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In this chapter the apostle treats of the nature of faith and love; of Christ the object of both, and of the witness that is bore to him; of the necessity of believing the testimony concerning him; of the confidence of prayer being heard, and concerning whom it should be made; of the happiness of regenerate persons, and of their duty to keep themselves from idols. Faith in Christ is the evidence of regeneration, and where that is, there will be love to the author of regeneration, and to them that are regenerated; and love to them is known by love to God, and keeping his commandments; and keeping the commandments of God, and which are not grievous, is a proof of love to God, ( 1 John 5:1-3); and whereas every regenerate man overcomes the world, it is by his faith, the evidence of his regeneration, that this victory is obtained; nor can any other man be pointed out that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God, ( 1 John 5:4,5); and Christ, the Son of God, the object of this victorious faith, is described by his coming by water and blood, of which the spirit is witness, who is a true one; and six witnesses of the truth of this and his divine sonship are produced, three in heaven, the Father, Word, and Spirit, who are the one God, and three on earth, the Spirit, water, and blood, who agree in their testimony, ( 1 John 5:6-8); wherefore this testimony concerning the Son of God ought to be received, since it is the testimony of God, which is greater than that of men; besides, he that believes in Christ has a witness of this in himself, and honours God, whereas he that believes not makes God a liar, not giving credit to his record concerning his Son; the sum of which is, that God has made a grant of eternal life to some persons, which is in his Son, which those that believe in the Son of God have, but those that do not believe in him have it not: all which show the necessity of receiving the above testimony; and the ends proposed in writing these things were, to believe in Christ, and that it might be known they had eternal life in him, ( 1 John 5:9-13), and from faith in Christ the apostle passes to confidence in prayer, as a particular effect and fruit of it: as, that whatever is asked according to the will of God is heard; and that such who are satisfied of this, that they are heard, may be assured that they have the petitions they desire to have, ( 1 John 5:14,15), and whereas it is one branch of prayer to pray for others as well as for ourselves, the apostle directs who we should pray for; for the brethren in general, and in particular for such who have sinned, but not unto death, and life shall be given to such: but as for those who have sinned unto death, he does not say prayer should be made for them, for though all unrighteousness in general is sin, yet there is a particular sin which is unto death, and is not to be prayed for, ( 1 John 5:16,17); but happy are those who are born of God, for they do not sin this sin; and through the use of the armour of God, and the power of divine grace, they keep themselves from the evil one, and he cannot come at them, to draw them into this sin; also they know that they are of God, and are distinguished from the world, which lies in wickedness; yea, they know that the Son of God is come in the flesh, and hath given them an understanding of the true God, by which they know that they are in him, and in his Son Jesus Christ, who is with him, and the divine Spirit, the one true God, and the author and giver of eternal life, ( 1 John 5:18-20); and the chapter, and with it the epistle, is concluded with an exhortation to these regenerate ones, as they had kept themselves from Satan, that they would also keep themselves from idols of all sorts, ( 1 John 5:21).
Ver. 1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ , &c.] Or the Messiah that was prophesied of old, was long promised to the Jews, and whom they expected; there was a person spoken of in the writings of the Old Testament under this character, ( Psalm 2:2 Daniel 9:25,26); and the Jews looked for him; and Jesus of Nazareth is he, as appears by all the characteristics of the Messiah in prophecy being found upon him: this the Jews deny, but is the grand article of faith embraced by the apostles and followers of Jesus, and is of very great importance; he that denies it is a liar, and he that does not believe it shall die in his sins: the word signifies “anointed”, and includes all the offices of the Son of God, to which he was anointed, as prophet, priest, and King; so that to believe him to be the Christ, is to believe him to be that prophet Moses said should come, and who has declared the whole mind and will of his Father; and that he is that priest that should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and make atonement for sin, and intercession for transgressors; and that he is that King whom God has set over his holy hill of Zion, whose laws are to be obeyed, and his commands observed: but to believe that Jesus is the Christ, or the Messiah, is not barely to give an assent to this truth, or to acknowledge it; so the devils themselves have done, ( Luke 4:41); and whole nations of men, multitudes of which were never born of God; it is not a mere profession of it before men, or an idle, inoperative faith, which is destitute of love to Christ, and obedience to him; but whereas his work and business, as the Christ of God, was to bring in an everlasting righteousness, to procure the remission of sin, and to make peace and reconciliation for it, and to obtain eternal salvation; true faith in him as the Messiah is a believing with the heart unto righteousness, or a looking to, and trusting in the righteousness of Christ for justification; and a dealing with his blood for pardon and cleansing, under a sense of guilt and filth; and a laying hold on his atoning sacrifice for the expiation of sin, and peace with God; and a reception of him as the only Saviour and Redeemer, or a dependence on him for life and salvation; and which faith shows itself in love to him, and in a professed subjection to his Gospel, and cheerful submission to his ordinances: and every such person is born of God ; is a partaker of the divine nature; has Christ formed, and every grace of the Spirit implanted in him, among which faith in Christ is a considerable one; and such an one in consequence is openly a child and heir of God, wherefore, to be born of God is an instance of great grace, and an high honour and privilege, and of the greatest moment and importance.
Regeneration is not owing to the power and will of man, but to the abundant mercy and good will of God, and is an instance of his rich mercy, great love, and free favour, and commands love again: and everyone that loveth him that begat ; that is, God the Father, who has begotten them again to a lively hope, according to his abundant mercy and sovereign will; and as he is their Father that has begotten them, they cannot but love him: and such an one loveth him also that is begotten of him ; not only Jesus Christ, who by nature is the only begotten of the Father; for those who know God to be their Father by adoption and regeneration, will love Christ, who is the Son of God by nature; (see John 8:42); but also every regenerate person, all that are born of God; since they are the children of the same Father with them, belong to the same household and family, and bear the image and likeness of their heavenly Father on them.
