of evil thoughts,” it being, as they say, the genitive case of possession. Or the words may be rendered, “and become judges of evil (or, false) reasonings?” or as Beza renders the sentence, “and become judges, reasoning falsely,” concluding that the rich man was good and the poor man bad.

It is said by Beza and others, that διακρίνομαι never means to be judged or condemned, but to distinguish, to discriminate, to make a difference, and also to contend and to doubt. The difference made here was the respect of persons that was shewn, and they made this difference in themselves, in their own minds, through the perverse or false thoughts or reasonings which they entertained. But it appears that these preferences were shewn, not to the members of the Church, but to such strangers as might happen to come to their assemblies.

 

James 2:5

 

5 Hearken, my beloved brethren. He proves now by a two-fold argument, that they acted preposterously, when for the sake of the rich they despised the poor: The first is, that it is unbecoming and disgraceful to cast down those whom God exalts, and to treat reproachfully those whom he honors. As God honors the poor, then every one who repudiates them, reverses the order of God. The other argument is taken from common experience; for since the rich are for the most part vexatious to the good and innocent, it is very unreasonable to render such a reward for the wrongs they do, so that they should be more approved by us than the poor, who aid us more than they wrong us. We shall now see how he proceeds with these two points.

Hath not God chosen the poor of this world? Not indeed alone, but he wished to begin with them, that he might beat down the pride of the rich. This is also what Paul says, that God hath chosen, not many noble, not many mighty in the world, but those who are weak, that he might make ashamed such as are strong (1Co  1:25.) In short, though God pours forth his grace on the rich in common with the poor, yet his will is to prefer these to those, that the mighty might learn not to flatter themselves, and that the ignoble and the obscure might ascribe in what they are to the mercy of God, and that both might be trained up to meekness and humility.

The rich in faith are not those who abound in the greatness of faith, but such as God has enriched with the various gifts of his Spirit, which we receive by faith. For, doubtless, since the Lord deals bountifully with all, every one becomes partaker of his gifts according to the measure of his own faith. If, then, we are empty or needy, that proves the deficiency of our faith; for if we only enlarge the bosom of faith, God is always ready to fill it.

He says, that a kingdom is promised to those who love God: not that the promise depends on love; but he reminds us that we are called by God unto the hope of eternal life, on this condition and to this end, that we may love him. Then the end, and not the beginning, is here pointed out.

 

James 2:6

 

6 Do not the rich. He seems to instigate them to vengeance by bringing forward the unjust rule of the rich, in order that they who were unjustly treated, might render like for like: and yet we are everywhere bid to do good to those who injure us. But the object of James was another; for he only wished to shew that they were without reason or judgment who through ambition honored their executioners, and in the meantime injured their own friends, at least those from whom they never suffered any wrong. For hence appeared more fully their vanity, that they were induced by no acts of kindness: they only admired the rich, because they were rich; nay, they servilely flattered those whom they found, to their own loss, to be unjust and cruel.

There are, indeed, some of the rich who are just, and meek, and hate all unrighteousness; but few of such men are to be found. James, then, mentions what for the most part usually happens, and what daily experience proves true. For as men commonly exercise their power in doing what is wrong, it hence happens, that the more power any one has, the worse he is, and the more unjust towards his neighbors. The more careful then ought the rich to be, lest they should contract any of the contagion which everywhere prevails among those of their own rank.

 

James 2:7

 

7 Worthy, or good name. I doubt not but that he refers here to the name of God and of Christ. And he says, by, or, on, the which ye are called; not in prayer, as Scripture is wont sometimes to speak, but by profession; as the name of a father, in Gen  48:16, is said to be called on his offspring, and in Isa  4:1, the name of a husband is called on the wife. It is, then, the same as though he had said, “The good name in which ye glory, or which ye deem it an honor to be called by; but if they proudly calumniate the glory of God, how unworthy are they of being honored by Christians!”

