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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

1 John 3

 

 

Verse 1

1.] Behold (as in John 1:29; John 19:5, does not express the Writer’s own astonishment, but directs the attention of those who are addressed: “commendat Apostolus his verbis magnum Dei beneficium,” Estius. But there immediately follows ἡμῖν, the communicative address, so that in fact the Apostle does in a manner include himself among those addressed in ἴδετε), what manner of (thus the E. V., literally and rightly. ποταπός, properly ποδαπός, originally meant, “of what country;” and occurs in this sense continually in the classics: e. g. Herod. vii. 218, εἴρετοποδαπὸς (or ὁποδ-) εἴη ὁ στρατός, al. Its derivation is matter of dispute: whether from δάπος, τάπος, which forms enter into δάπεδον, ἔδαφος, τόπος; so Valcknaer: or from ἀπό, as Buttm. Lexil. comparing ἀλλοδάπος, παντοδάπος &c., δ being inserted as in prodire, prodesse. Then in later writers it came to signify “of what kind,” as e. g. in Demosth. p. 782, 8, τίς ὁ κύων καὶ ποδαπός; οἷος μὴ δάκνειν, al. The signification quantus seems never to have belonged properly to the word. It may of course be often included in qualis, as it undoubtedly is here: “what manner of” including “how great,” “how free,” “how precious”—in fact all the particulars which are afterwards brought out respecting this love: see 1 John 3:16, ch. 1 John 4:9; 1 John 4:16) love (is ἀγάπην here, joined as it is with the verb δέδωκεν, literally love itself, or does it import some gift, bestowal, or fruit of love? The latter (caritatis munus) is taken by Beza: and similarly, beneficium, or the like, by Socinus, Episcopius, Seb.-Schmidt, Grot., Est., Rosenm., Neander, al. But there seems no necessity for diverting the word from its proper meaning. As in ch. 1 John 4:9, the proof of the love is that which is imported, not by the love itself, but by the verb joined with it; as by ἐφανερώθη there, so by δέδωκεν here. So that in fact δέδωκεν, which has been the motive for these renderings, speaks, as Düsterd. observes, most decidedly against them. He quotes from Luther’s scholia, “Usus autem est Joannes singulari verborum pondere: non dicit dedisse nobis Deum donum aliquod, sed ipsam caritatem et fontem omnium bonorum, cor ipsum, idque non pro operibus aut studiis nostris, sed gratuito.” Cf. χἁριν διδόναι, ref. James) the Father ( ὁ πατήρ, spoken here not, as some, of God in general, the whole three Persons in the blessed Trinity, but personally, of the Father, as distinguished from the Son, in whom we have received our adoption. Even the Socinian Schlichting has recognized this: “Nempe Pater ille Jesu Christi et consequentr omnium in Jesum Christum credentium, unus ille Deus, qui si Pater Jesu Christi non esset, nec Jesus Christus ejus Filius ille singularissimus, neque nobis tanta ejus ac vere paterna gratia unquam obtigisset”) hath given (see above) unto us, that (how is ἵνα here to be taken? is it to be kept to its strong telic sense, indicating that our being called the children of God is the purpose of that gift of love just spoken of, or does it, as so often in St. John, introduce the purport of that love, stated in the form of an end to be gained by its manifestation? Lange, Lücke, De Wette, and Brückner keep the strong telic sense. “What great love,” says Lücke, “hath the Father shewn us (viz. in sending His Son, ch. 1 John 4:10), in order to make us children of God!” But the objection to this is, that thus a proof of the divine Love is hinted at in our verse which is not expanded, but is left to be gathered from elsewhere: and the purpose introduced by ἵνα becomes the secondary and remote subject of the sentence, whereas, from τέκνα θεοῦ taking up the preceding γεγέννηται, and being again taken up in 1 John 3:2, it is evidently the primary subject. The other meaning of ἵνα is taken by the ancient Greek expositors, so Œc., Thl., εἴδετε γὰρ ὅτι ἔδωκεν ἡμῖν τέκνα θεοῦ γενέσθαι τε καὶ κληθῆναι ( λογισθῆναι Thl.). And this is not to confound ἵνα with ὅτι. Of the latter construction we have a plain example with ποταπός, in Matthew 8:27; ποταπός ἐστιν οὗτος, ὅτι καὶ οἱ ἄνεμοιὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ. There, the matter of fact is the ground of the wonderment expressed in the ποταπός—“What a man must this be, seeing that …:” whereas here the ground of the wonderment is in the result: “what manner of love … resulting in, proved by, our being, &c.” The effect of the love, that at which it is aimed in its immediate bestowal (its Ziel), is, that we should be called children of God: its ultimate purpose (its Zweck) is another thing. Cf. 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23, where we have the same construction) we should be called children of God (why has the Apostle rather used κληθῶμεν than ὦμεν? Probably to bring forward the title, the reality of which, notwithstanding its non-recognition by the world, he is about to assert immediately. It is not that καλεῖσθαι, as Baumg.-Crusius, = ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν γενέσθαι, John 1:12, so that the sense should be, “that we have a right to presume to call ourselves children of God,” Neander: against this the aor. κληθῶμεν is decisive, signifying our reception of the title once for all, and identifying this reception with the gift of love spoken of above. In this definite reference to an actual bestower of the name, probably an allusion is made to such prophecies as that cited 2 Corinthians 6:18); and we ARE (so): for this cause the world doth not know (apprehend, recognize) us; because it did not know Him (viz. God: the Father.

The insertion of καὶ ἐσμέν appears to serve the purpose of bringing out the reality of the state conferred upon us with this title, in spite of any non-recognition of it by the unbelieving world. To those, as Lücke and De Wette, who regard the preceding ἵνα as telic, the clause has no meaning, and they at once reject it as a gloss. Had it been, it would surely have been καὶ ὦμεν, as the vulg. et simus. But in our rendering of the passage, καὶ ἐσμέν is of the highest possible significance. On ἐσμέν depends διὰ τοῦτο: and we ARE God’s children; for this very reason, because we bear not the name only but the essence, the world knows us not: and then, as a reason for this ignorance following on this reality of our derivation from Him,—because it knew Him not. The reality of a believer’s sonship of God, and his non-recognition by the world, are thus necessarily connected together. But Whom did the world not know, and when? αὐτόν here, by the very requirements of the logic of the passage, must be the Father, who not being recognized, neither are His children: τὸν υἱοθετήσαντα, as Œc.; Aug(38), Benson, al., understand Christ: “ambulabat et ipse Dominus Jesus Christus, in carne erat Deus, latebat in infirmitate.” But this can only be, if we understand that the world rejected that revelation of the Father which was made by Christ His Son. And if we introduce this element, we disturb the strictness of the argument. It is the world’s ignorance of God, considered (and this is the force, if it is to be pressed, of the aor. ἔγνω) as one great act of non-recognition, disobedience, rebellion, hate (for all these are involved in St. John’s οὐ γνῶναι, as their opposites in his γινώσκειν), which makes them incapable of recognizing, loving, sympathizing with, those who are veritably children of God: cf. ch. 1 John 5:1).


Verses 1-3

1–3.] The foundation and source of all righteousness in us is, the essential righteousness of God. All our doing of righteousness is a mere sign that He has begotten us anew—that we are His children. And what great things are contained in this name—how precious treasures of faith, of hope, of love! On this thought the Apostle now enters. He places the whole glory of the children of God before his readers. The being righteous as He is righteous, is the token of that new birth, and the measure of the life which began with it: the striving to perfect and mature this token, to fill up this measure, is an additional proof that a man is of God.


Verses 1-10

1–10.] The true and distinguishing signs of the children of God and the children of the devil.


Verse 2

2.] Beloved, now are we children of God (the world recognizes us not: but our sonship is real: none the less real, that we ourselves know not our future condition in all its manifestation. So that the next member of the sentence is introduced not with an ἀλλά, but with a καί: the two are not contrasted, but simply put in juxtaposition as components of our present state. We are really sons of God, even now: and we look (this very word νῦν suggesting a future) for an inheritance in virtue of that sonship: it has not been yet manifested of what sort that inheritance shall be: thus much we know &c. Such seems to be the simple connexion, without any adversative particles expressed or understood), and it was never yet manifested (on any occasion: such is the force of the aor. And ἐφανερώθη, as so often in St. John, and as in the next sentence, does not mean, made manifest to knowledge or anticipation,—for that it is, as asserted below: but, shewn forth in actuality, come to its manifestation) what we shall be (understand, in virtue of this our state of sons of God: to what new development or condition this already existing fact will lead. But we must take care not to fall into Grot.’s error, “quo modo futuri simus filii Dei:” for as Calov. rightly remarks, “non dantur gradus υἱότητος:” we are as truly, and in the same sense, children of God now, as we shall be then: but now (cf. Galatians 4:1) we are children waiting for an unknown inheritance—then we shall be children in full possession of that inheritance. And hence, from the reality and identity of that sonship, comes what follows,—our certain knowledge, even in this absence of manifestation in detail, that our future condition will consist in likeness to Him. As Œc., τὸ γὰρ νῦν ἄδηλον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἐκείνου ἀποκαλυπτομένου. ὅμοιοι γὰρ αὐτῷ ἀναφανέντες τὸ τῆς υἱοθεσίας λαμπρὸν παραστήσομεν. οἱ γὰρ υἱοὶ πάντες ὅμοιοι τῷ πατρί). We know (no contrast—see above: what we know of this τί ἐσόμεθα is this. There is not even a correction of the preceding as Düsterd.: the connexion is simply, “This future condition of ours hath never yet appeared: thus much we know of it.” οἴδαμεν, as always, of certain, well assured cognition) that if it were manifested (viz. the τἱ ἐσόμεθα; this φανερωθῇ takes up again the former one. So Didymus (Aug(39) is quoted on both sides by the Commentators, but he does not really commit himself on the point), Œc. ( τὸ γὰρ νῦν ἄδηλον φανερὸν γενήσεται), Luther, Seb.-Schmidt, Socinus, Episcopius, Schlichting, Grotius, Spener, Bengel, Benson, Rosenm., Lücke, Sander, De Wette, Baumg.-Crus., Neander, Düsterd., Huther, and others: on the other hand, Bed(40), Calvin, Beza (and the E. V.: Tyndale and Cranmer had “it”), Aretius, Whitby, Calov., Estius, al., supply “He,” understanding Christ: appealing to St. John’s well-known usage which we have in ch. 1 John 2:28, and below in our 1 John 3:5. But it may be replied, that in the former case the subject was plainly suggested by ἐν αὐτῷ in the latter actually expressed in ἐκεῖνος: whereas here the reference of the verb is no less plainly given by the preceding ἐφανερώθη. Besides which, ἐκεῖνος in 1 John 3:5 clearly shews that the divine subject of these verses is not Christ but the Father. Estius and Lyra indeed seem to hold it possible to supply ὁ θεός as a subject to φανερωθῇ here, but not even themselves have propounded this for their own interpretation: indeed the former sets it aside, and the latter seems to be only paraphrasing when he says, “cum nobis se patrem ostenderit in possessione cœlestis hæreditatis.” On the ἐάν, hypothetical, see above, ch. 1 John 2:28. As there, the φανερωθῇ is the futurus exactus: “on its manifestation:” and here the hypothesis, from the repetition of the verb, necessarily gains, emphasis, almost = that, even if it were manifested, … This consideration has an important bearing on what follows), we stall be ( ἐσόμεθα taken up again from above, and the emphatic ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ corresponding exactly to τί above) like Him (God; as Œc. above, and most Commentators. See below), because ( ὅτι must be kept firm to its causal meaning, and all the difficulties of the sentence met thus, not by explaining it away, as even Œc. ( ἀλλὰ καί), Schol. ii. ( ὅτε καί), Luther (et). Nor does it express merely the mode of the transformation, as Lyra. Still less must we, with Calvin (“neque enim docet similes ideo nos fore, quia fruemur adspectu, sed inde probat nos divinæ gloriæ fore participes, quia nisi spiritualis et cœlesti beataque immortalitate prædita esset natura, ad Deum nunquam tum prope accederet”), Seb.-Schmidt (“Qui visurus est Deum sicuti est, eum oportet esse perfecte similem Deo”), and Socinus (“neque enim fieri potest ut quia ipsum Deum videat, … nisi ei similis aliquo modo.… fuerit”),—and so even Huther, endorsing Calvin’s statement, “ratio hæc ab eftectu sumta est non a causa,”—reverse the causal connexion, and make the seeing Him as He is merely a proof that we shall be like Him ( ὅτι = γάρ). Whatever consequences it may entail, it is philologically certain that the proposition introduced by ὅτι contains the real essential cause and ground of that which it follows) we shall see Him (God: see below) as He is (with St. John, the recognition and knowledge of God is ever no mere cognition, but the measure of the spiritual life: he who has it, possesses God, has the Father and the Son: becomes more and more like God, having His seed in him. So that the full and perfect accomplishment of this knowledge in the actual fruition of God Himself must of necessity bring with it entire likeness to God. And this is the part of the future lot of the sons of God which is certain. Because we shall see Him as He is,—which is taken for granted as a Christian axiom,—it of necessity follows that we shall be entirely like Him: ethically like Him: we shall behold, as Œc., δίκαιον δίκαιοι, ἀγνὸν ἁγνοί. The difficulty that no man can see God, is not in reality contained here, any more than it is in our Lord’s “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The word, however understood, has for its limit, that no created eye even in the glorified body can behold the Creator: that beyond its keenest search there will be glory and perfection baffling and dazzling it: but this incapacity does not prevent the vision, as far as it can reach, being clear and unclouded: being, to the utmost extent of which our glorified nature is capable, ὡς ἔστιν—a true and not a false vision of God. And if it be again objected that we seem to be thus confounding the ethical sight of God which is the measure of our likeness to God, with corporeal sight of Him in the resurrection body, I answer that in the realm where our thoughts are now employed, I cannot appreciate that distinction between ethical and corporeal. We are speaking of things which eye hath not seen, nor mind conceived: what a σῶμα πνευματικόν may imply, our ideas now do not enable us to conceive: but I suppose it must at all events be a body, all of whose senses are spiritually conditioned and attuned: that what τὰ φυσικά are to our bodies here, τὰ πνευματικά will be there: and feeling this, however little I may know of the details of the great fact, it removes from me all insuperable difficulty as to the ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθὼς ἐστίν. “I know that in my flesh I shall see God,” may not be the right expression in Job, but it is the expression of my hopes as a son of God: it is the one expression of a hope in which all other hopes culminate and centre. And every son of God knows, that for it ever to be fulfilled, he must be growing onward in likeness to Him, pure, even up into His purity: for in His light only shall we see light.