Ver. 2. By this we know that we are the children God , &c.] The Ethiopic version reads, “by this know that we love God”; which, in connection with what follows, makes a tautology, and is a proving “idem per idem”: whereas the apostle's view is to show when love to the saints is right; and that is, when we love God, and keep his commandments : love to the brethren may arise from such a cause, as may show that it is not brotherly love, or of a spiritual kind; it may arise from natural relation, or civil friendship, or from a benefit or favour received from them, and from some natural external excellency seen in them; and a man may do acts of love and kindness to the brethren, from what may be called good nature in himself, or with sinister views; but true love to the brethren springs from love to God: such who love the saints aright, and by which they may know they do so, they love them because they themselves love God, and in obedience to his command; they love them because they belong to God, and are the objects of his love; because his grace is wrought in them, and his image stamped upon them.
Ver. 3. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments , &c.] Keeping of the commandments of God is an evidence of love to God; this shows that love is not in word and tongue, in profession only, but in deed and in truth; and that such persons have a sense of the love of God upon their souls, under the influence of which they act; and such shall have, and may expect to have, greater manifestations of the love of God unto them: and his commandments are not grievous ; heavy, burdensome, and disagreeable; by which are meant, not so much the precepts of the moral law, which through the weakness of the flesh are hard to be kept, and cannot be perfectly fulfilled; though believers indeed, being freed from the rigorous exaction, curse, and condemnation of the law, delight in it after the inward man, and serve it cheerfully with their spirit; and still less the commands of the ceremonial law, which were now abolished, and were grievous to be borne; but rather those of faith in Christ, and love to the saints, ( 1 John 3:23); or it may be the ordinances of the Gospel, baptism, and the Lord's supper, with others, which though disagreeable to unregenerate persons, who do not care to be under the yoke of Christ, however easy and light it is, yet are not heavy and burdensome to regenerate ones; and especially when they have the love of God shed abroad in them, the presence of God with them, communion with Jesus Christ, and a supply of grace and strength from him; then are these ways ways of pleasantness, and paths of peace, and the tabernacles of the Lord are amiable and lovely. Ver. 4. For whatsoever is born of God , &c.] Which may be understood either of persons born; of God; or of the new creature, or principle of grace wrought in them, particularly faith hereafter mentioned, which is an heaven born grace, the gift of God, and the operation of his Spirit: this overcometh the world ; the god of the world, Satan; the lusts which are in the world; false prophets gone forth into the world; and the wicked men of the world, who by temptations, snares, evil doctrines, threatenings, promises, and ill examples, would avert regenerate ones from observing the commands of God; but such are more than conquerors over all these, through Christ that has loved them: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith . The Arabic and Ethiopic versions read, “your faith”; great things, heroic actions, and wonderful victories, are ascribed to faith; (see Hebrews 11:33,34); which must not be understood of the grace itself, as separately considered, but of Christ the object of it, as supported, strengthened, assisted, and animated by him: and then it does wonders, when it is enabled to hold Christ, its shield, in its hand, against every enemy that opposes.
Ver. 5. Who is he that overcometh the world , &c.] This question carries in it a strong affirmation, that no other person is the conqueror of the world: but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God ? and this points out what that faith is which obtains the victory over the world; and shows that it is not that trust and confidence which has a man's self, or any mere creature, thing, or person, for its object, but only Jesus Christ, and that as he is the Son of God; and which is not a mere assent to such a proposition, to which devils and unregenerate persons may assent, and do; but it is a seeing of the Son in the glory, fulness, and suitableness of his person, office, and grace; a going to him, being drawn by the Father; and a living upon him as the Son of God, and trusting in him for life, righteousness, and salvation: and this shows, that the victory over the world is not owing to faith itself, but to its object Christ, who has overcome it, and makes true believers in him more than conquerors over it.
Ver. 6. This is he that came by water and blood, [even] Jesus Christ , &c.] By “water” is not meant the ablutions or washings of the ceremonial law; Christ came not by these, but to make an end of them; his blood, which cleanseth from all sin, being the antitype, and so the fulfilling end of them: nor the purity of his nature, life, and conversation; though he came into the world that holy thing which is called the Son of God; and was holy in his nature, and harmless in his life, and did no sin, and so was fit to be a sacrifice for the sins of others: nor does it intend the washing and cleansing of his people from their sins; this is what he came to do, and has done, and not what he came by: but the ordinance of water baptism is designed; and though Christ did not come baptizing with water, he having a greater baptism to administer, yet that he might be made manifest, John came baptizing in that way; and Christ, as the Son of God, came, or was made manifest by John as such, at the waters of Jordan, and at his baptism; there he was declared to be the Son of God by his Father's voice from heaven: not by water only ; he did not come by water only, as Moses did, who was drawn out of it, and therefore so called; or as John, who came administering water baptism externally only: but by water and blood ; by “blood” as well as water; by which is meant, not the blood of bulls and goats; Christ came to put an end unto, and lay aside the shedding of that blood; but his own blood is intended, and not reconciliation and atonement for the sins of his people, which was what he came to do, and has done, and not what he came by: but the sense is, that as at baptism, so at his sufferings and death, he was made manifest to be the Son of God; as he was to the centurion and others, that were with him, when they observed the earthquake, and the things that were done; and at his from the dead he was declared to be the Son of God with power: and this might be seen in the cleansing and atoning virtue of his blood, which is owing to his being the Son of God. There may be here an allusion to the water and blood which came out of his side, when pierced on the cross, which this Apostle John was an eyewitness of. Some copies add here, and in the former clause, “and by the Spirit”; as the Alexandrian copy, three of Beza's copies, and the Ethiopic version: but it seems unnecessary, since it follows, and it is the Spirit that beareth witness ; by which may be meant, either the Gospel, which is the Spirit that gives life, and is so called, because by it the Spirit of God, in his gifts and graces, is received, and which is a testimony of the person, as well as of the offices, and grace of Christ; or rather those miraculous works which Christ did by the Spirit, to which he often appeals, as witnesses of his divine sonship, and equality with the Father, as well as of his being the true Messiah; or else the Holy Spirit, who bore testimony to Christ, by his descent on him at his baptism, and upon his apostles at the day of Pentecost, and by attending, succeeding, and confirming the Gospel, which is the testimony of him; and he is elsewhere, as well as here, and in the context, spoken of as a witness of Christ, ( Acts 5:32); because the Spirit is truth ; he is the Spirit of truth, and truth itself; he is essentially truth; his testimony is most true, and firmly to be believed. The Vulgate Latin version reads, “because Christ is the truth”.
