corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 John 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. Behold—As if a new vision of the glory of our sonship, present and future, beamed on the apostle’s sight.

Manner—Style or nature. Not only is that love wonderful in amount, but it is most extraordinary in quality, working a strangely glorious transformation in and of us.

Of love—He beholds that sonship in the full glory of its source, the divine love.

Called—In the dialect of God, of heaven, and, therefore, of truth.

Sons— Literally, children. We were once generated as children of nature; we are regenerated as children of God. But this regeneration is as yet in commencement; is secret within us until its revelation in the resurrection, when the transformation will be complete and all-glorious. And our being divinely so-called is an acknowledgment of our sonship by the Father, who thereby adopts us as his and gives us the spirit of adoption, crying, Abba! Father! To this, the best reading, add, and we are. That is, not only are we so called, but we truly are the children of God. Therefore corresponds to because, indicating that the latter clause, knew him not, gives the reason for knoweth us not.

Knoweth us not—The Christian looks like anybody else; no gleam of divine glory gives token of his divine nobility to the eye of the world.

Knew him not—Even the Nicolaitan Gnostic, who so calls himself—that is, a knower, because he “knows God”—knew him not, and so recognises not us as his children.


Verse 2

2. Now… yet—Contrast of the humble present with the transcendent future.

Are—Emphatic; true, in spite of the occultness of our sonship and non-recognition by the world. Even what we shall be, does but very dimly appear. But at the resurrection, as Paul says, a “glory shall be revealed in us.” And then will be “the manifestation of the sons of God.” Romans 8:18-19.

Like him… see him as he is—From the certainty that we shall see him as he is, we know that… we shall be like him; for it is only like natures that truly realize each other. The brute can realize man only just so far as he resembles man; and man can realize spirit only just so far as he is like spirit; and the human can see God only so far as it is like him. if, therefore, when the limitations of flesh are flung off, and our “spiritual body” of the resurrection shall be such as to be no limitation at all, we see him as he is, then it is certain that we shall be most perfectly like him.

Or, conversely, our seeing him as he is may cause us to become more and more like him. Gazing upon beautiful models the soul becomes beautified: our characters are formed by imitating improving examples. By realizing the divine beauty we become divinely perfected. If we see him as he is, we know that we shall be constantly made to become like him. See note on 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Regeneration, as a term, does not appear in Scripture, but it is expressed in all such phrases as born or begotten of God. It is that work of the Holy Spirit by which, immediately upon our repentance and faith, (which are preceded by the convicting and enabling influences of the Spirit,) the love of God and the Christian graces spring up in the soul. The first spark of divine love is the spark of spiritual life—the spark of an everlasting life; which, if preserved within the soul, will advance until it works out the resurrection glory.


Verse 3

2. Purification from actual sin the test of our sonship, 1 John 3:3-10.

3. And—Even in our humble state the very hope inspires every man to purify himself, aspiring even now to a divine likeness.

Purifieth himself— Outwardly, by abstaining from the external acts of sin; inwardly, by cultivating the grace of the sanctifying Spirit within us. He—God. If our faith holds to an impure God above us, we are indeed abandoned to impurity; but if the divine holiness is ever our standard of character, then we aspire to the high and holy.


Verse 4

4. Whosoever—Our apostle turns now from the regenerate to the transgressor. And 1 John 3:7 fully shows that he is dealing with transgressors who denied the true nature of sin.

Committeth—Practiseth, as a continuous present tense, and referring to the open act. To those who deny that misdeeds of the body are sin, he replies by unflinchingly subjecting their deeds to the law, with all its condemnatory power of penalty.

The law—The law of eternal rectitude, which is the divine law, also, (1 John 3:11,) of love. The bodily deeds of a Nicolaitan can plead no exemption from that law or its sentence.

Sin… transgression… law—A sin and a transgression of the law are one and the same thing, so that the act at variance with the law is sin, and liable to all the condemnation of sin, or violated divine law.


Verse 5

5. Ye know—By the old apostolic teaching from Christ himself, that so far is our Christianity from admitting that transgression is consistent with regeneration, he was manifested for this very purpose, to take away our sins—our violations of law—whether in single act or permanent state.

No sin—Either of act or character. He violated not God’s law, but was in perfect conformity to it.


Verse 6

6. Abideth in him—Christ, who is viewed here as the embodiment of his own atonement and doctrine; and to abide in him is to live in the full embodiment therein of our own being.

Seen him—By the divine spiritual vision; as in John 14:7; John 14:9; 3 John 1:11.

Known him—Become experimentally acquainted with him. The English perfect tense seems to the reader to deny that if a man now sins he ever possessed religion. “If he has lost it, he never had it.” But, as Alford well shows, the Greek perfect much more strongly emphasizes the present time than the English, and even sometimes loses the reference to the past and expresses the present only. We may add that Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:13,) declares of the apostate that “all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered.” To the divine recognition he never has been righteous, just as (Ezekiel 33:16) to the divine eye the convert to righteousness has never been a sinner. In truth, however, John has no reference to an apostate; he is only strongly emphasizing the blindness of the sinner to Christ.


