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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 John 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

1 John 3:1-6

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God

Children of God

These two verses of St.
John’s Epistle contain a simple summary of true religion. “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him.” Thus far the Old Testament goes. Israel had learned this primary lesson of true religion, that the Almighty is the Righteous Power. Knowing Jehovah, not as a national deity who would help His own people whether they were right or wrong, but as the righteous God over all, who would reject His chosen people if they did wrong, the prophets saw clearly also that only those men who do right can claim to be the sons of the Most High. The next verse contains a summary of the New Testament revelation of real religion: “Behold what manner of love,” etc. It is all from God’s love in Christ that we have right to be called children of God. These two words--one fulfilling the Old Testament, the other opening the riches of the New--mark the essence of real religion: righteousness and sonship. Let us first take up the Old Testament word for it. It is a solid word. The true religion is not a moral veneering of life; it is not a piece of pious ornamentation, nor an official robe drawn over an unprincipled heart. It is not an emotional substitute for conduct. The Old Testament word for religion is a word of cubic contents--righteousness, a real thing, concrete as just dealing between man and man. A present indisputable argument for belief in Moses and the prophets as holy men of old inspired of God is that they made the superhuman effort of building a nation on the Ten Commandments. They had the supernal faith to command a people to do right, and to live together in just relations in the fear of God. We do not yet dare bring our politics up to that level of the prophets. The religion which first mastered the lesson of eternal justice and made it the foundation of a state was not a faith which had sprung up of itself out of the jungle of Canaanitish superstitions. It was not found in Babylon. Assyria’s power perished for the lack of it. The true God impressed Himself upon Moses and the prophets. We know that they were the appointed bearers of a Divine revelation, and the bringers of the light, very much as we might know that a highway running up to some clear mountain height through the swamp and the underbrush at its foot was never a spontaneous freak of nature, but marks the course of some intelligent purpose. The Lord God made that way of righteousness through all the superstitions and idolatries of the nations on and up to its Messianic height. The religion of eternal righteousness is the supernal fact of history. Once gain sight of the everlasting righteousness, and nothing else seems great. Observe that the righteousness which from beginning to end the Old Testament presses for is no abstraction, but concrete, solid right-doing. The preachers of righteousness in the Old Testament faced men, and threw themselves in the name of the holy God into the thick of events. They were the fearless advocates of the oppressed; they were God’s statesmen amid the shifting politics of Jerusalem. They could flash the eternal justice into the covetous eyes of princes. Righteousness in the old testament is no scholar’s candle flickering in an attic; it is an electric light revealing the street; all classes have to pass under it and be seen. Turn now from the prophets to the New Testament. We hear ringing clear and full through the preaching of the apostles another word for the true religion. It is sonship. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” The essence of the New Testament is in the Lord’s parable of the prodigal son. So Jesus Himself opened the heart of the gospel toward us sinners. The grandest thing in the world for any man to do is really to live day and night, alike in the darkness or in the joy of life, as a son of the Most High God. Only one ever accomplished perfectly this task; and we for the most part do but succeed as yet in living here and there, now and then, as the children of the Father in heaven. But think a moment what it is to do this. It would signify within us a very genuine humility. In a life of sonship humility would have to be at times that conscious sense of evil or of wrongdoing which is repentance for sin. The humility of a life of filial dependence on God will become so deep and pure that no possible outward success or inward spiritual triumph will be able to cause the son of the living God to dwell in any other habit and atmosphere. Sonship, again, so far as this New Testament word for religion is realised by any of us, will free us from the haunting sense of strangeness in this world. It is not simply the mystery of things; it is the mystery of ourselves that baffles us. Death does not grow less strange from our increasing familiarity with it. All things are strange, and will grow stranger to us, unless we can discover some diviner thoughtfulness in them; unless, amid all the mystery of the universe, we shall know ourselves as God’s children, and begin on this earth to be in our hearts at home with our God. This likewise will be the mark of true sonship, and the religion of sonship--obedience, strong, cheerful obedience. The Christian sense of sonship, so far as we receive the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father, will enable us, in short, to live the simple life of trust. It is life up on the sunny heights. Trust is final spiritual mastery of things. It is perfect poise of spirit, like the poise of the eagle after it has beaten its way up against the wind into the sky, and rests circling with buoyant wings upon the sunny air. Trust is ability of soul to live happily without Divine explanation. Faith in God is willingness to wait for explanations of things. You ask for reasons why certain event, have happened to you; why any evil, such as we may meet in the street, is tolerated for a moment in a world which has a God over it; why human life has otter proved so tragic; why death reigns; why a thousand shadows fleck the light; why in short, we mortals seem to be like wanderers in a forest, where it is both dark and bright. Now, faith is not an answer to any of these inquiries; faith does not yet lead us out with the clearing, but faith is trust in the light between the shadows trust that the light is high and eternal, and the shadows only for the moment Trust is the discovery of the soul that it can live awhile without explanations, and not be disturbed. Such trust is the confidence of sonship. Now, I am aware that men who have to meet the practical urgencies of life often find it easier to come to some determination of righteousness than it is for them to let their lives be lifted up into the assurance of sonship. It is less difficult for some of you to be Old Testament worthies than it is to become New Testament saints. You love righteousness, and you hate injustice and fraud. There you are inclined to stop. It is better for anyone to live according to the righteousness of the Old Testament than not to live at all from the Bible. The seeds of the perfect life of sonship are contained in the religion of the prophets. Nevertheless, the Christ came to fulfil the righteousness of the old dispensation. The righteousness which is by faith is out full salvation. Let one’s dutiful living spring directly out of his sense of sonship, and it will become a transfigured conscientiousness. The light of love will play all through

2. To this higher life we are called. Men will finally do right toward one another when they shall learn to live together as sons of God. The present revival of right-doing will be complete when in the power of the Holy Spirit men are born anew as the children of the Father in heaven. (Newman Smyth.)

The Divine birth--the family likeness

The first verses of the third chapter are to be viewed as inseparable from the last verse of the second. It is that verse which starts the new line of thought; our “knowing that God is righteous, and doing righteousness accordingly,” in virtue of our “being born of Him.” Born of Him! That is what awakens John’s grateful surprise.

I. In every view that can be taken of it, our being called the sons of God is a wonderful instance of the Father’s love.

II. And we are His children: “Beloved, now are we children of God.” Our being called children of God is a reality; our being born of God makes it so. The world may not know us in that character, for “it knows not God,” and has never known Him. Let us lay our account with having to judge and act on principles which the world cannot understand. Let us be God’s children indeed; though on that very account the world that has not known God should not know us.

III. For whatever the world may think or say, “we are the children of God,” His dear children; sharers of His Divine nature; the objects of His fatherly love. It concerns us to bear this in mind, to feel it to be true. It is our safety to do so. It is what is due to ourselves; it is what God expects, and has a right to expect from us. Let us stay ourselves on the conviction that our being God’s children is not a matter of opinion, dependent on the world’s vote, but a matter of fact, flowing from the amazing manner of love which the Father hath bestowed upon us. And let us be put, as the saying is, upon our mettle, to make good our claim to be God’s children by such a manifestation of our oneness of nature with Him of whom we are born as may, by God’s blessing, overcome some of the world’s ignorant unbelief, and lead some of the world’s children to try that manner of love for themselves, to taste and see how good the Lord is.

IV. And we are to do so all the rather because these drawbacks and disadvantages will not last long. We are only at the beginning of our life as God’s children.

1. What is set before us as matter of hope in the future life is not something different from what is to be attained, enjoyed, and improved by us, as matter of faith, and of the experience of faith in the present life.

2. When it does appear what we are to be, when that is no more hidden but disclosed, we shall be like God whose children we are as being born of Him: “for we shall see Him as He is.” The full light of all His perfection as the righteous God will open upon our view; we shall know the righteous Father as the Son knows Him. Is not this a hope “full of glory”? And is it not a hope full of holiness too? (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

God’s adoptive love

I. First, we are arrested by the manner in which the apostle opens the subject--“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” It is the language of adoration and wonder. Our astonishment might well be excited that God had created us that He preserved us, notwithstanding our unworthiness. But that He should adopt sinners was condescension which might well prompt the exclamation, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” What, then, is the manner of this love? It passeth knowledge. It was everlasting love, gratuitous love, and at the same time costly love. And then how rich the blessings procured by such love.

2. “We are called the sons of God.” It is clear this statement must be understood in a restricted sense. All are the sons of God by creation, also by providence. The text refers to a sonship peculiar to those who are the objects of redeeming love. Adoption into the family of God is singled out as evidence and effect of His love. Nor can we wonder at this selection. Think of the work that is done when the sinner is made a son of God. It is a new birth unto righteousness. The sinner is made alive unto God. Think, again, of the change that is effected in such a work. Think of the privileges of sonship. Think, finally, of the inheritance in store for them. “If children then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”

3. The estimate formed of the privilege of sonship by the world. “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” It might have been supposed that all men would applaud them as the happiest and most excellent of the children of men. But, alas! it is very different. The world does not know the sons of God. The world both disapproves and dislikes the peculiarity of the sons of God. The reason is suggested in the text. “Therefore,” saith the apostle. He had only said it was a blessed thing to be called the sons of God. Can it be, then, this is that which the world dislikes? This is clearly his meaning. Worldly men do not understand the doctrine of sonship. It is too spiritual for their perception. They scorn it as the offspring of spiritual pride. Unhappily, however, for their hot displeasure, there is an indisputable fact to prove this enmity of the world to the sons of God. It is quoted by the apostle. It is the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says of the world and of Him, “it knew Him not.” This accords with the history, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Ought this, then, to offend them? Certainly not. It ought to profit them. It should put them on their guard, that they may give no unnecessary offence. It should make them thankful they are not of the same spirit.

4. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” How carefully the views of the apostle are balanced in this passage. When he set forth sonship and its high privileges he annexed a caution, “the world knoweth us not,” lest any might be disappointed and injured. So again after he had given that caution he reassures them of the reality and continuance of their blessedness, “Now are we the sons of God.” This might be rendered necessary by the dark suspicions of their own minds. They found much within them contrary to what they could desire or might expect. Let them not be cast down. Or it might be rendered necessary by the conduct of others towards them. They might find themselves suspected and evil entreated. Through it all let them remember they are still the sons of God. Nor should they forget what was required of them as such. “Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ.” “Walk worthy of your high vocation.” So living they might enjoy the sweet consciousness that, let the world do or say as they might, they could appropriate the assuring words, “Now are we the sons of God.”

5. Their thoughts are directed to the future. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”

6. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)

Adopting love of the Father

I. Look at the result or purpose of this love, and we shall be the better prepared to understand its “manner.” What “manner” of love is this, in transforming those who were once so unlike Him? Love prompted Him to adopt them; and after they are adopted He has peculiar delight in them. What “manner” of love is this, that the fallen should at length have a place in His bosom which the unfallen can never occupy! Still more, a glorious destiny awaits them. When the years of minority are expired the children are taken home to the household on high, where the whole family form one unbroken and vast assemblage. The extraordinary love of the Father is also seen in the entire circuit of discipline which has been arranged for His children. And will not such a child be content in any circumstances? What is good for him his Father will give him. As much of temporal blessing will he get as he can improve.

II. The singularity of the Divine affection.

1. And first, the love that leads a man to call a child his own, which is not his by natural descent, has not such a “manner” about it. For when among men a child is adopted, it is usually because the adopter thinks it worthy of his regard; because there is something in its features or character that pleases him. But no such motive could prompt the Divine affection, for we are utterly lost and loathsome before Him.

2. Again, if one adopts a child, it is commonly because himself is childless, or his hearth may have been desolated by war or disease. He longs to have some object near him on which to expend his attachment. But Jehovah had myriads of a flourishing progeny--uncounted hosts of bright intelligences, who have never disobeyed Him. But the present condition of the sons of God is veiled and incomplete. “Therefore,” the apostle adds, “the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” The mission of the Son of God was spiritual, was too ethereal for the coarse vision of the world to detect, or its sordid heart to admire. Its great ones, and not its good ones, divide among themselves the world’s homage. Not that the world is able to ignore Christianity. But it admires it not for itself but for its splendid results--for the beneficial effects, in the form of patriotism and philanthropy, which it has produced. It is not Wilberforce the saint, but Wilberforce the queller of the slave trade, that men admire. The dignity and prospects of the sons of God are not of a secular and visible nature. “The world knoweth them not.” But should this ignorance on the part of the world dispirit you? By no means. Your case is not solitary. It did not recognise the Son of God. “Now are we the sons of God.” Despite of this non-recognition on the part of the world, we are the sons of God. The reality of our adoption is not modified by the world’s oblivion of it. It may be undiscovered by others, but our own experience gives ourselves the full assurance of it. But noble as is our present condition, our ultimate dignity surpasses conception. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Even though we now revel in the Divine favour, yet such transcendent felicity is scarcely a premiss to reason from as to the glory of our ultimate heritage. There is so much about us that clogs and confines us--so deep is the shadow that earth throws over the children of God that any inference as to coming freedom and glory is all but an impossibility. Such being the present eclipse of our sonship, there is the less wonder that “the world knoweth us not.” Their aim is to be as like Him as they can be here, in the hope that they shall be perfectly like Him hereafter. (John Eadie, D. D.)

The manner of love bestowed upon us

I. The manner of love which the Father hath bestowed upon us.

1. Sovereign in its exercise.

2. Gracious in its communication.

3. Merciful in its regards.

4. Everlasting in its continuance.

II. The consequences which flow to us from that love.

1. Present adoption into God’s family.

2. Future restoration to His image.

III. The attention with which the whole should be regarded.

1. Your attention should deepen your humility.

2. Your attention should strengthen your confidence.

3. Your attention should excite your affection. (W. Mudge, B. A.)

The present relationship and future prospects of the faithful

I. The Christian’s present state is one of relationship to God. It implies--

1. Godlikeness.

2. Confidence.

3. Liberty.

4. It entitles us to a glorious inheritance.

II. The circumstances of his future life are in a great measure unknown to him.

III. We have, nevertheless, sufficient knowledge of that future to make us happy in the present. (H. P. Bower.)

The wonderful love of God as displayed in human redemption

I. The unworthiness of its objects.

II. The expensiveness of the sacrifice.

III. The variety and vastness of the blessings secured to us through this adopting love.

1. Present.

2. Future.

IV. This love is to be to us a subject of meditation. “Behold.”

1. Admire it.

2. Trust in it.

3. Extol it.

4. Believe it. (W. Lloyd.)

What manner of love

Here, you notice, that although St. John had been learning more and more about the love of God all his days, he does not trust himself to characterise it. I believe throughout eternity we shall never find the right word for it. Even if we think that we have made some such grand discovery as to present it to us in an altogether new light, we shall still go on discovering that there is more to be said about it. Mark, the love spoken of here is the love of the Father. This text takes us right back to the source from which all other blessings flow. That word “Father!”--there is scarcely a heart in which there does not seem to be awakened something like a sympathetic thrill at the sound--even those who are most estranged from God by sin and wicked works. Does it not answer to an inward yearning of our human hearts? Orphans are we, and desolate, unless we know that within the veil we have One who not only bears a Father’s name but possesses a Father’s heart. Now observe, this love is represented as being definitely bestowed, with a view to a specific end, and that end is in order that we might be called the sons of God. We might hay, Deer called the sons of God in the sense of creation, without any such love being bestowed upon us, without any gift being made. There was no particular difficulty in our being placed in such a position; indeed, as an historical fact, we are His offspring. Nor, again, was there any special difficulty in the way of His adopting a certain ecclesiastical relationship to us, standing to us in the relation of Father to an ecclesiastical theocracy, which He Himself established; there was no difficulty in that. But in order that He might stand in the relationship indicated to us in this sense, as “our Father,” and put us in the position indicated by the word “son” in this passage, it was necessary that He should make such a manifestation of His love towards us as He has made in the Incarnation. Now we pass on to consider this special relationship, and the first thought that strikes me is this, that in order theft you and I might attain to it the love of God had first of all to surmount a stupendous difficulty. There was a question which God represents Himself as putting to Himself, and that question is, “How shall I set thee amongst the children?” Oh, you say, by an act of God’s sovereign power. But an act of God’s sovereign power would not make us real children of His. The child partakes of the nature of his parent. Now, we have lost the nature of our spiritual Parent, we have inherited the nature of our earthly parent: the old Adam. We come into the world with an hereditary taint of rebellion against God. How many of us there are who, from our earliest days, have gone on living consistently with this start. Now, under those circumstances, how can God put us amongst the children? If God were to say to one of you, “You are My child,” would that make you His child unless He were first to perform a moral miracle upon you? Now, God performs moral miracles, but He does it in a particular way. He so performs the miracle that in the actual performance of it our will shall be consciously cooperating with Him. “How shall I set thee among the children?” The answer is given in the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was only one way in which the love of God could achieve this marvellous result. It was to be done by a gift--the gift of Incarnate Love. What do we know about the love of God? I see it revealed in the human form of Jesus. What is that love of God like? I apprehend its character by gazing into the face of Jesus. What is it that the love of God actually does achieve? It achieves its very end, it achieves the end of bringing me, poor, guilty rebel as I am, into a filial relationship with God; enabling me to look up into God’s face and say, “Thank God, I now am a child of God.” How is this done? It is done by a new birth. How is this birth to be elected? “Ye must be born again.” But how am I to pass from the old life into this new life of God? I am “born not of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of the will of God.” How am I born? By complying with that will, by surrendering myself to the revealed love of God in the person of Christ. If at some great cost some boon which you very much require is brought within your reach, and if you spurn it, I venture to say it is impossible to cut your benefactor more to the heart than by such a line of conduct. Now, then, are you called a child of God? Does God call you so? Is it so? If not, why not? Don’t say that God has made it so difficult. Do you think it probable that God should refuse the very boon which He has given His Son in order to bestow? (A. H. M. H. Aitken.)

The sons of God

1. The privilege itself is to be “called the sons of God.” Mark, not subjects or servants, but sons; and to be called the sons of God is to be the sons of God.

2. The fountain and first rise is the “love of the Father,” who is everywhere represented as the first Cause of our blessedness. God’s love is nothing else but His goodwill and resolution to impart such great privileges to us; He did it because He would do it; He was resolved to do it, and took pleasure in it.

3. The wonderful degree in the expression of His love, “What manner of love.” The expression noteth not only the quality, but quantity.

4. The note of attention, or the terms used exciting our attention, “Behold.” There is a threefold “behold” in Scripture, and they are applicable to this place; as--

I. There is such a relation as that of father and children between God and His people.

1. It proceedeth from a distinct cause, His special and peculiar love, not from that common goodness and bounty which He expresseth to all His creatures (Psalms 145:9). But this is the special act of His grace or of His great love (Ephesians 2:4-5).

2. The foundation of this relation is not our being which we have from Him as a Creator, but our new being which we have from Him as a Father in Christ.

3. The whole commerce and communion that is between us and Him is on God’s part fatherly, on our part childlike.

II. That this is a blessed and glorious privilege will appear if we consider--

1. The person adopting, the great and glorious God, who is so far above us, so happy within Himself, and needeth not us nor our choicest love and service; who had a Son of His own, Jesus Christ, the eternally-begotten of the Father, “the Son of His love,” in whom His soul found such full complacency and delight.

2. The persons who are adopted--miserable sinners.

3. The fountain of this mercy and grace, or that which moved God, was His love: this was that which set Hts power and mercy at work to bring us into this estate.

4. The dignity itself nakedly considered; it is a greater honour them the world can afford to us, a matter to be rather wondered at than told.

5. It is not a naked and empty title, but giveth us a right to the greatest privileges imaginable.

(a) He will give us the Holy Spirit to be our sanctifier, guide, and comforter.

(b) He giveth us an allowance of such temporal things, of outward mercies, as are convenient for us (Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:30).

III. Believers ought to be excited to the earnest consideration of it.

1. To quicken our thankfulness, which is the chief motive and principle of gospel obedience.

2. That we may keep up the joy of our faith and comfort in afflictions from the world. Though we be God’s children, yet the greater part of the world treateth us as slaves. It doth support us often and frequently to consider the world cannot hate us so much as God loveth us.

3. That we may be satisfied and contented with our portion; if you have God to your Father, what though you be straitened in the world?

4. To stir us up to be exemplary in holiness; for if God be matchless in His love we should be singular in our holiness; our return must carry proportion with our receipts.

5. We should consider it, that we may clear up our interest the more in it and not foolishly content ourselves with an inferior happiness. The use that I shall make of it is to persuade you to put in for a share in this blessed privilege. To direct you in this, let me tell you--

The spiritual sonship

In the words there are two things chiefly: First, what this means “Sons of God”; secondly, what this, “To be called the sons of God.” First, sons of God is a title used divers ways; the son of God is either by nature, or by creation, or by participation, or by a general profession, or by adoption. Now, when this sonship by adoption is applied to those whom God chooseth, there are two kinds of it mentioned in Scripture, the former of which is but a resemblance and figure of the latter. Of it is that speech of God to Moses (Exodus 4:22), which very privilege Paul calleth by the name of adoption (Romans 9:4). By it is no other thing meant but God’s choosing that people out of all nations under heaven to be His peculiar people; which, albeit it were an high favour, yet it was not properly a spiritual blessing, but a type and a shadow of that adoption which Paul calleth the adoption of sons (Galatians 4:5), which is that grace of God by which He is pleased to take us for His children in Christ, and to make us heirs together with Him of eternal glory; and this is that which John speaketh of in this place. The second thing is, what it is to be called the sons of God. It must not be so taken as though this of being the sons of God were a matter of title only without substance, as when a man hath a word of respect cast upon him only for compliment’s sake; but to be called the sons of God and to be the sons of God are here all one. The general points are these--First, that the state of God’s adoption is a glorious estate. Secondly, that it is an estate of which it is possible for him that is invested into it to be assured in his own soul. Thirdly, that it is an estate unalterable. Fourthly, that the alone spring and beginning of it is God’s love. How the first point is grounded upon this Scripture appears by the admiration which the apostle breaks out into, wondering at the infiniteness of God’s mercy, who should vouchsafe unto the sons of men such a prerogative, and provoking others to join with him therein, as though it were a matter singular from all example that we should be advanced to so great an honour to be the sons of God. I could easily collect even a cloud of circumstances for the enlarging the glory and worth of this estate; I will reduce all to three heads. The first is the excellency of the means to procure it to us. The second is the majesty of the person by whose name (through our adoption) we are entitled. The third is the prerogatives and privileges that are belonging to it. Now these prerogatives are to be distinguished thus: To be either in this life or hereafter. Touching this life I will name only two. The first is an interest into God’s particular and special providence. If my wants be outward here is my Heavenly Father standing by me, He knoweth what I need, and He cannot forget me. If my defects be from within He is that God of all grace, and shall fulfil all my necessities. This privilege of God’s especial providence is that river of God out of which flow these streams to make glad the adopted of God. The second prerogative in this life is the free use of God’s creatures, both for necessity and for delight. This is a true saying. The charter anciently given by the great Lord of all at our first creation, touching the use of His creatures, was forfeited into the hands of the Donor by Adam’s fall. It is restored and renewed by Christ, and only to those who are honoured with the adoption of sons, only the heirs of heaven are the right inheritors of the earth; all the rest are but usurpers. Now for the prerogative of the sons of God appertaining to the life to come, which way shall I begin to express it? When Haman was willed to speak by Ahasuerus, What should be done to the man whom the king would honour, he (supposing that the king had no meaning to honour any but him), said thus (Esther 6:8-9). So shall it be to the sons of God at the day of judgment. What should now be the use of this doctrine, or wherefore hath this dignity of adoption been set before us, but to stir us all up to say in our hearts, as Christ’s hearers did when He had spoken to them of the bread of life, Lord (said they) evermore give us this bread. So you, I beseech you, say everyone in the strength of your best desires. Is the state of adoption such an honourable estate? Lord, evermore give us this dignity. And now, touching the means by which those that do affect this prerogative of adoption may attain unto it. There are two places of Scripture especially by which we may be rightly informed in this matter (Galatians 3:26; John 1:12). Both put together do make this good, that the means of adoption is faith in Christ Jesus, or believing in His name. First, what kind of faith it is which makes us capable of adoption. Secondly, how it brings us to be the sons of God. Thirdly, how itself is wrought in the hearts of the adopted. Touching the first, this I say, that the believing, or faith, which maketh a man the son of God is an action of the will, whereby a man knowing certainly out of the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is the promised Saviour of mankind doth for the matter of his soul settle his heart and repose himself wholly and solely upon Him. This is properly that faith which is called justifying or saving faith. For the second, that also is necessary to be rightly opened, because some men of corrupt minds do think these speeches, faith justifieth, faith adopteth, faith saveth, to be derogatory to the glory of God, and to carry a contradiction to these, Christ justifieth, Christ adopteth, Christ saveth. Understand we therefore, and be not deceived. One thing may be spoken of divers particulars in a different sense: as, for example, God the Father adopteth, Christ Jesus adopteth, the Holy Ghost adopteth, faith adopteth; these are all true and without any mutual contrariety. God the Father adopteth as the fountain of adoption; Christ as the ground of adoption; the Holy Ghost as the applier of adoption; faith as the instrument of adoption. The third point was to show how this faith is wrought in the hearts of the adopted. The Supreme Giver of faith is God, every good gift is from Him. The second doctrine is, that it is possible for him that is the son of God to be assured in his own soul that he is so. I am commanded by my Saviour when I pray to call God Father. How is He to me a Father into whose presence I may dare to come, but as I am His adopted son in Christ? Shall I term Him Father, and have no assurance that I am His son? This were intolerable presumption. To bring us to the assurance of our adoption is the drift of preaching, the scope of praying, and the intent of our administering and receiving the sacraments: all aim and drive at this, that we may learn to apply the general sweetness of the Scriptures to our own particulars. But to cut off all mistakings: here is a necessary question to be made touching this assurance of adoption. Whether it be such an assurance which is so certain that it is never disturbed with doubting? I answer: I dare not say it is such an assurance; I know David knew himself to be the chosen of God, yet I know that sometimes he thought he was cast out of God’s sight, and that the Lord would show no more favour (Psalms 31:22; Psalms 77:7; Psalms 69:3). What assurance then (will you say) is this you discourse of? I answer, an assurance striving after assurance; an assurance wrestling and combating with continual doubtings. It is the wisdom of God by this very means to settle the hearts of His chosen. It was one of the old rules of the law, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should stand. It is therefore the wisdom of God that the assurance of adoption should be grounded upon the testimony of two very sufficient witnesses, the Spirit of God and our own spirit. The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. (S. Hieron.)

The Father’s love and the children’s blessedness

I have taken the text from the New Version, which gives us this very emphatic Amen: “And such we are.” Well may the apostle cry “Behold!” as he sets forth this wonderful truth.

I. See, then, whence this love comes. Behold what manner of love “the Father” hath bestowed upon us. Let men come to think that God is against them, and what can they do? There is nothing for it then but utter despair. But if a man only believes through and through him that God loves him--that God wants to help him--then let winds blow, let earth tempt, that man can hope; he can rise up and can come home; he is more than conqueror. But saith some timid soul, Does it not say that God is angry with the wicked every day? True. How then can He love me? Well, it is because He loves that He is angry. If I were going on my way, and heard a set of boys rough and rude and profane, I should feel sorry for them; but if I saw my son amongst them I should feel not sorry only, but angry--angry not because I did not love him, but because I did. All the meaning of Christ’s coming--of His life and death and resurrection and intercession--is the story of God’s love to us. All the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into the assurance of His love.

II. Let us draw near and look at the freeness and fulness of the love of God.

1. It does not proceed from any need in the Divine nature. That wonderful preface to the writings of St. John shows us the Only Begotten dwelling in the bosom of the Father. There is the eternal communion. There is love’s satisfaction. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in eternal communion and fellowship.

2. This love of God is not mere pity. It is not that the Almighty is moved by our needs and miseries as the Samaritan of old. Pity saw the wants, and would give what it could spare; but love saw the son, and could not give enough. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us--love that takes us for His very own; love that would hold us in closest communion and tenderest relationship; love that saith, “Son, thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is thine.”

3. Behold what manner of love--it is a righteous love. It may yearn to deliver and to restore, but there is one thing it can never do--it cannot pass by sin. It can never make light of that. And who of us could trust God’s love if He did? Hereby perceive we the love of God, that He laid down His life for us. And now there meets us love that is righteous, and therefore free and full. Love that hath nothing to conceal, nothing to be afraid of.

4. Another light falls on the text if we turn it round and think of the children--that we should be called the children of God. Adoption has much in it that is beautiful and very gracious. But ours is not an adoption; we are His by regeneration. It is not a new name but a new nature which is bestowed upon us. Begotten of God, we are His children indeed and of a truth. Do not explain it away as a figure. “And so we are.” Bound to the heart of the Father by the tenderest ties of relationship. Wonder at it, but do not doubt it. Claim it, in all its fullest privilege and blessing. (M. G. Pearce.)

The Father

’s love to His family:--

I. What God’s living family are called upon to behold. “What manner of love,” etc.

1. It is covenant love.

2. Unchangeable love.

3. Incarnate love.

4. Redeeming love.

5. Pardoning love.

6. Restoring love.

II. What they, upon whom the Father’s love is bestowed, are called. “The sons of God.”

1. It is not a fictitious name.

2. It is a name which shows the peculiar relation they sustain to God.

3. It is a name which gives them a title to all things in the whole universe of God.

III. What the sons of God say of the world. “Knoweth us not.”

1. The world knoweth not the life which they live--even a life of faith on the Son of God, and a life hid with Christ in God.

2. The world knoweth not their inward conflicts; the flesh lusting against the spirit, etc.

3. The world knoweth not their doubts and fears.

4. The world knoweth not their joys and sorrows.

5. The world knoweth not the doctrines which the children of God are taught by the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive.

IV. The reason why the world knoweth not the sons of God. “Because it knew Him not”--the Incarnate God. (J. J. Eastmead.)

The dignity of human nature and its consequent obligations

1. We are the sons of God--of the first and greatest of Beings. What noble and elevated sentiments should fill our minds! How should we rise above everything that is low and worthless to what is dignified and elevating!

2. We are the sons of God--of the purest and best of Beings. How pure and holy should be the affections which animate our own breasts!

3. We are the Sons of God. How much should we love God, our Creator, Unwearied Benefactor, who discovers His paternal relation to us by unceasing care and the most substantial benefits! How greatly should we honour Him! How devoutly should we trust in Him! How cheerfully should we submit to Him! How diligently should we serve Him! (Charles Lowell.)

A Christian’s high condition and hope

“Behold what manner of love” (what great and singular love, that is to say) “the Father hath bestowed,” etc. Now this seems to imply that we had forfeited the name. Like the prodigal in the parable, we had virtually renounced our sonship and inheritance; and it was a question of agonising interest, whether God would ever again consent to stand towards us in the relation of a parent. And so when Almighty God, regarding us in Christ, declares, “I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters,” we understand that His anger is turned away, that our offences are cast behind His back, and that we are restored to all the privileges which appertain to children. Such are the blessings comprehended in the promise, “Ye shall be called the sons of God.” But there is still more in it. Not only had we forfeited the right to call God Father, but we had also lost the child-like spirit. And therefore when God calls us children, on the ground of being reconciled to us in Immanuel, He engages to make us so by communicating to us of His Spirit. The apostle, after this burst of admiration at the love God shows towards His people in Christ, and the honours He puts upon them, anticipates an objection. Are we indeed so great and honourable? Yet, what is our condition upon the earth? The rich, the great, the wise of this world stand aloof from us, as from persons of disturbed intellect or morose temper are we indeed so great before God, while so little before men? It is even so. God seeth not as man seeth: and that which is vile to human judgment is precious in His sight. Was it not so with holy men and prophets and apostles of old? Was it not so with Jesus Himself? Indeed, there is much of comfort in the thought suggested by the words, “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” If you do not resemble Christ, who was so unlike ordinary men, the world which loves its own would know and approve you. For your conscience may justly testify that therefore the world which rejected Christ refuses to know you with approbation, because it perceives in you His features and carriage. And, after all, we are sons. That is our confidence, our comfort, our triumph. And here I must remind you of the duties which flow from this relation to God--the duties of obedience and trust. If you are children of the Most High, to Him, surely, more than to any human superior, must absolute obedience be due. As a Creator, as a King, as a Master, He might have demanded, with perfect justice, the consecration of all our faculties to His service. But He speaks to us by a tenderer name: “I am your Father,” He says. Try to show yourselves worthy of that noble estate by a child-like deportment towards Him. Well, then, we are actually the sons of God, through His free and abounding grace, although not yet wearing a royal diadem and clothed in princely apparel. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” The real grandeur of the righteousness is overshadowed by the hand of Providence; the present display of it being incompatible with their own spiritual welfare, and with the scheme of God’s kingdom. Yet, while glorifying the grace which bestows upon us so great a privilege, forget not the duty it entails. Remember that to live as slaves of sin and the world, after God has freed you from that bondage, and brought you into the glorious liberty of His own children, would be infinitely base and ungrateful. Therefore pray for the Holy Spirit of God to enable you to walk worthy of this high relation. (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)

Sons of God

I. Notice the word “behold,” with which the words of my text are introduced, which gives an item of the vast importance of what is contained in them. It is used by the Lord Himself, by the prophets, and Christ, and the evangelists on some very particular occasions, both in the Old and New Testament (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 42:1; Zechariah 3:8-9; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 3:20; Revelation 21:3, etc.).

II. What we are called upon to behold. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us.” He is not here calling on us to believe the love wherewith God hath loved us; nor is he calling on us to receive the knowledge of it into our minds, that we may receive the same into our hearts. He is calling us to behold it, to look at it, to contemplate it in its original--in its spring and fountain--in its freeness and sovereignty--in the nature of it--in the manner of it--in its gifts and blessings. The love of God is a subject for the minds of God’s saints to contemplate. They may well behold, survey, and take a view of it, by faith. It is the greatest thing in God Himself, which we are concerned in. His love to us is a free love. It is also sovereign love. It proceeds from Himself alone. It is a love fixed on us. It is a love of complacency and delight. It is an immutable and an everlasting love. Survey it in election, in predestination, in adoption, in salvation, in the blessedness of personal communion. It is vast glorious. It surpasseth all finite understanding.

III. The speciality of this. What in the love of the Father it is which the apostle would have these saints to take special notice of. It is this, “That we should be called the sons of God.” “It is,” says Dr. Goodwin, “but a title which is here expressed.” “Yet,” says Mr. Romaine, “God bestows no empty titles.” He gives all contained in it. Therefore the greatness of the love of God is contained herein. To be heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ, in all the riches of God’s communicable grace and glory, this is the fruit and blessedness which flows from the grace and royalty of adoption. God is our inheritance, and we are His inheritance.

IV. Though this be the case, that we are, and are called, “the sons of God,” and this title is bestowed on us by our heavenly Father, yet the world knoweth us not, as so called, and as thus distinguished by free sovereign favour; neither did they our Lord before us. It is the same to the very present moment, yet we wonder at it, whilst there is not the least cause for it, if we but reflect one moment. How can contraries unite? The longer you live, the more you will find supernatural truths disrelished. The present day is not that in which any are persecuted for their profession. Yet it is a day when supernatural truth, and the supernatural gospel, and a supernatural profession of them, were never more heartily despised. (S. E. Pierce.)

Children of God

I. How real Christians are to be understood to be the children of God.

II. What considerations may serve to heighten and endear the love of God in taking them into this relation to Himself.

1. The consideration of His majesty and supreme greatness, which thus vouchsafes to make and own us for His children, notwithstanding our infinite distance from Him (1 Samuel 18:18).

2. The consideration, how early the Divine love laid the foundation of their sonship whom it pleased to recover from the common ruin, in which it saw them lie involved with others.

3. The consideration of the means ordained to make way for their adoption, even the sufferings and death of the only-begotten Son of the Father to view.

The privileges of the good

I. That privileges of unspeakable worth “now” belong to the disciples of Christ. “Now are we the sons of God.”

II. That notwithstanding these high privileges they are, while in this lower world, subject to tribulation. “The world knoweth them not”--knoweth not their spirit, their character, their dignity.

III. That privileges of a higher order await the children of God in a future state. “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

IV. That those privileges of their future state cannot be fully revealed to God’s people on earth. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”

V. That all these privileges, present and to come, flow from the “love” of the Father. “Behold, what manner of love!”

VI. That every man, that hath this hope of heaven through the love of the Father, “purifieth himself.” (Samuel Roberts, M. A.)

The love that calls us sons

It is not so much to the contemplation of our blessedness in being sons, as to the devout gaze on the love which, by its wonderful process, has made it possible for us to be sons, that we are summoned here. Again, you will find a remarkable addition to our text in the Revised Version, namely, “and such we are.” Now these words are parenthetical, a kind of rapid “aside” of the writer’s, expressing his joyful confidence that he and his brethren are sons of God, not only in name, but in reality.

I. The love that is given. The apostle bids me “behold what manner of love.” I turn to the Cross and I see there a love which shrinks from no sacrifice, a love which is evoked by no lovableness on my part, but comes from the depth of His own Infinite Being, who loves because He must, and who must because He is God; a love which sighs for recognition, which desires nothing of me but the repayment of my poor affection; a love that will not be put away by all sinfulness and shortcomings and evil. In like manner we have to think, if we would estimate the “manner of this love,” that through and in the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ there comes to us the gift of a Divine life like His own. We may gain another measure of the greatness of this love if we put an emphasis on one word, and think of the love given to “us,” such creatures as we are.

II. The sonship which is the purpose of this given love. The writer draws a broad distinction between “the sons of God” and the world of men who do not comprehend them; and so far from being themselves sons, do not even know God’s sons when they see them. And there is a deeper word still in the context. John thinks that men (within the range of light and revelation, at all events) are divided into two families--“the children of God and the children of the devil.” There are two families amongst men. Thank God! the prodigal son, in his rags amongst the swine, and lying by the swine troughs in his filth and his husks and his fever, is a son. He has these three elements and marks of son ship that no man ever gets rid of: he is of a Divine origin, he has a Divine likeness in that he has got mind and will and spirit, and he is the object of a Divine love. All that is blessedly and eternally true, but it is also true that there is a higher relation than that to which the name “Children of God” is more accurately given, and to which in the New Testament that name is confined. What is implied in that great name 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. The glad recognition of the sonship by the child’s heart. “Such we are”--the “Here am I, Father,” of the child, answering the Father’s call, “My Son.” He turns doctrine into experience. The truth is nothing to you, unless you have made it your very own by faith. Do not be satisfied with the orthodox confession. Unless it has touched your heart and made your whole soul thrill with thankful gladness and quiet triumph, it is nothing to you. Can you say, “And such are we”? Take another lesson. The apostle was not afraid to say, “I know that I am a child of God.” Do not be afraid of being too confident, if your confidence is built on God, and not on yourself; but be afraid of being too diffident, and be afraid of having a great deal of self-righteousness masquerading under the guise of such a profound consciousness of your own unworthiness that you dare not call yourself a child of God.

IV. The loving and devout contemplation of this wonderful love. I have but two remarks to make about that, and the one is this, that that habit of devout and thankful meditation upon the love of God, as manifested in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, lies at the foundation of all vigorous and happy Christian life. How can a thing which you do not touch with your hands and see with your eyes produce any effect upon you, unless you think about it? But remember that we cannot keep that great sight before the eye of our minds without effort. You will have very resolutely to look away from something else, if, amid all the dazzling gauds of earth we are to look over them all to the far off lustre of that heavenly love. Just as timorous people in a thunderstorm will light a candle that they may not see the lightning, so many Christians have their hearts filled with the twinkling light of some miserable tapers of earthly care and pursuits, which, though they be dim and smoky, are bright enough to make it hard to see the silent depths of heaven, though it blaze with a myriad stars. Wrench yourselves away from the absorbing contemplation of Birmingham jewellery and paste, and look at the true riches. Do not let the trifles which belong not to your true inheritance fill your thoughts, but renew the vision, and by determined turning away of your eyes from beholding vanity, look away from the things that are seen, that you may gaze upon the things that are not seen, and chiefest among them on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not--

Christians unknown

If we were to ask worldly men what is the difference between Christians and themselves, we should suppose, from their answer, that it was very trifling and of small moment. They appear to think that the distinction between the people of God and the world has no foundation except in the self-righteous conceits of those who assert it. But is there no foundation for it in truth?

1. From Scripture language and examples we should not expect that the worldly would readily perceive the difference between Christians and themselves. Here it is expressly asserted that Christians should be in a great measure unknown in the world. Again, the life of the believer is called a hidden life: “Your life is hid with Christ in God,” and the spirit of piety is called “the hidden man of the heart.” And again, when we remember how Jesus and His apostles were regarded we may readily suppose that the Christian now would be unknown in the world.

2. Those who are not Christians are not qualified to judge of the difference between themselves and those who are Christians. Were an ignorant and a learned man to be placed in company with each other, which would perceive most clearly their difference of attainment? Why, the ignorant man would realise perhaps that there was some inferiority on his part, but upon the whole would be very well satisfied with himself. Just so is it in the present case; no one is qualified to decide whether Christians differ from others unless he is himself a Christian.

3. The distinction between Christians and others is of such a character that it is not easily noticed by the worldly. The qualities which the world admires are obtrusive and showy, but those which religion cherishes are humble and unobtrusive, and, like certain modest flowers, prized by those who value and seek after them, but despised by the unthinking.

4. The worldly hear all the dissensions among the various denominations of Christians, and they see everything that is discreditable, but they enter not into the secret and chief blessedness of religion. Like strangers on the shore of an unknown country, who behold great barrenness and desolation, hear the dashing of the waves, and are ready to conclude it is a most dismal region, while farther in than they have ever penetrated there may be pleasant and fertile fields.

5. It is to the prejudice of Christians that the worst representatives of their profession are most prominently before the world, while the more worthy are more concealed. Is there among those with whom we are acquainted a professor who has more zeal than knowledge?--his character will be well known; his sayings will be often repeated, with the bitter remark that such things are enough to disgust one with religion. But is there one that glorifies God by patience under affliction, by striving to bring his heart and life to correspond with God’s Word, by humble efforts to do good, by a life of prayer and self-denial? Ah, the attention of the world is never drawn to such as these; they pass through it unknown. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

The world knoweth us not

First, of the concession; and there the first granted truth is--

1. That the children of God are obnoxious to the contempt and hatred of the world: “The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.”

2. The second concession is the imperfection of the present state, by which the glory of this privilege is darkened. It doth not appear what we shall be by what we are now. The heirs of the world make a great show and noise; they may be pointed at where they go; there goeth such a prince, or such a lord’s son and heir; but God’s children carry no such port and state. Secondly, by way of correction; and there--

1. He asserts the reality of the privilege: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”

2. That in the future state the glory of God’s children shall be manifest: “When He shall appear we shall be like Him.” That shall be the day of the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). First Christ, and then all the rest of His children (Colossians 3:3-4).

I. Our glorious relation to God, with the effects and fruits of it, is a thing hidden and not seen.

1. It is not seen by the world; the world knoweth us not, as it knew Him not; it is hidden from the world, as colours from a blind man; they have no eyes to see them.

(a) Because if God be not known nor honoured in the world, nor Christ, nor the Spirit, why should we take it unkindly?

(b) Their opinion is little to be valued, and therefore we should rather pity their ignorance than be offended by their censures.

(c) Christians should be satisfied with the approbation of God. It is enough that we have God’s image, God’s favour and fellowship, and are taken into God’s family.

(d) It might be cause of suspicion to us if we were hugged and embraced by the world. It is better to have the praise of their hatred than the scandal of their love and approbation.

(e) Those that are truly blessed in their own consciences cannot be truly miserable by the judgment of other men (2 Corinthians 1:12).

(f) The slanders and mockery of worldly men should be no discouragement to us in the ways of the Lord; for God will reckon with them about their hard speeches against His people (1 Peter 4:4).

2. As our dignity is not of the world, so in itself it doth not appear during our present state.

(a) The image of God is an internal image (Psalms 45:13).

(b) The life which floweth thence is hidden (Colossians 3:3), like the sap of the tree, which is not seen though the fruit appear.

(c) Their comforts are spiritual, known by feeling rather than by report and imagination: “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Jesus Christ.”

(d) The protection and supplies of God’s providence; it is a secret, it is a mystery and a riddle to the world that must have all under the view of sense (Psalms 31:20).

(a) The spiritual life is hidden under the veil of the natural life (Galatians 2:20).

(b) Another veil is that of afflictions and outward meanness and abasement.

(c) Another veil is reproach and calumnies (2 Corinthians 6:8).

(d) There is another veil: Christians quench the vigour and obscure the glory of this life by their infirmities; they have too much of Adam and too little of Jesus, and so the spiritual life is carried on darkly; the good herbs and flowers are hidden in neglected gardens by the plenty of weeds.

II. The reasons why this glory doth not appear.

1. Because now is the time of trial, hereafter of recompense; therefore now is the hiding time, hereafter is the day of manifestation of the sons of God. Christ had his bright side and dark side, a glory to be seen by those eyes that were anointed with spiritual eye salve, and affliction and meanness enough to harden them that had no mind to see; so God hath His chosen ones in the world who keep up His honour and interest, and He hath His ways to express His love to them, but not openly.

2. Now is the time of faith, hereafter of sight; and “faith is the evidence of things not seen.” Therefore in this day of faith God will not too openly expose things to the view of sense, for that would destroy faith. Now we are sanctified and justified, and live by faith.

3. That we may be conformed to our head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came not with external appearance.

4. God hath chosen this way as most fit to advance His glory; He will give us little in hand that He may daily hear from us, and we may seek our supplies from Him, for the spirit of adoption was given us that we may cry, “Abba, Father”; and also that His power may be perfect in our weakness. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Slighted by the world

Virtue loses not its worth by being slighted by the world. (Scraggs.)

The world does not know Christ

The principle [on which He manifests Himself to His people as He does not to the world] is illustrated by some of the common facts of life. A man is present to his friend, as he is not to a stranger, though he may be at the same moment speaking to both. The light which floods the landscape with a deluge of beauty is present to him who sees it as it is not to the blind man walking at his side. Music, though it may ripple round the deafened ear, is only present to him who hears it. The discourse of the naturalist on his experiments, of the scholar on his books, of the mathematician who is talking with raptures on the beauties of a theorem, will bring things into the presence of initiated listeners which are still remote from the minds of those in the very same company who have no sympathy with the theme. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The hidden life

Standing by the telegraphic wires one may often hear the mystic wailing and sighing of the winds among them, like the strains of an AEolian harp, but one knows nothing of the message which is flashing along them. Joyous may be the inner language of those wires, swift as the lightning, far reaching and full of meaning, but a stranger intermeddles not therewith. Fit emblem of the believer’s inner life; men hear our notes of outward sorrow wrung from us by external circumstances, but the message of celestial peace, the Divine communings with a better land, the swift heart throbs of heaven born desire, they cannot perceive: the carnal see but the outer manhood, but the life hidden with Christ in God, flesh and blood cannot discern. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 2

1 John 3:2

Beloved, now are we the sons of God

A present religion

The word “now” is to me the most prominent word in the text, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.
” They who love religion love a present thing. The Christian who really seeks salvation will never be happy unless he can say, “Now am I a child of God.” That word “now” which is the sinners warning is to the Christian his greatest delight.

I. I shall commence by endeavouring to show that religion must be a thing of the present, because the present has such intimate connections with the future. We are told in Scripture that this life is a seed time, and the future is the harvest, “He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” But again, this life is always said in Scripture to be a preparation for the life to come. “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.” This life is as the vestibule of the king’s court, we must put our shoes from off our feet; we must wash our garments and make ourselves ready to enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb. How are we saved? All through Scripture we are told we are saved by faith, except in one passage, wherein it is said, we are saved by hope. Now note how certain it is that religion must be a present thing if we are saved by faith, because faith anal hope cannot live in another world. “What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?”

II. In the second place, as I have shown the connection between the present and the future, let me use another illustration to show the importance of a present salvation. Salvation is a thing which brings present blessings. “Unto them which are saved, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” He does not say to them who shall be saved, but to them which are saved. We know too that justification is a present blessing--“there is therefore now no condemnation.” Adoption is a present blessing, for it says, “Now are we the sons of God,” we know also that sanctification is a present blessing, for the apostle addresses himself to “the saints who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, and called.” All the blessings of the new covenant are spoken of in the present tense, because with the exception of eternal glory in heaven, they are all to be enjoyed here. A man may know in this life, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he is accepted in Christ Jesus. Yet I am inclined to think that the worldly man most of all objects to present religion because he does not like its duties. Men will not direct a single eye to religion, because it curtails license and entails duties. And this, I think, proves that religion is a present thing, because the duties of religion cannot be practised in another world, they must be practised here. Now, what are the duties of religion? hi the first place, here are its active duties, which a man should do between man and man, to walk soberly and righteously and uprightly in the midst of an evil generation. Lightly as some people speak about morality, there is no true religion where there is no morality. You have hard struggles to pass through life. Sometimes you have been driven to a great extremity, and whether you would succeed or not seemed to hang upon a thread. Has not your religion been a joy to you in your difficulties? Has it not calmed your minds? When you have been fretted and troubled about worldly things, have you not found in a pleasant thing to enter your closet, and shut to the door, and tell your Father in secret all your cares? And oh, ye that are rich, cannot you bear the same testimony, if you have loved the blaster? What had all your riches been to you without a Saviour? I fear that there are a great many of you who will say, “Well, I care nothing at all about religion; it is for no avail to me!” No, and it is very probable that you will not care about it until it shall be too late to care. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Sonship the foreshadowing of heaven

In every true economy of life there is a concealed side. This fact grows partly out of the nature of the case, and is partly a dictate of wisdom. This fact of concealment, and these two reasons for it, are both apparent in God’s dealing with men. Divine revelation is the exposed side of a Divine economy which reaches back into darkness. Some things God could not tell us, because we could not understand them. Other things are equally hidden, because He does not see fit to reveal them. God does not ignore nor for bid men’s natural curiosity to know what is hidden. In many cases, indeed, He uses it in the interest of wider knowledge. The advancement of knowledge would come to a stop if all men were simply content to accept the unknown as unknowable. At the same time He does set a limit to human knowledge in certain directions: but in all such cases God puts His revelation in such a relation to what is unknown, as to quiet the restlessness of the curious and searching spirit when it reaches the limit of knowledge. He assures us concerning what He does not reveal by what He does reveal. He gives us certain foreshadowings of our future in our present. First, the concealment. What we are to be hereafter is not yet manifested. Christ reveals the fact 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 and not by sight. Still, there is revelation as well as concealment. It doth not yet appear, but we know something. And as we study what is revealed to us, we begin to see that the concealment and ignorance which wait on this subject are not arbitrary, but are in the interest of our knowledge on another side, and are intended to direct our researches into another and more profitable channel. “It doth not yet appear”--not where we shall be, or in what circumstances we shall be--but “it doth not appear what we shall be”: only we know that we shall be like God. That is the great, the only point which concerns us as respects the future life. To be like God will be heaven. To be unlike God will be perdition. Character creates its own environment. 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 heavens that if God is truth, truth must pervade heaven. Now, all this, you see, must exert a tremendous power upon the present life, viewed as a prelude and preparation for the life to come. If that future life is to have its essence in character and not in circumstance, it follows that character and not circumstance is the great thing here. The apostle strikes directly into this track of thought. In the first place he states the fact of concealment. Down between our speculations and dreams and the eternal reality falls an impenetrable veil. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” But he goes on to say, “You are on the right road to knowing. You are on the right road to becoming. Now are you children of God: that fact enfolds all that is to come. It is a matter of character here as in heaven. The true goal of your striving is likeness to God.” Essentially we shall not be other there than here. The difference will be in degree, in maturity of development. We are children of God here, we shall be children of God there. Why, then, with all this promise, does it not appear what we shall be? Look at the promise itself and you will see the answer. The essence of the promise is, we shall be like God. Understand, not equal to God, but like God, as the finite, under the highest possible conditions, can be like the infinite. The reason for this likeness to God is given. We shall see Him as He is. This gives us the reason why it doth not yet appear what we shall be. We do not see Him as He is. We cannot so see Him here, any more than a child, in the weakness of infancy and the ignorance and perverseness of childhood can understand and appreciate the mind and character of a noble father. We cannot know what it is to be like God, because we cannot see Him as He is, and never shall, until He shall be manifested as pure spirit to purified spirits freed from the trammels of the flesh. And you will further notice the truth which the text assumes, that likeness to God comes through vision of God. We assimilate to that which we habitually contemplate, and especially so when we contemplate lovingly and enthusiastically. Thus we come to the last point of our text--the practical duty growing out of this mixed condition of ignorance and promise. For if the promise is to be fulfilled in likeness to God, if that, in short, is to constitute our heaven, and if that promise is enfolded in our present relation as children of God, then we have in that fact both a consolation and an exhortation to duty. You shall win the best of heaven by getting the best there is out of your position and relation as a child of God here. This is the logic of the gospel. Only God can purify the heart, but He enlists our service in purifying the life. In the same breath Paul tells us that God worketh in us to will and to work for His own pleasure, and bids us carry out our own salvation. Everyone that hath this hope in God is purified by the Holy Spirit, yet our text says “purifieth himself.” Personal devotion calls out personal effort. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)

The glory of Divine sonship

I. The present glory of this sonship is great. The life of God in the soul is intrinsically great. Holiness and love are the principal elements of character embodied in the life of a believer; these constitute his dignity--his present glorious inheritance.

II. The future glory of this sonship is the greatest. The model is Christ in His enthroned majesty and splendour. “Behold” the omnipotence of this love. For whom was it displayed? Angels? No, but for rebellious, ruined man--man scathed by sin, and an enemy to his Maker. (J. H. Hill.)

The possessions and prospects of believers

I. Here is true unity. “Now are we the sons of God.” This makes a true Catholic Church. There may be diversity in the family features--nay, if there be intellectual life there must be; but withal there will be likeness in the King’s sons, in all the wide extent of the Great Father’s household.

II. Here is true fellowship. This, at all events, is the ideal. Till the world lasts there will be men of the logical temperament of St. Paul, the mystical temperament of St. John, the practical, sagacious temperament of St. James; but there should be true fellowship for all that: “Sons of God” swallows up all minor difficulties, all theoretical diversities.

III. Here is true resemblance. It is not a mere question of condition, but of character. All the lines of the Gospel are laid along the lines of life.

IV. Here is future prospect. “It doth not yet appear.” No, the time has not yet come. The cradle is not the place for judging of countenance or character in the perfect sense. The condition of the development is time. Like a tree made strong by storms, so life means contradiction, hindrance, temptation. We are waiting, as our text says, to appear. Like an unblossomed flower, the glory is hidden yet. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)

The present condition and future prospects of believers

I. What we now are--sons of God.

1. We were restored to the forfeited honour of the sons of God by “being begotten again by the Father; and born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We became the sons of God, not by natural generation, nor in virtue of any inherent power or tendency, nor in consequence of any endeavour on the part of others, but by the agency of His Spirit.

2. We may know it by the faith we exercise, if it leads us to entire dependence on Christ, and to the utmost diligence in duty. We may know it by the repentance we have experienced, if it has been heartfelt, arising from a true sense of sin, and resulting in its entire renunciations. We may know it by the feelings we cherish toward our brethren in Christ, if we love them sincerely. We may know it by the state of our affections toward God, if they are set on “those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.”

3. We, indeed, may be of no account among men.

II. What we expect to become.

1. The confidence with which we may expect future happiness: “We know we shall be like Him.” Though we are not favoured with such evidence as John enjoyed, we have all that is necessary to sustain our hope in the reality of that blessedness which God has in reserve for His children. The number and minuteness of these predictions, which have received accomplishment in the history of Jesus and the Church; the sublime nature of the doctrines of the gospel; the holy tendency of its principles; the pure morality of its precepts; the circumstances in which it was first promulgated, and the success which has attended its ministrations, convince us of the truth of that record, which reveals to us life and immortality.

