1 John 3
The apostle here magnifies the love of God in our adoption,
1 John 3:1,2.
He thereupon argues for holiness
(1 John 3:3),
and against sin,
1 John 3:4-19.
He presses brotherly love,
1 John 3:11-18.
How to assure our hearts before God,
1 John 3:19-22.
The precept of faith,
1 John 3:23.
And the good of obedience,
1 John 3:24.
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,
that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world
knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet
appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear,
we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself,
even as he is pure.
The apostle, having shown the dignity of Christ's faithful followers,
that they are born of him and thereby nearly allied to God, now
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
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,
1 John 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,
1 Corinthians 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
1 John 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,
1 Corinthians 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,
1 John 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,
1 John 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
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 paralepsomai--I 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,
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,
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,
1 John 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.
|The Mark of God's Children.
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4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin
is the transgression of the law.
5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and
in him is no sin.
6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath
not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth
righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth
from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was
manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed
remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children
of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God,
neither he that loveth not his brother.
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,
1 John 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
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,
1 John 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,
1 John 3:6.
To sin here is the same as to commit sin
(1 John 3:8,9),
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
1 John 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
Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
that is, for religion's sake;
1 Peter 3:14,
But if you suffer for righteousness' sake (religion's sake)
happy are you; and
2 Timothy 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,
2 Timothy 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
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,
1 John 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
1 Peter 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
1 John 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
2. There is that bias upon his heart which disposes him to loathe and
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
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!
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,
1 John 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
1 John 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.
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11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning,
that we should love one another.
12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his
brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were
evil, and his brother's righteous.
13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
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,
1 John 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
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
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,
1 John 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
1 John 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,
1 John 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.
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14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we
love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in
15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that
no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
16 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
17 But 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?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in
tongue; but in deed and in truth.
19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall
assure our hearts before him.
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,
1 John 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,
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
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,
(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
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
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
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,
1 John 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,"
1 John 3:15.
Or, he abideth in death, as it is expressed,
1 John 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,
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,
And thereupon some may be apt to surmise that the passing from death to
(1 John 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
1 John 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,
1 Corinthians 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
1 John 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
(1 John 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,
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,
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?
1 John 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
1 John 3:18;
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,
1 John 3:18.
Compliments and flatteries become not Christians; but the sincere
expressions of sacred affection, and the services or labours of love,
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,
1 John 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
|The Testimony of Conscience.
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20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart,
and knoweth all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we
confidence toward God.
22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep
his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his
The apostle, having intimated that there may be, even among us, such a
privilege as an assurance or sound persuasion of heart towards God,
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,
1 John 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,
Conscience is God's vicegerent, calls the court in his name, and acts
for him. The answer of a good conscience towards God,
1 Peter 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,
1 John 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,"
1 Corinthians 4:4.
2. If conscience acquit us, God does so too: Beloved, if our heart
condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God
(1 John 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
1 John 3:20,
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;
conscience--syneidesis, 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,
1 John 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,
1 John 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,
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23 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
24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he
in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit
which he hath given us.
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,
1 John 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,
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
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,
2 Timothy 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
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
1 John 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
(2.) To reconcile ourselves to those whom we have offended,
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,
1 John 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
(1 John 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.