The literature of this verse would far surpass our limits, even in an abridged summary. It will be found in Düsterdieck’s Commentary, vol. ii. pp. 56–82.

One point only must be noticed before passing onward; the fact that several of the great interpreters understand αὐτῷ and αὐτόν of Christ. This has partly of course been occasioned by their supplying Christ as a subject to the verb φανερωθῇ above. Augustine has one of his most beautiful passages, explaining how at Christ’s appearing, the impious shall see only formam servi, but we formam Dei. The whole view, however, does not satisfy the requirements of the passage. It is the τέκνα θεοῦ who are addressed: and the topic of exhortation is that they be righteous as God their Father is righteous. Christ is expressly introduced below in 1 John 3:5 (see on 1 John 3:3) by ἐκεῖνος. Augustine concludes with a burst of eloquence which describes just as well the true view of the vision: “Ergo visuri sumus quandam visionem, fratres, quam nec oculus vidit, nec auris audivit, nec in cor hominis ascendit: visionem quandam, visionem præcellentem omnes pulchritudines terrenas, auri, argenti, nemorum atque camporum, pulchritudinem maris et aëris, pulchritudinem solis et lunæ, pulchritudinem angelorum, omnia superantem, quia ex ipsa pulchra sunt omnia.” Tract. in Ep. Joh. iv. 5, vol. iii. p. 2008).


Verse 3

3.] And every one that hath this hope (viz., that of being like Him hereafter) on Him (i. e. rested and grounded on God. In God, and grounded on His promises, is all our hope), purifieth himself (these words are not to be taken in any Pelagian sense, as if a man could of himself purify himself: “apart from me,” says our Lord, “ye can do nothing.” John 15:5. The man who purifies himself has this hope, resting upon God. This mere fact implies a will to purify himself, not out of, nor independent of, this hope, but ever stirred up by, and accompanying it. So that the will is not his own, sprung out of his own nature, but the result of his Christian state, in which God also ministers to him the power to carry out that will in self-purification. So that Aug(41) who pleads strongly for free will here, is right when he says “castificas te, non de te, sed de illo qui venit ut inhabitet te.” See 2 Corinthians 7:1, which is remarkably parallel: and 1 Peter 1:21-22. The idea of ἁγνίζειν is much the same as that of καθαρίζειν, ch. 1 John 1:9; it is entire purification, not merely from unchastity but from all defilement of flesh and spirit. “In the LXX, the word ( ἁγνός) appears to be synonymous with καθαρός, being used for טָהוֹר and like words. Levitical purity of persons and things (Numbers 8:21; Numbers 31:19; Numbers 31:23; 1 Chronicles 15:12), the pure life of the Nazarenes (Numbers 6:2-3), the purity of God’s word (Psalms 11:7; Psalms 18:10), all these are expressed by ἁγνός, ἁγνίζειν &c. And correspondent to this is N. T. usage. The purity of the wisdom that cometh from above (James 3:17), the purity of those who had to keep a vow (Acts 21:24; Acts 21:26; Acts 24:18), the absence of moral stain in the Christian character generally, which includes above all things purity of heart (1 Peter 1:22; James 4:8; 2 Corinthians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22; cf. Philippians 4:8; 1 Peter 3:2), and the particular purity of chastity (Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 5:2; 2 Corinthians 11:2),—all these are rightly included in the name ἁγνεία.” Düsterdieck), even as He is pure (Who is intended by ἐκεῖνος? Clearly below in 1 John 3:5, Christ, from the facts of the case. But is it as clear here? Almost all the modern Commentators assume it. And certainly, first appearances are greatly in its favour: the usual rule requiring that ἐκεῖνος shall point to a third person as yet not spoken of in the context, and differing from αὐτός. The inference is also upheld by a first view of ch. 1 John 2:6, where much the same expression is used, and used of Christ. But there are some weighty considerations against the view. First, it is the Father, of whom it is written, “Be ye holy, for (or, as) I am holy,” 1 Peter 1:15-16; Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2; cf. also Matthew 5:48. Secondly, it would be very harsh thus to introduce a new subject, in the face of this Scripture usage. Thirdly, it would be against the whole spirit of the context: in which sonship of God and likeness to God are joined together, and the hopes belonging to the state are made motives for the duty. Fourthly, if it be asserted that Christ is our Pattern, in whom we see the Father’s purity shewn forth; I answer that this would be perfectly intelligible, if allusion was made, as in ch. 1 John 2:6, to some historical manifestation in our Lord’s life ( καθὼς ἐκεῖνος περιεπάτησεν): but being as it is in the present tense, it refers to the essential divine attribute of purity: and if so, then to that attribute in its primary inherence in the Father. Fifthly, the usage of ἐκεῖνος with αὐτός does not at all require the change of persons, only a change of the phase of predication regarding the same person, and the throwing up into emphasis some new particular which is brought into view. See this discussed on 2 Timothy 2:26, and consult also the note on ch. 1 John 2:6, where it is very doubtful whether αὐτός and ἐκεῖνος do not refer to the same divine Person. For these reasons, I would interpret ἐκεῖνος here of the Father, in whom essentially abides this perfection of purity, and after continual increase of likeness to whom his sons, having the ultimate hope of being completely like Him, will be striving. In 1 John 3:5 the case is otherwise: see there, and also on 1 John 3:7).


Verse 4

4.] In this verse we have 1 John 3:3 taken up (cf. πᾶς ὁ ἔχων.… πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν) ex adverso. There, God’s essential purity formed a law, according to which the child of God, having hope of ultimate complete likeness to Him, purifies himself. Here we have it declared that the sinner goes counter to (this and all other) law: indeed the two terms, sin and lawlessness, are synonymous and convertible. Every one that committeth sin, also committeth transgression-of-law: and sin (abstract and in general) is transgression-of-law (abstract and in general. The assertion amounts to the identification of the terms, and the ἐστίν amounts to “is equivalent to.” If either of the words were anarthrous, it would become predicative of quality,—“is of the nature of”—as in θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος: both having the article, both are distributed logically, and the one is asserted to be co-extensive and convertible with the other. And from the nature of the foregoing clause, which was to declare the ἀνομία of sin, it would appear here also that we must take ἡ ἁμαρτία as the subject and ἡ ἀνομία as the predicate, not the converse.

This being so, what is it exactly that our verse asserts respecting these two things, sin, and transgression-of-law? First and obviously, no appropriation must be made, in this verse and throughout this passage, of ἁμαρτία to one kind of sin, whether it be mortal sin as distinguished from venial (so the R.-C. expositors, e. g. Estius, but hesitatingly, “loquitur præcipue de peccato mortali, quamquam et venalia sunt iniquitates quædam et legi divinæ alicui repugnant, et ab ingressu regni cœlestis ac similitudine Christi participanda remorantur, donec expurgata fuerint”), or notorious and unrepented sins, or sins against brotherly love (as Luther, and Aug(42) on 1 John 3:9): “peccare contumaciter,” Aret.: “peccato dare operam,” Beza, Piscator: “peccare scientem et volentem,” Seb.-Schmidt, Spener. The assertions are all perfectly general, and regard, in the true root and ideal, every sin whatever. Every sin whatever then is a transgression of God’s law: as indeed its very name implies: ἁμαρτάνειν being to miss a mark, and the mark being that will of God which is the νόμος and σκοπός to him who ποιεῖ τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ch. 1 John 2:17. Œc. gives the meaning very well, except that he understands of the law of nature only, what ought to be understood of the law of God, the revelation of His will, in whatever way made: ἰστέον δὲ ὡς ἁμαρτία μὲν ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἀπόπτωσίς ἐστιν, ἀνομία δὲ ἡ περὶ τὸν θετὸν νόμον πλημμέλεια. καὶ ταύτην ἔχουσιν ἀρχὴν ἑκάτερον τούτων, τὸ μὲν τὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἔκπτωσιν, τὸ δέ τὴν περὶ τὸν θετὸν νόμον πλημμέλειαν. συμφέρονται δέ ταύταις καὶ κατὰ ταὐτόν. ὅ τε γὰρ ἁμαρτάνων τοῦ κατὰ τὴν φύσιν καὶ ἐν τῇ φύσει ἀπέτυχε σκοποῦ. σκοπὸς γὰρ τῇ ἀνθρωπείᾳ φύσει τὸ κατὰ τὸν λόγον ζῇν, τῆς ἀλογίας πόῤῥω ἀπῳκισμένῃ. ὡσαύτως καὶ ὁ ἄνομος πλημμελεῖ περὶ τὸν ἐν τῇ φὐσει δεδομένον νόμον, διαγινόμενος ἀκρατῶς, καλῶς οὖν ὁ μαθητὴς τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ταὐτὸν ἀμφότερα περιέστησεν).


Verses 4-10

4–10.] The irreconcileability of sin with the work of redemption, with communion with Christ, and with being born of God. So De Wette; and the passage seems thus to be well described. But the difficulty has been, to mark distinctly the connexion with the foregoing. In order to discover this, we must go back to the theme of the whole section of the Epistle, in ch. 1 John 2:29; “If God is righteous, then every one that doeth righteousness, is born of Him.” Hitherto the positive side of this position has been illustrated: the inseparability of birth-from-God and likeness-to-God. Now, the Apostle comes to treat its negative side: the incompatibility of sin with birth-from-God. And this he deals with essentially and in the ideal, as always. The whole is in the closest connexion with the foregoing, and is developed step by step with the minutest precision, as will be seen in the exegesis.


