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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 John 3



Verse 1

1 John 3:1

The Love that calls us Sons.


I. The love that is given. We are called upon to come with our little vessels to measure the contents of the great ocean, to plumb with our short lines the infinite abyss, and not only to estimate the quantity, but the quality, of that love which in both respects surpasses all our means of comparison and conception. Properly speaking, we can do neither the one nor the other, for we have no line long enough to sound its depth, and no experience which will give us a standard with which to compare its quality. But all that we can do John would have us do—that is, look, and ever look, at the working of that love till we form some not wholly inadequate idea of it. We have to turn to the work of Christ, and especially to His death, if we would estimate the love of God. According to John's constant teaching, that is the great proof that God loves us. The most wonderful revelation to every heart of man of the depth of that Divine heart lies in the gift of Jesus Christ. The Apostle bids me "behold what manner of love."

II. Look, next, at the sonship which is the purpose of His given love. It has often been noticed that the Apostle John uses for that expression "the sons of God," another word from that which his brother Paul uses. John's phrase would perhaps be a little more accurately translated "children of God," whilst Paul, on the other hand, very seldom says "children," but almost always says "sons." Of course the children are sons, and the sons are children, but still the slight distinction of phrase is characteristic of the men and of the different points of view from which they speak about the same thing. John's word lays stress on the children's kindred nature with their father and on their immature condition. What is implied in that great word by which the Almighty gives us a name and a place as of sons and daughters? Clearly, first, a communicated life, therefore, second, a kindred nature which shall be "pure as He is pure," and third, growth to full maturity.

III. Now still further let me ask you to look at the glad recognition of this sonship by the child's heart. Notice the clause added in the Revised Version, "And such we are." It is a kind of "aside," in which John adds the "Amen" for himself and for his poor brothers and sisters toiling and moiling obscure among the crowds of Ephesus to the great truth. He asserts his and their glad consciousness of the reality of the fact of their sonship, which they know to be no empty title.

IV. We have here, finally, the loving and devout gaze upon this wonderful love. "Behold," at the beginning of my text, is not the mere exclamation which you often find both in the Old and in the New Testaments, which is simply intended to emphasise the importance of what follows, but it is a distinct command to do the thing—to look, and ever to look, and to look again, and live in the habitual and devout contemplation of that infinite and wondrous love of God.

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 241.

References: 1 John 3:1.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 208; M. G. Pearse, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 64; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 333; Homiletic Magazine, vol. ix., p. 290; J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, p. 367. 1 John 3:1, 1 John 3:2.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 44; A. Mahan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 184. 1 John 3:1-3.—Homilist, 1st series, vol. iv., p. 341. 1 John 3:1-5.—A. Cooper, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 344; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 107.

Verse 2

1 John 3:2

Consider the short word "now." What is time present? What is the meaning of "now"?

I. This is a matter not so plain, nor lying so much on the surface, as we might at first sight imagine. Time is altogether a mysterious thing. There is every reason to believe that time is nothing more than a state ordained by God for the purposes of, and as a condition of, His finite creation. Succession, the waxing onward, i.e., of hours and days and years, is that without which we cannot conceive existence at all. But that is not the condition of God's own being. His being is independent of the condition which limits ours. With Him is no waxing onward, no succession of hours and days and years. He is the high and holy One who inhabiteth eternity. He is the Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

II. There is no such thing as "now," properly and strictly speaking. Time is a rapid stream in which no point is ever stationary. But—and this is the important consideration—it is a tendency inherent in us ever to be arresting in our thoughts certain portions of time and treating them as if they were, for certain purposes, stationary, and unaffected for the moment by the rapidity of transit of the whole. With reference to the subject of which the Apostle is writing, this—this state revealed for and during this present space of time—is all we know and all we can speak of. A ray of light is shed down on one portion of our course; in that portion all is distinct and clear—all, that is, which it is necessary for us to know and to have revealed. Does not this clothe with immense interest and importance this present? We stand, as it were, on a promontory, and before and around us are the infinite waters. By our life here, by our gathering strength and our forming ourselves here, will the character of that vast unknown voyage be determined. Remember that as it is by very common acts and daily recurring duties that the main work of life must be carried on, so it is by these common thoughts made solemn that the soul's great work must be done.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 1.

Possibilities of the Future.

We are grateful when we find in the word of God the recognition of the fact that that which is of the nature of perfection is quite incomprehensible to us; that we do not understand God Himself; that we do not understand the heavenly state; that we do not understand what our own perfected natures ought to be, nor what they are who have risen and are among "the spirits of just men made perfect." The annunciation of our ignorance reassures and comforts us.

I. All knowledge is measured by the attaining power of the human faculties. We do not know but there may be revelations coming to us all the time which break on us as the waves break on unknown shores. This is a fact which explains much of what men stumble over in regard to Divine revelation; for it has been supposed that the revelation of God would be one that would take all things of the Spirit, and shape them into crystalline accuracy, and put them beyond all cavil before men, whereas it is a revelation which is relative to the unfolding process of human life and of nature. As the eye increases in power it is able to bear more and more light; and as the power of apprehension in men has increased they have been able to take in more and more truth. And the word of God has been given to the world little by little. Small were the elements that were revealed at first. These elements have grown as men grew. And revelation has not preceded comprehension, but has rather followed it, because men cannot understand faster than they have the capacity to understand. The grand fact, then, on which all reasoning in respect to final states must proceed, is this: that man is not a creature complete and ended, but is a being who is in a state of change and process, as is distinctly recognised in the word of God; and that all teaching must conform to that universal and fundamental principle of evolution which is going on in the understanding and moral parts of human nature.

II. See how clear now, in the light of this thought, comes out the passage of our text, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." It carries with it a magisterial idea. Now that we are the sons of God, the higher things rule the lower; and higher than anything else, Paul being our witness, are faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. The relation is to be that of sonship. We are to come, not into the relationship of magisterial power, nor of justice, nor of vengeance, but of love; and the centre of the universe is love; and the farther we go toward that perfection, the nearer we shall be to God. We have the hint of love here; but we are to see its full disclosure in the world to come: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." We are on this side in the beginning of it; and when we reach the other side—when we have sloughed the chaff in which we grew, when we are wheat gathered into the eternal garner, when we are where all parts of our nature are effluent and effulgent, when we are in a society whose public sentiment nourishes and helps us, when we are in a sphere where God Himself is personally present—though it doth not yet appear what we shall be then, it is because it is too high, too large, for any man to think of in this mortal state. Round and round the earth goes the spirit of instruction and inspiration, pouring out things which give to a man some hints (you cannot give him much more), some slight notion, of the vastness of that God who fills all space, all time, all eternity. And so, when we think of Him, sometimes we think of Him as a Father, sometimes as a Brother, sometimes as a Comforter, sometimes as a Leader, sometimes as a Judge, sometimes as a King, sometimes as one thing and sometimes as another. These, however, are only images, symbols, giving us intimations of qualities; but by-and-by we shall see Him as He is. The limitation of human faculty shall not prevent our knowing what God is. Now we have no conception of His form or of His glory except from the most insignificant sources; but the time is coming when we shall go home as the sons of God, and shall be changed, throwing off the raiment and chains of slaves—for we have been in bondage: the time is coming when we shall be emancipated, and shall stand in the presence of God; and then we shall no longer go by hints and notions. "We shall see Him as He is."