 

James 2:8

 

Now follows a plainer declaration; for he expressly points out the cause of the last reproof, for they were officiously attentive to the rich, not from love, but on the contrary, from a vain desire of attaining their favor: And it is in anticipation, by which he obviated an excuse on the other side; for they might have objected and said, that he ought not to be blamed, who humbly submiteth himself to the unworthy. James, indeed, concedes that this is true, but he shews that it was falsely pretended by them, because they shewed this submission of homage, not from love to their neighbors, but from respect of persons.

In the first clause, then, he acknowledges as right and praiseworthy, as the duties of love which we perform towards our neighbors. In the second, he denies that the ambitious respect of persons ought to be deemed as of this kind, for it widely differs from what the law prescribes. And the hinge of this answer turns on the words “neighbor” and “respect of persons,” as though he had said, “If you pretend that there is a sort of love in what you do, this may be easily disproved; for God bids us to love our neighbors, and not to shew respect of persons.” Besides, this word “neighbor” includes all mankind: he, then, who says, that a very few, according to his own fancy, ought to be honored, and others passed by, does not keep the law of God, but yields to the depraved desires of his own heart. God expressly commends to us strangers and enemies, and all, even the most contemptible. To this doctrine the respect of persons is wholly contrary. Hence, rightly does James assert, that respect of persons is inconsistent with love.

8 If ye fulfill the royal law. The law here I take simply as the rule of life; and to fulfill, or perform it, is to keep it with real integrity of heart, and as they say, roundly, (rotunde ;) and he sets such a keeping in opposition to a partial observance of it. It is said, indeed, to be a royal law, as it is the royal way, or road; that is, plain, straight, and level, which, by implication, is set in opposition to sinuous by-paths and windings.

Allusion however is made, as I think, to servile obedience which they rendered to the rich, when they might, by serving in sincerity their neighbors, be not only free men, but live as kings.

 

James 2:9

 

When, in the second place, he says, that those who had respect of persons were convinced, or reproved by the law, the law is taken according to its proper meaning. For since we are bidden by God’s command to embrace all mortals, every one who, with a few exceptions, rejects all the rest, breaks the bond of God, and inverts also his order, and is, therefore, rightly called a transgressor of the law.

 

James 2:10

 

10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law. What alone he means is, that God will not be honored with exceptions, nor will he allow us to cut off from his law what is less pleasing to us. At the first view, this sentence seems hard to some, as though the apostle countenanced the paradox of the Stoics, which makes all sins equal, and as though he asserted that he who offends in one thing ought to be punished equally with him whose whole life has been sinful and wicked. But it is evident from the context that no such thing entered into his mind.

For we must always observe the reason anything is said. He denies that our neighbors are loved when a part only of them is through ambition chosen, and the rest neglected. This he proves, because it is no obedience to God, when it is not rendered equally according to his command. Then as the rule of God is plain and complete or perfect, so we ought to regard completeness; so that none of us should presumptuously separate what he has joined together. Let there be, therefore, a uniformity, if we desire rightly to obey God. As, for instance, were a judge to punish ten thefts, and leave one man unpunished, he would betray the obliquity of his mind, for he would thus shew himself indignant against men rather than against crimes; because what he condemns in one he absolves in another.

We now, then, understand the design of James, that is, that if we cut off from God’s law what is less agreeable to us, though in other parts we may be obedient, yet we be come guilty of all, because in one particular thing we violate the whole law. And though he accommodates what is said to the subject in hand, it is yet taken from a general principle, — that God has prescribed to us a rule of life, which it is not lawful for us to mutilate. For it is not said of a part of the law, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” nor does the law promise a reward except to universal obedience.

Foolish, then, are the schoolmen, who deem partial righteousness, as they call it, to be meritorious; for this passage and many others, clearly shew that there is no righteousness except in a perfect obedience to the law.

 

James 2:11

 

11 For he that said, or he who hath said. This is a proof of the former verse; because the Lawgiver is to be considered rather than each particular precept apart. The righteousness of God, as an indivisible body, is contained in the law. Whosoever, then, transgresses one article of the Law, destroys, as far as he can, the righteousness of God. Besides, as in one part, so in every part, God’s will is to try our obedience. Hence a transgressor of the law is every one who offends as to any one of its commandments according to this saying,

“Cursed is he who fulfills not all things.”
(Deu  27:26.)

