Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
MARKS OF THE
GOD AND THE
CHILDREN OF THE
1. Behold--calling attention, as to some wonderful exhibition,
little as the world sees to admire. This verse is connected with the
thus: All our doing of righteousness is a mere sign that God, of
His matchless love, has adopted us as children; it does not save us,
but is a proof that we are saved of His grace.
what manner of--of what surpassing excellence, how gracious on
His part, how precious to us.
love . . . bestowed--He does not say that God hath
given us some gift, but love itself and the fountain of all
honors, the heart itself, and that not for our works or efforts, but of
His grace [LUTHER].
that--"what manner of love"; resulting in, proved by, our being,
&c. The immediate effect aimed at in the bestowal of this love
is, "that we should be called children of God."
should be called--should have received the privilege of such a
glorious title (though seeming so imaginary to the world), along
with the glorious reality. With God to call is to make
really to be. Who so great as God? What nearer relationship than
that of sons? The oldest manuscripts add, "And we ARE SO" really.
therefore--"on this account," because "we are (really) so."
us--the children, like the Father.
it knew him not--namely, the Father. "If they who regard not
God, hold thee in any account, feel alarmed about thy state" [BENGEL]. Contrast
The world's whole course is one great act of non-recognition of
2. Beloved--by the Father, and therefore by me.
now--in contrast to "not yet." We now already are really
sons, though not recognized as such by the world, and (as the
consequence) we look for the visible manifestation of our sonship,
which not yet has taken place.
doth not yet appear--Greek, "it hath not yet ('at any
time,' Greek aorist) been visibly manifested what we shall
be"--what further glory we shall attain by virtue of this our sonship.
The "what" suggests a something inconceivably glorious.
but--omitted in the oldest manuscripts. Its insertion in
English Version gives a wrong antithesis. It is not, "We do
not yet know manifestly what . . . but we know," &c.
Believers have some degree of the manifestation already, though
the world has not. The connection is, The manifestation to
the world of what we shall be, has not yet taken place; we
know (in general; as a matter of well-assured knowledge; so
the Greek) that when (literally, "if"; expressing no doubt as to
the fact, but only as to the time; also implying the coming preliminary
fact, on which the consequence follows,
He (not "it," namely, that which is not yet manifested
[ALFORD]) shall be manifested
(1Jo 3:5; 2:28),
we shall be like Him (Christ; all sons have a substantial resemblance
to their father, and Christ, whom we shall be like, is "the express
image of the Father's person," so that in resembling Christ, we shall
resemble the Father). We wait for the manifestation (literally,
the "apocalypse"; the same term as is applied to Christ's own
manifestation) of the sons of God. After our natural birth, the
new birth into the life of grace is needed, which is to be followed by
the new birth into the life of glory; the two latter alike are termed
The resurrection of our bodies is a kind of coming out of the womb of
the earth, and being born into another life. Our first temptation was
that we should be like God in knowledge, and by that we fell; but being
raised by Christ, we become truly like Him, by knowing Him as we are
known, and by seeing Him as He is [PEARSON,
Exposition of the Creed]. As the first immortality which Adam
lost was to be able not to die, so the last shall be not to be able to
die. As man's first free choice or will was to be able not to sin, so
our last shall be not to be able to sin [AUGUSTINE, The City of God, 22.30]. The devil
fell by aspiring to God's power; man, by aspiring to his
knowledge; but aspiring after God's goodness, we shall
ever grow in His likeness. The transition from God the Father to
"He," "Him," referring to Christ (who alone is ever said in Scripture
to be manifested; not the Father,
implies the entire unity of the Father and the Son.
for, &c.--Continual beholding generates likeness
as the face of the moon being always turned towards the sun, reflects
its light and glory.
see him--not in His innermost Godhead, but as manifested in
Christ. None but the pure can see the infinitely Pure One. In all
these passages the Greek is the same verb opsomai; not
denoting the action of seeing, but the state of him to whose eye or
mind the object is presented; hence the Greek verb is always in
the middle or reflexive voice, to perceive and inwardly
appreciate [TITTMANN]. Our spiritual bodies
will appreciate and recognize spiritual beings hereafter, as our
natural bodies now do natural objects.