H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 353.


I. This is revelation's last word on a great subject which theologians have too often forgotten in their positive statements and assumptions. Our English version does not quite correctly represent the Greek original. It is not "It does not appear as a result of human inference or speculation," but "It has not yet been manifested or revealed." God Himself still wraps our destiny among His "hidden things." Even Paul, when wading in these perilous depths, and talking of the change that awaits all, and attempting to describe the properties of a "spiritual body," felt himself to be confronted with a "mystery," and while satisfied that there would be a victory over the grave, and that mortality would be swallowed up in life, wisely brought back his readers' thoughts from dreamland to reality by bidding them simply "be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as they knew that their labour was not in vain in the Lord."

II. Nor can it be said that the great Teacher Himself, when He most clearly proclaimed the doctrine of the resurrection, drew aside for more than the briefest moment the curtain by which the mystery is veiled. But in the dim gloom that shrouds the land beyond the grave there is a streak of light like some sudden lightning flash, illuminating the darkness with hopes full of immortality; in the still silence of the chamber of death there is a voice heard, sustaining the soul in its passage through the shadowed valley: "He that believeth in Me shall never die." Grant me a right to believe in a personal God, in a living Christ, in an indwelling Spirit, in a life of the world to come, and, like that ship driven up and down in Adria upon which no small tempest lay, I shall have, as it were, my four anchors cast out of the stern, while I "wait for the day."

Bishop Fraser, University Sermons, p. 167.

I. We Christians are now, in this our earthly life, children of God. He is interested in the welfare of each with inexpressible tenderness and sympathy. He has showered upon us magnificent gifts, if we will but acknowledge them and use them to His glory. There is not one among us so poorly endowed but that his heart can swell with love of good, and admiration, and reverence, can feel the beauty and tenderness of the life of Jesus Christ, can believe in a God who hears prayer, and so taste of the powers of the world to come. And these are glorious gifts, the gifts of a Father to children whom He loves and respects.

II. There is a future awaiting us all beyond, and greater than all that we have ever yet reached. A child of God cannot die forever. Nothing can take him out of his Father's hands. Wherever he is, he must be about his Father's business. If he sleep for a time, it will be to gather strength for ampler service. "If he sleep, he shall do well," or if he enter at once on some fresh period of growth, of this at least faith assures us: that it must be growth towards God, and not away from Him. By some means, in some sphere of being, the child must be drawing nearer to his heavenly Father.

III. As to the nature of this future being, this much at least we know: that we shall be like God, because we shall see Him as He is. To see God is to be like Him. The man that gazes on the Divine is already transfigured and become a partaker of the Divine nature. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Thought fails in trying to conceive of this splendid growth that awaits us after death, when, by God's mercy, the lowliest will be "something far advanced in state," with a Divinely granted work adjusted to his renewed powers. This only we know as the climax and consummation of all: that we shall be like God, for we shall see Him as He is.

H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 150.

I. We stand, then, on this bright, illuminated platform of the present, this sunny promontory in the midst of the dark, infinite ocean, and what is that light upon us which is said to be so clear? Now we are children of God, children of God. We are here introduced to a Being above us, a Being from whom we are said to have sprung, in some sense. Who and what is this Being? How can we know anything of Him? The will of a Person is the only intelligible origin of this world and of ourselves, because that agency is the only one which we know that is not subject to the laws by which matter is bound.

II. Now, this one great point being granted, many others follow from it. If it were the will of that supreme Being to create, if it is His present will to uphold, the universe, then we can judge of His character by the laws which He has established and keeps in working. We see these laws calculated to promote and to conserve order, life, happiness, beauty. He is, then, a Being who loves and approves these, who wills order, life, happiness, beauty, in His creation. But more than this, there are laws in our own minds and spirits as fixed and invariable as those which act on matter; and by the character of these also we may judge of His character who ordained them. In our own spirits there is no rest in evil; He who made us willed that we should be good.

III. On this platform of the present life we have two parties brought together: ourselves and God. The greater part of mankind go on day and night, and never think of the awful presence around them; they lose the safeguard and they lose the dignity of a life in which God's presence is realised. Have you ever travelled as the dawn of a bright day was waxing onward, the place of every object more and more indicated, but a dimness over all, the reaches of the rivers faintly reddening through the mist, the trees and the hills massed together in indistinctness, groups of forms, but without the life of detail? And then on the sudden, as you look, here and there beams of brightness leap forth, the hillsides glow with rosy light, the rocks burn like molten metal, living fire looks forth from the streams, and heaven and earth rejoice because the sun is risen. Even such is the change when the presence of God arises upon the inner life of a man. All things were seen before but dimly and in their outlines; but now they are full of clearness and light. Now, now first, he has put on the dignity of his nature, and is fulfilling the ends of his nature.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 25.

I. "Now are we children of God." It must be plain to us with very little consideration that the Apostle could not here mean the absolutely general relationship which exists between the great Father and all His creatures. To this there is no exception; all men and all living things may in this sense be said to be children; and the assertion of this fact would lead to no consequences with regard to the future such as are here implied. We are here treating of a state above and beyond nature, a new state, in which we are brought into some different relation to God from that which we held to Him by the mere tie of our creation. As by that we were in some sense His children, so by this we are His children in another and a more blessed sense. So that this of which we speak may well be called a new creation.

II. "Now are we children of God." Now have our spirits become, by some grand and glorious process or other, alive again to God, endued with His very nature, adopted into His family. We could not be children of God, in the sense here intended, without such a new birth, without the entrance of new life into this withered and paralysed noblest portion of us.