Verse 5

5.] Additional argument for the incompatibility of sin with the life of God’s children; that He, Christ, in and by whom we have this adoption (John 1:12), and by being in whose likeness alone we can be perfectly like God, was manifested to take away all sins, being Himself sinless. And ye know (the Apostle assumes it as known by those who had an anointing from the Holy One and knew all things, ch. 1 John 2:20) that He (now clearly Christ, from the context, which (see above on ἐκεῖνος, 1 John 3:3) can alone decide the reference in each case) was manifested (viz. by His appearing in the flesh, and all that He openly and visibly did and taught in it, or may be known, by the Spirit, to have done and taught) in order that He may (might) take away (aor. “take away by one act and entirely”. The meaning, “take away,” and not “bear,” is necessitated here by the context. Sin is altogether alien from Christ. He became incarnate that He might blot it out: He has no stain of it on Himself. If we render ἄρῃbear,” this coherence is lost. Of course this fact is in the background, that He took them away by bearing them Himself: but it is not brought out, only the antagonism between Him and sin. See, on the word, the note on ref. John) sins ( τὰς ἁμαρτ., all sins, not merely certain sins. The object of his manifestation is stated not only categorically, but definitively. Compare the striking parallel Hebrews 9:26, εἰς ἀθέτησιν ἁμαρτίας διὰ τῆς θυσίας αὐτοῦ πεφανέρωται); and in Him sin is not (as His work, in being manifested, was, altogether to take away sin, so likewise is He himself free from all spot of sin. The καί serves to co-ordinate the last clause with the first, not to subordinate it, as many Commentators have supposed, and even Aug(43): “In quo non est peccatum, ipse venit auferre peccatum: nam si esset et in illo peccatum, auferendum esset illi, non ipse auferret:” and Œc., τὸ καὶ ἀντὶ τοῦ διότι: and afterwards, ἵνα ὡς μὴ ἁμαρτίαν ποιὴσας τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν ἄρῃ: so also Corn.-a-lap., Lorinus, Baumg.-Crus., Sander, Neander. This interpretation is confuted by the ἐστιν, which should have been ἦν: and by the following context, in which this fact of the sinlessness of Christ serves as the foundation for what is said, 1 John 3:6. The most palpable violations of the construction and sense are made by the rationalists, of whom Grotius may serve as an example: “præsens pro præterito: peccatum in eo non erat, nempe cum vitam mortalem viveret.” Socinus, feeling that this could not be, tries to explain away peccatum, as meaning “non vitium aliquid in moribus,” but the consequences of sin, “omnia mala, omnesque perpessiones, una cum ipsa morte,” from which Christ is now (hodie) for ever free, “utpote beatissimus, et impatibilis atque immortalis.” And strange to say, Calvin so far misunderstands what is here said as to write “non de Christi persona hic agit, sed de toto corpora. Quocunque vim suam diffundit Christus, negat amplius locum esse peccato.” This would deprive ἐν αὐτῷ μένων, 1 John 3:6, of all its meaning as referring back to the ἐν αὐτῷ here, and make it merely tautological. It is only by holding fast here the personal reference to Christ in himself, that we keep the logical coherence between that verse and this: the reasoning from that which He is not, and cannot be, to that which they that abide in Him are not and cannot be).


Verse 6

6.] The connexion see above. Every one that abideth in Him ( μένει ἐν αὐτῷ is not to be weakened down, with Semler, Episcopius, al., by any rationalistic interpretation as “credere in Christum,” “Christi discipulum esse:” still less as Œc., does ἀνενδότως τὰς ἀρετὰς μετιών express ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων. Grot. is better this time,—“qui vero amore Christo conjungitur;” but this is not enough. This a man might be to an earthly friend: but could not be said ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν. See the sense expanded in the note on ch. 1 John 2:24. Nothing short of personal immanence in the personal Christ will satisfy the words: a living because He lives, and as receiving of His fulness) sinneth not (nor again is this to be tamed down, as has been done by far more and better interpreters than in the last case, by making it mean “does not persist in sin;” so Luther, “does not allow sin to reign over him”—so Hunnius: and similarly Socinus, Episcopius, Calvin, Beza, the Schmidts, Calov., J. Lange, Bengel (“bonum justitiæ in eo non separatur a malo peccati”), Sander, al. Against all such the plain words of the Apostle must be held fast, and explained by the analogy of his way of speaking throughout the Epistle of the ideal reality of the life of God and the life of sin as absolutely excluding one another. This all the best and deepest Commentators have felt: so Augustine and Bed(44), “in quantum in ipso manet, in tantum non peccat.” The two are incompatible: and in so far as a man is found in the one, he is thereby separated from the other. In the child of God is the hatred of sin; in the child of the devil, the love of it; and every act done in virtue of either state or as belonging to either, is done purely on one side or purely on the other. If the child of God falls into sin, it is an act against nature, deadly to life, hardly endured, and bringing bitter repentance: it is as the taking of a poison, which if it be not corrected by its antidote, will sap the very springs of life. So that there is no real contradiction to ch. 1 John 1:8-10, 1 John 2:2, where this very falling into sin of the child of God is asserted and the remedy prescribed. The real difficulty of our verse is in that which follows); every one that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither hath known Him (here it seems to be said that the act of sinning not only “in tantum” excludes from the life in God and Christ, but proves that that life has never existed in the person so sinning. That this cannot be the meaning of the Apostle, is evident from such passages as ch. 1 John 1:8-10, 1 John 2:2, and indeed from the whole tenor of the Epistle, in which the νῦν τέκνα θεοῦ ἐσμέν occurs in combination with μηδεὶς πλανάτω ὑμᾶς and the like: whereas if the above view were correct, the very fact of πεπλανῆσθαι not only would cause them to cease from being τέκνα θεοῦ, but would prove that they never had been such. If then this cannot be so, what meaning are we to put upon the words? First observe the tense in which the verbs stand: that they are not aorists but perfects: and that some confusion is introduced in English by our perfect not corresponding to the Greek one, but rather partaking of the aoristic sense: giving the impression “hath never seen Him nor known Him:” whereas the Greek perfect denotes an abiding present effect resting on an event in the past. So much is this so, that ἔγνωκα, and many other perfects, lose altogether their reference to the past event, and point simply to the abiding present effect of it: ἔγνωκα is the present effect of a past act of cognition, = “I know.” In the Greek perfect, the present predominates: in the English perfect (and in the German still more), the past. Hence in very many cases the best version-rendering of the Greek perfect is by the English present. And so here, without for a moment letting go the true, significance of the tense, I should render, if making a version, “seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” But manifestly such an interpretation would be philologically insufficient, and would only be chosen as the less of two evils, and as bringing out that side of the Greek perfect which, besides being the prevalent one, is less liable to mistake than the other. In exegesis, we must take in not merely the absence of such sight and knowledge in the present state of the sinner, but the significance of such present failure as regards the past: that his sight and knowledge are so far annulled as to their validity and reality. In fact, we get to much the same declaration as that in ch. 1 John 2:19, εἰ ἐξ ἡμῶν ἦσαν, μεμενήκεισαν ἂν μεθʼ ἡμῶν: and their very going out shewed that they were not (all are not) of us: so here: the cutting off by an act of sin of the sight and knowledge of Christ, shews, and shews in proportion as it prevails, unreality in that sight and knowledge.

As regards the relation of the words themselves, ἑώρακεν and ἔγνωκεν; some, with whom Düsterd. in the main agrees, hold that there is no perceptible difference: but that the latter word fixes and specifies the necessarily figurative meaning of the former: οὐδέ being simply copulative (= οὔτε). Lücke would understand ὁρᾷν of knowledge obtained by historical information, which matures and completes itself into γινώσκειν (edn. 3); taking οὐδέ also merely as copulative. But this seems hardly according to St. John’s practice, who uses ὁρᾷν either of bodily sight (John 1:18, 1 John 1:1, &c., &c.),—or of an intuitive immediate vision of divine things, such as Christ has of the Father and heavenly things (John 3:11; John 3:32; John 6:46; John 8:38),—or of spiritual intuition gained by knowledge of Christ and the divine life (John 14:7; John 14:9; 3 John 1:11)and there can be little doubt that this last is the meaning here: as Sander; and thus οὐδέ will retain its proper exclusive and climacteric force: ὁρᾷν is a further step than γινώσκειν: a realization of Christ’s personality and of the existence of heavenly things which is the result of spiritual knowledge: and thus the sinner “hath not seen Him, nor yet known Him”).


Verse 7

7.] Little children, let no one deceive you (it does not seem that any particular false teacher is here in St. John’s view; but he alludes to all who would sever ethical likeness to God from the Christian life): he that doeth righteousness ( τὴν δ., perhaps as being abstract, but more probably because the righteousness spoken of is but one, and that God’s: the righteousness which is His) is righteous, even as He (here apparently, God, notwithstanding the apparent parallel of ἰησοῦν χριστὸν δίκαιον in ch. 1 John 2:2; for we are by this saying, as by that in 1 John 3:3,—where see note,—referred back to the great Source of our spiritual birth, ch. 1 John 2:29, and our likeness to Him insisted on: ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἔγνωκεν τὸν δίκαιον, καὶ δίκαιός ἐστιν ὡς καὶ ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν, τουτέστιν ὁ θεός) is righteous.

This verse has absolutely nothing to do with the sense which the R.-Cath. expositors have endeavoured to extract from it, “adversus hæreticos hodiernos, simili ratione populum seducentes, cum negant per bona opera quemquam justum esse coram Deo,” Est., and so Lyra, Corn.-a-lap., and Tirinus. But this is altogether to invert the proposition of the Apostle, who is reasoning, not from the fact of doing good works to the conclusion that a man is righteous, but from the hypothesis of a man’s being a child of God, born of Him and like Him, to the necessity of his purifying himself and doing righteousness. And in doing this, he ascribes the ποιεῖν τὴν δικαιοσύνην to its source, and the ποιεῖν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν to its source: the one man is of God, the other is of the devil. As Luther well says (in Düsterd. h. l.), “good works of piety do not make a good pious man, but a good pious man does good pious works.… Fruits grow from the tree, not the tree from fruits”).


Verse 7-8

7, 8.] The contrast is again stated, and introduced by a solemn warning not to be misled respecting it: and, as usually in St. John’s repetitions, a new feature is brought in, which the following verses take up and further treat: viz. ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν.


Verse 8

8.] Contrast to 1 John 3:7; cf. ὁ ποιῶν ὁ ποιῶν: but here by the necessity of the case, when a positive assertion comes to be made respecting the sinner, the new element ἐκ τ. διαβ. ἐστίν is introduced: see below. He that doeth sin is of the devil (notice first ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν, as indicative not so much of individual acts as of a state, corresponding to ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην. And then ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν must not be rationalized away, as is done by those who deny the personal existence of the devil. It is the distinct opposite correlative of ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν (1 John 3:10 al. freq.), and implies a personal root and agency just as much as that other does. But again, it does not imply any physical dualism on the part of the Apostle. “Neminem fecit diabolus,” says Aug(45) h. l. Tract. iv. 10, 11, vol. iii. p. 2011, “neminem genuit, neminem creavit; sed quicunque fuerit imitatus diabolum, quasi de illo natus, fit filius diaboli, imitando, non proprie nascendo.… Omnes peccatores ex diabolo nati sunt, in quantum peccatores. Adam a Deo factus est; sed quando consensit diabolo, ex diabolo natus est, et tales omnes genuit qualis erat.…” And below, § 11, “Ergo duas nativitates attendite, Adam et Christi. Duo sunt homines, sed unus ipsorum homo homo, alter ipsorum homo Deus. Per hominem hominem peccatores sumus, per hominem Deum justificamur. Nativitas illa dejecit ad mortem, ista nativitas erexit ad vitam: nativitas illa trahit secum peccatum, nativitas ista liberat a peccato: ideo enim venit Christus homo, ut solveret peccata hominum.” Origen (in Joan. tom. xx. 13, vol. iv. p. 325 D) remarks that ἐστίν is said ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου, not ἐπὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, and on the other hand γεγεννημένος is said ἐπὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, not ἐπὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου. This must not be urged too far, seeing that St. John does speak of εἶναι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, e. g. ch. 1 John 5:19, and places over against one another the τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ and the τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου, 1 John 3:10; besides which, the devil is said to be ὁ πατήρ of the unbelieving (John 8:44). All that we can say is, that the two are not strictly correspondent: that Origen’s latter assertion is true—we have no γεγεννῆσθαι ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου. In the case of the children of God, there is a definite time, known to Him, when they passed from death unto life (ch. 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:14, 1 John 5:11; John 1:12; John 3:3 ff; John 5:24, &c.): from which their new life unto God dates: but there is no such point in the life of those who are the children of the devil: no regeneration from beneath corresponding to that from above: the natural life of men is not changed by seed of the devil as it is by seed of God. Rather may we say, that in those who are of the devil this latter change has never taken place. Since sin has come to reign in the world by man’s sin, our natural birth, which is properly and essentially a birth from God, a creation by the eternal Word, has become a birth from the devil: so that it is, as Bengel expresses it, “corruptio, non generatio,” and there is no trace of a physical dualism in St. John’s doctrine: nay, the idea is at once precluded by the fact that according to the Apostle (John 1:12) those who are children of God have become so from having been children of the devil. See this expounded, as usual, in Düsterd.’s note, from which much of the above is gathered): because the devil sinneth from the beginning (= ‘sinned in the beginning, and has never ceased to sin since:’ as Bed(46): “cum præmitteret ‘ab initio,’ subjunxit verbum præsentis temporis ‘peccat:’ quia ex quo ab initio cœpit diabolus peccare, nunquam desiit.” But the question meets us, what is ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς? Bed(47), al., understand it of the beginning of all creation: “neque enim dubitandum est inter primas creaturas angelos esse conditos; sed cæteris ad laudem Creatoris gloriam suæ conditionis referentibus, ille qui primus est conditus, mox ut altitudinem suæ claritatis aspexit, contra conditorem cum suis sequacibus superbus intumuit, perque eandem superbiam ex initio peccans, de archangelo in diabolum est versus.” Many Commentators, to avoid all chance of dualism, make it mean not from the time of his creation, but from that of his fall: so Estius, understanding the ἀρχή of the beginning of our world: “statim a mundi creatione diabolum peccasse, cum prius nullum esset in mundo peccatum:” Calvin, “nihil aliud vult Johannes, quam diabolum statim a creatione mundi fuisse apostatam.” But again, others suppose the term to mark the beginning of the devil’s own apostasy: so Bengel, “ex quo diabolus est diabolus,” Sander, al. And lastly, Lücke, De Wette, Brückner, Düsterd., Neander, take it with Seb.-Schmidt, “ab initio τοῦ peccare,” from the time when any began to sin. And this seems, when we compare John 8:44, to be the true interpretation. He has ever been the depositary, as it were, of the thought and the life of sin: the tempter to sin: the fountain out of which sin has come, as God is the fountain out of which has come righteousness. See on this subject, my Sermons on Divine Love, Serm. v. pp. 68 ff., “the First Sinner;” and Sartorius, “Lehre von der heiligen Liebe,” i. pp. 115 ff.). To this end was the Son of God manifested (viz. in His incarnation, pregnant with all its consequences), that He might destroy (do away, break up, pull down: see reff.: of a building, or a law, or an organized whole) the works of the devil (what are these? Clearly, in the first place, works whereof the devil is the author: not as Baumg.-Crus., merely devilish works. And then, are we to include in the list not only sins, which manifestly belong to it, but also the consequences of sin, pain, sorrow, death? The fact would be true if we did: for Christ hath abolished death (2 Timothy 1:10): and Estius’s objection need not have any weight with us, “mors peccatum non est, sed pœna peccati, Deum habens auctorem.… Destruitur mors per Christum, non quod ipsa sit opus diaboli sed quod ex opere diaboli justo Dei judicio subsecuta:” for even thus considered, it would be implicitly one of those works. But the context seems to require that we should at all events keep death and the results of sin in the background, as no mention is made of them here, and sinful works are clearly in the Apostle’s mind. These works the whole φανέρωσις of Christ went directly to nullify: more especially His Death, in which His power over Satan reached its highest point,—the bruising of His heel, in which He bruised the Enemy’s head:—for it was in that, that He won for us that acceptance which is sealed by His glorification, and in virtue of which the Holy Spirit is given us, of whose work in us it is said that we πνεύματι τὰς πράξεις τοῦ σώματος θανατοῦμεν, Romans 8:13).