We further see, that the transgressor of the law, and the guilty of all, mean the same according to James.

 

James 2:12

 

12 So speak ye. Some give this explanation, that as they flattered themselves too much, they are summoned to the right tribunal; for men absolve themselves according to their own notions, because they withdraw themselves from the judgment of the divine law. He then reminds them that all deeds and words are there to be accounted for, because God will judge the world according to his law. As, however, such a declaration might have smitten them with immoderate terror, to correct or mitigate what they might have thought severe, he adds, the law of liberty. For we know what Paul says,

“Whosoever are under the law are under a curse.”
(Gal  3:10.)

Hence the judgment of the law in itself is condemnation to eternal death; but he means by the word liberty, that we are freed from the rigor of the law.

This meaning is not altogether unsuitable, though if one examines more minutely what immediately follows, he will see that James meant another thing; the sense is as though he had said, “Except ye wish to undergo the rigor of the law, ye must be less rigid towards your neighbors; for the law of liberty is the same as the mercy of God, which delivers us from the curse of the law” And so this verse ought to be read with what follows, where he speaks of the duty of bearing with infirmities. And doubtless the whole passage thus reads well: “Since none of us can stand before God, except we be delivered and freed from the strict rigor of the law, we ought so to act, that we may not through too much severity exclude the indulgence or mercy of God, of which we all have need to the last.”

 

James 2:13

 

13 For he shall have judgment. This is an application of the last verse to the subject in hand, which confirms altogether the second explanation which I have mentioned: for he shews, that since we stand through God’s mercy alone, we ought to shew that to those whom the Lord himself commends to us. It is, indeed, a singular commendation of kindness and benevolence, that God promises that he will be merciful to us, if we be so to our brethren: not that our mercy, how ever great it may be, shewn towards men, merits the mercy of God; but that God would have those whom he has adopted, as he is to them a kind and an indulgent Father, to bear and exhibit his image on the earth, according to the saying of Christ,

“Be ye merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
(Mat  5:7.)

We must notice, on the other hand, that he could denounce nothing on them more severe or more dreadful than the judgment of God. It hence follows, that all they are miserable and lost who flee not to the asylum of pardon.

And mercy rejoiceth. As though he had said, “God’s mercy alone is that which delivers us from the dread and terror of judgment.” he takes rejoicing or glorying in the sense of being victorious or triumphant; for the judgment of condemnation is suspended over the whole world, and nothing but mercy can bring relief.

Hard and forced is the explanation of those who regard mercy as put here for the person, for men cannot properly be said to rejoice or glory against the judgment of God; but mercy itself in a manner triumphs, and alone reigns when the severity of judgment gives way; though I do not deny but that hence arises confidence in rejoicing, that is, when the faithful know that the wrath of God in a manner yields to mercy, so that being relieved by the latter, they are not overwhelmed by the former.

 

James 2:14

 

14 What doth it profit. He proceeds to commend mercy. And as he had threatened that God would be a severe Judge to us, and at the same time very dreadful, except we be kind and merciful towards our neighbors, and as on the other hand hypocrites objected and said, that faith is sufficient to us, in which the salvation of men consists, he now condemns this vain boasting. The sum, then, of what is said is, that faith without love avails nothing, and that it is therefore wholly dead.

But here a question arises, Can faith be separated from love? It is indeed true that the exposition of this passage has produced that common distinction of the Sophists, between unformed and formed faith; but of such a thing James knew nothing, for it appears from the first words, that he speaks of false profession of faith: for he does not begin thus, “If any one has faith;” but, “If any says that he has faith;” by which he certainly intimates that hypocrites boast of the empty name of faith, which really does not belong to them.

That he calls it then faith, is a concession, as the Rhetoricians say; for when we discuss a point, it does no harm, nay, it is sometimes expedient, to concede to an adversary what he demands, for as soon as the thing itself is known, what is conceded may be easily taken away from him. James then, as he was satisfied that it was a false pretext by which hypocrites covered themselves, was not disposed to raise a dispute about a word or an expression. Let us, however, remember that he does not speak according to the impression of his own mind when he mentions faith, but that on the contrary he disputes against those who made a false pretense as to faith, of which they were wholly destitute.