Verse 7

7. Let no man deceive you—An earnest warning against the Nicolaitan doctrinaries who taught that holiness is consistent with licentious deeds and open wicked life.

Doeth—The continuous present. Not he that merely once doeth, but who permanently practiseth righteousness is righteous.

There is no righteousness in the man that doeth not righteousness. By their fruits shall ye know them.


Verse 8

8. Committeth sin—The opposite of doeth righteousness in previous verse, and both are in the continuous present tense, referring not to single subordinate acts, but to predominant practice.

Of the devil—The practiser of sin is not a justified Christian, but a sinner, and is of the devil.

Sinneth—The continuous present again; the devil sinneth from the beginning, even to the ending.

Destroy—Not matter as the essence of sin, but the actual works of the devil, performed in his own person and through his agents. This does not mean to abolish the penalty of sin, which is a work of divine justice.


Verse 9

9. His (God’s) seed—The regenerate vital principle divinely implanted remaineth as a permanent though not irremovable element in him. This definition of the seed accords essentially with the various definitions given by most commentators. So Luther, “natura spiritualis,” spiritual birth-nature; De Wette, “the power of the divine life;” Braune, “the spirit of God.” Alford less happily refers it to “the divine word of truth.” While the fixed purpose of faith abides he cannot sin, or be a regular sinner, any more than ice can bear caloric, for the two things are incompatible. The falsely regenerate Nicolaitan can grossly and continuously sin, and retain his pseudo-regeneration; but the truly regenerate cannot practise sin, because he is genuinely born of God; and while so, sin-practice is for him an incompatibility, not a volitional impossibility. Those who press the terms of this text to prove the infallible perseverance of all regenerate persons must accept them in their full literality: and then they will prove, not only certainty of not apostatizing, but an incapability to even sin, an impeccability in the regenerate. Nor can the text prove the sinlessness of merely the entirely sanctified, or the class of “perfect Christians,” for the predicates are affirmed of all that are born of God.

If the words prove that a regenerate person cannot become a sinner, then Romans 8:7 proves that no carnally minded man can ever become subject to the law of God; for the same word for cannot is there used. See our note.

Alford, Wordsworth, and others remark here again the import of the Greek perfect tense as having the force of a present; which, indeed, is well expressed in our English translation is born. The Greek aorist would be was born, and Alford remarks pointedly that in practice the force of the perfect in Christian life is sadly apt to degenerate from the is to the was; the former expressing present regenerate life, in which to practice sin is impossible; the latter the departed vitality, in which the impossible has become easy.

The verb sin, in Hebrews 10:26, clearly means to become a sinner, in opposition to being a Christian. In this chapter, (1 John 3:8,) sinneth is in the continuous present, and means permanently practises sin. See note on 1 John 5:18. But the true meaning is simply this: The Gnostic, in his false regeneration, can consistently live in the practice of sin; but a Christian cannot practice sin, for as a Christian he retains a regenerate principle incompatible with sin. He cannot practice sin and stay a Christian.

Wordsworth gives a pertinent passage from Ignatius, who was born before St. John’s death. “Let no one deceive you. They who are carnal cannot do the things that are spiritual; nor can they who are spiritual do the things that are carnal. Faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor can unbelief do the works of faith. The works which ye do in the flesh are spiritual, because ye work all your work in Jesus Christ.”—IGNATIUS, Ep. ad Ephesians 8.


Verse 10

10. This… manifest—The open, manifest difference between the two is their moral conduct.

Loveth not—Guarding against the idea that it is the action of the body alone that constitutes the test, and including the act of the soul as living.


Verse 11

4. This purification is manifested in love to our brother and in actual benefaction, 1 John 3:11-18.

11. The message… from the beginning—The original announcement by Christ was the law of love.


Verse 12

12. Not as Cain—Who is a model to avoid. And Cain and Abel are types of the world and the brethren through 12-16. Cain is selected, apparently, from association of the idea, moral and bodily, of the word brother; and the first two brothers of mankind are presented as types of the two classes of mankind. 1 John 3:10 says, Love your brother; this verse says, Not as Cain who slew his brother, being a son of the devil and brother to the devil’s children; 1 John 3:14 quotes love of the brethren as token of our sonship; and so the further verses. Of, or from that wicked one. But was Cain born of the devil? It must be remembered that regeneration is a figurative term. When the power of the Spirit conforms us more or less to the image of God, we are said to be born of God, children of God; while conformed to the image of Satan, we are called children of the devil. The old Jewish legends fabled that Cain was the physical son of Satan by Eve. But his sonship, like our divine sonship, was in fact spiritual. Slew his natural, not moral, brother.

Evil… righteous—The antagonism of sons of God and children of the devil was the dividing line between them.


Verse 13

13. Hate you—It is nothing but the old antagonism of Cain and Abel. You stands as the parallel of Abel; the world as the parallel of Cain.