Verse 9-10

9, 10.] The contrast taken up again, and from the converse: he that is born of God cannot sin: he that does not righteousness, is not of God: i. e. is a child of the devil. Then we have the usual new particular, to give the transition note to that which is to follow,—including in this last category him that loveth not his brother. Every one that is begotten of God, doeth not sin (the meaning of this declaration has been treated of above, 1 John 3:6. Here we meet it in its barest and plainest form—the two states, being begotten of God, and sin, absolutely excluding one another), because His seed abideth in him (i. e. because that new principle of life from which his new life has unfolded, which was God’s seed deposited in him, abides growing there, and precludes the development of the old sinful nature. So the majority of the better expositors, defining somewhat differently, when they come to explain in detail this germ of spiritual life: Œc.,— ἤτοι (1) τὸ πνεῦμα ὃ διὰ τοῦ χαρίσματος ἐλάβομεν, … (2) καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ χριστὸς, ὃς ἐνοικῶν ἐν τοῖς πιστοὶς ποιεῖ αὐτοὺς υἱοὺς θεοῦ: Severus in Cramer’s Catena, ἡ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐπιφοίτησις διʼ ἧς ἀνεγεννήθημεν: so (1) Lücke, Düsterd.;—“Spiritus sanctus et virtus ejus” Calvin, Beza; “gratia,” Lyra, Tirinus, Corn.-a-lap.; “nativitas spiritualis,” Estius, Luther; “vires regenerationis quæ a Spiritu sancto fit,” Seb.-Schmidt; “the power of the divine life,” De Wette (= τὸ πν. τοῦ θ.), Baumg.-Crus., Neander, Erdmann, De W.; “the spirit of man new begotten by the Spirit of God, in contrast to the flesh,” Sander. Some of the ancients understood it of the word of God, as in the parable of the sower, Matthew 13:3 ff. So Clem. Alex. (but not as exegesis on this passage: at least if the passage in Strom. i. 1. 1, p. 317 P be meant,— ὁ σαλομῶν (Proverbs 2:1) … σπειρόμενον τὸν λόγον κρύπτεσθαι μηνύει καθάπερ ἐν γῇ τῇ τοῦ μανθάνοντος ψυχῇ, καὶ αὕτη πνευματικὴ φυτεία), Aug(48) (Tract. v. § 7, vol. iii. p. 2016, “Semen Dei, id est, verbum Dei: unde dicit apostolus, Per evangelium ego vos genui, 1 Corinthians 4:15”), Bed(49) (h. l.), Luther (1), Spener, Grotius, Calov., Bengel, Benson, Whitby, Socinus, Schlichting, Rosenmüller, al. This last interpretation has been impugned by all the moderns, but I cannot see that they have made good their objection: the force of which, as stated by Huther and Düsterd., amounts to this; that the word of God is not so much the Seed, as the means whereby the begetting to the new life takes place (“das Mittel der Erzeugung des neuen Lebens,” Huth.). But whether we regard the generation of plants, or animal procreation, which latter is more in question here, what words can more accurately describe the office of the seed, than these? and what is the word of God but the continually abiding and working seed of the new life, in the child of God? Nay, it seems to be that exactly of which we are in search: not the Holy Spirit, the personal agent; not the power of the new life, the thing begotten; but just that which intervenes between the two, the word, the utterance of God—dropt into the soul of man, taking it up by divine power into itself, and developing the new life continually. This is in the most precise and satisfactory sense the σπέρμα τοῦ θεοῦ: and on this all Scripture symbolism is agreed: cf. 1 Peter 1:23, James 1:18. In fact the very passage which is the key to this, is John 5:38, τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔχετε ἐν ὑμῖν μένοντα. Nor should any exception have been taken by Huther and Düsterd. to the comparison with the parable of the Sower (“wie viele altere Ausleger mit ungeschickter Bergleichung von Matthew 13:3 ff.,” Düsterd.), for though the attendant circumstances of generation are different, the analogy is the same.

There is a novel and extraordinary rendering proposed by Bengel, who, after explaining σπέρμα by “verbum Dei cum sua virtute,” says, “vel potius sic: Semen Dei, i. e. is qui natus est ex Deo, manet in Deo. σπέρμα, natus. Tales sunt vere זֶרַע אֱלֹהִים, semen Dei: Malachi 2:15 :”—and adopted by Sander,—see above. This hardly needs refutation: we can only say that any one who can persuade himself that σπέρμα αὐτοῦ, anarthrous, and loco subjecti, can mean ὁ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγεννημένος, has, both philologically and exegetically, much yet to learn.

The reason of this absence of the article is plain: the seed is thought of not individually, but categorically: q. d., “because seed of His abideth in him”); and he cannot sin (there is no climax in καὶ οὐ: if there is any, it rests entirely with δύναται. No explaining away of this declaration must be attempted, as is done by Corn.-a-lap., who understands it of deadly sin; by Aug(50) and Bed(51), who confine the ἁμαρτάνειν to the violation of brotherly love: or as Grot. “res de qua agitur aliena est ab ejusmodi ingenio.” The Apostle is speaking not only of the ideal, but of the real state of those born of God: drawing the strongest possible contrast between the life of God and the life of sin, as excluding one another absolutely. And there is no contradiction between what is here said and ch. 1 John 1:8-9; nay, rather that passage shews, by the strong desire to be cleansed from all sin, which it assumes, the same incompatibility as is here insisted on), because he hath been begotten of God (almost all the expositors, from the first times until now, make this ὅτι more or less represent ἐφʼ ὅσον, in quantum, quam diu, quatenus, and the like. And where τὸ ἐν αὐτῷ μένειν was the matter to be measured, as in 1 John 3:6, no doubt this might be: but τὸ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγεννῆσθαι is an absolute fact, to which an ἐφʼ ὅσον refuses to be applied: it either has been, or it has not been: its effect either endures, or does not endure. And in this last consideration lies the true solution of the difficulty. As before in 1 John 3:6, so now, the Greek perfect is especially to be held firm in our exegesis. The Apostle does not say οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθη: this would testify to a past fact, once for all occurring, without any reference to its present permanence: but he has said ὅτι ἐκ τ. θ. γεγέννηται,—because he has abiding in him that his birth from God. So that the ἐφʼ ὅσον explanation, though falling far short of the real meaning, has at least a feeling after the truth of the Apostle’s assertion in it. The abiding force of this divine generation in a man, excludes sin (“qui eam indolem retinebit, non peccabit,” as Grotius, thus far right): where sin enters, that force does not abide: the γεγεννῆσθαι is in danger of becoming a γεννηθῆναι, a fact in the past instead of a fact in the present: a lost life, instead of a living life. And so all such passages as this, instead of testifying, as Calvin would have this one do (“Johannes non solum docet quam efficaciter agat semel Deus in homine, sed clare affirmat, Spiritum suum gratiam in nobis ad extremum usque persequi, ut ad vitæ novitatem inflexibilis perseverantia accedat”), to the doctrine of final perseverance of the regenerate, do in fact bear witness to the very opposite: viz., that, as the Church of England teaches, we need God’s special grace every day to keep us in the state of salvation, from which every act and thought of sin puts us in peril of falling away. Jerome, advers. Jovin. ii. 1, vol. ii, p. 321, quotes Jovinian as maintaining, from this verse, “eos qui fuerint baptizati a diabolo non posse tentari: quicunque autem tentati fuerint, eos aqua tantum et non spiritu baptizatos;” which view Lücke ascribes to his desire, in a spirit of ethical reform, to bring back men’s minds to the fundamental and ideal contrasts of Scripture itself. But surely in such a case, “a diabolo non posse tentari” was rather beyond the mark.

Before leaving this important passage, I must quote Düsterdieck’s concluding remarks. “The difference between the older and more modern expositors (as Lücke, Rickli, De Wette, and Neander) lies in this, that the former are more anxious to moderate the details of the Apostle’s sentiment, and to tone down his assertion to the actual life of Christians, while the moderns recognize the full precision of the text as it stands, but then remind us that the ideal truth of the principle announced by St. John continually so to speak floats above the actual life of believers as their rule and aim, and that, in so far, the Apostle’s saying finds in such actual life only a relative fulfilment. None however of all the expositors, who in any way has recognized the ideal character of St. John’s view, has overlooked the fact, that even in the actual life of all that are born of God there is something which in full verity answers to the ideal words ‘they cannot sin.’ The children of God, in whom the divine seed of their eternal life abides, have, in reality, a holy privilege, as Steinhofer says,—they sin not, and they cannot sin, just in proportion as the new divine life, unconditionally opposed to all sin, and manifesting itself in godlike righteousness, is present and abides in them. Expositors of all theological tendencies, in all times, e. g. Didymus, Œc., Est., Schlichting, Luther, Hunnius, Seb.-Schmidt, Calov., Bengel, Joachim Lange, Rosenm., Lucke, Neander, &c. point to this, that the new life of believers, veritably begotten by regeneration from God, is simply incompatible with sin ( ἀνακόλουθον καὶ ἀνάρμοστον, Didymus);—the life which essentially alienates the spirit from all sin ( ἀνεπίδεκτον ἁμαρτίας τὸν νοῦν ἡμῶν ποιεῖ, Œc.), fills it with an irreconcilable hate against every sin, and urges it to an unceasing conflict against all unrighteousness. Luther excellently says, that a child of God in this conflict receives indeed wounds daily, but never throws away his arms or makes peace with his deadly foe. Sin is ever active, but no longer dominant: the normal direction of life’s energies in the believer is against sin, is an absence of sin, a no-will-to-sin and a no-power-to-sin. He that is born of God has become, from being a servant of sin, a servant of righteousness: according to the divine seed remaining in him, or, as St. Paul says, according to the inner man (Romans 7:15 ff.), he will, and he can work only that which is like God,—righteousness, though the flesh, not yet fully mortified, rebels and sins: so that even in and by the power of the new life sin must be ever confessed, forgiveness received (ch. 1 John 1:8 ff.), the temptation of the evil one avoided and overcome (ch. 1 John 5:18), and self-purification and sanctification carried on”).