Can faith save him? This is the same as though he had said, that we do not attain salvation by a frigid and bare knowledge of God, which all confess to be most true; for salvation comes to us by faith for this reason, because it joins us to God. And this comes not in any other way than by being united to the body of Christ, so that, living through his Spirit, we are also governed by him. There is no such thing as this in the dead image of faith. There is then no wonder that James denies that salvation is connected with it. (113) 

 

(113) When he says “Can faith save him?” his meaning is “Can the faith which he says he has save him?” that is, faith which is dead and produces no works; for that is the faith clearly intended here, as it appears from what follows. To make the meaning more evident, Macknight renders the sentence thus, — “Can this faith save him?” that is, the faith that has not works.

 

James 2:15

 

15 If a brother, or, For if a brother. He takes an example from what was connected with his subject; for he had been exhorting them to exercise the duties of love. If any one, on the contrary, boasted that he was satisfied with faith without works, he compares this shadowy faith to the saying of one who bids a famished man to be filled without supplying him with the food of which he is destitute. As, then, he who sends away a poor man with words, and offers him no help, treats him with mockery, so they who devise for themselves faith without works, and without any of the duties of religion, trifle with God. (114) 

 

(114) This is adduced as an illustration: as the saying of a man to the naked, “Be ye clothed,” when he does nothing, effects no good, is wholly useless, so is that faith that produces no works; it being as it were dead, it cannot save.

 

James 2:17

 

17 Is dead, being alone. He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works. We hence conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name. The Sophists plead this expression and say, that some sort of faith is found by itself; but this frivolous caviling is easily refuted; for it is sufficiently evident that the Apostle reasons from what is impossible, as Paul calls an angel anathema, if he attempted to subvert the gospel. (Gal  1:8.)

 

James 2:18

 

18 Yea, a man may say. Erasmus introduces here two persons as speakers; one of whom boasts of faith without works, and the other of works without faith; and he thinks that both are at length confuted by the Apostle. But this view seems to me too forced. He thinks it strange, that this should be said by James, Thou hast faith, who acknowledges no faith without works. But in this he is much mistaken, that he does not acknowledge an irony in these words. Then ἀλλὰ I take for “nay rather;” and τὶς for “any one;” for the design of James was to expose the foolish boasting of those who imagined that they had faith when by their life they shewed that they were unbelievers; for he intimates that it would be easy for all the godly who led a holy life to strip hypocrites of that boasting with which they were inflated. (115) 

Shew me. Though the more received reading is, “by works,” yet the old Latin is more suitable, and the reading is also found in some Greek copies. I therefore hesitated not to adopt it. Then he bids to shew faith without works, and thus reasons from what is impossible, to prove what does not exist. So he speaks ironically. But if any one prefers the other reading, it comes to the same thing, “Shew me by works thy faith;” for since it is not an idle thing, it must necessarily be proved by works. The meaning then is, “Unless thy faith brings forth fruits, I deny that thou hast any faith.” (116) 

But it may be asked, whether the outward uprightness of life is a sure evidence of faith? For James says, “I will shew thee my faith by my works. ” To this I reply, that the unbelieving sometimes excel in specious virtues, and lead an honorable life free from every crime; and hence works apparently excellent may exist apart from faith. Nor indeed does James maintain that every one who seems good possesses faith. This only he means, that faith, without the evidence of good works, is vainly pretended, because fruit ever comes from the living root of a good tree.

 

(115) I would render the verse thus:

“But one may say, Thou hast faith, I also have works; shew me thy faith that is without works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”

It is the same as though he had said, “Thou hast faith only, I have also works in addition to my faith; now, prove to me that you have true faith without having works connected with it, (which was impossible, hence he is called a ‘vain man,’ or empty-headed, in Jas  2:20,) and I will prove my faith by its fruits, even good works.

(116) Griesbach and others regard χωρὶς as the true reading, countenanced by most MSS., and found in the Syr. and Vulg.