Ver. 7. For there are three that bear record in heaven , &c.] That is, that Jesus is the Son of God. The genuineness of this text has been called in question by some, because it is wanting in the Syriac version, as it also is in the Arabic and Ethiopic versions; and because the old Latin interpreter has it not; and it is not to be found in many Greek manuscripts; nor cited by many of the ancient fathers, even by such who wrote against the Arians, when it might have been of great service to them: to all which it may be replied, that as to the Syriac version, which is the most ancient, and of the greatest consequence, it is but a version, and a defective one. The history of the adulterous woman in the eighth of John, the second epistle of Peter, the second and third epistles of John, the epistle of Jude, and the book of the Revelations, were formerly wanting in it, till restored from Bishop Usher's copy by Deuteronomy Dieu and Dr. Pocock, and who also, from an eastern copy, has supplied this version with this text. As to the old Latin interpreter, it is certain it is to be seen in many Latin manuscripts of an early date, and stands in the Vulgate Latin edition of the London Polyglot Bible: and the Latin translation, which bears the name of Jerom, has it, and who, in an epistle of his to Eustochium, prefixed to his translation of these canonical epistles, complains of the omission of it by unfaithful interpreters.
And as to its being wanting in some Greek manuscripts, as the Alexandrian, and others, it need only be said, that it is to be found in many others; it is in an old British copy, and in the Complutensian edition, the compilers of which made use of various copies; and out of sixteen ancient copies of Robert Stephens's, nine of them had it: and as to its not being cited by some of the ancient fathers, this can be no sufficient proof of the spuriousness of it, since it might be in the original copy, though not in the copies used by them, through the carelessness or unfaithfulness of transcribers; or it might be in their copies, and yet not cited by them, they having Scriptures enough without it, to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, and the divinity of Christ: and yet, after all, certain it is, that it is cited by many of them; by Fulgentius f46 , in the beginning of the “sixth” century, against the Arians, without any scruple or hesitation; and Jerom, as before observed, has it in his translation made in the latter end of the “fourth” century; and it is cited by Athanasius about the year 350; and before him by Cyprian f48 , in the middle, of the “third” century, about the year 250; and is referred to by Tertullian about, the year 200; and which was within a “hundred” years, or little more, of the writing of the epistle; which may be enough to satisfy anyone of the genuineness of this passage; and besides, there never was any dispute about it till Erasmus left it out in the, first edition of his translation of the New Testament; and yet he himself, upon the credit of the old British copy before mentioned, put it into another edition of his translation. The heavenly witnesses of Christ's sonship are, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost . The “Father” is the first Person, so called, not in, reference to the creatures, angels, or men, he is the Creator, and so the Father of; for this is common to the other two Persons; but in reference to his Son Jesus Christ, of whose sonship he bore witness at his baptism and transfiguration upon the mount. The “Word” is the second Person, who said and it was done; who spoke all things out of nothing in the first creation; who was in the beginning with God the Father, and was God, and by whom all things were created; he declared himself to be the Son of God, and proved himself to be so by his works and miracles; (see Mark 14:61,62 John 5:17 10:30), &c. and his witness of himself was good and valid; (see John 8:13-18); and because it is his sonship that is, here testified of, therefore the phrase, “the Word”, and not “the Son”, is here used. “The Holy Ghost” is the third Person, who proceeds from the Father, and is also called the Spirit of the Son, who testified of, Christ's sonship also at his baptism, by descending on him as a dove, which was the signal given to John the Baptist, by which he knew him, and bare record of him, that he was the Son of God. Now the number of these witnesses was three, there being so many persons in the Godhead; and such a number being sufficient, according to law, for the establishing of any point: to which may be added, that they were witnesses in heaven, not to the heavenly inhabitants, but to men on earth; they were so called, because they were in heaven, and from thence gave out their testimony; and which shows the firmness and excellency of it, it being not from earth, but from heaven, and not human, but divine; to which may be applied the words of Job, in ( Job 16:19); it follows, and these three are one ; which is to be understood, not only of their unity and agreement in their testimony, they testifying of the same thing, the sonship of Christ; but of their unity in essence or nature, they being the one God. So that, this passage holds forth and asserts the unity of God, a trinity of persons in the Godhead, the proper deity of each person, and their distinct personality, the unity of essence in that they are one; a trinity of persons in that they are three, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and are neither more nor fewer; the deity of each person, for otherwise their testimony would not be the testimony of God, as in ( 1 John 5:9); and their distinct personality; for were they not three distinct persons, they could not be three testifiers, or three that bare record. This being a proper place, I shall insert the faith of the ancient Jews concerning the doctrine of the Trinity; and the rather, as it agrees with the apostle's doctrine in words and language, as well as in matter. They call the three Persons in the Godhead three degrees: they say f50 , “Jehovah, Elohenu (our God), Jehovah, ( Deuteronomy 6:4); these are the three degrees with respect to this sublime mystery, in the beginning Elohim, or God, created, ( Genesis 1:1), &c.”
