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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 John 5



Other Authors
Verse 3

1 John 5:3

Love for God's Commands.

I. People talk of "going to heaven" as if admission to future happiness had nothing to do with the bent and tone of their minds and their inward being here on earth. But salvation is the consummation of that eternal life which begins for Christ's true servants in this world. This essence of eternal life is union with Him who is the Eternal, and is the Life. To possess it, in however imperfect a measure, is to be in moral fellowship with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. There is nothing arbitrary in the Divine awards. Alike for weal and for woe, there is a true continuity between a man's character as formed and settled in this world and the portion assigned to him in the next. Perdition is no vindictive infliction for bygone evil, but the inevitable, one might say the natural, result of obdurate persistency in evil, or, as it has been expressed, a free will self-fixed in obstinate refusal of God, and therefore necessarily left to itself; and salvation must similarly be the complete development of a moral and spiritual condition which may be described as the renewal of the soul by the joint operation of grace on the one hand and of responsiveness to the aid of grace on the other, which condition must at any rate have been inaugurated if the soul is to depart in what is called the state of grace. In short, we must be grateful for salvation if we would be saved.

II. And how is this to be done? By loving what God commands—that is, by putting our wills into a line with His will; by giving Him our hearts; by sympathising, if we may so speak, with His intentions towards us and for us. Thus to love what He commands is accepted by Him as in substance love for Himself.

W. Bright, The Morality of Doctrine, p. 154.

Verse 4

1 John 5:4

Office and Province of Faith.

I. Faith is not primarily a light of the soul. Though its gaze ought ever to be fixed on the source of all light, it looks to that source rather in the first instance as being at the same time the source of all warmth and all life. It is the living principle by which the soul drinks in life from the heavenly fountain of life; and only as the recipient of the light from above does it become the light of every one in whom it shines. It is still given to Christ's disciples to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To those who believe in Him it is given, but to those who do not believe in Him it is not given. We are to seek and search, not with our eyes half closed, as though we were fearful lest we should see too much of truth, lest we should look beyond God into a region where God is not. In this respect also, seeing that we have such a High-priest, who Himself is passed into the heavens, we may approach boldly to the temple of wisdom, for He who has delivered our hearts and souls has also delivered our minds from the bondage of earth. Therefore let no man say to the waves of thought, "Thus far shall ye go, and no farther." Let faith propel them, and they shall roll onward, and ever onward, until they fall down at the foot of the eternal throne.

II. The true antithesis is not between faith and reason, but between faith and sight, or more generally between faith and sense. The objects of faith are not the things which lie beyond the reach of reason, but the things which lie beyond the reach of sight—the things which are unseen, the things which as yet are objects of hope, and which therefore must be remote from the senses. Nor is it the office of faith to deliver man from the bondage of reason, but from the bondage of the senses, by which his reason has been deposed and enthralled, and hereby to enable him to become reason's willing, dutiful, active servant. In fact, the truths which are the objects of faith are in the main the very same with those which are the objects of reason, only, while reason is content to look at them from afar, or, it may be, handles them and turns them about, or analyses and recompounds them, but after all leaves them lying in a powerless, notional abstraction, faith, on the other hand, lays hold of them and brings them home to the heart, endowing them with a living reality, and nurtures itself by feeding on. them, and leans on them as a staff to walk with—yea, fastens them on to the soul as wings wherewith it may fly. Thus faith surpasses reason in power and vitality; it also anticipates reason by centuries, sometimes by millenniums. It darts at once with the speed of sight to those truths which reason can only attain to slowly, step by step, often faltering, often slumbering, often wandering by the way. When faith dies away, the heart of a nation rots; and then, though its intellect may be acute and brilliant, it is the sharpness of a weapon of death and the brightness of a devouring fire.

J. C. Hare, The Victory of Faith, p. 63.

The Victory of Faith.

It is acknowledged by everybody that the world is a place of conflict; but it is not felt by everybody that there is an inestimable advantage in this: that the conditions of human life should be those of conflict. And yet, if we reflect, we shall not, I think, murmur that our lot should be cast in a world where there is every need for the putting forth of our energies, for surely it is by the stimulating influences of various oppositions that our powers will ripen and develop. Let us take such a survey of the conflict as will enable us to see that perhaps one of the reasons why there is so much complaint of failure lies in this fact: that men mistake the nature of the conflict, and as they mistake the nature of the conflict, so they mistake the nature of the weapons that should be employed.

I. They mistake, I think, the nature of the conflict. The world, they say, is a great arena of contest. It is true, and there are many foes. We may enumerate them. There is poverty, there is ignorance, there is obscurity, there is weakness; and as men take a survey of life, these are the enemies which they most dread. Of all they dread poverty as the worst. It seems to smite down man and to rob him of the powers of struggle, because it robs him of the power of hope. They dread obscurity, they dread ignorance, because if a man feels that he can only emerge into the full light, where he can be seen and can have a full, free scope for his energies, then perchance success will be his. The Apostle tells us in effect the foe is not care; the foe is not obscurity; it is not poverty. The thing which men mistake is the enemy that they have to assail, and they always will identify the real advantages of life with the things that they can see, which they can enjoy, whereas he tells us that the true enemy is not in the world, nor in the things that are in the world, but rather that it is in the world within the heart. The enemy, he says, is not poverty, but desire; the enemy is not obscurity, but lust; and therefore he brings out and shows where the true conflict is. Here, he says, are the enemies: "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life"; and now I know that men may win the victory in imagination, and be defeated at the testing time. Not he who has broken through the barriers of the shade of inferiority and has found his way to the highest places of the earth, but rather he who has taken the chains of these lower things, and has broken them in pieces, and has risen out of the darkness of sin into the true light of the knowledge of purity and of God; not he who imagines that his power is sustained by men being at his feet, but he rather who has been victorious over the subtle passions of his own heart—he has overcome the world.