Verse 10

10.] “Epilogus superioris argumenti,” as Luther: with the insertion, in the latter half, of the new particular which is to form the argument of the next section. But this latter half belongs not only to that next section, but to this as well: its assertion πᾶς ὁ μὴ κ. τ. λ., is requisite for the carrying out fully of the ἐν τούτῳ, which at the same time looks backward and forward: backward, for the children of God have already been designated by the absence of sin, 1 John 3:9; forward, for the children of the devil are designated below by the presence of sin in the second half of the verse. In this (fact, circumstance: in better than by, which gives the idea that this is the only sign) are manifest (it has been asked, to whom? Lücke, Sander, and Düsterd say, to God’s unerring eye alone. True, in the full and deep truth of the saying: but surely in degree and proportion to those whom the unction from the Holy One enables to know all things: in proportion as sin is manifested, or hatred and avoidance of sin is manifested, in a character. And the especial sign which follows, the sin of hate, is one which is plainly open to men’s eyes, at least in its ordinary manifestations) the children of God and the children of the devil (see these expressions explained and vindicated from the charge of dualism, above, 1 John 3:8. Cf. John 8:44, Acts 13:10. Socinus remarks well, “Ex Apostoli verbis satis aperte colligi potest, quod inter filios Dei et filios diaboli nulli sint homines medii”): every one that doeth not righteousness (see ch. 1 John 2:29; the difference here being that δικαιος. having no art. is more general, whereas it was τὴν δικαιος. there in reference to the δίκαιος which was predicated of God. It is natural that, in a recapitulation, the language should be more general, though the same thing is intended) is not of God (= is not a child of God. It may be observed that Orig(52), Tert(53), Cypr(54), al. read ὁ μὴ ὢν δίκαιος, which is edited by Lachmann), and he that loveth not his brother (see below, these words pointing on to the next section).


Verse 11

11.] Because (proof that absence of love of the brethren excludes from God’s family) the message which ye heard from the beginning (the announcement which from the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel was made to you. ἀγγελία is not here = ἐντολή, though that which is cited is a commandment: but it is an ἐντολή conveyed in words and by messengers, and thus become an ἀγγελία) is this (in all such sentences as this, the demonstrative pronoun which begins them is in reality the predicate, and often might in English be transposed to the end with advantage), that we love one another (on ἵνα, see note, 1 John 3:1. It is impossible here, as there, to press the strong telic sense. The particle carries that combination of purpose and purport which we have so many times had occasion to notice: see e. g., note on 1 Corinthians 14:13).


Verses 11-24

11–24.] Of brotherly love, as the sum and essence of δικαιοσύνη: as Christ’s command (1 John 3:11): whereas in the world there is hate (12, 13): bound up with life, as hate with death (14, 15): finding its great pattern in Christ (16); to be testified not in word only but in deed (17, 18); as the ground of confidence toward God and the granting of our prayers to Him, being obedience to His will (19–22); which obedience consists in faith and love (23), and is testified to by the witness of His Spirit (24).

Before entering on 1 John 3:11, the latter half of 1 John 3:10 must be considered, as belonging properly, in its sense, to this section, though in arrangement inseparable from the last. The καί, which binds on the additional particular in the last clause, serves, as in 1 John 3:5, to co-ordinate that clause with the foregoing: not in this case as excluded from the forementioned category, but as one particular, taken out from among the general category, and put into a co-ordinate position with it. And it is thus put, as being the most eminent, and most of the nature of a summary, and criterion, of the rest, of any of those graces which are necessarily involved in δικαιοσύνη. Aug(55) beautifully says, “Dilectio sola discernit inter filios Dei et filios diaboli. Signent se omnes signo crucis Christi: respondeant omnes Amen: cantent omnes Halleluia: baptizentur omnes, intrent ecclesias, faciant parietes basilicarum: non discernuntur filii Dei a filiis diaboli nisi caritate.” And this love, thus constituted into “magnum indicium, magna discretio” (Aug(56)), is necessarily the family love of brother for brother within the limits of those who are begotten of God. Universal love to man is a Christian grace—but it is not that here spoken of: it neither answers the description of the ἀγγελία given in 1 John 3:11, nor corresponds to the context here in general, the drift of which is that a test of our belonging to God’s family is our love towards His children who are our brethren in that family: cf. ch. 1 John 5:1 ff. But, while there can be no doubt that this is the right understanding of the brotherly love here insisted on, we incur at once a formal difficulty in applying this meaning to the negative or exclusive side of the test. He who does not love his brother, has in strict fact no brother to love, for he is not a child of God at all. Hence we must understand, strictly speaking, τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ in this case as importing his hypothetical brother: him, who would be, were he himself a true child of God, a brother, and if so, necessarily beloved. That this love does not exist in him, demonstrates him not to be of God’s family.


Verse 12

12.] Not as Cain was of the wicked one and slew his brother (the construction is elliptic, or rather brachylogic, for nothing is to be supplied, as ἐσμέν (Sander), or ὦμεν ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ, as Grot., Lücke, or diligamus, as Corn.-a-lap.; or a relative ὅς before ἐκ τ. πον. ἦν, as Beza and Socinus. The construction is just as in John 6:58, and in the passage of Demosth. p. 415 A, which Winer adduces, οὐ γὰρ ἐκ πολιτικῆς αἰτίας, οὐδʼ ὥσπερ ἀριστοφῶνἔλυσε τὴν προβολήν. It would be simpler, οὐ καθὼς κάϊν ἔσφαξε τὸν ἀδ. αὐτοῦ, ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ὤν. The word σφάζω properly means to kill by cutting the throat. It is said to occur in LXX and N. T. in the general sense of killing (so Düsterd.); but I cannot find any instances which will not bear the precise meaning as well as a more general one. It is remarkable however, that St. John only of N. T. writers uses the verb, and that in every place there is nothing requiring the proper sense: so that any inference from its occurrence here as to the manner of Cain’s murder of Abel would be unsafe. In ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἦν we have a resumption of ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν from above, 1 John 3:8; the word πονηροῦ being used probably on account of τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ πονηρὰ ἦν following. Observe, the ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἦν is the inference from that great proof which he gave of it by killing his brother: as is also the reason given in what follows: see below. So that here the assertion of his being of the wicked one is, as above, strictly ethical, and in no way physical or dualistic: “Cain erat filius non Dei sed diaboli, non generatione, sed imitatione et suggestione,” Corn.-a-lap.). And for what reason (reff.) slew he him? because his (own) works were wicked, and those of his brother righteous (it has caused some difficulty, that no mention of this ethical difference is made in the narrative in Genesis. It has been supposed, e. g. by Socinus, that the Apostle gathers it from God’s differing acceptance of the offerings of the two: others, as Lyra, have called the ethical characters of the two the “occasio prævia,” whereas the immediately exciting cause was the “occasio propinqua,” of the murder. But properly considered, the Apostle’s assertion here is only a “deductio ex concesso.” Cain murdered his brother: therefore he hated him: and hate belongs to the children of the evil one,—classes him at once among those whose works are evil, and who hate those who, like Abel, are testified to (Hebrews 11:4) that they are of the children of God who work righteousness. Whatever might be the exciting occasion of the murder, this lay at the root—the hatred which the children of the devil ever bear to the children of God. The various legends, about Cain being the child of the serpent by Eve, and the characters of Cain and Abel, see in Lücke, edn. 3, pp. 317, 318, notes; and the former in Huther, p. 148).


Verse 12-13

12, 13.] See summary above: example of the first instance of the world’s hate, by way of contrast.


Verse 13

13.] The connexion with 1 John 3:12 is close: the world (= the children of the devil) began so, and will ever go on as it began. Marvel not, brethren, if (no doubt is expressed by this εἰ. The hypothesis is set forth as actually fulfilled. See on this (originally Attic) use of εἰ after θαυμάζω, and like verbs, in Kühner, § 771. Among his examples are the following: οὐ δὴ θαυμαστόν ἐστιν εἰ στρατευόμενος κ. πονῶν ἐκεῖνοςἡμῶν μελλόντωνπεριγίγνεται, Demosth. p. 24. 23: ἀλλʼ ἐκεῖνο θαυμάζω, εἰ λακεδαιμονίοις μέν ποτεὑπὲρ τῶν ἑλληνικῶν δικαίων ἀντήρατε νυνὶ δὲ ὀκνεῖτε, κ. τ. λ., ib. p. 52. 43: in both which places matters of fact follow the εἰ. Kühner ascribes the idiom to the Attic urbanity, which loved to give to speech a certain tinge of doubt and uncertainty) the world hateth you (“magis esset mirabile si diligerent eos,” says Didymus. This verse is in close sequence on the example just given: Cain being taken as the prototype and exemplar of such hate).


Verse 14-15

14, 15.] See summary above on 1 John 3:11. The connexion with the foregoing is very close. We learnt from 1 John 3:10, that the love of the brethren is that which makes manifest the children of God and the children of the devil. And now again, having spoken of the hate of the world as a thing to be looked for, the Apostle brings up this sign as one tending to comfort the child of God, and shew him that, notwithstanding the world’s hate, he has more to rejoice at than to fear from the fact: he is in life, they in death. We ( ἡμεῖς, emphatic: we whom the world hates: we, as set over against the world) know (see above, 1 John 3:2 al.: of certain knowledge) that we have passed over out of death into life (notice both times the articles after the prepositions, removing the nouns in this case out of the abstract, and giving them a concrete totality—the death, which reigns over the unregenerate: the life, which is revealed in Christ), because ( ὅτι gives the ground and cause, not of the μεταβεβήκαμεν, but of the οἴδαμεν) we love the brethren (here distinctly, our Christian brethren: the term οἱ ἀδελφοί being that well-known one by which the body of Christians was represented.

It is curious to follow Düsterdieck in his recension of the R.-Cath. and Socinian interpretations of this verse, and to see how they both run into one in wresting it to their own doctrines. First, the former begin with οἴδαμεν. Lyra would confine it to the Apostles; they knew “certitudinaliter, de hoc per divinam revelationem certificati;” but “si ad alios refertur, tum hoc scire accipitur pro probabili conjectura.” Similarly Corn.-a-lap., Tirinus, and Estius (and I may add, Justiniani, even more strikingly; see below), denying that St. John speaks of the certainty of assurance grounded on faith by the heretics, but “de certitudine morali et conjecturali, concepta ex testimonio bonæ conscientiæ, innocentia vitæ et consolatione Spiritus Sancti.” (Justiniani’s words are, “Recte ait (Didymus) nos disciplinabiliter id scire, ut formidinem quidem excludat, nihil tamen præter probabilitatem ex scientia offerat.”) Estius predicates the knowledge indeed simply of Christians respecting all the “boni fideles,” “quorum e numero nos esse singuli confidimus.” On the other hand Socinus, remarking that the Scripture writers (and even our Lord Himself, for which he refers to the Beatitudes) often “hyperbolicis quibusdam amplificandæ rei causa loquutionibus utuntur,” says of the test here proposed, “nam qui tali animo est præditus, vix fieri potest quin alias etiam Christianas qualitates habeat, quæ necessariæ sunt ad vitam æternam consequendam.” This remark brings us on common ground with the R.-Catholics, who would do violence to the express perfect tense μεταβεβήκαμεν to suit their purpose. So even Didymus, “quoniam qui diligit fratres secundum Deum, ad vitam ex morte transit:” (so Justiniani, making brotherly love the instrument of our μετάβασις, instead of the sign of its having taken place: “amor itaque ex caritate a morte nos ad vitam traducit:”) so Bed(57), who having explained rightly μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ below, “quod in anima mortui omnes in hanc lucem nascimur,” goes on to say, “in illa utique morte, … si fratres perfecte amaret, exsurgere posset:” so Lyra,—“opera ex caritate facta sunt meritoria;” so the Socinians, e. g. Schlichting (“docet quid maxime Deum impellat, ut nos ex morte transferre velit in vitam æternam”), adding, as we might expect, “dicit transivimus, per enallagen temporis pro transibimus:” so the rationalists, Grotius (“juri ad rem sæpe datur nomen rei ipsius”), and Carpzov. It is very remarkable, that the fine exegetical tact of Estius causes him on the one hand to deliver a clear and decided interpretation of the verse as it really is (“non hic significatur meritum aut omnino causa dictæ translationis, quasi prius sit, diligere fratres, posterius autem, et effectus illius, transferri de morte ad vitam, id est, justificari. Neque enim opera bona præcedunt justificandum, sed sequuntur justificatum, ut concinne B. Augustinus dicit, de fid. et op. c. 14 (21, vol. vi. p. 211).… Sed causalitas hæc referenda est ad cognitionem. Nam ex dilectione fraterna velut effectu et signo cognoscimus, nos de morte ad vitam translatos esse: et quantum de illa certi sumus, tantum et de isto”), while his doctrinal bias leads him, a few lines after, to strike out the whole of this sound exposition by saying, “Veruntamen etsi dilectio Dei et proximi justificationem nostram totam, cujus initium est a fide, nec mereatur, nec præcedat, sed sub ea comprehendatur tanquam pars ejus, impetrat tamen remissionis gratiam, juxta verbum Domini Luke 7, Remittuntur ei peccata multa quoniam dilexit multum: sed et augendæ justificationis est causa, ut qui justus est, opera caritatis exercendo justificetur adhuc, Apoc. ultimo.” I have not considered it beside my purpose to spend even a long note on recounting the above interpretations. It may conduce to a right estimate of the doctrines of men and churches, and put younger Scripture students on their guard, to see the concurrent habits and tendencies of interpreters apparently so opposite. When Pilate and Herod are friends, we know what work is in hand. But as a conclusion, I will quote the clear and faithful exposition of a greater and better man: “Quid nos scimus? quia transivimus de morte ad vitam. Unde scimus? quia diligimus fratres. Nemo interroget hominem: redeat unusquisque ad cor suum: si ibi invenerit caritatem fraternam, securus sit quia transiit a morte ad vitam. Jam in dextera est: non attendat quia modo gloria ejus occulta est; cum venerit Dominus, tunc apparebit in gloria. Viget enim, sed adhuc in hyeme: viget radix, sed quasi aridi sunt rami: intus est medulla quæ viget, intus sunt folia arborum, intus fructus: sed æstatem exspectant.” Aug(58) in 1 Joan. Tract. v. § 10, vol. iii. p. 2017): he that loveth not (there is this time no qualifying object, as τὸν ἀδελφόν: the absence of love from the character is the sign spoken of. τὸν ἀδελφόν is right enough as a gloss, but the Apostle’s saying is more general), abideth in death ( ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ: on the art., see above: in that realm of death, in which all men are by nature: see Bed(59), quoted above. Here again, the absence of love is not the reason, why he remains in death; but the sign of his so remaining. The μετάβασις has not passed upon him. The words have no reference to future death any further than as he who is and abides in death, can but end in death: “notandum quod non ait qui non diligit, venturus est in mortem, quasi de pœna perpetua loqueretur, quæ restat peccatoribus in futurum: sed ‘qui non diligit,’ inquit, ‘manet’ in morte.” Bed(60)).