2. The peculiar nature of the happiness of heaven, “We shall be like Him.” It must satisfy the most enlarged desires of the immortal soul to be assimilated to Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Our minds, like His, shall be gloriously constituted, for, vigorous and pure, they shall be fitted for the noble pursuits and sublime contemplations of the heavens. Our character, like His, shall be glorious, for, freed from all taint of impurity, we shall be arrayed in the robe of His righteousness. Our stations, like His, shall be glorious, for we shall be near to that throne on which He sits at the right hand of His Father. Our happiness, like His, shall be glorious, for we shall possess all we can desire or be able to enjoy.

3. The means by which this assimilation to Christ shall be produced, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” As the earth owes all that diversity of light and shade with which it is adorned, and all that variety of flower and luxuriance of fruit with which it is beautified and enriched to the agency of the sun; so shall the redeemed in heaven derive all their beauty, and all their blessedness, from the presence of Him who sits upon the throne.

4. The time when the felicity of the sons of God shall be consummated, “When He shall appear.”

5. The inconceivable greatness of this future happiness, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (W. Welsh.)

The present and the future of Christian life

I. That which is positively known: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.”

1. A man may know himself a Christian, as he knows himself a living soul--by personal consciousness. The fact of his conversion is the starting point in his religious history; and the incidents of Christian experience are the indications of his progress in the Divine life.

2. And, beyond the personal evidence arising from the exercise of faith in the soul, there is the witness of the Spirit in our hearts.

II. That which is imperfectly understood. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.”

1. One thing, however, is quite sure. We shall not remain as we are. The very process of animal life is fraught with decay.

2. Another thing is equally certain; and that is, that we shall still exist.

3. But amidst all the information which God has given us on that subject, we know not the mode of our future existence, nor even its locality. How we shall see without these eyes, hear without these ears, and converse without these organs of speech, we cannot tell. Probably we shall be all intelligence, and find, to our surprise, that the senses on which we laid so great a stress, and considered so essential to our intellectual being, were but so many loopholes in our prison house of clay, through which we could sometimes catch a glimpse of surrounding objects, but by means of which we could distinguish nothing perfectly.

III. That which is confidently anticipated. (D. E. Ford.)

Now sons, though sufferers

I. The sons of God are specially loved of God.

II. The sons of God are born again of God. “Of His own will begat He us by the word of His truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.” So that the character of the disciples of Christ is a special Divine workmanship. It matters little what civilisation may be in a country, or what it may do. Every man needs regeneration.

III. The sons of God, as such, are brethren of Jesus Christ.

IV. The sons of God are related to all the unfallen and redeemed of the offspring of God. Paul makes very much of this, and I suppose that if our hearts were right we should make very much of this.

V. The sons of God are heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ, heirs to the noblest rank and title, and heirs to boundless wealth. The reason that God does not give us more of every kind of good now, is that we need the discipline of want. And until the discipline of suffering and of want has accomplished its end we have not the capacity to use the treasures and the riches which God waits to put at our disposal, and which He will put at our disposal so soon as we are educated and ready.

VI. The sons of God are being educated by God. Suitable habits are being formed, so that when they become lords of the inheritance which is in reserve for them, they shall appear to have been so educated as to be thoroughly fit for all the duties, and responsibilities, and honours, and joys of that position.

VII. The sons of God have access to God. (S. Martin.)

It doth not yet appear what we shall be--

Of the happiness of good men in the future state

I. The present obscurity of our future state, as to the particular circumstances of that happiness which good men shall enjoy in another world. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” If one should come from a strange country, never known before, and should only tell us, in general, that it was a most delightful place, and the inhabitants a brave, and generous, and wealthy people, under the government of a wise and great king, ruling by excellent laws; and that the particular delights and advantages of it were not to be imagined by anything he knew in our own country. If we gave credit to the person that brought this relation, it would create in us a great admiration of the country described to us, and a mighty concern to see it, and live in it. But it would be a vain curiosity to reason and conjecture about the particular conveniences of it; because it would be impossible, by any discourse, to arrive at the certain knowledge of any more, than he who knew it, was pleased to tell us. This is the case as to our heavenly country.

II. Thus much we know of it in general, that it shall consist in the blessed vision of God. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but when He shall appear, we shall see Him as He is.”

1. What is meant by seeing God. As to see the king includes the court, and all the glorious circumstances of his attendance: so to see God, does take in all that glory, and joy, and happiness, which flows from His presence.

2. What is here meant by seeing God as He is: we shall see Him as He is.

(a) We shall then have an immediate knowledge of God, that which the Scripture calls seeing Him “face to face”; not at a distance, as we do now by faith: not by reflection, as we do now see Him in the creatures.

(b) We shall have a far clearer knowledge of God than we have now in this life (1 Corinthians 13:12). We see Him now many times as He is not; that is, we are liable to false and mistaken conceptions of Him.

(c) We shall then, likewise, have a certain knowledge of God, free from all doubts concerning Him (1 Corinthians 13:12). As God now knows us, so shall we then know Him, as to the truth and certainty of our knowledge.

3. The fitness of this metaphor, to express to us the happiness of our future state.

III. Wherein our likeness and conformity to God shall consist.

1. In the immortality of our nature. In this mortal state we are not capable of that happiness which consists in the vision of God; that is, in the perfect knowledge and perpetual enjoyment of Him. The imperfection of our state, and the weakness of our faculties, cannot bear the sight of so glorious and resplendent an object, as the Divine nature and perfections are; we cannot see God and live.

2. In the purity of our souls. In this world every good man does “mortify his earthly Dud corrupt affections,” and in some measure “bring them into obedience and subjection to the law of God.” But still there are some relics of sin, some spots and imperfections in the holiness of the best men. But upon our entrance into the other world we shall quite “put off the old man with the affections and lusts thereof”; we shall be perfectly “delivered from this body of sin and death,” and, together with this mortal nature, part with all the remainders of sin and corruption which cleave to this mortal state.

IV. The necessary connexion between our likeness and conformity to God, and our sight and enjoyment of Him. “We know that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

1. Likeness to God in the immortality of our nature is necessary to make us capable of the happiness of the next life; which consists in the blessed and perpetual vision and enjoyment of God.

2. Our likeness to God in the purity of our souls is necessary to make us capable of the blessed sight and enjoyment of Him in the next life.

Future state of Christians

I. The character of the children of God. It is this filial spirit which forms all the beautiful and amiable traits in the Christian character.

1. It disposes the children of God to love Him with an ardent and supreme affection.

2. It disposes them to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and to believe in Him alone for salvation.

3. It unites all the children of God to one another.

4. It is a spirit of grace and of supplication.

5. It disposes His children to obey all His commands.

II. What they do not know concerning themselves in a future state.

1. They are wholly unacquainted with the means by which they shall perceive either material or spiritual objects, after they have lost their bodily senses.

2. It is no less dark and mysterious how they will converse with one another, and with the heavenly hosts, after they leave these mortal bodies.

3. They must remain totally ignorant in this life, how they shall arrive in heaven, and how they shall move from place to place after they arrive there.

III. What the children of God do know concerning themselves in a future state.

1. They do now know where they shall be hereafter.

2. They know in this world what manner of persons they shall be in the next.

3. They know that when they shall leave this present evil world, they shall be completely blessed.

Lessons:

1. It appears from what has been said, that all the knowledge which Christians have of themselves in a future state, they wholly derive from Divine revelation.

2. We may learn from what has been said, why some Christians die in so much light and joy, and some in so much darkness and distress.

3. Christians may and ought to infer, from what has been said, the great importance of making their calling and election sure.

4. The preceding observations leave us no room be doubt, that death is always a happy event to the children of God.

5. This subject affords a source of great consolation to those who have been bereaved of near and dear Christian friends. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Our ignorance and our knowledge of the future state

I. Our ignorance. We do not suppose that God has designedly kept back from mankind clear and full intimations of the characteristics of future happiness; on the contrary, revelation is abundant in its discoveries. Parable and image are exhausted with the effort to make that portrait worthy the original; and, probably we do not, for the most part allow our knowledge to keep pace with God’s revelation of the future. But when you come to the point of what we ourselves shall be, we frankly admit that we have but scanty information. It is just that mystery, for coping with which we possess no faculties. Yea, and from this our ignorance of what a spiritual body shall be, arises an ignorance just as total of a vast portion of the occupations of believers.

II. Our knowledge. “We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him.” There would be no difficulty in bringing forward other portions of Scripture to corroborate this statement. It is, for example, expressly declared by St. Paul, that Christ “shall change our vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto His glorious body.” But St. John, you observe, subjoins a reason for the resemblance, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We can hardly venture to suppose that the excitement of desire, and the consequent offering up of prayer will constitute the connection, as they do a present connection, between seeing Christ and resembling Christ. We must rather own, that whatever the future connection, it will altogether differ from the present. It is to a suffering and humiliated Christ that we become like now; it shall be to an exalted and glorified Christ that we are made like hereafter. The work wrought in us whilst on earth is conformity to Christ in His humiliation--the work wrought in us when we start up at the resurrection shall be conformity to Christ in His exaltation. The apostle declares that we “shall see Christ as He is.” We ask you whether, with the most vigorous actings of faith, it can be ever said of us that we “see Christ as He is”? No, the gaze that we cast on Christ here must be a gaze upon Christ as Christ was, more truly than a gaze upon Christ as Christ is. We look upon Jesus as delivered for our sins, and raised again for our justification. We look towards Christ as lifted up like the brazen serpent in the wilderness, as presenting in His office of Intercessor the merits of His atonement in our behalf. Even those who obtain a night of Christ as Intercessor, do not strictly see Christ as Christ is. They see Him as perpetuating His crucifixion. So that, sift the matter as closely as you will, whilst on earth we see Christ as He was rather than Christ as He is--and in exact agreement with this sight of Christ is the likeness we acquire. But when in place of travelling back I would spring forward, when I would contemplate the majesty of a Being administering the business of the universe, and drawing in from every spot an infinite source of revenue, teeming with honour, and flashing with glory--oh! shall I not be forced to confess myself amazed at the very outset of the daring endeavour? Shall I not be compelled to fall back from the scrutiny of what Christ is, to repose more and more on a survey of what Christ was, thankful for present knowledge, hopeful of future? (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The unrevealed future of the sons of God

The present is the prophet of the future, says my text: “Now are we the sons of God, and” (not “but”) “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” A man may say: Ah! now are we, we shall be--we shall be--nothing!” John does not think so. John thinks that if a man is a son of God he will always be So.

I. The fact, of sonship makes us quite sure of the future. It seems to me that the strongest reasons for believing in another world are these two--first, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and has gone up there; and, second, that a man here can pray and trust and love God, and feel that he is His child. “We are the children of God now”--and if we are children now, we shall be grown up some time. Childhood leads to maturity. And not only the fact of our sonship avails to assure us of immortal life, but also the very form which our religious experience takes points in the same direction. “The child is father of the man”; the bud foretells the flower. In the same way the very imperfections of the Christian life, as it is seen here, argue the existence of another state where all that is here in the germ shall be fully matured, and all that is here incomplete shall attain the perfection which alone will correspond to the power that works in us. There is a great deal in every nature, and most of all in a Christian nature, which is like the packages that emigrants take with them, marked “Not wanted on the voyage.” These go down into the hold, and they are only of use after landing in the new world. If I am a son of God I have got much in me that is “not wanted on the voyage,” and the more I grow into His likeness the more I am thrown out of harmony with the things round about me in proportion as I am brought into harmony with the things beyond.

II. Sonship leaves us ignorant of much in the future. “We are the sons of God, and,” just because we are, “it is not yet made manifest what we shall be.” John would simply say to us, “There has never been set forth before men’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. In some sense there has been a manifestation through the life of Jesus Christ. But the risen Christ is not the glorified Christ. The chrysalis’s dreams about what it would be when it was a butterfly would be as reliable as a man’s imagination of what a future life will be. So let us feel two things--let us be thankful that we do not know, for the ignorance is a sign of the greatness; and then, let us be sure that just the very mixture of knowledge and ignorance which we have about another world is precisely the food which is most fitted to nourish imagination and hope.

III. Our sonship flings an 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.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Future life

There is nothing in the actual condition of mankind, or in the method of God’s dispensations towards them, more surprising than the fact that, while the very constitution of the mind impels it to survey the future with intense solicitude, futurity itself is hidden by a veil which can neither be penetrated nor withdrawn. We have only to look back upon our progress hitherto, to see experimental evidence, which we at least must own to be conclusive, that, in hiding from us that which was before us, God has dealt with us, not as an austere master, but a tender parent, knowing well how His children can endure, and, in the exercise of that omniscience, determining not only how much they shall actually suffer, but how much of what they are to suffer shall be known to them before their day of visitation comes. But this part of God’s providential government, though eminently merciful, is not designed exclusively to spare men a part of the suffering which sin has caused. It has a higher end. By the partial disclosure and concealment of futurity, continually acting on the native disposition to pry into it, the soul is still led onward, kept in an attitude of expectation, and in spite of its native disposition to look downward, to go backward, or to lie stagnant, is perpetually stimulated to look up, to exert itself, and make advances in the right direction. In making us rational, in giving us the power of comparison and judgment, and in teaching us by the constitution of our nature to infer effect from cause and cause from effect, God has rendered us incapable of looking at the present or remembering the past, without at the same time or as a necessary consequence anticipating that which is to come, and to a great extent with perfect accuracy, so that all the knowledge of the future which is needed for the ordinary purposes of human life is amply provided and infallibly secured; while, far beyond the limits of this ordinary foresight, He has granted to some gifted minds a keener vision. Nor is this all, for even with respect to things which neither ordinary reasoning from analogy, nor extraordinary powers of forecast can avail to bring within the reach of human prescience, God has Himself been pleased to make them known by special revelation. If anything is certain it is this, that they who do escape perdition, and by faith in the omnipotence of graze pursue this upward course, shall still continue to ascend without cessation, rising higher, growing better, and becoming more and more like God throughout eternity. This vagueness and uncertainty, although at first sight it may seem to be a serious disadvantage, is nevertheless not without important and beneficent effects upon the subjects of salvation. It may seem, indeed, that as a means of arousing the attention, an indefinite assurance of transcendent blessedness hereafter is less likely to be efficacious than a distinct and vivid exhibition of the elements which are to constitute that blessedness; but let it be remembered that no possible amount, and no conceivable array of such particulars, would have the least effect in originating serious reflection or desire in the unconverted heart. This can be wrought by nothing short of a Divine power, and when it is thus wrought, when the thoughts and the affections are once turned in the right direction, the less detailed and more indefinite description of the glory which is yet to be experienced seems often best adapted to excite and stimulate the soul, and lead it onwards, by still presenting something that is yet to be discovered or attained, and thus experimentally accustoming the soul to act upon the vital principle of its newborn nature, forgetting that which is behind, and reaching forth to that which is before. The same thing may be said of the indefinite manner in which the doom of the impenitent and unbelieving is set forth in Scripture. In this, as in the corresponding case before described, if the mind is awakened, such details are needless, and if not awakened, they are unavailing. But is it, can it be, a fact, that rational, spiritual beings, Godlike in their origin, and made for immortality, with faculties susceptible of endless elevation and enlargement, and activity, can hesitate to choose life rather than death, and good in preference to evil? Because you now wish to repent, and to believe, and to be saved hereafter, you imagine yourselves safe in your impenitence, and unbelief, and condemnation. Why, the very disposition which is now made the pretext for procrastination may forsake you. The respect you now feel for the truth, for God’s law, for the gospel, may be changed into a cold indifference, contemptuous incredulity, or malignant hatred. The faint gleams of conviction which occasionally light up the habitual darkness of the mind may be extinguished. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)

Heaven

It is often asked, if the great object of the gospel be to fit us for heaven, why is not a fuller revelation of its joys made to us? In the first place, were the future life fully laid open to us, its brightness would throw the present state into utter eclipse, and make our earthly pilgrimage irksome and grievous. The natural shrinking from an unknown condition of being sustains an interest in the present life in the hearts of those best fitted to die, while, when that unknown state is at hand, their confidence in the Divine mercy enables them to enter upon it without doubt or fear. Again, the representations of heaven in the Bible are such as to adapt the inspired record to the needs of all classes of minds. We doubt not that the life of heaven is spiritual. We expect there pleasures, not of sense, but of soul. But the gospel was first preached, and is still preached every year, to multitudes who occupy the lowest plane of intelligence and culture. It goes to them in their coarseness and degradation; and in that state how could they take in a picture of spiritual joy? Their conceptions of heaven grow with their characters. As they increase in spirituality it becomes less a place and more a state. It represents to them at every stage the highest point that they have reached, the utmost of blessedness that they can apprehend. To pass to another topic, I would ask, Would not any detailed description of the life to come raise more questions than it answered--excite more curiosity than it gratified? I love to think of it as infinitely diversified, as, though the same, yet different to every soul. I believe that every direction which the mind can take, every bent which the character can assume under the guidance of religion, reaches out into eternity. If this be the case, how could the whole be written out in a volume? Or, had some portions of this blessed life been revealed, and some threads of our earthly existence shown us as they are woven into the web of eternity, it could only have awakened doubt and despondency in those minds on whose favourite departments of thought and duty no light from heaven was shed. But while for these reasons a specific revelation with regard to the heavenly life was not to be expected, does not the very idea of immortality include the answers to many of the questions which we might ask the most anxiously? If we are the same beings there as here, we must carry with us the tastes, affections, and habits of thinking and feeling, with which we depart this life, and those of them which can find scope for exercise and space for growth in heaven must unfold and ripen there. In addition to what has been said, I would suggest that much may have been left unrevealed with regard to heaven in order to furnish room for the highest exercise of the imagination. It seems to me that the Scriptural representations of the life to come are precisely adapted to make fancy the handmaid of devotion. There may be yet another reason why we have so little detailed information with regard to heaven. There is no doubt much which we could not know--for which human speech furnishes no words. Language is the daughter of experience. It can give the blind no idea of colours, or the deaf of sounds. Now there can be no doubt that in the future life our mode of being, of perception, of recognition, of communication, will be essentially different from what it is here, and perhaps so different that nothing within our earthly experience could furnish terms for its description. But, with all our ignorance, we have full assurance on one point, and that the most essential to our present improvement and happiness. “When God shall appear,” shall draw near the soul in death and judgment, “we shall be like Him.” And if like Him, like Jesus, His express image, whose heart is all laid open to us, whose traits of spiritual beauty and excellence are within our clear view. To be like Christ--need we know, could we ask more? (A. P. Peabody.)

Progress of manhood

There is enough of progress and development in our present existence to justify the belief that man, living in God and loving Him, shall pass on to capacities, services, and enjoyments of which he can have now only the most imperfect conception. Look at the little child in his mother’s arms: its eyes beautiful but vacant, or just sharpening into attention and wonder; its head at all points of the compass in five minutes. Now look at that man who, with eye of fire and voice of thunder, binds an army together, and rules the will of a hundred thousand men with a word: the little, comely, helpless infant has grown into that mighty soldier, whose look is equal to a hundred swords, whose voice is equal to a cannonade. Who could have predicted such a man from such a child? Say, then, to every child, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be”; we must wait; we must live and work in the spirit of hope; this child, or that, may move the world to God and heaven! Look at the child beginning his letters and forming words of one syllable. See him hesitating between C and G, not exactly knowing which is which, and being utterly confounded because he is not sure whether the word to should have two o’s or one! Now look at the student shut up in the museum deciphering and arranging the most learned and difficult writings in all literature, vindicating his criticism in the face of an enlightened continent. The two are one. The little puzzled learner has grown into the accomplished and authoritative scholar. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be!” If we follow on to know the Lord and do His will, our strength shall be equal to our day, and we shall be to ourselves a continual surprise, and to the dignity of life a constant witness, and a memorial not to be gainsaid. Fancy a child born under the most corrupting and discouraging circumstances: parents immoral; poverty, desolation, discomfort of every kind, the characteristics of the house. No reverence, no chivalry, no pretence even of religious form; to be born under such circumstances is surely to be doomed to a continual depravity, wickedness, and despair. Yet even there the Spirit of the Lord may mightily operate, and out of that pestilent chaos may order come, and music, and beautiful utilities. This has been done; it is being done now; it is the daily Christian miracle; it constrains us by glad compulsion to exclaim, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” It is the joy of the Christian missionary to be able to point to villages once the scene of cannibalism, and of wickedness of every name, where there was no conscience, no law, no mercy, no honour, and to show you houses of Christian prayer, and to point out men who were cannibals singing Christian psalms and crying like children under the pathos of Christian appeals. What wonder, then, if within view of transformations so vital and astounding, we exclaim with thankful and hopeful surprise, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be”! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Our imperfect knowledge of the future

If a child had been born, and spent all his life in the Mammoth Cave, how impossible would it be for him to comprehend the upper world! Parents might tell him of its life, its light, its beauty, and its sounds of joy; they might heap up the sands into mounds, and try to show him by stalactites how grass, flowers, and trees grow out of the ground; till at length, with laborious thinking, the child would fancy he had gained a true idea of the unknown land: and yet, though he longed to behold it, when it came that he was to go forth, it would be with regret for the familiar crystals and rock-hewn rooms, and the quiet that reigned therein. But when he came up some May morning, with ten thousand birds singing in the trees, and the heavens bright and blue, and full of sunlight, and the wind blowing softly through the young leaves, all aglitter with dew, and the landscape stretching away green and beautiful to the horizon, with what rapture would he gaze about him, and see how poor were all the fancyings and interpretations which were made within the cave of the things which grew and lived without! and how he would wonder that he could ever have regretted to leave the silence and dreary darkness of his old abode! So, when we emerge from this cave of earth into that land where spring growths are, and where is eternal summer, how shall we wonder that we could have clung so fondly to this dark and barren life! (H. W. Beecher.)

Love’s ultimate intentions

It is not merely for what we are today that our Father loves us so. It is for what He means to make us when we have done with mortality and sin. See that tiny boy in his cradle, over whom his parents watch with such doting fondness. Say, over and above the instinctive fondness of parents for their children, are there not big hopes that gather round that little one’s head? It is not merely because of what he is today that his parents love him so, but because of what he is to be when he becomes a man, filling some place of honour in this busy world. Ah! and so it is with the love of God. It is not merely because of what we are now, in our frailty and weakness, that our Father loves us thus, but because of what He means to make us when He has received us home and has divested us of this dull mortality, and has crowned us with His own ineffable glory! (C. Clemance, D. D.)

Our knowledge of heaven small

Oh! when we meet in heaven, we shall see now little we knew about it on earth. (G. Payson.)

But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is--

The eternal future clear only in Christ

The apostle admits that there is obscurity hanging over much of our eternal future.

1. The first step of the soul into another state of being is a mystery. The existence of the soul separate from the body, and from all material organs, is incomprehensible.

2. The place of our future life is obscure. How there can be relation to place without a body we do not know, and even when the body is restored, we cannot tell the locality of the resurrection world.

3. The outward manner of our final existence is also uncertain. Whether we may possess merely our present faculties, enlarged and strengthened, as a child’s mind expands into a man’s, or whether new faculties of perception may not be made to spring forth, as if sight were given a blind man, we find it impossible to affirm.

4. Many of the modes of thought and feeling, in that life to come, perplex us. Truth must forever continue truth, and goodness eternally commend itself to the soul, else our training for the future life would be valueless, and our confidence in the reality of things shaken. But there may be large modifications, through the extension and elevation of our thoughts. We shall see the same spiritual objects, but from other positions, and with higher powers of judging. How far this may affect our views we cannot say.

5. 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. It matters little, the apostle says, what may be our ignorance about other things, what doubts may agitate us, what darkness lie on the edge of our horizon, if we can abide in the centre with this great Enlightener. He casts His illumination upon our future destiny as well as upon our present duty.

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.

1. The first thought of the apostle was no doubt the human nature of Christ as appearing again to the eyes of His friends. He left with that nature, and promised so to return--“I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.” His first disciples are not to be the only favoured men who ever saw Christ after the flesh. They will regain the view they lost, and we, if we are of them who love His appearing, shall share it with them. The likeness of sinful flesh will be removed--the marred visage and form of suffering,--but the look that turned on Peter--the face that rejoiced in that hour when He said, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth”--the hands that blessed the children--these shall remain, with all the soul of pity that was in them, and the beating heart which went forth through them. The only difference will be that they shall appear. In this world they were hidden, seen only by the few, seen obscurely, realised feebly; but when He is made manifest they shall be the centre and the sunlight of a ransomed world, the heritage of an innumerable company, and yet each one, as if by himself, shall have His view of, and portion in, the true human fellowship of the Son of God.

2. In the manifestation of Christ the apostle must have thought also of His Divine nature. His first appearance in this nature was dim and over cast, both for the sake of the weak vision of fallen humanity, and because suffering and sacrifice were necessary for the work He had to perform. Before He could raise, He needed to redeem. When He became man “He emptied Himself” of His Divinity, as far as this was possible--gathered the attributes of the Infinite within the limits of the finite, and shut up the rays of His uncreated glory in the likeness of sinful flesh. When He shall appear there may be expected a clear manifestation of the Divine nature through the human. 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. The majesty, the power and wisdom which belong to Him as the Son of God shall go forth unrestrained, in union with the tenderness and sympathy which fill His heart as the Son of Man.

II. The second thing promised at the appearance of Christ is a full vision on our part--“we shall see Him as He is.”

1. There must certainly be a change in our material frame before we can sustain the view of Christ’s exalted humanity. When men are brought to see Him as He is, the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory would crush them to the dust, without that change which will make their bodies incorruptible and glorious as His own.

2. With this change on the body, there must be a corresponding one upon the soul, before there can be the full vision of Christ. If we were allowed to conjecture, we might suppose that this education is part of the history of souls in the separate state. The body can rise at once to its highest perfection, but the law of spirit is that of advance by slow degrees. It is consolatory, also, to think that the great day shall not startle the blessed dead, if we may so speak of them, with affright. It shall dawn to them as the summer sun dawns. But however the preparation takes place, we may be confident that the soul’s vision will be at last perfectly fitted to its object--“Christ as He is.” It will be a vision free from all sin in the soul. This will make it free from error, and from the doubt which has pain with it. It will be free from partiality--from that fruitful source of misconception and division, taking a portion of Christ and His truth for the whole. It will be a vision intense and vivid, not coldly outlined by the understanding, but veined and coloured by the heart--a sight in which the soul goes out to rejoice with a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. And it will be a vision close and intimate. They shall gain their knowledge of God and Christ by quicker processes and shorter paths than here we do.

III. The third thing promised is complete assimilation to Christ--“we shall be like Him.” It is the perfect view of Christ which gives perfect likeness to Him. To look on one we love brings a measure of similitude, and looking on Christ, even here, however dimly we may see Him, produces a degree of likeness. But it is when Christ appears that the last great step is taken. However pure and happy may be the state of separate spirits, the Scripture teaches us that it is incomplete, and that they, as well as the whole creation, “wait for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

1. Taking the order hitherto observed, we may think first of our material frame. It will be made like to Christ’s glorious body. This assures us that we shall have eternal relations to God’s material universe. It fixes a central home for our nature--we shall be where Christ is. It makes us feel that there will be a fitness in our frame for our future dwelling place. All that world forms itself into a harmony with Christ, and when we are like Him we shall be in harmony with it. When the material frame is made like Christ’s, it indicates to us something not only of the forms of the future life, but of its active employments. The body in this present world serves two great purposes. It lets in God’s external creation, with all its lessons of knowledge, upon the soul; and it gives the soul power to go forth and imprint upon God’s creation its own thoughts and volitions. When the Bible assures us that a body shall still be associated with man’s soul, it leads us to infer that God’s material universe will be open to him in all its teachings; and that he will be able to impress it in some way with the marks of his own mind and will. Only it will be after a higher manner. The lordship of man over creation, which was granted him at first, will be heightened when it is restored through Christ (Hebrews 2:7).

2. Besides the assimilation of the material frame, we cannot forget that there will be a likeness of the spiritual nature. The source of heaven’s blessedness and power is the likeness of the soul to Christ. When He shall appear “we shall see His face, and His name shall be on our foreheads.” It shall be deeper--in our souls; and all of God’s truth and grace that can be communicated to a creature shall enter into the depth of the spiritual nature through Christ. If the active soul finds scope for work in God’s material universe, the Mary-like spirit which delights to sit at the feet of Christ and hear His word, shall have unrebuked leisure in the heavenly home. We may trust that in some way the sisters, Service and Meditation, will interchange gifts, and be perfectly at one when they reach His higher presence.

3. We have pursued the order of presenting first the human side of Christ, and then the Divine; but we trust it has been made clear that the knowledge of Christ comes to us through the soul side in ourselves. We must begin by knowing Him spiritually as the source of pardon and purity--commencing a new life within, which goes forward, strengthening and rising--a life of which heaven is not the reward, but the natural and necessary continuation. (John Ker, D. D.)

Future blessedness

I. The nature of this blessed and glorious estate--“we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” A transforming vision, or such a vision as changeth us into the likeness of God, is the true blessedness of the saints. There are three things considerable in our happiness

Two of them are in the text: “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” The third is fetched from a parallel place (Psalms 17:15). First, for vision that beginneth the happiness, and maketh way for all the rest--“we shall see Him as He is.” This sight is either ocular or mental.

1. Ocular; for our senses have their happiness as well as our souls, and there is a glorified eye as well as a glorified mind (Job 19:26-27). But you will say, How is this so great a privilege to the godly, since the wicked shall see Him? (Matthew 26:64).

2. Mental vision or contemplation. The angels, which have not bodies, are said to behold the face of our heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10); and when we are said to see God, it is not meant of the bodily eye, for a spirit cannot be seen with bodily eyes; so He is still the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). And seeing face to face is opposed to knowing in part. And therefore it implieth a more complete knowledge than now we have. The mind is the noblest faculty, and must have its satisfaction. Now three things are necessary--

Now in the state of glory all these concur. The faculty is more capacious, the object is more fully represented, and the conjunction and fruition is more intimate and close than it can be elsewhere. Secondly, assimilation or transformation into the image of God and Christ.

1. What this likeness is. This was man’s first ruin, this aspiring to be like God (Genesis 3:5); not in a blessed conformity, but in a cursed self-sufficiency. This was the design of the first transgression (Isaiah 14:14). The men of the world aspire to be like God in greatness and power, but not in goodness and holiness. We affect or usurp Divine honour, and to sit upon even ground with God. Christ came not to gratify our sin, but to make us like unto God, not equal with God.

2. How it is the fruit of vision? for so it is given as a reason, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” I answer--there is between light and likeness a circular generation, as there is in most moral things; and on the one side it may be said we shall be like Him, therefore we shall see Him as He is, and also on the other side, as in the text, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Thirdly, the third thing is satisfaction, not mentioned in the text, but implied from a parallel place; for we having the sight and presence of God, must needs be ravished with it (Psalms 16:11). Our great business will be to love what we see, and our great happiness to have what we love. This will be a full, perpetual, and never failing delight to us.

II. The season when we shall enjoy this--“when He shall appear.”

1. I take it for granted that the soul before is not only in the hand of God, which all assert, but admitted into the sight and presence of the Lord, and to see His blessed face.

2. Then we have our solemn absolution from all sins (Acts 3:19). And our pardon is pronounced by the judge sitting upon the throne.

3. Then shall we have glorified bodies restored unto us, wherein Christ shall be admired (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

4. Then Christ will present us to God by head and poll, and give an account of all that God hath given him, that they may be introduced into their everlasting estate, not one wanting (John 6:40).

III. The apprehension that we should have of it for the present--“we know.”

1. It is not a bare conjecture, but a certain knowledge; it is not only we think, we hope well, but we know.

2. It is not a probable opinion, but an evident and infallible truth, as sure as if we saw it with our eyes. An unseen world is an unknown world; how can we be so sure of it? It is set before us by His precious promises who cannot lie.

3. It is not a general belief, but a particular confidence. He speaketh upon the supposition that we are God’s children. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Man’s capability of future glory and blessedness

I. That strong, unappeasable desire, that longing after a higher good than this world affords, which seems inherent in the nature of man, points to something great and glorious in his future destiny. This was wont to be appealed to by the ancient heathen philosophers as among the strongest proofs of the soul’s immortality. And plainly there is much force in the argument. For, assuming the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, it may be asked, why should He implant in the nature of man a desire after immortality, if He did not mean to gratify that desire; or why awaken in Him longings after unearthly, eternal happiness, if He has made no provisions to appease those longings? Place man in any earthly situation; give him wealth, give him power, give him honour, pleasure, all that the world can afford; still there will be a void within, still he will travail in pain, and look and sigh after enjoyments which the fleeting objects of time and sense can never afford him. His thoughts and his hopes stretch beyond the shadows of earth and time and fasten on the skies. These facts clearly show that this world was never designed to be the final abode of man.

II. If we consider the capacities of man, we shall perceive still stronger evidence that he is destined to something inconceivably grand and glorious in the progress of his future being. Though fallen from his original dignity and degraded by sin, man is still noble in ruins. He is now, most plainly, but in the infancy of his being. Still we perceive in him capacities for high and noble attainments; capacities which stamp on his existence the seal of eternity.

1. Man possesses an immortal nature; is made for an endless existence. The body soon decays. But this affects not the existence of the living, thinking spirit.

2. Man has a capacity for endless progress in knowledge. The great law of mind is expansion, and we know of no assignable limits to this law.

3. Man has a capacity for endless improvement in moral excellence or holiness. He is qualified to be perfectly conformed to the will of God, to be holy even as He is holy.

4. Man has a capacity for great and noble actions, and for constant and evergrowing usefulness in the kingdom of God.

5. Man has a capacity for endless advancement in happiness. Happiness in a rational being is the necessary result of the right and useful exercise of all His powers.

III. What provisions God has made to satisfy the wants of man, and fill the large capacities of the soul with good. Ever since the morning of creation, when God made man in His image, and gave him dominion over His works, He has been continually operating for his good. Behold this world in all its magnificence and beauty, appointed to be his habitation, and to minister to his improvement and happiness. Turn next to the wonders of redeeming love, and see how, from age to age, God has been operating for the salvation of our race.

IV. Let us turn to the oracles of God, and learn what they reveal on this subject.

1. Conclusion: How truly wise is it to be religious! What is religion? It is to act up to the dignity of our nature as made in the image of God, rational and immortal beings; is to look beyond the scenes of earth and time to those invisible realities which the Word of God presents for our consideration, and prepare to meet them; it is to love, reverence and serve the great Being who holds our destiny in His hand.

2. How degrading is a life of irreligion, a life spent in neglect of God and the soul; devoted to the cares and pursuits of the world! Of what value, in a little time, will all those things be which now most interest and absorb men of the world? (J. Hawes, D. D.)

The manifestations of Christ

Both St. Paul and St. John dwell largely upon the “sonship” of believers, but they approach the subject from different points of view. To the mind of the former of these two apostles, this sonship assumes the appearance of a position of privilege. A boy running wild in the streets--untaught and uncared for, and in danger of utter destruction--is adopted into a benevolent and wealthy family. He has had no reason to expect such an advancement. The other apostle pushes the matter a step further, and opens up what perhaps we may venture to call a profounder view of the subject. Looking beyond the question of privilege, He speaks of the disciple as deriving his spiritual existence from the Great Being into whose family he has been introduced. The man, according to the apostle, is born of God. You will see at once what a lofty idea of Christian discipleship the apostle St. John presents to us. “Beloved! now are we the sons of God.” This is the starting point; and when we have reached it there emerge to the view three thoughts. First, that there is something difficult to comprehend about the present spiritual position of the believer. It is seen, as it were, through a mist. In the next place, that this difficulty will be removed. The mist will melt away, and all be made plain when Christ appears. And lastly, that if we are really looking forward to the clearing up or manifestation, which is coming, the effect of the expectation will be seen in the conduct of our daily lives. We shall purify ourselves even as He is pure.

1. As to the first of the three thoughts, it is plain enough that the true disciple of Christ is misunderstood, and must be misunderstood by the world at large, and just because the world cannot possibly put itself at his point of view. St. Paul tells us that the spiritual man judgeth all things, whilst the natural man knoweth not the things of the Spirit of God. The Christian disciple is more or less of a puzzle to those who, not being born again of the Spirit, do not really belong to the family of God. Sometimes they will question his motives, and set him down as hypocritical, or fanatical, or as seeking his own advantage under pretence of regard for the glory of God. But the more kindly and generous portion of them--and these will probably constitute the majority--will content themselves with expressing surprise, or, it may be amusement, at his devotion to Christ. And the reason of this is plain enough. You must sympathise with a man in order to be able to understand him. But there is more than this to be said. The disciple himself--to put the opinion of the world aside--the disciple himself can only very dimly and imperfectly apprehend the future which lies before him. Partly because he is engaged in the tug and strain of a spiritual conflict. You may have your misgivings sometimes as to how the battle is going on with you. When men express a doubt about the reality of your faith and the sincerity of your religion, you may at times be inclined to suspect that their judgment is correct, and that your estimate of yourself has all along been in error. But though the confusion may arise--in part--from the fact of your being placed in the thick of a spiritual struggle, it may be attributed still more to the difficulty of realising the things of the eternal world: a difficulty for experiencing which we are surely not altogether to blame.

2. There will be a time when all difficulties and confusions shall be removed, and that time is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Day of Judgment is simply a day of manifestation, in which every one of us, every human being, is seen to be what he really is. At present we are muffled up in various disguises. More or less, we are hidden from each other, and perhaps from ourselves. The mean spirit is sometimes clothed in dignity, whilst solid worth, not unfrequently, is clothed in rags. Sometimes, too, the true Christian is misunderstood. But we must go a little further with Him. “When Christ,” he says, “is manifested,” i.e., in His resurrection glory, “we shall see Him as He is.” It is possible to see Christ and yet not to see Him “as He is.” There are few, I suppose, in Christendom, who do not form any idea of Christ; but in some cases it is unhappily a mistaken one. To some persons He is a mere man. To others a great teacher and nothing more. To others, again, a hard and exacting taskmaster. But to see Christ as He is, is to contemplate Him with sympathy and love. We have been taught by the Spirit to understand Him. This I suppose to be seeing Christ as He is, so far as this present world is concerned. And they who are thus accustomed to see Christ are ready to gaze upon Him with unspeakable joy when He shall come again to earth.

III. Our last point remains yet untouched. An illustration somewhat resembling that with which I started, must serve me to place this part of our subject before you. A young prince, stolen away in childhood from his father’s palace, and brought up amidst unworthy surroundings, has been recovered and brought back again. By degrees he comes to understand his position--he did not quite understand it at first--and he is full of gratitude when he contrasts what he is now with what he was some months or years ago. Yet he has difficulties. The habits of years of depraved life are not easily shaken off. But he contends manfully against the difficulties, and is climbing up slowly, but surely, to a fitness for the position in which he has been so happily reinstated. Now, two distinct considerations will influence the young man. First, he will desire to act worthily of his present princely state; and then, because he knows he is to inherit, at some time or other, his father’s sceptre, and because wide dominions and large populations will then be placed under his sway, he will wish to qualify himself for the task and responsibility of ruling, whenever he shall be called upon to ascend the throne. You see the application. We who are Christians have a present position to maintain. Christ says to each of us, “Be what I have made you! I have placed you where you are. I have made you children of God. Be children of God!” And then there is the future to look forward to--the future kingdom--the future glory, upon which we shall have one day to enter with Christ. And what is the result of our expectation of these things if we really entertain the expectation? Let St. John tell us: “Every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (G. Calthrop, M. A.)

By and by

I. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” At present we are veiled, and travel through the world incognito.

1. Our Master was not made manifest here below.

2. We are not fit to appear in full figure as yet.

3. This is not the world to appear in.

(a) The winter prepares flowers, but does not call them forth.

(b) The ebb tide reveals the secrets of the sea, but many of our rivers no gallant ship can then sail.

(c) To everything there is a season, and this not the time of glory.

II. “But we know that when he shall appear.”

1. We shall speak of our Lord’s manifestation without doubt. “We know.”

2. Our faith is so assured that it becomes knowledge.

III. “We shall be like him.” We shall then be as manifested and as clearly seen as He will be. The time of our open presentation at court will have come.

1. Having a body like His body: sinless, incorruptible, painless, spiritual, clothed with beauty and power, and yet most real and true.

2. Having a soul like His soul: perfect, holy, instructed, developed, strengthened, active, delivered from temptation, conflict, and suffering.

3. Having such dignities and glories as He wears: kings, priests, conquerors, judges, sons of God.

IV. “We shall see him as he is.”

1. This glorious sight will perfect our likeness.

2. This will be the result of our being like Him.

3. This will be evidence of our being like Him, since none but the pure in heart can see God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

What we shall be

Surely a wholly new interest creeps over this poor human world of ours if we once see in it the germ of possibility, the suggestion of all we shall be hereafter. So seen, it is no aged and weary traveller tottering slowly down to his end; but it is a child still, with the fascination of a child all about it, the fascination of a life which is feeling its way forward by start, by gleam, by sudden intuition, by experiment, by tentative trial, by flashes of insight, by glances, by glimpses--yes, and by stumbles and falls and shocks and jolts, from out of which it still pulls itself together and runs on yet ahead. That is human life in the believer’s eye, in its best and wisest form--still the child life, wistful, prophetic, marvellous, suggestive; a child life so full of strange dreams, but with all its achievements yet to come, to come in that great after world for which the whole round of this age long story of man is but a nursery, but a preparation, but a rehearsal, but an education. Let us recount our gains from such a belief in respect of the world at our feet, before our eyes.

1. Cheerfulness in the face of change. Change is so wearisome when it insists on going beyond what we want. There is such a sense of disappointment when we, perhaps, have succeeded in obtaining a goal, and then have to discover that the moment the end is touched it has already begun to change, to move, to go further. In politics, especially, we note how we are suffering from this cheerless disappointment. Good things, from which men thirty years ago hoped so much, have been done only to show how much more remains to be done. We thought ourselves in the van--lo! we are already lagging in the rear, we are passe, we have lost the cue. That is what damps the spirit. But what if this life is all of it not an end, but only a beginning; all of it a suggestion of more beyond, none of it a goal attained? Our political fabric is to us precious and sacred. It suggests something which we shall find hereafter. It gives a hint, a shadow, of that heavenly citizenship which shall complete all that is well begun here: we shall find it all there. Here no suggestion of that vast society in heaven exhausts its meaning. As soon as we have understood one, and seen our way to its realisation, we see our way to another; each is but a fragment of the great kingdom to be. Now let it go. God sweeps it out of sight; not in contempt, but because He prepares for us another and yet another picture of that immeasurable glory of the kingdom of heaven.

2. We gain cheerfulness in the face of change, and we gain hope just where we most need it. For if the ideal, if completion, is to be sought here on earth, then we know how despairing is our view of those who are born in thousands in dark and low dens, born out of the seed of sin, out of the fires of lust and of drink, born into a life that must be stricken and stunted, blind with ignorance and cursed with a loveless doom. Those so born can make but a pitiful fight of it here; at their very best they can attain very little, and they are swept so lightly down the dark waters of crime and sorrow. If this earth of ours be all, how can we close our eyes to that nightmare? But we who believe that this life is at its best but a germ, a start, a discipline, can afford to broaden our hope beyond all our seeing. Behind the fumes of drink, behind the cloud of crime, each may have made his start and fought his fight, and have proved the possibility, and have manifested some germ of possible growth. Kindness, purity, may have been touched at least. And if this is so there is hope. God may yet do great things with them, so long as He can secure in them some seed of future life.

3. We gain cheerfulness in the face of change and hope in face of base and bad tuition, and then we gain what is near akin to the last joy in the face of failure. The fruit is not here, but fruit may come hereafter in abundance out of those very failures which prune and curtail and sharply discipline us here. Hereafter it may be our failures that we shall most bless, as we see all they taught us. Who knows what is going on in secret behind those very failures in others which most provoke us? It will not be the failure which distresses, but only the failure to use the failure for good purposes. Our failures (above all, of course, our noble failures) are part and parcel of our spiritual history and growth. When we go before our God the failures will go to the account, they will be elements in the judgment, they will be as instrumental and effective as any of our successes in determining our eternal lot. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, but it doth not appear what we shall be.” Not yet, but the root of what we shall be hereafter is here embodied in the soul. Now are we the sons of God, now are we the germ of what we shall find ourselves in that fair land. Now all that we can learn of what we shall be here after is to be sought here and now, in our human lot, amid our fellows, in our common brotherhood. The hints, the glimpses of the glory which is to follow, the beginning, the omen, the voice--all are here close about us in human nature trod in flesh and blood. How, then, shall we not turn to this poor life of ours with hope, with zeal, with tenderness, with love; how shall we not clasp it tight and fast, and cling about it, and busy ourselves with its services? (Canon Scott Holland.)

The spirituality of the beatific vision

As vain and troublesome a world as this is, and as short and uncertain as our abode is in it, yet are we so strangely charmed with the glittering appearances in our way as to forget the crown of glory at our journey’s end. To wean us, therefore, from the place of our pilgrimage, and to set our affections on a better country, we must send out our minds, as Moses did his spies, to search the promised Canaan, and to bring of the fruit of that good land we are travelling to. Such Divine contemplations will give a new turn of thought and quite another taste and relish of things; they will be of great use to cure a downward disposition of soul, and to raise us above the world.

I. The meaning and extent of this phrase, of seeing God as He is. The vision here intended must be intellectual--a vision of the mind and not of the eye, a clear perception or sight of God in the souls of just men made perfect. In this life we feel after God, as it were, in the dark, we trace Him out by the foot steps of infinite power and wisdom, we see Him in His works but not in Himself; but when we commence angel life this veil shall be taken away, then we shall be no longer under the pedagogy of types and shadows but admitted into the immediate possession of original truth.

II. The mode or manner of this beatific vision. The manner of our seeing God in this life is either by a long train of consequences, by climbing up gradually from the effects to the cause, from the things that are made to the invisible things of the Maker, even His eternal power and Godhead; or by way of eminence, by inferring that the perfections we see in the creatures must of necessity centre all more eminently in the Creator; or negatively, by denying everything of God we conceive unbecoming the Divine nature, for at present we rather know what God is not than what He is; or else we see Him by faith, by believing upon the testimony He has given us of Himself by Moses and the prophets, Christ and His apostles. In the vision reserved for the heavenly Jerusalem there will be nothing dark or enigmatical, nothing of cloud, or representation, of faith or reasoning, or intermediate ideas to inform the understanding, nothing between God and the glorified soul, the knowledge intuitive, the vision naked, full, and perfect according to the quality of the recipient, and the mind directly irradiated from the fountain of light, from the Divine essence itself.

III. Wherein the happiness of this beatific vision does principally consist. Now by seeing God we are not to conceive a bare intuitive knowledge only of the Divine essence, but a vision most lively and operative, warmed with all the affections of the heart, and an entire conformity of our wills to the will of God. For then, then alone, are just men completely blessed, when their spirits are made so perfect that they clearly contemplate all truth and fully enjoy all good; that is, when the whole orb of the soul is filled with perfect light and perfect love. To see God, therefore, is to enjoy Him. First, the Holy Spirit is now given but in part, in proportion to the exigencies of a state of trial, and consequently our communion must be in part also; but in heaven, the place of reward, we shall all, to the utmost extent of our capacity, so be filled with all the fulness of God, and most perfectly joined to the ever-blessed Trinity in a most intimate, immediate, and ineffable union. For, secondly, God communicates Himself in this world not immediately, but by inferior instruments and secondary causes: He feeds the soul with the graces of His Spirit, by the ministry of His Word and sacraments, and preserves the body by the help of His creatures. But in the other world all we can want or wish for shall be supplied directly from the Fountain of Happiness, and God Himself shall be to us all in all without any second causes. Thirdly, the mean, or condition on our part, whereby we are incorporated into Christ at present, is our faith, but in the life to come faith shall be swallowed up in perfect vision, we shall see God as He is, and the sight of infinite perfection shall set us on fire and make our hearts burn with love as pure and bright as our knowledge; and it being the property of love to clasp the object beloved into the closest union, we shall enjoy all things possible in common with the ever-blessed Trinity. From the nature of our communion with God in heaven thus explained, I proceed more particularly to the blessed effects of it. I begin with the perfection of our knowledge. Then shall we know, not in part, not by wearisome steps and deductions, but clearly and all at once; we shall know in the same manner as God knows, that is, by His immediate self, for in Himself only can we see Him as He is, and in His infinite mind we shall see the hidden forms of His creatures and the ideas of all perfection. But there is a fond inquiry whether we shall know our relations and acquaintances in the other world. To which I answer, that if such knowledge will add to our happiness we shall surely enjoy it. But then, seeing everything in God, we shall be affected only as God is affected; we shall love one another for our relation and likeness to Him only, and as we are members of Christ united and informed by the same Spirit, which will be both the bond of our union and the cause of our love. Lastly, from this perfection of knowledge will arise a perfect conformity of our wills and affections. (W. Reeves, M. A.)

The beatific vision

It is one of the most natural desires in all the world, that when we hear of a great and a good man we should wish to see his person. I am sure you will all confess that this strong desire has arisen in your minds concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. We owe to none so much; we talk of none so much, we hope, and we think of none so much: at any rate, no one so constantly thinks of us. We have a strong desire to see Him. Nor do I think that that desire is wrong. Moses himself asked that he might see God. Had it been a wrong wish arising out of vain curiosity it would not have been granted, but God granted Moses his desire. Yea, more; the earnest desire of the very best of men has been in the same direction. Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and though worms devour this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”: that was his desire. The holy Psalmist said, “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness”; “I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.” We are rejoiced to find such a verse as this, for it tells us that our curiosity shall be satisfied, our desire consummated, our bliss perfected. “We shall see Him as He is.”

I. The glorious position. Our minds often revert to Christ as He was, and as such we have desired to see Him. We shall never see Him thus; Bethlehem’s glories are gone forever; Calvary’s glooms are swept away; Gethsemane’s scene is dissolved; and even Tabor’s splendours are quenched in the past. We cannot, must not, see Him as He was; nor do we wish, for we have a larger promise, “We shall see Him as He is.”

1. Consider, first of all, that we shall not see Him abased in His incarnation but exalted in His glory. We shall see the hand, and the nail-prints too, but not the nail; it has been once drawn out, and forever. We shall see Him, not with a reed in His hand, but grasping a golden sceptre.

2. Remember, again: we are not to see Christ as He was, the despised, the tempted one. We shall see Him beloved, not abhorred, not despised and rejected, but worshipped, honoured, crowned, exalted, served by flaming spirits and worshipped by cherubim and seraphim. “We shall see Him as He is.”

3. We shall not see the Christ wrestling with pain, but Christ as a conqueror. We shall not see Him fight; but we shall see Him return from the fight victorious, and shall cry, “Crown Him! Crown Him!” We shall never see our Saviour under His Father’s displeasure; but we shall see Him honoured by His Father’s smile. Perhaps I have not shown clearly enough the difference between the two visions--the sight of what He was and what He is. The believer will be as much astonished when he sees Jesus’ glories as He sits on His throne as He would have been to have seen Him in His earthly sufferings. The one would have been astonishment, and horror would have succeeded it; but when we see Jesus as He is it will be astonishment without horror. If we could see Jesus as He was, we should see Him with great awe. If we had seen Him raising the dead we should have thought Him a most majestic Being. So we shall feel awe when we see Christ on His throne; but it will be awe without fear. We shall not bow before Him with trembling, but it will be with joy; we shall not shake at His presence, but rejoice with joy unspeakable. Furthermore, if we had seen Christ as He was, we should have had great love for Him; but that love would have been compounded with pity. We shall love Him quite as much when we see Him in heaven, and more too, but it will be love without pity; we shall not say “Alas!” but we shall shout--“All hail the power of Jesu’s name,” etc. If we had seen Jesus Christ as He was here below, there would have been joy to think that He came to save us; but we should have had sorrow mingled with it to think that we needed saving. But when we see Him, there it will be joy without sorrow; sin and sorrow itself will have gone; ours will be a pure, unmingled, unadulterated joy. Yet more. If we had seen our Saviour as He was, it would have been a triumph to see how He conquered, but still there would have been suspense about it. We should have feared lest He might not overcome. But when we see Him up there it will be triumph without suspense. Sheathe the sword; the battle’s won.

II. Personal identity. Perhaps while I have been speaking some have said, “Ah! but I want to see the Saviour, the Saviour of Calvary, the Saviour of Judea, the very one that died for me. I do not so much pant to see the glorious Saviour you have spoken of; I want to see that very Saviour who did the works of love, the suffering Saviour; for Him I love.” You shall see Him. It is the same one. There is personal identity. “We shall see Him.” We shall be sure it is He; for when we enter heaven we shall know Him by His manhood and Godhead. We shall find Him a man, even as much as He was on earth. Have you never heard of mothers having recognised their children years after they were lost by the marks and wounds upon their bodies? Ah! if we ever see our Saviour, we shall know Him by His wounds. But then, Christ and we are not strangers; for we have often seen Him in this glass of the Word. We shall know Him, because He will be so much like the Bible Jesus, that we shall recognise Him at once. Yet more, we have known Him better than by Scripture sometimes--by close and intimate fellowship with Him. Why, we meet Jesus in the dark sometimes; but we have sweet conversation with Him. Oh! we shall know Him well enough when we see Him. You may trust the believer for knowing his Master when he finds Him.

III. The positive nature of vision. “We shall see Him as He is.” This is not the land of sight; it is too dark a country to see Him, and our eyes are not good enough. We walk here by faith. It is pleasant to believe His grace, but we had rather see it. Well, “we shall see Him.” How different that sight of Him will be from that which we have here!

1. For here we see Him by reflection. Just as sometimes, when you are looking in your looking glass, you see somebody going along in the street. You do not see the person, you only see him reflected. Now we see Christ reflected; but then we shall not see Him in the looking glass; we shall positively see His person. Not the reflected Christ, not Christ in the sanctuary, not the mere Christ shining out of the Bible, not Christ reflected from the sacred pulpit; but “we shall see Him as He is.”

2. Again: how partially we see Christ here! The best believer only gets half a glimpse of Christ. There we shall see Christ entirely, when “we shall see Him as He is.”

3. Here, too, how dimly we see Christ! Have you never stood upon the hilltops when the mist has played on the valley? You have looked down to see the city and the streamlet below; you could just ken yonder steeple and mark that pinnacle; but they were all so swathed in the mist that you could scarcely discern them. Suddenly the wind has blown away the mist from under you, and you have seen the fair, fair valley. Ah! it is so when the believer enters heaven. Here he stands and looks upon Christ veiled in a mist--upon a Jesus who is shrouded; but when he gets up there, on Pisgah’s brow, higher still, with his Jesus, then he shall not see Him dimly, but he shall see Him brightly.

4. Here, too, how distantly we see Christ! Almost as far off as the farthest star! But then we shall see Him closely; we shall see Him face to face; as a man talketh with his friend, even so shall we then talk with Jesus.

5. And oh! how transitory is our view of Jesus! It is only a little while we get a glimpse of Christ, and then He seems to depart from us. But, Christians, there will be no hidings of faces in heaven! Then, do you know, there will be another difference--when “we shall see Him as He is.” How much better that sight will be than what we have here! When we see Christ here, we see Him to our profit; when we see Him there, we shall see Him to our perfection. I bear my Master witness, I never saw Him yet without being profited by Him. But then it will not be to improve us, it will be to perfect us, when we see Him there. “We shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.”