II. Then there is another thought; that is, the weapon is mistaken also. If, indeed, poverty is the worst of evils, obscurity the worst of enemies, ignorance the worst of foes, then by all means let us take to our aid the weapons of human warfare. I know that the weapons of industry shall overcome poverty, and I know that industry and knowledge will vanquish obscurity and bid ignorance depart; but if these are not the foes, then must we try another weapon. The Apostle bids us to try the weapon of faith. This, he says, is the victory that overcomes the world. Take rather this weapon in hand, and the triumph shall be yours—even your faith. At the essential root of all human life the measure of human success lies often in the spirit of confidence and faith. Therefore in the world of religion and in the great world—for religion, after all, is only the art of living nobly and well—this will be the victory that shall overcome the world, even our faith.

Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 321.

Faith's Conquest.

That there is a contest carried on in creation between opposite principles was so apparent even to the heathen that many of them imagined the existence of two opposite deities, the one dealing out good and the other engaged in counteracting that good. We who have the Divine revelation know better than this. We know that a fierce conflict goes on between evil and good, but that only good can be referred to the Creator, evil originating exclusively with the creature. This earth, which God designed for the habitation of an innocent, and therefore happy, race, has been converted, through the apostacy of that race, into a battle plain, upon which Satan and his emissaries measure their strength with Jehovah and His hosts. The contest between Christ and Satan is a contest for the souls of men, and its battles are fought on the narrow stage of individual hearts more frequently than on the wide area of nations and provinces.

I. It is asserted here that the renewed man overcometh the world. We must take a modified interpretation of St. John's strong sayings. The renewed man "overcomes," and the renewed man "does not sin," in the sense of the object which he has in view, rather than of the end to which he has attained. The sayings are to be interpreted of what is habitual, not of what is occasional. His habits are those of victory and righteousness. When he fails to conquer or falls from obedience, the failure and fall are exceptions to ordinary success and general steadfastness. Hence we may say, the renewed man overcomes because, though sometimes defeated, to be the victor, and not the vanquished, is his habit.

II. And now as to the agency by which this result is effected. Faith overcometh the world. In general it is worse than useless to concede to the world. The world very justly takes it for cowardice and gives it contempt. And this faith decides that the march of a righteous cause is not to be advanced by throwing a mantle over the uniform of its soldiers. It decides that they who would hate you if you showed yourself an out-and-out Christian can only love you in proportion as you play the renegade and buffoon. Thus by faith in the whole record of Scripture, by faith in the fact that the friendship of the world is enmity with God, by faith in Christ as able to effect the spread of the Gospel without requiring me to disguise it in myself, by faith in the Holy Spirit as ready to support me against all obloquy which absolute decision may provoke, I overcome the world; I resist its advances; I decline its courtesy; I reject its alliance. When a man is not afraid of standing out to be pointed at; when he will make no terms but that the world shall come over to his ground, that he will perish rather than advance one inch towards the world, then we affirm that a great victory has been achieved, and so preeminent has faith been in the conflict that at once we may declare with St. John, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2015.

Power of Faith among the Heathen and among the Jews.

I. God did not leave Himself without a witness on earth. He would not so forsake mankind as that there should not be a single eye of faith to look up to Him among all the nations, that there should not be a single altar, a single heart, from which prayer, and thanksgiving, and praise should mount to heaven. When the whole world was turning away from Him to enwrap itself in its own natural darkness, He called Abraham to be the father of them that believe, and promised that from him in the course of ages should spring One through faith in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed. Thus did God ordain that faith should overcome the world. When man had given himself up to the worship of the creature, of the earth and its fruits, of the flesh and its lusts, God said, I will light up the light of faith in the heart of Abraham.

II. The faith which was a living principle in the hearts of the Jews, and which manifested itself so often by heroic action and endurance—nay, which became so inwrought in them that seventeen centuries of dispersion and oppression have not been able to destroy it—was a faith in Jehovah as the God of their fathers and their own God, who in manifold wonderful ways had shown Himself to be the Protector of their fathers, and who had chosen them out from all the nations of the earth to be His peculiar people. The heathen never discerned that God was a God of holiness and justice; at least, their popular religion was often at direct variance with any recognition of this truth. To the Jews it had been declared and fully displayed, although they were perpetually blinding their hearts to it. Along with the historical groundwork of their faith, they had a law, by keeping which they were to show forth their faith; and every commandment in that law was, as it were, a fresh step towards overcoming the world. In reading the law, indeed, there was often a veil upon their hearts; often, too, they turned the law itself into a veil, the letter of which darkened and concealed its spirit. The Jews could trust in God, and could act nobly and boldly in that trust; for a high degree of such trust may exist apart from that earnest endeavour after righteousness which ought to go along with it. But few of them lived by faith: only the just can so live; and they alone who do live by faith can be just. Even those who were strongest in their faith or trust in God's upholding and protecting providence, and who by this faith were enabled in outward act to overcome the world to vanquish the most formidable outward enemies it could bring against them, even those who were full of this lively, animating trust, and who in this trust encountered and overthrew every obstacle—even they could yet at times fall woefully and appallingly. The revelation made to the Jews was incomplete, and so it was seldom adequate to produce anything like a faith which will overcome the world.