III. "Now are we children of God." What a position to stand in, and to what a Father, the recovered, the adopted, the chosen children of Him that made heaven and earth, not destined for, not to end in, this world, but with God's heavenly abode for our Father's house, God's throne for our family centre, the light unapproachable in which He dwelleth pointing out our distant home across the dark waste of life! In the blessedness of this knowledge is all the happiness of the life present, and in the trust which this knowledge gives is all the hope for the great non-apparent future.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 53.

I. First of all, observe that which must strike every one on hearing the words—viz., that a well-meaning Person is here spoken of as He: "We shall be like Him." The Apostle's thoughts are so fixed on his Divine Master, that He is their continual object, spoken of without introduction or explanation: "We shall be like Him"—the Lord Jesus Christ—"for we shall see Him"—i.e., Christ—"as He is." Christ has entered into and taken upon Him in full that mysterious unknown state; His present shall be our future. When that state, now all dark to us, shall be manifested, we know that it will consist in likeness to Him.

II. To what does this knowledge amount? This is certain: that we—that means His saved ones, His Church—shall see Him as He is, and this, the Apostle argues, can only be brought about by our being like Him. That glory of His cannot be beheld except by those who have entered into His likeness; that we shall see Him as He is is of itself sufficient proof that we must be like Him.

III. But here arises an important question: Who are they that shall be manifested? who are they that shall be like Him, and thereby shall have the sight of Him? Observe that this is not a mere question of bodily sight. Even if it were, we might have something to say of refined vision, of the training of the sense to perceive glory, and majesty, and beauty. Even thus we might say that the eye of man might fail to apprehend that glory even when manifested. In order to see the glorified Redeemer as He is, the eye of man's spirit must be educated. For of this one thing be sure: that, whatever and however great the change may be which shall introduce us into that state, we ourselves shall remain the same. I mean that our inner desires and purposes, our bent of custom and thought—these will not be rooted up and superseded by new ones; but as in this present life the boy is father of the man, and the youth's views and thoughts in their main course survive the change from youth to age, so in our whole life of time and eternity the childhood of the state now present must contain the germs of that future maturity. What has never begun now will not be first implanted then. A man must have yearned after the image of Christ here, if he is to wear the image of Christ there.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 155.

In speaking of the new life which the love of the Father hath bestowed on men, we observe—

I. That new life begins with new birth. Man is found in the state into which our race has come by the Fall, a state of deadness as to the life of the noblest part of him, viz., his spirit. Over the wide world, to all nations (such is His command), goes the glad message, "Christ in you the hope of glory"—the message which makes known man's disease and God's remedy. The effects of this proclamation, the good spell, or Gospel, going forth upon the world, are twofold. It acts upon the individual heart, and it acts upon men as a society; it reawakens the dead spirit of him who hears, and it brings about a society or body of men in which this new condition may be put upon men by stated ordinances and a prescribed covenant. God has ordained the rite of baptism, speaking with His own mouth, and He has appointed it to be the symbol and ordinary vehicle of the new birth, insomuch that St. Paul, writing to Titus, calls the vessel in which the water for baptism was contained "the laver or font of the new birth."

II. Well, then, we are children of God; we are regenerate, new-born. In the Son of His love, who has taken our nature into His Godhead, and has become the Lord our Righteousness, He has adopted us into His family and made us His children. But between various persons among us there is a wide distinction. Some know not of, some care not to know of, this glorious relation between God and themselves. Still it is true of us as a whole, true in the main and general, that now we are children of God; that on this portion of the great stream of time known as the present, and designated by the term "now," there shines this clear beam of God's love to us, by which He hath bestowed on us a place in His family of spiritual children, and hath given us an inheritance among the saints in light. This we know with the knowledge of faith, faith resting on evidence, resting on the assured persuasion of those who can render a reason for their hope.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 79.

Of the future we know nothing. We may speak of this day, or this year, or this life, and in each case of another day, another year, another life. It doth not yet appear, no one has ever been able to show us, what shall be, or what we shall be. All that we say of our own minds about another day, another year, another life, is founded on surmise, is true on certain conditions. We assume that what has been will continue to be.

I. Surely it is a strange and solemn thing to think of this standing up against total darkness, this evermore taking steps into an unknown void. And still stranger it is to think that we and the whole race of mankind evermore exist and go onwards under these solemn circumstances so quietly, so contentedly, so assuredly. It is as if one should march to the edge of a precipice continually receding before him, but uncertain when it will stop, and he take the step which will be his fall.

II. In the very terms of the text it is taken for granted that there is a future for us beyond the present life. From us as Christians thus much of the darkness has been lifted from the future; we know that it will not bring us annihilation. As the concealment of the manner and phenomena of the future life is for our God, so is the revealing of the certainty of our further development in it as the perfected children of God. We may work by the sunlight, though we cannot gaze upon the sun.

III. "Who knows if life be death, and death be life?" sang the old Greek tragedian in the days of darkness. What he nobly guessed, we know by faith, and live upon that knowledge. The children of God now are like sick men in the long night—vexed, and tossing, and crying out for repose; in them dwelleth no good thing; anxiety seems too much for them, grace too little. Now are we children of God; still it is an inheritance long coming, a hope deferred that maketh the heart sick. But meanwhile the unknown state is coming nearer and nearer; the streaks of day are gathering in the horizon; like the throbbing of the distant train upon the wind, the tokens of His coming are beginning to be heard. "Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus."

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 105.

I. In none of the Old Testament books is any direct revelation made as to what we shall be. Rather is that momentous question, by the very terms of some of these passages, left involved in additional mystery. The absence of sorrow and pain, the presence of triumph and joy, are set forth in the New Testament in most vivid terms; but it is in language drawn entirely from the habits and wants of this our present state, not from the new habits and wants of our future one. What we shall be, if set forth at all, is only set forth by negativing or intensifying that which we are. It is all as if we were with our thoughts and imaginations, even when they are Divinely guided, only building up a ladder which may reach to heaven, but whenever we attempt to place it against the bulwarks of the celestial city, it proves all too short, and will not reach. And so it will be to the end. We shall be changed. We shall pass, as it were, through a crucible, and our whole spirit, soul, and body, remaining in identity the same, will come out new, partakers of a different life, using different senses, thinking different thoughts. On the one hand, this must be; and, on the other, it very well may be.