Verse 15

15.] Every one that hateth his brother is a manslayer (in these words, (1) the ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν which preceded is token up by πᾶς ὁ μισῶν: shewing, as most Commentators have remarked, that the two are identical: the living spirit of man being incapable of a state of indifference: that he who has banished brotherly love has in fact abandoned himself to the rule of the opposite state. In the ethical depth of the Apostle’s view, love and hate, like light and darkness, life and death, necessarily replace, as well as necessarily exclude, one another. He who has not the one, of necessity has the other in each case. (2) He who hates his brother is stated to be an ἀνθρωποκτόνος. The example given, 1 John 3:12, shewed the true and normal result of hate: and again in the Apostle’s ethical depth of view, as in our Lord’s own (Matthew 5:21 ff., Matthew 5:27 ff.), he who falls under a state, falls under the normal results of that state carried out to its issue. If a hater be not a murderer, the reason does not lie in his hate, but in his lack of hate. “Quem odimus, vellemus periisse,” says Calvin. Some would make ἀνθρωποκτόνος mean, a destroyer of his own soul: so Ambrose (partly), precat. ad Missam: Lyra (not Corn.-a-lap., as Düsterd. implies), Tirinus. But this, as well as the view (Corn.-a-lap., al.) that it is the murder of his brother’s soul which is intended, “provocando eum ad iram et discordiam,”—errs by pressing the reference to the example of Cain above. Some again, as Sander, would interpret it by a reference to John 8:44, understood as pointing to the ruin of Adam by the Tempter. But as Düsterd. remarks (referring to a paper on John 8:44, by Nitzsch, in the Theolog. Zeitschrift, Berlin, 1822, Heft. 3, p. 52), far rather should we say that this passage throws back a light on that passage, and makes it likely that the case of Cain, and not that of Adam, is there referred to); and ye know that every manslayer hath not (is without the possession of) eternal life abiding in him ( οἴδατε, viz. by your own knowledge of what is patent, and axiomatic in itself. We must not fall into the error of referring the saying to the future lot of the murderer, as Bed(61), “Etsi hic per fidem inter sanctos vivere cernitur, non habet in se perpetuo vitam manentem; nam ubi retributionis dies advenerit, cum Cain …, damnabitur:” it regards his present state, and is another way of saying that he μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ, 1 John 3:14. Eternal life, which abides in God’s children, which is the living growth of the seed of God in them, is evidenced by love: if the very crown and issue of hate, homicide, be present, it is utterly impossible that this germ of life can be coexistent with it; can be firmly implanted and abiding (cf. John 5:38) in the man.

Socinus (and Corn.-a-lap.) gives the syllogism contained in these verses thus: “nullus homicida habet vitam æternam in se manentem: verum qui fratrem suum odit est homicida: ergo qui fratrem suum odit, non habet vitam æternam in se manentem. Hoc syllogismo probat Apostolus eum qui non diligit fratrem suum manere in morte”).


Verse 16

16.] Example of true love in Christ, and enforcement of it on us. In this (on ἐν τούτῳ, see above, 1 John 3:10, and note, ch. 1 John 2:3) we have the knowledge of ( ἐγνώκαμεν, “we have arrived at and possess the apprehension of:” γινώσκειν implying knowledge as an act of the understanding proceeding on intellectual grounds. Here however it is used entirely within the sphere of the Christian life of union with Christ. None can understand true love as shewn in this its highest example, but he who is one with Christ, and has felt and does feel that love of His in its power on himself. See note on ch. 1 John 2:3) love (i. e. what love is: the nature of love true and genuine: “amoris naturam,” Bengel; “veram indolem amoris,” Rosenmüller. And Aug(62), “perfectionem dilectionis dicit, perfectionem illam quam commendavimus.” And so most of the Commentators. Some have held to the insertion of τοῦ θεοῦ after ἀγάπην, which has hardly any authority (only one cursive (“52”) vulg. arm-usc). So Beza, Socinus, Whitby, Grot., Seb.-Schmidt, Calov. And others, as Spener, Carpzov., Episcopius, though they do not read θεοῦ, yet would supply it, or χριστοῦ, in the sense of Romans 5:8, John 3:16. But there can be but little doubt that the other is the right view. The love of God to us is not that which would, as such, be adduced as a pattern to us of brotherly love; it is true that in the depth of the matter, all true love is love after that pattern: but in a passage so logically bound together it is much more probable that the term common to the two, Christ and ourselves, would be, not divine love, which as such is peculiar to Him, but love itself simply, that of which He has given the great example which we are to follow), that He (Christ, as the words beyond question shew) laid down His life for us ( ψυχὴν τιθέναι, as “vitam ponere” in Latin, to lay aside life, to die: not as Grot., who in all the places where it occurs maintains that it is only “vitam objicere periculis,” which would entirely enervate the Apostle’s saying here. ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν carries in it and behind it all that we know of the nature of the death which is spoken of: but the vicariousness and atoning power of Christ’s death are not here in consideration: it is looked on here as the greatest possible proof of love, as in John 15:13. It is the very perversity of unsound reasoning to maintain, as Paulas (in Düsterd.), that because our imitation of Christ’s example, insisted on below, cannot have the virtue commonly ascribed to his death, therefore his death had in reality no such virtue): and we ( ἡμεῖς, emphatic: we on our part, as followers of Christ) ought on behalf of the brethren to lay down our lives (on ψυχάς, Socinus says well: “Non dicit nos debere animam ponere, quasi ut unus pro multis morti sit obstrictus, sed animas, quia singuli pro singulis mori debemus.” The Apostle states the duty generally: and thus stated it is clear enough. As Christ did in pursuance of His love, so ought we to do in pursuance of ours, bound as we are to Him not by the mere force of an outward example, but by the power of an inward life. But naturally and necessarily the precept finds its application only in those cases where our Heavenly Father’s will sets the offering of such a sacrifice in the course and pursuance of our brotherly love, which He has ordained. Of such an occasion the aor. θεῖναι gives perhaps a hint: not τιθέναι, as a habit of mind ever ready: but θεῖναι, once for all, on occasion given. It is not the place here to enter on, or even to enumerate, the various cases of conscience which casuists have raised as to the question, when a Christian ought to lay down his life for a brother. The subject will be found discussed in such commentaries as those of Corn.-a-lap., Justiniani, Estius, Episcopius; and a summary is given by Düsterdieck h. l.).


Verses 16-18

16–18.] Description and enforcement of true love. “Exposui hactenus et probavi, quod dilectio fratrum verissima et optima nota sit discernendi filios Dei et filios diaboli. Sed ne quis hic loci vel seipsum decipiat, vel ab aliis decipiatur,.… exponendum etiam erit,.… quæ sit vera et Christiana caritas.” Seb.-Schmidt, in Düsterd.


Verse 17

17.] But (“by the adversative connexion of 1 John 3:17 with 1 John 3:16 the Apostle marks the passage from the greater, which is justly demanded of us, to the lesser, the violation of which is all the more a transgression of the law just prescribed.” Düsterd.) whosoever hath the world’s sustenance ( βίος, as in ch. 1 John 2:16, and in reff., for that whereon life is sustained. Grotius quotes the classical proverb, βίος βίου δεόμενος οὐκ ἔστι βίος. Œc. and some others have misunderstood τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου as if it meant excessive wealth: Œc. even making τοῦ κόσμου a gen. of apposition: οὐ τοὺς βίου σπανίζοντας λέγω, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ὅλον τὸν κόσμον σχεδὸν ὕπαρξιν ἔχοντας πλούτου. And Piscator makes it mean “victus, cui acquirendo mundus est deditus.” But there can be little doubt that most Commentators are right in explaining the expression to mean, with Beza, “mundanæ facultates,” “les biens de ce monde;” as E. V., “this world’s good”), and beholdeth ( θεωρῇ gives more than the casual sight: it is the standing and looking on as a spectator: so that it ever involves not the eye only, but the mind also, in the sight: it is contemplari, not simply videre. So Chrys. in Joh. Hom. lxxv. 1, vol. viii. p. 405, οἶδεν ἡ γραφὴ ἐπὶ ἀκριβοῦς γνώσεως θεωρίαν λέγειν· ἐπειδὰν γὰρ τῶν αἰσθήσεων τρανοτέρα ἡ ὄψις, διὰ ταύτης ἀεὶ τὸν ἀκριβῆ παρίστησι γνῶσιν. St. John is very fond of the word (reff.), and wherever it occurs, this its meaning may be more or less traced. There is then in this unmerciful man not merely the being aware of, but the deliberate contemplation of the distress of his brother) his brother having need, and shutteth up (by the slight addition of “up,” we faintly represent the force of the Greek aor. κλείσῃ, as implying that the shutting is then and there done, as the result of the contemplation: not a mere constitutional hardness of heart, but an act of exclusion from sympathy following deliberately on the beholding of his brother’s distress) his bowels (= his heart, the seat of compassion: as so often in the N. T. See reff., and Luke 1:78, 2 Corinthians 7:15, Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1, Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12) from him ( ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ is pregnant, as in ch. 1 John 2:28, “aversandi notionem habens.” There is no Hebraism: nor is any supply such as ἀποστρεφόμενος wanted. κλείειν ἀπό is just as good Greek as κρύπτειν ἀπό, John 12:36 al. As Düsterd. remarks, the fact that a man shuts up his heart against his brother, includes in it the fact that that brother is excluded from the heart thus shut up), how (can it be that; as in ch. 1 John 4:20, πῶς δύναται ἀγαπᾷν;) doth the love of God (i. e. from the very express filling out of the thought in ch. 1 John 4:20, “love to God;” not God’s love to us. See also ch. 1 John 2:5, where we have the same expression and reference to the love of God being in a man. The context indeed here might seem, as the mention of Christ’s love to us has so immediately preceded, to require the other meaning; or at least, that of “the love whereof God hath set us a pattern:” and accordingly both these have been held: the former by Luther, in his second exposition, and Calov., the latter by Socinus and Grotius. But I see not how we can escape the force of the passages above cited) abide in him (Lücke and Düsterd. are disposed to lay a stress on the μένει here, thereby opening a door for the view that the love of God may indeed be in him in some sense, but not as a firm abiding principle; that at all events at the moment when he thus shuts up his bowels of compassion, it is not abiding in him. But this would seem to violate the ideal strictness of the Apostle’s teaching, and the true sense rather to be, “How can we think of such an one as at all possessing the love of God in any proper sense?” giving thus much emphasis to μένει, but not putting it in opposition to ἐστίν, as Lücke does; for it is, in the root, equivalent to it.

Here again, many questions of casuistry have been raised as to the nature and extent of the duty of almsgiving, on which it is impossible to enter here, and for which I must refer my readers as before. The safest answers to them all will be found in the Christian conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit, guiding the Christian heart warmed by the living presence of Christ)?