And these three, they say, though they are distinct, yet are one, as appears by what follows f51 : “come see the mystery of the word; there are three degrees, and every degree is by itself, yet they are all one, and are bound together in one, and one is not separated from the other.”
Again, it is said f52 , “this is the unity of Jehovah the first, Elohenu, Jehovah, lo, all of them are one, and therefore: called one; lo, the three names are as if they were one, and therefore are called one, and they are one; but by the revelation of the Holy Spirit it is made known, and they by the sight of the eye may be known, dja Nyla atltd , “that these three are one”: and this is the mystery of the voice which is heard; the voice is one, and there are three things, fire, and Spirit, and water, and all of them are one in the mystery of the voice, and they are but one: so here, Jehovah, Elohenu, Jehovah, they are one, the three, Nynwwg , forms, modes, or things, which are one.”
Once more f53 , “there are two, and one is joined unto them, and they are three; and when the three are one, he says to them, these are the two names which Israel heard, Jehovah, Jehovah, and Elohenu is joined unto them, and it is the seal of the ring of truth; and when they are joined as one, they are one in one unity.”
And this they illustrate by the three names of the soul of man f54 ; “the three powers are all of them one, the soul, spirit, and breath, they are joined as one, and they are one; and all is according to the mode of the sublime mystery,” meaning the Trinity. “Says R. Isaac worthy are the righteous in this world, and in the world to come, for lo, the whole of them is holy, their body is holy, their soul is holy, their Spirit is holy, their breath is holy, holy are these three degrees “according to the form above”. — Come see these three degrees cleave together as one, the soul, Spirit, and breath.”
The three first Sephirot, or numbers, in the Cabalistic tree, intend the three divine Persons; the first is called the chief crown, and first glory, which essence no creature can comprehend f56 , and designs the Father, ( John 1:18); the second is called wisdom, and the intelligence illuminating, the crown of the creation, the brightness of equal unity, who is exalted above every head; and he is called, by the Cabalists, the second glory f57 ; (see Corinthians 1:24 John 1:9 Revelation 3:14) ( Hebrews 1:3 Ephesians 1:21). This is the Son of God: the third is called understanding sanctifying, and is the foundation of ancient wisdom, which is called the worker of faith; and he is the parent of faith, and from his power faith flows f58 ; and this is the Holy Spirit; (see 1 Peter 1:2 Corinthians 4:13). Now they say that these three first numbers are intellectual, and are not twdm , “properties”, or “attributes”, as the other seven are. R. Simeon ben Jochai says f60 , “of the three superior numbers it is said, ( Psalm 62:11), “God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this”; one and two, lo the superior numbers of whom it is said, one, one, one, three ones, and this is the mystery of ( Psalm 62:11).”
Says R. Judah Levi f61 , “behold the mystery of the numberer, the number, and the numbered; in the bosom of God it is one thing, in the bosom of man three; because he weighs with his understanding, and speaks with his mouth, and writes with his hand.”
It was usual with the ancient Jews to introduce Jehovah speaking, or doing anything, in this form, I and my house of judgment; and it is a rule with them, that wherever it is said, “and Jehovah”, he and his house or judgment are intended f62 ; and Jarchi frequently makes use of this phrase to explain texts where a plurality in the Godhead is intended, as ( Genesis 1:26 Song of Solomon 1:11); and it is to be observed, that a house of judgment, or a sanhedrim, among the Jews, never consisted of less than three. They also had used to write the word “Jehovah” with three “Jods”, in the form of a triangle, y y y as representing the three divine Persons: one of their more modern f63 writers has this observation on the blessing of the priest in ( Numbers 6:24-26): “these three verses begin with a “Jod”, in reference to the three “Jods” which we write in the room of the name, (i.e. Jehovah,) for they have respect to the three superior things.”
Ver. 8. And there are three that bear witness on earth , &c.] To the same truth of the sonship of Christ: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood ; by the “Spirit” is not meant the human Spirit or soul of Christ; for however that may be a witness of the truth of his human nature, yet not of his divine sonship: and moreover cannot be said to be a witness in earth; rather the Gospel, called the Spirit, which is a testimony of Christ's person, office, and graces and is preached by men on earth; or else the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on men on earth, both in an extraordinary and ordinary way, by which they have been qualified to bear witness to this truth; or it may be the Holy Spirit itself is intended, as he is in the hearts of his people here on earth, where he not only witnesses to the truth of their sonship, but also of the sonship of Christ, and is that witness a believer has within himself of it, mentioned in ( 1 John 5:10). By water is designed, not internal sanctification, which though an evidence of regeneration and adoption, yet not of Christ's sonship; but water baptism, as administered on earth in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and which is a noble and standing testimony to the proper, natural, and eternal sonship of Christ: and by “blood” is intended, not justification by the blood of Christ, but rather the blood of the saints, the martyrs of Jesus, who have shed it on earth, in testimony of their faith in the Son of God, and thereby sealing the truth of it; or rather the ordinance of the Lord's supper, which is the communion of the blood of Christ; and represents that blood which was shed for the remission of sins, and has a continual virtue to cleanse from all sin, which is owing to his being the Son of God. The three witnesses on earth seem therefore to be the Gospel, attended with the Spirit and power of God, and the two ordinances of baptism, and the Lord's supper: and these agree in one ; in their testimony of Christ, the word and ordinances agree together; and the sum and substance of them is Christ; they come from him, and centre in him; they are like the cherubim over the mercy seat, that looked to one another, and to that; and the two ordinances are the church's two breasts, which are equal, and like to one another; there is a great agreement between them, they are like to two young roes that are twins.