IV. The actual persons--“we shall see Him as He is.” Come, let us divide that “we” into “I’s.” How many “I’s” are there here that will “see Him as He is”? Brother, with snow upon thy head, wilt thou “see Him as He is”? Thou hast had many years of fighting, and trying, and trouble: if thou ever dost “see Him as He is,” that will pay for all. But are thy grey hairs full of sin? and doth lust tarry in thy old cold blood? Ah! thou shalt “see Him,” but not nigh; thou shalt be driven from His presence. God save thee! And thou, who hast come to middle age, struggling with the toils of life, mixed up with all its battles, enduring its ills, thou art asking, it may be, shalt thou see Him? The text says, “We shall”; and can you and I put our hands on our hearts and know our union with Jesus? If so, “we shall see Him as He is.” Young man, the text says, “We shall see Him as He is.” Young man, you have got a mother and her soul doats upon you. Could your mother come to you this morning, she might take hold of your arm, and say to you, “John, we shall ‘see Him as He is’; it is not I, John, that shall see Him for myself alone, but you and I shall see Him together; ‘we shall see Him as He is.’” Oh! bitter, bitter thought that just now crossed my soul! O heavens! if we ever should be sundered from those we love so dearly when the last day of account shall come! That were sad indeed. But we leave the thought with you, and lest you should think that if you are not worthy you will not see Him--if you are not good you will not see Him--if you do not do such-and-such good things you will not see Him--let me just tell you, whosoever, though he be the greatest sinner under heaven--whosoever, though his life be the most filthy and the most corrupt--whosoever believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ shall have everlasting life; for God will blot out his sins, will give him righteousness through Jesus, accept him in the beloved, save him by His mercy, keep him by His grace, and at last present Him spotless and faultless before His presence with exceeding great joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The two transfigurations

(with 2 Corinthians 3:18):--The transfigurations of Moses and Christ were events that did more than accredit their Divine missions. The facts were typical, and suggestive of principles that were operating beyond the range of these special instances, and as such helped to colour the thought and speech and hope of the founders of the coming Church. Paul and John take hold of these inscrutable and stupendous transfiguration forces, and trace the effect of their working upon a man’s moral life and character here, and upon his person and destiny hereafter. Christ not only so acts upon us as to conform us to His holy and exalted pattern now; when He comes again it shall be to reflect His glory into the persons of His believing followers.

1. It may help the weak faith of some who stumble at the supernatural, if we recognise that assimilation forces are already at work which change into finer quality, nobler form, more subtle function that which is gross, inert, unshaped. The earth, in its noiseless flight, gathers to itself cosmic dust, just as a miller in going to and fro amidst the revolving wheels of his mill draws to himself fine grains of flour; and the earth then conforms that dust to its own likeness. It pulls the pliant stuff into its own range, and then refines and exalts it into those living organisms that are the glory of the earth.

2. It is by the law of assimilation that men are bound together into homogeneous communities and nations.

3. Transfigurations go on in the social realm that are more or less consciously mimetic in their character. It is because of this fact that the different parts of our common life at least match themselves into a congruous and harmonious whole. The moulding forces of society tend to bring men into conformity with ruling types rather than to make them separatists. And there is an assimilation to Christ’s pattern that is more or less conscious, corresponding to these processes in the social realm around us. The transcendent beauty of Jesus Christ casts a spell over us, and we long to copy Him. And within certain limits we do find ourselves possessed of power through which we approximate, in external conduct at least, to His standard of truth and righteousness and compassion.

4. In ways unknown to us these assimilative forces work deep down amidst the elemental mysteries of life. The nervous system seems curiously responsive to the environment, and accommodates itself to the forms and hues that predominate in it, In a stream near Ivybridge, into which white clay was poured, the fish soon became perceptibly lighter in colour. A Syrian shepherd, by putting peeled rods of hazel before his flocks and herds in the breeding season, found that he could almost mark at will the skins and fleeces of the unborn young. And the law holds in human life. The organisation passes through plastic stages of sensibility, in which it is peculiarly susceptible to the imprint of any new object that may be presented to it. The deep mental impressions of the mother often infix themselves legibly upon the young life she brings into the world. Probably the traditions of saints who had set themselves to meditate on the agonies of the pierced hands and feet, and at last received nail marks in their own persons, are not simple myths, but have a basis of scientific fact. And if there be a law of this sort, it must surely run out into higher and more momentous forms. Shall God give to the frail, mute, unreasoning weaklings of the animal creation around us the power of assimilating themselves to the hues of their environments, so as the better to equip them for a life which is but a short spasm of sensations, and shall He deny the benefit of that catholic law to us who have come to the assembly and church of the firstborn, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, so that we may be transformed and fitted for the high distinction that is before us? Shall this mysterious law work through our fears and terrors, and conform us to the disease of which we may think and work towards death, and shall it not also operate through hope and admiration and worship, and assimilate us to the ideal of health, and be fruitful for glory and honour and immortality? We are even now in conditions in which we are being attracted more or less swiftly into the image of Christ’s spiritual loveliness, but ere long we shall be attracted into conformity to the unknown splendour which invests the humanity enshrined and enthroned in the highest heaven.

5. Both the earthly and the heavenly transfigurations rest upon a common act of contemplation. The monks of Mount Athos hypnotise themselves into trance conditions by gazing at their own bodies. In some of the Buddhist monasteries of Eastern Asia devotees are pointed out who have sat facing blank walls for years, and have gazed themselves into mysterious ecstasies. We find, as a matter of experience, that we can absorb and assimilate that on which we succeed in detaining the attention of our concentrated powers. Now, if men by projecting themselves into moods of abstraction discover new powers of mind, find unknown fires begin to burn within them, and rise into worlds of spiritual ecstasy, what change, think you, ought to effect itself within us if with the same steadfastness we contemplate the personality of Him who is the Leader and Consummator of our faith? We cannot look with sympathy upon His moral loveliness here, or with worship upon His glorious majesty hereafter, without realising some amazing approximation to His likeness.

6. Another analogy worthy of our notice is that these transfiguration processes effect themselves upon a new and impressionable life. It is the unborn babe which is responsive to the image presented to the brain of the mother, rather than the mother herself. The chrysalis is no longer affected by the colour of its surroundings when it reaches the last stages of its development. And in the spiritual realm this fact has its counterpart. The transcendent beauty of Christ imparts itself only in natures made tender by the Spirit. Till the Holy Ghost comes to brood within us, the material of which we consist does not lead itself to these high spiritual transformations. A man may try and look at Christ for a lifetime. He may have an adequate intellectual conception of this ideal character. Every grace may be discriminated and may command its due need of homage, but all in vain unless there be a new and tender life to receive the imprint of the perfect personality thus presented to the thought and emotion. This process is not human and ethical only. The life dawning in that birth mediated through the Spirit is alone susceptible of these sublime modifications and perfectings; and in the heavenly transfiguration there is the same parallel or analogy. If man’s nature is to be photographically sensitive to the celestial splendour of the Son of Man in His last glorious manifestation, the quickening from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, must be followed by a new birth of man’s sentient life from the dust of death.

7. But in these transfigurations there are contrasts as well as analogies. These arise, not from the fact that different forces are brought into use to effect these changes, but from the different degrees of aptitude which appear in the early and late stages of the religious history of the soul.

8. These two blessed changes are so vitally related to each other that one is a pledge and forecast of the other. Princely beauty hides itself away in the sons of God everywhere, and if we only suffer the Spirit of God to come to us and assimilate our characters to the Christlike ideal, that beauty will adorn even the bodies of our humiliation, and will at last clothe our quickened and recreated flesh forever. Guard unhurt the germ. See that the law of approximation to Christ is at work in all the occasions of common life. That will guarantee the rest. If we are absorbed into Christ, and Christ into us, when He is manifested we also shall be manifested with Him in glory. He is in us the hope of glory, and such a hope maketh not ashamed. (T. G. Selby.)

The final transguration

There is a very lofty sentiment in these words. They labour with meaning and soar with aspiration. We notice--

I. A change of the most marked character is already superinduced. Something is already accomplished; an effect is secured. Things are placed in a course of progression even now.

II. This change is preparatory to another in a future state of existence. Life is the school, the arena, the watch tower. Here holy principle is imbibed and holy habit formed; but the scope and aim are always prospective. The premonitions of our future are afforded by the nature of--

III. Of that sublimer change the present one is a very imperfect specimen and presage. “It doth not yet appear,” etc. (R. W. Hamilton, LL. D.)

The transforming power of the revelation of God

John, looking back, sees what great spaces have been covered in his spiritual history; he also looks forward, and sees greater changes in store for him. He has, in truth, become a son of God, but it is not manifest what he will become; he is only sure that as all the transformations in his character have been in the direction of likeness to God, they will go on in the same direction. To believe in future change is very different from believing in past change. It is not easy to realise that we shall ever be much different from what we are at present--that we shall become wiser, that we shall feel older, that we shall hold other opinions, that we shall develop new powers. Our future self is commonly the simple projection of our present self. The wondrous changes since infancy, with the development of hidden powers, do not effectually teach us that changes as great await us, or may be achieved. And yet these natural changes in the past ought to teach us that as great changes may await us in the future, and also that there may be spiritual changes and developments corresponding to the physical changes. The limit of physical development may be reached, but the mental and moral development may go on long after, and, for aught we know, forever, and the fact that we draw our life from God makes it probable that it will be so. Origin in an infinite being is a pledge not only of an infinite life, but of endless development in the direction of the unattainable source. This natural history should open our minds to the possibility of a like spiritual history. We may be sure that God has not put all the wonders of His creation into our early physical life, and left the moral life bare and fixed. The natural comes first, then the spiritual, but it is no less full of germinant seeds and possibilities than the natural. This is high probability; the Christian faith makes it a certainty. It enters into its nature and purpose to open before us great changes and developments. And it also seeks to produce them. It sets before us the duty of ourselves striving to make these changes. “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.” Let us give ourselves to this thought for awhile. Under natural conditions character does not show a tendency to change its type or direction; it simply grows after its type, and sets steadily in its native direction and toward some permanent form. Hereditary qualities take the lead, and the character moves on in their direction. The main quality asserts itself more and more strongly, shapes the features, gives tone to the voice, and gesture to the body, directs the conduct and becomes the spirit of the life. If selfish or lustful or proud, these qualities tend simply to go on and harden into fixed form. We call the result habit; it is rather the natural tendency of character, aided by habit, to consolidate; it is the loss of native freedom, for habit is the absence of freedom. But there is even a better prospect than this. It is, indeed, a pleasant thought that if I cultivate a spirit of patience, or sympathy, or self-control, it will become a fixed habit in me. It points to an end of strife, to rest and peace; but there is something better than that. I do not want merely to become fixed in these habits, but to grow in them; and I also want to be carried on and lifted up into higher ranges of character than I now know; I cannot be satisfied with any condition that is stationary. Therefore we hope to come upon other duties, and so to enter into other feelings than any we now know. Just as a little child knows nothing of the passions that sweep through the heart of the youth, so there may be lofty spiritual passions and experiences, and even qualities of character, of which we now know nothing. One thing is sure, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not leave us alone with a law of heredity, and the bare hope that we may become confirmed in goodness; it opens before us a vista of endless growth and change. And therefore it begins with a call to regeneration. Its first work is to lift us out of the order of nature where character tends simply to solidify and habits become fixed, and to carry us into another sort of world. Regeneration means, not that we are to be developed, but that we are to be changed, to live in other ways, with other motives and for other ends. Now see how Christian requirement works in with regeneration and helps it on. The gospel is constantly putting a man upon moral choices, and so it acts against the solidifying tendency of habit or native inclination; i.e., it keeps a man constantly in the world of freedom and out of the region of fixed habit. When I begin the day, I have not only to keep on in the good habits of yesterday, but I have fresh choices to make. New questions come up; life varies its phases; I am myself not quite the same being as yesterday; I see more, feel more; duty is a little broader; time presses upon me a little more heavily; eternity becomes more real. Thus I am summoned to new exercises of my nature. We are not to think that this transforming process belongs only to the life beyond. God is appearing all the while to those who have eyes to see Him. We touch here a most vital fact--the revelations of God and their effect upon us. I do not refer to the everyday manifestations of God--the sunlight, the blessed order of nature, the daily food and daily joy of home, but to those occasions when life becomes momentous, when it gathers itself up in a crisis and all is changed for us. It may be good or evil fortune, the birth or death of love, a loss or a gain; all such things are revelations of God, for God is in our lives and not outside of them; but when He thus appears it is for purposes of transformation. That is the use to be made of such events as they touch us. St. John doubtless had in mind the effect of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. That was almost the only revelation to which he gave much heed; the effect of it was the only spiritual effect of which he was conscious. Christ had come into his life; and from a mere child of this world, a simple fisherman, he had been made a veritable son of God. Christ had drawn him out of his old, worldly, natural self up into this high sense and relation, so that he could say, “Now, I am a son of God”--a tremendous change, the greatest a human being can undergo. St. John had experienced this change under the influence of Christ--a change so great that he can scarcely realise what he was at the beginning. A new creation; born again; a son of God; transformed--these phrases are too weak to express it. But it will go on, he says. We shall see Christ again, and see Him as He is; see Him with clearer eyes than we now have; and so mightier transformations will take place within us; we cannot tell nor even imagine what we shall be. I see no reason to doubt this--that great changes are still to go on in us under the transforming power of Christ. Let us not think meagrely on such a subject, but under high analogies. See how Christ has transformed the world; how His spirit has stolen into the hearts of nations; how civilisation has taken on His name and is doing His work. See how the tide of progress sets steadily Christward--more peace and less war, more justice, more equality, more mercy and kindness and goodwill. No matter how they come; they are coming by the Spirit of Gods and they are coming in ways not to be turned aside. What the end of this social change will be we do not know, but there is no reason to doubt that society will make as great gains as it has made in the past. But if society is capable of such transformations, much more must the individual be capable of them. All men are as one man; one is the whole and the whole are but one. And the final condition! who can imagine it? It doth not yet appear what this human world will become. All we can say is that the holy city of the saved world, the new Jerusalem of the perfected humanity, is slowly but steadily coming down from God out of heaven, and will in time appear four-square upon the earth. Thus these great hopes that enfold the world are yours and mine; we can take them into the secrecy of our sorrowing hearts, into our disappointed lives, into the vanishing away of our strength and years, and through them claim and find a place in the world of joy and peace. (T. T. Munger.)

Life and character in God

His children: Loved ones, now are we the children ( τέκνα) of God. We are His children even now. “Amidst all the mistakes on the part of the world we are nevertheless really now the children of God,” however unworthy we may appear and however little we may be appreciated. The soil may dwarf the Divine life and prevent its perfect development; nevertheless, we have that life in germ. But the infinite future lies before us: “It doth not yet appear.” The lily life is subject to hostile climate, and hence is imperfect. The life in us is an exotic from a celestial clime, “and” hence “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” There will be no difficulty in recognising our unfolding of His life in the future. “When He shall appear” all will be well; the life will unfold itself in divinest forms under the immediate sunlight of His countenance. “We shall be like Him.” The life will have reached its type. For the present our “life is hid with Christ in God,” but “when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory”; yes, “with Him in glory,” because “like Him.” What is the explanation of that perfect likeness? “For we shall see Him as He is.” The sight of Him makes us like Him. Our life begins with a look “Behold the Lamb of God.” In the same way that life develops: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” So at last in the heavenly city we are made perfectly like Him, and seas of bliss begin to roll through our souls, because “we see Him as He is.” What heaven in such a look! (A. R. Cocke, D. D.)

The blessed vision of Christ

“Oh, blessed vision!” was the apostrophe of an ancient confessor. “Oh, blessed vision! to which all others are penal and despicable! Let me go into the mint house and see heaps of gold, and I am never the richer; let me go to the pictures and see goodly faces, I am never the fairer; let me go to the court, where I see state and magnificence, and I am never the greater; but oh, Saviour! I cannot see Thee and not be blessed. I can see Thee here through symbols; if the eye of my faith be dim, yet it is sure. Oh, let me be unquiet till I shall see Thee as I am seen!” (Quoted by Dr. Hanford.)

Transformations

Mr. Ruskin, in his “Modern Painters,” tells that the black mud or slime from a footpath in the outskirts of a manufacturing town--the absolute type of impurity--is composed of four elements--clay, mixed with soot, a little sand, and water. These four may be separated each from the other. The clay particles, left to follow their own instinct of unity, become a clear, hard substance so set that it can deal with light in a wonderful way, and gather out of it the loveliest blue rays only, refusing the rest. We call it then a sapphire. The sand arranges itself in mysterious, infinitely fine parallel lines, which reflect the blue, green, purple, and red rays in the greatest beauty. We call it then an opal. The soot becomes the hardest thing in the world, and for the blackness it had obtains the power of reflecting all the rays of the sun at once in the vividest blaze that any solid thing can shoot. We call it then a diamond. Last of all, the water becomes a dewdrop, and a crystalline star of snow. Thus God can and does transform the vilest sinners into pure and shining jewels fit for His home in heaven.

Transfiguration by sight of Christ

Among some reminiscences of the sweet singer, Jenny Lind, communicated by Canon Scott Holland to Murrays Magazine, occurs the following:--“She had gone to look on the face of her friend, Mrs. Nassau Senior, after death. The son of her friend had shown her the stairs, and pointed out the door of the room where the body lay, and put a candle in her hands, and left her. She pushed open the door and entered alone, and there, before her, lay the face, fine and clear cut, encompassed about with a mass of white flowers. On it was peace, and a smile, with her lips parted; but that was not all. I must tell the rest in her own words. ‘It was not her own look that was in her face. It was the look of another, the face of another, that had passed into hers. It was the shadow of Christ that had come upon her. She had seen Christ. And I put down my candle, and I said, “Let me see this thing. Let me stop here always. Let me sit and look. Where are my children? Let them come and see. Here is a woman who has seen Christ.”‘ I can never forget the dramatic intensity of her manner as she told me all this, and how she at last had to drag herself away, as from a vision, and to stumble down the stairs again.”


Verse 3

1 John 3:3

And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure

The Divine hope perfecting the sinless family likeness

I.
We must look here, as always, to Christ. He had a hope in God, or upon God; a hope having God for its object, and God for its ground and warrant. And it was substantially the same hope that we have as children that He had as the Son. True, He could not say, with reference to Himself, and His own knowledge or consciousness, “It doth not yet appear what I shall be”; at least not exactly as we say it. He knew better what He was to be than we can know what we are to be. But even He, in His human nature and human experience, did not adequately know this; for even He walked by faith and not by sight. It really did not yet appear what He was to be. One thing, however, He did know, that whatever the future discovery or development, to Himself or others, of His Sonship was to be, it would be all in the line of His being like the Father; and being like the Father through seeing Him as He is. To see God as He is, when the present strange problem--a dispensation of long suffering patience, subservient to a dispensation of present mercy and salvation, and preparatory to a dispensation of retribution and reward--is at last solved--to see God as He is, when the shifting shadows of time flee away, and the repose of the final settlement of all things come;--that was to Christ a matter of hope; exactly as it is to us. It must have been so. And if it was so, is it too much to say that this included, even in His case, the idea of His hoping to be like God, when He was thus to see Him as He is, in a sense and to an extent not within the reach and range of His human experience, when it was among the ordinary conditions of humanity here on earth that He had to see Him? That was His trial, as it is ours; to be in a position in which, seeing God as He is, and being consequently thoroughly like Him, in respect of full and ultimate contentment, complacency, satisfaction, and joy, is “a thing hoped for.” It is in such a position that our purifying of ourselves is to be wrought out, even as it was in such a position that His being pure was manifested and approved. We have to realise our sonship, as He had to realise His Sonship, in a world that knows not God; and we have to realise it, like Him, in hope. So realising it, and having this joint hope with Him in God, we purify ourselves as He is pure.

II. With all this the commission of sin is incompatible. “He that doeth righteousness,” and he alone, “is born of God” (1 John 2:29). The doing of sin is inconsistent with so righteous a parentage; for it is the doing of that which is against law (1 John 3:4). Sin is lawlessness; insubordination to law. It is to be so regarded; especially by us who, on the one hand, being born of God, make conscience of doing righteousness as God is righteous (1 John 2:29); and who, on the other hand, having this hope in God--that we are to be like Him when we shall see Him as He is--make conscience of purifying ourselves, as our model, His own beloved Son, is pure (1 John 3:2-3). We are to look upon sin as a breach of law. That is our security against committing sin, and so compromising the righteousness which we do, and the purity to which we aspire. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Purifying hope

I. That every true Christian is animated by the hope of being with Christ. We make three remarks relative to this hope.

1. It is well founded.

2. It is soul sustaining. Great is the power of genuine hope.

3. It is increasingly active.

II. That the possession of this hope tends to promote personal holiness. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself.” He not only feels obliged to cultivate personal purity, but, stimulated by this hope, he makes every effort to become pure. We shall make two or three inquiries relative to personal purity.

1. What is its nature?

2. How is it promoted?

3. What are its evidences? “He purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” (J. H. Hughes.)

The self purifying hope

I. The work of self-purification.

1. This is a personal work, not only accomplished in us but by us.

2. It includes such things as--

II. The motives to the work of self-purification.

1. Hope of the coming of Christ--“when He shall appear.”

2. Hope of likeness to Christ … we shall be like Him.”

III. The pattern of this work--“as He is pure.” What a height! But the higher we aim the higher we reach. A painter, a sculptor, a poet, all work to some ideal. (Family Churchman.)

Christian hope

Hope is a feeling that animates every human bosom; that forms the motive power to active exertion, is the soul of enterprise, and is one of the main springs that keep the world itself in motion. Is the morning of life fair and promising? Hope gives freshness to the scene, and buoyancy to the spectator. Is the meridian of life bright and prosperous? Hope casts its radiant glories over life’s pathway, and infuses its sweet ingredients into life’s enjoyments. In a word, hope is the great cordial of human life, the lightener of all our cares, “the sweetener of all our joys, and the soother of all our sorrows.”

I. The nature of Christian hope.

1. The points of resemblance, or rather of agreement, it bears to hope in general, are the three following:

(a) It differs from faith, which credits things that are past as well as things that are future, threatened evils as well as promised blessings;

(b) It differs also from possession. “But hope that is seen is not hope”--that is, the thing hoped for, when realised, is no longer hope, but possession and enjoyment.

2. The points of contrast are chiefly two.

II. The foundation of this hope. In this the goodness of this hope consists, and appears still more manifest than in its nature. Christ, in His person, in His mission and mediation, and especially in His work of propitiation, finished on the Cross and accepted by the Father, is the true and only foundation of a sinner’s hope. Jesus Christ, in His propitiatory work, is not merely the foundation, but the only foundation of a sinner’s hope toward God. The mere mercy of God, apart from the mediation of Christ; their comparative goodness, as not being so bad as some other men; their descent from godly parents; their Christian profession; the soundness of their faith and the orthodoxy of their creed; their many prayers and their great charity--these are sonic of the countless foundations which deluded mortals have tried on which to build their hopes lot eternity. What are they, but the sandy foundation of the foolish builder? Not only must the foundation be revealed to faith, the revelation must be received by faith, in order to have this hope on Him. Every man must have faith in Christ before he can have this hope on Him. “Christ must be in him” before Christ can be to him “the hope of glory.” And every man must “be in Christ” ere he can have or exercise this hope on Christ.

III. The object of this hope.

1. Perfect likeness to Christ. The many sons whom He has brought unto glory shall be perfectly like Him, not only in immortality, but also in moral excellence; not only in holiness, but also in happiness. Their minds, like His, shall be filled with heavenly light; their imaginations, like His, shall be filled with heavenly purity; their wills, like His, shall be filled with heavenly righteousness; their consciences, like His, shall be filled with heavenly peace; their hearts, like His, shall be filled with heavenly love; and their bodies, like His, shall be clothed with heavenly glory.

2. The full enjoyment of Christ. We shall see Him in all His glory, in the glory of His Father, and in the glory of all the holy angels with Him.

IV. The influence of this hope. Every man having this hope on Christ is not only the subject of sanctification, but likewise the agent of its progressive advancement in his own soul and life.

1. This hope is a Christian grace; and, like every Christian grace, forms part of sanctification, and contributes to its increase and advancement to perfection. For it is influenced by means and by motives felt, by arguments adduced, by examples exhibited, by goodness experienced, and by promises given unto us.

2. This hope forms an essential element of their new nature; it is the constant attendant and efficient assistant in their spiritual life. What assistance does it give to them in its course? Is the Christian life compared to a race? This hope casts aside every incumbrance, braces every limb, strains every nerve, and puts forth every energy to reach the goal and gain the prize.

3. This hope furnishes the best counteractive of the adverse and conflicting influences of the world. It is the ship’s best ballast during the voyage of life. It is its subject’s best reminder of what he is, whither he is going, and how he is to occupy his Lord’s talents till He comes.

4. This hope is the chief prompter to life’s activities, in whatever state its possessor may be found. Forevery man that hath this hope knows, delights in, and seeks after, conformity to the will of God, which is our sanctification. He knows also that indolence and inaction are among the chief incentives to “the pleasures of sin,” which are contrary to the will of God and inimical to our sanctification. But this hope which he has, is not the dead hope of the formalist, or the hypocrite, nor the dying hope of the worldling, but the lively hope of the sons of God. It makes them all alive to God’s requirements, and lively in His service, in His House, in His cause, and in His kingdom in the world.

V. The pattern of every man having this hope. Christ is at once the foundation on which he builds his hope for eternity, and the pattern of purity he imitates in purifying himself. He has not yet attained, neither is he already perfect. But it is the present pursuit, the daily, habitual practice of every man having this hope: he purifieth himself, and he will continue to purify himself, as certainly as he will hope, to the end; when the purifying process will be perfected, and the conformity to the perfect pattern of purity will be complete.

1. A warning to sinners. You too have a hope. Granted. But your hope is not” this hope,” yourselves being judges. It is of nature, not “through grace.” Being a mere natural emotion, it is subject to incessant fluctuation and sudden extinction. Your hope, besides, exerts a baneful, corrupting influence over your whole spirit and soul and body. It blinds the mind to the truths, the promises, and blessings of the gospel of Christ; alienates the heart from the life of God; and by stimulating to the exclusive pursuit of the things of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the pleasures of sin, the whole faculties and feelings of the inner man become contracted, corrupted, and defiled. And if the influence of your hope be so baneful, what must be the end of it? The end of these things is death--to the body, and to the soul.

2. An incentive to saints. Having this hope on Christ, see that ye purify your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren. The Holy Spirit, by whom this hope is inspired, that dwelleth in you, is its best supporter and friend. Therefore “quench not the Spirit.” Sin is the greatest enemy to this hope and to its purifying influence. Therefore, “stand in awe and sin not.” (Geo. Robson.)

The purifying influence of hope

That is a very remarkable “and” with which this verse begins. The apostle has just been touching the very heights of devout contemplation. “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” And now without a pause, and linking his thoughts together by a simple “and,” he passes from the imaginable splendours of the beatific vision to the plainest practical talk, Mysticism has often soared so high above the earth that it has forgotten to preach righteousness, and therein has been its weak point. But here is the most mystical teacher of the New Testament insisting on plain morality as vehemently as his friend James could have done. The combination is very remarkable. Like the eagle he rises, and like the eagle, with the impetus gained from his height, he drops right down on the earth beneath!

I. If we are to be pure, we must purify ourselves. There are two ways of getting like Christ, spoken about in the context. One is the blessed way, that is more appropriate for the higher heaven, the way of assimilation and transformation--by beholding: “If we see Him” we shall be “like Him.” That is the blessed method of the heavens. Ah! but even here on earth it may to some extent be realised. Love always breeds likeness. And there is such a thing, here on earth and now, as gazing upon Christ with an intensity of affection and simplicity of trust, and rapture of aspiration, and ardour of desire which shall transform us in some measure unto His own likeness. But the law of our lives forbids that that should be the only way in which we grow like Christ. The very word “purify” speaks to us of another condition; it implies impurity, it implies a process that is more than contemplation, it implies the reversal of existing conditions, and not merely the growth upwards to unattained conditions. And so growth is not all that Christian men need; they need excision, they need casting out of what is in them: they need change as well as growth. Then there is the other consideration, viz., if there is to be this purifying it must be done by myself. To take a very homely illustration, soap and water wash your hands clean, and what you have to do is simply to rub the soap and water on to the hand, and bring them into contact with the foulness. And so when God comes and says, “Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings, your hands are full of blood,” He says in effect, “Take the cleansing that I give you and rub it in, and apply it: and your flesh will become as the flesh of a little child, and you shall be clean.” That is to say, the very deepest word about Christian effort of self-purifying is this--keep close to Jesus Christ. You cannot sin as long as you hold His hand.

II. This purifying of ourselves is the link or bridge between the present and the future. The act of passing from the limitations and conditions of the transitory life into the solemnities and grandeurs of that future does not alter a man’s character, though it may intensify it. You take a stick and thrust it into water; and because the rays of light pass from one medium to another of a different density, they are refracted, and the stick seems bent; but you take the human life out of the thick, coarse medium of earth and lift it up into the pure rarefied air of heaven, and there is no refraction; it runs straight on! The given direction continues; and where’er my face is turned when I die, there my face will be turned when I live again. Don’t you fancy that there is any magic in coffins, and graves, and shrouds to make men different. The man is the same man through death and beyond. Death will take a great many veils off men’s hearts. It will reveal to them a great deal that they do not know, but it will not give the faculty of beholding the glorified Christ in such fashion as that the beholding will mean transformation. “Every eye shall see Him,” but it is conceivable that a spirit shall be so immersed in self-love and in godlessness that the vision of Christ shall be repellent and not attractive; shall have no transforming and no gladdening power.

III. This self cleansing is the offspring of hope. There is nothing that makes a man so down hearted in his work of self-improvement as the constant and bitter experience that it seems to be all of no use; that he is making so little progress. Slowly we manage some little patient self-improvement; gradually, inch by inch and bit by bit, we may be growing better, and then there comes some gust and outburst of temptation; and then the whole painfully reclaimed soil gets covered up by an avalanche of mud and stones, that we have to remove slowly, barrow load by barrow load. To such moods then there comes, like an angel from heaven, that holy, blessed message, “Cheer up, man! ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’” A great deal of the religious contemplation of a future state is pure sentimentality, and like all pure sentimentality is either immoral or non moral. But here the two things are brought into clear juxtaposition, the bright hope of heaven and the hard work done here below. Now, is that what the gleam and expectation of a future life does for you? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The purifying power of hope

A great hope, a great duty, a great example are here put before us.

I. What is the hope? An agnostic would say there is none; for the apostle plainly tells us that though “we are now the children of God, it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” But then “hope that is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why does he yet hope for?” This hope, of which St. John tells us, is set on Jesus our Lord. It is not the hope of the Pharisee, trusting in himself apart from Christ. It is not the hope of the man of the world, who considers that he is no worse than others, though, like them, he does neglect Christ. It is the hope of the penitent and faithful follower of Christ, who walks by faith in the unseen Saviour, and casts himself for pardon, acceptance, and strength on Him. And this hope, as he learns it in Holy Scripture and in holy living, becomes gradually clear and definite to him.

II. What a duty is laid upon us! The hope is so glorious that it fires us to seek its fulfilment. It is a long and difficult task, this of purifying ourselves. In many of us it needs a deep thinking on old, forgotten ways. In all of us the field to be cleansed is very wide, and the roots of the vicious, deadly weeds are far down below the surface. How much it means--to purify oneself! There must be purity of heart, but “the heart is deceitful above all things,” and how shall we know it? There must be purity in the affections; but, even in our highest relationship, we are prone to selfishness. There must be purity for our body; but fleshly lusts keep warring against the soul. There must be purity of speech; but certain companionships, and our own forgetfulness of God’s presence, make this very difficult: and one word of uncleanness may “set on fire the whole course of nature” in us, and destroy our growth in grace. There must be purity in the eye, turning it away from beholding vanity; purity in the ear, casting out as evil the filthy communication of the thoughtless and the profligate; purity in the mind, lest it absorb the things it hears, or take delight in the writings of hell, or pervert even holy teaching to the purposes of sin. Yes, and there must be purity of intention--a high aim in dealing with all men, the setting of a guard over ourselves when danger is near, a resolute acting on that Divine and comfortable saying, that “to the pure all things are pure.” Oh, may we all go forward in this holy, difficult, blessed duty, while we have the Light to walk by, and the Cross to be our guide!

III. And remember, once more, whose light this is, and whose cross. It is His glorious example which should help us most--the example of Him who died for us, who liveth for us. (G. E. Jelf, M. A.)

The lost purity restored

Let us see--

I. If we can form a fit conception of what purity is. If we refer to examples, it is the character of angels and of God--the simplicity, the unstained excellence, the undimmed radiance, the spotless beauty. Or it is God, as represented here on earth, in the sinless and perfect life of Christ. If we go to analogy, purity is, in character, what transparency is in crystal. It is water flowing, unmixed and clear, from the mountain spring. Or it is the white of snow. Or it is the clear open heaven, through which the sparkling stars appear, hidden by no mist of obstruction. Or it is the pure light itself in which they shine. A pure character is that, in mind, and feeling, and spirit of life, which all these clear, untarnished symbols of nature, image, in their lower and merely sensible sphere, to our outward eye. Or, if we describe purity by reference to contrasts, then it is a character opposite to all sin, and so to most of what we see in the corrupted character of mankind. It is innocent, just as man is not. It is incorrupt, as opposed to passion, self-seeking, foul imaginations, base desires, enslaved affections, a bad conscience, and turbid currents of thought. It is the innocence of infancy without the stain--that innocence matured into the spotless, positive, and eternally established holiness of a responsible manhood. Or we may set forth the idea of purity under a reference to the modes of causes. In the natural world, as, for example, in the heavens, causes act in a manner that is unconfused and regular. All things proceed according to their law. Hence the purity of the firmament. In the world of causes, it is the scientific ideal of purity that events transpire normally, according to the constitutive order and original law of the creation. Or, finally, we may describe purity absolutely, as it is when viewed in its own positive quality. And here it is chastity of soul, that state of the spiritual nature in which it is seen to have no contacts or affinities but such as fall within the circle of unforbidden joy and uncorrupted pleasure. In all these methods we make so many distinct approaches to the true idea of spiritual purity.

II. Distant as the character is from anything we know in this sad world of defilement and corrupted life, still it is the aim and purpose of Christian redemption to raise us up into the state of complete purity before God. The call of the Word is, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” It would seem, on looking at the manifold array of cleansing elements, applications, gifts, and sacraments, as if God had undertaken it as the great object and crowning mercy of His reign, to effect a solemn purgation of the world. But a question rises here of great practical significance, viz., whether, by a due improvement of the means offered in Christ, or by any possible faith in Him, it is given us to attain to a state which can fitly be called purity, or which is to itself a state consciously pure? To this I answer both “Yes,” and “No.” There may be a Christian purity that is related to the soul as investiture, or as a condition superinduced, which is not of it, or in it, as pertaining to its own quality or to the cast of its own habit. The point may be illustrated by a supposition. Let a man, habitually narrow and mean in his dispositions, fall into the society of a great and powerful nature in some one distinguished for the magnanimity of his impulses. Let this nobler being be accepted as his friend, trusted in, loved, admired, so as virtually to infold and subordinate the mean person, as long as he is with him, to his own spirit. This, at least, we can imagine, whether any such example ever occurred or not. Now it will be seen that, as long as this nobler nature is side by side with the other, it becomes a kind of investiture, clothes it, as it were, with its own impulses, and even puts it in the sense of magnanimity. Consciously now the mean man is all magnanimous, for his mean thoughts are, by the supposition, drunk up and lost in the abysses of the nobler nature he clings to. He is magnanimous by investiture; that is, by the occupancy of another, who clothes him with his own character. But if you ask what he is in his own personal habit, cast, or quality, he is little different possibly from what he was before. He has had the consciousness waked up in him of a generous life and feeling, which is indeed a great boon to his meagre nature, and if he could be kept for long years in the mould of this superinduced character he would be gradually assimilated to it. But if the better nature were to be soon withdrawn by a separation, he would fall back into the native meanness of his own proper person, and be what he was with only slight modifications. Now Christ, in His glorious and Divine purity, is that better nature, which has power, if we believe in Him with a total, all-subjecting faith, to invest us with a complete consciousness of purity--to bring every thought into captivity to His own incorruptible order and chastity. To illustrate how far it is possible for this purifying work to go on in the present life, I will simply say that the very currents of thought, as it is propagated in the mind, may become so purified that, when the will does not interfere, and the mind is allowed, for an hour, to run in its own way, without hindrance, one thing suggesting another, as in reverie, there may yet be no evil, wicked, or foul suggestion thrust into it. Or in the state of sleep, where the will never interferes, but the thoughts rush on by a law of their own, the mixed causes of corruption may be so far cleared away, and the soul restored to such simplicity and pureness, that the dreams will be only dreams of love and beauty--peaceful, and clear, and happy; somewhat as we may imagine the waking thoughts of angels to be.

III. Having this view of Christ and His gospel as the plan of God for restoring men to a complete spiritual purity, seeing that He invites us to this, gives us means and aids to realise this, and yields to them that truly desire it a hope so high as this, I inquire in what manner we may promote our advancement toward the state of purity, and finally have it in complete realisation? And, first of all, we must set our heart upon it. We must see the degradation, realise the bitterness, confusion, disorder, instability, and conflict of a mixed state, where all the causes of internal action are thrown out of God’s original law. We must learn to conceive, on the other hand--and what can be more difficult?--the dignity, the beauty, the infinitely peaceful and truly Divine elevation of a pure soul. St. Francis de Sales had been able, in his knowledge of the cloistered men and the cloistered life, to see how necessary it is for the soul to be aired in the outward exposures of the world; and, if we do not stop to question the facts of his illustrations, no one has spoken of this necessity with greater force and beauty of conception. “Many persons believe,” he says, “that as no beast dares taste the seed of the herb Palma Christi, so no man ought to aspire to the palm of Christian piety as long as he lives in the bustle of temporal affairs. Now, to such I shall prove that, as the mother pearl fish lives in the sea without receiving a drop of salt water, and as, toward the Chclidonian Islands, springs of fresh water may be found in the midst of the sea, and as the fire fly passes through the flames without burning its wings, so a vigorous and resolute soul may live in the world without being infected with any of its humours, may discover sweet springs of piety amidst its salt waters, and fly among the flames of earthly concupiscence without burning the wings of the holy desires of a devout life.” Having this determined--that he who will purify himself, as Christ is pure, must live in the world--then one thing more is needed--viz., that we live in Christ, and seek to be as closely and intimately one with Him as possible. And this includes--First, a willingness wholly to cease from the old man, as corrupt, in order that a completely new man from Christ may be formed in you. Secondly, the life must be determined implicitly by the faith in Christ.

IV. Some of the signs by which our growth in purity may be known. Fastidiousness, I will first of all caution you, is not any evidence of purity, but the contrary. No, the true signs of purity are these--That we abide in the conscious light of God, while living in a world of defilement, and know Him as a presence manifested in the soul. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity sees God. A good conscience signifies the same; for the conscience, like the eye, is troubled by any speck of defilement and wrong that falls into it. A growing sensibility to sin signifies the same; for, if the conscience grows peaceful and clear, it will also grow tender and delicate. If you are more able to be singular and think less of the opinions of men, not in a scornful way, but in love, that again shows that the world’s law is loosing its power over you, and your devotion to God is growing more single and true. Do you find that passion is submitting itself to the gentle reign of God within you, losing its heat and fierceness, and becoming tamed under the sweet dominion of Christian love? That again is the growth of purity. (H. Bushell, D. D.)

The hope of future glory excites to holiness

1. Is it possible for any man to purify himself? Is it not the Spirit of God that must work in us “both to will and to do”? To this I answer, that we must distinguish of a twofold work of purification.

2. But admitting that a man may purify himself in the sense mentioned, yet can he do it to that degree as to equal the purity of Christ Himself?--to “purify himself even as He is pure”? To this I answer, that “even as,” denotes here only a similitude of kind, not an equality of degree; that is, he that hopes for glory, gets his heart purified with the same kind of holiness that is in Christ, though he neither does nor can reach it in the same measure of perfection: he gets the same meekness, the same spiritual mindedness and love to the Divine precepts; that is, the same for kind.

I. What is implied and included in a man’s purifying of himself, here spoken of in the text. Now that which a man is to remove and to purify himself from is--

1. The power of sin.

(a) A most serious and hearty bewailing of all the past acts of sin by a continually renewed repentance. We may here compare the soul to a linen cloth, it must be first washed to take off its native hue and colour, and to make it white; and afterwards it must be ever and anon washed to preserve and to keep it white. In like manner the soul must be cleansed, first from a state of sin by a converting repentance, and so made pure, and afterwards by a daily repentance it must be purged from those actual stains that it contracts, and so be kept pure. Till it be our power and privilege not to sin, it is still our duty to repent.

(b) The purifying ourselves from the power of sin consists in a vigilant prevention of the acts of sin for the future. If we would keep our garment clean it is not sufficient to wash it only, unless we have also a continual care to keep it from trailing in the dirt. For a restraint of ourselves from the committing of sin bereaves the power of sin of that strength that it would certainly have acquired by those commissions. While a beast is kept in and shut up he still retains his wild nature; but when he breaks out and gets loose his wildness is much more hurtful and outrageous. Now, for the keeping of sin from an actual breaking out, a man should observe what objects and occasions are apt to draw it forth, and accordingly avoid them.

(c) The purifying ourselves from the power of sin consists in a continual mortifying and weakening the very root and principle of inherent corruption. Sin is not only a scar, or a sore, cleaving to one part or member, but it has incorporated itself into the whole man (Job 25:4). A man draws so much filth from his very conception and nativity, that it is now made almost as natural and essential to him to be a sinner as to be a man. Now the chief work of purification lies in the disabling and mortifying this sinful faculty. The power of godliness must be brought into the room of the power of sin.

(a) The first is, with all possible might and speed to oppose the very first rising and movings of the heart to sin; for these are the buds that produce that bitter fruit; and if sin be not nipped in the very bud, it is not imaginable how quickly it will shoot forth. When an enemy is but rising, it is easy to knock him to the ground again; but when he is up, and stands upon his legs, he is not then so easily thrown down.

(b) A second way to purify ourselves from the power of sin is to be frequent in severe mortifying duties, such as watchings and lastings, the use of which directly tends to weaken the very vitals of our corruption. For they are most properly contrary to the flesh; and whatsoever opposes that proportionably weakens sins. Better were it for a man to restrain an unruly appetite, and to stint himself in the measures of his very food and his sleep, than by a full indulgence of himself in these to pamper up his corruption, and give it strength and activity to cast off all bonds, till at length it becomes unconquerable.

(c) A third way to purify ourselves from the power of sin is to be frequent and fervent in prayer to God for fresh supplies of sanctifying grace. There is no conquest to be had over sin but by grace, nor is grace any way so effectually to be procured as by prayer. A praying heart naturally turns into a purified heart.

2. I proceed now to the other thing from which we are to purify ourselves, and that is, the guilt of sin. In speaking of which I shall show--

(a) For the first of these. No duty or work within the power and performance of man, as such, is able to expiate and take away the guilt of sin. In this matter we must put our hands upon our mouths, and be silent forever.

(b) In the next place therefore positively, that course which alone is able to purify us from the guilt of sin, is by applying the virtue of the blood of Christ to the soul by renewed acts of faith. It is from His crucified side that there must issue both blood to expiate and water to cleanse our impieties. Faith also is said to purify the heart (Acts 15:9). But how? Why certainly, as it is instrumental to bring into the soul that purifying virtue that is in Christ. Faith purifies, not as the water itself, but as the conduit that conveys the water.

II. How the hope of heaven and a future glory comes to have such a sovereign influence upon this work.

1. First upon a natural account; this hope purifies, as being a special grace infused into the heart by the Holy Ghost, and in its nature and operation directly contrary to sin: as heat is a quality both in nature and working, contrary to and destructive of cold. When leaven is cast into the lump it presently begins to work and to ferment, till by degrees it has thoroughly changed the whole mass. In like manner every grace will be incessantly working, till it has wrought over the heart to its own likeness. Now hope is one of the principal graces of the Spirit, so that we have it marshalled with faith and charity, and placed immediately after faith in regard of the method of its operation, which is immediately consequent upon that of faith. For what faith looks upon as present in the promise, that hope looks upon as future in the event. Faith properly views the promise, hope eyes the performance.

2. The hope of future glory has an influence upon this work of purifying ourselves upon a moral account; that is, by suggesting to the soul such arguments as have in them a persuasive force to engage it in this work.

The Christian’s hope and its fruits

The one great object of the revelation which God has given us, is to make us happy in making us holy. To this end every part of revealed truth more or less directly tends.

I. The Christian’s hope--what it is. This hope is, that he shall in every respect, in body as well as in soul, be made wholly like his Saviour. Further, observe that this is a real hope. It is not a mere wish, a doubtful surmise, a faint desire; it is a sure and certain hope. “We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him.” And, let me add, that hope implies not only a bare expectation, but expectation accompanied with desire, consequently, if the great subject of his hope be the presence of Christ, that presence is what the Christian will desire above all things, and feel to be the perfection of happiness.

II. The effects of this hope. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” Now, observe in this the implied certainty of the connection between the hope of the Christian and the life of the Christian; between the sure anticipation of glory hereafter and holiness here. Here, then, are two points we have to consider the extent to which the Christian attains purity, and how far the work of purification is his own. With reference to the first point the meaning manifestly is not that the Christian is even now actually as pure as Christ, but that he endeavours to make himself so. But in what sense is this work his own? The Christian does not, as an independent agent, purify himself. The idea is absurd, and involves an impossibility. But although the work of purification is God’s, we are not mere machines, nor does He treat us as such. He deals with us as with rational, intelligent beings, capable of discerning between good and evil, and of choosing for ourselves. (A. Jenour, M. A.)

The Christian’s hope and its results

I. The object of a Christian’s hope.

II. The foundation of these hopes. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” The foundations of such high expectations should be strongly laid; and they are strongly laid, even in the grace of God’s adopting love.

III. What is the practical result of this hope within a believer’s heart? It is equally powerful and universal. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

The great hope of the sons of God, and its influence on life

I. The great hope of the sons of God--“To be like Christ,” and that implies an unbounded progress towards perfection. To be like Christ implies two things: perfect communion with God, as the blessedness of life; and perfect self-sacrifice, as the law of life. These were the two great features of Christ’s human character: to have them is our destiny; to have them is to be perfect.

II. Its influence on life--“He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” To the question, How shall I realise an aim so glorious? John answers--Hope for it--and the hope will gradually become the means of fulfilling itself.

1. As an unconscious influence.

2. As a safeguard against life’s temptations. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)

The purifying effect of hope in Christ

I. The present privileges and future hope of the Christian.

1. The present privilege of the Christian is to look up to God as his Father.

2. But this state of privilege is preparatory to something still higher, more precious and valuable.

II. Is whom and on what basis is he permitted to entertain so glorious and exalted a hope?

1. He has this hope in Christ Jesus our Lord; in God who hath given us His eternal Son to be the propitiation for our sins, and the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.

2. His hope rests upon the work of Christ upon earth and His glorification in heaven.

III. The effect of this hope on the believer’s heart and life.

1. This hope is calculated altogether to ensure his sanctification, to cleanse and sublimate his soul.

2. But what is the effect of hope in bringing about this purification? Much every way. The hope of the Christian is altogether calculated to elevate the soul and ennoble the character. Is he the inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, and shall he not prepare himself to take possession of his inheritance?

IV. But after what model must we purify ourselves? We must purify ourselves “even as He is pure.” He must propose to himself no faulty or defective pattern. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)

A purifying hope

I. The first thing here implied is incorruption. In purity or in holiness there is incorruption, or incorruptibility. “Every man that hath this hope” has a knowledge of his entire corruption and depravity; and he consequently comes, in his faith, in his desires, in his hope, out of this, and his hope centres in an incorruptible God. He has an incorruptible religion; God the Father appears in His incorruptibility in all the love of His heart, God the Son appears in His incorruptibility, God the Holy Ghost appears in His incorruptibility. We shall be invigorated to all eternity with all the freshness of incorruptibility.

II. Purity signifies also qualification. “Every man that hath this hope,” comes out of his own thoughts into God’s thoughts, comes out of his own sentiments into God’s sentiments, comes out of his own ways into God’s ways; and therefore we read of a man’s “ceasing from his own wisdom.” What is the whole object of the gospel towards us? Why, to make known the mind of the Lord concerning us; and if I know the mind of God concerning me, that what He has done is for me, that His Holy Spirit is for me, that His testimony in the Holy Scripture is for me, why, being of one mind with Him, I am fit to live with God. There is no collision; there is perfect harmony.

III. Purity also supposes right. “Every man that hath this hope” conies out of his state of having no right to anything, into a right and title to the things of eternity. And what is our right to eternal glory? Why, that question may be answered several ways, but I answer it in these few words: our right to eternal glory is the authority of God.

IV. Purity supposes also liberty. Where is our bondage? In sin. Sin is our bondage. The flesh, the law, the world--these things are our bondage. But holiness purity is our liberty. Then “every man that hath this hope” comes into liberty. Christ having led captivity captive, has for Himself and for us perfect liberty. What is to hold Him? The law is established, the covenant confirmed, the promises Yea and Amen: He has dominion over all worlds. (James Wells.)

The pattern of purity

1. The workman is “everyone that hath hope in Him,” everyone that looks to be like the Lord Jesus in the kingdom of glory, he is the man must set about this task.

2. The work is a work to be wrought by himself; he is a part of the Lord’s husbandry, and he must take pains as it were to plough his own ground, to weed his own corn, he must purify himself; this is the work.

3. The pattern by which he must be directed is the pattern of the Lord Jesus Christ’s purity.

I. That a man that is careless of purifying himself, that man must have no hope. Shall we encourage men to that hope, that they shall carry with them to hell? May we say, thou mayest hope to be like Christ in glory, when thou dost not labour to be like Him in purity in this world? We should betray that soul. And do you know, this is the beginning of salvation. When a man hath run hitherto in a naughty course, and now comes to be resolved in his conscience, that if he continue thus he shall perish, I say the revolving of his conscience that way is the beginning of his conversion.

II. Whosoever hopes to be saved must set himself upon this work, to purify himself. But here is as great a difficulty as the other. Doth it lie in the power of a man to purify himself? That is the work of God (Psalms 51:10). You must not make one truth of God to destroy another; therefore, for the clearing of it, consider what the apostle writes (Philippians 2:12). God doth not work things in us or with us, as we do with a spade or a shovel; that is, that we shall be mere patients only, but He works with us suitably to the reasonable soul He hath bestowed upon us. Though principally God, yet there is a concurrence between God and thee; and this is grace, when thy will is made active and able to do things, that now the things done by God’s grace are attributed to men. How may it be done? The examples of the world are like a stream that carries a man clean out of the way of purity.

1. Remember we come to do service to a Father; that is, for encouragement.

2. No means in the world so effectual as when a man would go to Christ to look to His ordinances. What are they? His word and His sacraments.

3. Then go and read a lecture to thyself of watchfulness. What it is to watch, that implies when a man is in great danger to be surprised, that all is untrusty within him, and false abroad; then reason, I had need of a strong watch of every side; I have a false nature, and this flesh of mine is ready to betray me into the hands of the world and of the devil; therefore there must be a marvellous strong guard.

III. The pattern to which we should conform ourselves. The glass we should imitate is our Saviour Jesus Christ, as He is pure. It is not meant thou shouldst ever hope to be as pure in quantity. “As” is not a note of quantity, but of quality--it shows a likeness. A man that would have his child to write a fair hand, he will not give him an ill copy to write by, but as fair as may be, though there be no possibility the child should write so well as it. So we cannot possibly attain to that purity in Christ, yet the copy must be fair. Scholars, if they will have an elegant style, they set the best orators before them. Thus, though the law of God be perfect, though such a thing as a man is not able to fulfil, yet it is a fit pattern; the copy must be fair, that I may mend my hand by it. And thus, if we go on following our pattern, as the scholar’s hand, by practice, mends every day, though it never come near the copy, so shall we grow in grace. (R. Sibbes.)

The influence of the Christian hope on the Christian character

The apostle is here speaking of true Christians only. “Now are we the sons of God.” They have been brought into closer relationship to Him, through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have received the grace of adoption, and are members of His family. Then the apostle turns our thoughts from the true Christian’s present advantages to his coming blessedness. They shall see their Saviour as He is. Having spoken of the believer’s position and prospects, the apostle proceeds to state a third great matter--the influence which a Christian’s expectation for the future should have on his consecration for the present. The confidence that he will one day be with Jesus, the confidence that he will one day be fully like to Jesus--that helps to make him, in some measure, like to Jesus, even on this side the grave. He that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. Heaven is largely unknown. Eye hath not seen it, heart hath not conceived its joys; but enough is revealed to make the hope of being there one of the mightiest agents in moulding the character of man, even in this mortal state. What we shall be there is to regulate what we are here. There, there are harps of gold and songs of triumph; there, the light that never fades. From us all that is far away; far from us in point of time and place and character. But yet it is intended by God to work upon us here and now. Through all the intervening space that heavenly glory is to stretch forth its hand, and touch our souls and transform them into the image of our Lord and Master. Let me in the next place direct your attention to some of the details of this great matter. There is no grace of Christian character, to be acquired here, which may not be fostered by the thoughts of what we shall have there. There is that first of all the graces Faith--the foundation stone in the temple of Christian character, the root out of which all other fruits of the Spirit do grow. Maybe some of you have sore conflict with doubts. You have tried many expedients without being satisfied. Have you tried what a clearer hope of heaven will do? If amidst the darkness of this mortal state you can yet read your “title clear to mansions in the skies,” you will then remember that there is no night there; you will be able to say with the greathearted Arnold of Rugby, “In the presence of an admitted mystery, I can lie down as calmly and contentedly as in the presence of a perfectly comprehended truth.” Next to faith, the apostle Peter mentions courage. Add fortitude to your faith. Because he is a soldier, a Christian needs to be brave. There will be no cowards in heaven; and there ought to be none in the visible Church below. You will remember what they tell of Nelson, when he had cleared his deck for action and was about to enter into the deadliest struggle with the adversary. “Now,” he says, “now for Westminster Abbey or the peerage!” He looked beyond all the darkness and danger of the bloody conflict. “If I fall,” said he, “they will bury me among the noble dead; if I survive, they will give me a place among the noble living.” Therefore had he no fear. Therefore was he forgetful of peril. The sight of the future glory inspired him with all the courage the occasion required. Maybe some of you have sadly felt your lack of soldierly courage. You have wanted the boldness to say “no,” when asked to do some forbidden thing; or if you had the courage to say “no,” you had not the courage to give the real reasons for so saying. It is in the latter respect that so many fail. I am sure I speak to some who have often been ashamed of their shamefacedness and faithlessness. They have mourned over their want of soldierly fortitude, and have longed for more of the heroic spirit that could dare anything for Jesus’ sake. Have you ever tried the power of a clearer, stronger hope of heaven? The bravest soldiers of the Cross have been men who drew their inspiration from the world to come. Temperance is a grace of character we have to cultivate in this life. Some of you are saddened by your felt want of this Christian moderation. You feel a constant peril of the world getting too much power over you. The saints of God have tried many remedies for this. Simeon Stylites built his high pillar, and lived on the top of it for thirty years. I am not aware that his worldly mindedness was much diminished by it. The only effective cure is that which God’s Word prescribes, “Set your affections on things above.” Until you get the other world into its right place in your hearts, you will never keep the present world in all due subordination. The starry circle of Christian graces is not yet complete. There must be patience as well as temperance. What would patience be if it had no hope of heaven to sustain it? It would never be strong enough to do its perfect work. It would languish and die in many a heart. It was never before the mighty thing it hath been since Christ “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Some of you, maybe, have heavy burdens to carry, and you long to carry them more like Christ carried His Cross--without one word of complaint, without one feeling of discontent. Sometimes your greatest trouble is that you cannot bear your troubles. You know what you ought to do, you desire to do it; but, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. You must try this expectation, a bright hope of heaven. This expectation has never failed. I have seen an aged Christian who has toiled through many a weary year and was a poor man still. Age and infirmity had weakened his efforts, but still he must work to earn his daily bread. Yet have I seen such a one free from all fretfulness and murmuring. He had hope in Christ; and that hope did soar away to heaven, and then came back again with leaves from the tree of life. I pass by other virtues we have to cultivate to speak of those which are last but not least in the apostle’s inventory of Christian graces--brotherly kindness and charity. Amidst all our divisions and differences, what power of reconciliation there is in the thought: We go to the same home, to join in the same song, to cast our crowns at the feet of the same Divine Saviour! (C. Vince.)