J. C. Hare, The Victory of Faith, p. 151.

Power of Faith in Man's Natural Life.

If Christian faith has often been represented as a totally new quality, a gift of the Spirit, to which there is nothing analogous in the unregenerate man, this has arisen in great measure from the notion that faith is mere belief. For such faith being notoriously powerless, they who felt the inadequateness of such faith for the office assigned to it in the Christian scheme of salvation might naturally infer that the faith which is to be the living root of the Christian life must be something wholly and essentially different from any form of belief discoverable in the natural man. And so in truth it is. Whereas, if the business of faith be in all men equally to lift up the heart and the will, as well as the understanding, from things seen to things unseen, and to draw us away from the impulses of the present moment to the objects of hope held out by the future, to supply us with higher principles, and motives, and aims of action than those with which the senses pamper and drug us, then assuredly may the whole of man's life, so far as he is a being raised above the beasts of the field, be called a school and exercise and discipline of faith.

I. To take one of the simplest daily examples, when we lie down on our beds at night, we lie down in faith: we believe and trust that the dew of sleep will fall on our heavy eyes, and will bathe our weary limbs, and will refresh them and brace them anew. Again, when we rise in the morning and betake ourselves to our daily task, we rise and set to our task in faith: we believe and trust that the light will abide its wonted time in the sky, and that we may, each according to his station, go forth to our labour and to our work until the evening. And whatsoever that work may be, each step in it must rest on the ground of faith. Faith is absolutely indispensable to man even when he is dealing with outward things, in order to make them minister to his sustenance and outward well-being.

II. A child cannot learn his alphabet, cannot learn the name of anything, cannot learn the meaning of any word, except through faith. He must believe before he can know. That which is the law of our intellectual being at all stages of our progress in knowledge is most evidently so in the first stage. If the child did not believe his teachers, if he distrusted or doubted them, he could never learn anything. In like manner, the whole edifice of our knowledge must stand on the rock of faith, or it may be swallowed up at any moment, as has been seen in the history of philosophy, by the quicksands of scepticism. Faith, too, must be the cement whereby all its parts are bound together each to each, or a blast of wind will scatter them. Every fresh accession of knowledge requires fresh exercises of faith: faith in evidence; faith in the criterions and in the faculties by which that evidence is to be tried. Faith, too, is indispensable as the motive principle whereby alone we can be impelled to seek after knowledge. We must have seen in the visions of faith that our Rachel is beautiful and well-favoured; thus alone shall we be willing to serve seven years for her, which years will then seem but a few days for the love we bear to her.

J. C. Hare, The Victory of Faith, p. 103.

Faith a Practical Principle.

I. Nothing can be more fallacious than the notion that faith is not a practical principle. Were faith nothing more than the assent of the understanding, then, indeed, we should be forced to grant that it is not a practical principle. But this consequence of itself is enough to prove how totally inadequate that definition of faith must be. In truth, if we look thoughtfully through the history of the Church, or even of the world, we shall find that this, under one shape or other, has ever been the main principle and spring of all great and magnanimous action, even faith. The persons in whose character love has been the predominant feature have not seldom been disposed to rest in heavenly meditations and contemplations. Unless, too, it be corrected and nerved by faith, love shrinks from giving pain and giving offence. But the great, stirring motive spirits in the history of the world, the angels who have excelled in strength, and who have done God's commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word, have been those who may be called the heroes of faith, those who by faith have dwelt in the immediate presence of God. By giving a substantial reality to that which is invisible, to that which is no object of the senses or of the natural understanding, and by animating the heart with an unshakable assurance of that for which it looks in hope, faith performs the task assigned to her of overcoming the world.

II. Bearing this in mind, we perceive how every act of faith, as the act of a man's whole personality, will be single, and that there is no confusion of thought, no mixing up of incongruous elements, in saying that it is not the act of the understanding alone, but of the understanding and still more emphatically and essentially of the will. If it were the act of the understanding alone, it would be the act of a fraction of a man's being. Only as the act of the will mainly and primarily is it the act of a man's whole being. The primary, germinal act must be that of the will, not of the understanding. There must be some motion of the will, however slight, which in the first instance directs the application of the understanding to an object before that object can be introduced through the understanding to act upon the will. Hereby we may be assisted in some degree to conceive how the influences of the Spirit should be of such momentous power in the work of our faith, in producing it from the very first and afterward in nourishing and maturing it. Were faith merely an act of the understanding, it would be without that region which is the peculiar sphere of the spirit. So far, however, as faith is a spiritual act, so far as it is the act of the will, which Christ came to redeem from the bondage of the flesh, we may feel assured that in every act of spiritual faith, in every act by which we evince a desire to become partakers in Christ's redeeming grace, to shake off the yoke of corruption, and to strive after the glorious liberty of the children of God—in every such act, we may feel assured, the Spirit of God will be working along with our spirits.

J. C. Hare, The Victory of Faith, p. 32.

References: 1 John 5:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 14; J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 332; E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ii., p. 351; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Life of Duty, vol. i., p. 209; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. i., p. 243; T. T. Crawford, The Preaching of the Cross, p. 135; Fleming, Church of England Pulpit, vol. v., p. 29; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iii., p. 221; A. P. Peabody, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 105; H. P. Liddon, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 241; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 243; J. Keble, Sermons from Easter to Ascensiontide p. 201.

Filial Faith overcomes the World.