Ver. 9. If we receive the witness of men , &c.] The witness of a sufficient number of credible men, of men of good character and report, is always admitted in any case, and in any court of judicature; it was allowed of in the law of Moses; everything was proved and established hereby; upon this men were justified or condemned, cognizance was taken of men's sins, and punishment inflicted, yea, death itself, ( Deuteronomy 17:6 19:15 Hebrews 10:28); and even in this case concerning the Son of God, his coming into the world, and the dignity of his person, the testimony of men is credited; as that of the wise men, who declared that the King of the Jews was born, and his star had been seen in the east, which Herod himself gave credit to, and upon it summoned the chief priests, and inquired of them where he should be born; and also of the shepherds, who testified to the appearance of angels, who told them that there was then born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord, and who also related that they themselves saw the infant at Bethlehem; and especially of John the Baptist, whose testimony was true, and could not be objected to by the Jews themselves, who sent to him, before whom he bore a plain and faithful witness. Now if an human testimony may be, and is received, the testimony of God is greater ; more valuable, surer, and to be more firmly depended on, since it must be infallible; for God can neither deceive, nor be deceived: for this is the witness of God, which he hath testified of his Son ; even the witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, is the testimony, not of men, but of God; the Gospel, attended with the Spirit of God, is the testimony of God; and so the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper, which bear witness of Christ, are not of men, but of God; and especially the witness of the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, must be the testimony of God, since, though three persons, they are one God; particularly the witness which God the Father testified of his Son Jesus Christ at his baptism and transfiguration, must be allowed to be the testimony of God, and far greater than any human testimony, and therefore to be received.
Ver. 10. He that believeth on the Son of God , &c.] As a divine person who came in the flesh, and obeyed the law, and brought in everlasting righteousness, and obtained life and salvation for men: he that with the heart believes in him for righteousness, and eternal life, he being the Son of God, truly and properly God, and so able to save all that believe in him, hath the witness in himself ; of the need he stands in of Christ, and of the suitableness, fulness, and excellency of him; the Spirit of God enlightening him into the impurity of his nature, his impotence to do anything spiritually good, his incapacity to atone for sin, and the insufficiency of his righteousness to justify him before God; and convincing him that nothing but the blood of the Son of God can cleanse him from sin, and only his sacrifice can expiate it, and his righteousness justify him from it, and that without him he can do nothing; testifying also to the efficacy of his blood, the completeness of his sacrifice and satisfaction, the excellency of his righteousness, and the energy of his grace and strength: so he comes to have such a witness in himself, that if ten thousand arguments were ever so artfully formed, in favour of the purity of human nature, the power of man's free will, and the sufficiency of his righteousness, and against the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ, the dignity of his person, as the Son of God, which gives virtue to his blood, sacrifice, and righteousness, they would all signify nothing to him, he would be proof against them. And such an one very readily receives into him the testimony God gives of his Son, of the glory and excellency of his person, and retains it in him. The Alexandrian copy and the Vulgate Latin version read, “hath the witness of God in him”; to which the Ethiopic, version agrees, and confirm the last observation: he that believeth not God ; does not receive his testimony concerning his Son: the Alexandrian copy, and two of Stephens's, and the Vulgate Latin version read, “he that believeth not the Son”; and the Ethiopic version, his Son; and the Arabic version, “the Son of God”; and so is a direct antithesis to the phrase in the former clause of the verse: hath made him a liar ; not the Son, but God, as the Arabic version renders it, “hath made God himself a liar”; who is the God, of truth, and cannot lie; it is impossible he should; and as nothing can be, more contumelious and reproachful to the being and nature of God, so nothing can more fully expose and aggravate the sin of unbelief, with respect to Christ, as the Son of God: because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son ; at the times and places before observed.
Ver. 11. And this is the record , &c.] The sum and substance of it, with respect to the person of Christ, and the security of salvation in him, who is the true God, and eternal life: that God hath given to us eternal life ; which is a life of glory and happiness hereafter; in the present state is unseen, but will in the world to come be a life of vision, free from all the sorrows and imperfections of this; and will be of the utmost perfection and pleasure, and for ever. This is a pure free grace gift of God the Father, proceeding from his sovereigns good will and pleasure, and which he gives to all his chosen ones, for they are ordained unto eternal life; to as many as he has given to his Son; to all that are redeemed by his blood, and are brought to believe in him: to these he gave it in his Son before the world began; and to the same in time he gives the right unto it, the meetness for it, and the pledge and earnest of it; and will hereafter give them the thing itself, the whole of it, to be possessed and enjoyed by them in person, to all eternity. And this life is in his Son : not only the purpose and promise of it, but that itself; Christ asked it of his Father in the covenant of peace, and he gave it to him, that he might have it in himself for all his people; and here it is safe and secure, it is hid with Christ in God, it is bound up in the bundle of life with him; and because he lives, this life will never be lost, or they come short of it. Ver. 12. He that hath the Son , &c.] Has a spiritual and experimental knowledge of him, true faith in him; who has him dwelling in his heart, and living in him: hath life : not only spiritual life, being quickened by him, and living by faith on him, but eternal life; the knowledge he has of him is eternal life; he has it in faith and hope, and has a right unto it, and the earnest of it, as well as has it in Christ his representative, whom he has, and in whom this life is: [and] he that hath not the Son of God ; no knowledge of him, nor faith in him, nor enjoyment of him: hath not life ; he is dead in sin, he is alienated from the life of God, has no title to eternal life, nor meetness for it, nor shall enjoy it, but shall die the second death.