Hope making pure

No sacred inspiration, no emancipating impulse, no consecrating motive, no uplifting enthusiasm, no grand ethical or spiritual force of any sort, can spring from self-despite. Good is not born of evil nor of the mere contemplation and realisation of evil. Convince a man that he is a low creature, a mere animal, evolved fiord lower types, and he will go far toward proving the doctrine true. Make out that a man is the slave of circumstances, the victim of base necessity, and the slave of circumstances and the victim of base necessity will he be. Helpful moral ministry lies in the revelation of the noble and divine in man, the elements of worth, the germs, the potencies of good. The grand characteristic of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it makes a man feel that he is a being of capacity and worth, one whom God loves and cares for, desires to redeem and save, and purposes to do great things by, counting not the cost the process of His grace involves. It sets forth the ideal relation of man as the child of God. What soul but recognises this as the highest, deepest, grandest truth concerning it? What so accentuates the evil into which men have actually fallen as the light of this sublime truth? And what so brings the sense of shame with regard to evil in ourselves and starts the reactions of repentance and resolve, as to realise from what height we have fallen into it, what better purpose our sin has foiled, and with what pain and grief it is regarded by those who know us best and love us most! This is the effect of the revelation of Jesus Christ to the soul. It reveals the man to himself, shows him what he truly is, and awakens the instincts which belong to his deepest affinities and relations. It makes him feel how foreign sin is to his real nature and life, and starts the yearning after goodness. It sets the child of God crying out unto and claiming his Father. Nothing is so terrible as the theory--call it philosophy, science, rationalism, agnosticism, or what you will--that man is abandoned to the evil into which he has fallen, with no help for his recovery. This subverts all the moral principles and paralyses all the moral forces of a life and opens the way for all manner of delusions, sophistries, subterfuges, and shams. But that is a grand, Divine, redeeming, saving religion which shows man that he is a child of God, awakens the instincts of this relation, and leads him into the actual and effectual realisation of what he natively and ideally is, enabling him to say, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” But that will not do for man what he needs which destroys aspiration, and allows to settle upon him the dull satisfaction of a finality, the thought that he has attained to the highest, and that there is no grander possibility and idea calling to him, and challenging endeavour. Man’s true life is one of progress and growth. And it is another eminent characteristic of Christianity that it meets this requirement. It sets before man lofty ideals. But something has grown certain by that which already is. We know that our perfecting must come in our religion, not out of it; in our Divine sonship, not out of it. Oh, the sadness of those whose religion has failed them, or who have become stolid and moribund in it, to whom it has become a memory, but ceased to be a hope, and whose good days are behind them! Christianity, where it has a true effect, makes us know that, if certain influences could act upon us completely, if we could be perfect correlation to certain forces, the result would translate and fulfil all our best desires. It is the nature and inevitable effect of hope to train the life into preparation for its own realisation, and to purify it of all that is inconsistent therewith. We pitch our lives at the height of the good we anticipate. The ideal draws us into itself. Thus, hope is the beginning of its own fulfilment. Especially is this the case if the hope be centred, as every great and noble hope must be, by a heart of living personality, and the looked for event is to give to us, and give us to, not only somewhat, but some one. We see this in the forecast of and preparation for the great, solemn, tender, and sacred relations of the present life. How the anticipation of these lifts up the life to their plane! Change is impending by which our life is going to be translated from the present scene and setting, with their poverty and hardness, to a condition of affluence and advantage. How we set our lives in the order of the new days and ways! We say, “I shall do this and that by and by,” and we begin to do this and that now; “I shall have this and that when the change has come,” and the anticipation already moulds our tastes and consciousness; “my friend lives thus and so,” and we begin to live like Him with whom we are soon to be. The provincialisms fall off from us as we contemplate the grand capital of being. The prodigal, through all his homeward journey, must have been becoming ever more and more a son, because he was going to his father. Hawthorne has given profound truth pictorial form in his allegory of “The Great Stone Face:” The young man, Ernest, had heard, when a child, from his mother’s lips, the local prophecy, that some day there should come to the valley one bearing an exact resemblance to the great stone face which they could see in the neighbouring mountain, and being the greatest and noblest personage of the time, should be a great blessing to those among whom he lived; and he had taken the prophecy more seriously than the other inhabitants of the valley. As he had greater faith, he had the power of seeing more clearly than his neighbours the grandeur of the strange, stony outline, and so the prophecy meant more to him than the rest, and the hope of its fulfilment entered more deeply into his life. Ever as the years passed that hope became stronger and of richer meaning. When this one and that one came to the valley and was regarded as the fulfilment of the prophecy--Mr. Gathergold, the millionaire; General Blood and Thunder, the military hero; Old Stony Phiz, the eminent statesman; and the poet, whose wondrous songs glorified both nature and humanity, and had such meaning and charm for Ernest himself, his hope was most eager and rejoicing; but he was always the first to discover that the prophecy was not yet fulfilled. But ever as the prophecy’s fulfilment was thus deferred, the great stone face seemed to whisper to him, “Fear not, Ernest; he will come.” As he thus dearly cherished the hope of the great man’s coming, he gave himself to doing good, preparing the valley for the great benefactor’s arrival, doing in his imperfect way what he thought the great one who would fulfil the prophecy would do in his better way when he came. He learned a heavenly wisdom and became involuntarily a preacher, the pure and high simplicity of his soul, which dropped silently in good deeds from his hand, flowing also from his lips in words of truth, so that the people came to him with their needs and troubles, felt in his presence the benignity of the great stone face, and had a greater confidence that one would come who resembled it, until at length, when Ernest had grown old, and with the grey about his face like the mists which often hung about the face in the mountain, the people saw that he resembled it. His hope had configured his features, even as the character of which they were the expression. And the people said, “The man resembling the great stone face is with us;” but Ernest the more firmly believed that a wiser and better than himself would yet appear. Thus is it ever with our noblest hopes. Thus is it with the grandest of all hopes--that of seeing God. All grossness, triviality, selfishness, sordidness, falsity, scorn, bitterness, and contempt are purged from the heart where such hope abides. Pessimism is the grave of heroism, aspiration, the nurse of noble purpose and generous ardour. He who believes the worst will be, will be his worst. He who believes the best will be, will be his best. And he who hath the hope of seeing Christ and being like Him, will purify himself even as He is pure. The life that is pitched only at temporal ends will be weak in its ethics and liable to allow itself large licence as to means. But when one has attained to the love of the highest and has come to realise that “the highest is the most human too,” the soul then knows that it belongs to the highest and must be joined to the highest, and the life is governed by sublime attraction. The great question in regard to every life is, Does it respond to the highest, does it cleave to the best? The great Elder Brother, revealing your Divine sonship, making possible its realisation, and setting before you the glory of its consummation, claims you for Himself, claims you for the Father whom He reveals, claims you for the life for which you were made. (J. W. Earnshaw.)

The Christian’s hope

I. A Christian is described by his hope. Hope is a special act of the new life, and an immediate effect of our regeneration. The animal life fits us to live here, but the spiritual life hath another aim and tendency; it inclineth and disposeth us to look after the world to come.

1. The nature of it. It is a certain and desirous expectation of the promised blessedness: the promise is the ground of it; for hope runneth to embrace what faith has discovered in the promise (Titus 1:2).

2. The necessity of this hope, which is twofold--

II. The purity and likeness to Christ, which is the effect of this hope.

1. Here is an act done on the believer’s part, he “purifieth himself,” or a serious endeavour of purity and holiness. God giveth the new nature, first infuseth the habits of grace, and then exciteth them; and being renewed and excited by God, we set ourselves to seek after holiness and purity in heart and life.

2. It noteth a continued act; it is not he hath purified, but, he purifieth himself; he is always purifying, making it his daily work to clarify and refine his soul, that it may be fit for the vision of God, and the fruition of God.

3. It noteth a discriminating act, “He purifieth himself.” It is not said, should purify of right, de jure, but de facto; he is, and will be in this work. It is not laid down here by way of precept, or as a rule of duty, which yet would be binding upon us, but as an evidence and mark of trial, whereby the heirs of promise are notified and distinguished from others.

4. It noteth an unlimited endeavour, “He purifieth himself.” He doth not say from what, he leaveth it indefinitely, because he would include all sin, and exclude none. There must be an endeavour after universal purity. If you will have me descend to particulars, let me warn you of two things--first, fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11); and, secondly, worldly lusts (Titus 2:12).

III. I now come to the connection between both these.

1. You may take notice of the suitableness of our heart to the object, or the things believed and hoped for. That which we hope for is conformity to Christ, a pure immaculate state of bliss. Men are as their hopes are; if they pitch on carnal things, they are carnal; if upon worldly things, they are worldly. Our affections assimilate us into the objects they fix upon.

2. It is the condition indispensably required of us; it is not an indifferent thing whether we will be holy, yea or no, but absolutely necessary. Heaven is the portion of the sanctified (Acts 26:18). (T. Manton, D. D.)

The practical influence of the believer’s hope

I. The standard of purity is Christ.

1. We should consider Him attentively as the means of elevating our views of holy obedience by His blessed example, and of stimulating us to seek for higher attainments in grace than we are likely to find by our very imperfect knowledge of our yet imperfect brethren.

2. The moral sight, like the mariner’s, acquires by practice an almost inconceivable keenness; and the highest points of moral beauty in the temper and conduct of Jesus are only visible to him who looks on Him and His perfections continually with ardent attachment, with keen and steady scrutiny, and with holy desire to follow in His steps.

II. The principles of purification which are in operation in the Christian’s mind.

1. A sense of the love and mercy of God in this dispensation of salvation.

2. Filial affection to God, as having become His child.

3. The expectation of the promised blessing.

4. The spiritual influence by which his belief is maintained.

III. The result accomplished in the believer’s mind.

1. He that has the Christian hope, obtains a purity of thought and intention.

2. He attains to the purifying of his tempers and dispositions.

3. He attains to the purifying of the affections.

4. He attains to purity of conversation in the world, and of intercourse with his fellow men.

5. He attains to purity of conscience. (Edward Craig, M. A.)

The Christian’s hope

I. Its objects.

1. The second and glorious appearance of Christ.

2. Complete resemblance to His image.

3. The contemplation of His glory and the enjoyment of His love as the means of perfecting this resemblance.

II. Its certainty.

1. Think on what it rests: not on the schemes of men, which a thousand unforeseen events, and even the failure in a single instance of the means which are employed to accomplish them, may render abortive; but on the purposes of God towards those who are in Christ Jesus--on the determination of infinite wisdom, which no event can thwart.

2. Think of the security of its foundation: this is the work and the grace of Christ.

3. Think, again, what the character and origin of this hope is. It is the hope of seeing Christ, and being like Him; it is the fruit of the Spirit which is shed abroad in the heart.

III. The purifying influence of this hope.

1. The hope of Christ’s appearance must have a purifying effect on all who truly possess it, because without holiness it is absolutely impossible for them to inherit His glory.

2. The very nature and object of this hope have a purifying tendency. Why is it that the Christian longs for the manifestation of the sons of God? Not merely, or chiefly, because then he shall no more struggle with the distresses, or toils, or sorrows of life; but because then his grateful affections shall flow out in perpetual streams of adoration and obedience towards God and the Lamb; not checked, as at present, by any obstruction of temptation and sin. And can the love and dominion of sin subsist in union with such a hope as this? (D. Dickson, D. D.)

Purification by hope

The Christian is a man whose main possessions lie in reversion. Most men have a hope, but his is a peculiar one; and its effect is special, for it causes him to purify himself.

I. The believer’s hope.

1. It is the hope of being like Jesus. Perfect, glorious, conqueror over sin, death, and hell.

2. It is based upon Divine love.

3. It arises out of sonship.

4. It rests upon our union to Jesus.

5. It is distinctly hope in Him.

6. It is the hope of His second Advent.

II. The operation of that hope.

1. The believer purifies himself from--

2. He does this in a perfectly natural way.

3. He sets before him Jesus as his model.

III. The test of that hope. Actively, personally, prayerfully, intensely, continually, he aims at the purification of himself, looking to God for aid. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Christian’s hope

The hope of the Christian is the one worthy, enduring hope that is capable of lifting man above the earth and leading him to heaven. For all earthly and human ideals are too near the man to last him more than a little while. No sooner does he propose one such to himself, and begin to mount toward it, than it begins to lose its excellence as he draws nigh to it, and soon it has no power to hold his affections. There is no imaginable state that he cannot so disenchant except heaven, and no model that he cannot unidealise except the Son of God. Therefore, every mere earthly hope is unworthy to rule a man, and if he have no higher, will at last degrade him; because man is greater than any earthly honour he can aspire to, and greater than the world he lives in, and greater than all its achievements and glories--yes, greater than anything except God. Here, now, is the eternal grandeur of Christ’s religion. It proposes the only worthy and enduring hope to man. It says to you and to me, “If you will you may be God-like, for you are the sons of God. And you may be like Him if you will, and see Him as He is.” This is the way to the stars. And Jesus, our Elder Brother, has gone before, and opened the way for aspiring man to follow. Behold, they go to Him, out of every nation. One by one they shake off all meaner desires, and lay all meaner purposes down, and as they climb toward Him along the various paths of suffering and of duty their hearts are filled with a common hope--to be like Him, and see Him as He is. (Bp. S. S. Harris.)

Purifying power of hope

In the moulding room of an iron foundry you may see workmen making in fine sand the moulds into which the molten iron will be poured in a day or two. It is delicate work, requiring care and skill. Compared with it, the pouring of the molten iron into the mould seems very easy. But it is not. Air bubbles that weaken the iron are more dangerous than a wrong pattern. It is a great thing to get a good ideal of life. But to work out the ideal, to make it real, to get the work just like the perfect pattern, is no easy thing. There are more failures from the want of faithfulness and skill in the worker than from the want of a good model of the work to be done. Hope has a purifying power.

1. Because it knows that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.

2. Because it creates an atmosphere of life that is death to personal impurity.

3. Because it encourages us to believe that the work of our being made like Christ will be accomplished. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.”

4. Because we grow like those we ardently love. (Geo. Cooper, D. D.)

Christian hope influencing present Christian life

There is, in one of the valleys of Perthshire, a tree which sprang up on the rocky side of a little brook, where there was no kindly soil in which it could spread its roots, or by which it could be nourished. For a long time it was stunted and unhealthy, but, at length, by what may be called a wonderful vegetable instinct, it has sent a fibre out across a narrow sheep bridge, which was close beside it, and that fixed itself in the rich loam on the opposite bank of the streamlet, whence it drew sap and sustenance, so that it speedily became vigorous. Now, what that tiny bridge was to the tree, the Resurrection of Christ is to the believer. The Christian life on earth is growing in an unkindly soil; and if it could find no better nourishment than that can furnish it would die; but, taught by the Holy Spirit of God, through faith in the resurrection and ascension of the Lord, it sends a rootlet across the river into the better land, and draws from that all the support it needs to keep it fresh and healthy. (W. M. Taylor.)

The purifying hope

Let thy hope of heaven moderate thy affections to earth. You that look for so much in another world may be very well content with a little in this. Nothing more unbecomes a heavenly hope than an earthly heart. You would think it an unseemly thing to see some rich man, that hath a vast estate, among the poor gleaners in harvest time, as busy to pick up the ears of corn that are left in the field as the most miserable beggar in the company. Oh, how all the world would cry shame of such a sordid man! Well, Christian, be not angry if I tell thee that thou dost a more shameful thing by far, if thou, who pretendest to hope for heaven, be as eager in the pursuit of this world’s trash as the poor carnal wretch is who expects no portion but what God hath left him to pick up in the field of this world. Certainly thy hope is either false, or at best very little. The higher the summer sun mounts above the horizon, the more force it bears to clear and heat the air with his beams; and if thy hope of salvation were advanced to any ordinary height in thy soul, it would scatter these inordinate desires after this world, with which now thou art choked up, and put thee into a greater heat of affection after heaven. (Christian Treasury.)


Verse 4-5

1 John 3:4-5

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law

Sin

I.
A general account or declaration concerning “Whosoever committeth sin.” What such an one doeth. “He transgresseth the law.” By the law is here to be under stood the law of God, in and by which He hath commanded perfect obedience to every precept of it. Which law is as immutable as the nature and will of God: it can no more change than God Himself.

II. What sin is in its consequences: even in any, in the least act of it: yea, in any act of it: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” It is therefore most carefully to be avoided. Sin in its nature and quality, matter and manner, may seemingly to us be more or less sinful; yet it is one and the same as to the essence of it. Herein it is we are ourselves so often deceived and overcome by it. If we can dish up the sin we are in our own persons most inclined to, so as to have the gross parts of it so refined as to render it palatable, and that it may go down glibe, we are then able to act the same; yet as the nature of sin cannot be changed, so it is not the less pernicious, because we have so contrived as to swallow it most easily. It is in many instances so much the more poisonous. Sin is like a poisonous plant. The root, the leaves, the every part is full of it. Be it weaker or stronger in any part of it, yet it diffuses itself in and throughout the whole. There is the nature of sin in every act of it: and this more than we can, or ever shall be able to comprehend.

III. The antidote these saints had, which was all-sufficient to bear up their minds, and lift up their hearts with holy confidence, above and beyond the law, sin, and its curse. “And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.” (E. S. Pierce.)

Sin the transgression of the law

I. Show that all mankind is under the law of God, which still remaineth in force as an inviolable rule of righteousness.

1. That man is God’s creature, and therefore His subject. The subjection of man to God is built upon his absolute dependence upon God, both as to creation and preservation.

2. Man being God’s subject, hath a certain law given to him, which doth require obedience from him, and doth determine his duty, particularly wherein it shall consist (Micah 6:8).

3. Man being under a law, should be very tender of breaking or disobeying it, for God never dispenseth with it, as it is purely moral, and standeth much upon keeping up His legislative authority; which may appear by these considerations

II. The nature and heinousness of sin is to be determined by a contrariety or want of conformity to this law; for sin presupposeth a law and law giver, and a debt of subjection lying upon us.

1. By omitting what is commanded as a duty to God or man; as suppose invocation of God (Jeremiah 10:25).

2. By committing what God hath forbidden, or breaking through the restraints God hath laid upon us, in worshipping idols, or satisfying our revenge, or fulfilling our lusts.

III. That those that live in sin, or any allowed breach of this law, are still under the curse of it, and cannot look upon themselves as God’s adopted children.

1. It is certain that when we come to take the law out of the hand of a redeemer, we are all sinners and transgressors before God.

2. Though God findeth us sinners, and we apprehend ourselves to be so, yet when He taketh us into His family He doth not leave us so; but on God’s part regeneration maketh way for adoption (John 1:12-13).

3. None are so exact with God in the obedience of His law but that still they need the same grace that brought them into the family to keep them in the family, and to pardon their daily failings.

4. Though God’s adopted children may through infirmity break His law, yet there is a manifest difference between them and others that live in a state of sin, either in enmity to godliness, or in a course of vanity, sensuality, or any kind of rebellion against God, rejecting His counsels, calls, and mercies, which should reclaim them. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Nature of sin

I. What law the apostle mentions in the text. There is no reason to think that He means any law given to Adam, or to Noah, or any law given by Moses, except the moral law, which is founded in the reason of things, and is of perpetual obligation. This He calls the law, in distinction from all positive laws and particular precepts. By the law, therefore, he means the first supreme and universal law of God’s moral kingdom, which is binding upon all rational and accountable creatures.

II. What this moral law, which is binding upon all mankind, requires. It certainly requires something that is reasonable, because it is founded in reason. Our Saviour perfectly understood the true import and perpetual obligation of the law, and came to fulfil and magnify it. There are but two things really valuable and desirable in their own nature. One is happiness, and the other is holiness. Happiness is valuable and desirable in its own nature, or for what it is in itself. And holiness is valuable and desirable in its own nature, or for what it is in itself. The moral law therefore which is founded in the nature of things, requires men to love and seek holiness and happiness for themselves and others. It requires them to love and seek the holiness and blessedness of God supremely; because He is supremely great and good. And it requires men to love and seek one another’s holiness and happiness as their own. And when they exercise such disinterested love to God and man, they fulfil the law, or do all that the law requires them to do.

III. What it forbids. Every law has both a precept and prohibition. It forbids whatever is directly contrary to what it requires, and requires whatever is directly contrary to what it forbids. It appears from what has been said under the last head that the Divine law requires disinterested love to God and man; and from this we may justly conclude that it forbids whatever is directly contrary to disinterested love to God and man. Improvement:

1. If the transgression of the Divine law consists in positive selfishness, then it does not consist in a mere want of conformity to it.

2. If the Divine law requires pure, disinterested love, and forbids selfishness, then every free, voluntary exercise of the heart is either an act of obedience or disobedience of the law of God.

3. If every selfish exercise be a transgression of the law, then those are under a deep deception who imagine that they have no sin.

4. If every selfish exercise is a transgression of the law, and every transgression of the law is sin, then every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and in that which is to come.

5. If the law of God forbids all selfish and sinful affections upon pain of eternal death, then mankind are all naturally in a very guilty and wretched condition. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

The evil of sin

1. There is folly in it, as it is a deviation from the best rule which the Divine wisdom hath given unto us. They who reject that which is able to make them wise to salvation, that in which all true wisdom consisteth, how can they be wise men? Every soul in hell is brought there by sinful folly.

2. Laws are not only rules to direct, but have a binding force from the authority of the lawgiver. God doth not only give us counsel as a friend, but commands as a sovereign. Therefore the second notion whereby the evil of sin is set forth is that of disobedience and rebellion; and so it is a great injury done to God, because it is a contempt of God’s authority.

3. It is shameful ingratitude. Man is God’s beneficiary, from whom he hath received life and being, and all things, and is therefore bound to love and serve Him according to His declared will.

4. It is a disowning of God’s propriety in us, as if we were not His own, and God had not power to do with His own as He pleaseth. It robbeth God of His propriety. If we consider His natural right, so sill is such an injury and wrong to God as theft and robbery. If we consider our own covenant by which we voluntarily own God’s right and property in us, so it is breach of vows. If we consider this covenant as being made in a way of devoting and consecrating of ourselves from a common to a holy use, so it is sacrilege; all which aggravate sin, and should make it more odious to our thoughts.

5. It is a contempt of God’s holiness and purity, as if He were indifferent to good and evil, and stood not upon His law, whether men broke it or kept it, and would not call them to an account, and judge them for it. Whereas God standeth punctually and precisely upon His law; the least point is dearer unto Him than all the world in some sense (Matthew 5:18).

6. It is a denial of the goodness of God, as if He were envious of the happiness and welfare of mankind, as if He had planted in us desires which He would not have satisfied, only to vex and torment us, and had fettered us unreasonably, and His commands were grevious and His yoke intolerable; yea, ensnared us by keeping us from that which is good and comfortable for us.

7. It is a depreciation and contempt of God’s glorious majesty. What else shall we make of a plain contest with Him, and a flat contradiction to His holy will?

8. It is a questioning, if not a flat denial, of God’s onmiscieney and omnipresence, as if He did not see or regard the actions of men, since we dare do that in the presence of God which we would scarce do before a little child.

9. It is the violation of a law which is holy, just, and good. The matter of it recommendeth itself to our con sciences, as tending to the glory of God, and conducing to preserve the rectitude of our natures.

10. It is a disorder in nature, or a breach in the moral order and harmony of the world, whilst man, the most excellent of all visible creatures, is so perverted and depraved, like the chief string to an instrument broken and out of tune.

11. It is a disbelief of the promises and threatenings wherewith the law is enforced; for in the law, besides the precept, there is a sanction by penalties and rewards.

12. It is a slighting of all those providences by which He would confirm and back His law. The Lord knoweth how apt we are to be guided by present sense. So all those chastisings by which God will show us the bitter fruit of sin (Jeremiah 2:19).

13. It is a contempt of all those means by which God useth to enforce His laws and quicken the sense of our duty upon our hearts; such are the strivings and pressing motions of His Spirit (Genesis 6:3).

14. The slenderness of the temptation that irritates us to break the laws of God doth also show the malignity of sin; for what is it but the pleasing of the carnal faculty (James 1:14).

Practical lessons:

1. We see hence the folly of them who make a mock and sport of sin (Proverbs 14:9).

2. It showeth the folly of those that do not only make a light reckoning of sin themselves, but think also that God makes little account of it.

3. How just is God in appointing eternal punishment as the fruit and reward of sin.

4. If all sin be so odious, how much more a life of sin!

5. The necessity of entering into the gospel covenant. Now this is done by repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

6. The necessity of persevering in the gospel estate by new obedience, and a continual dependence on the grace of the Redeemer.

7. What reason we have to submit to the sharpest providences which God in His corrective discipline puts us under (Isaiah 27:9).

8. That a renewed heart should be affected, not only with the evil after sin, but with the evil in sin; for to persuade God’s children to a conformity to their Father, he urgeth this argument, that it is a breach of the law. (T. Manton, D. D.)

Sin and its removal

I. Sin is denounced as a transgression of the law. How fitted is such a representation to warn us against it! It teaches us what sin is. The very fact that a law exists to direct our conduct is enough to claim our attention. “Do this, and live; in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”: these announcements may be regarded as beacons set up to warn us against shipwreck on the sea of life, or lights to guide us into a safe and peaceful haven. Not only, however, is it a solemn thing to know there is a law to which we are subject, but the responsibility is greatly increased when we remember it is the law of God. He is the lawgiver, and knows what to require, and has authority to enjoin it. It is the transcript of His mind, and to disobey it must be rebellion against Him. In its nature the law is absolutely perfect, being alike worthy of God and adapted to advance the best interests of those who are subject to it. It is holy--distinguishing in all eases between right and wrong, good and evil. It is just--never claiming anything beyond what God is justified to require and man is bound to render. And it is good--securing the highest advantages to all who obey it. It is well for time, and better for eternity. This law it is the purpose of God ever to maintain. No change in man can produce a change in it. It never was and can never be broken without entailing sorrow and suffering on the transgressor. Sin has been the cankerworm at the root of human happiness and prosperity. We must esteem it the enemy of God, the enemy of holiness, justice, and goodness; the enemy of man, of his peace and prosperity; the prolific source of all sorrow, because the transgression of that law which God has established as the directory of man and the safeguard of righteousness.

II. In pursuance of his argument, the apostle declares that the very purpose of Christ’s mission was to destroy sin.

III. It strengthens these views still further to observe that the apostle represents the believer’s union with Christ to be productive of the same result (1 John 3:6).

IV. The distinguishing characteristic of the Christian is declared to be righteousness. “He that doeth righteousness.” He does it. He has laid the law of God before him, and seeks to walk in conformity to it. (J. Morgan, D. D.)

The nature of sin

Very little consideration may show us the importance of seeing wherein consists the real nature of sin. The empiric who sets himself, in dealing with any disease of the body, merely to counteract its external symptoms, often aggravates the malady with which he ignorantly meddles; and he assuredly runs a far greater risk of working a far wider ruin who attempts in such presumptuous ignorance to deal with the disorders of the soul. Weigh the effects of sin, and you must appreciate something of its deadly character; look what it has wrought in the heavenly world; remember that those natures, framed according to the wise design of the All-Wise and the All-Mighty with the largest capacities for blessedness with which created beings could be gifted, have all those vast capacities filled with anguish, unconceivable, unalleviated, and then see what sin has wrought, and measure as you can in that awful shattering of God’s great work of love what sin is. Or turn to this world, and compare what it was when, as “very good,” God’s blessing rested upon its rejoicing dawn; and then gather into one heap the sadnesses of this present earth--its darkened imaginations, its toiling, wearied, suffering multitudes--and remember that all these are the work of sin, and see what a poison must be in it. Or look to Calvary, and know that this too is sin’s work. For, secondly, all this belongs not to some distant world, not to beings of another kind from us, not to devils in hell; but it belongs to us, it touches us, nay, it is in us, in every one of us, ruling in some, struggling in ethers, present in all. What, then, is its nature? “Sin is the transgression of the law.” But, then, what is “the law”? It is the manifestation to reasonable creatures by the unapproachable and incomprehensible Lord of so much of the perfection of His own necessary character as can be comprehended by the creature to whom it is revealed, in order that the character of the supreme Lord may be formed and maintained, according to his limited capacity, in the creature also. This connection of the reasonable creature’s happiness with the existence of a true harmony between his own spiritual being and the character of God, is a necessary consequence of the inalienable relation between the perfect Creator, from whom we have our being and in whom we subsist, and the reasonable creatures of His hand. First, because only by this harmony of his own will with the will of his Creator can the perfection of the creature’s own nature be reached or maintained. And next, because only in the Creator can the creature, created with capacities for knowing, loving, serving, resting on his Creator, ever find complete happiness. By whatever means, then, the supreme Lord reveals Himself to His reasonable creatures, that revelation is to them “the law.” And as in keeping this law there is for the creature all blessedness, so in the transgression of it there is certain and inevitable misery. For, first, every variation from it is a disturbance, it may be a fatal disturbance, of the intricate and marvellous machinery of his own being, all of which was planned and executed with Divine wisdom for a purpose to which he in his waywardness is running counter. Here, doubtless, we may find the cause and the history of the fall of the apostate angels. Under some temptation of self-will they quitted that order in which God’s loving wisdom had placed them; and violating that, the indwelling grace of God, whereby alone the creature can ever stand upright, was first resisted and then quenched in them, and their nature became incapable of the bliss for which they had been created. And as it was with them, so it must be with every other creature; in choosing that which is at variance with the will of Him who created them, they reject all possible perfectness in their own nature. Again, they lose that which alone can fill with perfect and enduring happiness the reasonable soul created capable of knowing it, the loving revelation to itself of the Lord of all as its abiding portion. For the creature whose will, affections, and spiritual nature are diverse from those of the Almighty, cannot rejoice in Him; the contradiction between them makes it impossible; all the boundless reach of the Creator’s perfections becomes to such a fallen one the occasion of a more energetic repulsion of his own nature from that, the only true centre and rest of his being. All this leads to some most practical conclusions.

1. First, we have here some light thrown on the awful mystery of eternal death, and of the steps down which the creatures of the God of love are dragged into it. Malignity, hatred, despair, the last and blackest sins into which the smaller pleasurable sins have run, are often, even in this life, a visible anguish to their victim; and the reason of all this, and its end, is taught us as we gaze into the nature of sin. For sin is not a thing, but a certain mode of action by a reasonable creature, and that action affects his own inward constitution; and the misery of eternity is not the mere retribution appointed for something which happened in this life, but is a continuous and most intense course of action into which action here has by necessary steps run on.

2. Secondly, see here the true evil of the least allowed sin. For this, which is the consequence of the deadly nature of sin, must be in every sin; and when we give way to the least sin, we yield ourselves to it, and we cannot know how far it may prevail over us. The mere allowing our earthly hearts to fix with too much delight upon lawful things short of their true Lord--this of itself may destroy us, by being the first step which leads us away from Him as the centre of our being. Still more, one habit of sin, one allowed evil temper, one permitted lust, may be the acting of our soul against God which insures for us the eternal rebellion of a lost spirit in the blackness of despair. Doubtless, as some poisons destroy the life of the body more suddenly than others, so some sins lay waste the soul with a more awful rapidity than others, because they concentrate into themselves a more energetic contradiction of the holiness of the blessed God: but all have the evil nature in them; and one therefore which possesses the soul may, and if it remains, must, shut it out from heaven and blessedness, not because God is a severe exactor of a threatened penalty, but because sin must part the soul which it possesses from Him, who, by the necessity of His own blessed nature, cannot bear iniquity.

3. And again, see here the need we have of crying constantly to God for larger and yet larger gifts of His converting grace.

4. And, lastly, let us learn hence that lesson without which prayer for the gifts of God’s grace is nothing but delusion--the lesson of striving in act against sin. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

Sin

A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind. The material creation in Genesis began with “light,” and so also does the spiritual creation.

I. I shall supply some definition of sin. Sin is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people. “A sin,” to speak more particularly, consists in doing, saying, thinking, or imagining, anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God. The slightest outward or inward departure from absolute mathematical parallelism with God’s revealed will and character constitutes a sin, and at once makes us guilty in God’s sight.

II. Concerning the origin and source of this vast moral disease called “sin” I must say something. Let us, then, have it fixed down in our minds that the sinfulness of man does not begin from without, but from within. It is a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with which we are born. Of all the foolish things that parents say about their children there is none worse than the common saying, “My son has a good heart at the bottom. He is not what he ought to be; but he has fallen into bad hands. Public schools are bad places. The tutors neglect the boys. Yet he has a good heart at the bottom.” The truth, unhappily, is diametrically the other way. The first cause of all sin lies in the natural corruption of the boy’s own heart, and not in the school.

III. Concerning the extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost.

IV. Concerning the guilt, vileness, and offensiveness of sin in the sight of God, my words shall be few. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the Queen’s Head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive, and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect--perfect whether we look through telescope or microscope--perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping’ time to a second as he rolls round the sun--perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground. But let us nevertheless settle it firmly in our minds that sin is “the abominable thing that God hateth”; and that “nothing that defiles shall in any wise enter” heaven (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13; James 2:10; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23; Romans 2:16; Mark 9:44; Psalms 9:17; Matthew 25:46; Revelation 21:27).

V. One point only remains to be considered on the subject of sin, which I dare not pass over--its deceitfulness. “It is but a little one! God is merciful! God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss! We mean well! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!” Who is not familiar with this kind of language?

1. A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age.

2. A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time.

3. A right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood, and carried away so many before it.

4. A right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection, of which we hear so much in these times.

5. A Scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the Church. We must return to first principles. We must go back to “the old paths.” We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls “doing His will.” (Bp. Ryle.)

The lawless nature of sin

What do we mean when we say of others, or of ourselves, that we are sinners? And what is the kind and degree of feeling which ought to accompany this utterance?

I. Sin consists in action, in doing something. Sin, it is said, is the transgression of the law. Everyone, then, who sins acts, or does something; for transgressing is certainly acting. But in saying this, let me not be understood to imply that sinning is limited to mere external actions. In fact, we more properly say that the sin resides in the mind, and consists in the purpose there formed, even when the purpose is manifested in outward action. The outward act does not give character to the internal disposition and purpose; but the internal disposition and purpose give character to the outward act. The outward act is the internal spirit embodied; and in every case of open sin, both the mental purpose and this external embodying are sinful.

II. Sin always implies knowledge--knowledge of the law of which it is a transgression. It is the moral law, which is always made known, first of all, in the conscience. This peculiar faculty gives to every human being, in proportion as his nature is unfolded, the sense of moral obligation, makes him accountable, and capable of such actions as we call right and wrong, worthy of reward or of punishment. The law, in this form, is as old as man. He finds it in himself; and it reveals, in some degree, its binding power wherever man is seen on earth; though it speaks more clearly in proportion as the human faculties are improved, and man becomes more truly human. But since to the generality of men conscience, in the absence of an extraordinary revelation, speaks but feebly, God has more fully proclaimed His law in His Word. On the principle that to whom much is given, of the same will much be required, the possessors of this Word, if they fail to live answerably to it, will involve themselves in deeper and more inexcusable transgression than the heathen.

III. Sin always implies voluntariness, or that the action to which it is ascribed is the free action of its author. We may search indwelling grace of God, whereby alone the creature can ever stand upright, was first resisted and then quenched in them, and their nature became incapable of the bliss for which they had been created. And as it was with them, so it must be with every other creature; in choosing that which is at variance with the will of Him who created them, they reject all possible perfectness in their own nature. Again, they lose that which alone can fill with perfect and enduring happiness the reasonable soul created capable of knowing it, the loving revelation to itself of the Lord of all as its abiding portion. For the creature whose will, affections, and spiritual nature are diverse from those of the Almighty, cannot rejoice in Him; the contradiction between them makes it impossible; all the boundless reach of the Creator’s perfections becomes to such a fallen one the occasion of a more energetic repulsion of his own nature from that, the only true centre and rest of his being. All this leads to some most practical conclusions.

1. First, we have here some light thrown on the awful mystery of eternal death, and of the steps down which the creatures of the God of love are dragged into it. Malignity, hatred, despair, the last and blackest sins into which the smaller pleasurable sins have run, are often, even in this life, a visible anguish to their victim; and the reason of all this, and its end, is taught us as we gaze into the nature of sin. For sin is not a thing, but a certain mode of action by a reasonable creature, and that action affects his own inward constitution; and the misery of eternity is not the mere retribution appointed for something which happened in this life, but is a continuous and most intense course of action into which action here has by necessary steps run on.

2. Secondly, see here the true evil of the least allowed sin. For this, which is the consequence of the deadly nature of sin, must be in every sin; and when we give way to the least sin, we yield ourselves to it, and we cannot know how far it may prevail over us. The mere allowing our earthly hearts to fix with too much delight upon lawful things short of their true Lord--this of itself may destroy us, by being the first step which leads us away from Him as the centre of our being. Still more, one habit of sin, one allowed evil temper, one permitted lust, may be the acting of our soul against God which insures for us the eternal rebellion of a lost spirit in the blackness of despair. Doubtless, as some poisons destroy the life of the body more suddenly than others, so some sins lay waste the soul with a more awful rapidity than others, because they concentrate into themselves a more energetic contradiction of the holiness of the blessed God: but all have the evil nature in them; and one therefore which possesses the soul may, and if it remains, must, shut it out from heaven and blessedness, not because God is a severe exactor of a threatened penalty, but because sin must part the soul which it possesses from Him, who, by the necessity of His own blessed nature, cannot bear iniquity.

3. And again, see here the need we have of crying constantly to God for larger and yet larger gifts of His converting grace.

4. And, lastly, let us learn hence that lesson without which prayer for the gifts of God’s grace is nothing but delusion--the lesson of striving in act against sin. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)

Sin

A right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are “words and names” which convey no meaning to the mind. The material creation in Genesis began with “light,” and so also does the spiritual creation.

I. I shall supply some definition of sin. Sin is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank, and class, and name, and nation, and people. “A sin,” to speak more particularly, consists in doing, saying, thinking, or imagining, anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God. The slightest outward or inward departure from absolute mathematical parallelism with God’s revealed will and character constitutes a sin, and at once makes us guilty in God’s sight.

II. Concerning the origin and source of this vast moral disease called “sin” I must say something. Let us, then, have it fixed down in our minds that the sinfulness of man does not begin from without, but from within. It is a family disease, which we all inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with which we are born. Of all the foolish things that parents say about their children there is none worse than the common saying, “My son has a good heart at the bottom. He is not what he ought to be; but he has fallen into bad hands. Public schools are bad places. The tutors neglect the boys. Yet he has a good heart at the bottom.” The truth, unhappily, is diametrically the other way. The first cause of all sin lies in the natural corruption of the boy’s own heart, and not in the school.

III. Concerning the extent of this vast moral disease of man called sin, let us beware that we make no mistake. The only safe ground is that which is laid for us in Scripture (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9). Sin is a disease which pervades and runs through every part of our moral constitution and every faculty of our minds. The understanding, the affections, the reasoning powers, the will, are all more or less infected. Even the conscience is so blinded that it cannot be depended on as a sure guide, and is as likely to lead men wrong as right, unless it is enlightened by the Holy Ghost.

IV. Concerning the guilt, vileness, and offensiveness of sin in the sight of God, my words shall be few. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the Queen’s Head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive, and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect--perfect whether we look through telescope or microscope--perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping time to a second as he rolls round the sun--perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground. But let us nevertheless settle it firmly in our minds that sin is “the abominable thing that God hateth”; and that “nothing that defiles shall in any wise enter” heaven (Jeremiah 44:4; Habakkuk 1:13; James 2:10; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23; Romans 2:16; Mark 9:44; Psalms 9:17; Matthew 25:46; Revelation 21:27).

V. One point only remains to be considered on the subject of sin, which I dare not pass over--its deceitfulness. “It is but a little one! God is merciful! God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss! We mean well! One cannot be so particular! Where is the mighty harm? We only do as others!” Who is not familiar with this kind of language?

1. A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to that vague, dim, misty, hazy kind of theology which is so painfully current in the present age.

2. A Scriptural view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the extravagantly broad and liberal theology which is so much in vogue at the present time.

3. A right view of sin is the best antidote to that sensuous, ceremonial, formal kind of Christianity, which has swept over England like a flood, and carried away so many before it.

4. A right view of sin is one of the best antidotes to the overstrained theories of perfection, of which we hear so much in these times.

5. A Scriptural view of sin will prove an admirable antidote to the low views of personal holiness, which are so painfully prevalent in these last days of the Church. We must return to first principles. We must go back to “the old paths.” We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls “doing His will.” (Bp. Ryle.)

The lawless nature of sin

What do we mean when we nay of others, or of ourselves, that we are sinners? And what is the kind and degree of feeling which ought to accompany this utterance?

I. Sin consists in action, in doing something. Sin, it is said, is the transgression of the law. Everyone, then, who sins acts, or does something; for transgressing is certainly acting. But in saying this, let me not be understood to imply that sinning is limited to mere external actions. In fact, we more properly say that the sin resides in the mind, and consists in the purpose there formed, even when the purpose is manifested in outward action. The outward act does not give character to the internal disposition and purpose; but the internal disposition and purpose give character to the outward act. The outward act is the internal spirit embodied; and in every case of open sin, both the mental purpose and this external embodying are sinful.

II. Sin always implies knowledge--knowledge of the law of which it is a transgression. It is the moral law, which is always made known, first of all, in the conscience. This peculiar faculty gives to every human being, in proportion as his nature is unfolded, the sense of moral obligation, makes him accountable, and capable of such actions as we call right and wrong, worthy of reward or of punishment. The law, in this form, is as old as man. He finds it in himself; and it reveals, in some degree, its binding power wherever man is seen on earth; though it speaks more clearly in proportion as the human faculties are improved, and man becomes more truly human. But since to the generality of men conscience, in the absence of an extraordinary revelation, speaks but feebly, God has more fully proclaimed His law in His Word. On the principle that to whom much is given, of the same will much be required, the possessors of this Word, if they fail to live answerably to it, will involve themselves in deeper and more inexcusable transgression than the heathen.

III. Sin always implies voluntariness, or that the action to which it is ascribed is the free action of its author. We may search among the Divine commandments in the Bible as long as we please, we shall not find one addressed to man which it is not in his power to obey, if rightly disposed. Thus falsehood, theft, and all kinds of dishonesty are sins, because everyone who chooses can refrain from these acts. The power of the will extends to everything which man can be said to do. It is a power over the movements of the body, and over the general state and exercises of the mind. It is seen in controlling the thoughts, restraining the imagination, regulating the affections, and subordinating the appetites and the desires. In confining sin to the voluntary actions, we give it then all the scope which it can have in fact, and a very wide scope; for as all our properly human actions are voluntary, they may conceivably all be sinful.

IV. Sin is a wrong act, or, as the text denominates it, a transgression. Holiness is the whole of that moral state, by which a temper of obedience to the Divine law is expressed. Sin is whatever appears in the form of disobedience. It is any and every state of mind and act of the life by which the precepts of the law are contravened or evaded. The object aimed at by the transgressor is not the commission of sin, but simply the gratification of an appetite or desire; sin, in other words, is not his end, but merely a means to his end: while yet in order to gain the end to which some whetted desire points, in order to secure a certain amount of pleasure, he commits the sin, sometimes recklessly, sometimes coolly and deliberately. Any desire of the mind, any freak of caprice or passion, the sensual appetites, the love of fame, the love of power, or the love of accumulation, may thus urge him across the boundary line which separates right from wrong, holiness from sin. Sin is thus, according to the true import of the Greek word in the text, lawlessness. No matter what the sin may be, whether evil-speaking, or dishonesty in business, or intemperance in any of its forms, or any of the legion of sins of which men render themselves guilty, all may be traced directly to that lawlessness, that denial of Divine restraint which is given as the fundamental characteristic of sin in the text. Conclusion:--

The perpetual obligation of the moral law; the evil of sin and its desert of punishment

I. What we mean by the moral law.

1. The moral law signifies that rule which is given to all mankind to direct their manners or behaviour, considered merely as they are intelligent and social creatures, who have an understanding to know God and themselves, a capacity to judge what is right and wrong, and a will to choose and refuse good and evil.

2. It is found in the Ten Commands; it is found in the Holy Scriptures, scattered up and down through all the writings of the Old and New Testaments, and it may be found out in the plainest and most necessary parts of it, by the sincere and diligent exercise of our own reasoning powers.

II. This moral law is of universal and perpetual obligation to all mankind, even through all nations and all ages.

1. It is a law which arises from the very existence of God and the nature of man; it springs from the very relation of such creatures to their Maker and to one another.

2. This law is so far wrought into the very nature of man as a reasonable creature that an awakened conscience will require obedience to it forever.

3. This law is suited to every state and circumstance of human nature, to every condition of the life of man, and to every dispensation of God; and since it cannot be changed for better law, it must be everlasting.

4. It appears yet further that this law is perpetual, because whatsoever other law God can prescribe or man can be bound to obey, it is built upon the eternal obligation of this moral law.

5. Scripture asserts the perpetuity and everlasting obligation of the moral law (Luke 16:17).

III. The evil nature of sin.

1. It is an affront to the authority and government of a wise and holy God, a God who has sovereign right to make laws for His creatures, and has formed all His commands and prohibitions according to infinite wisdom.

2. Sin carries in the nature of it high ingratitude to God our Creator, and a wicked abuse of that goodness which has bestowed upon us all our natural powers and talents, our limbs, our senses, and all our faculties of soul and body.

3. Sin against the law of God breaks in upon that wise and beautiful order which God has appointed to run through His whole creation (Proverbs 16:4).

4. As it is the very nature of sin to bring disorder into the creation of God, so its natural consequences are pernicious to the sinful creature!

5. Sin provokes God to anger, as He is the righteous governor of the world; it brings guilt upon the creature, and exposes it to the punishments threatened by the broken law.

IV. The proper demerit of sin, or what is the punishment it deserves.

1. When God made man at first, He designed to continue him in life and happiness so long as man continued innocent and obedient to the law, and thereby maintained his allegiance to God his Maker.

2. By a wilful and presumptuous transgression of the law, man violated his allegiance to God his Maker, and forfeited all good things that his Creator had given him and the hope of all that He had promised.

3. This forfeiture of life, and the blessings of it by sin, is an everlasting forfeiture.

4. There is scarce any actual, i.e., wilful sin, but carries with it some particular aggravations, and these deserve such further positive punishments as the wisdom and justice of God shall see reason to inflict.

Conclusion:

1. Is the law of God in perpetual force and is every transgression of it so heinous an evil?--then let us take a survey how wretched and deplorable is the state of mankind by nature.

2. Is the moral law of such constant obligation, and is death the due recompense of every transgression of it?--then it is necessary for ministers to preach this law, and it is necessary for hearers to learn it.

3. What a holy regard and jealousy has God shown for the honour of His everlasting law, and what a sacred indignation has He manifested against sin, when He sent His own Son to obey this law, and to suffer for our disobedience of it!

4. How glorious is the wisdom and the mercy of the gospel, which does honour to the law in every respect, which prepares an honourable atonement and pardon for guilty rebels who have broken this everlasting law, and provides grace and power to renew our nature according to the demands of it!

5. Happy is the world above, where such natural and such easy obedience is forever paid to this law of God without the least transgression. (Isaac Watts, D. D.)

What sin is

Sin is the transgression of law. It is doing contrary to or without law. The first thing, in ascertaining the real nature of sin, is to get a clear notion of law, What is it? How does it arise? There seems to me but one possible way for us in this nineteenth century to ascertain what is law; and that is, by the observation of the consequences and tendencies of actions. The study of the laws of different peoples can only help us in this thus far--it enables us to see what they found to be useful and good to them, and so gives us a presumptive notion that the same may, in similar circumstances, be good and useful to us. But it is only by observing what are the consequences to which the action actually does tend under our circumstances that we can be sure of its real character in its relation to us. By our own observation alone we can arrive at certainty. But now, what is it that we are to observe in actions, in order to find out God’s law? What is the test by which we may discern what we should and what we should not do? The tendency of an action to promote the highest and most perfect happiness upon the whole is the sure criterion of its being according to the law of God. There is no other which does not resolve itself into this. For, just think a little within yourselves, how can you know that it is the will of God you should act in a certain way, but from the fact that God has so created you and others that, if you do so act, it will promote your highest and truest happiness? There is no mark, no sign put upon actions, distinguishing one from another, that all men can recognise, but this. On the other hand, this test is clear, adequate, and such as every man can appreciate and feel the force of. Whatever tends to promote human happiness upon the whole, and in the long run, must be good and according to the will of God. Whatever tends, ultimately and in the end, to produce suffering, pain, or misery, must be evil and opposed to the Divine will. The only point where the test can seem to fail, is where temporary consequences are mistaken for ultimate results. Self-denial for the sake of doing good to some one, may bring temporary suffering; but the pleasure arising from the contemplation of the good conferred, the vigour and high tone imparted to the mind by the act of self-denial, and the approbation and love secured by it from our fellow creatures, together constitute an amount of happiness which, while immeasurably compensating for the trifling suffering, declare the action to be according to God’s will. And so, too, the test requires that the kind or degree of happiness be taken into the account, in order to ascertain the whole law of God and our complete duty. We find, for example, that whilst some actions bring pleasure through our physical organisation, others bring pleasure through our mental constitution; and that those affecting us through the latter means, induce a more perfect sense of happiness than those affecting us through our physical organisation. And so, again, acts of kindness, love, truthfulness, honour, forgiveness, etc., bring a greater, intenser, more complete degree of happiness than mere culture of intellect; and the suffering or pain brought by neglecting them is, upon the whole, much greater; so that the Divine law requiring these is higher and more imperative than that requiring the intellectual culture. Still, in every case you will see that it is the happiness or pain which determines and makes plain the law or will of God; and it is the relative character or degree of the happiness which determines the relative stringency and imperativeness of the law. But, observe, I do not say that it is the tendency of an action to promote happiness which constitutes it virtuous, and the tendency of an action to promote misery or pain which constitutes it or causes it to be sin; but only that it is the tendency which is to us the test, criterion, or sign by which we know it to be good or bad, virtuous or vicious. But now, if you accept this test, and consider God’s law as requiring whatever tends to promote happiness, you will see that sin includes a much wider range of actions than is generally contemplated. For human happiness is dependent upon physical actions as well as upon moral, and the violation of the laws of our physical and intellectual being is, therefore, quite as much sin as is the violation of the laws of our moral nature. And you have no right to select this law or the other, and say, the transgression of this is sin, whilst the transgression of the other is only an act of imprudence and folly. The same authority which renders the laws relating to morals imperative, renders the laws relating to the intellect and body imperative. The tone of Greek thought and feeling was much higher and truer upon this subject than the mediaeval and later Christian thought and feeling. To the Greeks the body was as sacred as the soul--the senses and intellect as divine as the moral powers. And they were right. They are as essential to man’s happiness; they are, at least, in our present mortal condition, the very foundation of all other good--their healthful existence is the condition of all other forms of happiness. Leave the moral powers unguided by the intellect, and they lead into all sorts of errors and follies. Leave the physical powers a prey to disease, and the intellectual and moral powers sooner or later suffer the evil consequences. And you will at once discern for yourselves how this condemns the too common tendency amongst religionists to create artificial sins, that is, to denounce things which they them selves are not disposed to enjoy. No one can lawfully condemn anything which does not tend to diminish human happiness upon the whole; and therefore, however uncongenial an action may be to our own tastes, we have no right to reprove it, unless we can show that it necessarily tends to such diminution. Nay, we must go further than this. The different constitutions and temperaments of individuals are such that, what is perfectly consistent with the purest and most perfect happiness of one man, is altogether inimical to that of another. Each man must, therefore, be left free to follow his own course, and to determine for himself what is the will of God concerning him, excepting when he begins a course which, if universally followed out, would be injurious to mankind at large. From these principles there follow certain practical conclusions. First, we see the law of life allows of many modifications, according to individual circumstances and necessities. Physically, mentally, and morally, men have different requirements, which each one for himself must determine before God. Again, we may see human duty is necessarily a progressive thing, changing and purifying itself with man’s advancing culture. Many actions are necessary to happiness in a barbarous state which are altogether inadmissible in a more advanced stage. Civilisation, also, gives rise to many requirements to which the savage is a stranger. There can be no stereotyped law laid down, excepting in very rudimental and fundamental principles, as I said; but the law will always be rising higher, purer, and freer as men advance. (James Cranbrook.)

Sin

I. What is that law whereof sin is the transgression? It is the law of God, even any law of His whereby He lays any duty upon any of the children of men.

1. There is a law engraven upon the hearts of men by nature, which was in force long before the promulgation of the law from Mount Sinai. This is the light of reason, and the dictates of natural conscience concerning those moral principles of good and evil, which have an essential equity in them, and show man his duty to God, to his neighbour, and to himself.

2. There is another law which was given to the Jewish nation by the ministry of Moses (John 17:19). By this we are to understand the whole system of Divine precepts concerning ceremonial rites, judicial processes, and moral duties.

3. There is the moral law.

II. Wherein the nature of sin consists. It consists in a want of conformity to the law of God, or a disconformity thereto. The law of God is the rule; whatsoever is over this rule is sin.

1. Sin is no positive being, but a want of due perfection, a defect, an imperfection in the creature; and therefore it is

2. Original sin is truly and properly sin.

3. The first motions of sin, and the risings of that natural corruption in us, before it be completed with the consent of the will to the evil motion, are truly and properly sin.

4. All consent of the heart to and delight in motions towards things forbidden by the law of God are sins, though these never break forth into action, but die where they were born, in the inmost corners of our hearts (Matthew 5:28).

5. All omissions of the internal duties we owe to God and our neighbours are sins, as want of love to God or our neighbours.

6. Hence a man sins by undue silence and undue speaking, when the cause of God and truth require it; seeing the law bids us speak in some cases, but never speak what is not good.

7. Hence also a man’s sins, when he omits outward duties that are incumbent on him to perform, as well as when he commits sin of whatever kind in his life.

8. The least failure in any duty is sin; and whatever comes not up in perfection to the law is sinful.

III. Wherein the evil of sin lies.

1. In the wrong done to God, and its contrariety.

2. In the wrong it doth to ourselves (Proverbs 8:36).

1. It is high rebellion against the sovereign Majesty of God, that gives the life of authority to the law.

2. It is an extreme aggravation of this evil, that sin, as it is a disclaiming our homage to God, so it is in true account a yielding subjection to the devil; for sin is in the strictest propriety his work. More particularly, sin strikes at the root of all the Divine attributes.

Conclusion:

1. If ye would see your sins, look to the law of God. That is the glass wherein we may see our ugly face.

2. See here what presumption it is in men to make that duty which God has not made so, and that sin which God has not made so in religion.

3. Flee to Jesus Christ for the pardon of sin, for His blood and Spirit to remove the same. All the waters of the sea will not wash it out, but that blood alone. And repent and forsake your sin, or it will be your ruin. (T. Boston, D. D.)

The knowledge of sin necessary to repentance

1. The text supposes that there is some law given by the Almighty which sin transgresses. Now, the laws of God are of various kinds, and made known in different ways. The law of God requires certain dispositions and tempers. Now, if a man is not actuated by these dispositions, he is guilty of habitually breaking the Divine law, and therefore is habitually living in a state of sin. The law of God requires you to be heavenly minded, to be meek and kind, and to love your neighbour as yourself; it requires you to be pure and chaste, and to be “holy even as” Christ is “holy”: the man, therefore, who does not in the fullest degree possess these dispositions, is living, in the hourly commission of sin, however unconscious he may be of his transgression and guilt.

2. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” But, their, it is the transgression of a law of which the spirit is to be regarded rather than the letter. In criminal cases the judge will not suffer a penal statute to be strained beyond its literal meaning in order to condemn a prisoner; but the law of God, which requires the highest conceivable purity, both of heart and life, is to be interpreted in the most extensive sense: it forbids not only the sin, but everything connected with it, everything leading to it. It is not necessary, therefore, to the guilt of the criminal, that the particular crime of which he is guilty should be expressly named in Scripture. It is sufficient that the general class of sins under which it may be ranked, be forbidden; or that the disposition from which, in common with many other sinful acts, it proceeds, be contrary to the pure and holy law of God.

3. Again, “Sin is the transgression of the law.” But it is not necessary to the guilt of such transgression, either that the law should be distinctly known, or the transgressor be conscious that he has committed a sin in breaking it. The law may be broken, and man fall under its condemnation, without knowing or suspecting the consequences of his misconduct. For, in this case, as in that of human laws, it is sufficient that the offender might have known what the law was. How many deceive themselves by, first, so narrowing the bounds of sin as to allow only the grossest acts to be criminal; and then, by deeming themselves guiltless, merely because their consciences are at easel Man’s conscience, however, is not the legitimate interpreter of the Divine law. It is the office of conscience, indeed, to accuse and reprove us when we have done wrong: but if conscience fails in its duty; if it be uninformed, or blind, or corrupt; if it becomes, as it too often does, partner in the crime, this will not alter the nature of sin, or the responsibility of man: sin will still be the transgression of the law of God, and not merely the doing of what we may know or feel to be wrong.

4. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” By keeping this definition in view we shall avoid the error of those who place the guilt of sin solely in the intention with which it is committed. The drunkard, the man of pleasure, the sabbath breaker, will tell you that they did not intend anything sinful; they had no express purpose of disobeying or offending God. In short, all the various classes of sinners mean, according to their own statement, simply their own gratification. But if we gratify ourselves in a way which God has forbidden, we are guilty of sinning against God, whatever be in this respect our wish or intention.

5. Another mistake into which many persons are apt to fall, is that of judging of sin rather by its probable effects than by its intrinsic heinousness as a violation of the law of God. Without doubt, everything which God has forbidden would be injurious to man: yet the principle on which we should abstain from evil is reverence for the authority of God, rather than any view of utility or interest. Besides, were the principle true, that the evil of sin is to be estimated simply by its effects; yet who is to be the judge of those effects?

6. Another mode of judging of sin, equally common, and equally contrary to the Word of God, is that of estimating it by the opinions of the world rather than by Scripture. The chief evil of sin consists in the insult which it offers to the majesty and greatness of Him who is the Creator and Lord of all things. That this law is strict, far too strict for man in his fallen state to fulfil, cannot be denied; but a less holy law would fail of conveying to us adequate ideas of the greatness and holiness of the Being whose transcript it is. Besides, the obligation of man to obey is infinitely strong. For what is the relation in which he stands to God? Is not God the author of his being, the giver of his faculties, the bestower of all his comforts? Is the law to be relaxed to accommodate the weakness and corruption of man? Or, rather, ought not that very weakness and corruption to be exposed and corrected by the purity of the law? (John Venn, M. A.)

What is sin

I. Sin is a missing the mark. It is a failing to arrive at that high purpose which God has prepared for us; and as in the natural world the failure to fulfil the law imposed upon us would lead to the most fearful results, so the terrible results of our aberration are visible in the sorrows and sufferings of our kind.

II. Sin is a deliberate setting ourselves against God. This is clear if we ask what mark it is we miss. The law imposed upon us by God. Now every sin, of whatever kind, partakes of this character.

III. Therefore the least sin is mortal in its character. (J. J. Lias, M. A.)

Sin, the transgression of the law

I. The nature of the divine law.

II. The nature and demerit of sin, which is the transgression of it.

1. Consider against whom it is committed.

2. The humiliations and sufferings appointed, and submitted to, in order to atone for it.

3. The dreadful consequences which still result from it,

4. What would be its consequences, did it universally prevail. (D. Savile.)

The law of God

St. John has set before us the child of God as striving to shape his inner and outer life after the pattern of God’s purity. This is to him a law: he must in each thought and act make himself as like God as he can. He must give himself no freedom of choice. His will must be to do what he knows to be the will of the all-wise, and truthful, and loving God. Over against him St. John puts the man who has no rule of life, who simply pleases himself, obeying the desires of his own flesh and mind, allowing neither God nor man to pass within the edge of the circle he has drawn round himself. All within it is his own, and all of that he will keep to himself; no one has any claim upon it, no one has a right to tell him what to do with it. This is lawlessness, which is indeed a form of selfishness. Nothing can be further from the mind of God. For there is no act of God which is not wrought under the great laws of truth, and justice, and love. Every time we sin, we not only set ourselves against authority, we also deny the truth of God’s witness to some eternal facts. We put ourselves outside of the laws which give order, and firmness, and strength to all the world and to God. St. John goes on to give another reason why all the children of God should be righteous. It was, he says, for the sake of taking away sins, or of making man righteous that God manifested Himself to us. It may not be clear to us why, for this end, so costly a sacrifice must be made. But we know that made it was, and we see from the greatness of it that it could not but be made, and thus learn that to the laws which God lays on His children He submits Himself, and that these laws therefore have not their rise in His mere will, but are themselves eternal. There is in God a “must” and a “must not,” which set bounds to Him, even as they set bounds to us. To reach this truth through the manifestation of God in Christ is in itself a large step towards righteousness. It would be well if all Christians quite understood that the great end of God when He manifested Himself in Christ was to bring men to be like Himself, in goodness and happiness, by taking away sins, or, as it is put in the kindred passage (v. 8), by destroying the works of the devil. (C. Watson, D. D.)

What is sin

More literally: “Whosoever committeth sin committeth lawlessness; for sin is lawlessness.” The Bible does not contain many definitions. It does define sin. Sin is lawlessness. That is, it is the violation or careless disregard of law. There is what we call the criminal class in the community; that is, there are those in the community who either openly set themselves against the laws which the community has made, or who live in careless disregard of those laws. They live as if there were no law. A sinner is to God’s law what a criminal is to social law. That is to say, a sinner is a man who sets himself against the Divine law. He may be a sinner in broadcloth or in fustian, he may be a sinner in a big stone house or in a common lodging house; but if in his life he counts the will of God as though it were not, and lives without regard to it; or if in any part of his life he leaves God out, not considering what God would have him do in that particular part, he is a sinner, for just in so far he is living a lawless life. Men may be divided into three generic classes. There are a few men who have seriously considered that there is a moral order in the universe, God and a law of righteousness that proceed from Him, and who endeavour to conform their life to that law of righteousness. There are also a few men at the other extreme who have said to themselves--practically, if not in words--I am going to get what I can out of life; I am going to live as though there were no future life, no judgment, no God, no law in the world. And between these two bodies of men, one at the one extreme, and the other at the other, is the great mass of men who sometimes think of God’s law and often forget it, who bring it into a part of their life and leave it out of a part of their life. All men, in so far as they live thus, live lawless--that is sinful lives. What shall we say is the generic law of life? It is love. To live regardless of the law of love, or to live any part of one’s life regardless of that law of love, is lawlessness. Now, what does this law of love require? What is the law of government--that is, what does love require of government? The Psalmist says, “Justice and judgment are the habitation of God’s throne,” so justice and judgment should be the habitation of human government: “For He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.” Will any man, looking on the governments of the world, say that that is the ideal according to which governments are organised? There is not a government which is not, in some measure, a lawless government if it be measured by the law of God. What shall we say the law of love requires of the great commercial and industrial world? What does God organise that world for? Love. And if you translate love into terms of political economy, it means the wise and equitable distribution of wealth. Business, according to the law of God, means benevolence. I leave you to judge how far business, as it is carried on today, means benevolence. What is the law of the teaching profession? Truth. What is the teacher for? what the editor? what the preacher? Primarily this: that he may give to listening people truth, absolute truth, uncoloured, unchanged; that he may speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Will any teacher here today say that truth is the atmosphere of the schoolroom? Is there any man who will take a daily paper today and say that the one inspiration and purpose of the editors is to give us the absolute truth, in all its correct proportions--without sensationalism, without misinterpretations? What is the law of society? What has God made society for? This interchange of men and women, what does it mean? What has God made the reception for? what the party for? what the social calling for? Or did not He make it--was it made in the other world? Society has for its purpose the interchange of life. The Divine function of society is the interchange of life and the impartation of life. It is said that Christ went into society; that He went wherever He was invited; but I do not think a great many Christians follow Christ’s example when they go to parties and receptions. Wherever He went, because His own heart was full of the love of God and of His fellow men, love bubbled out from Him. How do we go? I wonder how many of us have worn mask and domino; how many of us have pretended to be somebody we were not that we might be polite and courteous, and keep our lives to ourselves and not give our true life forth to others. And every social circle, every social interchange that has not for its inspiration love, the ministration to the highest life of manhood and womanhood, is lawless, it is sin. Continue what I have begun; take this law of love and apply it to one phrase of life after the other. Let the lawyer ask himself how much of the law of love there is in the courtroom; and the medical man ask himself how much there is in the practice of his professional life; and the artist ask himself how much there is in the handling of his brush; and the musician ask himself how much there is in the music of his voice and the ministry of his instrument; and the writer ask himself how much there is in the writing of his story; and each individual ask himself how much there is in his individual life: how much he subjects his will to the will of God, in questions of what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and what he shall read. Go into a great factory full of spindles and wheels and all intricate machinery; all are connected with some great water wheel below; and, when the band is connected, all the wheels begin to revolve and all the spindles to play their music. Now, imagine every wheel and every spindle with a will or purpose of its own, and keep the bands off and let every spindle dance to its own tune, every wheel revolve at its own pleasure--what product would you get from your factory? The world is out of gear with God, that is the trouble; and you and I, if we are lawless, are just in so far out of gear with God, and nothing can make our life right save bringing ourselves back into oneness with God, to will what He wills to do, do what He would have us do. (L. Abbott, D. D.)

Sin and penalty

Infraction of law must be followed by infliction of penalty. This is a principle to which common sense subscribes. It is older than historical Christianity. Before we open the Bible, we learn it from the grand and tranquil regularities of nature. There is a law in the fire; break it, and you will be burned. There is a law in the water; break it, and you will be drowned. There is a law in mechanical force; break it, and you will be crushed. There are laws for souls as well as for bodies; these laws are all wrapped up in one: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” etc. Let the soul break it, and the soul will die. The full penalty does not follow close upon the transgression, but it is inevitable. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Sins, small and great

As there is the same roundness in a little ball as in a bigger, so the same disobedience in a small sin as in a great. (J. Trapp.)


Verse 5

1 John 3:5

And in Him is no sin

The personal history and character of Christ: the influence of character

It has always been felt, even by men who did not view the matter from the Christian standpoint, that the immediate effects of the mission of Christ must be largely ascribed to the influence of that Divine personality which He allied with human nature, and which brought Him into contact, at every stage of His earthly sojourn, with the sorrows, the necessities, and the sympathies of life.
The same feeling has brought it to pass that the love of Christ, rather than any other form of the religious sentiment, represents the very heart and centre of the Christian character. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” says the apostle; and the love of Christ alone supplies the strong and overruling motive which can conquer the unrighteousness, the impurity, the selfish darkness of the world. It is a leading principle thus suggested by the history of Christ that the power of individual character, with all the special force of sympathy, self-sacrifice, and love, is the most essential element in every kind of influence which has ever brought about great movements or given a right direction to the impulse of change. It is true that the influence must be followed up and perpetuated by a wise organisation; but the best organisation will go for little or nothing if it is not permanently actuated by this individual power. Never has this fruitful principle received so grand an illustration as when the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. The amazing power which our Lord exerted lay not so much in His words and deeds as in the character from which they sprang, not so much in His maxims of charity as in His life of love. This is a more than sufficient answer to the cavils of some who have endeavoured to depreciate the greatness of our Saviour’s teaching by trying to prove that it has no new message that He brought into the world. Be that as it may, it was something greater then a new message--it was above all things a new life. When Gibbon mockingly wrote that he had read the golden rule of doing as we would be done by in a moral treatise of Isocrates, written four hundred years before the publication of the Gospel, his words were true enough, but perfectly irrelevant. No one need be in the least surprised to hear it. He might have found much that sounds like the golden rule in a hundred places; hut what he would have found was the shadow, not the power. The mere precept was nothing better than a well-sounding phrase till it was lifted into life and energy by the quickening influence and example of the love of Christ. The power of Christ was both Divine and human--exerted by One who was the Son of Man aa well as the only begotten Son of God. Consider how these two elements were always blended together to constitute the unprecedented manifestation of the Gospel. The life of Christ, then, is the noblest example of the power of influence, just as the Church of Christ is the grandest illustration of the value of system, that have ever yet been made known among mankind. Here we are dealing with a law of universal application. For the two things, influence and system, are the elements which meet in all great institutions; the one to give force and impetus; the other to supply a preservative and perpetuating power. In God Himself these two principles are united in completeness and perfection. His power is as supreme as though no such thing as law existed. His order is so perfect that He is “a law unto Himself and to all other things besides.” While both of these are illustrated in the life of Christ and in the Church, both of them rank among the best gifts which God has bestowed on His creatures for the discharge of their work and the improvement of their race. The life of influence is indispensable to give vigour to system; the protection of system is just as requisite to prevent the life of a new impulse from evaporating and loving itself when the motive power has been withdrawn. For such as ourselves the strongest element of personal influence will be found in the sympathy of simple human fellowship--a sympathy which will lead us, in spite of all differences of education and position, to lay mind to mind and heart to heart in dealing with those whom influence can reach, so that, lowly as may be the object which we seek to elevate, a loving and unselfish sympathy may enable us, if the word be not too bold, and if only we may be so highly privileged to lift their nought to value by our side. There never was a time when it was more important to realise this great social gift of sympathy. (
Archdeacon Hannah.)

The secret of sinlessness--abiding in the Sinless One as manifested to take away our sins

I. Consider, first, for what end He was manifested. It was to “take away our sins.” John has just described sin as “the transgression of the law” (verse 4). He has fastened upon this as constituting the essence of sin. He is of the same mind with Paul (Romans 8:7). His, like Paul, knows that as our sins are against the law, so the law is against our sins. In the grasp and under the power of the law, as condemned criminals, we are fettered; and can no more get rid of our sins than a doomed felon can shake off his irons. An impotent sense of failure deadens and depresses us, while the feeling of our prostrate bondage in our sins irritates our natural enmity against God. And if we do not relapse into indifference, or take refuge in formality, or sink into sullen gloom, we are shut up to the one only effectual way of ending this miserable struggle between the law and our sinful nature--the way of free grace and sovereign mercy; the way of embracing Him whom “God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.” Then indeed “sin shall no more have dominion over us, when we are not under the law, but under grace”; when “there is now to us no condemnation because we are in Christ Jesus.” All this, I think, must be held to be comprehended in the fact stated--“He was manifested to take away our sins.” And it is all consistent with the object for which John reminds us of it: our purifying ourselves, as He is pure. He was manifested to take away our sins, root and branch. Their power to condemn us He takes away; and so He takes away also their power to rule over us. Nor is this all. In virtue of His being manifested to take away our sins, we receive the Holy Ghost. The obstacle which our sin, as a breach of the law, interposed to His being graciously present with us and in us is taken away. A new nature, a new heart, a new spirit, as respects the law of God and God the lawgiver, a new character as well as a new state, is the result of Christ being manifested to take away our sins. We know that, personally, practically, experimentally, and our knowledge of it is what enables as well as moves us to purify ourselves as Christ is pure. It is so all the rather because, secondly, we are to consider that He is manifested as Himself the Sinless One--“In Him is no sin.”

II. With this sinless person we are one, “abiding in Him as the Sinless One manifested to take away our sins.” And that is our security against sinning--“Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not.” This is the statement of a fact. Between abiding in Christ and sinning there is such an absolute incompatibility that whosoever sinneth is for the time not merely in the position of not abiding in Christ, but in the position of not having seen or known Him.

1. We abide in Christ by faith; by that faith, wrought in us by the Spirit, which unites us to Christ. Our abiding in Him by this faith implies oneness, real and actual oneness. When we sin, when we suffer any such thought, or feeling, or wish to find harbour in our breasts, we cease for the time to be abiding in Him.

2. We abide in Christ by His Spirit abiding in us. That is a filial spirit--the Spirit of God’s Son in us crying Abba Father--the Spirit of adoption in us whereby we cry Abba Father. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)


Verse 6

1 John 3:6

Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not

The secret of sinlessness--our abiding in Christ--the seed of God abiding in us--our being born of God

I.
These texts (1 John 3:6; 1 John 3:9) do not teach either the doctrine of perfection or that other doctrine which is apt to usurp its place--the doctrine that God sees no sin in His people, or that what would be sin in others is not sin in them.

II. There is another mode of dealing with the statements before us which I cannot feel to be satisfactory. It is to limit their comprehensiveness, and to understand the apostle as speaking, not of sin universally, but of sin more or less voluntary and presumptuous. According to this view, one abiding in Christ cannot sin deliberately, intentionally, knowingly. Is that true? Was it true of David? Or of the man in Corinth who was excommunicated for incest, and, upon repentance, restored?

III. It may help us out of the difficulty if we first look at the statements before us in the light, not of what we are now by grace, but of what we are to be in the future state of glory. It will be true then that we sin not; it will be impossible for us then to sin. What will make it impossible for us to sin? Simply our abiding in Christ, our being born of God, His seed abiding in us. Let me remind you that this impeccability lies in the will--the seat of it is the will. It is because, in the state of glory, my will is made “perfectly and immutably free to do good alone,” that my will is, or that I myself am, incapable of doing evil. And if it is your will that is to be thus free--free, as His will is free, to do good alone, and therefore incapable of an evil choice, then your impeccability must be, if I may say so, itself voluntary; voluntarily accepted and realised.

IV. Let me try to bring out more clearly this principle as one that must connect the future with the present. Why is it that in heaven, my will being free as God’s will is free, I can no more sin than He can sin? What answer would John give to that question if you could put it to him now? As thus: “In whatever sense, and with whatever modifications, thou didst, in thy experience when here, find that to be true which thou hast so emphatically put--as the test, apparently, of real Christianity--it is all true of thee there, where thou art now! How is it so? Why is it so?” “Because I abide in the Son of God, and God’s own seed abides in me, as being born of God”--is not that his reply? What other reply can he give? Then, does it not follow that it is an impeccability that may be realised on earth? For the causes of it are realised on earth; first, your abiding in the Son of God; secondly, your being born of God so as to have His seed abiding in you.

V. Viewed thus in the light of “what we shall be,” and of the bearing of what we shall be on what we are, John’s statements assume a somewhat different aspect from what they are apt to wear when taken by themselves. They become not one whit less solemn, but greatly more encouraging. For one thing, you may now regard them as describing a precious privilege, as well as imposing a searching test. They show you the way of perfect holiness; how you are to be righteous even as Christ is righteous; even as God is righteous.

VI. Taking this view, I confess I do not feel so much concern as otherwise I might feel about reconciling such strong statements as that one abiding in Christ sinneth not, or that one born of God cannot sin, with the acknowledged and lamented fact that he does sin. John has dealt with that fact already, and told us how to deal with it. It is not his business here to be making allowance for it. For indeed it is most dangerous to be considering the matter in that light or on that side at all. It is almost sure to lead, first to calculations, and then to compromises fatal to singleness of eye and the holy ambition that ought to fire the breast--calculations first about the quantity and quality of the residuum of old corruption which we must lay our account with finding in the purest God-born soul, and then compromises under the sort of feeling that, as the proverb says, what cannot be cured must be endured. Let a few practical inferences be suggested.

1. I think the texts teach, or imply, the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, the impossibility of their either wholly or permanently falling away from a state of grace.

2. The texts teach very plainly that this doctrine, whatever may be its practical use and value in its right place, and when turned to legitimate account, cannot give to any man security in sin, cannot make him safe when he is sinning, when he is committing sin or transgressing the law.

3. John’s true design and purpose is to put you in the way of not sinning, of its being impossible for you to sin. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The inadmissibility of sin

This paragraph goes to show that the practice of sin is out of the question for a believer in Christ. Sin has no place whatever in the Christian life, according to the proper view and conception of it. We observe five distinct reasons alleged by the apostle for this conclusion.

I. First he makes out, in verses 2 and 3, that on purity depends our future glory. This is the starting point of his denunciation of sin. John and his readers are “now,” in this present life, the “children of God.” The manner of their future existence is not revealed. One thing “we know,” that it will be a God-like state. We want to see God, for we are His children. And we are told that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” Then we must be holy. Now the pattern of God-likeness for us is Jesus the Son of God. We will, therefore, conform ourselves to Him. Everyone who longs to see God, and has seen Jesus Christ, knows now what he must be like in order to attain the vision. So he “purifies himself, as He is pure.” The apostle does not tell us here how this purity is to be gained. He says one thing at a time. He wants to convince us that such purity is indispensable. Observe, by the way, the word which John uses here for pure. It is hagnos, which elsewhere and commonly means chaste (2 Corinthians 11:2; Titus 2:5). It signifies the delicate purity of virgin thoughts and an uncontaminated mind (comp. Revelation 14:4), the opposite of sensuality and carnality; the purity of one in whom the animal and earthly are refined and transformed by the spiritual--as in Jesus.

II. Now St. John proceeds from the positive to the negative, from enjoining holiness to denouncing sin. And of his prohibitions this is the first: sin is illegal. So he puts it, with concise energy, in verse 4. This seems to you, perhaps, a commonplace; because you have behind you many ages of Christian teaching. Not so with John’s readers. Most of them had been Pagans, taught to think that if they kept the ceremonial rules of religion, and the laws of the state as sanctioned by religion, the gods were satisfied with them, troubling themselves no further about men’s conduct or the condition of their souls--that, in fact, private morals are one thing, law and religion quite another. Some of them had, probably, been Pharisaic Jews, accustomed to observe strictly the letter of their sacred law, while they found means, by all manner of evasions, to indulge in gross wickedness. Now the apostle traverses this position in verse 4. He deepens our conception of sin and broadens our conception of law, while he makes them coincide and cover the same ground, when he says, “Sin is lawlessness.” The law of God is all-embracing, all-penetrating; it touches every part of human nature and conduct. We have no business to do anything or think anything that is in the least degree ungodly. Every sinner is a rebel and an outlaw in God’s creation. This is the first and fundamental condemnation--the constitutional objection to sin, as we may call it.

III. In the next place, sin is unchristian. Here again we must put ourselves in the position of the readers, who had to learn things of God that He has been teaching us and our fathers for centuries. “He was manifested that He might take away sins”--not “our sins,” but “sins” in the most unlimited sense (compare 1 John 2:2). This our apostle had learnt from his first master, the Baptist, who pointed him to Jesus with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!” That great manifestation, the appearance of the Son of God in human flesh, was God’s demonstration against sin. Christ’s one object was to destroy it; and we can only “abide in Him” on the understanding that we have done with it too. Nor must we deceive ourselves by thinking that “righteousness” consists of good frames and feelings--we must “do righteousness” (verse 7). This apostle had known his Master on earth more intimately than anyone besides. And in this one word he describes the character of Jesus, and says of Him what could be said of no other child of Adam: “In Him sin does not exist.” Elsewhere he calls Him “Jesus Christ the righteous,” “the pure,” “the true.” To “take away sins,” to “cleanse us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), is with John a summary term for the abolition of moral evil. The Lord Jesus carries our sins right away and discharges us from them. Herein lies the glory and the fulness of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus--it destroys sin root and branch, in its guilt and power, its burden on the conscience, and its dominion over the heart. It is a hard saying, that of verse 6: “Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him nor known Him!” The interpreter needs to walk warily, lest with this sentence he should break some bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax in the heart of one who loves the Lord and yet has to mourn his many failures and shortcomings. The apostle writes here, and in verses 4 and 6, in the Greek present participle, which describes a continuous act or habit of sin: “everyone that sinneth” signifies everyone who lives in sin, or every sinner; and “everyone that doeth sin” means everyone whose life bears this fruit and yields sin for its product and result. The apostle is not thinking of the case of men weak in faith or “overtaken in some trespass.” Once to have seen the Lord Jesus, as John had seen Him, is enough to make any other ideal of life impossible. If you have “seen Him,” then you have fallen in love with holiness, once and forever. For you to put up with sin any more, or be at peace with it, is a thing impossible.

IV. Once more, St. John gives us to understand that sin is diabolical (verse 8). The righteous Son of God has come forth to be the leader of the sons of God, who are saved by His blood and abide in His righteousness. For the doers of sin there is another leader and pattern: “He that doeth sin is of the devil.” Every act of wrong-doing is an act of assistance to the enemy of God and man; it is an act of treason, therefore, in the professed servant of God, the soldier of Christ Jesus. Every such act helps in its degree to prop and maintain the great fortress of evil, the huge rampart raised in this world against the holy and almighty will of God, which Scripture calls sin.

V. Finally, St. John comes round again to what he had said at the outset: sin is unnatural in a child of God (verse 9). The two sentences of verse 9 amount to saying: First, as a matter of fact, the child of God does not sin; secondly, as a matter of principle, he cannot sin. Concerning “everyone that is begotten of God,” the apostle asserts, “sin he does not commit.” There is a master influence, a principle of Divine life and sonship, which produces the opposite effect, a “seed” that bears good fruit of righteousness instead of the old evil fruit of unrighteousness. This “seed of God abiding” in the believer is surely, according to John’s way of thinking, the presence of the Holy Spirit, that which he called in 1 John 2:27 “an anointing from the Holy One dwelling in you,” the chrism (anointing) which makes men Christians. Of the same grace he writes in 1 John 3:24 : “In this we know that He dwells in us, from the Spirit which He gave us.” And St. Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit, given to believers in Christ, is at once the seal of their sonship to God and the seed of moral goodness; for he speaks of the manifold forms of Christian virtue as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), that excludes “the works of the flesh.” For “these are contrary one to the other, so that you may not do the things you would; the Spirit lusts against the flesh”--it desires and effects what the flesh most disliked. Sin is done away not by mere negation and repression, but by the counterworking of a positive and stronger principle. The ground is so filled with the good seed that weeds have no room to grow. To a child of God, to the new nature, the new tastes and dispositions of the man “born of the Spirit,” sin becomes a moral impossibility. It is wholly repugnant to that “Divine nature” of which he now partakes (2 Peter 1:4). What shall we say, then, to the notorious fact of sin in believers? Some have shamelessly declared that their sin is no sin, for they are “born of God,” and therefore “cannot sin” 1 St. John would infallibly draw, for such men, the opposite conclusion--that, seeing they thus sin, they are not born of God, they “lie and do not the truth.” The fact must be admitted, but not for a moment allowed. Sin is an alien and monstrous thing to the regenerate; its detection in the heart must cause to a child of God the deepest pain and shame. Its actual commission, even for a moment, is a fall from grace, a loss of the seal of sonship, only to be retrieved by prompt repentance and recourse to the all-cleansing blood. Christianity can make no concession to sin, no compromise with it in any shape or form, without stultifying itself and denying its sinless, suffering Lord. (G. G. Findlay, B. A.)

Abiding in Christ the remedy against sin

As the Venerable Bede wrote long ago, “Quantum in Eo manet, tantum non peccat” (“In so far as he abideth in Him, thus far he sinneth not.”)

Christian purity

This deliverance does not imply the annihilation of the reward tendency to sin, so that we shall no longer find it in us as a force against which we have to watch and to contend. For, if Christ, by His own presence and power in our hearts, gives us complete and constant victory over the hostile force within us, so that it no longer consciously moulds our acts, or words, or thoughts, we are already saved from all polluting power of sin. A tendency to evil which is every moment trodden underfoot will cause us no spiritual shame. (J. A. Beet, D. D.)

Centrifugal and centripetal forces

This exposition may be illustrated by a far reaching analogy found in the solar system. The motive force in a planet at any moment, which force is an accumulation of its previous motion, would, if the attractive force of the sun were withdrawn, carry the planet from its orbit and to ruin. Whereas, if the inherent force were removed, the planet would fall into the sun, thus losing its individual existence. But under the combined influence of these two forces, each exerting its full influence every moment, the planet moves on its appointed path, preserving its individuality, yet subordinate to a body immensely greater than itself. So we move in absolute devotion to Him from whom we receive light and life and all things. (J. A. Beet, D. D.)

Counteracting sin

Similarly, we carry in our bodies chemical forces which would destroy us were they not neutralised by the presence of animal life. Yet, in spite of these forces, the body may be in perfect health. For the neutralising power is sufficient to preserve us. Just so the presence of Christ in our hearts holds back our inborn tendencies to evil, aggravated as they are by personal sin, and preserves us from all corruption. Thus does He save His people from their sins. (J. A. Beet, D. D.)


Verse 7

1 John 3:7

Little children, let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous

The secret of sinlessness

The false teachers of John’s day held that one might reach in some mysterious way a height of serene, inviolable, inward purity and peace, such as no things without, not even his own actions, could stain.
In a less transcendental form, the same sort of notion practically prevails in the world. John meets it by bringing out in marked contrast the two opposite natures, one or other of which we must all share: that of God and that of the devil.

I. “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as Christ is righteous.” It is clearly moral character that is here in question, not legal standing. The precise lesson taught, the great principle asserted, is that righteousness, moral righteousness, cannot possibly exist in a quiescent or inactive state; that it never can be a latent power or undeveloped quality; that wherever it is it must be operative. It must be working, and working according to its own essential nature. Moreover, it must be working, not partially, but universally; working everywhere and always; working in and upon whatever it comes in contact with, in the mind within and the world without. Otherwise, it is not righteousness at all; certainly not such as we see in Jesus; it is not “being righteous as He is righteous.”

II. As “doing righteousness,” through its being thus associated or identified with “being righteous as the Son is righteous,” proves our being “born of God”; so “doing sin” proves a very different relationship, a very different paternity. “He that committeth” or doeth “sin is of the devil”; for, by doing sin, he shows his identity of nature with him who is a sinner from the beginning. And it is upon identity of nature, proved practically, that the question of moral and spiritual parentage must ultimately turn. This phrase, “being of the devil,” as used here and elsewhere in Scripture, does not imply what in human opinion would be accounted great criminality or gross immorality. The sin which lost Satan heaven was neither lust nor murder. It was not carnal at all, but merely spiritual. It was not even lying--at least, not at first--though “he is a liar, and the father of it.” It was pure and simple insubordination and rebellion; the setting of his will against God’s; the proud refusal, at the Father’s bidding, to worship the Son. So “the devil sinneth from the beginning.” And when you so sin, you are of your father the devil. In order, then, to enter into the full meaning of John’s solemn testimony, it is not needful to wait till some horrid access of diabolic fury or frenzy seizes us. It is enough if “the tongue speaketh proud things,” or the heart conceives them. “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” Or, why are they not our own? May they not at least occasionally be our own--this once; for singing one vain song, or uttering one idle word, or joining in an hour’s not very profitable, but not yet very objectionable, talk? Is there any rising up in us of such a feeling as this, as if it were hard that we may not occasionally take our own way and be our own masters? It is the devil’s seed abiding in us; the seed of the devil’s sin, and of his sinful nature.

III. “But for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

On imitation of the obedience of Christ

I. What we are to understand by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

1. He was preeminently righteous in His moral sentiments. His mind was entirely free from pollution, and no unrighteous or unholy affection ever harboured there. He had the law of God in His heart, and it was His meal and His drink to do the will of His heavenly Father. By the original constitution of His nature, and the plenary inspiration of the Spirit, He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. His love to God was intense, rational, and pure, and His benevolence to man was without the slightest ingredient that could sully the purity and heavenliness of His motives.

2. He was righteous, not only in His moral sentiments, but also preeminently righteous as it regarded His moral actions. From the perfection of His knowledge He knew intuitively both what was good and what was evil; but His heart never consented to what was evil, and His will led him invariably to choose the good and reject the evil. He endured a severer series of temptation than any other human being that ever appeared in the world. He had no other motive to direct His moral conduct but the glory of God, and the desire of advantage to the bodies and the souls of men. The only ambition by which He was actuated was the noble, the generous, the Godlike ambition of doing good.

II. We can only lay claim to that designation in so far as our sentiments and actions correspond with his. In one very important respect there is certainly a vast difference between even the holiest of men and our Lord Jesus Christ. From the native rectitude of His will He could do nothing that was evil; but, alas! we are naturally prone to evil; and how, then, it may be asked, can we be righteous, even as He was righteous? But we ought ever to recollect theft this is not a natural, but a moral inability; it is not so much the want of power as the want of inclination, and this will never excuse us before the tribunal of Almighty God. We know what is good, and what the Lord requires of us; but we too often voluntarily follow after, and do that which is evil. (D. Stevenson.)

The importance of works

The words “he that doeth righteousness,” instruct us that there is a righteousness which we can do. We are elsewhere taught that there is a righteousness which we cannot do (Psalms 14:1; Psalms 14:3; Romans 3:10). The righteousness, in the sense of which none are righteous, is either a natural righteousness, we all, by nature, being inclined to evil, or it is an independent righteousness, or it is a meritorious righteousness, or else it is the legal righteousness, the righteousness of perfect obedience, and “in many things we offend all.” But the righteousness which we can do is very extensive and precious. We can be so far righteous as to render to God, according to the best of our poor abilities, the honour and worship due to Him; we can believe in Him, fear Him, pray to Him, give Him thanks, honour Him with our substance, delight in His ordinances and commandments; we can avoid the wilful commission of sin, we can cause our light so to shine before men that seeing it they may be led to glorify our heavenly Father. Now our text affirms of those who practise such righteousness--first, that they are righteous; and, secondly, that they are righteous as Christ is righteous.

I. He that doeth righteousness is righteous. Some would object to the use of this language in reference to any human being. They think that human nature is so inevitably depraved that no terms except those of the most debasing import are applicable to any works which proceed from it, even in its regenerate state. But however partial some may be to such distressing views of human nature, the Scriptures do not authorise them. They unequivocally state the fact of man’s depravity, but they confine themselves to general declarations of the same, such as “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth,” “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” without attempting to fix the degree of our common corruption--a forbearance which it would be wise in all to imitate.

II. He is righteous even as Christ is righteous. The apostle appears to mean that, as Christ’s righteousness was His own personal righteousness, and not by imputation, so that righteousness which is by faith shall be accounted the believer’s personal, which, through the meritorious obedience of Christ, shall avail to final justification. (A. Williams, M. A.)

Sin and its destruction

I. “He that committeth sin is of the devil.” The word rendered “committeth,” implies continued action. It is expressive of a habit rather than of an act. It assumes that the sinner is under the influence of Satan. His power over the body and the physical faculties of the mind is fearfully exposed in the history of demoniacal possessions in the gospel narrative. There is evidence no less clear and irresistible of his influence over moral principles. “The lusts of your father ye will do,” “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.” There is, more, however, in the expression of the text. It implies that not only are sinners subject to Satan, but that they are employed by him to aid him in influencing others to evil.

II. The devil sinneth from the beginning. “From the beginning” must be explained of a limited period, and refers probably to the commencement of the present dispensation. His conduct toward our first parents is the model of what he has ever done toward their descendants. And it is deserving of notice how those whom he does succeed to influence are made to resemble him. As he does to them, so do they to others. They are seduced by Satan and they become seducers. They are deceived by him, and they try to deceive others. Such is the progress of sin. It knows no limit. Once set in motion, it continues with accelerated pace to pursue its course. At the same time we are reminded by the view of sin and Satan now before us, that there is no effectual restraint put upon iniquity, nor any reformation produced by all the sorrow and suffering which it entails. True, the opportunity of indulgence may be withdrawn, and then the sin is not committed, or a partial and temporary change may be produced. But mere suffering can effect no more. The Spirit of God alone can heal the malady.

III. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” The work of Christ is a full counterpart to that of Satan. (J. Morgan, D. D.)


Verse 8

1 John 3:8

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning--

The existence of the devil and the origin of evil

I.
Refute the three theories in which the devil-denying doctrines are comprised.

1. The doctrine that two principles, of good and evil, eternally existed, and that the devil is only the evil principle personified.

2. The theory that the devil, specified in the Bible, is only the personification of fallen human nature.

3. The theory that sinful actions are the only devil that the Bible guards us against.

II. Explain the origin of evil, and exhibit the real existence of satan, as established by reason and revelation. (W. Barnes.)

Children of the devil

1. The unregenerate sinner, living in the habitual practice of sin, is of Satan, because his will harmonises with Satan’s will; and it follows, therefore, that all the powers and faculties which he possesses, influential as they are upon those with whom he associates, become instrumental to the working out of the dictates of Satan’s will rather than God’s will.

2. The unregenerate sinner, living in the habitual indulgence of sin, is under the despotic influence of Satan, whose slave and vassal he is. He may be a free member of a free community, but his heart, his intellect, his body, all are bound in unresisting submissiveness to Satan.

3. The unregenerate sinner, living in the habitual indulgence of sin, must, if unreclaimed by sovereign grace, share the final end of Satan. If he is of the devil in sinning, he must be of the devil in suffering. (G. Fisk, LL. B.)

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil--

Satan’s works destroyed

I. The fact--that the Son of God was manifested

1. By His mysterious incarnation.

2. By His personal ministry.

3. By the promulgation of His gospel.

4. By the presence of His Spirit.

II. The design of this manifestation--“that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Christ a destroyer

I. The works of the devil. What these may be in the unseen world we know not; we find enough of them here in our world to astonish us.

1. Moral evil, sin, is one of these works. It is this which the apostle has more especially in his mind here, and which we may regard as the foundation of all the rest.

2. What we call natural evil, suffering, is another of his works. It grows out of sin.

3. And then comes discord, another work of Satan. Man and his God were walking together at first in a blessed amity. Satan came in and severed between them. And think of the contentions which have ever been going on between man and man in nations, societies, churches, and even families--Satan has fostered them all; nay, given rise to them all.

4. And then there is the deception which prevails in our world. We must trace this also to Satan. He is called in Scripture “the father of lies,” of all lies, but more especially of all spiritual lies. Well knowing that he cannot keep religion altogether out of the world, he deludes men with false religions.

5. Another work of Satan is the obscurity he has thrown here over Jehovah’s glory. He seems to have baffled God in all His purposes as to our world; to have brought to nothing all the designs of His goodness towards it when He created it.

6. And one thing more must be added--death. This crowns the work of Satan.

II. The manifestation of the Son of God to destroy them. Even the omnipotent Son of God cannot be a Saviour unless He is at the same time a destroyer. The works of Satan must be demolished, or God’s great work of mercy cannot be accomplished.

III. The destruction of these works.

1. The Lord Jesus effects their destruction in a wonderful character. Had we been told that the Son of the Highest was about to manifest Himself in our world as a Destroyer, we should have expected Him to appear among us in His glorious majesty, withering Satan, as He will do hereafter, by “the brightness of His coming.” But the Lord is wiser than we. This would have been a display of the Divine power only. The Lord would not thus honour Satan. He lays aside His majesty when He comes forth to this work of destruction. Satan and his works shall be overthrown by one of those very creatures whom Satan has long triumphed over.

2. If the character was wonderful in which our Lord achieved this work, the means whereby He achieved it were still more so. “Through death,” we are told, “He destroyed him that had the power or death, that is, the devil.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)

The design of Christ’s incarnation

I. As for the manifestation of the Son of God, though it principally relates to the actual coming of Christ into the world, yet it is a term of a larger comprehension, and so ought to carry our notice both to passages before and after His nativity. We find Him first exhibited in promises, and those as early as the first need of a Saviour, even immediately after the fall; by such a hasty provision of mercy, that there might be no dark interval between man’s misery and his hope of recovery (Genesis 3:15). But when at length prophecy ripened into event, and shadows gave way upon the actual appearance of the substance, in the birth of Christ, yet then, though the Son of God could be but once born, He ceased not to be frequently manifested; there was a choir of angels to proclaim His nativity, and a new star to be His herald. Christ was the light of the world; and nothing is more manifest or visible than that which manifests both itself and all things else; and needs no invitation to the eye, but will certainly enter, unless it be forcibly kept out. But the Jews were purposed not to believe their eyes; to question whether it was day when the sun shined. It is clear, therefore, that the Jews rejected the Son of God, not because He was not manifested, but because they delighted to be ignorant, and to be sceptics and unbelievers even in spite of evidence.

II. The end of His manifestation, “that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

1. I reduce the works of the devil, destroyed by the manifestation of the Son of God, to these three--

There is a natural coherence between these: for sin being a voluntary action, and so the issue of the will, presupposes a default in the understanding, which was to conduct the will in its choices; and then when the delusion and inadvertency of the understanding has betrayed the will to sin, the consequent and effect of sin is death. Christ therefore, that came to repair the breaches, and cure the miseries of human nature, and to redeem it from that frenzy into which it had cast itself, designs the removal and conquest of all these three.

2. I come now to show what are the ways and means by which He destroys them.

The purpose of the incarnation

I. The mystery of Christ’s incarnation--the Son of God was manifested.

1. The propriety, to whom this work of subduing the devil and destroying his works, properly belongs; that is God.

2. The appropriation of this work. It is ascribed to the second Person in the glorious Godhead; to the Son of God. And that the Son of God should undertake this work, there are two congruities.

(a) The first work of Satan, was to make us degenerate from our original, and to become the children of the devil; that was our woeful condition (John 8:44). This work must be destroyed by our spiritual adoption; that rescues us out of that cursed family, and reduces us to a new sonship, makes us become the children of God. Now, who so fit to make us adopted sons as the natural Son of God?

(b) The second work of the devil was the defacing and destroying that holy image of God, in which we were created, and so stamping upon our souls that blemish of the devil’s similitude. Now, who so fit to deface the image of Satan, and to repair the blessed image of God upon our souls, as the Son of God, who is the lively express image of God the Father (Romans 8:29)?

3. The manner of effecting this work, the dispensation observed in it, theft is called here His manifestation.

(a) This manifestation under the veil of His flesh was fitted for our capacity, we could not otherwise have beheld Him. We can fix our eyes upon the sun when it is under a cloud; we cannot do so when it is in its full splendour.

(b) This manifestation was under the veil of the flesh to make way for the exercise of faith; and faith was to have a principal part in the work of our redemption. And the property of that is to believe that which we see not. And therefore, that our faith might have what to believe, he concealed His Divinity under the veil of His humanity.

(c) His manifestation was under the veil of the flesh, as the fittest way to conquer and destroy the devil.

(i) It was a fit way to requite the devil, He wrought our ruin by a counterfeit incarnation, appearing to our first parents in another habit; and Christ works Satan’s ruin by a real incarnation.

(ii) This was done to bring on the devil to this encounter, by which he might be destroyed. He durst not have assaulted our Saviour appearing in His glory.

II. The work and employment of our incarnate Saviour. It was “to destroy the works of the devil.” The fruit and benefit of our Saviour’s incarnation hath other expressions in Scripture (Matthew 18:11; 1 Timothy 1:15; John 6:41; John 10:10). These are all comprehended in this of St. John, it was “to destroy the works of the devil.”

1. What is that which Christ sets Himself against and opposes? They are the works of the devil. So then, in general, the work for which Christ came into the world is a spiritual work, to oppose spiritual wickedness. The gospel is conversant in mortifying of sins, not in invading of possessions, as Bernard speaks.

(a) Sin, that is the work of the devil.

(b) Death, that is the work of the devil; and Christ destroys both.

(a) Look to thy warrant and authority. Every man is not to be a destroyer, even of those things that deserve to be destroyed.

(b) Take heed you mistake not a work of God for a work of the devil.

(c) When these two works meet in one--the work of God and the work of the devil--then separate the precious from the vile, discern and distinguish them.

2. The opposition which Christ makes against the works of the devil. It is called a destroying. It is a full word, of great vehemence and intention. Christ came not only to abate the power of Satan, and to bring him under, as Saul did with Agag, or the Israelites did with the Canaanites: spared their lives, but subdued them only, and made them tributaries. It is charged on them as a sin (Psalms 106:34). No; sin and Satan are to be devoted to utter destruction. Not only restrain sin, but root it out and destroy it. And that we may do this, we must beget in us a destroying affection. What is that? Hatred--a double hatred.

(a) He destroys the condemning power of sin by purchasing the pardon of sin, and confers this upon us in our justification.

(b) He destroys the dominion and reigning power of sin by inspirations of His grace, thereby mortifying sin in our sanctification.

(c) He destroys the very being of sin; roots up the bitter root of sin by His final and finishing grace in our glorification. Thus do thou--

(i) Sue for the pardon of sin.

(ii) Strive against the power of sin.

(iii) Long for the final abolishing of sin.

III. The design and intendment of this work: “For this purpose.”

1. This destroying of sin and Satan and so the rescuing of us from both, was His intention. He foresaw our fall, and pitied our misery, and forecasts our recovery: His eternal thoughts of grace and mercy were employed about us.

2. This work was His primary intention. The main end of His coming into the world was to destroy Satan and to free us from his bondage and captivity.

3. This destroying of Satan’s works is His effectual and real intention. Did He purpose it? Then surely He will accomplish it, and effectually perform it. (Bp. Brownrigg.)

The first promise accomplished; or, the head of the serpent bruised by the seed of the woman

The text is a distinct doctrine, viz., that the Son of God was manifested for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

I. To offer some things with relation to this renowned champion.

1. He is a person of a noble extract and pedigree; He is the Son of God by eternal generation, His Father’s first born, and therefore higher than the kings of the earth.

2. This renowned person, the Son of God, had an ancient kindness for our family; for He from eternity “rejoiced in the habitable parts of the earth, and His delights were with the sons of men.”

3. That He might be in a capacity to help and relieve us from the hand of the enemy, He marries our nature into a personal union with Himself. Law and justice required that the same nature that sinned should suffer.

4. This renowned Champion is one of a very martial and heroic spirit; He fears no enemy that stands in His way (Isaiah 59:16-18).

5. He is one that is successful in all His enterprises: He never lost a battle, victory follows Him in His train.

6. He is incomparable for power and wisdom; hence His name is “Christ the power of God, and Christ the wisdom of God.”

II. To offer a few thoughts concerning the grand enemy of mankind, that the Son of God had in His eye when He appeared upon the stage, and that is the devil.

1. That he was once an angel of light, and had his habitation at first in glory.

2. Pride and ambition was the sin of the devil.

3. Being cast out of heaven, he was filled with the madness of revenge and enmity against God.

4. By virtue of the curse of the broken law, the devil comes to have a legal title to, and dominion over, every son of Adam by nature.

5. The enemy into whose hands we are fallen is of all others the most dangerous and terrible.

I will tell you of some works of the devil brought about by sin.

1. The dishonour of God.

2. The disturbing of the creation.

3. The ruin of man.

4. The erection of his own kingdom of sin and darkness.

III. The manifestation of the Son of God in order, to His destroying these works of the devil.

1. He was manifested initially in the first promise (Genesis 3:15).

2. He was manifested typically to the children of Israel in the Mosaic economy. The tabernacle, the temple, the passover, the manna, the rock that followed them, the sacrifices and ceremonies of that dispensation--what else were they but the “shadows of good things to come”?

3. To this there was added a prophetical manifestation of the Son of God.

4. He was manifested personally in the fulness of time by the assumption of the nature of man (Galatians 4:4).

5. There is a declarative manifestation of the Son of God in the dispensation of the gospel.

6. He is manifested sacramentally.

7. Christ is manifested in a spiritual and efficacious way in the day of conversion.

8. There is the public and solemn manifestation of the Son of God at the last day (Revelation 1:7). Thus you see how it is that the Son of God is manifested; and in every one of these manifestations He had in view the destruction of Satan and his works.

IV. To speak of the Son of God destroying the works of the devil.

1. The first thing is, to prove that it was the great business of the Son of God to destroy the works of the devil.

2. The second thing here is, to inquire, How is it that Christ destroys the works of the devil? Christ destroys the works of the devil four ways.

3. The third thing was, to observe upon some particular times and seasons wherein Christ destroys the works of the devil.

4. The fourth thing here was, to give the reasons why Christ the Son of God is manifested to destroy the works of the devil.

V. The last thing in the method was the use of the doctrine, which I shall despatch in the following inferences.

1. See hence a glorious ray of the Godhead or supreme independent Deity of the glorious Redeemer.

2. See hence how the kindness and love of God hath appeared toward man upon earth.

3. See hence the evil of sin, and the folly of those that are in love with it, and give themselves up to its power and service.

4. See hence a good reason why the believer is at war with sin in himself, and wherever he finds it.

5. See hence why hell and earth took the alarm when Christ appeared in the world.

6. See one great reason why believers breathe so much after manifestations of the Lord.

7. From this doctrine we may see how much it is our concern to keep up the memorials of a Redeemer’s death, and why the truly godly love to flock to a sacrament.

Use second may be of trial, whether the Son of God was ever savingly manifested to thy soul.

1. If ever She Son of God was manifested in thy soul, thou wilt be for pulling down the works of the devil, and for building up the works of the Son of God.

2. If ever the Son of God was manifested savingly unto thy soul, the union of the two natures in the person of Christ will be the wonder of thy soul.

3. It will be your great design, in attending ordinances, to have new manifestations of His glory, as David (Psalms 27:4; Psalms 63:1-11; Psalms 84:1-12, etc.).

4. You will be concerned to manifest His glory to others. The last inference is this, Is it so that the Son of God was manifested? See hence noble encouragement to all honest ministers and Christians to make a stand against the defections of the day we live in. (E. Erskine, D. D.)

The works of the devil destroyed

I. First, the works of the devil. This very strong expression is descriptive of sin; for the preceding sentence so interprets it.

1. This name for sin is first of all a word of detestation. Sin is so abominable in the sight of God and of good men that its various forms are said to be “the works of the devil.” Think of that, ye ungodly ones--the devil is at work in you, as a smith at his forge.

2. Next, it is a word of distinction: it distinguishes the course of the ungodly man from the life of the man who believes in the Lord Jesus. If you have not the life of God in you, you cannot do the works of God. The mineral cannot rise into the vegetable of itself, it would require another touch from the creative hand; the vegetable cannot rise into the animal unless the Creator shall work a miracle; and, even so, you as a carnal man cannot become a spiritual man by any spontaneous generation; the new life must be imparted to you by the quickening Spirit.

3. The language before us is, next, a word of descent. Sin is “of the devil,” it came from him; he is its parent and patron. Sin is not so of the devil that we can lay the blame of our sins upon him, for that is our own. It is our work because we willingly yield. Let us be thoroughly ashamed of such work when we find that the devil has a hand in it.

4. Consider, next, that we have here a word of description. The work of sin is the work of the devil because it is such work as he delights in. He has led the human race to become accomplices in his treason against the majesty of heaven, allies in his rebellion against the sovereignty of God most high. The works of the devil make up a black picture: it is a thick darkness over all the land, even a darkness that may be felt.

II. The purpose of God--“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” Yes, mark that word, “destroyed,” not limited, nor alleviated, nor neutralised, but destroyed.

1. The work which lies in this purpose is assuredly a Divine work. The Lord who can create can certainly destroy.

2. And there is, to my mind, about it the idea of a conquering work. When are the palaces and the fortifications of great kings destroyed? Not till the kings themselves have been overthrown in fair fight; but when their power is broken then it is that the conquerors raze the castle and burn the stronghold.

3. This means also a complete work. The product of evil is not to be cut down for a time and left to grow again.

4. It is a complete work and a conclusive work; for the Lord Jesus will so break the head of the old dragon, that he shall never wear the crown again. Sin in every shape and form the Lord shall destroy from off the face of the earth forever.

III. Our text plainly tells us how this is to be done--by the manifestation of the Son of God. Behind, and under, and over the works of the devil the Lord had ever the design that this evil should be permitted that He might baffle it with love, and that the glory of His grace might be revealed. My text has in it to my mind a majestic idea, first, of the difficulties of the case--that the Son of God must needs be manifested to destroy the works of the devil; and then, secondly, of the ease of His victory.

1. First, Christ’s manifestation, even in His incarnation, was a fatal blow to the works of Satan. Did God come down to men? Was He incarnate in the infant form that slept in Bethlehem’s manger? Then the Almighty has not given up our nature to be the prey of sin.

2. Next, look to the life of Christ on earth, and see how He there destroyed the works of the devil. It was a glorious duel in the wilderness when they stood foot to foot--the champions of good and evil! All our Lord’s preaching, all His teaching, all His labour here below was in order to the pulling away the corner stone from the great house of darkness which Satan had built up.

3. But oh, it was in His death that Jesus chiefly overthrew Satan and destroyed his works. Man, accepting this great sacrifice, loves and adores the Father who ordained it, and so the works of the devil in his heart are destroyed.

4. Our Lord’s rising again, His ascension into glory, His sitting on the right hand of the Father, His coming again in the latter days--all these are parts of the manifestation of the Son of God by which the works of the devil shall be destroyed. So also is the preaching of the gospel. If we want to destroy the works of the devil our best method is to manifest more and more the Son of God.

5. Lastly, on this point, our blessed Lord is manifested in His eternal power and kingdom as enthroned in order to destroy the works of the devil; for “the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called Wonderful, the mighty God, the Father of the ages.”

IV. A few words of inquiry as to the experience of all this in ourselves. Has the Son of God been manifested to you to destroy the works of the devil in you?

1. At first there was in your heart an enmity to God; for “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Is that enmity destroyed?

2. The next work of the devil which usually appears in the human mind is self-righteous pride. Have all those rags gone from you? Has a strong wind blown them right away? Have you seen your own natural nakedness?

3. When the Lord has destroyed self-righteousness in us, the devil generally sets us forth another form of his power, and that is despair. But if the Lord Jesus Christ has been manifested to you, despair has gone, that work of the devil has been all destroyed, and now you have a humble hope in God and a joy in His mercy. What next?

4. Have you any unbelief in your heart as to the promises of God? Down with it! Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. All mistrusts must die. Not one of them must be spared. Do fleshly lusts arise in your heart? In whose heart do they not arise? The brightest saint is sometimes tempted to the foulest vice. Yes, but he yields not thereto. He cries, “Away with them!” It is not meet even to mention these vile things; they are works of the devil, and to be destroyed. Do you quickly become angry? I pray God you may be angry and sin not; but if you are of a hasty temper, I entreat you to overcome it. Do not say, “I cannot help it.” You must help it, or rather Christ must destroy it. It must not be tolerated. Oh, there is to be in every true believer the ultimate abolition of sin. What a prospect this is! (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 9

1 John 3:9

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God

The usurper deposed and the conqueror vanquished

I.
The important doctrine here asserted. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.”

1. This doctrine is implied in all the precepts of the law of God, whether they relate to evils prohibited or to duties enjoined.

2. This doctrine is implied in all the injunctions of the New Testament, which are expressly enjoined on those who profess the religion of Christ.

3. This doctrine is implied in all those Scriptures which speak of holiness as the privilege of the people of God, and as indispensable to all men.

4. This doctrine is, if possible, still more plain from a consideration of what the Scriptures say concerning those who live in the practice of sin.

II. The argument by which this doctrine is established. “For his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin: because he is born of God.”

1. The practice of sin is contrary to the nature of the man who is born of God.

2. The practice of sin is contrary to the impulse of that Divine principle which is deposited in the heart of the man who is born of God.