I. The indefiniteness, the sort of unsatisfactory vagueness, that is sometimes felt to attach to the Scriptural idea of the world, is here somewhat obviated by the connection or train of thought in which it occurs. What is the world which faith overcomes? It is whatever system or way of life, whatever society or companionship of men, tends to make us feel God's commandments, or any of them, to be grievous. If this is a true account of the world as here presented to us, it must be very evident that it is a world to be overcome. We cannot deal with it, if we would avoid its deleterious and deadly influence, in any other way. The world cannot be shunned, neither can it be conciliated. The only effectual, the only possible, way is to overcome it. And the manner of overcoming it must be peculiar. It must be such as thoroughly to meet and obviate that tendency to minister to a rebellious frame of mind which constitutes the chief characteristic, and indeed the very essence, of what is here called the world.

II. Two explanations, accordingly, of this overcoming of the world are given, the one having reference to the original source, the other to the continued following out, of the victory. (1) "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world." So the victory begins; that is its seed or germ. And as to its seed or germ it is complete, potentially complete, though not so in actual result fully and in detail. Being born or begotten of God implies the overcoming of the world. There is that in our being born or begotten of God which secures, and which alone can secure, our overcoming the world. And what can that be but the begetting in us of a frame of mind which cuts up by the roots the whole strength of the world's hold over us—the idea, namely, of God's commandments being grievous? (2) This implies faith, and faith in constant and lively exercise. Our overcoming the world is not an achievement completed at once, and once for all, in our being begotten of God. It is a lifelong business, a prolonged and continuous triumph in a prolonged and continuous strife. Our being born of God does, indeed, give us the victory; it puts us in the right position and endows us with the needful power for overcoming the world: but we have still before us the work of actually from day to day, all our life long in point of fact, overcoming the world; and it is by faith that we do so.

R. S. Candlish, Lectures on First John, vol. ii., p. 186.

Christian Faith.

Christian faith has this advantage over simple religious faith, in the more general sense of the word: that, having obtained clearer and fuller notions of God's perfections, it is rendered stronger and more triumphant over temptations.

I. Christian faith, or the faith that Jesus is the Son of God, gives us so much clearer and fuller notions of God that it makes us know both Him and ourselves and love Him far better than we could do without it. If the Christian turns to the temptations of the world, and casts the eye of faith towards that future and unseen recompense which is promised him, he bethinks him at what price it was purchased for him, and by what infinite love it was given; he feels, on the one hand, how worthless must be his own efforts to buy that which only the blood of the Son of God could buy, yet, on the other hand, with what zealous hope he may labour, sure that God is mightily working in him, giving him an earnest will and strengthening him to do steadily what he has willed sincerely. This, then, is a faith that overcometh the world, for it is a faith that looks to an eternal reward, and which is founded on such a display of God's love and holiness that the Christian may well say, "I know in whom I have believed."

II. The means of gaining this faith are principally three: reading the Scriptures, prayer, and a partaking of the Lord's Supper. You see what it is that is wanted—namely, to make notions wholly remote from your common life take their place in your minds as more powerful than the things of common life, to make the future and the unseen prevail over what you see and hear now around you. Faith will come by reading, as of old time it came by hearing; and when we have thus become familiar with Christ, have learned to love Him and to know that He not only was, but is now, a living object of our love, the prospect of being with Him for ever will not seem like a vague promise of we know not what, but a real, substantial pleasure, which we would not forfeit for all the world can

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 8.

References: 1 John 5:4, 1 John 5:5.—C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 231; J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd series, p. 45; W. Anderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 138.

Verse 6

1 John 5:6

Christ Coming by Water and Blood.

I. Let us settle the immediate sense of these words. There was living then at Ephesus a conspicuous and enterprising teacher, whom not a few were likely to regard as more profound and philosophical than St. John, who himself probably looked down with superb indulgence on the aged Galilean as pious enough in his simple way, but quite uncultured, without any speculative ability, with crude and unscriptural views of God and the universe, and wholly unfit to interpret Hebraic ideas to men who had breathed the air of Gnostic wisdom. "One confusion," he would say, "which John makes, must be most carefully avoided: you must draw a sharp distinction between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was simply a man, eminent for his wisdom and goodness, but not supernaturally born, on whom at his baptism a heavenly power called Christ descended, to use him as an instrument for revealing truth and working miracles, but to depart from him before he suffered and died." Now St. John, in the context before us, contradicts this absolutely. "The self-same Person who stooped to the waters of Jordan gave up His blood to be shed for us on Golgotha." This is He, the one, indivisible Christ, in whom to believe is to overcome the world.

II. In the "water and blood" St. John further saw a combination which seemed to present in a kind of symbolical unity the purifying and the atoning aspects of Christ's work.

III. When we hear that He came by water and blood, it is well-nigh impossible not to think of that great ordinance in which water is made the effectual sign—that is, the organ or instrument—of a new birth, and of that still greater rite which embodies for us in a concrete form the new and better covenant, and in which, as St. Augustine tersely expresses it, we "drink that which was paid for us." And thus the water and the blood, in this large and manifold application of the terms, bear witness, with the Holy Spirit, for Jesus as the Christ, for Jesus as God's own Son.

W. Bright, Morality in Doctrine, p. 28.

Reference: 1 John 5:6.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 205.

Has Christ Risen?