This verse is a key to the meaning of James: faith is to be proved by works; then faith properly justifies and saves, and works prove its genuineness. When he says that a man is justified by works, the meaning according to this verse is, that a man is proved by his works to be justified, his faith thereby being shewn to be a living and not a dead faith. We may well be surprised, as Doddridge was, that any, taking a view of this whole passage, should ever think that there is any contrariety in what is here said to be the teaching of Paul. The doctrine of Paul, that man is justified by faith and not by works, that is, by a living faith, which works by love, is perfectly consistent with what James says, that is, that a man is not justified by a dead faith but by that faith which proves its living power by producing good works, or by rendering obedience to God. The sum of what James says is, that a dead faith cannot save, but a living faith, and that a living faith is a working faith — a doctrine taught by Paul as well as by James.

 

James 2:19

 

19 Thou believest that there is one God. From this one sentence it appears evident that the whole dispute is not about faith, but of the common knowledge of God, which can no more connect man with God, than the sight of the sun carry him up to heaven; but it is certain that by faith we come nigh to God. Besides, it would be ridiculous were any one to say, that the devils have faith; and James prefers them in this respect to hypocrites. The devil trembles, he says, at the mention of God’s name, because when he acknowledges his own judge he is filled with the fear of him. He then who despises an acknowledged God is much worse.

Thou doest well, is put down for the purpose of extenuating, as though he had said, “It is, forsooth! a great thing to sink down below the devils.” (117) 

(117) The design of alluding to the faith of devils seems to have been this, to shew that though a good man may believe and tremble, yet if he does not obey God and do good works, he has no true evidence of faith. Obedient faith is that which saves, and not merely that which makes us tremble. The connection with the preceding verse seems to be as follows, —

In the former verse the boaster of mere faith is challenged to prove that his faith is right and therefore saving; the challenger would prove by his works. Then, in this verse, a test is applied — the very first article of faith is mentioned: “Be it that you believe this, yet this faith will not save you: the devils have this faith, and instead of being saved they tremble.

 

James 2:20

 

20 But wilt thou know. We must understand the state of the question, for the dispute here is not respecting the cause of justification, but only what avails a profession of faith without works, and what opinion we are to form of it. Absurdly then do they act who strive to prove by this passage that man is justified by works, because James meant no such thing, for the proofs which he subjoins refer to this declaration, that no faith, or only a dead faith, is without works. No one will ever understand what is said, nor judge wisely of words, except he who keeps in view the design of the writer.

 

James 2:21

 

21 Was not Abraham. The Sophists lay hold on the word justified, and then they cry out as being victorious, that justification is partly by works. But we ought to seek out a right interpretation according to the general drift of the whole passage. We have already said that James does not speak here of the cause of justification, or of the manner how men obtain righteousness, and this is plain to every one; but that his object was only to shew that good works are always connected with faith; and, therefore, since he declares that Abraham was justified by works, he is speaking of the proof he gave of his justification.

When, therefore, the Sophists set up James against Paul, they go astray through the ambiguous meaning of a term. When Paul says that we are justified by faith, he means no other thing than that by faith we are counted righteous before God. But James has quite another thing in view, even to shew that he who professes that he has faith, must prove the reality of his faith by his works. Doubtless James did not mean to teach us here the ground on which our hope of salvation ought to rest; and it is this alone that Paul dwells upon. (118) 

That we may not then fall into that false reasoning which has deceived the Sophists, we must take notice of the two fold meaning, of the word justified. Paul means by it the gratuitous imputation of righteousness before the tribunal of God; and James, the manifestation of righteousness by the conduct, and that before men, as we may gather from the preceding words, “Shew to me thy faith,” etc. In this sense we fully allow that man is justified by works, as when any one says that a man is enriched by the purchase of a large and valuable chest, because his riches, before hid, shut up in a chest, were thus made known.

 

(118) It is justly observed by Scott, that there is the same difficulty in reconciling James with himself as with Paul. And this difficulty at once vanishes, when we take a view of the whole passage, and not confine ourselves to single expressions.