From this subject we learn--

1. What is the nature of the true religion.

2. What is the unfailing conduct of all those who are truly religions.

3. What is the lamentable condition of all who live in the practice of sin. (W. Lupton.)

Sonship exclusive of sin

I. The change, or the work of grace in the sinner.

1. “Born of God.” (See John 1:12-13) As water cannot rise above its fountain, so can no change in man be better or greater than its cause. If it come from the flesh it must be like it, earthly and sinful. When it comes from the Spirit, then it must be like Him, spiritual, holy, and heavenly.

2. “His seed remaineth in him.” It is immaterial whether “his” seed be understood of God or of the believer. It is that seed which God has sown in his heart. It is God’s as the author of it. It is the believer’s as the subject of it. How is this figure calculated to supplement and illustrate the former one. First, the sinner is born of God by means of the truth. He is left no longer ignorant of sin, but is taught to know its vileness and evil consequences. He is no longer ignorant of himself, but has been enlightened to see the depravity of his heart. Second, it is in the same way the life of faith and holiness thus begun is maintained in him. The idea is specially noticed in the text, “His seed remaineth in Him.” It is in its own nature imperishable. The truth ever abides the same. The believer ever sees sin as he saw it at the first, vile and ruinous. He ever sees himself as he did at the beginning, exposed to ruin if he indulges it. He ever sees the Saviour as gracious and glorious as He appeared at the first. His claims do not diminish in his view, nor does he ever find reason to change his conclusions respecting this world and the next, time and eternity.

II. The effects that are declared to result from it. “He doth not commit sin, and he cannot sin.” As two figures were used to describe the change, so are there two assertions to declare the results. The one is the assertion of a fact, and the other is an argument to explain and confirm it.

1. The fact--“He doth not commit sin.” Let it be observed this is said of every converted man. “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” He does not sin knowingly, wilfully, and habitually. We say of a man versed in literature, he is learned, although he is ignorant of many things. In like manner we speak of men, and say they are strong, although in some respects they may be weak. We judge of them by that which is prominent and paramount in them.

2. The second expression, explanatory and confirmatory of this fact, is still stronger, “He cannot sin, because tie is born of God.” To live in sin is contrary to the new nature of which he has been made a partaker. The nature cannot and does not sin. Had he no other nature he would never sin. And there are many reasons why he cannot.

Sins of the regenerate

Various expositions are given of this.

1. He ought not to sire Cannot indeed is sometimes taken for ought not (Acts 4:20). But this is not the meaning of cannot here, ought not; for an unrenewed man ought not to sin any more than a regenerate man. But the apostle attributes here something peculiar to the regenerate, addling the reason, “because he is born of God.”

2. He cannot sin so easily. He may sin easily in respect of the frailty of the flesh, but not so easily in regard of the abiding of the seed in him, which helps him to bewarere of sin. Grace being a Divine habit, hath the nature of a habit, which is to incline the person to acts proper to that habit, and facilitate those acts, as a man that hath the habit of an art or trade can with more ease work in it than any other.

3. He cannot sin, as he is regenerate. A gracious man, as a gracious man, cannot sin; for grace, being a good habit, is not capable of producing acts contrary to its nature. Sin in a regenerate man proceeds not from his grace, but from his corruption.

4. He cannot sin as long as he is regenerate, as long as the seed remains in him, as long as he follows the motions of the Spirit “rod grace, which are able to overcome the motions of concupiscence, but he may give up the grace: as an impregnable tower cannot be taken as long as it is defended by those within, but they may fling away their arms and deliver it up.

Sin may be considered in two ways, viz., as to--

1. The act of sin. Thus a believer sins.

2. The habit of sin, or custom in it, when a man runs to sin freely, willingly, and is not displeased with it.

Thus a believer does not commit sin. Being God’s son, he cannot be sin’s servant; he cannot sin in such a manner and so absolutely as one of the devil’s children, one born of the devil. Doctrine: There is a mighty difference between the sinning of a regenerate and a natural man. A regenerate man doth not, neither can, commit sin in the same manner as an unregenerate man doth. The sense of this “cannot” I shall lay down in several propositions.

1. It is not meant exclusively of lesser sins, or sins of infirmity.

2. A regenerate man cannot live in the customary practice of any known sin, either of omission or commission.

I shall confirm this by some reasons, because upon this proposition depend all the following.

1. Regeneration gives not a man a dispensation from the law of God.

2. It is not for the honour of God to suffer a custom and course of sin in a renewed man.

3. It is against the nature of the covenant. In the covenant we are to take God for our God, i.e., for our chief good and last end.

4. It is against the nature of our first repentance and conversion to God. True repentance is “a breaking off iniquity by righteousness” (Daniel 4:27).

5. It is against the nature of habitual grace, which is the principle and form of our regeneration.

6. A regenerate man cannot have a fixed resolution to walk in such a way of sin, were the impediments to it removed.

7. A regenerate man cannot walk in a way doubtful to him, without inquiries whether it be a way of sin or a way of duty, and without admitting of reproofs and admonitions, according to his circumstances.

8. A regenerate man cannot have a settled, deliberate love to any one act of sin, though he may fall into it.

9. A regenerate man cannot commit any sin with a full consent and bent of will. (S. Charnock.)

The sins of the regenerate

The apostle having exhorted the saints to whom he writes in the former chapter to abide in Christ and to do righteousness (verses 28, 29), follows on this exhortation with several arguments that a true Christian is not only bound to do so, but that he indeed doth so.

1. From that hope which hath eternal happiness for its object (1 John 3:2-3). Where this hope is truly founded it will inflame us with a desire after holiness.

2. From the contrariety of sin to the law of God. A Christian who is guided by this law will not transgress it.

3. From the end of Christ’s coming, which was to take away sin (1 John 3:5).

4. From the communion they have with Christ; abiding in Him.

5. From the first author of sin, the devil; he that sins hath a communion with the devil (1 John 3:8), as he that doth righteousness hath a communion with Christ.

6. From the new nature of a Christian, which hinders him from sin (1 John 3:9). (Bp. Hackett.)

“Cannot sin”

He cannot sin any more than a good mother can kill her child. She might be able in a thousand ways to kill the child, but her heart would forbid it and make the impossibility absolute. (J. B. Figgis, M. A.)

“Cannot sin”

The ideas of Divine sonship and sin are mutually exclusive. As long as the relationship with God is real, sinful acts are but accidents; they do not touch the essence of the man’s being. The impossibility of sinning in such a case lies in the moral nature of things. (Bp. Westcott.)

“Cannot”

Some of you are men in business. I go into your shop or warehouse, and I ask you the price of a certain article. You say it is so much. I offer you one half or two thirds of what you have said is the price. You say, “I cannot take it.” Now, why cannot you take what I offer you? It is not the want of freedom in your will to decide on accepting my proposal; nor is it the want of physical power in your arm to accept my offer. You have both the one and the other, and yet you repeat your former statement, “I cannot take it”; and you speak truly. You cannot take it, because it would be unjust, because it would tend to bring ruin on your business, and to reduce yourself and family to beggary. You cannot take it consistent with your safety and happiness. Just so he that is born of God cannot commit sin consistent with his well-being. It would be rebellion against God, and would bring injury, if not ruin, upon his soul. (J. Seymour.)

The failings of Christians

With true insight into the case, quaint Thomas Fuller alleges that “the failings of Christians be rather in the branches and leaves than in the roots of their performances.”

Sin natural to the regenerate nature

“It would,” says Thomas Manton, “be monstrous for the eggs of one creature to bring forth a brood of another kind, for a crow or a kite to come from the egg of a hen. It is as unnatural a production for a new creature to sin.” Each creature brings forth after its own kind. Out of a dove’s nest we expect only doves to fly. The heavenly life breeds birds of paradise, such as holy thoughts, desires, and acts; and it cannot bring forth such unclean birds as lust, and envy, and malice. The life of God infused in regeneration is as pure as the Lord by whom it was begotten, and can never be otherwise. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 10

1 John 3:10

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother

Two classes of men

I.
Men are divided into two classes, the children of God and the children of the devil. This assumption is very contrary to the prevailing views and practices of men. Many make no inquiry to what class they belong. Some who have thought upon it consider it is not possible to obtain satisfaction, and they dismiss it from their minds. They are satisfied to live in entire uncertainty. Or if they do classify men, themselves included, it is a very different summary from that of the apostle. Their reckoning makes many classes. They are as numerous as the phases of human society. Think, then, of this Divine distinction. Some are the children of God. They have been born of Him. This is the one class. But how different is the other? They are “the children of the devil.” Like him they have fallen from their original righteousness. They have been under his influence ever since they came into the world. These are the only two classes known to God. The Scriptures never recognise any other here. Neither shall any but these be found at the last judgment.

II. This distinction may be manifested. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” This statement may be understood with reference to ourselves or others. Contemplate it in both relations.

1. If we are the children of God this ought to be manifest to ourselves.

2. It is, however, its manifestation to others that appears to be specially spoken of in the text. The proofs are such as are cognizable by others. To a large extent the evidence of conversion to ourselves and to others is the same. In our own case, however, there is consciousness, which cannot be had in the case of others. The two states in question are the most contrary to one another that can possibly be conceived. The change from the one to the other is the most marked and decided of which the human mind can be the subject. Might not such a change be expected to be manifest? Its necessary and habitual operation is a constant testimony to its existence. It is like the ointment that betrays itself. The flowing stream is proof of a living fountain. And if the life be holy there must be a cause that lies deeper than any human purpose.

III. The evidences by which they are made manifest. Two are mentioned--“He that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” It is observable that these evidences are put in the negative form, and an important lesson is suggested by it. The absence of well-doing is sufficient for condemnation. It is not enough that we “cease to do evil,” we must “learn to do well.”

1. “He that doeth not righteousness is not of God.” A man who is not exhibiting righteousness in his deportment gives no proof that he is born of God.

2. With this general deportment a special grace is associated--“Neither he that loveth not his brother.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)

The distinguishing character of a good and a bad man

I. The character and mark of difference between a good and bad man. “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God”; which implies, on the contrary, that whosoever doeth righteousness is of God.

1. Who they are that in the apostle’s sense may be said not to do righteousness.

2. Who they are that in the apostle’s sense may be said to do righteousness. In short, they who in the general course of their lives do keep the commandments of God. I choose rather to describe a righteous man by the actual conformity of the general course of his actions to the law of God, than by a sincere desire or resolution of obedience. For a desire may be sincere for the time it lasts, and yet vanish before it comes to any real effect. No man believes hunger to be meat, or thirst to be drink; and yet there is no doubt of the truth and sincerity of these natural desires. No man thinks that a greedy desire to be rich is an estate, or that ambition, or an insatiable desire of honour is really advancement; just so, and no otherwise, a desire to be good is righteousness.

II. By this mark every man may, with due care and diligence, arrive at the certain knowledge of his spiritual state and condition.

1. By this character, as I have explained it, he that is a bad man may certainly know himself to be so, if he will but consider his condition and do not wilfully delude himself. For the customary practice of any known sin is utterly inconsistent with sincere resolutions and endeavours against it.

2. By this character, likewise, they that are sincerely good may generally be well assured of their good condition, and that they are the children of God. And there are but two things necessary to evidence this to them--that the general course of their actions be agreeable to the laws of God; and that they be sincere and upright in those actions.

III. Whence it comes to pass, that notwithstanding this, so many persons are at so great uncertainty about their spiritual condition.

1. We will consider the grounds of the false hopes of men really bad concerning their good condition.

2. The causeless doubts and jealousies of men really good concerning their bad condition.

3. There are likewise others, who upon good grounds are doubtful of their condition, and have reason to be afraid of it; those, I mean, who have some beginnings of goodness, which yet are very imperfect. The proper direction to be given them in order to their peace is, by all means to encourage them to go on and fortify their resolutions; to be more vigilant and watchful over themselves, to strive against sin, and to resist it with all their might.

Conclusion:

1. From hence we learn the great danger of sins of omission as well as commission.

2. It is evident from what hath been said, that nothing can be vainer than for men to live in any course of sin and yet to pretend to be the children of God and to hope for eternal life.

3. You see what is the great mark of a man’s good or bad condition: whosoever doeth righteousness is of God, and “whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” (J. Tillotson, D. D.)

The manifestation of character

I. The persons opposed are the children of God and the children of the devil, i.e., good and bad men. It is common in the Scripture to call persons, distinguished by any quality or acquisition, the children of those from whom it was originally derived, or by whom it was preeminently possessed.

1. This division is the most general and universal.

2. It is also a division the most serious and eventful. It overlooks everything adventitious, and considers only character. It passes by the distinctions of speech, complexion, rank; and regards the soul and eternity.

3. Let us consider, farther, what results from these relations. According as you are “the children of God, or the children of the devil,” you are crowned with honour or covered with disgrace.

4. Upon these connections innumerable privileges or evils depend. Are you the children of God? Heaven is your home. And here you shall want “no good thing.” But I leave you to fill up the remaining article, and to think of the children of the wicked one. I leave you to reflect upon the miseries they endure, from their perplexities, their fears, their passions, and their pursuits in life. I leave you to look forward to the horrors which will devour mere in a dying hour.

II. The possibility of ascertaining in which of these classes you rank. The children of God and the children of the devil are “manifest.” Observe, it is not spoken of as a future, but as a present discovery--they “are” manifest.

1. They are manifest to God. It is impossible to impose upon Him; He “is not mocked.”

2. They are manifest to others. The tree is known by its fruit.

3. They are manifest to themselves. It will readily be acknowledged that it is not possible for a man to be wicked without knowing it.

III. The marks of distinction between these characters. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” In what? Not in temporal success. This is given or withheld too indiscriminately to allow of our knowing love or hatred. In what? Not in religious profession. Judas and Demas were both visible members of the Church of God. In what? Not in talking--not in controversy--not in a sound creed--not in the pronunciation of the Shibboleths of a particular party. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; he that doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”

1. The manner in which the subject is expressed. It is held forth negatively--nor is this without design. It reminds us that omissions decide the character, even where there is no positive vice.

2. The union of these excellences is worthy of our notice. We commonly see them combined in the Scripture. It is said of a good man, “He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”

3. From these arises a criterion by which we are to judge of the reality and genuineness of religion--not that these are the only marks which we are to employ; but all the rest will be delusive, if unaccompanied with this righteousness and love. (W. Jay.)

Self-manifestation

As there is a God, and a devil, a heaven, and a hell, a kingdom of glory, and a kingdom of darkness, so there are several sorts appertaining to both; and at the day of judgment there shall be a final separation made betwixt both. Now the one of these two sorts are in the very text called the children of God; the other, the “children of the devil.” Now to speak of the difference which is betwixt the children of God and the children of the devil. This difference is twofold, either general or particular. The general is the doing or not doing of righteousness; the negative is here only named, but in it as in all negative rules the affirmative is included. By righteousness is understood that holy and righteous course which God requireth of us, whether in general as we be Christians, or in particular according to our places and callings allotted unto us by God. The rule of righteousness is the Scripture; in it the Lord hath showed what is good, that only deserves to be entertained as our Spiritual Counsellor, that alone is able to make a “man wise unto salvation.” The doing of righteousness is twofold.

1. Legal, and

2. Evangelical.

The legal doing is the perfection of all duties, both in manner and form, both for the number and measure of them; which kind of doing was never found in any mere man since the fall of Adam. The Evangelical doing is mingled with much weakness, and is good only in acceptation with God by Jesus Christ. Of this doing the Spirit of God speaketh here, and it consists upon the concurrence of these following particulars.

1. A caring and studying to prove what is the good will of God, how He will be served, and wherewith He will be pleased.

2. An inflamed love and affection to that righteousness which is pleasing unto God.

3. A desire, that if it were possible, the whole course of the life and conversation might be suitable thereunto.

4. A firmness of resolution, to frame and set the whole and continual endeavour to the performance of it.

5. A speedy applying of oneself therein.

6. A careful catching of all opportunities to help forward this good purpose.

7. A diligent survey of ones own courses.

8. A bitter bewailing of slips and infirmities, together with a kind of holy indignation at one’s own self, that he should so grossly and ordinarily sin against the Lord.

9. An increase of care (after a soil received) and of watchfulness, together with a fear of running afresh into the same or like offence. And as these things cannot be in an unregenerate person, so they cannot but be in those whom the Lord hath chosen to be His. (S. Hieron.)

Connexion of doing righteousness with brotherly love as proving a Divine birth

1. Consider that old message or commandment, heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. On what is it based? It cannot, since the Fall, be based on our joint participation in the ills to which the Fall has made us heirs. It is redemption, and redemption alone, with the regeneration which is involved in it, that makes mutual brotherly love among men, in its true and deep sense, a practicable duty, an attainable grace. It is only one who, “being born of God, doeth righteousness as knowing God to be righteous,” that is capable of really loving his fellow man as a brother.

2. No such brotherly love is possible for him who, not doing righteousness, is not of God. His frame of mind must be that of Cain; a frame of mind that but too unequivocally identifies him as one of the devil’s children, and not of God’s. It was not because he was void of natural affection, or because his disposition was one of wanton cruelty and bloodthirstiness; it was not in the heat of sudden passion, or in a quarrel about any earthly good, that Cain slew his brother; but “because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” It is this which chiefly marks the instigation of the devil; and his fatherhood of Cain, and such as Cain. More than anything else on earth; infinitely more than any remains of remnants of good that the Fall has left in human nature and human society--for these he can turn to his own account and make his own use of--does that wicked one detest the faintest trace of the footsteps, the slightest breathing of the spirit of Him “whose goings forth have been from of old”; who has been ever in the world, the Wisdom and the Word of God, the light and the life of men. Let the truth and righteousness of God be brought so near to a man, by the Divine Word and Spirit, as to stir and trouble thoroughly his inward moral sense, while his desire and determination to stand his ground and not give in remains unabated, or rather is inflamed and aggravated; let the process go on; and let all attempts towards an accommodation, between the conscience’s increasing soreness and the heart’s increasing self-righteousness and self-will, be one after another frustrated and foiled; you have then the making of a Cain, a very child of the devil, who, if need be and opportunity serve, will not scruple to cut short the terrible debate and end the intolerable strife by slaying his brother Abel; by “crucifying the Lord of glory”! O my fellow sinner, let us beware! (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)


Verse 12

1 John 3:12

Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother

The world’s hatred of the godly

I.
A reference to the example of Cain.

1. His character--“he was of that wicked one.” He inherited his disposition. He was under his influence. He did his will. Had anyone warned Cain of the danger to which he was exposed, there is no doubt he would have treated it as the grossest insult. The fact proves there is no iniquity to which Satan will not prompt, and which he may not one day induce us to perpetrate. We are, therefore, farther warned to resist his encroaches upon our minds. They are deceitful and gradual. We need to be ever watchful against his devices. Let us remember the counsel of the apostle (1 Peter 5:8).

2. The conduct of Cain--“he slew his brother.” How shall the deed be designated?

3. But how are we to account for it? “Wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” It was envy that first moved him to the unparalleled iniquity. His offering was rejected, while Abel’s was accepted. He was mortified by the distinction, and would be avenged. It is very instructive to mark the progress of his mind under the influence of his envious feelings. The first notice is, “He was wroth.” It is then added, “His countenance fell.” So “he rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” What an instructive history! It is the progress of envy till it ended in fratricide. We need to be watchful over the movements of our own minds. Impressions may be guided or removed if early dealt with, but if they are allowed to strengthen, it is impossible to restrain them. We may be borne away by them as by a resistless torrent.

II. A reflection founded upon it--“Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” The world, of which Cain was a type, hates the godly, who are represented by Abel.

1. Surely, then, they who know the history of the world and the Church should not marvel. It begins with Cain and Abel. The same spirit has appeared in all ages, in all places, and under all circumstances. It has been carried on upon the wide theatre of nations, the narrower scene of communities, within the circle of friends, and in the bosom of families.

2. The causes of the enmity of the world to the Church remain as they were at the beginning, and therefore we should not wonder at it.

3. Important purposes are served by the hatred of the world, and therefore we need not wonder at it. It belongs to God to make the wrath of man to praise Him. He brings good out of evil, light out of darkness, and joy out of sorrow. It shows what man is. His “mind is enmity against God.” Thus the grace of God is exalted. That alone can change the human heart. At the same time the believer is thus subjected to a wholesome influence. As he is useful and holy so does the world watch him with a malignant eye. He needs to remember the injunction “watch unto prayer.”


Verse 13

1 John 3:13

Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you

The world’s hatred--God’s love

The world’s hatred; God’s love; these are what are here contrasted.
And yet there is one point at least of partial similarity. The affection, in either case, fastens in the first instance upon objects opposed to itself. The world hates the brethren; God loves the world, “the world lying in the wicked one.” And in a sense, too, the ends sought are similar. The world, which hates, would assimilate those it hates to itself, and so be soothed or sated; God, who loves, would assimilate those he loves to Himself, and so have satisfaction in them.

I. The world’s hatred of the brethren.

1. It is natural; not marvellous. The Lord prepares His disciples beforehand to expect it, warning them not to look for any other treatment at the world’s hands than He had met with. Notwithstanding all warnings, and all the experience of others who have gone before him, the young Christian, buoyant, enthusiastic, may fancy that what he has to tell must pierce all consciences and melt all hearts. Alas! he comes in contact with what is like a wet blanket thrown in his face, cold looks and rude gestures of impatience, jeers and jibes, if not harsher usage still. Count it not strange that you fall into this trial. Why should you? Is their reception of you very different from what, but yesterday perhaps, yours would have been of one coming to you in the same character and on the same errand? Surely you know that love to the brethren--true Christian, Christlike love--is no plant of natural growth in the soil of corrupt humanity; that, on the contrary, it is the fruit of the great change by means of which a poor sinner “passes from death unto life.”

2. It is murderous, as regards its objects: “He that loveth not its brother abideth in death: whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” “Loveth not,” “hateth,” “murdereth”! There is a sort of dark climax here! Not loving is intensified into hating, and hating into murdering. The three, however, are really one; as the Lord teaches (Matthew 5:21-24). Be on your guard against this spirit of the world finding harbour again in your breasts. Even you need to be warned against the world’s evil temper of dislike and envy. Consider how insidious it is. Consider also its deadly danger. Consider, finally, how natural it is; so natural that only your “passing from death unto life” can rid you of it, and make you capable of its opposite. Grace may overcome it; grace alone can do so. And even grace can do so only through continual watchfulness and prayer, continual recognition of the life through which you pass from death, and continual exercise of the love which is the characteristic of that life.

II. Of this love, as of the hatred, two things are said.

1. It is natural now to the spiritual mind; natural as the fruit and sign of the new life.

2. It is the very opposite of the murderous hatred of the devil; it is self-sacrificing, like the love of God Himself. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

The world hating the Church

These words imply a fact, and contain a warning.

I. First, then, for the fact that the unbelieving world did hate the Church. It is established, not by sacred testimony only, but by the concurrence of heathen writers.

II. The apostle not only states the fact that the world did “hate” the Christian, but he proceeds to warn them not to “marvel” at it. There were two reasons that would very naturally induce Christians so to marvel.

1. The first was derived from considering the Divine origin of their faith. They might be inclined to suppose that a religion coming from such a source, and so confirmed, would at least secure its professors from persecution.

2. The singular innocence and harmlessness of the lives of its professors might reasonably be expected to disarm malice of its sting. Now, for the first of these grounds, of their “marvel that the world should hate them.” The very pretension of the religion to speak with authority from God, armed the world, Jewish or heathen, against it. With the Jew it was not like a new sect, such as the Herodians, added to the older division into Pharisees and Sadducees. But it was a deposing Moses from his authority, and placing him beneath Him whom they execrated, “the carpenter’s son of Galilee.” Nay, more, it was not deposing Moses only from his place, it was a loss of rank and caste to themselves likewise. For if the Christian religion broke down the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, and made both one, what became of their own fancied superiority over the rest of mankind? Still more, what became of their own special position as lords over their brethren? Again, for the heathen. The Christian religion was not like adding another form of worship to the ten thousand that were already received in the world, so that it has been said that there were more gods than people at Rome; but it pronounced every one of these forms to be foul, cruel, pernicious, and false. Even some conviction that it must have conic from God, was not sufficient to hinder those to whom it was brought from hating and murdering those who brought it. But again, if the suspicion that the religion came from God were not sufficient to deter the world from persecuting the Christian, neither would the innocency of the Christian’s life be any defence. So far from it, it would be a special ground of attacking them. Wickedness has a consciousness that it is in the wrong, and as it only can support itself by having the multitude on its side, so it regards all goodness as a desertion, an exposure of its weakness. And what is the result? Clearly, that we ought not to be taken by surprise if we find the very best designs, the most palpable efforts of self-denial, not only misconstrued and misrepresented, but its ground of such opposition as the spirit of the age will permit. In more tranquil days, there is reason to apprehend that our faith may grow weak from want of exercise, and degenerate into mere morality and conventional decorum. (G. J. Cornish, M. A.)
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Verse 14

1 John 3:14

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren

Passing from death to life by love

I.
What we are to understand by death and life.

II. What we are to understand by the privilege of having passed from death to life.

1. This privilege implieth in it a change of covenant heads. The first Adam represented all his natural posterity. The second represented all given to Him by the Father.

2. This privilege implies a having passed from law death, to law life; or in other words, front a state of condemnation to a state of justification.

3. This privilege implies a having passed from spiritual death to spiritual life in regeneration; a having been released from the dominion and power of sin, to enjoy the happy reign and influence of grace. This change is not the product of nature, but wholly the work of God.

4. This privilege implies a coming or being taken into new relations--into a new covenant relation to God through Christ--taken into God’s family.

III. The fruit and evidence of this privilege, viz., love to the brethren.

1. Whom we are to understand by brethren.

2. What love to the brethren is. In general it is a supernatural warmth, kindled in the hearts of believers to one another, begetting union of heart and soul, sympathy with, care for, and complacency and delight in and towards one another. Never before nor since was this more emphatically expressed than in the beautiful description in Acts 4:32.

3. Now this love of the brethren evidences an interest in the privilege of having passed from death to life. It is an immediate fruit of this privilege, and therefore a certain and infallible evidence of it.

IV. The connection between the privilege and the fruit and evidence of it, viz., love to the brethren.

1. This connection is founded in the purpose and promise of God.

2. It is founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ.

3. In the intercession of Christ.

4. In the order of things.

V. The believer’s own knowledge of this, “we know.” John did not know this as an apostle, but as a believer; and this may be, and is known by believers.

1. From experience of what passeth in their own souls.

2. From its fruits. “A tree is known by its fruits”; and the fruits of this love are such as pity, sympathy, kindness, and compassion, forgiveness, benevolence, beneficence.

3. From the regard they pay to the authority and testimony of God in His Word--as in the text. This knowledge is not left to rest on the testimony of people’s own experience, but is based on the testimony of God in the Scriptures.

Improvement:

1. From this doctrine we may learn that, although love to the brethren has been called one of the lowest marks of grace, yet it is a real and decisive one, and is attended by the highest authority.

2. We may see that real Christians are united in the firmest bonds of mutual love and affection.

3. We may see how little of this love appears among professed Christians.

4. From this doctrine we may learn that sin has unhinged the moral frame--has introduced a breach between heaven and earth.

5. We may learn that Christ is the uniting bond of peace, reconciliation, love, and fellowship. (Alex. Dick.)

The world contrary to the Christian

Air and earth, fire and water, good and evil, light and darkness, are not more contrary the one to the other, than are the people of the world and the true members of the Church. Their views are contrary, the one class looking at the things of eternity merely in the light of time, the other looking at time in the light of eternity. Their tastes are contrary, the one being “of the earth, earthy,” the other spiritually minded. Their pursuits are contrary, the one “walking according to the course of this world,” the other “walking with God.” Their destiny shall be contrary “these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal.”

I. “We save passed from death unto life.’’ Let it be carefully observed this is a change which is declared to have already taken place. “We have passed.” Whenever a sinner believes he is put in possession of everlasting life, that is, of the germ or beginning of it. The words are expressive, however, not merely of a change that is supposed to be past in point of time, but of one most blessed in its nature. What is so much shunned as death? And what is so prized and preserved as life?

1. Death is used in the Scriptures to express a state of condemnation, and life one of acceptance. In the one case there is a sentence of death, and in the other of acquittal.

2. Death is also used in the Scriptures to express a con dition of sinfulness or depravity, and life that of holiness. The sinner is pronounced to be dead; and is he not so? He has all the features of death upon him.

II. The evidence spoken of in the text, “we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Brotherly love is the proof of conversion here cited by the apostle.

1. There is the natural affection which binds us to those with whom we are allied according to the flesh. It is true there may be this love when there is no grace. In that case brotherly love is no proof of the great change of which we have spoken.

2. The evidence arising from the exercise of brotherly love towards the people of God is still more unequivocal. It may be sometimes difficult to distinguish between the natural and gracious affection in the case of those who are closely allied to us. But where we love the godly, simply because they are such, the proof is unequivocal. Its peculiarity is that, apart from other considerations, our love is attracted by their godliness.

3. Still, love is not to be confined to them. It is to be extended to all men. And as it is so we strengthen the evidence of our gracious state.

III. The assurance of our salvation, arising out of this evidence. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” We may know it then. This is assumed. The term is the most expressive of certainty that could be used. It is not, we think or hope or desire, but we know. He ought to know it. It is not a privilege merely, but a duty. He ought to know it for the sake of his own holiness. He ought to know it for the honour of Christ. (J. Morgan, D. D.)

Love to the brethren a ground of assurance

I. The love of which the apostle speaks is peculiar in its origin. It is a very distinct thing from natural kindness and amiableness of disposition; from what we commonly call good nature. Nature cannot produce it. It is the special effect of the Spirit’s new creating power upon the soul.

II. It is peculiar, also, in its object. It is not the love of our fellow creatures generally, but the “love of the brethren,” in particular, on which St. John dwells so strongly as the evidence of a state of salvation. Not that the Christian by any means confines his benevolent regards to his fellow believers. But whilst he thus comprehends the whole human race in the circle of his affection, and prays for all, and is ready to benefit all, there is a still closer and more endearing bond of union by which he is attached to his fellow Christians. Their principles, taste, habits, and pursuits are congenial to his own.

III. Nor is the love of which we are speaking less distinct from that which sometimes assumes its name in its operation, than in its origin and object.

1. It is regular and consistent in its action. True charity is not an impulse, but a principle; not an act, but a habit; not a momentary or transient ebullition of feeling, but a fixed, steady, consistent motive of conduct, always ready to administer, as far as circumstances may allow, to the relief of ascertained distress, whether of soul or body.

2. It is self-denying. Its basis, like that of every other Christian grace, is humility. Pride, self-will, self-indulgence, are the bane of Christian society, and rend asunder the body of Christ. So true is it that if we would be Christ’s disciples we must deny ourselves.

3. It is active in its operation. It is an energetic principle. It is not the profession of kindness, but the reality. It is not by kind speeches and courteous expressions, but by beneficent actions chiefly, that we are to evidence the sincerity of our regard to others. (R. Davies.)

Brotherly love

There are many kinds of knowledge, but the most difficult is self-knowledge. It is remarkable that St. John much more frequently uses such expressions as these, “We know that we are of God”; “We know that we are in Him”; “We know that we dwell in Him”; “We know that He abideth in us,” than any other writer in the whole Bible. Let us look first at the thing which is to be known, and then at the sign by which we are to know it. A passing “from death unto life.” For this is God’s metaphor to express real conversion of heart. The idea conveyed in the words is of two states separated as by a gulf; and there is now, what one day there will not be, a transit from one over to the other. The one side is a land of death. There everything that is done is short and uncertain. It is a country of graves, and the joys of pleasure have no resurrection. On the opposite shore everything in it is essential light, because there is a new principle there; that principle is one which works forever and ever. The light grows brighter and brighter every day, whatever curse may pass over the bereaved earth. But this is not the only difference between the opposite states. The former, which we may call the original condition of every man, his native country lies far away, separate from the source of all true light, and in God’s language, is all chaos. There is no reality in it; while the other is brought under the very smile of God’s countenance. He moves and dwells there. Hence, it is peace, it is energy, it is fruit. Let us notice the contrast more clearly. Every man who inhabits the first state, is under actual condemnation of death. Every man who continues there is to die. But over every soul on the other side the word is gone forth, “Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” Now of the manner in which the passage is effected from one shore to the other, it does not belong to my present subject to speak. Suffice it to say that the passage is a great historical fact. And the inquiry is, how may each of us best ascertain whether or not that transformation has taken place. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Some persons, however, will say that it is such an easy thing to love Christians. I wish I could believe, but I cannot, that I shall be safe to infer I am one of God’s Christians, because I admire and attach myself to the lovable and really pious character. Who are the “brethren,” and what is it to “love” them? 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--yea, even though there be much that is really very inconsistent in them. And this very comprehensiveness of a catholic spirit is a mark of a mind that has had to do with the largeness of an Almighty God. If you have “passed from death unto life” the friendships that you choose for yourselves, and the relationships that you form will be all made upon one principle--that you keep within the family of grace. Hence, it follows, that the conversation which you prefer is that which is the most spiritual; for how can you love the brethren, unless you really delight in their themes? So that the world of fashion, and the world of pleasure, and the world of commonplace, has become insipid, and there is only one atmosphere in which you love to breathe, and that is the atmosphere of Jesus Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Christian love

Do you desire to know whether you may confidently, though humbly, cherish the good hope through grace that you are numbered among Christ’s people? Here is the way, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” If that be right, then everything is right. It was the index that registered how everything else was; even as the pulse at the wrist can tell the skilled observer something as to how all the functions of material life are going on. More than this. Sometimes the index that registers a great thing is itself but a little thing. The tremendous pressure on the boiler of the locomotive is indicated by an ascending and descending drop of water in a little glass tube. The state of hundreds of solid miles of atmosphere is revealed to us by the movements of a slight pointer upon the dial of the barometer. But this testing pulse of the soul is not a little thing that indicates a great one; it is a great thing in itself. As love to God sums all our duty to God, so does love to our neighbour sum all our duty to man. Let us think whether St. John did not give this counsel so earnestly and so often because he knew that it was, and is, and always will be, a difficult thing to “love the brethren.” Yes, there are many feelings and tendencies in poor sinful human nature that must be held tightly in check, before Christian people will succeed in loving one another. Many human beings find it much easier to feel a general dislike to those with whom they come into anything like competition, than to feel anything like love towards them. Now let us think what it is that is really required of Christian people in these days, in this very artificial state of society, amid these separations of class from class, by this great gospel command, to “love the brethren,” “love our neighbour as ourselves.” Now, in interpreting such directions, we may take two things with us. One is, that God’s service is always a “reasonable service”; that there is never anything extravagant in what Christianity requires of us. Another is, that when God gives us a law, He always gives us one that is accordant with the nature and constitution of the souls He has given us. In the light of these things, we can see what is the love God requires us to bear to our fellow Christians and fellow creatures. St. John does not tell us that we are all to think exactly alike; nor to persuade ourselves that those things are of no consequence about which we cannot agree. That is not what is meant by gospel love towards all. No; it means, See a man’s faults and failings, and bear with him. Hold your opinions strongly, yet agree to differ, without quarrelling. Be ready to help a poor overburdened creature to bear his burden; and a sympathetic word will go far here. Do not exaggerate the faults of your friends; rather try to see something good in them; and if you try hard, you may perhaps find a good deal. But besides that general kindliness, let us mark the little things in which Christians are found to fail in obedience to the law of love. You know it is very easy, and it sounds smart to dwell, in conversation, upon the faults and follies of the people you know; to exaggerate these, and dwell on them with weary iteration. Now, never have anything to do with that wretched ill set tattle. Do not join in it; do not listen to it. You know when the first Christians died the martyr’s death, rather than offer sacrifice to idols, what was it they were called to do? Why, the whole thing was to take up a pinch of incense with their finger and thumb, and throw it into the fire on the altar of Jupiter or Minerva. But that little act signified that they apostatised from Christ, and so they died rather than do it. And even so, what an awful light is cast on little unkind sayings and doings, when we call to mind St. John’s solemn words, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren”! Train yourselves to bring the whole force of your religion to bear upon this matter; the thing is vital. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)

Love to the brethren a test of piety

I. The love to which St. John refers.

1. Love to Christians for the sake of their Christianity; or, love to the Church for the sake of Christ, the Head of the Church.

2. St. John does not speak of any partial affection we may entertain for individuals, or even classes of men, within the Church of Christ.

3. Nor is it enough that we love, however cordially, all Christians of our own Church or sect.

4. The “love” to the brethren, which is so sure a proof of our own safety, is not merely a universal love to the Church of Christ, but to the Church of Christ in its spiritual character.

II. How the love in question becomes the pledge of our own salvation.

1. It is, perhaps, the strongest of all proofs that we love God; and it affords a sort of demonstration that we do so, which, when considered, is conclusive to the weakest mind, or to the most hesitating faith.

2. It demands a constant sacrifice, and so constantly displays the strength of that Divine principle of faith which unites us to the Lord; for the love in question is not a mere sentiment of respect and admiration, but it is a bond of the closest union.

3. It exposes us to constant suffering for the sake of Christ; at least this was the case in the apostles’ days, and, in some degree, is so still, or else “is the offence of the Cross ceased?” (J. B. Marsden, M. A.)

Life proved by love

I. We know that we were dead.

1. We were without feeling when law and gospel were addressing us.

2. Without hunger and thirst after righteousness.

3. Without power of movement towards God in repentance.

4. Without the breath of prayer, or pulse of desire.

5. With signs of corruption; some of them most offensive.

II. We know that we have undergone a singular change.

1. The reverse of the natural change from life to death.

2. No more easy to describe than the death change would be.

3. This change varies in each case as to its outward phenomena, but it is essentially the same in all.

4. As a general rule its course is as follows--

5. The period of this change is an era to be looked back upon in time and through eternity with grateful praise.

III. We know that we live.

1. We know that we are not under condemnation.

2. We know that faith has given us new senses, grasping a new world, enjoying a realm of spiritual things.

3. We know that we have new hopes, fears, desires, delights, etc.

4. We know that we have been introduced into new surroundings and a new spiritual society: God, saints, angels, etc.

5. We know that we have new needs; such as heavenly breath, food, instruction, correction, etc.

6. We know that this life guarantees eternal bliss.

IV. We know that we live, because we love. “We love the brethren.”

1. For Christ’s sake.

2. For the truth’s sake.

3. For their own sake.

4. When the world hates them.

5. We love their company, their example, their exhortations.

6. We love them despite the drawbacks of infirmity, inferiority, etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christian love

Dr. Raymond told us the other night about those geysers flowing with boiling water. The ice and snow come down from the mountain tops, and then they pour down through subterranean channels, and in some strange places, but where no man knows, they are heated, and come bubbling to the surface of the earth again. We know they are warmed, but we know not how. And we do not need to wait until we find out how, before we believe that they are warm. And so the hearts that are cold and sensual and proud and selfish, whenever they are brought in contact with the heart of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, are warmed. They come into con tact with Him and become different men. The nation is a different nation, the civilisation is a different civilisation, the type of character is a different type of character. Christian character is not Hindu character. It is not African character. It is distinctively Christian character; a character warm with love, because it has been warmed in the secret places of the Most High. (L. Abbott, D. D.)

Loving the pictures of God

If you love an absent person, you will love their picture. What is that the sailor’s wife keeps so closely wrapped in a napkin, laid up in her best drawer among sweet smelling flowers? She takes it out morning and evening, and gazes at it through her tears. It is the picture of her absent husband. She loves it because it is like him. It has many imperfections, but still it is like him. Believers are the pictures of God in this world. The Spirit of Christ dwells in them. They walk as He walked. True, they are full of imperfections; still they are true copies. If you love Him, you will love them; you will make them your bosom friends. (R. M. McCheyne.)

Christian love an evidence of Christian life

As it would be impossible for the insect in its chrysalis state to observe the laws which are made for its transformed state--for the worm to know the laws which make the summer fly seek the sunshine and live upon the flower--as it must be “born again” and enter upon a new existence before it can keep the laws of that new existence; so only the new creature can keep this new commandment. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

He that loveth not his brother abideth in death--

Brotherly love wanting

I. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” The very form of this statement demands attention. It charges as a crime the want of a grace and not merely the perpetration of evil.

1. The complaint is, “he that loveth not his brother.” He is devoid of the natural affection which close affinity should create. As for counting anyone a brother because he is a child of God, although he has no earthly relationship to him, he neither apprehends the idea, nor is sensible of any obligation upon him, arising out of it.

2. His condition is supposed to be the most deplorable. “Death” is the term that is used to describe it. It is descriptive at once of his guilt and depravity, and his insensibility to both. Mark the emphasis of the phrase, “abideth in death.” Such a one was and continues to be dead.

II. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” This statement is stronger than the former. That was negative, while this is positive. That consisted in withholding what was due, this in the infliction of evil. We are reminded in this comparative statement of the progress of sin. It is never stationary. The want of a grace will soon become the germ of a great sin. The man that loveth not his brother will soon learn to hate his brother. In finding out arguments to justify his neglect, he will not fail to dis cover reasons to inflame his hatred. The conclusion of the apostle respecting such a one is irresistible--“Ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” The two things are incompatible and cannot dwell together.

III. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This is the strongest argument yet advanced. It is drawn from the conduct of God Himself, and from the obligation that rests on us to be followers of Him as dear children. (J. Morgan, D. D.)


Verse 15

1 John 3:15

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him

Sin measured by the disposition, not by the act

These are harsh words, some will say, and many will deny that they are just.
“I hate such a one, it is true, but I would not harm him for the world. There is surely a wide interval between the feeling of rancour, or even the bitter lasting quarrel, and the act of Cain who was of that wicked one and slew his brother.” As for the spirit of the words it is enough to say at present that they proceed from the apostle of love, and that, if true, they ought to be known. Moreover, if you find fault with him, you must find the same fault with Him from whom he learnt his religion (
Matthew 5:28). But besides this, our feeling that we are incapable of this or that sin is not to be entirely trusted (2 Kings 8:13-15). So too our great poet portrays to us a man, loyal, upright hitherto, conscious of no secret treachery, into whose mind the infernal powers sent the thought, that he, now Thane of Cawdor, should be king hereafter. The thought ripened into a wish, the wish into a plan: he murdered his king, when asleep and a guest under the protection of the rights of hospitality, and from this dark beginning he waded on through blood, to retain what he had grasped, until he worked out his own ruin. The apostle says not that all hatred will end in murder--far from it--nor that all hatred is equally intense and equally reckless, nor that hatred which bursts out into great crime may not imply a worse state of soul than such as remains within, and does no obvious harm to others. Nor does he intend to confine the murderous quality to positive hatred. Want of love, hardened selfishness, acting on calculation with no rage or wrath in it, may be as deadly, as murderous, as malignity or revenge. The apostle teaches us in these words that evil lies in the heart, and that the evil there, which meets with some temporary or some lasting hindrance, differs not in kind from that which is ripened by opportunity. It may be forever dormant as far as the notice of man is concerned. It may never burst forth into the poisonous flower of wicked action, yet the hatred within and the hatred in the wicked action are one and the same, one quality runs through both. The powder that is explosive and the powder that explodes do not differ. It is just as we measure the power of a flood by its breaking down a dam or transporting heavy masses to a distance. There are restraining influences which secure human society from the explosion of injurious passions, so that such a crime as murder, common enough, if you gather up all the instances of it in a year, will excite wonder and awe in the place where it is committed. We know that fear of consequences, conscience, respect for public opinion, pity, are as permanent and universal as sin itself is, and that they are the dam and banks which keep the stream of unregulated selfishness from sweeping over society. Yet though we call the crime extraordinary, whenever it occurs we trace it back to some principle or habit. The man who committed homicide was subject to great fits of rage which he took no pains to restrain, or his natural heat was increased by strong drink, or he had such a covetous temper that he was tempted by it into robbery and murder. All this is obviously just. But with all this, we have a right to say, that the limit to which a passion, such as hatred or lust, leads, is a fair measure of its general power. We apply to the strength of hatred, or some other evil passion, the same measurement which we apply to the capacities of the mind. A man of genius seems at one time to be inert and without, creative power: at another, he will produce a poem or a picture that the world admires. We measure his genius by his best productions, by what he does in the most favourable circumstances, not by the vacancy of his dreamy or inactive hours, where thought is gathering strength for a new flight. Why not judge of sin, and especially of hatred, after the same fashion? The justness of the apostle’s words is shown by the awful quickness with which resolutions are sometimes taken to commit great crimes. We flee into crime as if the dogs of sinful desire were on us, and we sought the outward act as a relief from the agitation and war within the soul. So strange do some such historical crimes appear, that they look like the sway of destiny. A divine Nemesis, or Ate, urged the man into self-ruin. The tragedy of life was not accomplished by his own free will. And when the deed is done, unthinking men will ascribe it to the force of circumstances, as if circumstances could have any effect, independently of the passion or selfish desire itself. And the criminal himself may think that he was hardly a moral agent in the deed; that his own power of resistance was destroyed by temptation against his will; or, that others, the most respectable men in his society, would do the same. To all of which, we reply, that the consent of his soul was his sin; that his sin was weakness; that if he had wanted strength really, and prayed for it, it would have come down out of heaven, and that whether others would have acted like him or not is a point of no importance. There was in London, a few years since, a German tailor, who was, probably, not more dissolute than hundreds of others in such a vast city, a mild, inoffensive man, whom nobody thought capable of dark deeds of wickedness. He found himself in a car of an underground railroad in company with a wealthy man. They were alone, and yet, as the cars had a number of stopping places in their five or six miles’ course, every few minutes a new passenger might come into their compartment. They were alone, I say, for a passenger had left them, and the door was shut. Now, in the interval of three or four minutes, this man had murdered the wealthy man by his side, had seized his purse and watch, and in the hurry taken his hat by mistake, and had left the train the instant it reached the next station. He fled to America, was seized on his landing, was found to have the dead man’s hat and watch, was handed over to the English authorities, carried back, tried, and sent to his execution. How terrible was this speed of crime! No whirlwind or waterspout, no thunder cloud flying through mid-heaven could represent its swiftness, and yet here there was nothing unaccountable, nothing monstrous. He himself had been no prodigy of sin, nor was he now. The crime was an epitome of his life, a condensed extract of his character. And again, the apostle’s principle is vindicated by the rapid deterioration which we often observe in the lives of particular men. It seems as if they had only covered up their sins before, as if an evil life could not begin, all of a sudden, but the habits of sin must have been suppressed, perhaps, for a long period. But it is not so. They have not grown suddenly worse, but some natural motives, which swayed them before, have given way to other natural motives which were for a time counteracted. Self-indulgence was counteracted by prudence or by conscience, hatred was kept down or shut up in the breast by public opinion. Meanwhile changes of life, more liberty of action, greater means of self-gratification, new forms of society, new sentiments and opinions, make the road of temptation leading to outward sin easier. According to this view of man, there is nothing strange when hatred culminates in murder, there is no new principle injected, there is, in reality, no sudden worsening of the character. It is natural, not monstrous or morbid, that he who indulges hatred in his heart should yield, when he is tempted to manifest it in the life. The deed is the expression of the feeling, as words are of thoughts. I add, again, that if in any given case it were certain that sinful affections would be suppressed and be prevented from going out into sinful deeds, the apostle’s principle would still be true. The spirit of the extreme crime is in the unblamed malice or the unobserved envy. It is neutralised, as the oxygen of air is by nitrogen. The two in mechanical union form an innocuous atmosphere, and yet we know that oxygen alone would be a principle of death. So hate in the heart is a deadly affection though counteracted, and although it may be always counteracted.

1. I wish to remark, first, that sin deceives us until it comes into manifestation. Men are apt to think that they are good enough, because no indications of a corrupt character are shown in their lives. And then, when the time of trial comes and they yield, they excuse themselves because temptation is so strong and so sudden. In neither case does their moral judgment conform to the true state of things. Principle means that which will stand the test, when native characteristics which were on its side have turned against it. The measure of principle is the strength of resistance to attacks of temptation, and if hatred or lust is a cherished feeling of the heart, there is no possibility of resistance when circumstances turn so as to favour sin.

2. Sins committed by others may fairly suggest to us what we ourselves can do, and so in a certain sense we may be humbled by them, when we apply them as the measuring line of the deep possibilities of sin within ourselves. It was no cant when John Bradford said, as he saw a man going to Tyburn to be hanged for crime, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” He did not magnify his sins, and liability to great sins, in order to magnify the grace of God, but he magnified the grace of God, because he felt and found within himself the same sinful nature which he saw in the unworthiest. He read himself in the history of his fallen and guilty brother.

3. Finally, we see what an uncompromising principle love is. One may say with truth love hates malevolence, hates all that is opposed to itself in the feelings or the manifestations of the inner life. Love is an element of a strong character which views men as they are in all their sins, which feels no favour towards the principles by which the worldly, the selfish, the proud are governed. And thus as it looks on moral evil in all its deformity, it can feel intense pity towards the blind in sin, the misguided, the fallen, the unworthy, and is ever ready to sacrifice its own interests for their good. (T. D. Woolsey.)

Who is a murderer

Nothing reveals the gulf that separates ancient from modern history more clearly than their respective estimates of human life. If, for instance, you read an account of how Rome built up and consolidated her conquests, you will shudder at the terrible track of blood that marked her advance. Nor was this so much to be wondered at. For what was there to surround or invest man as such with reverence? And there was one thing that stood fatally in the way of any lofty conception of humanity possessing the mind of the ancient world. That was the institution of slavery. Nor was there any restraint laid upon the prevailing violence by the fear of a righteous judgment to come. Here modern history has acknowledged a new stream of influence, which has come to us through Christianity, as that again received it from an older source. The opening pages of the Old Testament teach us that man was made in the image of God, and on this ground inculcate respect for human life under the most terrible of all possible penalties: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” The New Testament enforces the same lesson. Man is not only the bearer of the Divine likeness, but the object of the Divine love--a love which has given and spent itself wholly for him. It is impossible the world should receive such teaching as this without being impressed by the awful sanctity of human life. To mutilate the image of God, to cut some poor soul short of its allotted time for penitence, is not only a crime against society, an unspeakable wrong against the victim slain, but a sin against God whose prerogatives have been usurped and His authority defied. But what really is this of which we stand in such natural and wholesome awe? What makes the sin so sinful? Not merely the taking of a life. It is the motive or intention with which the deed is done, the deliberate and savage hate which has leaped beyond the barriers of restraint, and refused to be satisfied except with blood, that invests it with such an atmosphere of horror. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” But is not this to confound feeling with action in a somewhat dangerous and hasty way? If he who hates has already incurred the guilt of murder, may he not argue that the overt act can make him no worse than he has already become? But this is not to be inferred from the words of my text. Christianity does not say that a wicked thought is in all respects equal to a wicked deed. If it did so, it would set itself at variance with the instincts of our own nature, and utterly confuse our moral consciousness. But what it does say is, that the guilt is identical in kind though it differs in degree; that in moral character they are essentially the same, though they differ in the amount or depth of their immorality. We need to look below the surface and test ourselves by what we find there. “The world is still deceived with ornament.” Appearances are still allowed to betray into a false security. When you look at the smiling slopes of Vesuvius, at the hamlets nestling in its hollows, the matchless beauty of the bay with all her loveliness sleeping at its feet, you can scarcely conceive of the wild torrent of destruction that poured from its sides two thousand years ago. But the occasional rumble, the dense columns of ascending smoke, the tremor of the quaking earth, remind you that the mighty monster is awake, and may again let loose the vials of his wrath. So we are misled by the smooth and superficial gilding of our modern civilisation. Education has spread, refinement is more general, a fashionable craze for culture is abroad, order is steadily and sternly maintained--not so much from the love of order, as because the complex and delicate machinery of life could not otherwise be kept at work. Some outbreak of communism, some sudden delirium of lawlessness, some startling and appalling crime, shows the diseases of the world have not been cared, nor the forces of evil destroyed. The germs that breed them, the passions that explode into all sorts of excess, are still in our midst. It is the same also with ourselves. We are strongly tempted to take too much for granted, to conclude there are certain things of which we are quite incapable. We are blinded by the fact that our position protects us from certain temptations, or so weakens their force, they cannot pierce the armour of our respectability. Nay, self-interest may so range us on the side of right, as to put us practically beyond their reach. But if we may escape temptations from which our position secures immunity, we may fall into others to which perhaps it especially exposes us. If it is often difficult for us to do wrong, just because so many fences close us in, and a hundred eyes would be witnesses of our shame, it is always easy to cherish the sinful feeling or desire. We may even compensate for our exclusion from the field of open transgression by giving the reins to a loose and wandering, an unhallowed and impure, imagination. And how many there are who would shrink with terror from the overt act, who rarely suspect they conceal the seeds and roots of it within themselves! Now what does all this show?

1. That crime is not to be removed by external remedies alone. The house may be swept and garnished, and the evil spirit apparently expelled; but if another and a better occupant do not take his place, and keep him out, he will return, as the parable tells us, and the last state will be worse than the first.

2. But if something more drastic than external remedies are needful, what is to be done? Will the spread of education and enlightenment so refine the taste, that it will reject the grosser forms of indulgence? Alas! experience proves that some of the most brilliant periods of history have been the most corrupt, and that the seat of the disease lies too deep to be reached by such a cure. The truth is, that all our earthborn experiments carry with them the defect attaching to their source. They are short sighted, or one sided, and where they see most clearly and impartially they only confess their impotence, and give up the problem in despair. But while Christianity has so unerringly detected the spring of all human misery, and exposed it in its undisguised malignity, it has also revealed an effectual cure. It brings with it a salvation which is no mere experiment or assault upon the outworks of our foe, but which goes straight to the root of the matter. It embraces our whole nature--spirit, soul, and body--and advances from this centre to claim and occupy every province of life. And to apply this to ourselves. If you do not feel that you need a Divine power brought to bear upon your heart, have you ever really examined the true moral character of your daily life? Have you considered what the unforgiving and uncharitable temper, the selfish and impure desire, really mean--that they are straws which show how the wind blows, symptoms of a fatal disorder, which is not to be banished by passing moods of penitence, or the postures of worship? Be assured there is only one thing that can save a man, and that is that grace of Christ which, where sin has abounded, has much more abounded, which forgives us when we come to Him, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness, shedding abroad within us that love which is the fulfilling of the law. (C. Moinet, M. A.)


Verses 16-18

1 John 3:16-18

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,

Lofty ideals perilous unless applied

Even the world sees that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has very practical results.
Even the Christmas which the world keeps is fruitful in two of these results--forgiving and giving. Love, charity (as we rather prefer to say), in its effects upon all our relations to others, is the beautiful subject of this section of our Epistle.

I. We have here love in its idea. “Hereby know we the love.” It is continuous unselfishness, to be crowned by voluntary death, if death is necessary. The beautiful old Church tradition shows that this language was the language of St. John’s life. Who has forgotten how the apostle in his old age is said to have gone on a journey to find the young man who had fled from Ephesus and joined a band of robbers; and to have appealed to the fugitive in words which are the pathetic echo of these--“if needs be I would die for thee as He for us”?

II. The idea of charity is then practically illustrated by an incident of its opposite (verse 17). The reason for this descent in thought is wise and sound. High abstract ideas expressed in lofty language are at once necessary and dangerous for creatures like us. They are necessary, because without these grand conceptions our moral language and our moral life would be wanting in dignity, in amplitude, in the inspiration and impulse which are often necessary for duty and always for restoration. But they are dangerous in proportion to their grandeur. Men are apt to mistake the emotion awakened by the very sound of these magnificent expressions of duty for the discharge of the duty itself. Every large speculative ideal then is liable to this danger; and he who contemplates it requires to be brought down from his transcendental region to the test of some commonplace duty. It is helpful compassion to a brother who is known to be in need, manifested by giving to him something of this world’s “good”--of the “living” of this world which he possesses.

III. We have next the characteristics of love in action. “My sons, let us not love in word nor with the tongue; but in work and truth.” There is love in its energy and reality; in its effort and sincerity--active and honest, without indolence and without pretence.