I. Let us ask ourselves what is the evidence with which we are supplied on the subject of the Resurrection, what is there to be said on the subject to a person who believes—I will not say in the supernatural inspiration, but in the general trustworthiness, of the writings of the first Christians. In order to know that our Lord did really rise from the dead we have to satisfy ourselves that three distinct questions may be answered. Of these the first is this: Did Jesus Christ really die upon the cross? For if He merely fainted or swooned away, then there was no resurrection from death; then He merely recovered consciousness after an interval. The Evangelists, each one of them, say expressly that He did die; and the wonder is not that He died when He did after the three hours' agony on the cross, but that, with all His suffering at the hands of the soldiers and of the populace before His crucifixion—with all these sufferings He should have lived so long. But suppose that what looked like death on the cross was merely a fainting fit, would He have survived the wounds in His side inflicted by the soldier's lance, through which the blood yet remaining in His heart escaped? We are expressly told that the soldiers did not break His limbs, and that He was already dead; and before Pilate would allow His body to be taken down from the cross he ascertained from the centurion in command that He was already dead.

II. The second question is this: Did the disciples take our Lord's dead body out of the sepulchre? They would not have wished to do it. Why should they? What could have been their motive? They either believed in His approaching resurrection, or they did not. If they did believe in it, they would have shrunk from disturbing His grave as an act not less unnecessary than profane; if they did not believe in it, and instead of abandoning themselves to unreflecting grief, allowed themselves to think steadily, what must have been their estimate of their dead Master? They must now have thought of Him as of one who had deceived them, or who was Himself deceived. If He were not a clever impostor who had failed, He was a sincere but feeble character, who had Himself been the victim of a religious delusion. On either supposition, why should they arouse the anger of the Jews, and incur the danger of swift and heavy punishment? And once more, had they desired and dared to remove our Lord's body from its grave, such a feat was obviously beyond their power. The tomb was guarded by soldiers; every precaution had been taken by the Jews to make it secure. The great stone at the entrance could not have been rolled away without much disturbance, even if the body could have been removed without attracting attention. The character of the guards themselves was at stake. Had they countenanced or permitted any such crime, their almost inevitable detection would have been followed by severe punishment. In after-years, you will remember, St. Peter was released from prison by an angel; and the sentinels were punished by death.

III. A third question is the following: What is the positive testimony that goes to show that Jesus Christ did rise from the dead? There is, first of all, the witness of all the Apostles. Next, there is the testimony of a large number of persons besides the Apostles. Five hundred persons could not be simultaneously deceived. Their testimony would be considered decisive as to any ordinary occurrence when men wished only to ascertain the simple truth. And the force of this flood of testimony is not really weakened by objections which do not, you will observe, directly challenge it, but which turn on accessory or subordinate points. For instance, it is said that the evangelical accounts of the Resurrection itself and of our Lord's subsequent appearance are difficult to reconcile with each other. At first sight they are, but only at first sight. In order to reconcile them, two things are necessary: first, patience; and secondly, determination to exclude everything from the narrative which does not lie in the text of the Gospels. Two-thirds of the supposed difficulties are created by the riotous imagination of the negative commentators. Scripture takes no precautions against hostile judges; Scripture speaks as might a perfectly truthful child in a court of justice, conscious only of its integrity and leaving the task, whether of criticism or of apology for what it says, entirely to others. It proceeds on the strong conviction that in the end, in this as in other matters, Wisdom is justified of her true children.

H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 257.

Verses 6-8

1 John 5:6-8

The Spirit, the Water, and the Blood.

I. Consider the testimony of the water. I believe that the reference here is exclusively to baptism—the baptism of Jesus Himself, and probably also the baptism which He instituted, and which remains as a permanent ordinance in connection with His name. This is the testimony of the water. Jesus, the Christ, came not by water only; but He did come by water. He was baptised by John in the Jordan. The importance attached by the Evangelists to the baptism of Jesus is surely not without significance. It stands on the very threshold of Christ's public ministry. It was His initiation into that ministry. It was His own open consecration of Himself to His own great work in relation to the new era; and the signs which accompanied His baptism were, so to speak, the manifest anointing by the Father of His Son. Thus Jesus, the Christ, "came by water." His public ministry was inaugurated by a baptism, which brought with it a Divine testimony to His being the Anointed.

II. Consider the testimony of the blood. His was a baptism, not only of consecration, but of suffering. The blood-shedding of Jesus was really a testimony to His Divine Sonship; it was the price He was willing to pay for the world's redemption; it was the completion of His revelation of the Father. Not until He hung upon the cross could He say, "It is finished."

III. Consider the testimony of the Spirit. Even during His life on earth, the Spirit which manifestly shone through the character, and conduct, and works of Jesus Christ, bore witness to Him as the Anointed of the Father. But, again, this Spirit with which Jesus was anointed was a Spirit which He was also to impart. "The Spirit beareth witness" in the Church "because the Spirit is truth."

T. C. Finlayson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii., p. 195.

Verses 6-11

1 John 5:6-11

The Witness of Christ.

"Witness!" The word in its emphatic recurrence is typical of the situation out of which the Epistle springs. The special perils and anxieties with which the Church is now beset are changed from those with which we are familiar in the earlier epistles of St. Paul. And it may be worth our while to remind ourselves of the contrast. There the effort had been to get the message itself of Christ out in its distinct and native force; to disentangle it from the encompassing matter that obscured or distorted it; to set it free from the misdirections to which it was liable, whether from Jewish or Gentile pressure. But now the body of believers has possessed its faith for some years; some have grown up from childhood within its familiar environment. There they stand, in compact possession of their position. But over against them they find set, in resolute hostility, a world, intellectual and moral, that will not yield—a world fierce, hard, and strong. And the task given them to do begins to look tough and grim. It will be a long business. They are but as a spot of light in the darkness that shows few signs of breaking. This "world" is, indeed, to be convinced, convicted, converted, but not, it seems, at a stroke, not in some rapid onset of victory. A long, slow, plodding fight is evidently ahead, the end of which no eye can yet recognise. And the faith that is to face this work must look well to itself. It must have recognised how far it means to go, on what it can rely; it must be complete, and prepared, and explicit. Christians must not be afraid to look into their faith. Its early simplicity is inadequate for their task. They must unearth its roots; they must probe it and note, and sort, and distinguish. They must verify their belief. And this verification they must win out of the fact itself to which belief commits them. The fact is a living fact, and can make its own answers. By contact with it, by penetration into it, the fact will bear witness to itself.