 

James 2:22

 

22 By works was faith made perfect (119) By this he again shews, that the question here is not respecting the cause of our salvation, but whether works necessarily accompany faith; for in this sense it is said to have been perfected by works, because it was not idle. It is said to have been perfected by works, not because it received thence its own perfection, but because it was thus proved to be true. For the futile distinction which the Sophists draw from these words, between formed and unformed faith, needs no labored refutation; for the faith of Abram was formed and therefore perfected before he sacrificed his son. And this work was not as it were the finishing, or last work. Formerly things afterwards followed by which Abraham proved the increase of his faith. Hence this was not the perfection of his faith, nor did it then for the first time put on its form. James then understood no other thing, than that the integrity of his faith then appeared, because it brought forth that remarkable fruit of obedience.

 

(119) The previous sentence is hardly intelligible in our version or in Calvin’s. “Seest thou how faith wrought (co-operated, by C.) with his works?” The verb is συνεργέω, which means properly to work together, to co-operate; and it means also, as the effect of co-operating, to aid, to help. “Seest thou how faith aided him in his works?” Schleusner gives this paraphrase, “Thou sees that Abraham was aided by his faith to do his remarkable works.” Beza’s version is, “Thou seest that faith was the assistant (administer) of his works.” Some give the idea of combining to co-operating, “Thou seest that faith co-operated with his works,” that is, in justification. It has been said, that if this combination had been intended, it ought to have been said that works co-operated with his faith, as faith, according to the testimony of scripture and the nature of things, is the primary and the principal thing, and as there can be no good works without faith. But the first explanation is the most consonant with the words and with the drift of the passage.

 

James 2:23

 

23 And the Scripture was fulfilled. They who seek to prove from this passage of James that the works of Abraham were imputed for righteousness, must necessarily confess that Scripture is perverted by him; for however they may turn and twist, they can never make the effect to be its own cause. The passage is quoted from Moses. (Gen  15:6.) The imputation of righteousness which Moses mentions, preceded more than thirty years the work by which they would have Abraham to have been justified. Since faith was imputed to Abraham fifteen years before the birth of Isaac, this could not surely have been done through the work of sacrificing him. I consider that all those are bound fast by an indissoluble knot, who imagine that righteousness was imputed to Abraham before God, because he sacrificed his son Isaac, who was not yet born when the Holy Spirit declared that Abraham was justified. It hence necessarily follows that something posterior is pointed out here.

Why then does James say that it was fulfilled? Even because he intended to shew what sort of faith that was which justified Abraham; that is, that it was not idle or evanescent, but rendered him obedient to God, as also we find in Heb  11:8. The conclusion, which is immediately added, as it depends on this, has no other meaning. Man is not justified by faith alone, that is, by a bare and empty knowledge of God; he is justified by works, that is, his righteousness is known and proved by its fruits.

 

James 2:25

 

25 Likewise also was not Rahab. It seems strange that he connected together those who were so unlike. Why did he not rather choose some one from so large a number of illustrious fathers, and join him to Abraham? Why did he prefer a harlot to all others? he designedly put together two persons so different in their character, in order more clearly to shew, that no one, whatever may have been his or her condition, nation, or class in society, has ever been counted righteous without good works. He had named the patriarch, by far the most eminent of all; he now includes under the person of a harlot, all those who, being aliens, were joined to the Church. Whosoever, then, seeks to be counted righteous, though he may even be among the lowest, must yet shew that he is such by good works.

James, according to his manner of speaking, declares that Rahab was justified by works; and the Sophists hence conclude that we obtain righteousness by the merits of works. But we deny that the dispute here is concerning the mode of obtaining righteousness. We, indeed, allow that good works are required for righteousness; we only take away from them the power of conferring righteousness, because they cannot stand before the tribunal of God. (120) 

(120) The last verse is left unnoticed, —

Jas  2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works (or, having no works) is dead.”

The meaning is not, that works are to faith what the spirit is to the body, for that would make works to be the life of faith, the reverse of the fact; but the meaning is, that faith having no works is like a dead carcass without life.