II. It must be. As flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, so neither can the senses which inform flesh and blood inform us of the realities of that new state. If they bear in their new state some analogy to their present uses, this is all that we can at present surmise. How much of our present selves will survive the change, how much will bear transmuting into that new existence, whether traits of character, outward or inward, which are now fleeting or unpromising, may pass, as it were, through fire, and become fixed and brightened in the enamel of eternal beauty and freshness, we cannot say; but the change must be: so much is evident. And it very well may be, even according to our present conceptions. As St. Paul shows in the case of the body, so might it be shown in the case of the whole man, with his thoughts and habits. Circumstances in their change will also completely change the character, and thoughts, and habits of a man.

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 131.


I. Intelligent service. There is, first, the body. We must take care of that. It needs the full power of forethought and resolution if we are ever to present these bodies as a living sacrifice, such as God could actually view with favour and with pleasure, as something undamaged, unspoiled, sound and whole in every part. And then after the body there is the mind. That is to be transformed by a gradual process of renewal, which will purge it of its old instinctive conformity to the world, those habits and standards we had lived in, and will build up in it a faculty of apprehension and sensitiveness of touch by which it will respond with rapid readiness to all those emotions by which the will of God prompts it towards that which is good, and desirable, and perfect. And then, moreover, as the mind bends to the control of this directed will, it will have to learn its proper place in society and in the Church; it will have to subordinate itself to the general excellence of the whole.

II. The Epiphany is made manifest in our purified lives. His glory is to show itself through us. He houses the glory within the body of His believers, and thence He shines out upon the world, as through a lamp, and their goodness of life is the vehicle of illumination, the medium through which His light passes out to irradiate the surrounding darkness. That is the plain band that binds the Epistles to the Gospels. The Epistles illustrate the issue and continuance of that which the Gospels require. That very Christ, at whose feet the wise men of the East presented frankincense and myrrh, shall shine out now upon the intellectual thought of the world, through that renewed and transformed mind of those who have won the faculty to recognise what is the good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God.

III. Christ's epiphany in the world is bound with terrible intimacy to our moral fidelity to His commandments. It is because we have seen Him that we are summoned to the task of self-discipline. He was manifested to take away our sins. As our task is always simply just to admit Jesus Christ in fuller measure into our souls, therefore, if we can ever succeed in doing this at any one point in our lives, we shall be doing it for all other parts. For Christ is one, and all the variety of duties only represents the behaviour of that one character under varying circumstances. Secure Him, then, at one corner of your being; get closer to Him, then, at some point where you have to beat under some one special temptation, some one all-besetting sin, at some point where you have to work hardest to develop one most needed virtue; admit Him there, by that door, and it is the whole Christ that enters, and the whole of you will feel the effect of that entrance; the whole of you will be nearer Him; the whole of you will be warmer, purer, truer, gentler; through every part of you the presence now admitted will speak.

H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 148.

I. What is this sight awaiting us which shall accomplish so much? Observe—(1) It is the sight of a personal Saviour. "We shall see Him." It is only natural that we should desire to see the countenance of one whose works we have read, and whose friends we have often met, and who is often in our thoughts and affections. It is but natural that there should be a longing to see any one of whom we have read much, and of whom we have thought more. Is it, then, surprising that when the heaven of the saint is described it should be represented as the sight of a personal Christ? Yes, we shall see the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of whom Moses and the prophets spake. We shall see also the Christ of our own thoughts. There is not a believer but has his ideal Saviour. We shall see Him—a living, personal Saviour, arrayed in human form. We shall not have to inquire who He is, or where He is. We shall see Him in the very identical body that once hung in shame on Golgotha. (2) It is the sight of a glorified Saviour: "We shall see Him as He is." Jesus has been beheld as we shall never behold Him. We shall never see Him as the Magi saw Him: the Infant; we shall never see Him as the disciples saw Him: so tired out that He was sound asleep on the open deck of a fisherman's boat; we shall never see Him, the cursed Substitute, groaning under the horrible load of His people's sins; but as He is now: highly exalted. Take the most blessed season earth has ever known, and it is only seeing Christ through the glass darkly. And these feebler manifestations are never as clear as they might be. I question whether there has ever been a saint but has had in some measure a veil over his soul. The veil may vary in thickness. Sometimes it is dense and dark as a London fog, and at other times it seems no more hindrance than the thinnest gauze. Then we see, as it were, the outlines of His beauty, but no more.

II. Notice the effect wrought by the sight: "We shall be like Him." In a minor degree, this is true on earth. Nobody can look on Jesus long without getting something of His image. Any man or woman who is in habitual communion with Jesus Christ will have something about them that betrays their intercourse. Now, if seeing Jesus through a glass darkly makes me something like Him, seeing Him in all His glory, without a veil, will make me altogether like Him. When this poor green bud is brought into the sunshine of His countenance in glory, how in a moment will all the green shields that hide its beauty fly apart, and all its leaves of loveliness expand in His own light, and I shall be like Him!

A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 848.

The Apostle admits that there is obscurity hanging over much of our eternal future. He glances at this part slightly; but it is the background of that one bright scene to which he afterwards points. (1) The place of our future life is obscure. (2) The outward manner of our final existence is also uncertain. (3) Many of the modes and feelings in the life to come perplex us. The atmosphere is too subtle, the azure is deep even to darkness, and from every endeavour we must come back to realise the lesson of our present state: that, while Christians are now the sons of God, the heir is but a child. It would be unsatisfactory enough if this were all that could be said and done. But the Apostle puts this dark background upon the canvas, that he may set in relief a central scene and figure: Christ and our relation to Him.

I. The first thing promised is the manifestation of Christ: "Christ shall appear." It is not merely that Christ shall be seen, but seen as never before. The first thought of the Apostle was no doubt the human nature of Christ as appearing again to the eyes of His friends, but he must also have thought of His Divine nature. The glory that He had with the Father before the world was shall be resumed, and if we may venture to say it, raised, for the glory of the Divine shall have added to it the grace of the human.

II. The second thing promised at the appearance of Christ is a full vision on our part; we shall see Him as He is. This implies a necessary and very great change on us before we can bear and embrace, even in the smallest measure, the perfect manifestation of Christ. We shall be changed (1) in our material frame; (2) in our soul. It will be a vision free from sin in the soul, free from partiality, intense and vivid, close and intimate.

III. The third thing promised is complete assimilation to Christ. We shall be like Him. (1) Our material frame will be made like unto Christ's glorious body. (2) Our spiritual nature will be like His. God has used this way of revealing the future (a) as a method of spiritual test and training; (b) as a means of quieting our thoughts; (c) as a means of making Christ the centre of the soul's affections and aims.

J. Ker, Sermons, p. 365.

The Unrevealed Future of the Sons of God.