I. How can this be? How can a fact be said to bear its own evidence with it? Well, broadly speaking, all facts, of whatever kind, to which we give internal credit do so—at least, to some degree. For the credit we give them is derived, not from the mere evidence for their having occurred, but from their harmonious correspondence with the world into which they arrive. They fit it; they belong to it; they fall in with it; they take an appropriate place amid the general body of facts. It is this luminous self-evidential character which St. John would claim for the Christian fact. Its witness to itself is to be found in its complete correspondence with the spiritual situation into which it enters. The burden of responsibility for the nature of the proof is thus thrown back upon ourselves. It operates as a judgment, detecting where we stand and laying bare the secrets of the heart. The Christian must, if he would be sure of himself in the awful war with the world, brood and pore over the Divine fact presented to him, the fact in which he had believed, until the fact itself should grow ever more luminous with the intensity and the reality of the light that it threw on the tremendous issues which lie about man's destiny here and hereafter. Ever as he so pondered the illumination would increase; and in this increase of illuminative power would lie that evidence of the fact, that intelligent and convincing assurance, which his anxiety desired.

II. And there was another form of this witness which adhered in the fact—the witness, namely, which it gave to God the Father. Not only did the Christian fact harmonise with the human situation which it claimed to explain, but it carried with it a sudden sense of correspondence with the God in whom men had believed. St. John's confidence in giving his witness of that which he had "seen, and heard, and handled" crowns itself in the consciousness that, through the power of this experience, he found himself brought out of a dark jungle of death into the clear light of day; he saw the face of God once more, undimmed and spotless. This was what fortified and corroborated his adherence to the fact. The light had been manifested, and with this result: that the message which he had now to declare unto his hearers was just this: "that God was indeed light," and only light, nothing but light; and that in Him was no darkness at all.

III. There is a third form of this witness to the reality of the fact. It is that which is expressed in the enigmatical reference to the three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Water and blood—these are real and concrete witnesses to Him who came in the flesh. Here on earth, among us, they are still wielded, filled, possessed by the Spirit, applied by the Spirit to the perpetual proof of the purification and redemption which were once for all made manifest in Jesus Christ. Here they still are. And through this combined concord of inward with outward, of living essence with objective factors, of witnessing Spirit with the testifying water and blood, the proof is decisively given both of the presence and power of the working will of God, and of the validity of the originating fact in which that will took form and came among us. "There are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood: these three agree in one."

H. Scott Holland, Pleas and Claims for Christ, p. 67.

References: 1 John 5:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1187; J. Keble, Sermons from Easter to Ascensiontide, p. 160; Ibid., Sermons for Lent and Passiontide, p. 172. 1 John 5:9, 1 John 5:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1213.

Verse 10

1 John 5:10

The Inward Witness.

I. The nature of the witness must be first ascertained. The illustration suggests that the witness must be something clear and definite, and capable of being ascertained beyond doubt. (1) There is the conscious experience of a new force acting upon the soul, a new life circulating in every faculty. (2) This new inward force is connected invariably with a certain belief, which gathers round one unchanging form: the form of Christ upon His cross. (3) The whole man is changed, and changed in the direction of holiness. The purifying water has touched the conscience and the heart, and made them clean and Christlike—the holy reflection of a pure and holy Saviour.

II. We must glance at what it is that the witness proves. We have the witness in ourselves, but to what? (1) First, it is to the reality and solemn greatness of the world unseen—the soul, sin, the Saviour, God, heaven, and hell. The quickened soul actually sees and touches these things with an intensity so truly equal to that of bodily sight as to leave the relative importance of the two words their proper and natural value. (2) Then it is a witness to the truth of Christianity. For the man has tried it, and proved it to be what it professes to be. (3) It is a witness to the Divine authority and power of the word of God. For such a man opens his Bible, and finds there the living image of himself. (4) It is a witness to our personal acceptance before God. It is the witness of the Spirit with our spirit that we are indeed God's children. For whence comes this inward life, this Divine force, which works upon the soul, whence this vivid sight of the cross and the new and higher life filling the soul once dead in trespasses and sins? Whence come they but from God? They are His voice, and that the voice, not of an avenging Judge, but of a gracious and reconciled Father.

E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 61.

References: 1 John 5:10.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1250; vol. xx., No. 1207; vol. xxiv., No. 1428; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 214.

Verse 12

1 John 5:12

The Lord and Giver of Life.

I. If religion had nothing to do with this life, it would be enough to become religious when we are on the point of departing from life, when we are on the borders of another world; but it is never thus that the Bible speaks of religion. Rather it tells us that religion has the promise of this life as well as of that which is to come; that it is not a mere death-bed ornament, but something that beautifies, elevates, and makes noble this present life. Without it a man cannot live the highest life of which he is capable. There may be existence without religion, but not the sort of life which his Creator intended man to live. This being so, we are not surprised that the text speaks of religion as something which we should have in our present life. It does not say that he that hath the Son shall have life, but "He that hath the Son hath life." As the oak is contained in the acorn, so eternal life has its seed and first beginnings in the life we are living now.