IV. This passage supplies an argument against mutilated views, fragmentary versions of the Christian life.

1. The first of these is emotionalism, which makes the entire Christian life consist in a series or bundle of emotions. This reliance upon feelings is in the last analysis reliance upon self. It is a form of salvation by works, for feelings are inward actions.

2. The next of these mutilated views of the Christian life is doctrinalism--which makes it consist of a series or bundle of doctrines apprehended and expressed correctly, at least according to certain formulas, generally of a narrow and unauthorised character. According to this view the question to be answered is--has one quite correctly understood, can one verbally formulate certain almost scholastic distinctions in the doctrine of justification?

3. The third mutilated view of the Christian life is humanitarianism--which makes it a series or bundle of philanthropic actions. There are some who work for hospitals or try to bring more light and sweetness into crowded dwelling houses. Their lives are pure and noble. But the one article of their creed is humanity. Altruism is their highest duty. With others the case is different. Certain forms of this busy helpfulness--especially in the laudable provision of recreations for the poor--are an innocent interlude in fashionable life; sometimes, alas! a kind of work of supererogation, to atone for the want of devotion or of purity--possibly an untheological survival of a belief in justification by works.

4. Another fragmentary view of the Christian life is observationism, which makes it to consist in a bundle or series of observances. Frequent services and communions, perhaps with exquisite forms and in beautifully decorated churches, have their dangers as well as their blessings. However closely linked these observances may be, there must still in every life be interstices between them. How are these filled up? What spirit within connects together, vivifies, and unifies this series of external acts of devotion? Now, in distinction from all these fragmentary views, St. John’s Epistle is a survey of the completed Christian life, founded upon his gospel. It is a consummate fruit ripened in the long summers of his experience. It is not a treatise upon the Christian affections, nor a system of doctrine, nor an essay upon works of charity, nor a companion to services. Yet this wonderful Epistle presupposes at least much that is most precious of all these elements.

The sacrifice of love

The laws of nature and the laws of grace come from the same Lawgiver, and they have the same fundamental quality. All life depends on this--that some one is willing to lay down his life for another. From the very earliest stages to the very oldest and highest this is the condition not only of progress but of the continuance of life. The tree grows, produces its leaf, its bud, its blossom, its fruit, in order that it may drop seeds upon the wings of the wind, or give them to the birds, that those seeds may be carried to the soil and from them other trees may spring up. And when the tree has given forth this consummation of its life, its year’s work is over, and it goes to sleep that it may get ready to repeat the operation next year. The annual dies in giving its life to another; the perennial does not die, but it gives its life, then ceases for a little while, gathers up its forces, and resumes its life the next year in order to repeat the gift. The babe is not dropped out of the clouds into the life of the waiting family. The mother hazards her own life that she may give a new life to the world; and when she has given it, then she begins to devote her life to it; her thoughts concentrate on it, her life flows out to it. It is for this child that the father does his work; it is for this child that the mother gives her prayers, her night watchings, her energies. Her own life is laid down for another life. The child, we say, grows older, wiser. How does it grow older? how does it grow wiser? how does it grow in wisdom and in stature? In stature, because a hundred lives are busy all over the world gathering fruit for it, and food for it, and ministering to it; and wiser, because a hundred brains are thinking for it and a hundred hearts are gathering equipment of love and pouring into it. The teacher is giving her life to her pupils, laying down her life for them. If she does not care for them, if she simply goes into the schoolroom for her six or eight hours to earn her salary, and then goes away, and no life flows out from her, she is a mere perfunctory thing and no true teacher. We build a fence around a tribe of Indians and shut them up by themselves and say, “Now grow.” A hundred years go by, and they are the same barbarians they were a hundred years before. Then we say, “Let civilisation see what it can do with them”--a selfish civilisation. “We will let in the railroad, we will let in the trader, the whisky dealer, we will let in selfishness.” And barbarism simply grows more barbaric; the growth is degeneracy. Not until you can find an Armstrong or a Pratt who will lay down his life for them, not until you can find men and women who will devote their lives to pouring truth and purity and life into these barbaric minds, is there growth; and the moment you find such life given, true growth begins. Life goes by transmission, and there is no hope for a lower race except as some higher race will transmit its life thereto. This is the significance of, the fundamental principle underlying, all foreign missionary service. Now, the Bible takes this generic law and carries it up a little higher. Follow up the stream to its source and you will find the springs among the hills; and these, you say, fed it. But where did these springs come from? You must look up, and there in the blue above sails the clouds; and the rainfall from these clouds has first fed the springs that fed the rills that fed the streams that made the river. So all life, its progress, its development, come from the One above all, who pours out His life that others may live. This is what love means. Love is life giving. Love is not caress. The mother does not love her child simply because she folds it to her arms and caresses it with her kisses. This is but the expression of love. Love is not joy. The mother does not love her child because a strange joy thrills her heart as she looks into baby’s eyes. This is simply the fruit of love. Love is giving one’s life to another. To lay down one’s life for another is not, then, the same as to die for another. That is very clear. “Hereby we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Ought we all to die for the brethren? Not at all. No man thinks that. But we all ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. That is another matter. To live for another may involve with it dying for another, and certainly does involve willingness to die for another, but the value is in laying down the life, not in dying. Here are two nurses going out into a city that is plague stricken. One catches the plague, dies, is buried in a nameless grave under a nameless headstone in the cemetery. The other lives through the plague and goes back to her home. One has laid down her life for the plague stricken city as truly as the other. To lay down one’s life is not to die; it is only to be willing to die. But no man does lay down his life truly and really for another unless he is willing to die. If a young man goes into the medical profession, and, when pestilence appears in a house, he says, “I cannot go there; I should risk my life and the life of my children,” he has not laid down his life. The value of Christ’s life was not in the crucifixion. It was not by His death that He saved the world. I know how that sentence will be picked out, and perhaps sent abroad, and I misinterpreted; nevertheless, I repeat it--it is not by His death He saves the world, but by laying down His life for the world. Passion week began when He was born. From the beginning to the end His life was laid down for humanity. So to lay down one’s life does not necessarily involve pain and suffering. It may or may not. You may be a lover without pain; you cannot be a saviour without pain. And when the Christ came into the world, bringing the message of infinite and eternal love, it was not the spear thrust that made Him the Saviour--it was the spear thrust that proved Him the Saviour; it was the spear thrust that showed that there was such love in this heart of the Christ that He was willing to die for love’s sake. The Cross is the glory of Christ, because it shows how far love would carry Him in laying down His life for sinful man. Christ’s Cross is witness of the Divine life that is saving the world. Christ lays down His life for us. We are to lay down our lives for one another. This is the simple lesson of this communion Sunday--Life poured out from one full heart into another empty heart; from one joyous heart into an aching heart; from one pure heart into a sinful and shameful heart. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)


Verses 16-18

1 John 3:16-18

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren,

Lofty ideals perilous unless applied

Even the world sees that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has very practical results.
Even the Christmas which the world keeps is fruitful in two of these results--forgiving and giving. Love, charity (as we rather prefer to say), in its effects upon all our relations to others, is the beautiful subject of this section of our Epistle.

I. We have here love in its idea. “Hereby know we the love.” It is continuous unselfishness, to be crowned by voluntary death, if death is necessary. The beautiful old Church tradition shows that this language was the language of St. John’s life. Who has forgotten how the apostle in his old age is said to have gone on a journey to find the young man who had fled from Ephesus and joined a band of robbers; and to have appealed to the fugitive in words which are the pathetic echo of these--“if needs be I would die for thee as He for us”?

II. The idea of charity is then practically illustrated by an incident of its opposite (verse 17). The reason for this descent in thought is wise and sound. High abstract ideas expressed in lofty language are at once necessary and dangerous for creatures like us. They are necessary, because without these grand conceptions our moral language and our moral life would be wanting in dignity, in amplitude, in the inspiration and impulse which are often necessary for duty and always for restoration. But they are dangerous in proportion to their grandeur. Men are apt to mistake the emotion awakened by the very sound of these magnificent expressions of duty for the discharge of the duty itself. Every large speculative ideal then is liable to this danger; and he who contemplates it requires to be brought down from his transcendental region to the test of some commonplace duty. It is helpful compassion to a brother who is known to be in need, manifested by giving to him something of this world’s “good”--of the “living” of this world which he possesses.

III. We have next the characteristics of love in action. “My sons, let us not love in word nor with the tongue; but in work and truth.” There is love in its energy and reality; in its effort and sincerity--active and honest, without indolence and without pretence.

IV. This passage supplies an argument against mutilated views, fragmentary versions of the Christian life.

1. The first of these is emotionalism, which makes the entire Christian life consist in a series or bundle of emotions. This reliance upon feelings is in the last analysis reliance upon self. It is a form of salvation by works, for feelings are inward actions.

2. The next of these mutilated views of the Christian life is doctrinalism--which makes it consist of a series or bundle of doctrines apprehended and expressed correctly, at least according to certain formulas, generally of a narrow and unauthorised character. According to this view the question to be answered is--has one quite correctly understood, can one verbally formulate certain almost scholastic distinctions in the doctrine of justification?

3. The third mutilated view of the Christian life is humanitarianism--which makes it a series or bundle of philanthropic actions. There are some who work for hospitals or try to bring more light and sweetness into crowded dwelling houses. Their lives are pure and noble. But the one article of their creed is humanity. Altruism is their highest duty. With others the case is different. Certain forms of this busy helpfulness--especially in the laudable provision of recreations for the poor--are an innocent interlude in fashionable life; sometimes, alas! a kind of work of supererogation, to atone for the want of devotion or of purity--possibly an untheological survival of a belief in justification by works.

4. Another fragmentary view of the Christian life is observationism, which makes it to consist in a bundle or series of observances. Frequent services and communions, perhaps with exquisite forms and in beautifully decorated churches, have their dangers as well as their blessings. However closely linked these observances may be, there must still in every life be interstices between them. How are these filled up? What spirit within connects together, vivifies, and unifies this series of external acts of devotion? Now, in distinction from all these fragmentary views, St. John’s Epistle is a survey of the completed Christian life, founded upon his gospel. It is a consummate fruit ripened in the long summers of his experience. It is not a treatise upon the Christian affections, nor a system of doctrine, nor an essay upon works of charity, nor a companion to services. Yet this wonderful Epistle presupposes at least much that is most precious of all these elements.

The sacrifice of love

The laws of nature and the laws of grace come from the same Lawgiver, and they have the same fundamental quality. All life depends on this--that some one is willing to lay down his life for another. From the very earliest stages to the very oldest and highest this is the condition not only of progress but of the continuance of life. The tree grows, produces its leaf, its bud, its blossom, its fruit, in order that it may drop seeds upon the wings of the wind, or give them to the birds, that those seeds may be carried to the soil and from them other trees may spring up. And when the tree has given forth this consummation of its life, its year’s work is over, and it goes to sleep that it may get ready to repeat the operation next year. The annual dies in giving its life to another; the perennial does not die, but it gives its life, then ceases for a little while, gathers up its forces, and resumes its life the next year in order to repeat the gift. The babe is not dropped out of the clouds into the life of the waiting family. The mother hazards her own life that she may give a new life to the world; and when she has given it, then she begins to devote her life to it; her thoughts concentrate on it, her life flows out to it. It is for this child that the father does his work; it is for this child that the mother gives her prayers, her night watchings, her energies. Her own life is laid down for another life. The child, we say, grows older, wiser. How does it grow older? how does it grow wiser? how does it grow in wisdom and in stature? In stature, because a hundred lives are busy all over the world gathering fruit for it, and food for it, and ministering to it; and wiser, because a hundred brains are thinking for it and a hundred hearts are gathering equipment of love and pouring into it. The teacher is giving her life to her pupils, laying down her life for them. If she does not care for them, if she simply goes into the schoolroom for her six or eight hours to earn her salary, and then goes away, and no life flows out from her, she is a mere perfunctory thing and no true teacher. We build a fence around a tribe of Indians and shut them up by themselves and say, “Now grow.” A hundred years go by, and they are the same barbarians they were a hundred years before. Then we say, “Let civilisation see what it can do with them”--a selfish civilisation. “We will let in the railroad, we will let in the trader, the whisky dealer, we will let in selfishness.” And barbarism simply grows more barbaric; the growth is degeneracy. Not until you can find an Armstrong or a Pratt who will lay down his life for them, not until you can find men and women who will devote their lives to pouring truth and purity and life into these barbaric minds, is there growth; and the moment you find such life given, true growth begins. Life goes by transmission, and there is no hope for a lower race except as some higher race will transmit its life thereto. This is the significance of, the fundamental principle underlying, all foreign missionary service. Now, the Bible takes this generic law and carries it up a little higher. Follow up the stream to its source and you will find the springs among the hills; and these, you say, fed it. But where did these springs come from? You must look up, and there in the blue above sails the clouds; and the rainfall from these clouds has first fed the springs that fed the rills that fed the streams that made the river. So all life, its progress, its development, come from the One above all, who pours out His life that others may live. This is what love means. Love is life giving. Love is not caress. The mother does not love her child simply because she folds it to her arms and caresses it with her kisses. This is but the expression of love. Love is not joy. The mother does not love her child because a strange joy thrills her heart as she looks into baby’s eyes. This is simply the fruit of love. Love is giving one’s life to another. To lay down one’s life for another is not, then, the same as to die for another. That is very clear. “Hereby we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Ought we all to die for the brethren? Not at all. No man thinks that. But we all ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. That is another matter. To live for another may involve with it dying for another, and certainly does involve willingness to die for another, but the value is in laying down the life, not in dying. Here are two nurses going out into a city that is plague stricken. One catches the plague, dies, is buried in a nameless grave under a nameless headstone in the cemetery. The other lives through the plague and goes back to her home. One has laid down her life for the plague stricken city as truly as the other. To lay down one’s life is not to die; it is only to be willing to die. But no man does lay down his life truly and really for another unless he is willing to die. If a young man goes into the medical profession, and, when pestilence appears in a house, he says, “I cannot go there; I should risk my life and the life of my children,” he has not laid down his life. The value of Christ’s life was not in the crucifixion. It was not by His death that He saved the world. I know how that sentence will be picked out, and perhaps sent abroad, and I misinterpreted; nevertheless, I repeat it--it is not by His death He saves the world, but by laying down His life for the world. Passion week began when He was born. From the beginning to the end His life was laid down for humanity. So to lay down one’s life does not necessarily involve pain and suffering. It may or may not. You may be a lover without pain; you cannot be a saviour without pain. And when the Christ came into the world, bringing the message of infinite and eternal love, it was not the spear thrust that made Him the Saviour--it was the spear thrust that proved Him the Saviour; it was the spear thrust that showed that there was such love in this heart of the Christ that He was willing to die for love’s sake. The Cross is the glory of Christ, because it shows how far love would carry Him in laying down His life for sinful man. Christ’s Cross is witness of the Divine life that is saving the world. Christ lays down His life for us. We are to lay down our lives for one another. This is the simple lesson of this communion Sunday--Life poured out from one full heart into another empty heart; from one joyous heart into an aching heart; from one pure heart into a sinful and shameful heart. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)


Verses 17-21

1 John 3:17-21

But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

Righteousness essential to the answer of a good conscience in ourselves and before God

The lesson here is sincerity. Beware of self-deception. It is easy to imagine what you would do to win or help a brother; and you may please yourselves by carrying the imagination to any length you choose. You will lay down your life for one who is, or who may be, a brother! And yet you cannot lay down for him your love of this world’s good; your love of ease and selfish comfort; your fastidious taste; your proud or shy reserve. John brings out into prominence a general principle connecting conscience and faith, with immediate reference to his particular topic of brotherly love. The principle may be briefly stated. There can be no faith where there is not conscience; no more of faith than there is of conscience. In plain terms, I cannot look my God in the face if I cannot look myself in the face. If my heart condemns me, much more must He condemn me who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things. Reserving the special application of this principle to the grace of brotherly kindness, I ask you for the present to consider it more generally with reference to the Divine love; first, as you have to receive it by faith; and, secondly, as you have to retain it and act it out in your loving walk with God and man.

I. I am a receiver of this love. And it concerns me much that my faith, by which I receive it, should be strong and steadfast, which, however, it cannot be unless my conscience, in receiving it, is guileless. The plain question then is, Are you dealing truly with God as He deals truly with you? Are you meeting Him, as He meets you, in good faith? Is all real and downright earnest with you? Or are you toying and playing with spiritual frames as if it were all a mere affair of sentimentalism? Is there a sort of half-consciousness in you that you would really apprehend and welcome the mediation of Christ better than you do if it were meant merely to establish a relation between God and you, so far amicable as to secure your being let alone now and let off at last; and that in consideration of certain specified and ascertainable acts of homage, without its being insisted on that God and you should become so completely one? If your heart misgive you and condemn you on such points as these, it is no wonder that you have not peace with Him “who is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things.”

II. Not only as receiving God’s love does it concern me to see to it that my heart condemns me not, but as retaining it and acting it out in my walk and conduct. Otherwise, “how dwelleth the love of God in me?” It is a great matter if the eye be single, if your heart do not condemn you. The consciousness of integrity is, of itself, a well spring of peace and power in the guileless soul. The clear look, the erect gait, the firm step, the ringing voice, of an upright man, are as impressive upon others as they are expressive of himself. But that is not all. The assurance or confidence of which John speaks is not self-assurance or self-confidence. No. It is “assurance before God”; it is “confidence toward God.” Why does the apostle make “our heart condemning us” so fatal to our “assuring our heart before God”? It is because “God is greater than our hearty and knoweth all things.” He assumes that it is with God we have to do, and that we feel this. Our own verdict upon ourselves is comparatively a small affair; we ask the verdict of God. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Shutting up compassion

Pure and undefiled religion is the imitation of God. Whatever else may characterise the men who have passed from death unto life, this is characteristic of them all. Now, assuming this, look at the immense interrogation which he proposed in our present text. A man is presented to us who professes to be a son of the Lord Almighty, but his profession was unsubstantiated.

I. The man whose religion is vain has this world’s goods; of the things which are necessary for the vigorous maintenance of life he has enough and to spare. Before his wants ever recur there is the supply. God daily loadeth him with His benefits.

II. He seeth his brother have need. It is not with others as it is with him. By treacherous and sore calamity they are afflicted in mind, or body, or estate; perhaps from ascertainable causes, perhaps from causes not ascertainable, they are destitute of daily food. He sees it plainly.

III. He shuts up the bowels of his compassion. There may be the clamorous appeal, he is deaf to that; there may be the eloquent appeal of the silent heart. It is just the same, and lest his bowels, peradventure, should yearn, he locks them up and bids them remain unmoved. Why should he interfere? People should be more careful; there should be a great deal more frugality; the institutions of the country should prevent such calamities. Such applications are nothing to him, and now, at all events, he means to be excused.

IV. How dwelleth the love of God in him? Does he resemble God? I know your answer. That man an imitator of God, who causeth the sun to shine upon the just and the unjust! That man an imitator of Him who “giveth us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”! That man an imitator of Him who “dealeth not with us after our sins, who rewardeth us not according to our iniquities”! Impossible! How can he be? God is merciful, he is unmerciful; God is communicative, he is parsimonious; God is compassionate, he is unrelenting; God bindeth up the broken in heart and healeth their wounds, he irritates the broken in heart. There is no similarity whatever. You might call light and darkness one. (W. Brock.)

Charity to the poor

I. Who are they that are obliged to works of charity? All are obliged to do something towards supplying the wants of others whom God hath blessed with greater abundance than is sufficient for the supply of their own. It is not the value of the gift which God regards, but the honest purpose of the giver.

II. Who are they towards whom works of charity ought to be exercised? By the “needy” you are not to understand absolutely every needy man, but everyone who being in need is not able by honest means to provide for himself. Those are before all others the objects of charity, who want food and raiment sufficient for the sustenance of their bodies. The reason of this is that life is the foundation of all other blessings in this world. We are bound, according to our abilities, not only to preserve the life of others, but to secure their happiness too. And in this work sickness and pain are principally to be regarded. When life, health, and liberty are secure, the law of charity grows to be more undermined, yet I think we should not say that it entirely ceases. For the having what is barely necessary for the purposes of life is but the first and lowest degree of happiness.

III. Whence the value of charity arises, or what it is that makes the outward act of giving to become acceptable to God. That which the apostle condemns here is the shutting up our bowels against the cries of the needy. God can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and deliver the prisoner from captivity without drawing anything from our stores. But as He has otherwise ordered things, He hath given us affections suitable to the conditions in which He hath placed us, and made us by nature humane and merciful. When the heart is open, it is impossible that the hands can be shut. There is a pleasure in giving, which a truly compassionate mind is no more able to resist than it can forbear to commiserate.

IV. The want of a charitable and benevolent disposition is inconsistent with the love of God. (H. Stebbing, D. D.)

The duty of charitable distribution

I. The principle on which this great duty is unalterably founded. All the goods of nature, the fruits of the earth, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, were given to man for his sustenance and use. But as the necessities of man impel him, no less than his passions lead him, to a state of civilisation and society, so the necessary effect hath been a limitation of this common right of the enjoyment of the goods of nature by the establishment of particular properties. It must be granted that in most of the kingdoms of the earth the inequalities of property are too great, either for the public peace of the whole, or the private happiness of the individuals, whether rich or poor. To prevent therefore, or to remedy these dreadful evils, the great principle of Christian charity comes in. And on this principle it appears that our care of the necessitous is by no means to be considered as a voluntary act of virtue, which we may perform or remit at pleasure.

II. The various motives which may urge the rich to the consistent and continued practice of it.

1. And first, on account of their present satisfaction of mind, and with a view to a rational and true enjoyment of wealth, they ought to attend to the continued practice of this duty. Love, hope, peace, and joy are the constant companions of the compassionate soul.

2. Again, as the rich ought religiously to attend to the great work of charitable distribution as the necessary means of regulating their own desires, so the welfare of their families and children ought to be a farther motive to their exemplary practice of this duty. The noblest and most valuable inheritance that a father can leave his child is that of an honest and generous mind.

3. The last motive I shall urge for the performance of this great duty is the security of your future and eternal welfare in a better world than this. A selfish attention to wealth tends strongly to withdraw our affections from God and virtue.

III. The proper methods and objects of it.

1. And here it will be necessary, first, to show the invalidity of a plausible pretence, which would destroy the very essence of this duty. It is pretended that the principle of a charitable distribution is superfluous, because, if the rich do but spend or squander the incomes of their estates, the money will distribute itself, and like blood circulating from the heart will fall into all the various channels of the body politic, in that just proportion which their respective situations may demand. The objection is plausible, yet void of truth. For, first, supposing the effects to be such as are here represented with respect to the necessitous, yet they would be bad with regard to the rich themselves. But farther. This kind of distribution by mere expense can never effectually relieve the necessitous. Insolence and oppression are its certain consequences. Again, there fore, this method of distribution can never be effectual, because they who stand most in need can never be succoured by it. For the mere act of expending wealth can never affect any of the lower ranks, but those who labour. But the helpless young, the sick, and aged must languish and die in misery. Nay, what is yet worse, while the helpless innocent are thus left destitute of relief, the associates of wickedness are often fed to the full.

2. A second excuse for an exemption from this duty must likewise here be obviated, which is the pretended sufficiency of poor laws for the maintenance of the necessitous. But that they can never stand in the place of a true spirit of charity will appear from considering them either in their formation or execution. If they are formed merely on the principles of prudence and policy, void of a charitable zeal, they will always be of a rigid, and often of a cruel complexion. Again, laws for the maintenance of the poor must ever be defective in their execution unless inspirited by true charity, because, on the same principle as already laid down, they must generally be executed in a despotic manner. Also they never can effectually separate the good from the bad, the worthy from the worthless, so as to relieve and reward the one in preference to the other. It now remains that we point out the proper objects of this great Christian duty. First, all they who, through natural infirmity, age, sickness, or accidental disaster, are rendered incapable of self-support by labour. Among this number, more particularly, we are bound to relieve our neighbouring poor. Our neighbour’s real wants are better known to us than theirs who are farther removed from our observation. Again, among this number a selection ought to be made of the most worthy, not to the total exclusion of even the worthless, but as an encouragement to virtue. Beyond these common objects of our charity there is still a higher sphere for beneficence to shine in--on those who, by inevitable misfortunes, have been reduced from wealth to a state of necessity. Beyond these objects of our charitable assistance here enumerated, there yet remains one, which deserves a particular consideration. I mean the children of the necessitous. (John Brown, D. D.)

On Christian beneficence

I. The source of Christian beneficence. Many possess a constitutional benevolence of disposition. But nothing short of the love of God can ensure obedience to His will in any department of duty, and no inferior motive can be regarded by Him with acceptance.

II. The indispensable necessity of beneficence as a branch of Christian character. Beneficence is a positive law of the Divine government, and cannot be dispensed with, save by incurring the guilt of disobedience against the supreme authority of God. Christian beneficence is most comprehensive, extending to the entire nature of man.

III. The principles by which beneficence ought to be regulated deserve serious consideration. “To consider the case of the poor” is an obligation as imperative as that of relieving it. Indiscriminate alms giving is a serious evil to both giver and receiver. Let the understanding be Divinely enlightened, and the bowels of compassion not be shut against the brother who hath need, and we may safely commit to your own judgment and feelings the extent of your benefactions.

IV. Its dependence upon the gracious influences of the Spirit of God. The fruit of the Spirit is love. (John Smyth, D. D.)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth--

Deceptive friendliness

I. Expressions of courtesy which have no root in the heart.

II. Blandishments to gain an end.

III. Manifestations of superficial good nature and friendliness which cannot stand the test of times of adversity.

IV. Expressions of sympathy without help. (R. Abercrombie, M. A.)

Charity in deed better than in thought

When you see a plan in an architect’s office that is very new and very pretty to look at, you say, “Ah! nothing has been done with it,” but when you see a plan that is smudgy, and torn, and almost broken through where it has been folded, you know that the man has done something with it. Now, do not fall in love with the plan, and think it very pretty, but never carry it out. When Dr. Guthrie wanted his ragged schools founded, he called on a certain minister, who said, “Well you know, Mr. Guthrie, there is nothing very new in your scheme; I and Mr. So-and-so have been thinking over a similar plan to yours for the last twenty years.” “Oh! yes,” said Dr. Guthrie, “I dare say; but you have never carried it out.” So some people are always thinking over some very fine plan of their own; but while the grass grows the steed starves. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verses 19-22

1 John 3:19-22

And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before wire

The connection between faith and the state of the heart

I.
There is a certain blessing or privilege here spoken of--“then have we confidence toward God.” Confidence, literally fulness of speech, because this is one of the principal ways in which confidence displays itself; the heart is enlarged, the mouth is opened, and thus the whole soul pours forth its feelings without restraint and without disguise. It is a very remarkable part of our nature this, in virtue of which we are impelled to make those whom we love and confide in the depositaries of the most sacred treasures of our breasts. As confidence is enkindled, reserve disappears, like as the winter’s frost that binds up the bosom of the earth is melted before the summer’s sun. And as it is in the intercourse between man and man, so is it in the intercourse between man and God. The degree in which we can reveal to Him all our sins, wants, and sorrows will ever be in proportion to our confidence in Him. It is a most blessed state of mind; if we are believers we must know it in some measure. There is a firm foundation laid for it in the gospel; the atonement realised by faith will produce this in the soul, and nothing else will.

II. Notice a certain hindrance spoken of as standing in the way of the enjoyment of confidence toward God. “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” There is something in the very constitution of our nature which would shake our confidence toward God, if our own heart condemned us.

III. A certain indispensable qualification for the enjoyment of confidence toward God: “If our heart condemn us not.” This is discouraging at first sight. It seems to place us at a hopeless distance from this blessing. You say, perhaps, you look into your heart, and you see there nothing but sin, darkness, disorder, unbelief; nothing that a holy God can approve of. Indeed! Nothing? No grace evident there, no repentance, no love to the Saviour, no spirituality, no desire after communion with God? A most extraordinary kind of religion yours! And what is the tendency, and I fear actual effect of a one-sided experience like this? It is twofold: First, as affects the people of the world. They say, What difference is there between us and those who call themselves the Lord’s people?

2. And then as affects Christians themselves. For this exclusion of all inward evidence tends to beget a want of watchfulness, and leads more or less to the losing sight of the moral element in Christianity. It prevents them from cultivating that personal holiness which is indispensable to the fruition of a spiritual being.

IV. A certain practical test on which the heart’s verdict of itself must be based, favourable or unfavourable, “Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” “Hereby.” This carries us back to something going before. We cannot trust to mere emotions, however deep. These emotions must be brought to some practical test; and here it is. What are we doing for the brethren? We say, perhaps, we love God. But let us test the genuineness of this emotion. He that loveth God, loveth his brother also. If you lack assurance it is not a simpler faith you need, nor a freer gospel, but a faithful dealing with your conscience as to particular sins of omission and commission. You must do more for God. You must do more for your fellow creatures.

V. A certain moral or ethical ground on which God answers prayer--“Whatsoever we ask we receive, because we keep His commandments,” etc. I think we are too apt to view faith as the only condition of acceptable prayer. There are two elements in prayer that never must be lost sight of--the evangelical, and the ethical or moral. When we view faith only as the condition of acceptable prayer, we are keeping hold only of the evangelical element. But mark, how to correct this error, this one-sided view of prayer, the passage before us brings under our notice the ethical element, “Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are well pleasing in His sight.” Ah! don’t we need this? We think we can do great things with our simple faith--and so we would were it the faith that worketh by love, purifieth the heart, and overcometh the world. But this bare, naked faith of ours, which looks only to promises and aims only at what we call salvation, is imperfect, and will not answer all ends. (A. L. R. Foote, D. D.)

Heartsease

I. “Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth,” There is no gainsaying the logic of this whole passage. The children of God, by a spiritual necessity, “do justly, and love mercy.”

II. And how much that is not glorious remains in every life! Oh, the iniquity of our holy things! Remove the smooth blue stone that lies in the sun with the glass blades waving round it--so clean and smooth and quiet it looks--remove it and you see creeping things innumerable--things that hate the light, that love dampness and darkness. And so in life. Beneath the surface honesty, how much dishonesty do we find! Beneath the surface truthfulness--the court of justice veracity--how much untruth--what falsity--what shams. What lies we tell ourselves--what false testimonials we give ourselves! Beneath the surface purity of life, what uncleanliness of thought, desire, imagination! Beneath the surface love, what self-love, what meannesses. Beneath our best deeds, what a mixture of motives that will not bear the light--hideous things that love darkness and dirt!

III. What appeal lies from the verdict of conscience? What answer can there be to these self-accusations? What can we say to our own heart? “Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure”--shall persuade, pacify, silence--“our heart before Him whereinsoever our heart shall condemn us.” “We are of the truth.” The imperfections are manifold. The inconsistencies are glaring, and yet the endeavour to love proves that the holy place is not empty yet. Travellers tell us that the mirage in the desert is so like a lake of water, that not until they actually enter it can the deception be discovered. But if a stream of water never so small were seen entering the lake, or a rill flowing out of it, they would know at once that what lay before them in the distance was real--was fact, and not phantom. Well, if a stream that makes for righteousness is flowing into your life, cleansing and sweetening and fertilising your thoughts, aims, and affections, and if another stream of kindness is flowing out of your lives to others, fertilising and gladdening hearts else fruitless and joyless, then you may be certain that your religion is not a make believe, not a piece of self-deception, but a reality. You are of the truth. God is there.

IV. “God is greater than our heart.” The heart means the whole inner moral life--the conscience. That is the greatest thing in each of us--that which, without being consulted, magisterially approves and condemns. But “God is greater than our heart.” The heart condemns sin. God condemns sin and forgives the sinner. God is greater! Conscience sees the flaws in our life. God sees them too, and mends them. God is greater! Conscience is the iron pen that writes down without pity all that has been in man’s life. God is love, and blots out the handwriting that was against us. “God is greater than our heart.” This is the true heartsease--the flower whose fragrance soothes the restless soul--faith in the love of God. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in Me.”

V. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not”--And there are blessed moods when the heart lies hushed and silent before God--when conscience lays its sceptre and crown at the feet of Christ, and all that is within us stands up to bless the Lord, who forgiveth all our iniquities. Now in these blessed hours we “have boldness toward God, and whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” We know at such times that we are one with God. We love what He loves. We hate what He hates. His commandments are our law. And we pray to Him freely, confidently, unhesitatingly, speaking to Him as to One of whose sympathy we feel sure. (J. M. Gibbon.)

Truth

The word “truth” is the characteristic word in the teaching of the beloved disciple, the Apostle St. John; he always speaks of those who belong to the Lord as those “who are of the truth.” A Christian life is expressed by him as “doing the truth,” or “walking in the truth.” It describes the very essence of the Christian life; it describes that which is the fundamental principle, without which the Christian life is impossible. The power of the Christian life is, of course, the presence of the Lord Himself; the Lord Jesus in the soul is the power by which the Christian lives, but the form which the Christian life takes is more fully expressed by the word “truth” than by any other word that we can use. Let us consider, then, what is the kind of character which is shown in the man who walks in the truth and does the truth.

1. The characteristic of such a life is in the first place that openness which is described by St. John when he says that such a man “cometh to the light.” He dislikes concealment; he desires that he shall be fully known, he has nothing to hide, he lives frankly among his fellows, concealing nothing whatever in his actions or in his purposes.

2. The characteristic which goes along with that is the simplicity of purpose which marks the man; because the man who has two purposes, generally speaking, desires to put one in front and keep the other behind. He desires to serve God openly before his fellows, and, perhaps, to have some little consideration for something else in his own soul; but the man who is thoroughly true in his life as he is open, so is he simple; he has but one aim all through, that of pleasing his heavenly Father. He knows nothing else that can be supreme over his life.

3. A further characteristic of such a character is courage. He is the truly brave man. As he has but one purpose he is never ashamed to confess it, and is he who, at all moments, in spite of all opposition, and in spite of quiet contempt and indifference, is never ashamed of Christ, never ashamed to say that he is a Christian, never ashamed to refuse to join what he knows his Master has condemned. Now this is the character of the man whose life is true. But let us come down to details. What is it that He would have us do and say and think and feel? The characteristic of the man who is really true in his service to the true Lord, is that he is thoroughly trustworthy. Never can it be said of any true child of God that he shall be found wanting in that elementary truth which, even in those who believe not, may yet be found, and give them a standing in the eyes of all. But go a little further. Look not only at his dealings, but also at his speech. And here I wish I could use the emphasis I could desire; because most assuredly the choice by our Lord and by St. John of such a word as “truth,” to be the special description of the Christian life, lays upon Christians a tenfold responsibility in regard to truth of speech, of not allowing the Christian name to be lowered by giving way to all the many temptations which surround everyone to swerve from exact fact, not allowing at any time the tongue to betray the soul by uttering that which is not true, and true all through; never allowing, for instance, the impulse of vanity to make a man say a word which will bring praise to himself which he does not really deserve; never allowing, in the very slightest degree, a word to pass the lips which shall claim for us a higher Christian rank than we deserve, or any grace which we do not possess. It can be done without any word which is in itself false; it can be done in such a way as to give a false impression without exactly contravening the truth; but the Christian will scorn it in his soul for the sake of his Master Christ, whom he knows to be the very Messenger of truth, whose kingdom is the kingdom of truth. The Christian will feel that everything which is false, even if it be but a trifle, even if it be but one of those things which people are so ready to condone, mars the brightness of the Christian aspect. Need I go on to say that, whether the falsehood be prompted by vanity or by fear, it is equally abhorrent to the true Christian spirit. And then look at the thoughts. There, too, the Christian aim will be to seek the truth, and to be true to himself; he will not pretend to believe what he does not believe, and he will not pretend to disbelieve what, in his secret soul, he really does believe. Wait until you have clearer light, but never lower your Lord and Master by thinking to serve Him by any falsehood, either within you or without. Be true to your own self, true to your own convictions, and fear not. The man who is thoroughly true will inevitably find that the longer he lives, turning his soul to the Lord and casting himself on the power of Christ, the more certain does it become that the Lord is, indeed, the King of Truth, that truth belongs to Him, and that in the Lord it will be found; for the power by which men hold fast to the truth, and speak and do and live the truth, is the Lord Jesus. He alone is the source of truth. (Bp. Temple.)

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things--

Conscience condemning or acquitting

I. There is in everyone a natural conscience, which acquits or condemns him according to the tenor of his life and actions. The very heathens were sensible of this. Juvenal says of a guilty conscience: How, like so many furies, it haunts and torments the wicked man, and proves the executioner of vengeance on him in the horrors of his own breast. And agreeable to this is that observation of St. Paul (Romans 2:14). If it be objected that we see many wicked men go on without check in their sins, and, at the same time, none more gay or more happy, to this it may be answered, in the first place, that we cannot always form a judgment of the inward peace of men’s minds by outward appearances; and that, for aught we know, the man who appears so outwardly happy may yet be far from being at peace within. Or, supposing a wicked man be really free from upbraidings of his conscience, yet it is not difficult to assign reasons which may help us to account for it. As,

1. It is possible that men may be able so to palliate or excuse their errors to themselves. Or,

2. It is possible that men may pursue a wicked course so long, and with so much obstinacy, as, in a great measure, to wear out the impression made upon them by their conscience, and to stifle its reflections. Yet some severe affliction or calamity, the approach of sickness or of death, is generally known to awaken in the minds of men those terrors of conscience which before seemed quite suppressed.

If it be still objected that there have been some, after all, who, after a dissolute course of life, have died without appearing to have felt any great uneasiness of conscience, I answer, supposing there may have been some few examples of this kind, yet they are so very rare that we may justly look upon them as a sort of monsters in the moral world.

1. From hence we cannot but perceive and admire the goodness of God, who, to restrain men from the ways of sin, has endued them with a natural principle of conscience--such as generally applauds them when they do their duty, and condemns them whensoever they transgress it.

2. From hence may be drawn a good argument in proof of a future judgment.

3. Hence we plainly see the folly of endeavouring to shake off the painful reflections of a bad conscience by a free indulgence to pleasure, by drink or company.

4. From what has been said we cannot but be sensible of the exceeding comfort and advantage of a good conscience.

II. If, upon a review of our past lives, our own conscience condemn us, we have reason to think that God, who knows a great deal more of us than we do of ourselves, will likewise assuredly condemn us.

1. The self-condemnation here meant is not that of the true penitent, who, though he has abandoned every sinful course, yet cannot but reflect upon his former sins with horror, and justly condemns himself for them; but that which arises from the conscience of a wicked life still followed.

2. It may not be amiss to consider the case of another sort of persons, who, though not conscious to themselves of having lived in any unrepented sin, are yet apt to entertain very perplexing doubts of their spiritual state. This is the case of some good Christians, who, through the weakness of their understandings, or the timorousness of their natures, are often subject to melancholy fears. But such as these would do well to consider that these groundless fears are not so properly the judgment of their conscience as the effect of a disordered and a weak imagination.

3. There is yet another sort of persons whose case it may be well to consider,--viz., that of those who lead such mixed, uncertain lives, that it is a matter of some difficulty to themselves, as well as others, to determine whether they are in a state of grace and salvation or not. These are such as sin and repent, and sin again, and this in a perpetual round, so that it is hard to say whether sin or religion be the most prevailing principle in them. Now such as these can have no just ground to hope well of their condition till they have brought themselves to a more steady course of life.

III. If, upon a serious and impartial examination of our lives, our own consciences acquit us, then may we hope that God will likewise graciously acquit us, and that we are entitled to his favour and forgiveness. (C. Peters. M. A.)

Reason the judge of religions actions

I. The apostle’s reasoning in the text supposes that there is a necessary and essential difference between good and evil, and that men are naturally conscious of this difference, and of the consequent desert of their actions accordingly. And this is true, not with regard to the dictates of natural reason only, but, in those who profess themselves Christians, it is true also with regard to the terms or conditions of the gospel of Christ.

II. The apostle’s argument proceeds upon this further supposition, that God who is the Judge of all, makes generally the same judgment of men’s actions as their own reason does, only much more perfect in the same kind, as having a knowledge infinitely more perfect and unerring than theirs. For, whatever a man’s own eyes plainly see, he cannot doubt but a person of better eyes must see the same more perfectly. And whatever a man free from passion and wilfulness, upon calm consideration, clearly discerns with his own mind, he is very sure the Infinite and All-knowing Mind cannot but discern still more clearly and distinctly.

III. How far the truth of this rule is affected by that false application which the wrong judgment of an erroneous conscience is apt to make of it. It is certain men are naturally conscious of the difference of good and evil, and of the consequent desert of their own actions. It is natural for them to apprehend that this judgment of their own consciences is the judgment that God also passes upon them; and Scripture clearly affirms that it is so. Whence then is it that many truly pious persons have been under the strongest melancholy apprehensions that God would condemn them; and on the contrary, many impious men seem to have been fully persuaded that they have been doing God service, even by unrighteous actions? It proceeds from hence; that in some cases, through innocent and pitiable weakness; in other cases, through wicked and corrupt prejudice, men set their own passions of fear or presumption in the judgment seat of reason and conscience. (S. Clarke, D. D.)

The nature and advantages of a good conscience

The advantage of having a good conscience is acknowledged both by those who possess and by those destitute of it. The one class knows its value by the solid enjoyment which it confers; the other, very frequently, by the wretchedness with which the want of it is attended.

I. With regard to the nature of a good conscience, it is properly defined in the text as one which does not condemn us.

1. There are those whose consciences do not condemn them, who yet cannot be said to have a good conscience.

2. There is another position, which at first view may appear equally, though in a different way, inconsistent with the representation of the apostle; namely, that there are those whose consciences do, at times more especially, condemn them, who yet are favourably regarded by the Most High, and who have ground for that confidence towards Him which yet they are not able to exercise. Whatever they read or hear, it all, as they conceive, makes against them; they are ready to regard almost every threatening of the Word of God as pronouncing their condemnation, and to consider themselves as having as little to do with the comfortable promises of the gospel. For this species of religious depression various causes may be assigned. It may possibly be ascribable to physical causes, and originate in bodily distemper. It may, perhaps, he justly attributed to the malice of Satan, who would endeavour to persuade us that God is as much our enemy as he himself is. Or, it may be owing to mistakes respecting the nature of the Christian covenant, and the grounds of our acceptance with God.

3. Who, then, we at length inquire, are those persons who may conclude that they are in a right state, from the circumstance of their conscience not condemning them? The persons who can form this conclusion are those who have acquired, among other things, a correct knowledge of what is essential to the Christian character. And having obtained this knowledge of the Christian character, they search deeply into their own. His repentance, and faith, and love, and obedience, though not perfect, are yet genuine.

II. Its advantages.

1. It is no small advantage that those who possess it are exempt from the disquiet and terror of an evil conscience.

2. There are positive advantages also of a most important nature which belong to such persons, and which are comprehended under the expression in the text. The person who has a good conscience has confidence towards God--

Let me, in conclusion, recommend each of you to make that application of the subject.

1. Do you say that your conscience does not condemn you; and that you, therefore, if anyone can, may well entertain a confidence towards God; and that, notwithstanding you have never seriously examined whether your conscience is quiet on good grounds, and your confidence well founded? It is for you to search deeply your own hearts in order to ascertain whether traces are to be found there of that repentance, and faith, and love, and obedience, which form the only evidence of a well-founded confidence.

2. But does your conscience already condemn you, and that on good grounds? You have, indeed, reason for alarm, under the conviction that God is greater than your heart.

3. Finally, are you in the number of those who may conclude that they are in a right state, from the circumstance of their conscience not condemning them? Remember that the continuance of your peace is closely connected with the continuance of your watchfulness against sin, and of your activity in well-doing. (T. Natt, B. D.)

Self-condemnation

I. Self-condemnation. “For if our heart condemn us.”

1. Some possibly may stand self-condemned on the ground of indulging in particular sins.

2. Others may feel inwardly accused on account of their indifference to the interests of their souls.

3. But there are some whose hearts may condemn them on the ground of the nominal and formal character of their religion.

4. With many the guilt of unbelief may be the ground of self-accusation.

5. The hearts of some may charge them with hypocrisy.

II. Self-condemnation confirmed and augmented by Divine decisions. “God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things.”

1. God is greater than our hearts in knowledge, and knows therefore the whole extent of our sin.

2. God is greater than our heart in purity, and sees therefore the utmost evil and malignity of sin.

3. God is greater than our hearts in justice, and knoweth therefore the whole amount of our desert. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The lower courts

The fault of many is that they will not lay spiritual things to heart at all, but treat them in a superficial manner. This is foolish, sinful, deadly. We ought to put our ease upon serious trial in the court of our own conscience. Certain of a better class are satisfied with the verdict of their hearts, and do not remember the higher courts; and therefore either become presumptuous, or are needlessly distressed. We are about to consider the judgments of this lower court. Here we may have--

I. A correct verdict against ourselves. Let us sum up the process.

1. The court sits under the King’s arms, to judge by royal authority. The charge against the prisoner is read. Conscience accuses, and quotes the law as applicable to the points alleged.

2. Memory gives evidence. As to the fact of sin in years past, and of sin more lately committed. Items mentioned. Transgressions of the commandments. Failure in motive, spirit, temper, etc.

3. Knowledge gives evidence that the present state of mind and heart and will is not according to the Word.

4. Self love and pride urge good intents and pious acts in stay of proceedings. Hear the defence! But alas! it is not worth hearing. The defence is but one of “the refuges of lies.”

5. The heart, judging by the law, condemns. Henceforth the man lives as in a condemned cell under fear of death and hell. If even our partial, half enlightened heart condemns, we may well tremble at the thought of appearing before the Lord God. The higher court is more strictly just, better informed, more authoritative, and more able to punish. God knows all. Forgotten sin, sins of ignorance, sins half seen are all before the Lord. What a terrible case is this! Condemned in the lower court, and sure to be condemned in the higher!

II. An incorrect verdict against ourselves. The case as before. The sentence apparently most clear. But when revised by the higher court it is reversed, for good reasons.

1. The debt has been discharged by the man’s glorious Surety.

2. The man is not the same man; though he has sinned he has died to sin, and he now lives as one born from above.

3. The evidences in his favour, such as the atonement and the new birth, were forgotten, undervalued, or misjudged in the lower court.

4. The evidence looked for by a sickly conscience was what it could not find, for it did not exist, namely, natural goodness, perfection, unbroken joy, etc. The judge was ignorant, and legally inclined. The verdict was therefore a mistaken one.

III. A correct verdict of acquittal. Our heart sometimes justly “condemns us not.”

1. The argument for non-condemnation is good: the following are the chief items of evidence in proof of our being gracious--

2. The result of this happy verdict of the heart is that we have--

IV. An incorrect verdict of acquittal.

1. A deceived heart may refuse to condemn, but God will judge us all the same.

2. A false heart may acquit, but this gives no confidence Godward.

3. A deceitful heart pretends to acquit while in its centre it condemns. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Self-condemnation

I. What the condemnation of a man’s own heart is. It is a judicial act, and hath the accuser, witness, and judge, ready against the malefactor; which, in external judicatures, are the distinct parts of different persons. For the knowledge of the law being lodged in the heart, and the consciousness of its own transgression lying uppermost there also, nothing hinders the sentence from proceeding immediately, insomuch that the bare knowledge of evil committed is in the heart or conscience self-condemnation.

II. Do all wilful and presumptuous sinners feel and suffer this condemnation of their own hearts? Why should a man’s own heart condemn him? Cannot self-love bribe off the evidence? May not the favour and partiality, which faction seldom fails of in its defence, blind the eyes or corrupt the judgment of a man’s own conscience in his favour? No! the heart judges for the God of truth, and cannot but declare the truth. That there are some examples to the contrary, let these two things be considered--

1. That we cannot know what wicked men feel in their own breasts; the most cheerful countenance, to appearance, may have a very aching heart. But, if for a time he shall also cheat himself into a false peace, it must be by such opiates as lay asleep the thinking powers of the soul.

2. Nevertheless, God by His Holy Spirit takes His own time to awaken the wicked, and to bring their sins before the bar of their conscience (Psalms 11:18-23). It is possible to live in sin without anxiety, but repentance will bring this self-condemnation home to our hearts before ever we can sue to God for His mercy. The longer we are without it the greater will be its torture at last. For it is not peace, but stupidity of mind; not happiness, but the delusions of Satan, that keep the conscience quiet in the ways of perdition.

III. God will judge us according to the sentence of our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:10). If God is just in His laws, He will be just in executing their sentence, and not acquit the sinner that accuses and condemns Himself, as guilty and impenitent. And it will be the greatest aggravation of our misery, that having brought it on ourselves, we condemn ourselves to it. He that will not see his day of grace shall find his punishment in the utter despair of it.

1. Resolve to act in uprightness and integrity of heart in all we do; let us carefully consult the dictate of our own conscience, as ever we hope to avoid its merciless rebukes in the last day.

2. Let no pretence or subterfuge tempt us to sins which our conscience, informed by the law of God, must needs condemn.

3. Of all our actions our religious worship has the greatest sincerity of heart; and of all parts of our worship the Holy Sacrament calls for the utmost integrity. (W. Whitfield.)

And knoweth all things--

All things known to God

This may seem a principle, and therefore not to be doubted, and consequently needless to be proved.

I. Prove the proposition.

1. First from Scripture (John 21:17; Hebrews 4:13).

2. From reason; and here our first argument shall be drawn from His works of creation and providence. It is impossible that He that made all things should not also know all things. Who is it that cannot readily acknowledge and read his own hand? Next, His providence sufficiently declares His omniscience; if He manages, rules, and governs all things, yea sin itself, it clearly follows that He has full cognisance of those things, since all these acts presuppose knowledge.

II. The excellency of God’s knowledge above the knowledge either of men or angels.

1. Concerning its properties.

(a) By reflecting upon His power, and what He can do, He has a perfect knowledge of all possibilities, and of things that may be produced.

(b) By reflecting upon His power and His will, He knows whatsoever shall be actually produced.

2. The excellency of God’s knowledge appears in respect of His objects; which are all things knowable. But they may be reduced to three things especially, which God alone perfectly knows, and are not to be known by men or angels.

III. I proceed to make some application; and to see what uses may be deduced from the consideration of God’s omniscience: it may serve as an argument to press several duties upon us.

1. It must be a strong motive to bring us to a free confession of all our sins to God. We can commit and tell our secrets to a friend that does not know them; how much more should we do it to Him that knows them already.

2. The consideration of God’s omniscience may enforce us to an humble submission to all God’s commands and directions, and that both in respect of belief and of practice.

3. And lastly, since it is an express command of our Saviour Himself, that we should “be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect”; why should we not, according to our weak model, endeavour to copy out this Divine perfection upon our soul, as well as any of the rest? And why, as well as we are commanded to be like Him in His goodness, bounty, and mercy, we should not endeavour to resemble Him in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, according to our weak capacity? (R. South, D. D.)

Hearts of sinners known to God

Sinners know something about their own hearts, otherwise they would never feel self condemned; but they do not know so much about them as they might know; for they endeavour to misinform, or silence conscience, which would, if properly consulted and allowed to speak, condemn them for every evil imagination of their hearts. No sinners, however, whether moral or immoral, whether secure or awakened, know so much about their own hearts as God does, who is greater than their hearts, and knows all things. For--

1. God has a more extensive view of the exercises of their hearts than they ever have. “The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all imaginations of the thoughts.” He knows all that passes in their hearts and drops from their lips every moment, and remembers all. This is what all sinners are extremely prone to forget, for which God justly blames them. Though they cannot remember all their sins, yet they ought to remember that God remembers them all.

2. God sees all the moral exercises of their hearts at one intuitive and comprehensive view; which is a far more perfect knowledge of them than they ever have.

3. God knows the moral quality of all the exercises which compose the hearts of sinners, as well as their connection with each other, and with the external actions which flow from them.

4. God knows how vile and guilty sinners are, for all the evil exercises of their hearts which they inwardly cherish, and outwardly express. He views the least sin as unspeakably more vile and guilty than sinners do the greatest.

5. God knows all the evils which the corrupt hearts of sinners would prompt them to do, if He did not continually restrain them. He views their hearts, therefore, as infinitely more sinful than they view them.

6. God knows the extreme obstinacy of their hearts, which they are unwilling to know, and of which they are generally very ignorant. God knows how often and how much they have refused to obey His commands, His gracious invitations, and His awful threatenings. God knows how often and how much they have resisted the strivings of His Spirit.

Improvement.

1. In the view of this subject we may see why sinners generally live so little concerned about their guilty and dangerous state by nature. They either bribe conscience by their good deeds, or sear it by their bad ones; and in either case, they flatter themselves that their hearts are pretty good, if not so good as they ought to be. But if they only saw their hearts as God sees them, they would be instantly alarmed, and all their peace and flattering hopes would forsake them.

2. This subject shows us why awakened sinners are often in so much anxiety and distress about the salvation of their souls. It is because they begin to see their hearts in the same light in which God sees them.

3. This subject shows why sinners are so ready to believe that God will not make them, nor any others of mankind, forever miserable. They think that no sinners deserve eternal punishment. The reason is that they have never seen their own hearts as God has seen them.

4. It appears from what has been said, that it is of great importance to preach the doctrine of total depravity plainly and fully.

5. It appears from what has been said, that no sinners have a right to think they are Christians, They all have the witness within themselves that they are graceless. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Conscience and God as judges

I. Thoughts which our natural minds take from it.

1. We know, in the sense of being impressed with, but a few of our own sins--only such as are somewhat aside from our ordinary habit, or diverse from our current taste. But God, the impartial and omniscient, sees them all numerically; every grain in the growing heap.

2. We see at best but detached portions of our lives; we easily forget the past; hence, our moral equanimity differs from day to day. But God sees us altogether in our general character, the drift and meaning of our lives.

3. We do not know the sin that lies within our own purposes. No wicked man lives out the full of the wickedness that is in him; he is hedged in by a thousand fears. But God looks on the heart.

4. We see our sin in the narrow scope of its immediate effect. God sees it in all the hideousness of sin’s general work in the world, the diseases, poverty, crime, death, which deeds of the same kind as those that to us seem venial have accomplished.

5. We know almost nothing of the meaning of sin as seen in its consequences within the soul: blinding spiritual sight; corroding the finer sensibilities; paralysing the will: engendering eternal impotency and misery. God knows all this.

6. We have no high standard of judging our sins; conscience is generally depraved to near the level of the sinful habit. God sees our sin in contact with His infinite purity, our sins in the light of His countenance.

7. God sees all sin in the light of His purpose one day to rid the universe of it; the refiner sits at the fire, and our sin is there awaiting the process.

II. Thoughts which Bible faith puts into the text for our consolation.

1. It is especially said to be for our assurance.

2. God knows what He, the Judge, is--“God is love.”

3. God knows the meaning of His own infinite fatherhood.

4. God knows what He has already done for us. We do not begin to realise the meaning of the gift of the only begotten Son.

5. God knows what He has already done with our sins--blotted them out.

6. God knows what the Holy Spirit’s mission to a sinful soul is; we but dimly conceive it, as the sanctifying process is manifest to our experience.

7. God knows how the light of heaven will put away all darkness from the soul that He has permitted to enter there, and looks upon us as candidates for that perfection which He has decreed and prepared for us. (J. M. Ludlow.)

Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God--

A good life the surest title to a good conscience

I. The nature of a sure or clear conscience ought to be first stated lest we should mistake shadow for substance, presumption and vain confidence for truth and soberness. The apostle points out the general nature of a good conscience by this mark, that our hearts condemn us not, and that we know that we are of the truth; know it by some certain rule, namely, that we keep God’s commandments. And if our conduct be found, upon a just examination, to square with that rule, then our consciences are clear, and we may look up with a becoming confidence to God. This is a matter of great weight, and yet there is nowhere more room for self-flattery and self-deceit. A man will often call it acting according to his conscience, when he acts according to his present persuasion, without ever examining how he came by that persuasion; whether through wrong education, custom, or example; or whether from some secret lust, pride, or prejudice, rather than from the rule of God’s written Word, or from a principle of right reason. This cannot be justly called keeping a good conscience: for we ought not to take up false persuasions at all adventures, and then to make those persuasions our rule of life, instead of that rule which God hath given us to walk by. It is deceiving ourselves to imagine that we have a good conscience when we have used no reasonable care in examining whether it be a right conscience or not. There is another common method of self-deceit, when a person who well enough understands the rule he is to go by, yet forgets to apply it to his own particular case, and so speaks peace to himself all the while that he transgresses it. No doubt but a considerate man may know when he behaves as he ought to do, and may reap the comfort of it. And though we are none of us without sin yet a good life is easily distinguished from the life of the ungodly, and a state of grace from a state of sin. And so there is room enough left for the joy of a good conscience, where men live as becometh the gospel of Christ, perfecting holiness, to such a degree as man can be perfect, in the fear of God.

II. I now proceed to discourse of the comforts of it. If our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God; and whatsoever we ask we receive of Him. What greater comfort can there be than conscious virtue drawing after it the favour of God in whom all happiness centres, and upon whom all things entirely depend? If God be with us who can be against us? What friends can we want, while in Him we have all that are truly valuable? Or what blessings can we desire, but what He is both willing and able to shower down upon us, only leaving it to Him to judge what is safest and most convenient for us? There is no pleasure in life comparable to that which arises in a good man’s breast from the sense of his keeping up a friendly intercourse with God. (D. Waterland, D. D.)

An account of the nature and measures of conscience

As nothing can be of more moment, so few things, doubtless, are of more difficulty, than for men to be rationally satisfied about the estate of their souls, with reference to God and the great concerns of eternity. First of all then: he who would pass such a judgment upon his condition as shall be ratified in heaven, will find himself wofully deceived, if he judges of his spiritual estate by any of these measures.

1. The general esteem of the world concerning him. He who owes his piety to fame and hearsay, and the evidences of his salvation to popular voice and opinion, builds his house not only upon the sand, but, which is worse, upon the wind; and writes the deeds, by which he holds his estate, upon the face of a river. The favourable opinion and good word of men, to some persons especially, comes oftentimes at a very easy rate; and by a few demure looks.

2. The judgment of any casuist or learned divine, concerning the estate of a man’s soul, is not sufficient to give him confidence towards God. And the reason is because no learning whatsoever can give a man the knowledge of another’s heart.

3. The absolution pronounced by a priest is not a certain, infallible ground, to give the person so absolved confidence towards God, because if absolution, as such, could of itself secure a man, as to the estate of his soul, then it would follow that every person so absolved should, by virtue thereof, be ipso facto put into such a condition of safety; which is not imaginable. In a word, if a man be penitent, his repentance stamps his absolution effectual. If not, let the priest repeat the same absolution to him ten thousand times; yet for all his being absolved in this world, God will condemn him in the other.

4. No advantages from external church membership, or profession of the true religion, can of themselves give a man confidence towards God: and yet perhaps there is hardly any one thing in the world which men, in all ages, have generally more cheated themselves with. Thus I have shown four several uncertain rules, which men are prone to judge of their spiritual estate by. But now have we any more certain to substitute and recommend in the room of them? Why, yes; if we believe the apostle, a man’s own heart or conscience is that which, above all other things, is able to give him “confidence towards God.” And the reason is, because the heart knows that by itself, which nothing in the world besides can give it any knowledge of; and without the knowledge of which it can have no foundation to build any true confidence upon.

I. How the heart or conscience ought to be informed, in order to its founding in us a rational confidence towards God. It is not necessary for a man to be assured of the rightness of his conscience, by such an infallible certainty of persuasion, as amounts to the clearness of a demonstration; but it is sufficient if he knows it upon grounds of such a convincing probability, as shall exclude all rational grounds of doubting of it. There is an innate light in every man, discovering to him the first lines of duty in the common notions of good and evil; which by cultivation may be advanced to higher discoveries. He therefore who exerts all the faculties of his soul, and plies all means and opportunities in the search of truth, which God has vouchsafed him, may rest upon the judgment of his conscience so informed, as a warrantable guide of those actions which he must account to God for.

II. How, and by what means, we may get our heart or conscience thus informed, and afterwards preserve and keep it so.

1. Let a man carefully attend to the voice of his reason, and all the dictates of natural morality; so by no means to do anything contrary to them. For though reason is not to be relied upon, as a guide universally sufficient to direct us what to do; yet it is generally to be relied upon and obeyed, where it tells us what we are not to do. No man ever yet offended his own conscience, but first or last it was revenged upon him for it. So that it will concern a man to treat this great principle awfully and warily, by still observing what it commands, but especially what it forbids: and if he would have it always a faithful and sincere monitor to him, let him be sure never to turn a deaf ear to it; for not to hear it is the way to silence it. Let him strictly observe the first stirrings and intimations, the first hints and whispers of good and evil that pass in his heart; and this will keep conscience so quick and vigilant, and ready to give a man true alarms upon the least approach of his spiritual enemy, that he shall be hardly capable of a great surprise.

2. Let a man be very tender, and regardful of every pious motion and suggestion made by the Spirit of God in his heart.

3. Because the light of natural conscience is in many things defective and dim, and the internal voice of God’s Spirit not always distinguishable, above all, let a man attend to the mind of God uttered in His revealed Word. We shall find it a rule, both to instruct us what to do, and to assure us in what we have done. For though natural conscience ought to be listened to, yet it is revelation alone that is to be relied upon: as we may observe in the works of art, a judicious artist will indeed use his eye, but he will trust only to his rule. There is not any one action whatsoever which a man ought to do or to forbear, but the Scripture will give him a clear precept or prohibition for it.

4. The fourth and last way that I shall mention for the getting of the conscience rightly informed, and afterwards keeping it so, is frequently and impartially to account with it. It is with a man and his conscience as with one man and another, amongst whom we used to say that “even reckoning makes lasting friends,” and the way to make reckonings even, I am sure, is to make them often. I shall close with this twofold caution.

A further account of the nature and measure of conscience

I. Whence it is that the testimony of conscience, thus informed, comes to be so authentic, and so much to be relied upon.

1. The high office which it holds immediately from God Himself, in the soul of man. It commands and dictates everything in God’s name; and stamps every word with an almighty authority. So that it is, as it were, a kind of copy or transcript of the Divine sentence, and an interpreter of the sense of heaven. Nay, and this vicegerent of God has one prerogative above all God’s other earthly vicegerents; to wit, that it can never be deposed. For a king never condemns any whom his judges have absolved, nor absolves whom his judges have condemned, whatsoever the people and republicans may.

2. Proceed we now to the second ground, from which conscience derives the credit of its testimony in judging of our spiritual estate; and that consists in those properties and qualities which so peculiarly fit it for the discharge of its forementioned office, in all things relating to the soul.

II. Some particular cases or instances in which this confidence towards God, suggested by a rightly informed conscience, does most eminently show and exert itself.

1. In our addresses to God by prayer. When a man shall presume to come and place himself in the presence of the great Searcher of hearts, and to ask something of Him, while his conscience is all the while smiting him on the face, and telling him what a rebel and traitor he is to the majesty which he supplicates; surely such a one should think with himself, that the God whom he prays to is greater than his conscience, and pierces into all the filth and baseness of his heart with a much clearer and more severe inspection. And if so, will he not likewise resent the provocation more deeply, and revenge it upon him more terribly, if repentance does not divert the blow? But on the other side, when a man’s breast is clear, and the same heart which indites, does also encourage his prayer, when his innocence pushes on the attempt and vouches the success; such a one goes boldly to the throne of grace, and his boldness is not greater than his welcome. God recognises the voice of His own Spirit interceding with him; and his prayers are not only followed but even prevented with an answer.

2. A second instance in which this confidence towards God does so remarkably show itself is at the time of some notable trial or sharp affliction. When a man’s friends shall desert him and all dependencies fail him, certainly it will then be of some moment to have a friend in the court of conscience, which shall, as it were, buoy up his sinking spirits and speak greater things for him than all these together can declaim against him.

3. At the time of death: which surely gives the grand opportunity of trying both the strength and worth of every principle. At this disconsolate time, when the busy tempter shall be more than usually apt to vex and trouble him, and the pains of a dying body to hinder and discompose him, and the settlement of worldly affairs to disturb and confound him; and in a word all things conspire to make his sick bed grievous and uneasy: nothing can then stand up against all these ruins and speak life in the midst of death, but a clear conscience. And the testimony of that shall make the comforts of heaven descend upon his weary head, like a refreshing dew or shower upon a parched ground. It shall give him some lively earnests and secret anticipations of his approaching joy. (R. South, D. D.)

What is the verdict

I. Carefully observe that this text is spoken to the people of God. It speaks to those who are called “beloved.” These are the people who are specially loved of God and of His people. As soon as we become children we are freed from the condemning power of the law; we are not under the principle and motive of the law of works, but yet we are not with out law unto Christ. We are dealt with not as mere subjects are ruled by a king, but as children are governed by a father. Thus they walk on blindfold to the brink of the precipice. God grant the bandage may be taken off before they have taken the final and fatal step.

1. Genuine Christians very much frequent this court of conscience. They long to have their condition put to a thorough test, lest they be deceived. Make sure work for eternity. Be certain by the witness of the Holy Ghost within you, that you are indeed the children of God. The spirit of the true man answers to this: he is always willing to set in order the court of conscience and make solemn trial of his heart and life.

2. In this court the question to be decided is a very weighty one. Am I sincere in the truth? Is my religion true, and am I true in my profession of it? Does love rule in my nature? Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do I also keep His commandments? Do I seek to be holy as Jesus is holy? Or am I living in known sin, and tolerating that in myself which does not and cannot please God?

3. This court is guided by a mass of evidence. That evidence has not to be sought for, it is there already. Memory rises up and says, “I remember all thou hast done since thy profession of conversion--thy shortcomings and breaches of covenant.” The will confesses to offences which never ripened into acts for want of opportunity. The passions own to outbreaks which were concealed from human observation. The imagination is made to bear testimony, and what a sinful power that imagination is, and how difficult it is to govern it: its tale is sad to hear. Our tempers confess to evil anger, our lusts to evil longings, our hearts to evil covetousness, pride, and rebellion. Hopeful witness there is also of sin conquered, habits broken, and desires repressed; all this is honestly taken in evidence and duly weighed.

4. While the trial is going on, the deliberation causes great suspense. As long as I have to ask my heart, “Heart, dost thou condemn me, or dost thou acquit me?” I stand trembling. You may have seen a picture entitled, “Waiting for the Verdict.” The artist has put into the countenances of the waiters every form of unrest, for the suspense is terrible. Blessed be God, we are not called upon to wait long for the verdict of conscience. We ought never to let the question remain in suspense at all; we should settle it, and settle it in the light of God, and then walk in the light as God is in the light.

II. The acquittal issued from this court: “If our heart condemn us not.”

1. Observe that a man may get an acquittal from the court of conscience; for the question laid before the heart can be settled. It can be ascertained whether I sincerely believe in Jesus Christ; it can be ascertained whether I sincerely love God and love His people; it can be ascertained whether my heart is obedient to the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. These questions, however, must be debated with great discernment. Abundance, aye, superabundance, of temptation is no proof against the sincerity of our faith in our God; on the contrary, it may sometimes happen that the more we are tempted the more true is it that there is something in us to tempt, some good thing which Satan seeks to destroy.

3. Again, the verdict of the heart must be given with discrimination, or otherwise we may judge according to outward circumstances and so judge amiss. The fact that my child is little and feeble is no proof that he is not my son. The boy may be like his father and yet be only a tiny babe.

4. And the verdict has to be given, mark you, upon gospel principles. The question before the court of conscience is not, Have I perfectly kept the law? The question is, Am I a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I resting in him for salvation, and do I prove the truth of that faith by loving God, and loving the brethren, and by doing those things which are pleasing to God, and avoiding those things which are displeasing to Him?

5. This question in the court of the heart must never be settled by our feelings. Sinners can rejoice as well as saints, and saints can mourn as well as sinners; the point is not what we feel, but what we believe and do.

6. The question of our state ought to be settled speedily. We know “the law’s delays,” but we must not allow any delay in this court. No, we must press for summary justice.

III. The consequence of this acquittal. Here is the man who has had his acquittal in the court of conscience. Your conscience has said, “He is a sincere man; he is a believing man; he is quickened with the life of God; he is an obedient and God-fearing man”; and now you have confidence toward God; or at least you have a right to such confidence. What does that confidence or boldness mean?

1. There is the confidence of truthfulness. When you kneel down to pray you know that you are praying, and not mocking God; when you sing you are making melody in your heart; when you preach you are preaching that which your soul believes.

2. The next kind of confidence towards God as to one’s acceptance with Him. The Word saith, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” Conscience says, “Yes, thou hast faith”; and the heart concludes, “There is therefore now no condemnation.” When you know this, your life is gilded with the sunlight of the coming glory, and your heart rejoiceth exceedingly.

3. This produces, and perhaps it is that which the apostle most intended, a boldness of converse. The man who knows that he is truthful and that Cod has accepted him, then speaks freely with God.

4. This leads to great confidence in prayer. Look at the context. “We have confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask we receive,” etc. If you want power in prayer you must have purity in life.

5. Our text means also that such a man shall have confidence towards God, in all service for God. Look at the man of God who has confidence towards God as to the perils encountered in faithfully following his Lord. Take Daniel, for instance. His confidence toward God is that he is safe in the path of duty.

6. Moreover, we have this confidence towards God in the way of service, so that we are sure of receiving all necessary help. An officer, if he finds himself in straits, impresses anybody that passes by, saying, “In the King’s name, help me.” Even so, if you do your Lord’s bidding, and if conscience condemns you not, you may impress into the service of the great King every angel in heaven, and every force of nature, as need requires.

7. It means rest, perfect rest. Look at your Lord when the tempest was on. Loud roaring, the billows come near to overwhelming the ship; but He is asleep. It was the best thing to do. You and I may do the same: we need not be frightened nor worried nor troubled; but just trust in the Lord and do good, so shall we dwell in the land, and verily we shall be fed.

8. This confidence often mounts up into joy till the Christian man overflows with delight in God; he cannot contain his happiness. He goes to his toil rejoicing to serve God in his calling, and he comes home at night to repose himself in the care of his God and Father. All is well and he knows it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

An approving heart--confidence in prayer

I. Show that if our heart does not condemn us, we have and cannot but have confidence toward God that He accept us. If our heart really does not condemn us, it is because we are conscious of being conformed to all the light we have, and of doing the whole will of God as far as we know it. While in this state it is impossible that, with right views of God’s character, we should conceive of Him as condemning us. He is a Father, and He cannot but smile on His obedient and trusting children. We cannot conceive of Him as being otherwise than pleased; for, if He were displeased with a state of sincere and full obedience, He would act contrary to His own character; He would cease to be benevolent, holy, and just. Again, let it be noted that in this state with an approving conscience, we should have no self-righteousness. A man in this state would at this very moment ascribe all his obedience to the grace of God. The apostle Paul when in this state of conscious uprightness most heartily ascribes all to grace. “I laboured,” says he, “more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that is in me.” But observe that while the apostle was in that state, it was impossible that he should conceive of God as displeased with his state. Again, when a man prays disinterestedly, and with a heart in full and deep sympathy with God, he may and should have confidence that God hears him. Indeed no one, having right views of God’s character, can come to Him in prayer in a disinterested state of mind, and feel otherwise than that God accepts such a state of mind. Again, when we are conscious of sympathising with God Himself, we may know that God will answer our prayers. The soul, being in sympathy with God, feels as God feels; so that for God to deny its prayers is to deny His own feelings, and refuse to do the very thing He Himself desires. Since God cannot do this, He cannot fail of hearing the prayer that is in sympathy with His own heart. In the state we are now considering the Christian is conscious of praying in the Spirit, and therefore must know that his prayer is accepted before God. I say he is conscious of this fact. And this deep praying of the heart goes on while the Christian is still pursuing the common vocations of life. The team he is driving or the book he professes to study is by no means so vividly a matter of conscious recognition to him as is his communion of soul with his God. In this state the soul is fully conscious of being perfectly submissive to God. “Not my will, O Lord, but Thine be done.” Hence he knows that God will grant the blessing he asks.

II. We are next to consider this position, namely, that if our heart does not condemn us, we may have confidence that we shall receive the things we ask.

1. This must be so, because it is His Spirit working in us that excites these prayers.

2. It is a remarkable fact that all real prayer seems to be summed up in the Lord’s Prayer, and especially in those two most comprehensive petitions: “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Now let it be observed that God desires this result infinitely more than we do.

3. Yet let it be noted here that God may not answer every prayer according to its letter; but He surely will according to its spirit.

III. Why will God certainly answer such a prayer, and how can we know that He will?

1. The text affirms that “whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” The fundamental reason always of God’s bestowing blessings is His goodness--His love. All good flows down from the great fountain of infinite goodness. Our obedience is only the condition of God’s bestowing it--never the fundamental reason or ground of its bestowment. Obedience takes away the obstacle; then the mighty gushings of Divine love break forth. Obedience removes the obstacles; never merits or draws down the blessing.

2. If God were to give blessings upon any other condition, it would deceive multitudes, either respecting ourselves or Himself. If He were to answer our prayers, we being in a wrong state of mind, it would deceive others very probably; for if they did not know us well, they would presume that we were in a right state, and might be led to consider those things in us right which are in fact wrong. Or, if they knew that we were wrong, and yet knew that God answered our prayers, what must they think of God? They could not avoid the conclusion that He patronises wrong doing.

3. God is well pleased when we remove the obstacles out of the way of His benevolence, He is infinitely good, and lives to do good. Now, if it is His delight and His life to do good, how greatly must He rejoice when we remove all obstacles out of the way! Suppose the bottom of the vast Pacific should heave and pour its ocean tides over all the continents of the earth. This might illustrate the vast overflowings of the love of God; how grace and love are mounting up far and infinitely above all the mountains of your sins. How it would force its way and pour out its gushing floods wherever the least channel might be opened! And you would not need to fear that your little wants would drain it dry!

Remarks:

1. Many persons, being told that God answers prayer for Christ’s sake, overlook the condition of obedience. They have so loose an idea of prayer, and of our relations to God in it, and of His relations to us and to His moral government, that they think they may be disobedient and yet prevail through Christ. How little do they understand the whole subject! “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” When men come before God with their idols set up in their hearts, and the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face, the Lord says, “Should I be inquired of at all by them (Ezekiel 14:3-5)?”

2. Persons never need hesitate, because of their past sins, to approach God with the fullest confidence.

3. Many continue the forms of prayer when they are living in sin, and do not try to reform, and even have no sincere desire to reform. All such persons should know that they grievously provoke the Lord to answer their prayers with fearful judgments.

4. It is only those that live and walk with God whose prayers are of any avail to them selves, to the Church, or to the world.

5. Sinner, if you will come back to the Lord, you may not only prevail for yourself, but for your associates and friends. Christian hearer, is it not a dreadful thing for you to be in a state in which you cannot prevail with God? Let us look around; how is it with you? Can you prevail with God? (C. G. Finney.)

Self-acquittal, and the confidence it produces

I. Self-acquittal. “If our heart condemn us not.” The case supposed is what may be supposed of any Christian, which is--

1. That his heart does not condemn him on the ground of allowing and cherishing sin.

2. A Christian’s heart does not condemn him on the ground of total insensibility to spiritual things.

3. Acquit you of a self-righteous spirit. Is it a sin, then, to be selfrighteous? Undoubtedly. Must it not be sinful to justify ourselves in the face of a righteous law which condemns us at every point?

4. The destitution of Christian graces is another point on which the judgment of a Christian will acquit him.

5. Insincerity is also one of those things of which our hearts should be prepared to acquit us.

II. The confidence which results from this self acquittal.

1. We have a persuasion of our being justified before God because the terms of our justification have been complied with.

2. We are conscious of possessing what God approves. “We assure our hearts before Him,” because “we love indeed and in truth.”

3. A persuasion of acceptableness in devotion is another part of his confidence toward God.

4. An expectation of gracious superintendence forms also a part of this confidence.

5. An assurance of preparation for judgment and eternity crowns the confidence of those whose hearts condemn them not. (Essex Remembrancer.)


Verses 22-24

1 John 3:22-24

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments

The conditions of power in prayer

I.
The essentials of power is prayer. We must make a few distinctions at the outset. I take it there is a great difference between the prayer of a soul that is seeking mercy and the prayer of a man who is saved. I would say to every person present, whatever his character, if you sincerely seek mercy of God through Jesus Christ you shall have it. Qualifications for the sinner’s first prayer I know of none except sincerity; but we must speak in a different way to those of you who are saved. You have now become the people of God, and while you shall be heard just as the sinner would be heard, and shall daily find the needful grace which every seeker receives in answer to prayer, yet you are under a special discipline peculiar to the regenerated family. There is something for a believer to enjoy over and above bare salvation; there are mercies, and blessings, and comforts, which render his present life useful, happy, and honourable, and these he shall not have irrespective of character. To give a common illustration: If a hungry person were at your door, and asked for bread, you would give it him, whatever might be his character; you will also give your child food, whatever may be his behaviour; you will never proceed in any course of discipline against him, so as to deny him his needful food, or a garment to shield him from the cold; but there are many other things which your child may desire, which you will give him if he be obedient, but which you will not give if he be rebellious to you. I take it that this illustrates how far the paternal government of God will push this matter, and where it will not go. Understand also, that the text refers not so much to God’s hearing a prayer of His servants now and then, for that He will do, even when His servants are out of course with Him; but the power in prayer here intended is continuous and absolute power with God; so that, to quote the words of the text, “whatsoever we ask of Him we receive.” For this prayer there are certain prerequisites.

1. The first is child-like obedience: “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments.”

2. Next to this is another essential to victorious prayer, viz., child-like reverence. We receive what we ask, “because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Suppose any of us should be self-willed, and say, “I shall not do what pleases God, I shall do what pleases myself.” Then observe what would be the nature of our prayers? Our prayers might then be summed up in the request, “Let me have my own way.” And can we expect God to consent to that?

3. In the third place, the text suggests the necessity of child-like trust: “And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Let us come back to our family similitudes again. Suppose a child in the house does not believe his father’s word; suppose, indeed, that he tells his brothers and sisters that his faith in his father is very weak. He mentions that wretched fact, but is not at all shocked that he should say such a thing, but he rather feels that he ought to be pitied, as if it were an infirmity which he could not avoid. I think a father so basely distrusted would not be in a very great hurry to grant such a son’s requests; indeed, it is very probable that the petitions of the mistrustful son would be such as could not be complied with, even if his father were willing to do so, since they would amount to a gratification of his own unbelief and a dishonour to his parent. Expect not, therefore, to be heard when your prayer is suggested by an unbelieving heart: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

4. The next essential to continued success in prayer is child-like love: “That we should believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as He gave us commandment.” We should abound in love to God, love to Christ, love to the Church, love to sinners, and love to men everywhere. You must get rid of selfishness before God can trust you with the keys of heaven; but when self is dead, then He will enable you to unlock His treasuries, and, as a prince, shall you have power with God and prevail.

5. Next to this, we must have child-like ways as well. “He that keepeth His commandments, dwelleth in Him, and He in him.” It is one of a child’s ways to love its home. Suppose one of you had a boy, who said, “Father, I do not like my home, I do not care for you; and I will not endure the restraints of family rule; I am going to live with strangers. But mark, father, I shall come to you every week, and I shall require many things of you; and I shall expect that you will give me whatever I ask from you.” Why, if you are at all fit to be at the head of the house, you will say, “My son, how can you speak to me in such a manner? If you are so self-willed as to leave my house, can you expect that I will do your bidding? If you utterly disregard me, can you expect me to support you in your cruel unkindness and wicked insubordination. No, my son; if you will not remain with me and own me as a father, I cannot promise you anything.” And so it is with God.

6. One thing more: it appears from the text that we must have a child-like spirit, for “hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” What is this but the Spirit of adoption--the Spirit which rules in all the children of God? The Holy Spirit if He rules in us, will subordinate our nature to His own sway, and then the prayers which spring out of our renewed hearts will be in keeping with the will of God, and such prayers will naturally be heard.

II. The prevalence of these essential things. If they be in us and abound, our prayers cannot be barren or unprofitable.

1. First, if we have faith in God, there is no question about God’s hearing our prayer. If we can plead in faith the name and blood of Jesus, we must obtain answers of peace. But a thousand cavils are suggested. Suppose these prayers concern the laws of nature, then the scientific men are against us, What of that? The Lord has ways of answering our prayers irrespective of the working of miracles or suspending laws. Perhaps there are other forces and laws which He has arranged to bring into action just at times when prayer also acts, laws just as fixed and forces just as natural as those which our learned theorisers have been able to discover. The wisest men know not all the laws which govern the universe, nay, nor a tithe of them. If there be but faith in God, God must either cease to be, or cease to be true, or else He must hear prayer. The verse before the text says, “If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God; and whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him.” He who has a clear conscience comes to God with confidence, and that confidence of faith ensures to him the answer of his prayer.

2. But next, love must succeed too, since we have already seen that the man who loves in the Christian sense is in accord with God. God always hears the prayers of a loving man, because those prayers are the shadows of His own decrees.

3. Again, the man of obedience is the man whom God will hear, because his obedient heart leads him to pray humbly and with submission, for he feels it to be his highest desire that the Lord’s will should be done.

4. Again, the man who lives in fellowship with God will assuredly speed in prayer, because if he dwells in God and God dwells in him, he will desire what God desires.

5. And here, again let us say, our text speaks of the Christian man as being filled with God’s Spirit: “We know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” Who knows the mind of a man but the spirit of a man? So, who knows the things of God but the Spirit of God? And if the Spirit of God dwells in us, then He tells us what God’s mind is; He makes intercession in the saints according to the will of God.

Practical improvement:

1. The first is, we want to pray for a great blessing as a church. Very well. Have we the essentials for success? Are we believing in the name of Jesus Christ? Are we full of love to God and one another?

2. Next, are we doing that which is pleasing in God’s sight?

3. The next question is, do we dwell in God?

4. Lastly, does the Spirit of God actuate us, or is it another spirit? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Righteousness essential to our pleasing God and to His hearing us

I. “We keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” So John writes; and so also Jesus speaks (John 8:29). The language is the very same; the sense and spirit in which it is used must be the very same also. Jesus uttered the words for our sakes; and as expressing a human feeling which we may understand, and with which He would have us to sympathise. That human feeling in the bosom of Jesus must have been very simple and intensely filial; realising intensely His filial relation to the Father and His filial oneness with the Father. There is, if I may venture so to speak, a child-like simplicity, a sort of artless straightforwardness, in His saying so confidingly, so lovingly, so naturally, “I do always those things that please Him.” He has the Cross in view. Men, displeased with Him, are to “lift Him up,” and leave Him to die in His agony alone. Not so the Father. He leaves me not alone; He is with me; “for I do always those things that please Him.” Somewhat similar are the circumstances in which John would have us to say; “we do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Oh! to be converted, and become as little children! First, to be made willing as little children, that all this misunderstanding should be ended, and this breach thoroughly healed at once, and once for all, as the Father would have it to be, in the Son. And then, as little children, to know something of a little child’s touching and artless simplicity, as we look with loving eye into the loving eye of the Father, and lovingly lisp out the touching words: “We keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”

II. “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him.” In this saying also we have the countenance of Jesus (John 11:41-42). “Thou hearest me always!” It is a blessed assurance. And the blessedness of it really lies, not so much in the good he gets from the Father’s hearing him, as in the Father’s hearing him itself; not so much in what he receives, as in his receiving it from the Father. For this is the charm, the joy, the consolation, of that access to the Father and that influence with the Father which you now have in common with the Son. It is not that you may enrich and gratify yourselves with what you win by asking from Him. But it is literally that whatever you ask you receive of Him, as His gift; the proof that He is ever with you and heareth you always. Ah! how then shall I ask anything at all? If such is my position, in and with Christ, how shall I have the heart or the hardihood to ask anything at all of the Father, except only that He may deal with me according to His good pleasure? If I am really on such a footing with the Father that “He heareth me always,” and “whatsoever I ask I receive of Him”; if I have such influence with Him; if, as His dear child, pleasing Him, and doing what pleases Him, I can so prevail with Him that He can refuse me nothing; what can I say? What can I do? I can but cast myself into His arms and cry, Thou knowest better than I, oh my Father! Father, Thy will be done. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Answers to prayer

We must make a wide distinction between a cause and a condition. The cause of anything is the actual reason why it is--the source from which it flows. The condition is something which comes in afterwards--super added--to limit and to guide the actings of the first cause. Just, for example, as the rain is not caused by the particular state of the atmosphere, but it depends upon it; and there must be a certain rarity in the air, without which the rain would not fall. This is its condition. In like manner, “keeping the commandments” is not the cause of our prayers being answered, but it is the condition. Your prayers will not be answered unless yon “keep the commandments.” If we ask, “what is the reason why any prayer prevails with God?” the explanation lies very deep. You will find it among the grandnesses of the Holy Trinity. It is because God is a Father, and therefore of Himself loves to listen to His children’s petitions, and to give them everything they ask. It is because every believer praying, prays in Christ--he presents Christ--he is in Christ. Hence the almost omnipotence of prayer. It is because whatever true prayer goes up to the throne of God, it is the Holy Ghost who prays it. Thus the whole Trinity meets to make the prayer of the weakest Christian, and this is the cause why prayer gets answered. Who has not asked of God a great many things? Who does not believe that many, at least, of the things which he asks are the legitimate, nay, the covenanted subjects of prayer? Who has not the evidence of his own heart that for many of these things, at all events, he has prayed, and is praying very earnestly. And yet, who has not to feel “My prayers are not answered; I do not obtain what I ask”? And who has not wondered why it is thus with his prayers? Now what is the reason? Certainly the cause cannot be in God; it must be in you. But where in you? I answer deliberately--in your life, in your heart. In some way or other, you are not “keeping” some “commandment,” you are not “doing those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Let us now pause upon the thought that the life rules the prayer--that according as you are holy, so wilt you receive answers to your prayers--that the condition of prayer is obedience, and without obedience prayer loses its prerogative. If a man is leading a religious life--not grieving his conscience--a man of pure thoughts and holy pleasures--that man grows into such a state of mind that he will only wish such things as God has promised to give him, he will not desire many temporal things; but his tastes will be spiritual, therefore his prayers are always keeping within the bounds of the promises. He will not ask nor long for anything which is not after the will of God to give. The Spirit which is in him will take care of that for him.

1. And here is the first grand secret of the success of a good man’s prayer, which arises out of a conformity of his mind to the mind of God, and that conformity of his mind to the mind of God arises out of his daily habits of life.

2. Secondly, blessings may be ready to come down, and they may pour, but unless your heart be in a right state to receive them, they will pour in vain. The heart is hard, and they cannot come in; or it is so crowded that there is no room; or it is so weak that there is no holding. Now any state of wilful sin puts the heart in that state. Hence, prayer cannot be answered--for even should the answer come, it will not find entrance.

3. Thirdly, remember this; that when God says that a man must “keep His commandments” if he will have his prayers answered, part of the commandments is faith in Jesus Christ; and therefore the passage runs thus in very emphatic order--“Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.”

4. And then fourthly, it is quite evident that what God gives to those who are leading a godly and devoted life, He gives to the promotion of His own glory; because, either directly or indirectly, they will use the gift for the extension of His kingdom, and this gives a plain reason why their prayer should be granted. For shall God give to a man whose life has two faces--one face in practice, and another face in prayer? Shall He give to a sheer hypocrite?

5. And once more, why should not our heavenly Father do what all fathers do, love to give His good things to the child who tries to please Him most, and who delights in His society? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another--

On the importance of faith in Christ and love to Christians

I. The gospel, wherever it comes, requires a firm trust in the merits and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. It is necessary to obtain pardon of sin.

2. It is necessary to produce purity of heart.

3. It is necessary to promote vital union with God, the fountain of life and felicity.

II. The gospel requires brotherly love, as a primary and most important duty.

1. Let us consider the nature and extent of that brotherly love which the gospel inculcates and demands. It is esteem, complacence, compassion, benevolence.

2. The grounds and obligations of brotherly love.

There are two cases to which this subject may be applied.

1. Let it serve as a test or touchstone of our personal piety.

2. Let this subject rouse us to more seriousness, activity, and zeal. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The warrant of faith

The true believer has learned to look away from the killing ordinances of the old law. He turns with loathing from all trust in his own obedience and lays hold with joy upon the hope set before him in the one commandment contained in my text.

I. The matter of believing, or what is it that a man is to believe in order to eternal life? That faith which saves the soul is believing on a person, depending upon Jesus for eternal life. We must believe Him to be God’s Son--so the text puts it--“His Son.” We must grasp with strong confidence the great fact that He is God: for nothing short of a Divine Saviour can ever deliver us from the infinite wrath of God. Furthermore, we must accept this Son of God as “Jesus,” the Saviour. We must believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became man out of infinite love to man, that He might save His people from their sins. We must look upon Jesus as “Christ,” the anointed of the Father, sent into this world on salvation’s errand, not that sinners might save themselves, but that He, being mighty to save, might bring many sons Unto glory. Moreover, we should rejoice that as Jesus Christ, by His dying, put away forever the sin of His people, so by His living He gave unto those who trust in Him a perfect righteousness, in which, despite their own sins, they are “accepted in the Beloved.” We are also taught that if we heartily trust our soul with Christ, our sins, through His blood, are forgiven, and His righteousness is imputed to us. The mere knowledge of these facts will not, however, save us, unless we really trust our souls in the Redeemer’s hands.

II. The warrant of believing. This is the commandment, that ye “believe on His Son Jesus Christ.”

1. First, negatively.

2. But now, positively, and as the negative part has been positive enough, we will be brief here. “This is the commandment.” Do you want any warrant for doing a thing better than God’s command to do it? The command to believe in Christ must be the sinner’s warrant, if you consider the nature of our commission. How runs it? “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” It ought to run, according to the other plan, “preach the gospel to every regenerate person, to every convinced sinner, to every sensible soul.” But it is not so; it is to “every creature.” Then how is it put?--“He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” Where is there a word about the prerequisites for believing.

God’s one commandment

Every thoughtful reader of the Word of God must have been struck with the very great importance that the sacred writers attach to names. In the opening chapter of the Sacred Volume we read of God giving” their names to the works of His hands: “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.” The very first thing that Adam, the first man, does, is by God’s direction to give names to all God’s creatures. Then, when God entered into covenant with Abram, He changed his name from Abram to Abraham. When God wrestled with Jacob, He changed his name from Jacob to Israel. But we must pass on to the New Testament. It also begins with God giving a name. On its very title page we have God sending an angel to give a name to One not yet born--that Second Adam--that Beginning of the New Creation of God, whom He sent into the world. In the very first chapter of the New Testament we have two names assigned to the Saviour. First, the angels say, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Then the name of “Emmanuel,” given to Him in the spirit by Isaiah, the prophet, is also claimed as His by the Evangelist. These two names, given to the Second Adam in the first chapter of the book of the New Covenant, answer to the two names by which God made Himself known to the children of Israel. Emmanuel signifies what the Saviour is in Himself--God with us; God in our nature. Jesus rather signifies what He is to His people--their “Saviour from sin.” It means literally, “The Lord is salvation,” or “The Lord Our salvation.”

I. What is meant by believing in the name of Jesus Christ? It must mean more than believing that some years ago a person came into this world who had such a name given to him. It is believing that Jesus Christ is to us what His name means. Now let us take the best known name of our Saviour--“Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord.” We know Him as the only Son of God--as Jesus--as Christ. Take the first of these--the Son of God. See how our Lord insists upon our believing in this, as His name, in His discourse with Nicodemus (John 3:18). Now a man who believes this respecting the Person who was then speaking to Nicodemus, and who was afterwards crucified and raised again, believes in the greatest possible instance of God’s love. It is quite clear, also, that any interpretation which attaches to the term “Son of God” a lower meaning than that of “only-begotten Son,” really destroys all the testimony which such a text as “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son” bears to the exceeding love of God. Now let us proceed to the human name by which we know the Son of God--Jesus Christ. The name “Jesus” signifies “the Lord our salvation.” He has saved us from the guilt of sin by His sacrifice on the Cross. Again, He saves us from the power of sin by His indwelling Spirit making us partakers of His nature, so that His risen life is in us our spiritual life. And so with that title of Messiah, or Christ, or Anointed One, to which is joined His name of Jesus. It is implied in the very fact of His being called Christ that He has been anointed by the Holy Ghost to be the Prophet, Priest, and King of His people. Believing in the name of God’s Son, Jesus, then, is believing that God’s Son is that very Lord, our Saviour, which His name implies. This is God’s commandment. No, no; it is only part of God’s commandment: for the one commandment of God, which God inspired the beloved disciple to give to His people, is made up of two things. “This is His commandment, that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He”--i.e. as Christ Himself--“gave us commandment.” Anyone who knows anything of the history of the Church, or about religious society, knows well that a man may have, or at least may express, not only belief in the name, but the sincerest trust in the finished work of Christ, and yet be bitter to those who differ from him, uncharitable to those who oppose him, and churlish to those who are at all in his way. St. Paul writes his Epistle to the Ephesians to men who realised the gospel far better than any Christians now do; and instead of “leaving the gospel to itself,” and simply insisting on believing in Christ crucified, the apostle actually bids those who are supposed to believe the gospel not to lie, nor to steal, nor to use bad language, nor to grieve the Holy Spirit, but to walk in love, and put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking. Similarly with St. Peter. If there is any place in which he declares the precious truths of the gospel in terms full of consolation and good hope, it is in the first chapter of his Epistle; but, so far from thinking that all this would do its own work, he tells them at the beginning of the very next chapter to lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings. But what is “loving one another”? Why, according to St. Paul, the apostle of justification, it is keeping the last six commandments (Romans 13:8). And in the next chapter he reckons working ill to our neighbour’s soul, as well as to his body, as a breach of love. But what, according to St. John, is “loving one another”? This is His commandment, that ye believe in all the power and grace that is contained in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and seek out, visit, relieve, and comfort your sick and needy fellow Christians. This is His commandment, that ye believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God, and be kindly affectioned one to another, in honour preferring one another. This is His commandment, that ye believe in the name of Him who saves His people from their sins, and put away from you all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, and all malice. This is His commandment, that ye believe in the name of Him who was anointed by God to be a Prince and a Saviour, and covet earnestly that best gift of a charity that suffereth long, is kind, etc. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)

Faith a work

I. The word “believe,” which enters this Epistle for the first time at this point, is one of the royal words of the New Testament. It contains three ideas.

1. First there is knowledge. That which you believe must first announce itself as a fact to your intellect. It must enter the crystal chamber of consciousness.

2. Then follows assent. That is the answer of your mind to the claims made upon it by the fact.

3. Then comes the last and most important of all, viz., trust. You say to yourself, “This is truth--this will bear,” and you put your whole weight upon it.

II. But what is to be dons with it? To what shall a man attach himself by means of this threefold cord? The object around which we are bid throw our faith is no series of propositions--not any Church--not even the Bible as a whole, but the full name of Jesus Christ. The full title of Christ, as given here, gathers up into itself every ray of spiritual truth diffused through the whole Bible. “His Son Jesus Christ.” Say that seriously, simply, honestly, without qualification or reserve, and you have repeated the full Christian creed. That name is the gospel.

III. This is God’s commandment. Note that well. Faith is set before us as a duty, as a work. Now, if God commands us to believe, then surely belief is something that is possible to us all. We cannot imagine God commanding the impossible. Then, too, unbelief is a sin. It is positive disobedience. And further, St. John says that belief in Christ is not simply a commandment, but that it is the commandment. Faith working by love is the spiritual unity of all commandments, and unbelief is therefore the root of all sins.

IV. Now, how far have we the power to believe in Christ? To what extent is faith subject to our will? It is worth while finding this out, for the measure of our power to believe will be the measure of our sin and of our punishment if we disbelieve.

1. If we look into the Bible we shall find two sets of texts. One set ascribes the whole work of redemption to God--faith, repentance, love, holiness, are all declared to be gifts of God. Another whole class of texts describes repentance, faith, purification, and love as acts which each man ought to, and therefore can perform himself.

2. Again, in the teaching of the Church we have two opposite camps of opinion on this matter. Augustine held very strong views on this point. He taught that when Adam fell he lost his freedom of will; the will sank into a state of infirmity, in which it had no power of choice at all between good and evil--only the power of always choosing the wrong; and through his sin all his successors fell into the same state of bondage. In fact, as one said, he taught that in the fall of man one whole piece of human nature had fallen out! But out of this mass of mutilated humanity God has elected a number to be saved. These must be saved. God’s grace overpowers them, and they are saved by a fiat of the Almighty Will. As to the others, they must be lost--they are reprobate. Pelagius held very strong views on the subject of our text. “All men,” he said, “are as free to choose as Adam was. The will is not impaired, and can of itself, at any moment, free itself from sin.” Man stands at the parting of the ways, and he has full power to choose either. Man--man’s own power, is the note that is heard sounding all through his teaching. Grace scarcely appears at all. Thus, while the one almost did away with the free will of man, the other almost did away with the grace of God. And these two men divided the Christian world into opposing factions. The majority followed Augustine, though many too followed Pelagius. And so from age to age the pendulum of opinion swung from extreme to extreme.

3. Neither of these views is right. The first libels both God and man. It represents God as partial and arbitrary. It reduces man to a poor puppet of destiny. It robs religion of morality and deprives heaven of holiness. It takes away the guilt of sin, and lifts the blame of hell from the souls of men and lays it at the feet of God. Equally distant from the New Testament truth is the other view. It renders the best half of Scripture meaningless, and the whole mediatorial work of Christ needless. It peoples the earth with an imaginary race of moral giants, each of whom is sufficient in himself, and fills heaven with a multitude of self-saved souls.

4. But while the many thus swung from one extreme to another, there have always been in the Church of Christ a party of common sense men, able, like Melancthon, to combine the two sets of texts, and to see that they are not contradictions--only the two opposite poles of one great truth. Salvation, they teach, is a work of God’s grace, in which each man is required and enabled to take an active part. Mankind is a fallen race, but not an abandoned race. Man cannot save himself, yet God’s preparing grace has kept alive in each man enough of moral life to respond to the offer of Christ, a something living in each man to which the Christ can make His appeal. So men are utterly unable to save themselves. But they are not literally lifeless like a stone or stick. Faith is preeminently a matter of will. The text does not say, “Believe this doctrine or that,” but “Trust yourselves in Christ’s hands--trust Christ as your Saviour.” (J. M. Gibbon.)


Verse 24

1 John 3:24

And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him.
And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us

Our abiding in God by obedience

1. In the keeping of God’s commandments there is this great reward, that he that doeth so “dwelleth in God, and God in him.” If this mutual indwelling is not to be mere absorption, which some dreamers in John’s day held it to be; if it is not to be the swallowing up of our conscious individual personality in the infinite mind or intelligence of God; if it is to conserve the distinct relationship of God to man, the Creator to the creature, the Ruler to the subject, the Father to the child; it must be realised and must develop itself, or act itself out, through the means of authority or law on the one side, and obedience or the keeping of the commandments on the other. It is, in fact, the very consummation and crown of man’s old, original relation to God--as that relation is not only restored, but perfected and gloriously fulfilled, in the new economy of grace.

2. The manner of God’s abiding in us, or at least the way in which we may know that He abides in us, is specified:--“Hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” We are to distinguish here between our dwelling in God and His dwelling in us. Our dwelling in God is to be known by our “keeping His commandments”; God’s dwelling in us, by “the Spirit which He giveth us.” And yet, the two means of knowledge are not far apart. They are not only strictly consistent with one another; they really come together in one point. For the Spirit is here said to be given to us--not in order to our knowing that God abideth in us, in the sense of His opening our spiritual eye and quickening our spiritual apprehension--but rather as the medium of our knowing it, the evidence or proof by which we know it. And how are we to recognise the Spirit as given to us? How otherwise than by recognising the fruit of the gift? The Spirit given to us is, as to His movement or operation, unseen and unfelt. But the fruit of the Spirit is palpable and patent. “It is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” For “against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

3. From all this it follows that the counsel or warning, “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God” (1 John 4:1), is as needful for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We may think that it is the Spirit of God whom we are receiving into our hearts and cherishing there, when it may really be another spirit altogether--one of the many spirits inspiring the “many false prophets that are gone out into the world.” Therefore we must “try the spirits.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Of the manner and importance of the Spirit’s indwelling

I. What the giving of the spirit imports and signifies. The Spirit of God is said to come upon men in a transient way, for their present assistance in some particular service, though in themselves they be unsanctified persons. Thus the Spirit of God came upon Balaam (Numbers 24:2), enabling him to prophesy of things to come. But whatever gifts He gives to others, He is said to be given, to dwell, and to abide only in believers (1 Corinthians 3:6). An expression denoting both His special propriety in them, and gracious familiarity with them. There is a great difference betwixt the assisting and the indwelling of the Spirit; the one is transient, the other permanent.

II. How this giving of the Spirit evidently proves and strongly concludes that soul’s interest in Christ unto whom He is given.

1. The Spirit of God in believers is the very bond by which they are united unto Christ. If, therefore, we find in ourselves the bond of union, we may warrantably conclude that we have union with Jesus Christ.

2. The Scripture everywhere makes this giving, or indwelling of the Spirit, the great mark and trial of our interest in Christ; concluding from the presence of it in us, positively, as in the text; and from the absence of it, negatively, as in Romans 8:1-39.

3. That which is a certain mark of our freedom from the covenant of works, and our title to the privileges of the covenant or grace, must needs also infer our union with Christ and special interest in Him; but the giving or indwelling of the sanctifying Spirit in us is a certain mark of our freedom from the first covenant, under which all Christless persons still stand, and our title to the special privileges of the second covenant, in which none but the members are interested; and, consequently, it fully proves our union with the Lord Jesus.

4. If the eternal decree of God’s electing love be executed, and the virtues and benefits of the death of Christ applied by the Spirit unto every soul in whom He dwelleth, as a spirit of santification, then such a giving of the Spirit unto us must needs be a certain mark and proof of our special interest in Christ; but the decree of God’s electing love is executed, and the benefits of the blood of Christ are applied to every soul in whom He dwelleth, as a spirit sanctification. This is plain from 1 Peter 1:2.

5. The giving of the Spirit to us, or His residing in us, as a sanctifying Spirit, is everywhere in Scripture made the pledge and earnest of eternal salvation, and consequently must abundantly confirm and prove the soul’s interest in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14). Uses: I shall lay down some general rules for the due information of our minds in this point, upon which so much depends.

Evidence 1. In whomsoever the Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of sanctification, to that man or women He hath been, more or less, a Spirit of conviction and humiliation.

Evidence 2. As the Spirit of God hath been a convincing, so He is a quickening Spirit, to all those to whom He is given (Romans 8:2).

Evidence 3. These to whom God giveth His Spirit have a tender sympathy with all the interests and concernments of Christ.

Evidence 4. Wherever the Spirit of God dwelleth, He doth in some degree mortify and subdue the evils and corruptions of the soul in which He resides.

Evidence 5. Wherever the Spirit of God dwelleth in the way of sanctification, in all such He is the Spirit of prayer and supplication (Romans 8:26).

Evidence 6. Wherever the Spirit of grace inhabits, there is an heavenly, spiritual frame of mind accompanying and evidencing the indwelling of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6).

Evidence 7. Those to whom the Spirit of grace is given are led by the Spirit, Sanctified souls give themselves up to the government and conduct of the Spirit; they obey His voice, beg His direction, follow His motions, deny the solicitations of the flesh and blood, in obedience to Him (Galatians 1:16). And they that do so, they are the sons of God. (John Flavel.)

The indwelling of God

I. The privilege. It is the indwelling of God in the soul--His “abiding in us.” The sentiment is not peculiar to John, but the frequency of it is. Let us look at this “abiding.” There was a time when the persons here referred to were without God in the world; when another being had possession of them--“the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” But God hath delivered them from the power of darkness, and translated them into the kingdom of His dear Son. God has entered, and taken possession of the heart. Perhaps, too, after the parent had pleaded to no purpose; perhaps after the minister had long laboured for nought; perhaps after he had been wooed and awed, blest and chastised, in vain. Then, God says, “I will work, and who shall let it?” His abiding in us supposes not only entrance, but continuance. But how does He abide in them? If I should answer this question negatively, I should say, not personally, as it was in the Redeemer Himself. “In Him,” says the apostle, “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “He that hath seen Me,” said He, “hath seen the Father.” Nor does He abide in them essentially. Thus indeed He is in them, as to the perfection of His nature, as to His Omnipresence, as to the presence by which He fills heaven and earth; but when His presence is spoken of by the way of providence or privilege, it intends some peculiar regard. “The Lord is nigh unto all those who are of a broken heart; and sayeth such as be of a contrite spirit.” But if I am required to answer this question positively, I should say, first, objectively. He dwells in His people by a real union; a gracious union; by a spiritual operative influence in all the powers of their souls. Thus He dwells in them as water in a well, our Saviour’s own image. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him, a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” He dwells in them as the sap in the tree, sustaining its life and producing fertility. He dwells in them as the soul dwells in the body, enlivening every limb and pervading every part. Can you explain this? Why the doctrine of union is one of the hardest chapters in all natural philosophy? First, explain to me how the soul is in the body; the spirit, without parts, combining with matter and coalescing with substance; explain first, how God is in the highest heavens, and is also about our path, and about our bed, and spying out all our ways, words, and thoughts.

II. How it is to be ascertained. The apostle says, “We know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He hath given us.” Now, what was the Spirit God had given to them? Not the Spirit of miraculous agency. No, but the Spirit which we call the common influences of the Spirit of God. We call it “common,” not because all men have it, but because all Christians have it; and all Christians will experience it to the very end of time. But as the thing exemplified should always be plainer than the thing proved, let us inquire what manner of spirit that is which evinces the privilege of union with God? “We know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.” I am aware the Spirit is said to anoint us; He is said to seal us to the day of redemption; and to bear witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God. But this is not done by the sounds in the air, and by sudden impulses in the mind, but by His residing in us. Our having this Spirit is the anointing; our having this Spirit is the sealing; and our having it is the witness. This Spirit is known by five attributes.

1. It is the Spirit of conviction; and the process is generally this:--He first convinces of the guilt of sin; then of its pollution; and then awakens in us a sense of its abhorrence; causing us to repent before God as in dust and ashes.

2. It is the Spirit of faith. The work of the Spirit puts the man into the position of looking to Christ, and of coming to Christ, and of dealing with Christ, concerning all the affairs of the soul and eternity. “When He is come,” says the Saviour, “He shall glorify me.”

3. It is the Spirit of grace. It is expressly called the Spirit of grace and of supplication, which was to be poured upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

4. It is a Spirit of sanctification. Hence, He is so often called “the Holy Spirit,” and in one place, “the Spirit of holiness,”

5. It is the Spirit of affection. We read therefore of “the Spirit of love.” “He that loveth Him that begat,” says John, “loveth Him also that is begotten of Him.” And, says the Saviour, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

III. The usefulness of this subject.

1. The subject is useful to induce us to adore the condescension of God. David was struck with this; he was astonished that God should “try” man and “visit” him. Solomon was still more struck with His dwelling with man, “Will God in very deed dwell with man upon earth?” But John goes further than this, and speaks of God as not only visiting man, as not only dwelling with man, but of His abiding in him! “Who is a God like unto Thee?”

2. This subject is useful, also, as it reproves those who think there is nothing in religion connected with certainty. There are marks enough, if you are in the way everlasting, to show that you are not in a mistaken direction, but in a right road.

3. This subject is useful also, as it censures those who seek to determine their religious state by any other standard than that which is Divine. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”

4. Then this subject is useful to comfort those who are partakers of the Holy Ghost. They should rejoice in the Lord always.

5. Lastly, let us turn the medal, and then we shall see the subject is useful to alarm those who, as the apostle terms it, are sensual, not having the Spirit of God in you. Have you the Spirit?--the spirit of prayer, and the spirit of love, and the spirit of meekness? Rather, have you not a proud spirit? an ungrateful spirit? a careless spirit? a revengeful spirit? or a covetous spirit? “This spirit cometh not from Him that calleth you.” And if you have nothing better to actuate you than this, you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. (W. Jay.)

The abiding witness

Some persons crave for Christian assurance under a mistaken apprehension of its nature. They seem to regard it as something over and above the ordinary processes of grace. The assurance of faith is simply an exalted and confirmed faith, and rests therefore on the promises which are the common foundation of all faith. There are persons, on the other hand, who shrink from the name of assurance, and repudiate the thing as if it were arrogant and presumptuous. If our salvation were our own work, or if it were half our own work and half God’s work; if our own wisdom, strength, or righteousness had anything whatever to do with the meritorious grounds of our acceptance, the scruple would be a just one. But the work is altogether God’s work. Hence to doubt the full completion of the work is to doubt God, not ourselves.

I. 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 and around us, but in us. He who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent--the Creator who called this world into being--the Preserver, who maintains it in being--the King who rules and governs us--the Judge before whose tremendous throne we shall hereafter stand to give an account of the things we have done in the body--that God who is Indivisible, but is everywhere at once, the whole Deity with power and wisdom, majesty and truth, with every attribute and glory complete--He, He 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. Yet let us take care not to mistake this matter. The cleansing blood of Christ must be sprinkled upon us, and in that fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness must we be washed from the guilt of sin; the quickening power of the Holy Ghost must have descended upon us, dispelled the darkness, broken down the strength and taken away the love of sin, before this state can be ours. But even when this is done, the motions of sin still remain. Sanctification is so imperfect here below, our strongest faith so feeble, our brightest hope so dim, our most fervent love so cold and selfish, our waywardnesses and inconsistencies so many, that it is wonderful that God should dwell within such hearts. Yet, child of God, it is the sober, literal fact.

II. With this dignity we must combine the definite clearness of the test, which proves our possession of it, for we might otherwise find great difficulty. “Hereby we know”--by what? The word “hereby” is not to be thrown forward as a mere synonym for the words “by the Spirit whom He hath given us”; but it is to be thrown back to the words, “He that keepeth His commandments.” Hereby--namely, 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 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. Step by step, link by link, assurance of faith and hope is inseparably united to practical holiness of life. Yet there are one or two cautions to be borne in mind. 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 on this side heaven; it would be a hope of the future, not a blessing of the present. It is not a finished holiness, but only a holiness begun. The will is like a river which here and there beneath an overhanging bank may seem to stand still, and here and there in some narrow bay may seem to retrograde, but which in its main current still sets slowly, but surely, towards the ocean. It is, further, a holiness not complete, but progressive. Every day brings its struggle, but brings likewise its victory. Further yet, this Christian obedience is not partial. Christian obedience accepts and follows the whole law.

III. The infinite blessedness both of the state and of the evidence. If Christian obedience were an outward and compulsory thing, bringing by mere force the unwilling heart into subjection to the letter of a law, it would be painful. But it is not this. It is a willing, loving, generous thing. It is a law working from within the soul itself, not a compulsion from the outside. It is not like a stream of water thrown from without upon us, but like a living fountain springing up within us--“a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” And why is it this, but because it is the Spirit’s work, and because God abideth in us? Is there not always joy in life? Is there not joy in nature’s life, as, bursting the chains of death-like winter, happy creation breaks into beauty, and flowers and fruits and trees and birds sing together? Is there not joy in human life when, fresh and sweet as a spring flower, the buoyant child laughs, and sings, and plays? Is there not joy in the sense of life, and only so far pain in it as the mortality of a fallen nature interrupts it with the seeds of decay, and clouds it with the shadows of death? And is there not joy in the life of the soul, since it is the very life of God fresh from the indwelling Deity, as if He became a part of ourselves and filled us with His glory? (Canon Garbett.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 3:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-john-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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