I. The fact of sonship makes us quite sure of the future. That consciousness of belonging to another order of things because I am God's child will make me sure that when I am done with earth the tie that binds me to my Father will not be broken, but that I shall go home, where I shall be fully and for ever all that I so imperfectly began to be here, where all gaps in my character shall be filled up, and the half-completed circle of my heavenly perfectness shall grow like the crescent moon into full-orbed beauty.

II. Now I come to the second point, namely, that we remain ignorant of much in that future. That happy assurance of the love of God resting upon me, and making me His child through Jesus Christ, does not dissipate all the darkness which lies on that beyond. "We are the sons of God, and," just because we are, "it does not yet appear what we shall be," or, as the, words are rendered in the Revised Version, "it is not yet made manifest what we shall be." The meaning of that expression "It doth not yet appear," or "It is not made manifest," may be put into very plain words. John would simply say to us, "There has never been set before man's eyes in this earthly life of ours an example or an instance of what the sons of God are to be in another state of being." And so because men have never had the instance before them they do not know much about that state.

III. The last thought is this: that our sonship flings one all-penetrating beam of light on that future in the knowledge of our perfect vision and perfect likeness: "We know that when He shall be manifested we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." To behold Christ will be the condition and the means of growing like Him.

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 2nd series, p. 255.

References: 1 John 3:2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 196; vol. ii., Nos. 61, 62; J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. i., p. 18; R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 6; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. x., p. 228; Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 259; E. D. Solomon, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 353; P. W. Darton, Ibid., vol. xxxiv., p. 101; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 353; vol. ix., p. 337; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 265; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31.

Verse 2-3

1 John 3:2-3

The Believer's Sonship.

It is a law of our nature, or rather of our mental constitution, that in looking at any particular truth or subject we unconsciously present it in that aspect which strikes ourselves most forcibly, or which is the most congenial to our own minds. Take, for example, the heaven of the believer's hope and prospect. While the object of expectation has been one with the universal Church, the features of that object have been various as in the glass of the kaleidoscope, and individuals have dwelt for their comfort upon the different aspects of its blessedness, according to their own felt need or yearning sorrow. Thus it is said of Wilberforce, whose life was one sunny activity of benevolence, unbroken by the wearing languors of the sick-bed, that when he thought of heaven it was as a place which refined and sublimated every righteous affection, that his central idea was love; while the suffering Robert Hall, whose life was a torturing illness, and his brow beaded ever with the sweat of pain, murmured in his acutest paroxysms of the promised recompense of rest. Thus we are not surprised to find John the beloved declaring the gospel of love, warming every precept to its genial inspiration, and exhorting the whole body of the faithful to its cultivation and spread. In the words of the text there is a rich mine of comforting truth. It brings before us—

I. The believer's present relationship: "Now are we the sons of God." Who shall estimate the preciousness of this rare and hallowed privilege? God commendeth His love to us, not merely in that "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us," but in "that we might receive the adoption of sons."

II. The text gives us a glimpse of the believer's future. There is a general uncertainty, redeemed by a particular assurance: "We shall be like Him," etc. This is not the language of hesitation, nor even of conjecture, but of firm and well-warranted conviction. To be like Christ, fully and without a drawback to reflect His image—this is the destiny of our ransomed nature.

W. M. Punshon, Sermons, p. 66.

Our Views of Heaven.

I. When we claim on behalf of the Christian morality a purity or disinterestedness greater than that: of any other religion, we are sometimes met with the reply that the motives it offers to man, however they may be disguised in language, are really selfish, inasmuch as they appeal to his self-interest: "Do this, and you shall obtain a reward; do that, and you shall be punished." And these objectors say that, so far from Christianity inspiring men with the most perfect spirit of self-devotion, it is quite impossible that it should do so; and that men in ages preceding the Christian revelation who gave up their lives for their country or one another without any expectation of recompense in another world were in reality exhibiting a much more perfect form of sacrifice.

II. St. John says plainly in the passage of his first epistle which is before us that our view of a future life determines our present one: "Whoso hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." He says boldly, therefore, that the hope of reward is a powerful agent, in fact the only effectual one. As men learned what was the treasure which God offered to every one of them, so they learned to hope for that treasure thereafter, and to lay it up for themselves while on earth by following the Divine likeness. Christ did appeal to men's self-interest, but not till He had taught them that their interest was to be perfect, as their Father in heaven was perfect. To lose self in Christ, not to find it haunting us still, is the heaven which God has promised to His redeemed.

III. The desire for repose, the desire to find rest for the spirit in some thing or some person, is the master yearning of every man's life. We want to be delivered from falsehoods, from vanities of all kinds, from delusions which hold us one day only to yield to others the next. We try to find rest in some object short of the highest, and we feel that we are only hiding from us our own poverty, and that when this object has been attained there will remain a power, a righteousness, above us, to which we have not been reconciled. St. John offers us a method different from our own. He does not say, "Be good, be true, and you shall find out God." He says, "Take to your comfort a hope, and that hope shall make you pure."

A. Ainger, Sermons in the Temple Church, p. 13.

Sonship the Foreshadowing of Heaven.

I. In our text we have concealment: "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Christ reveals the fact of immortality, gives the promise of immortality, but tells us little or nothing about the outward conditions of immortality. A Christian must frankly accept this ignorance. By the terms of his Christian covenant he engages to walk by faith, not by sight. Restlessness, toil, sorrow, bereavement, ignorance, are all outgrowths of sin; and the Bible promises the abolition of these in promising a sinless heaven.

II. But there is revelation as well as concealment. It doth not yet appear, but we know something. Concealments are necessary because of the limitations of our intelligence; but these concealments are in the interest of our knowledge on another side, and are intended to direct our researches into another and more profitable channel. For if we rightly read the New Testament, we find it aiming, not so much to put us in possession of new facts about the future life, as to put us in the right attitude alike toward what is revealed and what is hidden. Our disposition is to inquire into the circumstances of the world to come, while the Gospel persistently counteracts this tendency by showing us that the future life is essentially a matter of character rather than of circumstances. On this side we know something of the heavenly world. We know the moral laws which govern it, for they are essentially the same laws which the Gospel applies here. We know the moral sentiments which pervade heaven. They are the very sentiments which the Gospel is seeking to foster in us here. We know that holiness, which is urged upon us here, is the character of God, and that where a holy God reigns the atmosphere must be one of holiness; that if God is love, love must pervade heaven; that if God is truth, truth must pervade heaven.