II. Having the Son seems to mean, in the first instance, having the revelation which God gave by His Son. God taught us through Jesus Christ that sin is a very terrible thing, so terrible that it cost the death of the Son of God. But He did not stop here: He proved to us at the same time His great love to us sinners. Let a man once realise that the revelation made by Jesus Christ is true for him personally, and a new life will be communicated to his soul from the Lord and Giver of life. He has the Son now; and therefore he realises the fact that he has a share of the life, spiritual, regenerate, eternal, which Christ promised to His faithful disciples.

III. A true Christian is one who lives a double life: the ordinary life which all men live and an inner, secret life which is hid with Christ in God. This life is the scene, so to speak, of his greatest joys and sorrows, and Christ is the Sharer of both. He is the Head, and each true believer one of His members. He is the Vine, and we are His branches; and we are strong, healthy, and fruitful only by deriving sap and nourishment from the Vine.

E. J. Hardy, Faint yet Pursuing, p. 231.

Christ the Life of the Soul.

It is a very difficult thing to define accurately what we mean by life. Perhaps we shall not be very far wrong if we say that in its highest sense life is that state of which any being is, or feels that it is, capable. So that when anything has reached its true condition, that is its life.

I. The life of every one lies in that Divine particle which man originally received. That particle is lost—quite lost. Christ is the only Son of God. Therefore in Christ the Divine particle has descended. It is only in Christ, it can only be by connection with Christ, that any son of Adam can regain the Divine particle of life wherewith he was originally endowed, and which is essentially man's life. Therefore "he that hath the Son hath life."

II. We all have felt the difference between the cold effect of a picture we look at and the glow of the touch of its living original. We are too accustomed to deal with the holy truths of our religion as pictures. We look at them, but they do not speak to us; we admire them, but we are not influenced by them; we dream about them, but it is not action. The sentiment is strong, but there is little principle. There is much poetry, but it is not life. All this is "not to have Christ." Possession of Christ appears to me to be made up of three things. (1) The Christian has Christ's work. Believe it, as a matter of actual historical fact, that Christ did bear the cross for you, and the life for man He has received back from the Father He now holds in heaven for you; and that assent of your heart to that great truth immediately makes that great truth your own. (2) The Christian has Christ Himself. We want a presence, an all-pervading, happy, constant presence, with us. We want a love which we can grasp, which we are conscious shall never decrease. We want the glory of an eternity thrown over us. All this we have if we have Christ (3) But a man's life does not lie only in these things. There is a deep, secret, mystic being which every one holds—a life within life. It is the life of the Holy Ghost. There must be the real feeding upon Christ in the soul of a man if he would maintain what is, after all, his truest life. If a man would live, he must lay up Christ always in the recesses of his innermost, secret affections.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 228.

References: 1 John 5:12.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 755. 1 John 5:13.—Ibid., vol. xxx., No. 1791. 1 John 5:13-15.—Ibid., vol. x., No. 596.

Verse 14

1 John 5:14

Right Petitions Heard by God.

The power by which we overcome the world is the Divine life which we have in the Lord Jesus Christ; but in order to our obtaining that life two conditions must be fulfilled: first, God must give it; and secondly, we must take it.

I. God must give it, for although there may be many things that we could earn or produce for ourselves, obviously there is one thing which we could neither earn nor create, into which, it is plain, we must be born—that is, our life. Now this is true of all life, whether the life that we possess by nature, or the life that we possess by grace. Nevertheless, respecting the Divine life that is in Christ Jesus a further affirmation must needs be made. It must not only be given us by God, but it must be taken through our faith. And this arises from the very nature of spiritual things, for when God is said to have made us free and responsible creatures He is said in effect to have ordained that our obedience should be of a certain quality, that it should not be that of the world, unconscious and constrained, not that of the beasts, unconscious and instinctive, but that of the holy angels, the voluntary obedience of a free and virtuous choice.

II. What is meant by asking according to God's will? We must make both the matter and the spirit of our prayers correspond to His will. We must ask first in the right spirit, and then for the right thing. (1) We must ask in the right spirit. We must, as the Apostle says, lift up holy hands. In the hands of supplication which we raise to heaven there must be found no sinful and inordinate desires. (2) We must ask the right thing. You will find what is according to God's will, what you not only may expect, but must expect, to receive, in the pages of God's holy word. Lord Clive, we are told, once when he was in India was taken into a vaulted chamber which was filled from end to end with all kinds of treasure: there were heaps of gold, heaps of silver, heaps of precious trinkets, heaps of jewels; and he was told by the native ruler of Bengal to take as much as he pleased. And recalling that incident of his life, it is said that he exclaimed, "I am amazed at my own moderation!" Now the Bible is God's treasure-house, filled from end to end with precious jewels; and we are bidden to take as many of the rarest and richest as we please, without money and without price.

J. Moorhouse, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 624.

References: 1 John 5:14.—T. V. Tymms, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 181. 1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 37; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 162.

Verses 14-17

1 John 5:14-17

The Sin unto Death.