3. this hope--of being hereafter "like Him." Faith and
love, as well as hope, occur in
1Jo 3:11, 23.
in--rather, "(resting) upon Him"; grounded on His
purifieth himself--by Christ's Spirit in him
end). "Thou purifiest thyself, not of thyself, but of Him who comes
that He may dwell in thee" [AUGUSTINE]. One's
justification through faith is presupposed.
as he is pure--unsullied with any uncleanness. The Second
Person, by whom both the Law and Gospel were given.
4. Sin is incompatible with birth from God
John often sets forth the same truth negatively, which he had
before set forth positively. He had shown, birth from God
involves self-purification; he now shows where sin, that is, the want
of self-purification, is, there is no birth from God.
Whosoever--Greek, "Every one who."
committeth sin--in contrast to
"Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself"; and
"He that doeth righteousness."
transgresseth . . . the law--Greek, "committeth
transgression of law." God's law of purity; and so shows he has no such
hope of being hereafter pure as God is pure, and, therefore, that he is
not born of God.
sin is . . . transgression of . . .
law--definition of sin in general. The Greek having
the article to both, implies that they are convertible terms. The
Greek "sin" (hamartia) is literally, "a missing of the
mark." God's will being that mark to be ever aimed at. "By the law is
the knowledge of sin." The crookedness of a line is shown by being
brought into juxtaposition with a straight ruler.
5. Additional proof of the incompatibility of sin and sonship;
the very object of Christ's manifestation in the flesh was to take
away (by one act, and entirely, aorist) all sins, as the scapegoat
and--another proof of the same.
in him is no sin--not "was," but "is," as in
"He is righteous," and
"He is pure." Therefore we are to be so.
6. He reasons from Christ's own entire separation from sin, that
those in him must also be separate from it.
abideth in him--as the branch in the vine, by vital union living
by His life.
sinneth not--In so far as he abides in Christ, so far is he free
from all sin. The ideal of the Christian. The life of sin and the life
of God mutually exclude one another, just as darkness and light. In
matter of fact, believers do fall into sins
(1Jo 1:8-10; 2:1, 2);
but all such sins are alien from the life of God, and need Christ's
cleansing blood, without application to which the life of God could not
be maintained. He sinneth not so long as he abideth in Christ.
whosoever sinneth hath not seen him--Greek perfect, "has
not seen, and does not see Him." Again the ideal of Christian
intuition and knowledge is presented
All sin as such is at variance with the notion of one regenerated. Not
that "whosoever is betrayed into sins has never seen nor known God";
but in so far as sin exists, in that degree the spiritual
intuition and knowledge of God do not exist in him.
neither--"not even." To see spiritually is a further step
than to know; for by knowing we come to seeing by
vivid realization and experimentally.
7, 8. The same truth stated, with the addition that he who sins
is, so far as he sins, "of the devil."
let no man deceive you--as Antinomians try to mislead men.
righteousness--Greek, "the righteousness," namely,
of Christ or God.
he that doeth . . . is righteous--Not his doing
makes him righteous, but his being righteous (justified
by the righteousness of God in Christ,
makes him to do righteousness: an inversion common in familiar
language, logical in reality, though not in form, as in
Works do not justify, but the justified man works. We infer from his
doing righteousness that he is already righteous (that
is, has the true and only principle of doing righteousness,
namely, faith), and is therefore born of God
just as we might say, The tree that bears good fruit is a good tree,
and has a living root; not that the fruit makes the tree and its
root to be good, but it shows that they are so.
8. He that committeth sin is of the devil--in contrast to "He
that doeth righteousness,"
He is a son of the devil
John does not, however, say, "born of the devil." as he does "born of
God," for "the devil begets none, nor does he create any; but whoever
imitates the devil becomes a child of the devil by imitating him, not
by proper birth" [AUGUSTINE, Ten Homilies on
the First Epistle of John, Homily 4.10]. From the devil there is
not generation, but corruption [BENGEL].
sinneth from the beginning--from the time that any began to sin
[ALFORD]: from the time that he became what he is,
the devil. He seems to have kept his first estate only a very short
time after his creation [BENGEL]. Since the
fall of man [at the beginning of our world] the devil
is (ever) sinning (this is the force of "sinneth"; he
has sinned from the beginning, is the cause of all sins, and still goes
on sinning; present). As the author of sin, and prince of this world,
he has never ceased to seduce man to sin [LUECKE].
destroy--break up and do away with; bruising and crushing the
works of the devil--sin, and all its awful consequences. John
argues, Christians cannot do that which Christ came to destroy.