III. The essence of the promise is that we shall be like God. Likeness to God comes through vision of God. Love has a power of transformation. In that fact we have both a consolation and an exhortation to duty.

M. R. Vincent, The Covenant of Peace, p. 175.

References: 1 John 3:2, 1 John 3:3.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 291; Ibid., vol. vi., p. 27.

Verse 3

1 John 3:3

What is the effect of this hope upon him who entertains it?

I. "Every man that hath"—that possesses—"this hope in him," this hope resting on him, "purifieth himself, even as He is pure." All hope rests upon some ground or other, if it be a hope of which any account can be given. This hope is founded on Christ. If the ungodly man is forbidden by the character of his life to entertain this hope, then surely the children of God will be warranted by the character of their lives to entertain it. This seems reasonable, but it is very instructive to see that it is not so; the hope rests, not on ourselves at all, but on Him, on our blessed Lord. And how does this instruct us? Why, it teaches us that He and His accomplished work in our natures are absolute all-including facts, to be made the ground of hope simply in themselves, and without digging into this ground, so to speak, any characteristics or experiences, or anything, of our own.

II. What are the fruits of this faith, resulting in hope for the future? "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." His lifelong struggle springs out of his hope, and that hope is grounded on his faith in Christ. He does not carry on this struggle in order that it may in the end result in a hope for the future: if he did, all his efforts would be vain; but he fights on against evil in the power of his faith and hope. He is aware that though perfect likeness to Christ will never be attained till the great change has come, and we see Him as He is, yet for that perfection the present time must be a preparation, or it will never be realised at all. And in that preparation what is the one obstacle which stands between us and likeness to Him? It is all comprehended in one word: we cannot be like Him because we are impure. Our struggle for purity, which is grounded on this hope, has ever before it as its standard and pattern "as He is pure."

H. Alford, Sons of God, p. 179.

The Purifying Influence of Hope.

I. Notice the principle that is here, which is the main thing to be insisted upon, namely, if we are to be pure, we must purify ourselves. The very deepest word about Christian effort at self-purifying is this: Keep close to Jesus Christ. Holiness is not feeling; it is character. You do not get rid of your sins by the act of Divine amnesty only. You are not perfect because you say you are, and feel as if you were, and think you are. God does not make any man pure in his sleep. His cleansing does not dispense with fighting, but makes victory possible.

II. This purifying of ourselves is the link or bridge between the present and the future. "Now are we the sons of God," says John in the context. That is the pier on the one side of the gulf. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but when He is made manifest we shall be like Him." That is the pier on the other. How are the two to be connected? There is only one way by which the present sonship will blossom and fruit into the future perfect likeness, and that is, if we throw across the gulf, by God's help, day by day here that bridge of our effort after growing likeness to Himself and purity therefrom.

III. This self-cleansing of which I have been speaking is the offspring and outcome of that hope in my text. It is the child of hope. Hope is by no means an active faculty generally. As the poets have it, she may "smile and wave her golden hair," but she is not in the way of doing much work in the world. And it is not the mere fact of hope that generates this effort; it is, as I have been trying to show you, a certain kind of hope: the hope of being like Jesus Christ when "we see Him as He is."

A. Maclaren, A Year's Ministry, 1st series, p. 3.

References: 1 John 3:3.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 98; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 224; F. H. Dillon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 348; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 250. 1 John 3:4.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. v., p. 167; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 244; vol. vii., p. 60; vol. x., p. 283. 1 John 3:5.—C. J. Vaughan, Good Words, vol. vi., p. 47.

Verse 8

1 John 3:8

Why Christ came.

I. We are carried here into the very heart of the Gospel; we are told why Christ came, why there is a gospel. Some one may say that the object of the Gospel is to destroy the works of the devil, which is, I suppose, a Hebrew form of words for sin, and thus the amount of it all is that the one aim of the Gospel is to teach men to lead moral lives. In this tone you hear men speak of the Christian morals as higher and purer than those of other religions or other philosophies. They are Christians, according to their idea of that phrase, because they admire the Sermon on the Mount and the general tone of Scripture. The text does bear on its surface an enforcement of morality. It does imply that Christ's real battle is with sin. It does bid us, if we are Christians, to fight it out with our sins. But the thing wanted was—conscience knows it—a specific medicine for a specific disease, a Divine intervention to repair a breach and a ruin, a supernatural remedy for an unnatural condition. To teach morality to a being whose very will is in bondage is no satisfaction to the demands, to the expectations, of the heart and soul of mankind.

II. "That He might destroy the works of the devil." What have we here? Not, surely, a mere Orientalism for moral evil; not, surely, a chance or a cant phrase for which a mere abstraction might be substituted at pleasure; rather a glimpse faint yet true of a wreck and a chaos utterly unnatural; of a power alien and hostile which has entered, and defiled, and desolated a portion of God's handiwork; something which is not a mere spot, or stain, or disfigurement, but has an influence and an action real and definite, a power which works in the hearts, and lives, and souls of men, and which can only cease to work by being destroyed.

III. And for this purpose the Son of God was manifested. The revelation of the supernatural was the death-blow of the unnatural as such. Conscience accepts, conscience welcomes, conscience springs to grasp, it. We find conscience satisfied, tranquillised, comforted, by the discovery of a love and a power mightier than all the hate and might of evil. We find an argument here, such as there is nowhere else, for renouncing and casting out sin. We do find an echo in all but hardened hearts of that brief, thrilling expostulation of St. John, "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure."

IV. "If the Fall," one has written, "is a fearful tragedy, reparation must be more than an idyll." The man who makes light of Calvary, the man who rests in Deism, the man who thinks ethics enough, and rather compliments the Gospel upon its morality than views that morality as a revelation—such a man, depend upon it, is a man of either darkened or else unawakened conscience. When he learns the plague of his own heart, then there will be a revelation within of the necessity, of the beauty, of the adaptation and congruity, of a gospel of grace. Then will the words flash upon him with a dazzling lustre, "He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him."

C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 15.

The First Sinner.

Nothing in the whole of Scripture is plainer than its teaching respecting the evil spirit. If he be not a personal reality, the word of God is good for nothing. His agency is closely interwoven with the first man's original sin, as closely interwoven with the second Man's established righteousness; in fact, it forms an integral part of the great whole, which if we attempt to tear away, difficulties beset us far more appalling than anything involved in the doctrine itself thus called in question.

I. Gathering up then the testimony of Scripture respecting Satan, we learn from our Lord's own lips that he abode not in the truth. He was one of those spiritual beings created, like ourselves, in love and living in the love of God. In this love, the spring of all spiritual conscious being, he did not abide. All evil is personal, is resident in a person and springing from the will of a person. And in every such person sin, evil, is a fall, a perversion of previous order and beauty, not in any way an arrangement of original creation.