Verse 18

18.] Exhortation to true brotherly love: following naturally on the example of the want of it given in the last verse. Little children, let us not love with word nor yet with tongue, but (let us love) in deed and truth (there is some little difficulty in assigning these words their several places in the contrast. We may notice first, that the two former, λόγῳ and γλώσσῃ, are simple datives of the instrument, whereas the two latter are introduced by the preposition ἐν, denoting the element in which. The true account of the arrangement seems to be, that the usual contrast of λόγῳ and ἐν ἔργῳ is more sharply defined by the epexegetic τῇ γλώσσῃ and ἐν ἀληθείᾳ: τῇ γλώσσῃ giving, by making the mere bodily member the instrument, more precisely the idea of absence of truth than even λόγῳ, and ( ἐν) ἀληθείᾳ more definitely the idea of its presence than even ἐν ἔργῳ. Similar contrasts are adduced by the Commentators from the classics: especially from Theognis; e. g. 973 f., μή μοι ἀνὴρ εἴη γλώσσῃ φίλος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔργῳ· χερσίν τε σπεύδοι χρήμασί τʼ ἀμφότερα: 63, ἀλλὰ δοκεῖ μὲν πᾶσιν ἀπὸ γλώσσης φίλος εἶναι: 96, ὃς κ. εἴπῃ γλώσσῃ λῷστα, φρονῇ δʼ ἕτερα. As connected with the exhortation in this verse, I may cite the tradition reported by Jerome in his Commentary on Galatians 6:10, vol. vii. p. 528 f.: “Beatus Joannes Evangelista cum Ephesi moraretur usque ad extremam senectutem, et vix inter discipulorum manus ad ecclesiam deferretur, nec posset in plura vocem verba contexere, nihil aliud per singulas solebat proferre collectas, nisi hoc: ‘Filioli, diligite alterutrum.’ Tandem discipuli et fratres qui aderant, tædio affecti, quod eadem semper audirent, dixerunt: Magister, quare semper hoc loqueris? Qui respondit dignam Joanne sententiam: Quia præceptum Domini est, et si solum fiat, sufficit”).


Verse 19-20

19, 20.] [And] in this (on ἐν τούτῳ, see above, 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:16. It here refers to what had gone before: viz. to the fulfilment of the exhortation in 1 John 3:18, as the future shews: q. d., which thing if we do, … This has been very generally acknowledged: some Commentators mentioning, but only to repudiate, the connexion with what follows, ὅτι ἐὰν κ. τ. λ. Some, as De W., refer ἐν τούτῳ back to 1 John 3:10; 1 John 3:16; others, as Lücke, to 1 John 3:14. But to whichever of these it is referred, the sense is much the same. The context which follows is best satisfied by taking it as above: see on ἐξ ἀληθείας ἐσμέν below) we shall know (on the future, see above. It is the result consequent on the fulfilment of the condition implied in ἐν τούτῳ. De Wette’s idea, after Bengel, that the rec. γινώσκομεν has been altered to the future to suit the following future πείσομεν, is not to be thought of, in the presence of the common formula ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν, ch. 1 John 2:3, 1 John 3:24; 1 John 3:4 (2, 6,) 13, 1 John 5:2. The prevalent form was adopted by the transcribers, regardless of the future following) that we are of the truth ( ἐν τίνι; ἐν τῷ μὴ λόγῳ ἀγαπᾷν, ἀλλὰ ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳκαὶ πῶς; ὁ γὰρ ἄλλο μὲν λέγων, ἄλλο δὲ ποιῶν, μὴ σύμφωνον ἔχων τῷ λόγῳ τὴν πρᾶξιν, ψεύστης ἐστὶ καὶ οὐκ ἀληθής. Œc. But, true as this is, and self-evident, it does not reach the depth of the meaning: as of course do not the many rationalistic paraphrases which have been given: “congruere evangelio,” Grot., Whitby, &c. To be ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας, is a different matter from to be truthful or true men. Estius approaches the meaning, understanding ἀλήθεια to be the truth of God in His promises, and so ἐκ τῆς ἀλ. ἐσμέν to mean “are of the number of the elect.” Bede’(63) interpretation, “ex veritate quæ Deus est,” in which Lyra, Tirinus, Calvin agree, is nearer still: but had the Aposlte intended this, he surely would have written ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ. The Lutheran Commentators have come nearer still, making ἡ ἀλήθεια to be “verbum veritatis” by which we are begotten anew unto God: so Luther, Seb.-Schmidt, Calov., Spener, Bengel, Lücke, De Wette. But why stop at that which after all is itself ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας? Why not mount up to the ἀλήθεια itself, that pure and objective Truth which is the common substratum and essential quality of the Spirit Himself, of the Word, of those who are born of the Word by the Spirit? and thus Düsterd., Huther, al.), and shall persuade our hearts before him (i. e. and in and by this same sign, shall still the questionings of our hearts before God, by the assurance that we are His true children. This meaning has been acquiesced in by almost all Commentators both ancient and modern. Fritzsche alone maintains a different one: “Et coram Deo, i. e. Deum intuiti et reveriti, animos nostros flectemus (viz. ad amorem vita factisque ostendendum), quia, si animus nos hujus officii prætermissi condemnet, quia major est, inquam, Deus animo nostro et omnia scit.” He denies that πείσομεν is to be referred to ἐν τούτῳ, and, as above, interprets that by the consideration of God’s greatness and omniscience we are to persuade our hearts to love in truth. This view is impugned and satisfactorily confuted by Lücke, on the following grounds: 1. that after so solemn an exhortation to brotherly love on the deepest grounds, it is not likely that the Apostle would subjoin another, grounded on less deep and more general motives: 2. that every thing said by way of a motive in ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ has been included in what has been said before: 3. (And this is the weightiest objection of all, enlarged on and pressed further by Düsterdieck) in this case τὰς καρδίας here must denote the heart as the seat of the affections, whereas in 1 John 3:20 ἡ καρδία must denote the heart as the seat of the conscience. Whereas on the common view, καρδία is, throughout, the heart as the seat of the conscience, giving rise there to peace or to terror, according as it is at rest or in disquietude: nearly as Thl., πείσομεν τὴν συνείδησιν ἡμῶν, τοῦτο γὰρ βούλεται σημαίνειν διὰ τὰς καρδίας:—only that this view of the identity of the conscience with the καρδία is not correct. St. John uses καρδία for the innermost seat of our feelings and passions: of alarm (John 14:1; John 14:27), of mourning (John 16:6), of joy (John 16:22); it was into the καρδία of Judas that the devil put the intent of betraying the Lord (John 13:2): and the καρδία here is the inward judge of the man,—whose office is, so to say, promoted by the conscience, accusing or else excusing (Romans 2:15). Then, as to πείσομεν, there is no need to give to the verb any unusual meaning. It does not mean “quiet” or “assure,” except in so far as its ordinary import, “persuade,” takes this tinge from the context. And so it is, in every instance cited by the Commentators for this unusual meaning: e. g. in Matthew 28:14, Acts 12:20, and reff.: in Jos. Antt. vi. 5. 6, where Samuel ὑπισχνεῖται καὶ παρακαλέσειν τὸν θεὸν συγγνῶναι περὶ τούτων αὐτοῖς καὶ πείσειν: in the passage in Plutarch, where one says ἀπολοίμην εἰ μή σε τιμωρησαίμην, and the other answers, ἀπολοίμην εἰ μή σε πείσαιμι.

It must be plain from what has been said, that the future πείσομεν is not, on account of ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, to be taken as referring to the future day of judgment, as some (e. g. Benson, Lücke, De Wette) have done. In ch. 1 John 4:17, which is in some respects parallel with this, that day is expressly named: whereas in our passage, an equally clear indication is given, by the parallelism of γνωσόμεθα and πείσομεν, that no such reference is intended. ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ is not, at His appearing, but, in His sight, as placed before His all-seeing eye: ὡς ὑπὸ θεῷ μάρτυρι, as Œc., though misunderstanding the whole: see above: so Aug(64) (“ante Deum es: interroga cor tuum … si persuademus cordi nostro, coram ipso persuademus”), Bed(65), Corn.-a-lap., Luther, Calov., Bengel, Neander, Huther, Sander, Erdmann, Düsterd. It may be remarked finally, that by ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ being thus put first, it has evidently the emphasis: and this is important for that which follows.


Verses 19-24

19–24.] See the summary at 1 John 3:11. The blessed effects of true brotherly love as a test of the Christian state.


Verse 20

20.] takes up this matter of the persuading our hearts before God, and shews its true importance and rationale. This is carried on in the following verses, but is here and in 1 John 3:21 placed as its ground. If our heart, ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, judges us unfavourably—we may be quite sure that He knowing more than our heart does, judges us more unfavourably still: if our heart condemn us not, again ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, judging and seeing in the light of His countenance, then we know that we are at one with Him, and those consequences follow, which are set forth in 1 John 3:22.

But before arriving at this sense, there are several difficulties of no slight weight to be overcome. With these it will be best to deal, before translating the verse. Three principal questions must be answered: 1. What is the first ὅτι? 2. What is the second ὅτι? 3. What is the meaning of μείζων? 1, 2. Some monstra of exegesis must first be eliminated. It has been tried to make ὅτι ἐάν = ὅταν, “whensoever:” For this is quoted Sam. Andreä, of whom I can discover nothing. This of course is impossible. Equally impracticable are the endeavours to alter the text; by striking out the 2nd ὅτι as Grot., or making this one into ἔτι (H. Stephanus, Pricæus, Piscator). Again it is quite out of the question to supply before the second ὅτι, “eheu nobis,” as Episcopius,—“scimus, aut scire debemus,” as Calov., al. Of other interpretations, the first requiring notice is that upheld by De Wette, and pronounced the only tenable one by Brückner, which would make the second ὅτι independent of the first, and regard it as containing the reason of the final clause, καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. The objection to this is, not the καί before γινώσκει, which would be natural enough,—“because God is greater than our heart, it follows that …;” such an apodosis being very commonly introduced by καί,—but 1) the sense thus obtained, which would be illogical, as it would not follow, because God is greater than our heart, that He knows all things: and 2) that brought by Düsterd., the exceeding harshness and clumsiness thus introduced into the style, whereas St. John is singularly lucid, and has but very few inversions, none indeed at all approaching the harshness of this. Bengel, Hoogeveen, Morus, Nösselt, Baumg.-Crus., Huther, regard the first ὅτι as the pronoun relative, ὅ τι: “coram ipso secura reddemus corda nostra quocunque tandem crimine damnat nos cor,” as Hoogeveen. The objection to this is not N. T. usage, as alleged, e. g. by Düsterdieck against ὅστις ἐάν, for we read ὅστις ἐάν, Galatians 5:10, and ἥτις ἐάν, Acts 3:23; but sense, context, and analogy. Sense,—for it would surely be monstrous to make the Apostle say that if we have brotherly love, we may make ourselves easy, whatever else our consciences accuse us of: context,—for in this sentence no logical reason would thus be given by the following ὅτι, which Hoog. renders quia: analogy, as shewn in the parallelism ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ and ἐὰν μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, which we thus altogether destroy. Another interpretation is given, and, as usual, defended with extreme fervency and bitterness against those who differ, by Sander. He would make the whole of 1 John 3:20 depend on ἐν τούτῳ γνωσόμεθα and on πείσομεν (some others had done the same before, e. g. Meyer. See also Erdmann below); and regard it as meant in a consolatory sense: by thus loving in deed, &c., we shall know, &c., and shall persuade our hearts that if our heart condemn us, God (he is troubled with the second ὅτι, and offers to his readers the alternative of erasing it with Lachmann or reading ἔτι with Stephens) is greater than our heart and knoweth all things: i. e. knows us to be His children and better than we seem to ourselves. With this in the main Erdmann agrees: “Hoc igitur apostolus dicit: filiis Dei, si forte in peccata inciderint, et conscientiæ accusatione perterriti fuerint, quum e conscientia veræ caritatis erga Deum et fratres pro certo sciant se ex veritate esse, vitæque novitatem in Dei patris societate accepisse, persuasum fore, τὸ καταγινώσκειν, conscientiæ magnitudine et potestate gratiæ divinæ illoque Dei γινώσκειν πάντα superari.”

But how any exegete of tact and discernment can hold this, I am at a loss to imagine. Leaving for the present the question respecting the sense of μείζων ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ., can we conceive the Apostle to write so loosely as this—“we shall persuade our hearts, that if our heart condemn us …?” For, in this case, the καρδίας of the former clause has no connexion with the καρδία of the latter, but, as Erdmann confesses, is equivalent to ἡμᾶς αὐτούς, whereas in the latter, καρδία is the “conscientia reatus.” And besides, the πείσομεν has already had its emphatic completion in the words ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ, declaring its meaning to be absolute, and preventing its passing on to the ὅτι.