9. Whosoever is born of God--literally, "Everyone that is
begotten of God."
doth not commit sin--His higher nature, as one born or begotten
of God, doth not sin. To be begotten of God and to sin,
are states mutually excluding one another. In so far as one sins, he
makes it doubtful whether he be born of God.
his seed--the living word of God, made by the Holy Spirit the
seed in us of a new life and the continual mean of sanctification.
remaineth--abideth in him (compare Note, see on
This does not contradict
1Jo 1:8, 9;
the regenerate show the utter incompatibility of sin with
regeneration, by cleansing away every sin into which they may be
betrayed by the old nature, at once in the blood of Christ.
cannot sin, because he is born of God--"because it is of
God that he is born" (so the Greek order, as compared
with the order of the same words in the beginning of the verse); not
"because he was born of God" (the Greek is perfect tense,
which is present in meaning, not aorist); it is not said,
Because a man was once for all born of God he never afterwards can sin;
but, Because he is born of God, the seed abiding now in Him, he cannot
sin; so long as it energetically abides, sin can have no place. Compare
Joseph, "How CAN I do this great wickedness and
sin against God?" The principle within me is at utter variance with it.
The regenerate life is incompatible with sin, and gives the believer a
hatred for sin in every shape, and an unceasing desire to resist it.
"The child of God in this conflict receives indeed wounds daily, but
never throws away his arms or makes peace with his deadly foe" [LUTHER]. The exceptional sins into which the regenerate
are surprised, are owing to the new life principle being for a time
suffered to lie dormant, and to the sword of the Spirit not being drawn
instantly. Sin is ever active, but no longer reigns. The normal
direction of the believer's energies is against sin; the law of God
after the inward man is the ruling principle of his true self
though the old nature, not yet fully deadened, rebels and sins.
with Joh 8:34;
Ps 18:22, 23;
32:2, 3; 119:113, 176.
The magnetic needle, the nature of which is always to point to the
pole, is easily turned aside, but always reseeks the pole.
10. children of the devil--(See on
There is no middle class between the children of God and the children
of the devil.
doeth not righteousness--Contrast
he that loveth not his brother--
a particular instance of that love which is the sum and
fulfilment of all righteousness, and the token (not loud professions,
or even seemingly good works) that distinguishes God's children from
11. the message--"announcement," as of something good; not a
mere command, as the law. The Gospel message of Him who
loved us, announced by His servants, is, that we love the
brethren; not here all mankind, but those who are our brethren in
Christ, children of the same family of God, of whom we have been born
12. who--not in the Greek.
of that wicked one--Translate, "evil one," to accord with
"Because his own works were evil." Compare
"of the devil," in contrast to "of God,"
slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's
righteous--through envy and hatred of his brother's piety, owing to
which God accepted Abel's, but rejected Cain's offering. Enmity from
the first existed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the
13. Marvel not--The marvel would be if the world loved you.
the world--of whom Cain is the representative
hate you--as Cain hated even his own brother, and that to the
extent of murdering him. The world feels its bad works tacitly reproved
by your good works.
14. We--emphatical; hated though we be by the world, we
know what the world knows not.
know--as an assured fact.
passed--changed our state.
"from the power of darkness . . . translated into the kingdom
of His dear Son."
from death unto life--literally, "out of the death (which
enthrals the unregenerate) into the life (of the regenerate)." A
palpable coincidence of language and thought, the beloved disciple
adopting his Lord's words.
because we love the brethren--the ground, not of our passing
over out of death into life, but of our knowing that we have
so. Love, on our part, is the evidence of our
justification and regeneration, not the cause of them. "Let each
go to his own heart; if he find there love to the brethren, let him
feel assured that he has passed from death unto life. Let him not mind
that his glory is only hidden; when the Lord shall come, then shall he
appear in glory. For he has vital energy, but it is still wintertime;
the root has vigor, but the branches are as it were dry; within there
is marrow which is vigorous, within are leaves, within fruits, but they
must wait for summer" [AUGUSTINE].