II. Sin was in this spirit no result of weakness, no distortion of a limited being, endeavouring to escape into freedom. He was mighty, and noble, and free. Out of his very loftiness, out of his spiritual eminence, were those elements constituted which, when once the perversion took place, became the powers and materials of his evil agency. Sin springs not from the body, nor from any of the subordinate portions of our own nature, but is the work of the spirit itself, our highest and our distinguishing part, arises in the very root and core of our immortal and responsible being.

III. All sin is in its nature one and the same thing, whether in purely spiritual beings or in us men, who are both spiritual and corporeal; it is a falling from the love of God and of others into the love of self. And for this reason the fallen spirits are everlastingly tormented; they believe that there is one God, and tremble at Him as their Enemy, perversely mistrusting His love and hopelessly opposing His will.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv., p. 68.

References: 1 John 3:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1728; W. Landels, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 376. 1 John 3:9.—J. B. Heard, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 158. 1 John 3:10.—F. E. Paget, Sermons for Special Occasions, p. 89. 1 John 3:13.—J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 42. 1 John 3:13, 1 John 3:14.—H. C. Leonard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 160.

Verse 14

1 John 3:14

Our True Orbit.

I. History tells us for how many thousand years men believed that the sun went round the earth. History tells us how men went on century after century inventing new theories to account for the different new facts which this belief had to account for as their knowledge grew. And for how many centuries have men practically set aside the similar truth we are now looking at, the truth that we must not make ourselves the central point of our life, must not look to self first, and make life and the works of life circle round our hopes and fears, but look out into God's great world of life and make others the centre round which we circle, and doing good to them our power of gravitation, by which all things move by secret heavenly attraction, binding us by an unseen mystery to heaven. Self-seeking or self-goodness is no more life than the earth is the centre of the universe. Look on yourself as less than the meanest life you help, not greater; for lo, it is Christ and His life you help. Go out of self; fasten on by cords of love to all those others who have been to you as yet either unthought of, or thought of as helps or hindrances to you, instead of worlds of life in Christ, by being fastened on to which you live. Revolve round others in loving-kindness and faith, instead of making others and your dealings with them revolve round you. "Because ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." Your life circles round Him the moment being kind to others becomes the sole aim in all you do.

E. Thring, Uppingham Sermons, vol. ii., p. 155.

Brotherly Love.

There are many kinds of knowledge, but the most difficult is self-knowledge. Now in spiritual self-knowledge it is not so requisite that we be able to say in any given time whereabouts we stand in the Divine life, as it is that we be able to tell at all times whether we do really live unto God or not. This is the only self-examination commanded in the Bible. But we long for some simple, infallible test whereby we may try and determine our own state before God. Such a test we have here: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."

I. Look at the thing which is to be known. The idea conveyed in the words is of two states, two lands, separated as by a gulf; and there is now, what one day there will not be, a transit from one to the other. The one side is a land of death. There everything that is done is short and uncertain. Its lights blaze for a moment, then they go out, and when they are gone the night seems darker than if they had never been. It is a country of graves, and the joys of pleasure have no resurrection. On the opposite shore everything is in essential light, because there is a new principle there. That principle is one which works for ever and ever. That light, springing from invisible sources, nourished by hidden nourishments, reaching on to unknown passages, is still gaining more.

II. The sign by which we know it: "We love the brethren." The brethren are those who have the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts, even though there be much clinging to them that is unrefined, and unintellectual, and unpleasing. We must love all the brethren. And this very comprehensiveness of a catholic spirit is the mark of a mind that has had to do with the largeness of an almighty God.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 59.

References: 1 John 3:14.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. ii., p. 17; S. Minton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 312.

Verse 15

1 John 3:15

The Peril of Unlawful Venture.

I. Self-control is a thing which we can perfectly well understand in its effects, in its sources, perhaps, not so well. In frail, unassisted man, self-control is a weak and poor safeguard against temptation. Passion and self-interest are too strong for it when it has nothing further to rely on than a man's own resolution and innate sense of right. But here God has been pleased to interfere, and to offer us the help of His grace to strengthen us in the conflict of life. His character as the Father of our spirits is pledged and committed to giving this grace and furnishing this strength to all that ask for it.

II. God's help is only to be looked for in God's ways, within those limits of serving Him and trusting Him which He has prescribed to all of us. Venture is lawful when we may fairly look, if God's mysterious providence does not interpose to prevent it, for a favourable issue of our labours. This is lawful venture, venture according to the ordinary course of God's providence, defeated and brought to loss only by His mysterious interposition. On the other hand, venture appears to me to be unlawful where no such reasonable prospect of success exists, where there is not, in God's ordinary course of providence, any connection existing between the means used for gain and the event upon which the gain depends. Take the case of one who wagers money on the issue of a matter over which he has not, even humanly speaking, any control. Such a one has no reason whatever to look for a prosperous issue to his venture in the common course of things. The awful name of a murderer clings by implication not only to him who hateth his brother, but to every man who surrenders himself to a pursuit in which he has not the secret of self-control, the fear of God, and the help of His grace.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 339.

Reference: 1 John 3:16-18.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 590.

Verse 19

1 John 3:19

The Good and the Bad Conscience.

There is many a text concerning which it may be said that, without an earnest study of the whole chapter, of the whole context, or of the whole Epistle to which it belongs, it would be impossible to get at its depth and fulness. But happily, as St. Augustine says, if Scripture hath its depths to swim in, it hath also its shallows. Just as the geologist may mark the beauty of the crystal without attempting to set forth all the marvellous and subtle lines of its formation, so, without any possibility of showing all which a text articulates, a preacher may yet be thankful if he be enabled to bring before you with it only one or two thoughts such as may serve to the building up of the Christian life. St. John is dealing in our text with tests of sonship. He is telling us how we may decide the infinitely important question whether or not we are children of God. He is speaking to Christians, Christians, it may be, wavering, but still Christians, who shone as bright lights in that dark heathen world. However, the Apostle St. John makes love—that is to say, absolute unselfishness, a perfect and intense desire to devote our lives to the good of others—the one supreme test of spirituality. "My little children," he says, "let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." And then he adds, "And hereby we recognise that we are of the truth, and that truth shall assure our hearts before Him." The word "truth" in St. John, as in many other places of Scripture, means reality. If we belong to the truth, the real and eternal world, then, having God as our hope and strength, we are safe, and the world cannot hurt us; no storms can wreck our inward happiness. If we belong to a false world, our life is a failure, our death a terror. We are on the path that leads to destruction. There are in this world two paths: one a condition of fear and peril, wherein a man walketh in a vain shadow and disquieteth himself in vain; but the other is the hope that maketh not ashamed. St. John refers to conscience as the supreme arbiter in this awful question. Who does not know the use of the conscience? It is to the supreme honour of Greek thought that it brought into use that word, which first occurs in the Apocrypha, that word which describes self-knowledge, to describe that voice of God in the heart of man, a prophet in its information, a priest in its sanctions, and a monarch in its imperativeness. The Hebrews in the Old Testament use the word for truth and spirit to convey the same meaning. And the conscience of each one of us either condemns us or condemns us not.