Ver. 13. These things have I written unto you , &c.] Which are contained in the epistle in general, and particularly what is written in the context, concerning the victory of the world, being ascribed to him who believes that Christ is the Son of God; and concerning the six witnesses of his sonship, and the record bore by God, that the gift of eternal life is in him: and which are especially written to them, that believe on the name of the Son of God ; who not only believed that Christ is the Son of God, which this six fold testimony would confirm them in, but also believed in his name for righteousness, life, and salvation; in which name there is all this, and in no other; and who also professed their faith in him, and were baptized in his name, and continued believing in him, and holding fast their profession of him. The end of writing these things to them was, that ye may know that ye have eternal life ; that there is such a thing as eternal life; that this is in Christ; that believers have it in him, and the beginning of it in themselves; and that they have a right unto it, and meetness for it, and shall certainly enjoy it; the knowledge of which is had by faith, under the testimony of the Spirit of God, and particularly what is above written concerning eternal life, being a free grace gift of God; and this being in Christ, and the assurance of it, that such who have him, or believe in him, have that which might serve to communicate, cultivate, and increase such knowledge: and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God ; which they had done already, and still did; the sense is, the above things were written to them concerning the Son of God, that they might be encouraged to continue believing in him, as such; to hold fast the faith of him and go on believing in him to the end; and that their faith in him might be increased; for faith is imperfect and is capable of increasing, and growing exceedingly: and nothing more tends unto, or is a more proper means of it, than the sacred writings, the reading and hearing them explained, and especially that part of them which respects the person, office, and grace of Christ. The Alexandrian copy, and one of Beza's manuscripts, the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Ethiopic versions, read, “these things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, who believe in the name of the Son of God”.
Ver. 14. And this is the confidence that we have in him , &c.] Either in God, to whom prayer is made; or in the Son of God, through whose blood and righteousness believers in him have confidence with God at the throne of grace; they can come with boldness and intrepidity, and use freedom and liberty of speech, as the word here used signifies; especially when they have the Spirit of Christ with them, and are under the sprinklings of the blood of Christ, and have a comfortable assurance of being heard and answered; and this is what the Jews call hlpt Nwyye , “the consideration”, or “attention of prayer” f64 , which they explain thus; “after a man has prayed, he judges in his heart that the holy blessed God will give him his reward, and will do everything needful for him, and will hear his prayer, because he has prayed with intention;” but this is much better expressed, and upon a much better foundation, by our apostle here: that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us ; to ask anything according to the will of God, is to ask, as to matter, what, and in a manner which, is agreeably to it; by which is meant, not his secret will, or his purposes and decrees, which are unknown, though, so far as these are made known, they are not to be prayed against, for they can never be made void; and therefore, when God had declared it as his purposing will, that the Israelites in the wilderness should not enter into Canaan's land, and that he had rejected Saul from the kingdom, in these cases it would have been wrong for Moses to have prayed for the one, or Samuel for the other; ( 1 Samuel 16:1); and though no one person is to be excluded from our prayers on the account of the decree of reprobation, since no man can certainly be known to be a reprobate; yet it does not become us to pray for the conversion and salvation of reprobates in general, since this would be contrary to the decree of God: and such purposes which God has declared by prophecy he has purposed in himself, as the conversion of the Jews, the bringing in the fulness of the Gentiles, the destruction of antichrist, and the glory of the Gospel church, for these we should pray that God would hasten them in his own time, and we are sure of being heard; but the revealed will of God is here intended, by which it appears that all grace is laid up in Christ, and all spiritual blessings are with him, and that the covenant of grace is ordered in all things, and full of the sure mercies of David, and of exceeding great and precious promises; all which are treasured up for the benefit and use of the people of God; and if, therefore, they ask for any grace, or supply of grace, for any spiritual blessing or mercy laid up in Christ, in the covenant, or in any of the promises, they ask that for matter which is according to the will of God, and which they may be assured they shall have, sooner or later: and to ask in a manner agreeably to his will, is to come in the name of Christ, and make mention of his righteousness, and ask for his sake; to put up all petitions in faith, with fervency, in sincerity, and uprightness; with reverence, humility, and submission to the divine will, and with importunity; and such askers God hears, even so as to answer, and grant their requests in his own time, though not always in theirs; in some cases sooner, in others later, according to his infinite wisdom, and in his own way, which is always the best, though not in theirs, as in the case of the Apostle Paul, ( Corinthians 12:7-9). The Alexandrian copy and the Ethiopic version read, “if we ask anything according to”, or in his name: that is, of Christ, and which agrees with ( John 14:13,14) ( John 16:23,24).
Ver. 15. And if we know that he hear us , &c.] As it may be assured he does hear and answer all such persons that ask according to his will: whatsoever we ask, we know , or are assured, that we have the petitions that we desired of him : for as it is the nature of that holy confidence, which believers have in God, to believe whatever they ask according to his will, in general, shall be grappled, so every request in particular; yea, before the mercy desired, or the favour asked for is conferred, they are as sure of having it in God's own time and way, as if they now had it in hand and fact.