He that loveth not--Most of the oldest manuscripts omit "his
brother," which makes the statement more general.
in death--"in the (spiritual) death" (ending in eternal
death) which is the state of all by nature. His want of love
evidences that no saving change has passed over him.
15. hateth--equivalent to "loveth not"
there is no medium between the two. "Love and hatred, like light and
darkness, life and death, necessarily replace, as well as necessarily
exclude, one another" [ALFORD].
is a murderer--because indulging in that passion, which, if
followed out to its natural consequences, would make him one. "Whereas,
desires us to lay down our lives for the brethren; duels require
one (awful to say!) to risk his own life, rather than not
deprive another of life" [BENGEL]. God
regards the inward disposition as tantamount to the outward act which
would flow from it. Whomsoever one hates, one wishes to be dead.
hath--Such a one still "abideth in death." It is not his
future state, but his present, which is referred to. He
who hates (that is, loveth not) his brother
cannot in this his present state have eternal life abiding in him.
16. What true love to the brethren is, illustrated by the
love of Christ to us.
the love of God--The words "of God" are not in the
original. Translate, "We arrive at the knowledge of love"; we
apprehend what true love is.
and we--on our part, if absolutely needed for the glory of God,
the good of the Church, or the salvation of a brother.
lives--Christ alone laid down His one life for us all; we
ought to lay down our lives severally for the lives of the
brethren; if not actually, at least virtually, by giving our time,
care, labors, prayers, substance: Non nobis, sed omnibus. Our
life ought not to be dearer to us than God's own Son was to Him. The
apostles and martyrs acted on this principle.
17. this world's good--literally, "livelihood" or substance. If
we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren
how much more ought we not to withhold our substance?
seeth--not merely casually, but deliberately
contemplates as a spectator; Greek, "beholds."
shutteth up his bowels of compassion--which had been
momentarily opened by the spectacle of his brother's need. The
"bowels" mean the heart, the seat of compassion.
how--How is it possible that "the love of (that is,
'to') God dwelleth (Greek, 'abideth') in him?" Our
superfluities should yield to the necessities; our comforts, and even
our necessaries in some measure, should yield to the extreme wants of
our brethren. "Faith gives Christ to me; love flowing from faith gives
me to my neighbor."
18. When the venerable John could no longer walk to the meetings
of the Church but was borne thither by his disciples, he always uttered
the same address to the Church; he reminded them of that one
commandment which he had received from Christ Himself, as comprising
all the rest, and forming the distinction of the new covenant, "My
little children, love one another." When the brethren present, wearied
of hearing the same thing so often, asked why he always repeated the
same thing, he replied, "Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and
if this one thing be attained, it is enough" [JEROME].
in word--Greek, "with word . . . with
tongue, but in deed and truth."
19. hereby--Greek, "herein"; in our loving in deed and
we know--The oldest manuscripts have "we shall know," namely, if
we fulfil the command
of the truth--that we are real disciples of, and belonging to,
the truth, as it is in Jesus: begotten of God with the word of
truth. Having herein the truth radically, we shall be sure not
to love merely in word and tongue.
assure--literally, "persuade," namely, so as to cease to condemn
us; satisfy the questionings and doubts of our consciences as to
whether we be accepted before God or not (compare
"having made Blastus their friend," literally, "persuaded"). The
"heart," as the seat of the feelings, is our inward judge; the
conscience, as the witness, acts either as our justifying
advocate, or our condemning accuser, before God even now.
has "conscience," but the passage is omitted in most old manuscripts.
John nowhere else uses the term "conscience." Peter and Paul alone use
before him--as in the sight of Him, the omniscient Searcher of
hearts. Assurance is designed to be the ordinary experience and
privilege of the believer.
20. LUTHER and BENGEL
take this verse as consoling the believer whom his heart
condemns; and who, therefore, like Peter, appeals from conscience
to Him who is greater than conscience. "Lord, Thou knowest
all things: thou knowest that I love Thee." Peter's conscience,
though condemning him of his sin in denying the Lord, assured him of
his love; but fearing the possibility, owing to his past fall,
of deceiving himself, he appeals to the all-knowing God: so Paul,
1Co 4:3, 4.
