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Summary —How We Show that We Love God. Overcoming the World. The Three Witnesses. The Witness in Ourselves. Prayer. Praying for a Brother Who Sins Not unto Death.
1–5. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ. This belief, accepted in the heart, confessed with the mouth, and perfected by the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; James 2:22) makes one a child of God. 2. By this we know, etc. But all born of God must love God's children. The proof that we have this love is that we so love God as to obey his commandments, one of which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. 3. This is the love of God. Its outward manifestation is in obedience. See John 14:23. We may test our love thus. 4. Whatsoever is born of God. All who are born again, and have the new life, overcome the world, in the sense that they do not love it and obey its dictates. This is the victory. The source of victorious power. As faith gains in strength the world loses its power. 5. Who is he that overcometh? Only the men of faith; those who believe upon Jesus Christ.
6–10. This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ. The subject of faith in Christ calls out a statement concerning some of the constantly testifying witnesses of Christ. The water and the blood refer primarily to the baptism that revealed him at the beginning of his earthly ministry and the blood which he shed at its close. John came baptizing in order that Christ should be made manifest (John 1:31). It was while in the waters of the Jordan that Christ was manifested and anointed. On the cross flowed the water and the blood (John 19:34). Two rites, both monumental institutions, hence both of them witnesses, testify of him. We are baptized into his death (Rom. 6:1–3); the Lord's Supper points to his shed blood. Not by water only, but by water and blood. The revelation of Christ in water at the baptism does not stand alone; Calvary came also with its shedding of blood. It is the Spirit that beareth witness. Witness is usually borne in words. The Spirit which descended on the apostles on Pentecost bore witness with mighty power that the crucified Jesus was Lord and Christ (Acts 2:4; 4:31; 5:32). 7. There are three that bear record in heaven. This verse is not found in the Revision or in any ancient MS. It is no doubt an interpolation. 8. There are three that bear witness. In notes on verse 6 I have shown how these three bear witness. These three agree in one. They bear testimony to the same end. 9. If we receive the witness of men. We do receive human testimony. We have human testimony of many and unimpeachable witnesses to the facts of the life of Christ, but we have also the greater witness of God. We have the Father's testimony on record, and we have it constantly repeated in his transforming grace. Every one born again to a new life is a new demonstration. 10. He that believeth on the Son. He hath the witness in his changed heart and life. He that believeth not God. He makes God a liar by rejecting the witness God gives to the Son.
11–13. This is the witness (Revision). God gives us eternal life through this Son. We know that we have it because we know that we have a new life. 12. He that hath the Son hath life. We lay hold of the Son by faith in him and thus come to life. 13. These things have I written. He writes that they may understand how they may know that they have eternal life. Tests have been given. For example, see 5:1, 2; 4:13, etc. That ye may believe. Put the fullest trust in the name of Christ.
14–17. And this is the confidence. We may be assured our prayers will be granted, if we ask according to his will. There is this condition. 15. If we know that he hear us. Hear us with open ears. Then we may know that we have what we ask. It will be granted. 16. If a man see his brother sin. Then a brother can be overtaken by sin. Not unto death. There is a sin not unto death, and one unto death. The sin described in Heb. 6:4–6 is evidently unto death; that described in Gal. 6:1 is one not unto death. In the latter case the sinners can be restored, and we may pray for them with the assurance that they will be. This implies both work and prayer. 17. All unrighteousness. All wrong doing is sin, but the condition of soul that sets it against righteousness and against Christ as steel is a sin unto death. Such a soul repels Christ the life.
18–21. Whosoever is born of God sinneth not. Does not live a life of sin. He will not sin unto death, though he may be overtaken in a fault. See note at end of chapter. That wicked one toucheth him not. Cannot lay hands on him so as to hold him. 19. We know that we are of God. The church is God's temple in which he dwells, and around it the world of wickedness. 20. And we know that the Son of God is come. Not only by testimony from men but by God's witness. We have life in Christ, and Christ dwells in us. This is the true God and eternal life. In Christ the true God is revealed to us and in him we have eternal life. 21. Keep yourselves from idols. Flee from idolatry, the besetting sin of that age. So too we need to flee from the idols of our age. Whatever takes our worship from God is an idol.
Note. —Sin in the First Epistle of John. A comparison of passages will show that an extreme and false doctrine might be reached by pressing one class to the exclusion
of another class. I give a list:
I. If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, 1:8. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins, 1:9. If we say we have not sinned we make him a liar, 1:10. If any man sin (man is not in the Greek), we have an Advocate with the Father, 2:1. I write these things that you may sin not, 2:1. If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, 5:16. There is a sin not unto death, 5:17.
These passages all refer to Christians; they teach their liability to sin; show how they may obtain pardon, and show how also they should labor to save an erring brother. One the other hand there is another class which teaches that the Christian is freed from sin.
II. The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses from all sin, 1:7. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not, 3:6. He cannot sin because he is begotten of God, 3:9. Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not, 5:18.
If this second class of passages was alone considered they would teach apparently the absolute holiness of the saint. The two classes are to be interpreted in the light of each other. They teach that the germ of sin, dormant, perhaps, remains in us as long as we are in the flesh. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” We “may be overtaken in a fault,” the dormant germ waken, and we be betrayed into sin for the moment. The sin is due to the temporary revival of the old nature. The new nature, the spiritual being born of the new birth, is not disposed to sin, and will be destroyed if the sin is wilful and continued. One born of God cannot engage in willful sin. Nor can he who abides in Christ. He who becomes a wilful sinner does not abide in Christ, nor remain a child of God.
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