Ver. 16. If anyone see his brother sin , &c.] Those who have such an interest at the throne of grace, and such boldness and freedom there, should make use of it for others, as well as themselves, and particularly for fallen believers; for a “brother”; not in a natural or civil sense, but in a spiritual sense, one that is judged to be born again, and belongs to the family and household of God, and is a member of a Gospel church; and so is under the watch, inspection, and care of the saints; and is observed to sin, as the best of men are not without it, nor the commission of it, in thought, word, or deed: and this sin of his is a sin [which is] not unto death ; every sin, even the least sin, is in its own nature mortal, or deserving of death; the proper wages of sin is death, yea, death eternal; yet none of the sins of God's elect are unto death, or issue in death, in fact; which is owing not to any different nature there is in their sins, or to their good works which counterbalance them; but to the grace of God, and to the blood and righteousness of Christ, by which they are pardoned and justified, and freed from obligation to punishment, or eternal death, the just demerits of them: but how should another man know that a brother's sin is not unto death, when it is of the same nature and kind with another man's? it is known by this, that he does not continue in it; he does not live in the constant commission of it; his life is not a course of iniquity; that sin he sins is not a governing one in him; though he falls into it, he rises up out of it through divine grace, and abides not in it; and he has a sense of it, and is sorry for it, after a godly sort, loaths it, and himself for it; is ashamed of it, ingenuously confesses it, and mourns over it and forsakes it: now when any strong believer or spiritual man sees or knows that a brother has sinned, and this is his case, he shall ask ; he shall pray to God for him, that he would administer comfort to him, discover his love, and apply his pardoning grace to him, and indulge him with his presence and the light of his countenance: and he shall give him life ; that is, God shall give the sinning brother life; by which may be meant comfort, that which will revive his drooping spirits, and cause him to live cheerfully and comfortably, that so he may not be swallowed up with over much sorrow; or he shall grant a discovery of the pardon of his sin unto him, which will be as life from the dead, and will give him a comfortable hope of eternal life, of his right unto it, and meetness for it: for them , or “to them” that sin not unto death , as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it; for this phrase is only descriptive of the persons to whom life is given by God, upon the prayers of saints for them, and not that this life is given to him that prays, and by him to be given to the sinning person. The Vulgate Latin version renders the whole thus, “and life shall be given to him that sins not unto death”; which leaves the words without any difficulty: the Ethiopic version indeed renders it, “and he that prays shall quicken him that sins [a sin] not unto death”; and this sense some interpreters incline to, and would have with this text compared ( 1 Timothy 4:16 James 5:20). There is a sin unto death ; which is not only deserving of death, as every other sin is, but which certainly and inevitably issues in death in all that commit it, without exception; and that is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is neither forgiven in this world nor in that to come, and therefore must be unto death; it is a sinning wilfully, not in a practical, but doctrinal way, after a man has received the knowledge of the truth; it is a wilful denial of the truth of the Gospel, particularly that peace, pardon, righteousness, eternal life, and salvation, are by Jesus Christ, contrary to the light of his mind, and this joined with malice and obstinacy; so that there is no more or other sacrifice for such a sin; there is nothing but a fearful looking for of wrath and fury to fall on such opposers of the way of life; and as the presumptuous sinners under Moses's law died without mercy, so must these despiteful ones under the Gospel; (see Matthew 12:31,32 Hebrews 10:26-29). Some think there is an allusion to one of the kinds of excommunication among the Jews, called “shammatha”, the etymology of which, according to some Jewish writers, is htym µv , “there is death” f65 . I do not say that he shall pray for it ; the apostle does not expressly forbid to pray for the forgiveness of this sin, yet what he says amounts unto it; he gives no encouragement to it, or any hopes of succeeding, but rather the reverse; and indeed where this sin is known, or can be known, it is not to be prayed for, because it is irremissible; but as it is a most difficult point to know when a man has sinned it, the apostle expresses himself with great caution. Ver. 17. All unrighteousness is sin , &c.] All unrighteousness against God or man is a sin against the law of God, and the wrath of God is revealed against it, and it is deserving of death; yet all unrighteousness is not unto death, as the sins of David, which were unrighteousness both to God and man, and yet they were put away, and he died not; Peter sinned very foully, and did great injustice to his dear Lord, and yet his sin was not unto death; he had repentance unto life given him, and a fresh application of pardoning grace: and there is a sin not unto death ; this is added for the relief of weak believers, who hearing of a sin unto death, not to be prayed for, might fear that theirs were of that kind, whereas none of them are; for though they are guilty of many unrighteousnesses, yet God is merciful to them and forgives, ( Hebrews 8:12), and so they are not unto death.
Ver. 18. We know that whosoever is born of God , &c.] Who is regenerated by his Spirit and grace, and quickened by his power; who has Christ formed in him, and is made a partaker of the divine nature, and has every grace implanted in him: sinneth not ; the sin unto death; nor does he live in sin, or is under the power and dominion of it, though he does not live without it; (see Gill on “ 1 John 3:9”); but he that is begotten of God ; the Vulgate Latin version reads, “the generation of God keeps or preserves him”; that is, that which is born in him, the new man, the principle of grace, or seed of God in him, keeps him from notorious crimes, particularly from sinning the sin unto death, and from the governing power of all other sins; but all other versions, as well as copies, read as we do, and as follows: keepeth himself ; not that any man can keep himself by his own power and strength; otherwise what mean the petitions of the saints to God that he would keep them, and even of Christ himself to God for them on the same account? God only is the keeper of his people, and they are only kept in safety whom he keeps, and it is by his power they are kept; but the sense is, that a believer defends himself by taking to him the whole armour of God, and especially the shield of faith, against the corruptions of his own heart, the snares of the world, and particularly the temptations of Satan: and that wicked one toucheth him not ; he cannot come at him so as to wound him to the heart, or destroy that principle of life that is in him, or so as to overcome and devour him; he may tempt him, and sift him, and buffet him, and greatly afflict and grieve him, but he can not touch his life, or hurt him with the second death; nay, sometimes the believer is so enabled to wield the shield of faith, or to hold up Christ the shield by faith, and turn it every way in such a manner, that Satan, who is here meant by the wicked one, because he is notoriously so, cannot come near him, nor in with him; cannot work upon him at all with his temptations, nor in the least hurt his peace, joy, and comfort: the saints know their perseverance from the promises of God and declarations of Christ; ( <19C501> Psalm 125:1,2) ( Jeremiah 32:40 Matthew 16:18 John 10:28).