So if we be believers, even if our heart condemns us of sin in
general, yet having the one sign of sonship, love, we may still
assure our hearts (some oldest manuscripts read heart,
as well as
as knowing that God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all
things. But thus the same Greek is translated "because" in
the beginning, and "(we know) that" in the middle of the verse,
and if the verse were consolatory, it probably would have been,
"Because EVEN if our heart condemn us," &c.
Therefore translate, "Because (rendering the reason why it has
been stated in
to be so important to 'assure our hearts before Him') if our heart
condemn (Greek, 'know [aught] against us';
answering by contrast to 'we shall know that we are of the
truth') us (it is) because God is greater than our heart and
knoweth all things." If our heart judges us unfavorably, we may be sure
that He, knowing more than our heart knows, judges us more unfavorably
still [ALFORD]. A similar ellipsis ("it is")
2Co 1:6; 8:23.
The condemning testimony of our conscience is not alone, but is the
echo of the voice of Him who is greater and knoweth all things. Our
hypocrisy in loving by word and tongue, not in deed and
truth, does not escape even our conscience, though weak and knowing
but little, how much less God who knows all things! Still the
consolatory view may be the right one. For the Greek for "we
shall assure our hearts" (see on
is gain over, persuade so as to be stilled, implying that there
was a previous state of self-condemnation by the heart
which, however, is got over by the consolatory thought, "God is
greater than my heart" which condemns me, and "knows all things"
(Greek "ginoskei," "knows," not
"kataginoskei," "condemns"), and therefore knows my
love and desire to serve Him, and knows my frame so as to
pity my weakness of faith. This gaining over the heart to peace
is not so advanced a stage as the having CONFIDENCE towards
God which flows from a heart condemning us not. The first
"because" thus applies to the two alternate cases,
1Jo 3:20, 21
(giving the ground of saying, that having love we shall gain
over, or assure our minds before Him,
the second "because" applies to the first alternate alone, namely, "if
our heart condemn us." When he reaches the second alternate,
he states it independently of the former "because" which had connected
inasmuch as CONFIDENCE toward God is a
farther stage than persuading our hearts, though always preceded
21. Beloved--There is no "But" contrasting the two cases,
1Jo 3:20, 21,
because "Beloved" sufficiently marks the transition to the case of the
brethren walking in the full confidence of love
The two results of our being able to "assure our hearts before Him"
and of "our heart condemning us not" (of insincerity as to the
truth in general, and as to LOVE in
particular) are, (1) confidence toward God; (2) a sure answer to our
prayers. John does not mean that all whose hearts do not condemn them,
are therefore safe before God; for some have their conscience seared,
others are ignorant of the truth, and it is not only sincerity,
but sincerity in the truth which can save men. Christians are
those meant here: knowing Christ's precepts and testing themselves by
22. we receive--as a matter of fact, according to His promise.
Believers, as such, ask only what is in accordance with God's will; or
if they ask what God wills not, they bow their will to God's will, and
so God grants them either their request, or something better than it.
because we keep his commandments--Compare
Ps 66:18; 34:15; 145:18, 19.
Not as though our merits earned a hearing for our prayers, but when we
are believers in Christ, all our works of faith being the fruit of
His Spirit in us, are "pleasing in God's sight"; and our prayers
being the voice of the same Spirit of God in us, naturally and
necessarily are answered by Him.
23. Summing up of God's commandments under the Gospel
dispensation in one commandment.
this is his commandment--singular: for faith and
love are not separate commandments, but are indissolubly
united. We cannot truly love one another without faith in
Christ, nor can we truly believe in Him without love.
believe--once for all; Greek aorist.
on the name of his Son--on all that is revealed in the Gospel
concerning Him, and on Himself in respect to His person, offices, and
as he--as Jesus gave us commandment.
24. dwelleth in him--The believer dwelleth in Christ.
and he in him--Christ in the believer. Reciprocity. "Thus he
returns to the great keynote of the Epistle, abide in Him, with
which the former part concluded"
hereby--herein we (believers) know that he abideth in us,
namely, from (the presence in us of) the Spirit "which He hath given
us." Thus he prepares, by the mention of the true Spirit, for the
transition to the false "spirit,"
after which he returns again to the subject of love.