St. John appears to speak of some one sin as standing apart from all others, as a sin unto death—a sin so fatal, so entirely beyond the possibility of pardon, that Christians should even refrain from making petitions to God on behalf of one who had committed this sin. A little consideration, however, may lead us to conclude that such was not precisely the meaning which was in St. John's mind when he wrote. The Apostle is speaking of the power of a Christian's prayers. He shows it to be an immediate consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God that we should offer up our prayers in full confidence that those prayers will be heard, and that they will be answered, provided only that the petition is in accordance with God's holy will. He then goes on to show that a Christian may obtain forgiveness for his brother by intercession, provided that the sin for which he prays has not been a deadly sin, a sin unto death. St. John is evidently anxious that his doctrine of intercession should not be abused, and therefore he limits his doctrine by saying that there is a kind of sin for which he cannot venture to encourage Christians to pray with the hope that the sin will be pardoned. St. John is not laying down a rule as to what sins can be pardoned and what not, but as to what sins form a fair and proper subject for Christian intercession. Let us learn from the subject that sin is certainly a more deadly thing than many men suppose, and that there is danger lest those whom Christ has redeemed should fall away from grace and never rise again. Therefore let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. iii., p. 383.

References: 1 John 5:16.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 132. 1 John 5:16, 1 John 5:17.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 183. 1 John 5:17.—Ibid., vol. vii., p. 60; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 264. 1 John 5:18.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. vii., p. 210.

Verse 18

1 John 5:18

Infirmity of Faith: its Cause and Remedy.

I. If all the Christian people about us had a clear vision of God's face, if they distinctly heard God's voice, if they lived and moved and had their being under the constant control of the invisible terrors and glories of the spiritual universe, you and I would not receive the existence of that universe on their authority indeed, but our whole spiritual nature would be raised and elevated by the atmosphere that we should be breathing, and our vision of that universe would become clearer too, and we too should catch the mighty tones that moved through it, and we should be stirred and agitated by all its splendours and by all its terrors. We cannot help having a weak faith in these days, or if we can, it is so hard to help it that that man must be of an heroic temper, must have the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in an altogether exceptional degree, who escapes from the general spirit of his times. The great objects for which Christ came into this world were twofold: not to bring us one by one to God merely, but to bring us all to God together, and to restore us to each other as brethren as well as to restore us to God as our Father. And if we desire to master and to escape from this infirmity of faith, this dimness of spiritual vision, that spiritual isolation of which we have been miserably guilty must cease; and if we return to union with each other, we shall then have more direct union with God.

II. Another reason may be alleged besides this spiritual isolation for the infirmity of our faith and the dimness of our vision. When the uncertainty comes we think about it; we dwell upon it; we are troubled by it; we try to answer it, instead of turning our eyes at once unto that high region in which the great spiritual realities dwell; and especially, I think, our thought is not sufficiently engaged about Him who calls Himself the Truth. Let us look up to Him who abides with the Church for evermore; and the spirit of wisdom and revelation being granted to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, then the life of Christ in this world and His life in the invisible world in which He reigns now will become vividly real to us, will be bright with a supernatural splendour, and influence us with a supernatural power.

III. As to those who are in the earlier movements of religious thought, who have just begun to serve God, and to whom these great truths are all unreal, they must be for a time content, I suppose, to remain as they are; they must be born again before they can see the kingdom of heaven; and when they are born again, the vision does not at once become bright, and clear, and distinct. Immediate and vivid consciousness of the new universe into which they have entered must not be expected. They must for a time be contented to have faith in an invisible Christ. And why should we not for a time believe in Him whom we have not seen? The testimony comes to us from innumerable souls that they trusted for a time in an invisible Christ, and that after a while His glory was revealed to them. They waited for a while, looking for His appearance; and by-and-by He appeared, and they came to live and move and have their being in Him.

R. W. Dale, Penny Pulpit, New Series, No. 399.

Verse 21

1 John 5:21


I. Let us glance at three forms of idolatry against which we must ever be on our guard. (1) There is the worship of other gods, or false gods: the worship of Moloch, and Baalim, and Ashtaroth, gods of gold and jewels, of lust and blood. (2) There is the worship of the true God under false and idolatrous symbols. The golden calf was meant as a visible symbol of God's unseen presence. It was a cherubic emblem, like those woven on the curtains of the temple on Sion, or those which stretched their wings over the mercy-seat. And yet calf-worship was idolatry; it was a violation of the second commandment. (3) The third form of idolatry is the worship of the true God under the guise of false notions, false conditions.

II. Every one of us is an idolater who has not God in all his thoughts, and who has cast away the laws of God from the governance of his life. I know not that it is a much worse idolatry to deny God altogether, and openly to deify the brute impulses of our own nature, than it is in words to confess God, yet not to do, nor to intend to do, never seriously to try to do, what He commands or to abandon what He forbids. If you do not worship the public idol of the market-place, have you no personal idol of the cave?

III. But St. John will not leave us to what is abstract: he will point us to One whom he has seen and heard, and his hands have handled, even the Word of life; to One who is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His person. "This," he says, "is the true God and eternal life." If you rely on religious teachers, they may offer you a dead Christ for the living Christ; an agonised Christ for the ascended Christ; an ecclesiastical Christ for the spiritual Christ; a Christ of the elect few for the Christ of the sinful many; a petty, formalising, sectarian Christ for the royal Lord of the great, free heart of manhood; a Christ of the fold for the Christ of the one great flock; a Christ of Gerizim or Jerusalem, of Rome or of Geneva, of Oxford or of Clapham, for the Christ of the universal world. So long as we worship idols, so long as we take pleasure in unrighteousness, so long as we love the darkness rather than the light—so long we cannot see God, neither know Him. And because to know Him is life and eternal life, and because there is no other life, since all other life is but a living death, therefore St. John wrote as the last word of his epistle, as the last word of the whole revelation of the New Testament, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

F. W. Farrar, Sermons and Addresses in America, p. 164.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 John 5:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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