It would seem then that the first ὅτι cannot be “that,” but must be causal. And if the first, then the second, which, as far as I know, no one has attempted to render “that” after rendering the other “because.” How then is the repetition to be interpreted? The first ὅτι furnishes the reason for introducing the clause: what purpose is served by the second? The old scholium says, τὸ δεύτερον ὅτι παρέλκει. And so several of the Commentators, adducing instances of a repeated and superfluous ὅτι from Xenoph. Anab. v. 6. 19, λέγουσιν ὅτι, εἰ μὴὅτι κινδυνεύσει …: and so Anab. vii. 4. 5: Ephesians 2:11-12 in N. T. But in all these places ὅτι is “that,” not “because:” nor can an instance be produced of the repetition of a causal ὅτι. This resource thus seems taken from us. The second ὅτι must have its distinct place and meaning assigned it. And, reserving the consideration of the meaning thus obtained, till we treat of μείζων ἐστὶν κ. τ. λ.,—there is one legitimate way of taking it, which does not seem to have been suggested: viz., that there is an ellipsis of the verb substantive before the 2nd ὅτι, and that the clause, thus introduced, forms the apodosis to the ἐὰν κ. τ. λ.: “because if our heart condemns us, (it is) because God, &c.” Instances of similar ellipses after εἰ or ἐάν are of course common enough: εἴ τις ἐν χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις, 2 Corinthians 5:17; εἴτε ὑπὲρ τίτου, κοινωνὸς ἐμός κ. εἰς ὑμᾶς συνεργός· εἴτε ἀδελφοὶ ἡμῶν, ἀπόστολοι ἐκκγησιῶν, δόξα χριστοῦ, 2 Corinthians 8:23. Nearer to the point is 2 Corinthians 1:6, εἴτε θλιβόμεθα, ὑπὲρ τῆς ὑμῶν παρακλήσεως καὶ σωτηρίας: 1 Corinthians 14:27, εἴτε γλώσσῃ τὶς λαλεῖ, κατὰ δύο.…

But this brings us to consider (3) the meaning of the words μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. Two ways of taking them have been prevalent: the ancients regarded them as intensifying the ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία: as the Schol. in Cramer’s Catena, εἰ γὰρ ἁμαρτάνοντες, τὴν καρδίαν ἑαυτῶν λαθεῖν δυνάμεθα (qu. οὐ δυνάμ.?) ἀλλὰ νυττόμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ συνειδότος, πόσῳ μᾶλλον τὸν θεὸν πράττοντές τι τῶν φαύλων δυνήθωμεν ( οὐ δυν.) λαθεῖν; and so Aug(66), &c., and of the moderns, Calvin, Beza, Socinus, Grot., Corn.-a-lap., Castalio, Estius, Calov., Semler, Lücke, Neander, al. On the other hand, Luther, Bengel, Morus, Spener, Nösselt, Rickli, Baumg.-Crus, Sander, Besser, Düsterd., Huther, Erdmann, regard them as consolatory in their tendency, and as softening our self-condemnation by the comforting thought of God’s greatness and infinite mercy. Erdmann remarks, “Respondet his sententia S. Pauli ad Romans 5:20 sq.: οὗ δὲ ἐπλεόνασεν ἡ ἁμαρτία, ὑπερπερίσσευσεν ἡ χάρις. Luther ad h. l. dicit: Das Gemiffen ift ein einziger Tropfen, ber verfdhnte Gott aber ift ein Meer voller Troftes.” He compares John 21:17, κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε.

But beautiful and true as this is, and the similar considerations which have been urged by others of the above Commentators, it is to me very doubtful whether they find any place in the context here. That context appears to stand thus. The Apostle in 1 John 3:19 has said that by the presence of genuine love we shall know that we are of the truth, and shall persuade our hearts in God’s presence. He then proceeds to enlarge on this persuading our hearts, in general. If our heart condemn us, what does it import? If our heart acquit us, what? The ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ, and the ἐὰν μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, are plainly and necessarily opposed, both in hypothesis and in result. If the consolatory view of 1 John 3:20 is taken, then the general result of 1 John 3:20-21 will be, whether our heart condemn us or not, we have comfort and assurance: and then what would be the import of πείσομεν τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν at all? But on the other interpretation, taken with some modifications, all will be clear. I say, taken with some modifications: because the sense has been much obscured by the introduction of the particular case treated in 1 John 3:18 into the general statements of 1 John 3:20-21. It is not, If our heart condemn us for want of brotherly love, as Lücke for instance, calling it a statement ‘e contrario’ to 1 John 3:19; but this test is dropped, and the general subject of the testimony of our hearts is entered upon. Thus we get the context and rendering, as follows): because (q. d., and this ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πεῖσαι τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν is for us a vital matter, seeing that condemnation and acquittal by our own hearts bring each such a weighty conclusion with it) if our heart condemn (notice the words γνωσόμεθα.… καταγινώσκῃ.… γινώσκει: for the meaning, see reff. It is a word especially appropriate to self-consciousness: “know (aught) against us”) us, it is because (our self-condemnation is founded on the fact, that) God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things (i. e. the condemning testimony of our conscience is not alone, but is a token of One sitting above our conscience and greater than our conscience: because our conscience is but the faint echo of His voice who knoweth all things: if it condemn us, how much more He? and therefore this πεῖσαι, for which this verse renders a reason, becomes a thing of inestimable import, and one which we cannot neglect, seeing that the absence of it is an index to our standing condemned of God. And then, having given the reason why the καταγινώσκειν should be set at rest by the πεῖσαι, he goes on to give the blessed results of the πεῖσαι itself in 1 John 3:21-22). Beloved (there is no adversative particle, because ἀγαπητοί throws up the contrast quite strongly enough, as introducing the very matter on which the context lays the emphasis, viz., the πεῖσαι τὰς κ. ἡμῶν), if our heart (so it will stand, whether ἡμῶν be read or not) condemn us not, we have confidence towards God (reff.: said generally: not with direct reference to that which follows, 1 John 3:22, which indeed is one form of this confidence: see ch. 1 John 5:14, where the connexion is similar. The confidence here spoken of is of course present, not future in the day of judgment, as Estius. πρὸς τὸν θεόν, with reference to God: but more than that: to God-ward, in our aspect as turned towards and looking to God.

It must be remembered that the words are said in the full light of the reality of the Christian state,—where the heart is awakened and enlightened, and the testimony of the Spirit is active; where the heart’s own deceit does not come into consideration as a disturbing element), and (such another καί as that in 1 John 3:10 above, where, after πᾶς ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, we have καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, i. e. after the general statement, καί introduced the particular instance in which the general truth was carried forward. So here: By dwelling and walking in love, we can alone gain that approval of our conscience as God’s children, which brings real confidence in Him and real intercommunion in prayer, which is a result and proof of that confidence) whatsoever we ask, we receive (pres.: not for future, as Grot. The Apostle is setting forth actual matter of fact) from Him (these words must be taken in all their simplicity, without capricious and arbitrary limitations. Like all the sayings of St. John, they proceed on the ideal truth of the Christian state. “The child of God,” as Huther says, “asks for nothing, which is against the will of its Father”), because (ground of the above λαμβάνομεν) we keep His commandments, and do the things which are pleasing in His sight (on the last expression (and parallelism) see Exodus 15:26; also Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 12:25, Ezra 10:11, Isaiah 38:3. It is added, not as epexegetical of τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν, as Sander, but as Düsterd., to connect with His granting our prayers, since our lives are in accord with His good pleasure. This however brings us to the theological difficulty of our verse, wherein it would seem at first sight as if the granting of our prayers by God depended, as its meritorious efficient, on our keeping of His commandments and doing that which pleases Him. And so some of the R.-Catholic expositors here: Corn.-a-lap., with the curious peculiarity of distinguishing τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηρεῖν, the keeping of the moral law of the decalogue, from τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπ. αὐτοῦ ποιεῖν, the doing of “consilia evangelica, viz. continentia, obedientia et paupertas,” the observance of which goes “augere gratiam Dei et merita.” This is refuted by the parallelism, in which (see above) the second clause takes up the first and applies it to the matter in hand. And it is further refuted by the usage of the expression τὰ ἀρεστά, by which never “consilia evangelica,” but always things ethically pleasing to God, as commanded by Him, are denoted: cf. ref. John, Romans 12:1; Romans 14:18, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Ephesians 5:10, Philippians 4:18, Colossians 3:20. Estius again has pressed the words as against the heretics, who say “omnia justorum opera esse peccata;” “nisi,” he adds, “dicant, quod absque blasphemia dici non potest, peccata esse Deo placita.” But both here and elsewhere the solution of the difficulty is very easy, if separated from the party words of theology, and viewed in the light of Scripture itself. Out of Christ, there are no good works at all; entrance into Christ is not won nor merited by them. In Christ, every work done of faith is good and is pleasing to God. The doing of such works is the working of the life of Christ in us: they are its sign, they its fruits: they are not of us, but of it and of Him. They are the measure of our Christian life: according to their abundance, so is our access to God, so is our reward from God: for they are the steps of our likeness to God. Whatever is attributed to them as an efficient cause, is attributed not to us, but to Him whose fruits they are. Because Christ is thus manifested in us, God hears our prayers, which He only hears for Christ’s sake: because His Spirit works thus abundantly in us, He listens to our prayer, which in that measure has become the voice of His Spirit. So that no degree of efficacy attributed to the good works of the child of God need surprise us: it is God recognizing, God vindicating, God multiplying, God glorifying, His own work in us. So that when, e. g., Corn.-a-lap. says, “congruum est et congrua merces obedientiæ et amicitiæ, ut si homo faciat voluntatem Dei, Deus vicissim faciat voluntatem hominis,” all we can reply is that such a duality, such a reciprocity, does not exist for Christians: we are in God, He in us: and this St. John continually insists on. We have no claim ab extra: He works in us to do of His good pleasure: and the works which He works, which we work, manifest before Him, and before all, that we are His children. The ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν, λαμβάνομεν, I reserve to be treated of on ch. 1 John 5:14-15, where it is set forth more in detail).


Verse 23

23.] Summing up of all these commandments in one: faith in Christ, and brotherly love according to Christ’s command. And (see καί similarly used, ch. 1 John 1:5, 1 John 2:17, 1 John 3:3) His commandment (“singulari numero mandatum præmisit, et duo subsequentia adjungit mandata, fidem scilicet et dilectionem, quia nimirum hæc ab invicem separari nequeunt. Neque enim sine fide Christi recte nos alterutrum diligere, neque vere in nomine Jesu Christi sine dilectione possumus credere,” Bed(67): and Œc., ἔχοντες ἐντολήν, ἵνα τῇ πίστει τῇ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ ἰης. χρ. ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους) is this, that (see on ἵνα, 1 John 3:11) we should believe (the aor. imports one act of receptive faith: the present, a continuing habit) the name (this unusual expression, πιστεύειν τῷ ὀνόματι (reff.), is well explained by Calvin and Beza,—“nomen ad prædicationem respicit;” so that, as Seb.-Schmidt, it is “credere merito, satisfactioni, omnibusque promissionibus Christi et de Christo:” to believe the Gospel message concerning Him, and Him as living in it, in all His fulness. We have similar expressions, πιστεύειν τῇ γραφῇ, John 2:22; τοῖς ῥήμασι, John 5:47; τῇ ἀκοῇ, John 12:38) of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another (pres., of a continued habit), even as He gave us commandment (some Commentators have referred these words to both πιστεύσωμεν and ἀγαπῶμεν, and understood ὁ θεός as the subject of ἔδωκεν. So Estius, Hunnius, Bengel, Sander. But this would seem to introduce too much of a tautology: “God’s commandment is, that we should, &c.… as He gave us commandment.” It seems more natural, with the generality of Commentators, to understand Christ as the subject to ἔδωκεν, and by the commandment, John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17).


Verse 24

24 b.] And of one part of this mutual indwelling there is a sign and token, given us by God Himself, viz. the Holy Spirit. By the mention of the Spirit, the Apostle makes these words the note of transition to the subject of the next section, ch. 1 John 4:1-6, which is parenthetical, of the discerning of true and false spirits, and after which the main subject of brotherly love is resumed again. And in this we (all the children of God; not as the R.-Cath. expositors, Lyra, Corn.-a-lap., Estius, the Apostles, or the apostolic church, only) know that He abideth in us, from the Spirit (the change of construction is unusual. It arises from the Apostle having combined together two ways of speaking in this connexion,— ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν, ὅτι …, see 1 John 3:16; 1 John 3:19, and ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομεν, ch. 1 John 4:6. The knowledge is ἐν τούτῳ, in this element or department of fact, and it is ἐκ τούτου, derived from, as its source, that which follows) which He gave us ( ἔδωκεν, aor.; at a certain time, by a definite act, viz. on the day of Pentecost, when the Father bestowed the Holy Spirit on the Church. And this ἔδωκεν is one sign that the whole is to be referred to the Father: seeing that our Lord says, κἀγὼ ἐρωτήσω τὸν πατέρα, καὶ ἄλλον παράκλητον δώσει ὑμῖντὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, John 14:16-17. This indwelling Spirit of God is to the child of God the spring and source of his spiritual life, the sure token of his sonship, Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 4:6, and of his union with God in Christ).

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 3:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/1-john-3.html. 1863-1878.

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