I. Let us take the case of the absolving conscience: "Brethren, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." The Apostle defines wherein this confidence consists; it is boldness of access to God; it is a certainty that our filial prayers will, in their best and highest sense, be heard and answered. It is the consciousness of a life which leans on the arm of Christ, and keeping His commandments, is so transformed by the spirit of Divine life as to be conscious it is one with God. Yet there is such a thing as a spurious conscience. But when the oracle of conscience has been so tried, it can neither stand John's test nor give us peace. When our conscience acquits us, malediction becomes of none effect. It is simply impossible for any good and great man to go through the world, whether on the lighted stage of a public career, or in the office, or in the workshop, or in the back street, without the chance of suffering from unkindness and misconception, without not only his real errors, which all men do commit, being exaggerated, but his honest intentions, his most blessed and most intense actions, being depreciated. Yet he will all the while remember this was the case of the Master, Christ. However much reviled, He calmly and humbly committed Himself to Him who judgeth righteously. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God."

II. Now turn to the other case—the case of the condemning conscience: "Brethren, if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." What do these words mean? Are they merely a contemplation? Do they mean to warn us? Do they mean that we stand self-condemned in that silent court of justice which we ever bear about within ourselves, ourselves the judge and jury and ourselves the prisoner at the bar? If we stand thus self-condemned by the incorruptible judge within us, in spite of all our ingenious pleadings and infinite excuses for ourselves, how much more searching, more awful, more true, must be the judgment of Him who is "greater than our heart, and who knoweth all things." Or, on the other hand, is it a word of hope? Is it the cry, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee"? Is it the affirmation that if we be but sincere we may appeal to God and not be condemned? I believe this latter is the meaning. The Christian's heart may turn to a gracious, pardoning Omniscience, and be comforted by the thought that his conscience is but a water-pot, whereas God's love is a deep sea of compassion. He will look upon us with larger and other eyes than ours, and make allowance for us all.

F. W. Farrar, Family Churchman, Aug. 1st, 1883.

Verses 19-22

1 John 3:19-22

God Greater than Our Heart.

I. The subject with which these verses deal is an accusing conscience and its antidote. St. John does not say that the heart may not accuse justly. He does not say that a child of God is sinless by virtue of his relation as a child, and that his self-accusation is quieted by being pronounced groundless. It is entirely possible that one's heart may justly accuse him of sin, and that God's judgment may confirm the accusation of the heart. But he does mean to say that the heart is not the supreme and final arbiter, and that whatever it may accuse us of must be referred to a higher tribunal. You will observe that emphasis is laid on the words "before Him"—we "shall assure our hearts before Him."

II. God knoweth all things, while our heart is ignorant and blind. Whatever light or power of discernment conscience has, it receives from God. Not a few Christians live habitually in a state of self-accusation. They live in anticipation of Divine judgment. Life is one continuous arraignment at the bar of conscience, spite of all their prayer, and striving, and study of the word. Is it the appropriate daily occupation of a child of God to be a mere bookkeeper, writing down bitter things against himself? And then, once more, it is true that many Christians do not carry up their case from the bar of the heart. It is at this mistake that the Apostle's words are aimed. The whole text carries a protest and an antidote against that kind of piety which is too contemplative and self-scrutinising; which is always studying self for the evidences of a right spiritual relation and condition; which tests growth in grace by the tension of feeling; which limits God's presence by the sense of His presence; which reckons the spiritual latitude and longitude by the temperature of emotion, as if a sailor should take his reckoning by the thermometer. Feeling, religious sensibility, have their place in the Christian economy, and a high and sacred place it is; but its place is not the judgment-seat.

M. R. Vincent, The Covenant of Peace, p. 160.

References: 1 John 3:20.—J. Keble, Sermons from Advent to Christmas Eve, pp. 123, 137, 151. 1 John 3:21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1855; J. Edmunds, Sixty Sermons, p. 260. 1 John 3:22-24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1103. 1 John 3:23.—Ibid., vol. ix., No. 531; Mackarness, Church of England Pulpit, vol. x., p. 313. 1 John 3:23, 1 John 3:24.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 316.

Verse 24

1 John 3:24

The Abiding Witness.

I. The first lesson which these words convey is the dignity not only of the state of the saint, but also of the evidence by which he is assured of it. This state consists in the abiding presence of God, and this not only above us, though this is true, not only around us, though this is true, but in us. We must neither pare down the literal fact of this indwelling, nor must we forget the majesty of the Indweller. God Himself dwells within the saints. He dwells, not flashing a ray of His glory now and then, breaking the natural darkness of the soul for a moment and then leaving it again darker than before, but abiding there, dwelling like the sun in the heavens, with his beams hidden, it may be, sometimes with earthly clouds and mists, but like the sun behind the clouds, filling the soul, as in ancient times He filled the material temple with the glory of His presence.

II. With the dignity we must combine the definite clearness of the test which proves our possession of it, for we might otherwise find great difficulty. By keeping His commandments, we know. We have great cause to bless God for thus resting our hopes on our obedience, which every honest mind can see and recognise. The lesson draws close, and tight, and indissoluble the connection between faith and holiness, the heart and the life, the religion and the character and conduct. It makes Christianity to be a real, practical, working power. (1) The obedience, which is the proof of the Spirit's presence, is not a holiness finished or perfect, otherwise it would belong to none of us this side of heaven. (2) It is a holiness riot complete, but progressive. (3) It is not partial. Christian obedience accepts and follows the whole law.

III. The words express the infinite blessedness both of the state and of the evidence. God is the source of life, and when He dwells within the soul He dwells as the spring of life, and every pulse of that life is love, and every thrill of it joy.

E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 27.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 3:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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