Ver. 19. [And] we know that we are of God , &c.] The sons of God, and regenerated by him; this is known by the Spirit of God, which witnesses to the spirits of the saints that they are the children of God; and by the fruits and effects of regenerating grace, as love to the brethren, and the like: and the whole world lies in wickedness ; that is, the men of the world, the greater part of the inhabitants of it, who are as they were when they came into it, not being born of God; these are addicted to sin and, wickedness; the bias of their minds is to it, they are set upon it, and give themselves up to it, are immersed in it, and are under the power of it: or “in the wicked one”; Satan, the god of this world; they are under his influence, and led according to his will, and they are governed by him, and are at his beck and command; and this is known, by sad experience, it is easy of observation; “And cannot comprehend the things that are promised to the righteous in time to come: for this world is full of unrighteousness and infirmities.” (2 Esdras 4:27) Ver. 20. And we know that the Son of God is come , &c.] That the second Person in the Godhead, who is equal to the Father, and of the same nature with him, is come from the Father, from heaven into this world, not by local motion, but by assumption of nature; that he is come in the flesh, or is become incarnate, in order to work out salvation for his people, by his obedience, sufferings, and death; and this John and others knew, for they had personal knowledge of him, and converse with him; they saw him with their eyes, heard him, and handled him: he dwelt among them, preached to them, wrought miracles before them, which proved him to be what he was; and it may be known that the Messiah must become, since Daniel's weeks, which fixes the time of his coming, are long ago up; the sceptre is departed from Judah, and the second temple is destroyed, neither of which were to be till the Messiah came; and that Jesus of Nazareth is he who is come may be known by the characters of him, and the works done by him: and hath given us an understanding ; not a new faculty of the understanding but new light into it; a knowledge of spiritual things of himself, and of God in him, and of the truths of the Gospel, and of all divine and heavenly things; for he, the Son of God, is come a light into the world, and gives spiritual light to men: that we may know him that is true ; or “the true God”, as the Alexandrian copy and some others, and the Vulgate Latin, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions read; that is, God the Father, who is the true God, in opposition to the false gods of the Heathens, though not to the exclusion of the Son and Spirit; and the spiritual knowledge of him as the Father of Christ, and as a covenant God and Father in him, is only given to men by Christ, and this is life eternal; (see Matthew 11:27 John 17:3); and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ ; the words “Jesus Christ” are left out in the Alexandrian copy, and in the Vulgate Latin version; however, certain it is, that Jesus Christ is meant by his Son, who is the Son of the true and living God, and is himself “true”; not only true God, as hereafter asserted, but true man, having a true body and a reasonable soul, and was true and faithful in the discharge of his offices, as prophet, priest, and King; he faithfully declared the whole will of God, and taught the way of God in truth; he was faithful to him that appointed him, by securing his glory when he made reconciliation for the sins of the people; and all the administrations of his kingly office are just and true; yea, he is truth itself, the substance of all the types, in whom all the promises are yea and amen, and who has all the truths of the Gospel and treasures of wisdom in him; now his people are in him; they were secretly in him before the world was, being loved by him, chosen in him, put into his hands, preserved in him, and represented by him; and openly, at conversion, when they are anew created in him, brought to believe in him, and live upon him, and he lives in them, and they are in him as branches in the vine; and this is known by his Spirit being given them, by the communication of his grace unto them, and by the communion they have with him. This is the true God and eternal life ; that is, the Son of God, who is the immediate antecedent to the relative “this”; he is the true God, with his Father and the Spirit, in distinction from all false, fictitious, or nominal deities; and such as are only by office, or in an improper and figurative sense: Christ is truly and really God, as appears from all the perfections of deity, the fulness of the Godhead being in him; from the divine works of creation and providence being ascribed to him; and from the divine worship that is given him; as well as from the names and titles he goes by, and particularly that of Jehovah, which is incommunicable to a creature; and he is called “eternal life”, because it is in him; and he is the giver of it to his people; and that itself will chiefly consist in the enjoyment and vision of him, and in conformity to him.
Ver. 21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols, Amen .] From Heathen idols and idolatry, into which the saints in those times might be liable to be drawn, by reason of their dwelling among Heathen idolaters, and being related to them, and by the too great freedom used in eating things sacrificed to idols in their temples; and from all other idols that might be introduced by some who went by the name of Christians, as the Gnostics, who worshipped the images of Simon and Helena; and the passage may be an antidote against the worshipping of images, afterwards introduced by the Papists. Moreover, errors and false doctrines, which are the figments of men's minds, and what they are fond of, may be called idols, and should be guarded against, and abstained from; as also the lusts of men's hearts, and all the evil things that are in the world, which are adored by the men of it; and even every creature that is loved too much is an idol; hence covetousness is called idolatry; nor should any creature or thing be loved more than God or Christ: the one only living and true God, Father, Son, and Spirit, he is only to be worshipped, feared, and loved.