Verse 14

14. We know—As one of the tests. The fraternal love, which Cain wanted and Abel possessed, is inherited by us; and thus we know we are on the side of life and not of death. Yet we belong with the good Abel not by natural descent; but, having been originally under death, we have passed therefrom unto life. So that our regeneration is also a resurrection.

Brethren—This oft-repeated word is used in no narrow, bigoted, or partisan sense, but designates all who are, with us, the sons of God, and hence the universal Church of the truly justified. The central element of this brotherhood and sonship is a divine love; verily divine since God himself is love, and is that love within the heart. Hence a consciousness of that love for the sons is proof of love for the common Father, God, 1 John 5:1; and reciprocally the consciousness of our love to God is proof that we truly love the brethren, the sons of God, 1 John 5:2. And this is no mere shallow emotional love, it is realistic, and is embodied in keeping God’s commandments, 1 John 5:2. Hence these brethren are the truly good, and actually holy in the world; and this love is no gross affection, but transcendent and divine. It is a love on earth anticipating the love which constitutes heaven above.

Loveth not—As Cain did not. The loveless being, uninspired by any divine affection, has never made the transition to life, but abideth in death.

Death—The opposite of eternal life in 1 John 2:25, as also in verse following.


Verse 15

15. Hateth… murderer—In applying so trenchant an epithet as murderer, our apostle changes the phrase loveth not to hateth. The epithet is suggested by the case of Cain. The positive element of hate is initial murder; murder in kind, even when not in degree, So the love in the following verse is in contrast. This hate need only to be developed in its own kind to make the actual murder; just as the element of that love in its fulness produces a laying down of one’s own life for the brethren. Hate is the common element that makes the brotherhood of Cain. Thence come all the strifes, the murders, the wars of our depraved human life.


Verse 16

16. Of God, as the italics indicate, is not in the Greek, and should be omitted. He has no antecedent, and refers to our true Abel, the unnamed Jesus. Between him, the Unnamed, and Cain is a solemn contrast; the latter exemplifies what hate is in its completion, the former the consummation of love. As hate is the element that murders a brother, so love is the element that would die for a brother.


Verse 17

17. But—Introducing a contrast between this consummate love which would give life, and that want of love which would refuse even the alms that would supply a needed livelihood.

Bowels—The conceptual bodily seat of the compassionate affections.

How—Strong interrogative expression of the negative. For since our love of our brother and our love of God are one element and essence, the exclusion of one excludes the other.


Verse 18

18. The man who thus withholds the alms may have a theory of benevolence in his head, and in word, and in tongue; but there is none in heart or hand.


Verse 19

4. This love is evidenced to ourselves by assurance through faith in Christ and witness of the Spirit given unto us, 1 John 3:19-24.

19. Hereby—By our real good-doing in deed.

Of the truth—Our deeds are seal of the truth of our religion. So that love and truth identify into one, taking external form in deeds of goodness.

Assure… hearts— Literally, persuade our hearts; that is, produce in our hearts the persuasion that we are all right before God our judge.


Verse 20

20. If our heart condemn us—As not loving our brother in deed and in active benefaction to his needs. If we are conscious of wrong-doings or short-comings.

Greater than our heart—And his condemnation is more terrible, as well as more sure, for he knoweth all things, and no guilt can escape his inspection.


Verse 21

21. Condemn us not—Our self-complacency may, indeed, deceive us, and we may think our heart does not condemn when the heart is itself beguiled. While our own hearts condemn us not, the hearts and consciences of others may justly condemn us. And in 1 John 3:23-24 is given a test by which the assurance of the heart is tried. The love which is truth must wear the garb of deed and fulfilment of his commandments, otherwise vain is the appeal to our hearts.

Confidence toward God—We feel the full assurance of sin forgiven, of divine acceptance, of blessed communion, of a “title clear to mansions in the skies.”


Verse 22

22. And—We feel full access in prayer.

Whatsoever—In this frame of sweet accord with God we ask, we receive. That spirit of accord will, indeed, circumscribe our ask within the limits of God’s will that we should have. And the Spirit grants delightful contentment and resignation to our lot within that blessed sphere.

Keep his commandments—For without this objective test no subjective assurance is genuine. Our apostle gives no comfort to a mere emotional self-gratulation which is not confirmed by the volitional and active keeping and doing the positive commandments, that is, doing in all respects what is conscientious and right. The old Mosaic decalogue is not repealed in our behalf. The emotionalism that repeals the commandments is antinomianism.


Verse 23

23. And this—Is the true test of all emotionalism. A true believe and a true love, verified by actual performance, negative and positive, of the commandment; that is, of all duty.


Verse 24

24. Keepeth his commandments—Our apostle is no Nicolaitan, and no antinomian. This keeping the commandments before the eyes of men, in the spirit of faith and love, is the best profession and showing forth of our holiness to the world that we can make. And all our state thus attained we may finally know… by the Spirit, the direct testimony given by him in our hearts uniting with the testimony of our open practical life.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 John 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-john-3.html. 1874-1909.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology