RPM, Volume 19, Number 9, February 26 to March 4, 2017

Barnes' New Testament Notes

Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical
Part 95

By Albert Barnes




THIS chapter embraces the following subjects:—

I. The fact that Christians are now the sons of God, 1 Jo 3:1-3.

(1.) We are the sons of God, and this will explain the reason why the world does not appreciate our character, or understand the reasons of our conduct, 1 Jo 3:1.

(2.) The consequences of sustaining that relation to God, or of being regarded as his sons.

(a.) We shall be like him when he appears, 1 Jo 3:2.

(b.) We shall purify ourselves under the influence of this hope, 1 Jo 3:3.

II. The fact that he who is an adopted child of God does not commit sin, 1 Jo 3:4-10.

(1.) All sin is the transgression of the law, 1 Jo 3:4;

(2.) Christ was manifested to take away our sins, 1 Jo 3:5;

(3.) He that commits sin is of the devil, 1 Jo 2:8; and,

(4.) as a matter of fact, he who is of God does not commit sin, 1 Jo 3:7,9,10.

III. True religion will be manifested by love to the Christian brotherhood, 1 Jo 3:10-18.

(1.) As a man who is not righteous cannot be a true Christian, neither can he who does not love his brother, 1 Jo 3:10.

(2.) It is the solemn command of the Saviour that his followers should love one another, 1 Jo 3:11.

(3.) The importance of this is seen by the opposite conduct of Cain, 1 Jo 3:12.

(4.) Love to the brethren furnishes the most certain evidence that we have passed from death unto life, 1 Jo 3:14.

(5.) A man who hates another is in fact a murderer, and, of course, cannot be a true child of God, 1 Jo 3:15.

(6.) We should be stimulated to the love of the brethren by the example of the Saviour, who laid down his life for us, 1 Jo 3:16.

(7.) If we see a brother in want, and have the means of aiding him, and do not do it, we cannot have the love of God dwelling in us, 1 Jo 3:17,18.

IV. We may have evidence that we love God by the consciousness of our feelings towards him, as well as by outward acts towards his friends, 1 Jo 3:19-21.

V. If we keep his commandments our prayers will be answered, 1 Jo 3:22,23.

(1.) There is an assurance that we shall receive what we need if we ask it, and keep his commandments, 1 Jo 3:22.

(2.) The particular commandments on which the efficacy of prayer so much depends, are

(a.) that we believe on the name of the Saviour, and

(b.) that we love the Christian brotherhood, 1 Jo 3:23.

VI. We may know that we abide in God by the spirit which he has given us, as well as by keeping his commandments, 1 Jo 3:24.

This chapter, therefore, is occupied mainly with stating what are the evidences of true piety; and, in order to determine this question, there is perhaps no part of the Bible that may be studied with more profit than this portion of the writings of John.

Verse 1. Behold, what manner of love. What love, in kind and in degree. In kind the most tender and the most ennobling, in adopting us into his family, and in permitting us to address him as our Father; in degree the most exalted, since there is no higher love that can be shown than in adopting a poor and friendless orphan, and giving him a parent and a home. Even God could bestow upon us no more valuable token of affection than that we should be adopted into his family, and permitted to regard him as our Father. When we remember how insignificant we are as creatures, and how ungrateful, rebellious, and vile we have been as sinners, we may well be amazed at the love which would adopt us into the holy family of God, so that we may be regarded and treated as the children of the Most High. A prince could manifest no higher love for a wandering, ragged, vicious orphan boy, found in the streets, than by adopting him into his own family, and admitting him to the same privileges and honours as his own sons; and yet this would be a trifle compared with the honour which God has bestowed on us.

The Father hath bestowed upon us. God, regarded as a Father, or as at the head of the universe considered as one family. That we should be called the sons of God. That is, that we should be the sons of God —the word called being often used in the sense of to be. On the nature and privileges of adoption, See Barnes "Ro 8:15, seq., and 2 Co 6:18, and practical remarks on that chapter, See Barnes "1 Co 6:19, See Barnes "1 Co 6:20".

Therefore the world knoweth us not. Does not understand our principles; the reasons of our conduct; the sources of our comforts and joys. The people of the world regard us as fanatics or enthusiasts; as foolish in abandoning the pleasures and pursuits which they engage in; as renouncing certain happiness for that which is uncertain; as cherishing false and delusive hopes in regard to the future, and as practising needless austerities, with nothing to compensate for the pleasures which are abandoned. There is nothing which the gay, the ambitious, and the selfish less understand than they do the elements which go into the Christian's character, and the nature and source of the Christian's joys.

Because it knew him not. Did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, the world had no right views of the real character of the Lord Jesus when he was on the earth. They mistook him for an enthusiast or an impostor; and it is no wonder that, having wholly mistaken his character, they should mistake ours. On the fact that the world did not know him, See Barnes "1 Co 2:8, See Barnes "Ac 3:17".

Comp. Joh 17:25. On the fact that Christians may be expected to be regarded and treated as their Saviour was, See Barnes "Joh 15:18, See Barnes "Joh 15:19" See Barnes "Joh 15:20".

Comp. Mt 10:24,25.

{a} "love" Eph 2:4,5

{b} "the sons" Joh 1:12; Re 21:7

{*} "sons" "Children"


Verse 2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God. We now in fact sustain this rank and dignity, and on that we may reflect with pleasure and gratitude. It is in itself an exalted honour, and may be contemplated as such, whatever may be true in regard to what is to come. In the dignity and the privileges which we now enjoy, we may find a grateful subject of reflection, and a cause of thankfulness, even if we should look to nothing beyond, or when we contemplate the fact by itself.

And it doth not yet appear what we shall be. It is not fully revealed what we shall be hereafter; what will be the full result of being regarded as the children of God. There are, indeed, certain things which may be inferred as following from this. There is enough to animate us with hope, and to sustain us in the trials of life. There is one thing which is clear, that we shall be like the Son of God; but what is fully involved in this is not made known. Perhaps

(1.) it could not be so revealed that we could understand it, for that state may be so unlike the present that no words would fully convey the conception to our minds. Perhaps

(2.) it may be necessary to our condition here, as on probation, that no more light should be furnished in regard to the future than to stimulate us to make efforts to reach a world where all is light. For an illustration of the sentiment expressed here by the apostle, See Barnes "2 Pe 1:4".

But we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him. It is revealed to us that we shall be made like Christ; that is, in the bodies with which we shall be raised up, in character, in happiness, in glory. See Barnes "Php 3:21" See Barnes "2 Co 3:18".

This is enough to satisfy the Christian in his prospects for the future world. To be like Christ is the object of his supreme aim. For that he lives, and all his aspirations in regard to the coming world may be summed up in this—that he wishes to be like the glorified Son of God, and to share his honours and his joys. See Barnes "Php 3:10".

For we shall see him as he is. It is clearly implied here that there will be an influence in beholding the Saviour as he is, which will tend to make us like him, or to transform us into his likeness. See the nature of this influence explained See Barnes "2 Co 3:18".

{d} "the sons" Ro 8:14,18

{*} "sons" "Children"

{e} "like him" 1 Co 15:49; Php 3:21; 2 Pe 1:4

{f} "see him" Job 19:26; Ps 17:15; Mt 5:8; 1 Co 13:12


Verse 3. And every man that hath this hope in him. This hope of seeing the Saviour, and of being made like him; that is, every true Christian. On the nature and influence of hope, See Barnes "Ro 8:24, See Barnes "Ro 8:25".

Purifieth himself. Makes himself holy. That is, under the influence of this hope of being like the Saviour, he puts forth those efforts in struggling against sin, and in overcoming his evil propensities, which are necessary to make him pure. The apostle would not deny that for the success of these efforts we are dependent on Divine aid; but he brings into view, as is often done in the sacred writings, the agency of man himself as essentially connected with success. Comp. Php 2:12. The particular thought here is, that the hope of being like Christ, and of being permitted to dwell with him, will lead a man to earnest efforts to become holy, and will be actually followed by such a result.

Even as he is pure. The same kind of purity here, the same degree hereafter. That is, the tendency of such a hope is to make him holy now, though he may be imperfect; the effect will be to make him perfectly holy in the world to come. It cannot be shown from this passage that the apostle meant to teach that any one actually becomes as pure in the present life as the Saviour is, that is, becomes perfectly holy; for all that is fairly implied in it is, that those who have this hope in them aim at the same purity, and will ultimately obtain it. But the apostle does not say that it is attained in this world. If the passage did teach this, it would teach it respecting every one who has this hope, and then the doctrine would be that no one can be a Christian who does not become absolutely perfect on earth; that is, not that some Christians may become perfect here, but that all actually do. But none, it is presumed, will hold this to be a true doctrine. A true Christian does not, indeed, habitually and wilfully sin; but no one can pretend that all Christians attain to a state of sinless perfection on earth, or are, in fact, as pure as the Saviour was. But unless the passage proves that every Christian becomes absolutely perfect in the present life, it does not prove that in fact any do. It proves

(1.) that the tendency, or the fair influence of this hope, is to make the Christian pure;

(2.) that all who cherish it will, in fact, aim to become as holy as the Saviour was; and

(3.) that this object will, at some future period, be accomplished. There is a world where all who are redeemed shall be perfectly holy.

THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF JOHN - Chapter 3 - Verse 4 Verse 4. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law. The law of God given to man as a rule of life. The object of the apostle here is to excite them to holiness, and to deter them from committing sin, perhaps in view of the fact stated in 1 Jo 3:3, that every one who has the hope of heaven will aim to be holy like the Saviour. To confirm this, he shows them that, as a matter of fact, those who are born of God do lead lives of obedience, (1 Jo 3:5-10;) and this he introduces by showing what is the nature of sin, in the verse before us. The considerations by which he would deter them from indulging in sin are the following: (a.) all sin is a violation of the law of God, 1 Jo 3:4; (b.) the very object of the coming of Christ was to deliver men from sin, 1 Jo 3:5; (c.) these who are true Christians do not habitually sin, 1 Jo 3:6; (d.) those who sin cannot be true Christians, but are of the devil, 1 Jo 3:8; and (e.) he who is born of God has a germ or principle of true piety in him, and cannot sin, 1 Jo 3:9. It seems evident that the apostle is here combating an opinion which then existed that men might sin, and yet be true Christians, (1 Jo 3:7;) and he apprehended that there was danger that this opinion would become prevalent. On what ground this opinion was held is unknown. Perhaps it was held that all that was necessary to constitute religion was to embrace the doctrines of Christianity, or to be orthodox in the faith; perhaps that it was not expected that men would become holy in this life, and therefore they might indulge in acts of sin; perhaps that Christ came to modify and relax the law, and that the freedom which he procured for them was freedom to indulge in whatever men chose; perhaps that, since Christians were heirs of all things, they had a right to enjoy all things; perhaps that the passions of men were so strong that they could not be restrained, and that therefore it was not wrong to give indulgence to the propensities with which our Creator has formed us. All these opinions have been held under various forms of Antinomianism, and it is not at all improbable that some or all of them prevailed in the time of John. The argument which he urges would be applicable to any of them. The consideration which he here states is, that all sin is a transgression of law, and that he who commits it, under whatever pretence, is to be held as a transgressor of the law. The literal rendering of this passage is, "He who doeth sin (amartian) doeth also transgression"—anomian. Sin is the generic term embracing all that would be wrong. The word transgression (anomia) is a specific term, showing where the wrong lay, to wit, in violating the law.

For sin is the transgression of the law. That is, all sin involves this as a consequence that it is a violation of the law. The object of the apostle is not so much to define sin, as to deter from its commission by stating what is its essential nature—though he has in fact given the best definition of it that could be given. The essential idea is, that God has given a law to men to regulate their conduct, and that whatever is a departure from that law in any way is held to be sin. The law measures our duty, and measures therefore the degree of guilt when it is not obeyed. The law determines what is right in all cases, and, of course, what is wrong when it is not complied with. The law is the expression of what is the will of God as to what we shall do; and when that is not done, there is sin. The law determines what we shall love or not love; when our passions and appetites shall be bounded and restrained, and to what extent they may be indulged; what shall be our motives and aims in living; how we shall act toward God and toward men; and whenever, in any of these respects, its requirements are not complied with, there is sin. This will include everything in relation to which the law is given, and will embrace what we omit to do when the law has commanded a thing to be done, as well as a positive act of transgression where the law has forbidden a thing. This idea is properly found in the original word rendered transgression of the law—anomia. This word occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Mt 7:23; 13:41; 23:28; 24:12; Ro 4:7; 6:19; 2 Th 2:7; Tit 2:14; Heb 1:9; Heb 8:12; 10:17, in all which places it is rendered iniquity and iniquities; in 2 Co 6:14, where it is rendered unrighteousness; and in the verse before us twice. It properly means lawlessness, in the sense that the requirements of the law are not conformed to, or complied with; that is, either by not obeying it, or by positively violating it. When a parent commands a child to do a thing, and he does not do it, he is as really guilty of violating the law as when he does a thing which is positively forbidden. This important verse, therefore, may be considered in two aspects—as a definition of the nature of sin, and as an argument against indulgence in it, or against committing it.

I. As a definition of the nature of sin. It teaches

(a.) that there is a rule of law by which the conduct of mankind is to be regulated and governed, and to which it is to be conformed.

(b.) That there is sin in all cases where that law is not complied with; and that all who do not comply with it are guilty before God.

(c.) That the particular thing which determines the guilt of sin, and which measures it, is that it is a departure from law, and consequently that there is no sin where there m no departure from law. The essential thing is, that the law has not been respected and obeyed, and sin derives its character and aggravation from that fact. No one can reasonably doubt as to the accuracy of this definition of sin. It is founded on the fact

(a.) that God has an absolute right to prescribe what we may and may not do;

(5.) that it is to be presumed that what he prescribes will be in accordance with what is right; and

(c.)that nothing else in fact constitutes sin. Sin can consist in nothing else. It does not consist of a particular height of stature, or a particular complexion; of a feeble intellect, or an intellect made feeble, as the result of any former apostasy; of any constitutional propensity, or any disposition founded in our nature as creatures. For none of these things do our consciences condemn us; and however we may lament them, we have no consciousness of wrong.

II. As an argument against the commission of sin. This argument may be considered as consisting of two things—the wrong that is done by the violation of law, and the exposure to the penalty.

(1.) The wrong itself. This wrong, as an argument to deter from sin, arises mainly from two things:

(a.) because sin is a violation of the will of God, and it is in itself wrong to disregard that will; and

(b.) because it is to be presumed that when God has given law there is a good reason why he has done it.

(2.) The fact that the law has a penalty is an argument for not violating the law. All law has a penalty; that is, there is some suffering, disadvantage, forfeit of privileges, etc., which the violation of law draws in its train, and which is to be regarded as an expression of the sense which the lawgiver entertains of the value of his law, and of the evil of disobeying it. Many of these penalties of the violation of the Divine law are seen in this life, and all will be certain to occur sooner or later, in this world or in the world to come. With such views of the law and of sin—of his obligations, and of the evils of disobedience—a Christian should not, and will not, deliberately and habitually violate the law of God.

{a} "know" 3 Jo 1:11


Verse 5. And ye know that he was manifested. The Lord Jesus, the Son of God. "You know that he became incarnate, or appeared among men, for the very purpose of putting an end to sin," Mt 1:21. Comp. See Barnes "1 Ti 3:16".

This is the second argument in this paragraph, (1 Jo 3:4-10,) by which the apostle would deter us from sin. The argument is a clear one, and is perhaps the strongest that can be made to bear on the mind of a true Christian—that the Lord Jesus saw sin to be so great an evil, that he came into our world, and gave himself to the bitter sorrows of death on the cross, to redeem us from it.

To take away our sins. The essential argument here is, that the whole work of Christ was designed to deliver us from the dominion of sin, not to furnish us the means of indulgence in it; and that, therefore, we should be deterred from it by all that Christ has done and suffered for us. He perverts the whole design of the coming of the Saviour who supposes that his work was in any degree designed to procure for his followers the indulgences of sin, or who so interprets the methods of his grace as to suppose that it is now lawful for him to indulge his guilty passions. The argument essentially is this:

(1.) That we profess to be the followers of Christ, and should carry out his ends and views in coming into the world;

(2.) that the great and leading purpose of his coming was to set us free from the bondage of transgression;

(3.) that in doing this he gave himself up to a life of poverty, and shame, and sorrow, and to a most bitter death on the cross; and,

(4.) that we should not indulge in that from which he came to deliver us, and which cost him so much toil and such a death. How could we indulge in that which has brought heavy calamity on the head of a father, or which has pierced a sister's heart with many sorrows? Still more, how can we be so ungrateful and hardhearted as to indulge in that which crushed our Redeemer in death?

And in him is no sin. An additional consideration to show that we should be holy. As he was perfectly pure and spotless, so should all his followers aim to be; and none can truly pretend to be his who do not desire and design to become like him. On the personal holiness of the Lord Jesus, See Barnes "Heb 7:26, See Barnes "1 Pe 2:23".

{a} "know" Heb 9:26,28


Verse 6. Whosoever abideth in him. See 1 Jo 2:6. The word here employed (menwn) properly means to remain, to continue, to abide. It is used of persons remaining or dwelling in a place, in the sense of abiding there permanently, or lodging there, and this is the common meaning of the word, Mt 10:11; 26:38; Mr 6:10; Lu 1:56, et saepe. In the writings of John, however, it is quite a favourite word to denote the relation which one sustains to another, in the sense of being united to him, or remaining with him in affection and love; being with him in heart and mind and will, as one makes his home in a dwelling. The sense seems to be that we have some sort of relation to him similar to that which we have to our home; that is, some fixed and permanent attachment to him. We live in him; we remain steadfast in our attachment to him, as we do to our own home. For the use of the word in John, in whose writings it so frequently occurs, see Joh 5:38; 6:56; 14:10,17; 15:4-7, Joh 15:9; 1 Jo 2:6,10,14,17,27,28; 3:6,24; 4:12,13,15,16.

In the passage before us, as in his writings generally, it refers to one who lives the life of a Christian, as if he were always with Christ, and abode with him. It refers to the Christian considered as adhering steadfastly to the Saviour, and not as following him with transitory feelings, emotions, and raptures. It does not of itself necessarily mean that he will always do this; that is, it does not prove the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but it refers to the adherence to the Saviour as a continuous state of mind, or as having permanency; meaning that there is a life of continued faith in him. It is of a person thus attached to the Saviour that the apostle makes the important declaration in the passage before us, that he does not sin. This is the third argument to show that the child of God should be pure; and the substance of the argument is, that as a matter of fact the child of God is not a sinner.

Sinneth not. There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this expression, and the similar declaration in 1 Jo 3:9. Not a few have maintained that it teaches the "doctrine of perfection," or that Christians may live entirely without sin; and some have held that the apostle meant to teach that this is always the characteristic of the true Christian. Against the interpretation, however, which supposes that it teaches that the Christian is absolutely perfect, and lives wholly without sin, there are three insuperable objections:

(1.) If it teaches that doctrine at all, it teaches that all Christians are perfect; "whosoever abideth in him," "whosoever is born of God," "he cannot sin," 1 Jo 3:9.

(2.) This is not true, and cannot be held to be true by those who have any just views of what the children of God have been and are. Who can maintain that Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob; that Moses, David, or Job; that Peter, John, or Paul, were absolutely perfect, and were never, after their regeneration, guilty of an act of sin? Certainly they never affirmed it of themselves, nor does the sacred record attribute to them any such perfection. And who can affirm this of all who give evidence of true piety in the world? Who can of themselves? Are we to come to the painful conclusion that all who are not absolutely perfect in thought, word, and deed, are destitute of any religion, and are to be set down as hypocrites or self-deceivers? And yet, unless this passage proves that all who have been born again are absolutely perfect, it will not prove it of any one, for the affirmation is not made of a part, or of what any favoured individual may be, but of what every one is in fact who is born of God.

(3.) This interpretation is not necessary to a fair exposition of the passage. The language used is such as would be employed by any writer if he designed to say of one that he is not characteristically a sinner; that he is a good man; that he does not commit habitual and wilful transgression. Such language is common throughout the Bible, when it is said of one man that he is a saint, and of another that he is a sinner; of one that he is righteous, and of another that he is wicked; of one that he obeys the law of God, and of another that he does not. John expresses it strongly, but he affirms no more in fact than is affirmed elsewhere. The passage teaches, indeed, most important truths in regard to the true Christian; and the fair and proper meaning may be summed up in the following particulars:

(a.) He who is born again does not sin habitually, or is not habitually a sinner. If he does wrong, it is when he is overtaken by temptation, and the act is against the habitual inclination and purpose of his soul. If a man sins habitually, it proves that he has never been renewed.

(b.) That he who is born again does not do wrong deliberately and of design. He means to do right. He is not wilfully and deliberately a sinner. If a man deliberately and intentionally does wrong, he shows that he is not actuated by the spirit of religion. It is true that when one does wrong, or commits sin, there is a momentary assent of the will; but it is under the influence of passion, or excitement, or temptation, or provocation, and not as the result of a deliberate plan or purpose of the soul. A man who deliberately and intentionally does a wrong thing, shows that he is not a true Christian; and if this were all that is understood by perfection, then there would be many who are perfect, for there are many, very many Christians, who cannot recollect an instance for many years in which they have intentionally and deliberately done a wrong thing. Yet these very Christians see much corruption in their own hearts over which to mourn, and against which they earnestly strive; in comparing themselves with the perfect law of God, and with the perfect example of the Saviour, they see much in which they come short.

(c) He who is born again will not sin finally, or will not fall away. "His seed remaineth in him," 1 Jo 3:9. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:9"

on that verse. There is a principle of grace by which he will ultimately be restrained and recovered. This, it seems to me, is fairly implied in the language used by John; for if a man might be a Christian, and yet wholly fall away and perish, how could it be said with any truth that such a man "sinneth not;" how that "he doth not commit sin;" how that "his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin?" Just the contrary would be true if this were so.

Whosoever sinneth. That is, as explained above, habitually, deliberately, characteristically, and finally.—Doddridge. "Who habitually and avowedly sinneth."

Hath not seen him, nor known him. Has had no just views of the Saviour, or of the nature of true religion. In other words, cannot be a true Christian.

{b} "whosoever sinneth" 3 Jo 1:11


Verse 7. Little children. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:1".

Let no man deceive you. That is, in the matter under consideration; to wit, by persuading you that a man may live in sinful practices, and yet be a true child of God. From this it is clear that the apostle supposed there were some who would attempt to do this, and it was to counteract their arts that he made these positive statements in regard to the nature of true religion.

He that doeth righteousness is righteous. This is laid down as a great and undeniable principle in religion—a maxim which none could dispute, and as important as it is plain. And it is worthy of all the emphasis which the apostle lays on it. The man who does righteousness, or leads an upright life, is a righteous man, and no other one is. No matter how any one may claim that he is justified by faith; no matter how he may conform to the external duties and rites of religion; no matter how zealous he may be for orthodoxy, or for the order of the church; no matter what visions and raptures he may have, or of what peace and joy in his soul he may boast; no matter how little he may fear death, oil hope for heaven—unless he is in fact a righteous man, in the proper sense of the term, he cannot be a child of God. Compare Mt 7:16-23. If he is, in the proper sense of the word, a man who keeps the law of God, and leads a holy life, he is righteous, for that is religion. Such a man, however, will always feel that his claim to be regarded as a righteous man is not to be traced to what he is in himself, but to what he owes to the grace of God.

Even as he is righteous. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:3".

Not necessarily in this world to the same degree, but with the same kind of righteousness. Hereafter he will become wholly free from all sin, like his God and Saviour, 1 Jo 3:2.

(*) "Little Children" "My Children"

{a} "that doeth righteousness" Eze 18:5-9; ro 2:13


Verse 8. He that committeth sin. Habitually, wilfully, characteristically.

Is of the devil. This cannot mean that no one who commits any sin, or who is not absolutely perfect, can be a Christian, for this would cut off the great mass, even according to the belief of those who hold that the Christian may be perfectly holy, from all claim to the Christian character. But what the apostle here says is true in two senses:

(1.) That all who commit sin, even true believers, so far as they are imperfect, in this respect resemble Satan, and are under his influence, since sin, just so far as it exists at all, makes us resemble him.

(2.) All who habitually and characteristically sin are of the devil. This latter was evidently the principal idea in the mind of the apostle. His object here is to show that those who sinned, in the sense in which it would seem some maintained that the children of God might sin, could have no real evidence of piety, but really belonged to Satan.

For the devil sinneth from the beginning. The beginning of the world; or from the first account we have of him. It does not mean that he sinned from the beginning of his existence, for he was made holy like the other angels. See Barnes "Jude 1:6".

The meaning is, that he introduced sin into the universe, and that he has continued to practise it ever since. The word sinneth here implies continued and habitual sin. He did not commit one act of sin and then reform; but he has continued, and still continues, his course of sin. This may confirm what has been already said about the kind of sin that John refers to. He speaks of sinning habitually, continuously, wilfully; and any one who does this shows that he is under the influence of him whose characteristic it has been and is to sin. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested. Became incarnate, and appeared among men, 1 Jo 3:5. Comp. See Barnes "1 Ti 3:16".

That he might destroy the works of the devil. All his plans of wickedness, and his control over the hearts of men. Compare Notes on See Barnes "Mr 1:24" See Barnes "Heb 2:14.

The argument here is, that as the Son of God came to destroy all the works of the devil, he cannot be his true follower who lives in sin.

{b} "He" Joh 8:44

{c} "that he" He 2:14


Verse 9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. This passage must either mean that they who are born of God, that is, who are true Christians, do not sin habitually and characteristically, or that every one who is a true Christian is absolutely perfect, and never commits any sin. If it can be used as referring to the doctrine of absolute perfection at all, it proves, not that Christians may be perfect, or that a portion of them are, but that all are. But who can maintain this? Who can believe that John meant to affirm this? Nothing can be clearer than that the passage has not this meaning, and that John did not teach a doctrine so contrary to the current strain of the Scriptures, and to fact; and if he did not teach this, then in this whole passage he refers to those who are habitually and characteristically righteous. For his seed remaineth in him. There is much obscurity in this expression, though the general sense is clear, which is, that there is something abiding in the heart of the true Christian which the apostle here calls seed, which will prevent his sinning. The word "his" in this phrase, "his seed," may refer either to the individual himself—in the sense that this can now be properly called his, inasmuch as it is a part of himself, or a principle abiding in him; or it may refer to God—in the sense that what is here called "seed" is his, that is, he has implanted it, or it is a germ of Divine origin. Robinson (Lex.) understands it in the latter sense, and so also do Macknight, Doddridge, Lucke, and others, and this is probably the true interpretation. The word seed (sperma) means properly seed sown, as of grain, plants, trees; then anything that resembles it, anything which germinates, or which springs up, or is produced. It is applied in the New Testament to the word of God, or the gospel, as that which produces effects in the heart and life similar to what seed that is sown does. Comp. Mt 13:26,37,38.

Augustin, Clemens, (Alex.,) Grotius, Rosenmuller, Benson, and Bloomfield, suppose that this is the signification of the word here. The proper idea, according to this, is that the seed referred to is truth, which God has implanted or sown in the heart, from which it may be expected that the fruits of righteousness will grow. But that which abides in the heart of a Christian is not the naked word of God; the mere gospel, or mere truth; it is rather that word as made vital and efficacious by the influences of his Spirit; the germ of the Divine life; the principles of true piety in the soul, Comp. the words of Virgil.—Igneus est illi vigor et cosiestis origo semini. The exact idea here, as it seems to me, is not that the "seed" refers to the word of God, as Augustin and others suppose, or to the Spirit of God, but to the germ of piety which has been produced in the heart by the word and Spirit of God, and which may be regarded as having been implanted there by God himself, and which may be expected to produce holiness in the life, There is, probably, as Lucke supposes, an allusion in the word to the fact that we are begotten (o gegennhmenov) of God. The word remaineth menei, compare See Barnes "1 Jo 3:6"—is a favourite expression of John. The expression here used by John, thus explained, would seem to imply two things:

(1.) that the germ or seed of religion implanted in the soul abides there as a constant, vital principle, so that he who is born of God cannot become habitually a sinner; and,

(2.) that it will so continue to live there that he will not fall away and perish. The idea is clearly that the germ or principle of piety so permanently abides in the soul, that he who is renewed never can become again characteristically a sinner.

And he cannot sin. Not merely he will not, but he cannot; that is, in the sense referred to. This cannot mean that one who is renewed has not physical ability to do wrong, for every moral agent has; nor can it mean that no one who is a true Christian never does, in fact, do wrong in thought, word, or deed, for no one could seriously maintain that: but it must mean that there is somehow a certainty as absolute as if it were physically impossible, that those who are born of God will not be characteristically and habitually sinners; that they will not sin in such a sense as to lose all true religion and be numbered with transgressors; that they will not fall away and perish. Unless this passage teaches that no one who is renewed ever can sin in any sense; or that every one who becomes a Christian is, and must be, absolutely and always perfect, no words could more clearly prove that true Christians will never fall from grace and perish. How can what the apostle here says be true, if a real Christian can fall away and become again a sinner?

Because he is born of God. Or begotten of God. God has given him, by the new birth, real, spiritual life, and that life can never become extinct.

{d} "Whosoever is born" 1 Jo 5:18

{e} "seed" 1 Pe 1:23


Verse 10. In this the children of God are manifest, etc. That is, this furnishes a test of their true character. The test is found in doing righteousness, and in the love of the brethren. The former he had illustrated; the latter he now proceeds to illustrate. The general idea is, that if a man is not truly a righteous man, and does not love the brethren, he cannot be a child of God. Perhaps by the phrase "in this," using a pronoun in the singular number, he means to intimate that an important part of righteousness consists in brotherly love.

Whosoever doeth not righteousness, is not of God. In 1 Jo 3:7, he had said that "he that doeth righteousness is of God." If that is true, then what he here affirms must be true also, that a man who does not righteousness is not of God. The general idea is the same, that no one can be a true Christian who is not in fact a righteous man.

Neither he that loveth not his brother. The illustration of this point continues to 1 Jo 3:18. The general sense is, that brotherly love is essential to the Christian character, and that he who does not possess it cannot be a Christian. On the nature and importance of brotherly love as an evidence of piety, See Barnes "Joh 13:34, See Barnes "Joh 13:35".


Verse 11. For this is the message. Marg., commandment. In the received text, this is aggelia—a message brought; in several Mss., and in later editions, it is epaggelia—annunciation, announcement; an order given, or a commandment, Ac 23:21. It is not very material which reading is followed. The word command or rule would express the sense with sufficient clearness. The reference is to the law given by the Savour as a permanent direction to his disciples.

That ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one anther. See Barnes "Joh 13:34, See Barnes "Joh 13:35" See Barnes "1 Jo 2:7".

{1} "message" "commandment"

{*} "message" "charge"


Verse 12. Not as Cain. Not manifesting the spirit which Cain did. His was a most remarkable and striking instance of a want of love to a brother, and the case was well adapted to illustrate the propriety of the duty which the apostle is enjoining. See Ge 4:4-8.

Who was of that wicked one. Of the devil; that is, he was under his influence, and acted from his instigation.

And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. He acted under the influence of envy. He was dissatisfied that his own offering was not accepted, and that his brother's was. The apostle seems desirous to guard those to whom he wrote against the indulgence of any feelings that were the opposite of love; from anything like envy toward more highly favoured brethren, by showing to what this would lead if fairly acted out, as in the case of Cain. A large part of the crimes of the earth have been caused, as in the murder of Abel, by the want of brotherly love. Nothing but love would be necessary to put an end to the crimes, and consequently to a large part of the misery, of the world.

{b} "Cain, who" Ge 4:4-8


Verse 13. Marvel not. Do not think it so unusual, or so little to be expected, as to excite astonishment.

If the world hate you. The emphasis here is to be placed on the word you. The apostle had just adverted to the fact that Cain hated Abel, his brother, without cause, and he says that they were not to deem it strange if the world hated them in like manner. The Saviour (Joh 15:17,18) introduced these subjects in the same connexion. In enjoining the duty of brotherly love on his disciples, he adverts to the fact that they must expect to be hated by the world, and tells them to remember that the world hated him before it hated them. The object of all this was to show more clearly the necessity of strong and tender mutual affection among Christians, since they could hope for none from the world. See Barnes "Joh 15:18,19".

{++} "Marvel" "Wonder"

{c} "world" Joh 15:18,19


Verse 14. We know that we have passed from death unto life. From spiritual death (See Barnes "Eph 2:1") to spiritual life; that is, that we are true Christians. Because we love the brethren. The sentiment here is, that it is an infallible evidence of true piety if we love the followers of Christ as such. See this sentiment illustrated in the See Barnes "Joh 13:35".

But how easy it would seem to be to apply such a test of piety as this! Who cannot judge accurately of his own feelings, and determine whether he loves a Christian because he bears the name and image of the Saviour—loves him the more just in proportion as he bears that image? Who cannot, if he chooses, look beyond the narrow bounds of his own sect, and determine whether he is pleased with the true Christian character wherever it may be found, and whether he would prefer to find his friends among those who bear the name and the image of the Son of God, than among the people of the world ? The Saviour meant that his followers should be known by this badge of discipleship all over the world, Joh 13:34,35. John says, in carrying out the sentiment, that Christians, by this test, may know among themselves whether they have any true religion.

He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. He remains dead in sins; that is, he has never been converted. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:6".

As love to the Christian brotherhood is essential to true piety, it follows that he who has not that remains unconverted, or is in a state of spiritual death. He is by nature dead in sin, and unless he has evidence that he is brought out of that state, he remains or abides in it.

{d} "He that loveth" 1 Jo 2:9,11


Verse 15. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, etc. That is, he has the spirit of a murderer; he has that which, if it were acted out, would lead him to commit murder, as it did Cain. The private malice, the secret grudge, the envy which is cherished in the heart, is murderous in its tendency, and were it not for the outward restraints of human laws, and the dread of punishment, it would often lead to the act of murder. The apostle does not say that he who hates his brother, though he does not in fact commit murder, is guilty to the same degree as if he had actually done it; but he evidently means to say that the spirit which would lead to murder is there, and that God will hold him responsible for it. Nothing is wanting but the removal of outward restraints to lead to the commission of the open deed, and God judges men as he sees them to be in their hearts. What a fearful declaration, then, is this! How many real murderers there are on the earth besides those who are detected and punished, and besides those open violators of the laws of God and man who go at large! And who is there that should not feel humbled and penitent in view of his own heart, and grateful for that sovereign mercy which has restrained him from open acts of guilt?— for who is there who has not at some period of his life, and perhaps often, indulged in feelings of hatred, and envy, and malice towards others, which, if acted out, would have led to the commission of the awful crime of taking human life? Any man may well shudder at tile remembrance of the secret sins of his own heart, and at the thought of what he would have been but for the restraining grace of God. And how wonderful is that grace which, in the case of the true Christian, not only restrains and checks, but which effectually subdues all these feelings, and implants in their place the principles of love!

{a} "Whosoever hateth" Mt 5:21,22


Verse 16. Hereby perceive we the love of God. The words "of God" are not in the original, and should not have been introduced into the translation, though they are found in the Latin Vulgate, and in the Genevan versions, and in one manuscript. They would naturally convey the idea that God laid down his life for us; or that God himself, in his Divine nature, suffered. But this idea is not expressed in this passage as it is in the original, and of course no argument can be derived from it either to prove that Christ is God, or that the Divine nature is capable of suffering. The original is much more expressive and emphatic than it is with this addition: "By this we know love;" that is, we know what true love is; we see a most affecting and striking illustration of its nature. Love itself—its real nature, its power, its sacrifices, its influences—was seen in its highest form, when the Son of God gave himself to die on a cross. For an illustration of the sentiment, See Barnes "Joh 3:16, and Joh 15:3.

Because he laid down his life for us. There can be no doubt that the Saviour is here referred to, though his name is not mentioned particularly. There are several instances in the New Testament where he is mentioned under the general appellation "he," as one who was well known, and about whom the writers were accustomed to speak.

And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. For the good of our fellow-Christians, if it be necessary. That is, circumstances may occur where it would be proper to do it, and we ought always to be ready to do it. The spirit which led the Saviour to sacrifice his life for the good of the church, should lead us to do the same thing for our brethren if circumstances should require it. That this is a correct principle no one can doubt; for

(1.) the Saviour did it, and we are bound to imitate his example, and to possess his spirit;

(2.) the prophets, apostles, and martyrs did it, laying down their lives in the cause of truth, and for the good of the church and the world; and

(3.) it has always been held that it is right and proper, in certain circumstances, for a man to lay down his life for the good of others. So we speak of the patriot who sacrifices his life for the good of his country; so we feel in the case of a shipwreck, that it may be the duty of a captain to sacrifice his life for the good of his passengers and crew; so in case of a pestilential disease, a physician should not regard his own life, if he may save others; and so we always hold the man up to honour who is willing to jeopard his own life on noble principles of self-denial for the good of his fellow-men. In what cases this should occur the apostle does not state; but the general principle would seem to be, that it is to be done when a greater good would result from our self-sacrifice than from carefully guarding our own lives. Thus, in the case of a patriot, his death, in the circumstances, might be of greater value to his country than his life would be; or, his exposing himself to death would be a greater service to his country, than if that should not be done. Thus the Saviour laid down his life for the good of mankind; thus the apostles exposed their lives to constant peril in extending the principles of religion; and thus the martyrs surrendered their lives in the cause of the church and of truth. In like manner we ought to be ready to hazard our lives, and even to lay them down, if in that way we may promote the cause of truth, and the salvation of sinners, or serve our Christian brethren. In what way this injunction was understood by the primitive Christians, may be perceived from what the world is reported to have said of them, "Behold, how they love one another; they are ready to die for one another."—Tertull. Apol. c. 39. So Eusebius (Eccl. His. vii. 22) says of Christians that "in a time of plague they visited one another, and not only hazarded their lives, but actually lost them in their zeal to preserve the lives of others." We are not indeed to throw away our lives; we are not to expose them in a rash, reckless, imprudent manner; but when, in the discharge of duty, we are placed in a situation where life is exposed to danger, we are not to shrink from the duty, or to run away from it. Perhaps the following would embrace the principal instances of the duty here enjoined by the apostle:

(1.) We ought to have such love for the church that we should be willing to die for it, as a patriot is willing to die for his country.

(2.) We ought to have such love for Christians as to be willing to jeopard our lives to aid them—as in case of a pestilence or plague, or when they are in danger by fire, or flood, or foes.

(3.) We ought to have such love for the truth as to be willing to sacrifice our lives rather than deny it.

(4.) We ought to have such love for the cause of our Master as to be willing to cross oceans, and snows, and sands; to visit distant and barbarous regions, though at imminent risk of our lives, and though with the prospect that we shall never see our country again.

(5.) We ought to have such love for the church that we shall engage heartily and constantly in services of labour and self-sacrifice on its account, until, our work being done, exhausted nature shall sink to rest in the grave. In one word, we should regard ourselves as devoted to the service of the Redeemer, living or dying to be found engaged in his cause. If a case should actually occur where the question would arise whether a man would abandon his Christian brother or die, he ought not to hesitate; in all cases he should regard his life as consecrated to the cause of Sion and its friends. Once, in the times of primitive piety, there was much of this spirit in the world; how little, it is to be feared, does it prevail now!

{b} "Hereby" Joh 15:13; Ro 5:8

{*} "perceive" "Know"


Verse 17. But whoso hath this world's good. Has property—called "this world's good," or a good pertaining to this world, because it is of value to us only as it meets our wants this side of the grave; and perhaps also because it is sought supremely by the men of the world. The general meaning of this verse, in connexion with the previous verse, is, that if we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for others, we ought to be willing to make those comparatively smaller sacrifices which are necessary to relieve them in their distresses; and that if we are unwilling to do this, we can have no evidence that the love of God dwells in us.

And seeth his brother have need. Need of food, of raiment, of shelter; or sick, and poor, and unable to provide for his own wants and those of his family. And shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him. The bowels, or upper viscera, embracing the heart, and the region of the chest generally, are in the Scriptures represented as the seat of mercy, piety, compassion, because when the mind feels compassion it is that part which is affected. Comp. See Barnes "Isa 16:11".

How dwelleth the love of God in him? How can a man love God who does not love those who bear his image? See Barnes "1 Jo 4:20".

On the general sentiment here, See Barnes "Jas 2:14, seq. The meaning is plain, that we cannot have evidence of piety unless we are ready to do good to others, especially to our Christian brethren. See Barnes "Mt 25:45" See Barnes "Gal 6:10".

{c} "whoso" De 15:7"

{d} "how dwelleth" 1 Jo 4:20


Verse 18. My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue. By mere profession; by merely saying that we love each other. See 1 Pe 1:22.

But in deed and in truth. In such acts as shall show that our professed love is sincere and real. Let us do the deed of love, whether anything is said about it or not. See Barnes "Mt 6:3".

{+} "little children" "My children"

{e} "let us" Eze 33:31; Ro 12:9; Jas 2:15,16; 1 Pe 1:22


Verse 19. And hereby. Gr., by this; that is, by the fact that we have true love to others, and that we manifest it by a readiness to make sacrifices to do them good.

We know that we are of the truth. That we are not deceived in what we profess to be; that is that we are true Christians. To be of the truth stands opposed to cherishing false and delusive hopes.

And shall assure our hearts before him. Before God, or before the Saviour. In the margin, as in the Greek, the word rendered shall assure, is persuade. The Greek word is used as meaning to persuade, e.g., to the reception and belief of truth; then to persuade any one who has unkind or prejudiced feelings towards us, or to bring over to kind feelings, to conciliate, and thus to pacify or quiet. The meaning here seems to be, that we shall in this way allay the doubts and trouble of our minds, and produce a state of quiet and peace, to wit, by the evidence that we are of the truth. Our consciences are often restless and troubled in view of past guilt; but, in thus furnishing the evidence of true piety by love to others, we shall pacify an accusing mind, and conciliate our own hearts, and persuade or convince ourselves that we are truly the children of God. See Rob. Lex. sub voce peiyw, I. b. In other words, though a man's heart may condemn him as guilty, and though he knows that God sees and condemns the sins of his past life, yet the agitations and alarms of his mind may be calmed down and soothed by evidence that he is a child of God, and that he will not be finally condemned. A true Christian does not attempt to conceal the fact that there is much for which his own heart and conscience might justly accuse him; but he finds, notwithstanding all this, evidence that he is a child of God, and he is persuaded that all will be well.

{a} "hereby" Joh 13:35

{1} "shall assure" "persuade"


Verse 20. For if our heart condemn us. We cannot hope for peace from any expectation that our own hearts will never accuse us, or that we ourselves can approve of all that we have done. The reference here is not so much to our past lives, as to our present conduct and deportment. The object is to induce Christians so to live that their hearts will not condemn them for any secret sins, while the outward deportment may be unsullied. The general sentiment is, that if they should so live that their own hearts would condemn them for preSent insincerity and hypocrisy, they could have no hope of peace, for God knows all that is in the heart. In view of the past—when the heart accuses us of what we have done—we may find peace by such evidences of piety as shall allay the troubles of an agitated soul, (1 Jo 3:9,) but we cannot have such peace if our hearts condemn us for the indulgence of secret sins, now that we profess to be Christians. If our hearts condemn us for present insincerity, and for secret sins, we can never "persuade" or soothe them by any external act of piety. In view of the consciousness of past guilt, we may find peace; we can find none if there is a present purpose to indulge in sin.

God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. We cannot hope to find peace by hiding anything from his view, or by any supposition that he is not acquainted with the sins for which our consciences trouble us. He knows all the sins of which we are conscious, and sees all their guilt and aggravation as clearly as we do. He knows more than this. He knows all the sins which we have forgotten; all those acts which we endeavour to persuade ourselves are not sinful, but which are evil in his sight; and all those aggravations attending our sins which it is impossible for us fully and distinctly to conceive, He is more disposed to condemn sin than we are; he looks on it with less allowance than we do. We cannot hope, then, for a calm mind in any supposition that God does not see our sins as clearly as we do, or in any hope that he will look on them with more favour and indulgence. Peace cannot be found in the indulgence of sin in the hope that God will not perceive or regard it, for we can sooner deceive ourselves than we can him; and while therefore, (1 Jo 3:19,) in reference to the past, we can only "persuade" our hearts, or soothe their agitated feelings by evidence that we are of the truth now, and that our sins are forgiven; in reference to the present and the future, the heart can be kept calm only by such a course of life that our own hearts and our God shall approve the manner in which we live.


Verse 21. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not. If we so live as to have an approving conscience—that is, if we indulge in no secret sin; if we discharge faithfully every known duty; if we submit without murmuring to all the allotments of Divine Providence.

Then have we confidence toward God. Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:19" See Barnes "1 Jo 2:28" See Barnes "Ac 24:16".

The apostle evidently does not mean that we have confidence towards God on the ground of what we do, as if it were meritorious, or as if it constituted a claim to his favour; but that we may so live as to have evidence of personal piety, and that we may look forward with a confident hope that we shall be accepted of him in the great day. The word here rendered confidence—parrhsian—means properly boldness; usually boldness or openness in speaking our sentiments. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:28".

The confidence or boldness which we have towards our Maker is founded solely on the evidence that he will graciously accept us as pardoned sinners; not in the belief that we deserve his favor.

{b} "heart" Job 27:6; Ps 101:2

{c} "confidence" Heb 10:22


Verse 22. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him. If we are truly his children, and ask in a proper manner. See Barnes "Mt 7:7".

Comp. Mr 11:24; Lu 11:9; 18:1-10; Joh 14:13; 15:7; 1 Jo 5:14".

The declaration here made must be understood with these limitations:

(1.) that we ask in a proper manner, Jas 4:3; and,

(2,) that the thing asked shall be such as will be consistent for God to give; that is, such as he shall see to be best for us, 1 Jo 5:14. See Barnes "1 Jo 5:14".

Because we keep his commandments. Not that this is the meritorious ground of our being heard, but that it furnishes evidence that we are his children, and he hears his children as such.

And do those things that are pleasing in his sight. As a parent is disposed to bestow favours on obedient, affectionate, and dutiful children, so God is on those who please him by their obedience and submission to his will. We can have no hope that he will hear us unless we do so live as to please him.

{d} "whatsoever" Ps 145:18,19; Pr 15:29; Mr 11:24


Verse 23. And this is his commandment. His commandment, by way of eminence; the leading, principal thing which he enjoins on us; the commandment which lies at the foundation of all true obedience.

That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ. See Barnes "Mr 16:16".

Comp. Joh 16:1; Ac 16:31.

And love one another, etc. This follows from the other, and hence they are mentioned as together constituting his commandment. See Barnes "Joh 13:36".

{e} "this is his commandment" De 18:15-19; Joh 14:1


Verse 24. And he that keepeth his commandments, etc. See Barnes "Joh 14:23".

And hereby we know that he abideth in us. That is, this is another certain evidence that we are true Christians. The Saviour had promised (Joh 14:23) that he would come and take up his abode with his which people. John says that we have proof that he does this by the Spirit he has given us. That is, the Holy Spirit is imparted to his people to enlighten their minds; to elevate their affections; to sustain them in times of trial; to quicken them in the performance of duty; and to imbue them with the temper and spirit of the Lord Jesus. When these effects exist, we may be certain that the Spirit of God is with us; for these are the "fruits" of that Spirit, or these are the effects which he produces in the lives of men. Comp. See Barnes "Ga 5:22, See Barnes "Ga 5:23".

On the evidence of piety here referred to, See Barnes "Ro 8:9, See Barnes "Ro 8:14, See Barnes "Ro 8:16".

No man can be a true Christian in whom that Spirit does not constantly dwell, or to whom he is not "given." And yet no one can determine that the Spirit dwells in him, except by the effects produced in his heart and life. In the following chapter, the apostle pursues the subject suggested here, and shows that we should examine ourselves closely, to see whether the "Spirit" to which we trust, as furnishing evidence of piety, is truly the Spirit of God, or is a spirit of delusion.

{f} "he that keepeth" Joh 14:23; 15:10

{g} "hereby" Ro 8:9,14



THERE are two principal subjects discussed in this chapter:—

I. The method by which we may determine that we have the Spirit of God, 1 Jo 4:1-6. The apostle had said (1 Jo 3:24) that it could be determined that God dwells in them by the Spirit which he has given them; but as it is probable that the teachers of error, the persons whom John regarded as "antichrist," (1 Jo 2:18,19,) would lay claim to the same thing, it was important to know how it could be ascertained that the Spirit of God had been really given to them, or how it could be determined that the spirit that was in them was not the spirit of antichrist, the very thing against which he would guard them. In doing this, he

(1.) cautions them against trusting to every kind of spirit, or supposing that every spirit which animated even the professed friends of religion was the Spirit of God, 1 Jo 4:1; and

(2.) he shows them how it might be determined that they had really the Spirit of God, or what would, be the effect of the influences of the Spirit on the mind. This evidence consisted of the following things:

(a.) they had the Spirit of God who confessed that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, 1 Jo 4:2;

(b.) they who denied that, had not the Spirit of God, and the denial of this was the real spirit of antichrist, 1 Jo 4:3;

(c.) they who had the Spirit of God had not the spirit of this world, 1 Jo 4:4,5; and

(d.) they who had the Spirit of God would hear those who were his apostles, or who were sent by him, 1 Jo 4:6.

II. The duty, power, and influence of love, 1 Jo 4:7-21. This is a favourite subject with John, and he here considers it at length, as a subject that was essential in determining the evidences of piety. The duty and value of love are enforced by the following considerations:

(1.) Love has its origin in God, and every one who has true love is born of God, 1 Jo 4:7,8.

(2.) God has shown his great love to us by having given his Son to die for us; and as he has so loved us, we ought also to love one another, 1 Jo 4:9-11.

(3.) If we love one another, it furnishes the best evidence that God dwells in us, 1 Jo 4:12-15.

(4.) God is love, and if we have true love we dwell in him, and he dwells in us, 1 Jo 4:16.

(5.) Love will furnish us great advantage in the day of judgment, by giving us confidence when we come before him, 1 Jo 4:17.

(6.) Love will cast out all fear, and will make our minds calm in view of the events which are to come, 1 Jo 4:18.

(7.) The very fact that he has first manifested his love to us should lead us to the exercise of love, 1 Jo 4:19

(8.) A man cannot truly love God and yet hate his brother, 1 Jo 4:20; and

(9.) it is the solemn command of God that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Verse 1. Beloved, believe not every spirit. Do not confide implicitly in every one who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Comp. Mt 24:4,5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because any one claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to Divine inspiration, or to being authorized teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.

But try the spirits whether they are of God. There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of "discerning Spirits," (See Barnes "1 Co 12:10,) but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, (1 Jo 4:6,) they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No man should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See Barnes "Isa 8:20, and See Barnes "Ac 17:11".

Because many false prophets are gone out into the world. The word prophet is often used in the New Testament to denote religious instructors or preachers. See Barnes "Ro 12:6".

Compare See Barnes "2 Pe 2:1".

Such false teachers evidently abounded in the times here referred to. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:18".

The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 Jo 4:3.

{a} "Believe not" Jer 29:8; Mt 24:4

{b} "try the spirits" 1 Th 5:21; Re 2:2


Verse 2. Hereby. Gr., "By this;" that is, by the test which is immediately specified. Know ye the Spirit of God. You may discern who are actuated by the Spirit of God. Every spirit. Every one professing to be under the influence of the Spirit of God. The apostle uses the word spirit here with reference to the person who made the claim, on the supposition that every one professing to be a religious teacher was animated by some spirit or foreign influence, good or bad. If the Spirit of God influenced them, they would confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh; if some other spirit, the spirit of error and deceit, they would deny this.

That confesseth. That is, that makes a proper acknowledgment of this; that inculcates this doctrine, and that gives it a due place and prominence in his instructions. It cannot be supposed that a mere statement of this in words would show that they were of God in the sense that they were true Christians; but the sense is, that if this constituted one of the doctrines which they held and taught, it would show that they were advocates of truth, and not apostles of error. If they did not do this, (1 Jo 4:3,) it would be decisive in regard to their character and claims.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Benson and some others propose to render this, "That Jesus, who came in the flesh, is the Christ." But this is liable to serious objections.

(1.) It is not the obvious interpretation.

(2.) It is unusual to say that "Jesus had come in the flesh," though the expression "the Son of God has come in the flesh," or "God was manifested in the flesh," would be in accordance with the usage of the New Testament.

(3.) This would not, probably, meet the real point in the case. The thing denied does not appear to have been that Jesus was the Messiah, for their pretending to be Christian teachers at all implied that they admitted this; but that the Son of God was really a man, or that he actually assumed human nature in permanent union with the Divine. The point of the remark made by the apostle is, that the acknowledgment was to be that Christ assumed human nature; that he was really a man as he appeared to be; or that there was a real incarnation, in opposition to the opinion that he came in appearance only, or that he merely seemed to be a man, and to suffer and die. That this opinion was held by many, see the Intro. & III. 2. It is quite probable that the apostle here refers to such sentiments as those which were held by the Docetae; and that he meant to teach that it was indispensable to proper evidence that any one came from God, that he should maintain that Jesus was truly a man, or that there was a real incarnation of the Son of God. John always regarded this as a very important point, and often refers to it, Joh 19:34,35; 20:25-27

1 Jo 5:6. It is as important to be held now as it was then, for the fact that there was a real incarnation is essential to all just views of the atonement. If he was not truly a man, if he did not literally shed his blood on the cross, of course all that was done was in appearance only, and the whole system of redemption as revealed was merely a splendid illusion. There is little danger that this opinion will be held now, for those who depart from the doctrine laid down in the New Testament in regard to the person and work of Christ, are more disposed to embrace the opinion that he was a mere man; but still it is important that the truth that he was truly incarnate should be held up constantly before the mind, for in no other way can we obtain just views of the atonement. Is of God. This does not necessarily mean that every one who confessed this was personally a true Christian, for it is clear that a doctrine might be acknowledged to be true, and yet that the heart might not be changed; nor does it mean that the acknowledgment of this truth was all which it was essential to be believed in order that one might, be recognised as a Christian; but it means that it was essential that this truth should be admitted by every one who truly came from God. They who taught this held a truth which he had revealed, and which was essential to be held; and they thus showed that they did not belong to those to whom the name "antichrist" could be properly given. Still, whether they held this doctrine in such a sense, and in such connexion with other doctrines, as to show that they were sincere Christians, was quite another question, for it is plain that a man may hold and teach the true doctrines of religion, and yet have no evidence that he is a child of God.

{d} "spirit" 1 Co 12:3


Verse 3. And every spirit that confesseth not, etc. That is, this doctrine is essential to the Christian system; and he who does not hold it cannot be regarded either as a Christian, or recognised as a Christian teacher, if he was not a man, then all that occurred in his life, in Gethsemane, and on the cross, was in appearance only, and was assumed only to delude the senses. There were no real sufferings; there was no shedding of blood; there was no death on the cross; and, of course, there was no atonement. A mere show, an appearance assumed, a vision, could not make atonement for sin; and a denial, therefore, of the doctrine that the Son of God had come in the flesh, was in fact a denial of the doctrine of expiation for sin. The Latin Vulgate here reads qui solvit Jesure, "who dissolves or divides Jesus;" and Socrates (H. E. vii. 32) says that in the old copies of the New Testament it is written o liei ton ihsoun, "who dissolves or divides Jesus;" that is, who separates his true nature or person, or who supposes that there were two Christs, one in appearance, and one in reality. This reading was early found in some Mss., and is referred to by many of the Fathers, (see Wetstein,) but it has no real authority, and was evidently introduced, perhaps at first from a marginal note, to oppose the prevailing errors of the times. The common reading, "who confesseth not," is found in all the Gr. Mss., in the Syriac versions, in the Arabic; and, as Lucke says, the other reading is manifestly of Latin origin. The common reading in the text is that which is sustained by authority, and is entirely in accordance with the manner of John.

And this is that spirit of anti-christ. This is one of the things which characterize antichrist. John here refers not to an individual who should be known as antichrist, but to a class of persons, This does not, however, forbid the idea that there might be some one individual, or a succession of persons in the church, to whom the name might be applied by way of eminence. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:18".

Comp. See Barnes "2 Th 2:3, seq.

Wherefore ye have heard that it should come. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:18".


Verse 4. Ye are of God. You are of his family; you have embraced his truth, and imbibed his Spirit.

Little children. See Barnes "2 Jo 2:1".

And have overcome them. Have triumphed over their arts and temptations; their endeavours to draw you into error and sin. The word "them" in this place seems to refer to the False prophets or teachers who collectively constituted antichrist. The meaning is, that they had frustrated or thwarted all their attempts to turn them away from the truth. Because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. God, who dwells in your hearts, and by whose strength and grace alone you have been enabled to achieve this victory, is more mighty, than Satan, who rules in the hearts of the people of this world, and whose seductive arts are seen in the efforts of these false teachers. The apostle meant to say that it was by no power of their own that they achieved this victory, but it was to be traced solely to the fact that God dwelt among them, and had preserved them by his grace. What was true then is true now. He who dwells in the hearts of Christians by his Spirit, is infinitely, more mighty than Satan, "the ruler of the darkness of this world; and victory, therefore, over all his arts and temptations may be sure. In his conflicts with sin, temptation, and error, the Christian should never despair, for his God will insure him the victory.

(*) "children" "My children"


Verse 5. They are of the world. This was one of the marks by which those who had the spirit of antichrist might be known. They belonged not to the church of God, but to the world. They had its spirit; they acted on its principles; they lived for it. Comp. See Barnes "2 Jo 2:15".

Therefore speak they of the world. Compare See Barnes "Joh 3:21".

This may mean either that their conversation pertained to the things of this world, or that they were wholly influenced by the love of the world, and not by the Spirit of God, in the doctrines which they taught. The general sense is, that they had no higher ends and aims than they have who are influenced only by worldly plans and expectations. It is not difficult to distinguish, even among professed Christians and Christian teachers, those who are heavenly in their conversation from those who are influenced solely by the spirit of the world. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and the general turn of a man's conversation will show what "spirit is within him."

And the world heareth them. The people of the world—the gay, the rich, the proud, the ambitious, the sensual—receive their instructions, and recognise them as teachers and guides, for their views accord with their own. See Barnes "Joh 15:19".

A professedly religious teacher may always determine much about himself by knowing what class of people are pleased with him. A professed Christian of any station in life may determine much about his evidences of piety, by asking himself what kind of persons desire his friendship, and wish him for a companion.

{b} "world" Joh 3:31


Verse 6. We are of God. John here, doubtless, refers to himself, and to those who taught the same doctrines which he did. He takes it for granted that those to whom he wrote would admit this, and argues from it as an indisputable truth, lie had given them such evidence of this, as to establish his character and claims beyond a doubt; and he often refers to the fact that he was what he claimed to be, as a point which was so well established that no one would call it in question. See Joh 19:35; 21:24; 3 Jo 1:12.

Paul, also, not unfrequently refers to the same thing respecting himself; to the fact—a fact which no one would presume to call in question, and which might be regarded as the basis of an argument—that he and his fellow-apostles were what they claimed to be. See 1 Co 15:14,15; 1 Th 2:1-11.

Might not, and ought not, all Christians, and all Christian ministers, so to live that the same thing might be assumed in regard to them in their intercourse with their fellow- men; that their characters for integrity and purity might be so clear that no one would be disposed to call them in question? There are such men in the church and in the ministry now; why might not all be such?

He that knoweth God, heareth us. Every one that has a true acquaintance with the character of God will receive our doctrine. John might assume this, for it was not doubted, he presumed, that he was an apostle and a good man; and if this were admitted, it would follow that those who feared and loved God would receive what he taught.

Hereby. By this; to wit, by the manner in which they receive the doctrines which we have taught.

Know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. We can distinguish those who embrace the truth from those who do not. Whatever pretensions they might set up for piety, it was clear that if they did not embrace the doctrines taught by the true apostles of God, they could not be regarded as his friends; that is, as true Christians. It may be added that the same test is applicable now. They who do not receive the plain doctrines laid down in the word of God, whatever pretensions they may make to piety, or whatever zeal they may envice in the cause which they have espoused, can have no well-founded claims to the name Christian. One of the clearest evidences of true piety is a readiness to receive all that God has taught. Comp. Mt 18:1-3; Mr 10:15 Jas 1:19-21.

{c} "Hereby" Isa 8:20


Verse 7. Beloved, let us love one another. This verse introduces a new topic, the consideration of which occupies the remainder of the chapter. See the Analysis. The subject is one on which John dwells more than on any other—that of love. His own character peculiarly inclined him to the exercise of love; and the remarkable affection which the Lord Jesus had shown for him, seems to have had the effect to give this grace a peculiar prominence in his views of what constituted true religion. Compare Joh 13:23. On the duty here enjoined, See Barnes "Joh 13:34, See Barnes "Joh 13:36, and See Barnes "1 Jo 3:11, See Barnes "1 Jo 3:23".

For love is of God.

(1.) All true love has its origin in God.

(2.) Real love shows that we have his Spirit, and that we belong to him.

(3.) It assimilates us to God, or makes us more and more like him. What is here said by the apostle is based on the truth of what he elsewhere affirms, (1 Jo 3:8), that God is love. Hatred, envy, wrath, malice, all have their source in something else than God. He neither originates them, commends them, nor approves them.

And every one that loveth, is born of God. Is a regenerated man. That is, every one who has true love to Christians as such, or true brotherly love, is a true Christian. This cannot mean that every one that loves his wife and children, his classmate, his partner in business, or his friend—his house, or his farms, or his horses, or his hounds, is a child of God; it must be understood as referring to the point under discussion. A man may have a great deal of natural affection towards his kindred; a great deal of benevolence in his character towards the poor and needy, and still he may have none of the love to which John refers. He may have no real love to God, to the Saviour, or to the children of God as such; and it would be absurd for such a one to argue because he loves his wife and children that therefore he loves God, or is born again.

{d} "love" 1 Jo 3:11,23


Verse 8. He that loveth not, knoweth not God. Has no true acquaintance with God; has no just views of him, and no right feelings towards him. The reason for this is implied in what is immediately stated, that "God is love," and of course if they have no love reigning in their hearts they cannot pretend to be like him.

For God is love. He is not merely benevolent, he is benevolence itself. Compare See Barnes "2 Co 13:11".

Never was a more important declaration made than this; never was more meaning crowded into a few words than in this short sentence—God is love. In the darkness of this world of sin—in all the sorrows that come now upon the race, and that will come upon the wicked hereafter—we have the assurance that a God of infinite benevolence rules over all; and though we may not be able to reconcile all that occurs with this declaration, or see how the things which he has permitted to take place are consistent with it, yet in the exercise of faith on his own declarations we may find consolation in believing that it is so, and may look forward to a period when all his universe shall see it to be so. In the midst of all that occurs on the earth of sadness, sin, and sorrow, there are abundant evidences that God is love. In the original structure of things before sin entered, when all was pronounced "good;" in the things designed to promote happiness, where the only thing contemplated is happiness, and where it would have been as easy to have caused pain; in the preservation of a guilty race, and in granting that race the opportunity of another trial; in the ceaseless provision which God is making in his providence for the wants of unnumbered millions of his creatures; in the arrangements made to alleviate sorrow, and to put an end to it; in the gift of a Saviour more than all, and in the offer of eternal life on terms simple and easy to be complied with—in all these things, which are the mere expressions of love, not one of which would have been found under the government of a malignant being, we see illustrations of the sublime and glorious sentiment before us, that "God is love." Even in this world of confusion, disorder, and darkness, we have evidence sufficient to prove that he is benevolent, but the full glory and meaning of that truth will be seen only in heaven. Meantime let us hold on to the truth that he is love. Let us believe that he sincerely desires our good, and that what seems dark to us may be designed for our welfare; and amidst all the sorrows and disappointments of the present life, let us feel that our interests and our destiny are in the hands of the God of love.

{a} "love" 1 Jo 4:16; 2 Co 13:11


Verse 9. In this was manifested the love of God. That is, in an eminent manner, or this was a most signal proof of it. The apostle does not mean to say that it has been manifested in no other way, but that this was so prominent an instance of his love, that all the other manifestations of it seemed absorbed and lost in this.

Because that God sent his only begotten Son, etc. See Barnes "Joh 3:16".

That we might live through him. He died that we might have eternal life through the merits of his sacrifice. The measure of that love, then, which was manifested in the gift of a Saviour, is to be found,

(1.) in the worth of the soul;

(2.) in its exposure to eternal death;

(3.) in the greatness of the gift;

(4.) in the greatness of his sorrows for us; and,

(5.) in the immortal blessedness and joy to which he will raise us. Who can estimate all this? All these things will magnify themselves as we draw near to eternity; and in that eternity to which we go, whether saved or lost, we shall have an ever-expanding view of the wonderful love of God.

{b} "In this" Joh 3:16

{c} "that we might" Joh 6:51


Verse 10. Herein is love. In this great gift is the highest expression of love, as if it had done all that it can do.

Not that we loved God. Not that we were in such a state that we might suppose he would make such a sacrifice for us, but just the opposite. If we had loved and obeyed him, we might have had reason to believe that he would be willing to show his love to us in a corresponding manner. But we were alienated from him. We had even no desire for his friendship and favour. In this state he showed the greatness of his love for us by giving his Son to die for his enemies. See Barnes "Ro 5:7, See Barnes "Ro 5:8".

But that he loved us. Not that he approved our character, but that he desired our welfare. He loved us not with the love of complacency, but with the love of benevolence.

And sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. On the meaning of the word propitiation, see See Barnes "Ro 3:25".

Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 2:2".

{d} "propitiation" 1 Jo 2:2


Verse 11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

(1.) Because he is so much exalted above us, and if he has loved those who were so inferior and so unworthy, we ought to love those who are on a level with us;

(2.) because it is only in this way that we can show that we have his Spirit; and,

(3.) because it is the nature of love to seek the happiness of all. There are much stronger reasons why we should love one another than there were why God should love us; and unless we do this, we can have no evidence that we are his children.

{e} "if God" Mt 18:33; Joh 15:12,13


Verse 12. No man hath seen God at any time. See Barnes "Joh 1:18, where the same declaration occurs. The statement seems to be made here in order to introduce a remark to show in what way we may know that we have any true knowledge of God. The idea is, "He has never indeed been seen by mortal eyes. We are not then, to expect to become acquainted with what he is in that way. But there is a method by which we may be assured that we have a true knowledge of him, and that is, by evidence that we love another, and by the presence of his Spirit in our hearts. We cannot become acquainted with him by sight, but we may by love." If we love one another, God dwelleth in us. Though we cannot see him, yet there is a way by which we may be assured that he is near us, and that he even dwells in us. That way is by the exercise of love. Comp. See Barnes "Joh 14:23, See Barnes "Joh 14:24".

And his love is perfected in us. Is carried out to completion. That is, our love for each other is the proper exponent of love to him reigning in our hearts. The idea here is not that we are absolutely perfect, or even that our love is perfect, whatever may be true on those points, but that this love to others is the proper carrying out of our love towards him; that is, without this our love to him would not have accomplished what it was adapted and designed to do. Unless it produced this effect, it would be defective or incomplete. Compare 1 Jo 4:17. The general sense is this: "We claim to have the love of God in our hearts, or that we are influenced and controlled by love. But however high and exalted that may seem to be as exercised toward God, it would be defective; it would not exert a fair influence over us, unless it led us to love our Christian brethren. It would be like the love which we might profess to have for a father, if it did not lead us to love our brothers and sisters. True love will diffuse itself over all who come within its range, and will thus become complete and entire." This the it passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to demonstrate doctrine of sinless perfection, or to prove that Christians are ever absolutely perfect in this life. It proves only that love to God is not complete, or fully developed, unless it leads those who profess to have to love each other. See Barnes "Job 1:1".

On the meaning of the Greek word here used, (teleiow,) See Barnes "Php 3:12".
See Barnes "Heb 2:10".

{f} "No man" 1 Ti 6:16

{g} "perfected" 1 Co 13:13


Verse 13. Hereby know we that we dwell in him. Here is another, or an additional evidence of it.

Because he hath given us of his Spirit. He has imparted the influences of that Spirit to our souls, producing "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith," etc., Ga 5:22,23. It was one of the promises which the Lord Jesus made to his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them after he should be withdrawn from them, (Joh 14:16,17,26; Joh 15:26; 16:7; ) and one of the clearest evidences which we can have that we are the children of God, is derived from the influences of that Spirit on our hearts. See this sentiment illustrated in the See Barnes "Ro 8:16".

{h} "Hereby" Joh 14:20; 1 Jo 3:24


Verse 14. And we have seen. See Barnes "1 Jo 1:1".

And do testify. See Barnes "1 Jo 1:3".

That is, we who are apostles bear witness to you of this great truth, that God has sent his Son to be a Saviour. Comp. See Barnes "Joh 20:31".

The reason why this is referred to here is not quite apparent, but the train of thought in this passage would seem to be this: The writer is discoursing of the love of God, and of its manifestation in the gift of the Saviour, and of the proper influence which it should have on us. Struck with the greatness and importance of the subject, his mind adverts to the evidence on which what he was saying rested—the evidence that the Father had really thus manifested his love. That evidence he repeats, that he had actually seen him who had been sent, and had the clearest demonstration that what he deemed so important had really occurred.


Verse 15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God. In the true sense, and from the heart. This will always prove that a man is a Christian. But the passage cannot mean that if he merely says so in words, or if he does it insincerely, or without any proper sense of the truth, it will prove that he is a Christian. On the meaning of the sentiment here expressed, See Barnes "1 Jo 4:2".

Comp. See Barnes "Ro 10:10".

{a} "Whosoever" Ro 10:9


Verse 16. And we have known and believed, etc. We all have assurance that God has loved us, and the fullest belief in the great fact of redemption by which he has manifested his love to us. God is love. See Barnes "1 Jo 4:8".

It is not uncommon for John to repeat an important truth. He delights to dwell on such a truth as that which is here expressed; and who should not? What truth is there on which the mind can dwell with more pleasure; what is there that is better fitted to win the heart to holiness; what that will do more to sustain the soul in the sorrows and trials of this life? In our trials; in the darkness which is around us; in the perplexities which meet and embarrass us in regard to the Divine administration; in all that seems to us incomprehensible in this world, and in the prospect of the next, let us learn to repeat this declaration of the favoured disciple, "God is love." What trials may we not bear, if we feel assured of that! What dark cloud that seems to hang over our way, and to involve all things in gloom, will not be bright, if from the depths of our souls we can always say, "God is love!"

And he that dwelleth in love, etc. Religion is all love. God is love; he has loved us; we are to love him; we are to love one another; we are to love the whole world. Heaven is filled with love, and there is nothing else there. The earth is filled with love just as far as religion prevails, and would be entirely if it should prevail everywhere. Love would remove all the corrupt passions, the crimes, the jealousies, the wars on the earth, and would diffuse around the globe the bliss of heaven. If a man, therefore, is actuated by this, he has the spirit of the heavenly world reigning in his soul, and lives in an atmosphere of love.

{b} "God is love" 1 Jo 4:8


Verse 17. Herein is our love made perfect. Marg., love with usmey hmwn. The meaning is, "the love that is within us, or in us, is made perfect." The expression is unusual; but the general idea is, that love is rendered complete or entire in the manner in which the apostle specifies. In this way love becomes what it should be, and will prepare us to appear with confidence before the judgment-seat. Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 4:12".

That we may have boldness in the day of judgment. By the influence of love in delivering us from the fear of the wrath to come, 1 Jo 4:18. The idea is, that he who has true love to God will have nothing to fear in the day of judgment, and may even approach the awful tribunal where he is to receive the sentence which shall determine his everlasting destiny without alarm.

Because as he is, so are we in this world. That is, we have the same traits of character which the Saviour had, and, resembling him, we need not be alarmed at the prospect of meeting him.

{1} "Herein is our love" "love with us"


Verse 18. There is no fear in love. Love is not an affection which produces fear. In the love which we have for a parent, a child, a friend, there is no fear. If a man had perfect love to God, he would have no fear of anything—for what would he have to dread? He would have no fear of death, for he would have nothing to dread beyond the grave. It is guilt that makes men fear what is to come; but he whose sins are pardoned, and whose heart is filled with the love of God, has nothing to dread in this world or the world to come. The angels in heaven, who have always loved God and one another, have no fear, for they have nothing to dread in the future; the redeemed in heaven, rescued from all danger, and filled with the love of God, have nothing to dread; and as far as that same loves operates on earth, it delivers the soul now from all apprehension of what is to come.

But perfect love casteth out fear. That is, love that is complete, or that is allowed to exert its proper influence on the soul. As far as it exists, its tendency is to deliver the mind from alarms. If it should exist in any soul in an absolutely perfect state, that soul would be entirely free from all dread in regard to the future.

Because fear hath torment. It is a painful and distressing emotion. Thus men suffer from the fear of poverty, of losses, of bereavement, of sickness, of death, and of future woe. From all these distressing apprehensions, that love of God which furnishes an evidence of true piety delivers us.

He that feareth, is not made perfect in love. He about whose mind there lingers the apprehension of future wrath, shows that love in his soul has not accomplished its full work. Perhaps it never will on any soul until we reach the heavenly world, though there are many minds so full of love to God, as to be prevailingly delivered from fear.


Verse 19. We love him, because he first loved us. This passage is susceptible of two explanations; either

(1.) that the fact that he first loved us is the ground or reason why we love him, or

(2.) that as a matter of fact we have been brought to love him in consequence of the love which he has manifested towards us, though the real ground of our love may be the excellency of his own character. If the former be the meaning, and if that were the only ground of love, then it would be mere selfishness, (comp. Mt 5:46,47;) and it cannot be believed that John meant to teach that that is the only reason of our love to God. It is true, indeed, that that is a proper ground of love, or that we are bound to love God in proportion to the benefits which we have received from his hand; but still genuine love to God is something which cannot be explained by the mere fact that we have received favours from him. The true, the original ground of love to God, is the excellence of his own character, apart from the question whether we are to be benefited or not. There is that in the Divine nature which a holy being will love, apart from the benefits which he is to receive, and from any thought even of his own destiny. It seems to me, therefore, that John must have meant here, in accordance with the second interpretation suggested above, that the fact that we love God is to be traced to the means which he has used to bring us to himself, but without saying that this is the sole or even the main reason why we love him. It was his love manifested to us by sending his Son to redeem us which will explain the fact that we now love him; but still the real ground or reason why we love him is the infinite excellence of his own character. It should be added here, that many suppose that the Greek words rendered "we love" (hmeiv agapwmen) are not in the indicative, but in the subjunctive; and that this is an exhortation—"let us love him, because he first loved us;" So the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate read it; and so it is understood by Benson, Grotius, and Bloomfield. The main idea would not be essentially different; and it is a proper ground of exhortation to love God because he has loved us, though the highest ground is, because his character is infinitely worthy of love.

{c} "he first loved us" Joh 15:16


Verse 20. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother. His Christian brother; or, in a larger sense, any man. The sense is, that no man, whatever may be his professions and pretensions, can have any true love to God, unless he love his brethren.

He is a liar. Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 1:6".

It is not necessary, in order to a proper interpretation of this passage, to suppose that he intentionally deceives. The sense is, that this must be a false profession. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, etc. It is more reasonable to expect that we should love one whom we have seen and known personally, than that we should love one whom we have not seen. The apostle is arguing from human nature as it is, and every one feels that we are more likely to love one with whom we are familiar than one who is a stranger. If a professed Christian, therefore, does not love one who bears the Divine image, whom he sees and knows, how can he love that God whose image he bears, whom he has not seen? Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:17".

{d} "how can" 1 Jo 3:17


Verse 21. And this commandment have we from him. That is, the command to love a brother is as obligatory as that to love God. If one is obeyed, the other ought to be also; if a man feels that one is binding on him, he should feel that the other is also; and he can never have evidence that he is a true Christian, unless he manifests love to his brethren as well as love to God.

See Barnes "Jas 2:10".

That he who loveth God love his brother also. See Barnes "Joh 13:34, See Barnes "Joh 13:35".

Comp. Joh 15:12,17.

{e} "That he who loveth" Joh 13:34


I John Chapter 5


THIS chapter embraces the following subjects:

I. A continuance of the discussion about love, 1 Jo 5:1-3. These verses should have been attached to the previous chapter.

II. The victory which is achieved over the world by those who are born of God. The grand instrumentality by which this is done, is by the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, 1 Jo 5:4,5.

III. The evidence that Jesus is the Son of God; or the means by which that truth is so believed as to secure a victory over the world, 1 Jo 5:6-12. In this part of the chapter the apostle goes fully into the nature of this evidence, or the ways in which the Christian becomes so thoroughly convinced of it as to give to faith this power. He refers to these sources of evidence:

(a.) The witness of the Spirit, 1 Jo 5:6.

(b.) The record borne in heaven, 1 Jo 5:7—if that verse be genuine.

(c.) The evidence borne on earth, by the Spirit, the water, and the blood—all bearing witness to that one truth.

(d.) The credit which is due to the testimony of God, or which the soul pays to it, 1 Jo 5:8.

(e.) The fact that he who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself, 1 Jo 5:10.

(f.) The amount of the record, that God has given to us eternal life through his Son, 1 Jo 5:11,12.

IV. The reason why all this was written by the apostle, 1 Jo 5:13. It was that they might know that they had eternal life, and might believe on the name of the Saviour.

V. The effect of this in leading us to the throne of grace, with the assurance that God will hear us, and will grant our requests, 1 Jo 5:14,15.

VI. The power of prayer, and the duty of praying for those who have sinned. The encouragement to this is, that there are many sins which are not unto death, and that we may hope that God will be merciful to those who have not committed the unpardonable offence, 1 Jo 5:16,17.

VII. A summary of all that the apostle had said to them, or of the points of which they were sure in the matter of salvation, 1 Jo 5:18-20. They knew that those who are born of God do not sin; that the wicked one cannot permanently injure them; that they were of God, while all the world lay in wickedness; that the Son of God had come, and that they were truly united to that Saviour who is the true God, and who is eternal life.

VIII. An exhortation to keep themselves from all idolatry, 1 Jo 5:21.

Verse 1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ. Is the Messiah; the anointed of God. On the meaning of the word Christ, See Barnes "Mt 1:1".

Of course it is meant here that the proposition, that "Jesus is the Christ," should be believed or received in the true and proper sense, in order to furnish evidence that any one is born of God. Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 4:3".

It cannot be supposed that a mere intellectual acknowledgment of the proposition that Jesus is the Messiah is all that is meant, for that is not the proper meaning of the word believe in the Scriptures. That word, in its just sense, implies that the truth which is believed should make its fair and legitimate impression on the mind, or that we should feel and act as if it were true. See Barnes "Mr 16:16".

If, in the proper sense of the phrase, a man does believe that Jesus is the Christ, receiving him as he is revealed as the Anointed of God, and a Saviour, it is undoubtedly true that that constitutes him a Christian, for that is what is required of a man in order that he may be saved. See Barnes "Ac 8:37".

Is born of God. Or rather, "is begotten of God." See Barnes "Joh 3:3".

And every one that loveth him that begat. That loves that God who has thus begotten those whom he has received as his children, and to whom he sustains the endearing relation of Father. Loveth him also that is begotten of him. That is, he will love all the true children of God; all Christians. See Barnes "1 Jo 4:20".

The general idea is, that as all Christians are the children of the same Father; as they constitute one family; as they all bear the same image; as they share his favour alike; as they are under the same obligation of gratitude to him, and are bound to promote the same common cause, and are to dwell together in the same home for ever, they should therefore love one another. As all the children in a family love their common father, so it should be in the great family of which God is the Head.

{a} "Whosoever believeth" Joh 1:12,13


Verse 2. By this we know that we love the children of God, etc. This is repeating the same truth in another form. "As it is universally true that if we love him who has begotten us, we shall also love his children, or our Christian brethren, so it is true also that if we love his children it will follow that we love him." In other places, the apostle says that we may know that we love God if we love those who bear his image, 1 Jo 3:14. He here says, that there is another way of determining what we are. We may have undoubted evidence that we love God, and from that, as the basis of an argument, we may infer that we have true love to his children. Of the fact that we may have evidence that we love God, apart from that which we derive from our love to his children, there can be no doubt. We may be conscious of it; we may find pleasure in meditating on his perfections; we may feel sure that we are moved to obey him by true attachment to him, as a child may in reference to a father. But, it may be asked, how can it be inferred from this that we truly love his children? Is it not more easy to ascertain this of itself than it ia to determine whether we love God? Comp. 1 Jo 4:20. To this it may be answered, that we may love Christians from many motives: we may love them as personal friends; we may love them because they belong to our church, or sect, or party; we may love them because they are naturally amiable: but the apostle says here, that when we are conscious that an attachment does exist towards Christians, we may ascertain that it is genuine, or that it does not proceed from any improper motive, by the fact that we love God. We shall then love him as his children, whatever other grounds of affection there may be towards them.

And keep his commandments. See Barnes "Joh 14:16"


Verse 3. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. This constitutes true love; this furnishes the evidence of it. And his commandments are not grievous. Greek, heavy—bareiai; that is, difficult to be borne as a burden. See Mt 11:30. The meaning is, that his laws are not unreasonable; the duties which he requires are not beyond our ability; his government is not oppressive. It is easy to obey God when the heart is right; and those who endeavour in sincerity to keep his commandments do not complain that they are hard. All complaints of this kind come from those who are not disposed to keep his commandments. They, indeed, object that his laws are unreasonable; that they impose improper restraints; that they are not easily complied with; and that the Divine government is one of severity and injustice. But no such complaints come from true Christians. They find his service easier than the service of sin, and the laws of God more mild and easy to be complied with than were those of fashion and honour, which they once endeavoured to obey. The service of God is freedom; the service of the world is bondage. No man ever yet heard a true Christian say that the laws of God, requiring him to lead a holy life, were stern and "grievous." But who has not felt this in regard to the inexorable laws of sin? What votary of the world would not say this if he spoke his real sentiments? Comp. Notes, Joh 8:32.

{b} "that we keep" Joh 14:15,21

{c} "not grievous" Ps 119:45; Mt 11:30


Verse 4. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world. The world, in its maxims, and precepts, and customs, does not rule him, but he is a freeman. The idea is, that there is a conflict between religion and the world, and that in the heart of every true Christian religion secures the victory, or triumphs. In Joh 16:33, the Saviour says, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." See Barnes "Joh 6:33".

He obtained a complete triumph over him "who rules the darkness of the world," and laid the foundation for a victory by his people over all vice, error, and sin. John makes this affirmation of all who are born of God.

"Whatsoever," or, as the Greek is, "Everything which is begotten of God," (pan to gegenhmenon;) meaning to affirm, undoubtedly, that in every instance where one is truly regenerated, there is this victory over the world. See Barnes "Jas 4:4" See Barnes "1 Jo 2:15, See Barnes "1 Jo 2:16".

It is one of the settled maxims of religion, that every man who is a true Christian gains a victory over the world; and consequently a maxim as settled, that where the spirit of the world reigns supremely in the heart there is no true religion. But, if this be a true principle, how many professed Christians are there who are strangers to all claims of piety—for how many are there who are wholly governed by the spirit of this world!

And this is the victory. This is the source or means of the victory which is thus achieved. Even our faith. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Jo 5:5. He overcame the world, Joh 16:33, and it is by that faith which makes us one with him, and that imbues us with his Spirit, that we are able to do it also.

{*} "whatsoever" "whosoever"

{d} "overcometh" 1 Co 15:57


Verse 5. Who is he, etc. Where is there one who can pretend to have obtained a victory over the world, except he who believes in the Saviour? All else are worldly, and are governed by worldly aims and principles. It is true that a man may gain a victory over one worldly passion; he may subdue some one evil propensity; he may abandon the gay circle, may break away from habits of profaneness, may leave the company of the unprincipled and polluted; but still, unless he has faith in the Son of God, the spirit of the world will reign supreme in his soul in some form. The appeal which John so confidently made in his time may be as confidently made now. We may ask, as he did, where is there one who shows that he has obtained a complete victory over the world, except the true Christian? Where is there one whose end and aim is not the present life? Where is there one who shows that all his purposes in regard to this world are made subordinate to the world to come? There are those now, as there were then, who break away from one form of sin, and from one circle of sinful companions; there are those who change the ardent passions of youth for the soberness of middle or advanced life; there are those who see the folly of profaneness, and of gaiety, and intemperance; there are those who are disappointed in some scheme of ambition, and who withdraw from political conflicts; there are those who are satiated with pageantry, and who, oppressed with the cares of state, as Diocletian and Charles V. were, retire from public life; and there are those whose hearts are crushed and broken by losses, and by the death, or what is worse than death, by the ingratitude of their children, and who cease to cherish the fond hope that their family will be honoured, and their name perpetuated in those whom they tenderly loved—but still there is no victory over the world. Their deep dejection, their sadness, their brokenness of spirit, their lamentations, and their want of cheerfulness, all show that the spirit of the world still reigns in their hearts. If the calamities which have come upon them could be withdrawn; if the days of prosperity could be restored, they would show as much of the spirit of the world as ever they did, and would pursue its follies and its vanities as greedily as they had done before. Not many years or months elapse before the worldly mother who has followed one daughter to the grave, will introduce another into the gay world with all the brilliancy which fashion prescribes; not long will a worldly father mourn over the death of a son before, in the whirl of business and the exciting scenes of ambition, he will show that his heart is as much wedded to the world as it ever was. If such sorrows and disappointments conduct to the Saviour, as they sometimes do; if they lead the troubled mind to seek peace in his blood, and support in the hope of heaven, then a real victory is obtained over the world; and then, when the hand of affliction is withdrawn, it is seen that there has been a work of grace in the soul that has effectually changed all its feelings, and secured a triumph that shall be eternal.


Verse 6. This is he. This Son of God referred to in the previous verse. The object of the apostle in this verse, in connexion with 1 Jo 5:8, is to state the nature of the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. He refers to three well-known things on which he probably had insisted much in his preaching—the water, and the blood, and the Spirit. These, he says, furnished evidence on the very point which he was illustrating, by showing that that Jesus on whom they believed was the Son of God. "This," says he, "is the same one, the very person, to whom the well-known, and important testimony is borne; to him, and him alone, this undisputed things appertain, and not to any other who should claim to be the Messiah; and they all agree on the same one point," 1 Jo 5:8.

That came. o elywn. This does not mean that when he came into the world he was accompanied in some way by water and blood; but the idea is, that the water and the blood were clearly manifest during his appearing on earth, or that they were remarkable testimonials in some way to his character and work. An ambassador might be said to come with credentials; a warrior might be said to come with the spoils of victory; a prince might be said to come with the insignia of royalty; a prophet comes with signs and wonders; and the Lord Jesus might also be said to have come with power to raise the dead, and to heal disease, and to cast out devils; but John here fixes the attention on a fact so impressive and remarkable in his view as to be worthy of special remark, that he came by water and blood.

By water. There have been many opinions in regard to the meaning of this phrase. See Pool's Synopsis. Compare also Lucke, in loc. A mere reference to some of these opinions may aid in ascertaining the true interpretation.

(1.) Clement of Alexandria supposes that by water regeneration and faith were denoted, and by blood the public acknowledgment of that.

(2.) Some, and among them Wetstein, have held that the words are used to denote the fact that the Lord Jesus was truly a man, in contradistinction from the doctrine of the Docetae; and that the apostle means to say that he had all the properties of a human being—a spirit or soul, blood, and the watery humours of the body.

(3.) Grotius supposes that by his coming "by water," there is reference to his pure life, as water is the emblem of purity; and he refers to Eze 36:25; Isa 1:16; Jer 4:14.

As a sign of that purity, he says that John baptized him, Joh 1:28. A sufficient objection to this view is, that as in the corresponding word blood there is undoubted reference to blood literally, it cannot be supposed that the word water in the same connexion would be used figuratively. Moreover, as Lucke (p. 287) has remarked, water, though a symbol of purity, is never used to denote purity itself, and therefore cannot here refer to the pure life of Jesus.

(4.) Many expositors suppose that the reference is to the baptism of Jesus, and that by his "coming by water and blood," as by the latter there is undoubted reference to his death, so by the former there is reference to his baptism, or to his entrance on his public work. Of this opinion were Tertullian, Ecumenius, Theophylact, among the fathers, and Capellus, lieumann, Stroth, Lange, Ziegler, A. Clarke, Bengel, Rosenmuller, Macknight, and others, among the moderns. A leading argument for this opinion, as alleged, has been that it was then that the Spirit bare witness to him, (Mt 3:16,) and that this is what John here refers to when he says, "It is the Spirit that beareth witness," etc. To this view, Lucke urges substantially the following objections:

(a.) That if it refers to baptism, the phrase would much more appropriately express the fact that Jesus came baptizing others, if that were so, than that he was baptized himself. The phrase would be strictly applicable to John the Baptist, who came baptizing, and whose ministry was distinguished for that, (Mt 3:1;) and if Jesus had baptized in the same manner, or if this had been a prominent characteristic of his ministry, it would be applicable to him. Comp. Joh 4:2. But if it means that he was baptized, and that he came in that way "by water," it was equally true of all the apostles who were baptized, and of all others, and there was nothing so remarkable in the fact that he was baptized as to justify the prominence given to the phrase in this place.

(b.) If reference be had here, as is supposed in this view of the passage, to the "witness" that was borne to the Lord Jesus on the occasion of his baptism, then the reference should have been not to the "water" as the witness, but to the "voice that came from heaven," (Mt 3:17,) for it was that which was the witness in the case. Though this occurred at the time of the baptism, yet it was quite an independent thing, and was important enough to have been referred to. See Lucke, Com. in loc. These objections, however, are not insuperable. Though Jesus did not come baptizing others himself, (Joh 4:2,) and though the phrase would have expressed that if he had, yet, as Christian baptism began with him; as this was the first act in his entrance on public life; as it was by this that he was set apart to his work; and as he designed that this should be always the initiatory rite of his religion, there was no impropriety in saying that his "coming," or his advent in this world, was at the beginning characterized by water, and at the close by blood. Moreover, though the "witness" at his baptism was really borne by a voice from heaven, yet his baptism was the prominent thing; and if we take the baptism to denote all that in fact occurred when he was baptized, all the objections made by Lucke here vanish.

(5.) Some, by the "water" here, have understood the ordinance of baptism as it is appointed by the Saviour to be administered to his people, meaning that the ordinance was instituted by him. So Beza, Calvin, Piscator, Calovius, Wolf, Beausobre, Knapp, Lucke, and others understand it. According to this the meaning would be, that he appointed baptism by water as a symbol of the cleansing of the heart, and shed his blood to effect the ransom of man, and that thus it might be said that he "came by water and blood;" to wit, by these two things as effecting the salvation of men. But it seems improbable that the apostle should have grouped these things together in this way. For

(a.) the "blood" is that which he shed; which pertained to him personally; which he poured out for the redemption of man; and it is clear that, whatever is meant by the phrase "he came," his coming by "water" is to be understood in some sense similar to his coming by "blood;" and it seems incredible that the apostle should have joined a mere ordinance of religion in this way with the shedding of his blood, and placed them in this manner on an equality.

(b.) It cannot be supposed that John meant to attach so much importance to baptism as would be implied by this. The shedding of his blood was essential to the redemption of men; can it be supposed that the apostle meant to teach that baptism by water is equally necessary?

(c.) If this be understood of baptism, there is no natural connexion between that and the "blood" referred to; nothing by which the one would suggest the other; no reason why they should be united. If he had said that he "came" by the appointment of two ordinances for the edification of the church, "baptism and the supper," however singular such a statement might be in some respects, yet there would be a connexion, a reason why they should be suggested together. But why should baptism and the blood shed by the Saviour on the cross be grouped together as designating the principal things which characterized his coming into the world?

(6.) There remains, then, but one other interpretation; to wit, that he refers to the "water and the blood" which flowed from the side of the Saviour when he was pierced by the spear of the Roman soldier. John had himself laid great stress on this occurrence, and on the fact that he had himself witnessed it, See Barnes "Joh 19:34, (See Barnes "Joh 19:35") and as, in these epistles, he is accustomed to allude to more full statements made in his gospel, it would seem most natural to refer the phrase to that event as furnishing a clear and undoubted proof of the death of the Saviour. This would be the obvious interpretation, and would be entirely clear, if John did not immediately speak of the "water" and the "blood" as separate witnesses, each as bearing witness to an important point, as separate as the "Spirit" and the "water," or the "Spirit" and the "blood;" whereas, if he refers to the mingled water and blood flowing from his side, they both witness only the same fact, to wit, his death. There was no special significance in the water, no distinct testifying to anything different from the flowing of the blood; but together they bore witness to the one fact that he actually died. But here he seems to suppose that there is some special significance in each. "Not by water only, but by water and blood." "There are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one." These considerations seem to me to make it probable, on the whole, that the fourth opinion, above referred to, and that which has been commonly held in the Christian church, is correct, and that by the "water" the baptism of the Saviour is intended; his baptism as an emblem of his own purity; as significant of the nature of his religion; as a rite which was to be observed in his church at all times. That furnished an important attestation to the fact that he was the Messiah, (comp. See Barnes "Mt 3:15,) for it was by that that he entered on his public work, and it was then that a remarkable testimony was borne to his being the Son of God. He himself "came" thus by water as an emblem of purity; and the water used in his church in all ages in baptism, together with the "blood" and the "Spirit," bears public testimony to the pure nature of his religion. It is possible that the mention of the "water" in his baptism suggested to John also the water which flowed from the side of the Saviour at his death, intermingled with blood; and that though the primary thought, in his mind was the fact that Jesus was baptized, and that an important attestation was then given to his Messiahship, yet he may have instantly adverted to the fact that water performed so important a part, and was so important a symbol through all his work; water at his introduction to his work as an ordinance in his church, as symbolical of the nature of his religion, and even at his death, as a public attestation, in connexion with flowing blood, to the fact that he truly died, in reality, and not, as the Docetae pretended, in appearance only, thus completing the work of the Messiah, and making an atonement for the sins of the world. Comp. See Barnes "Joh 19:34, See Barnes "Joh 19:35".

And blood, referring, doubtless, to the shedding of his blood on the cross. He "came" by that; that is, he was manifested by that to men, or that was one of the forms in which he appeared to men, or by which his coming into the world was characterized. The apostle means to say that the blood shed at his death furnished an important evidence or "witness" of what he was. In what way this was done, See Barnes "1 Jo 5:8".

Not by water only, but by water and blood. John the Baptist came "by water only;" that is, he came to baptize the people, and to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was distinguished from him in the fact that his ministry was characterized by the shedding of blood, or the shedding of his blood constituted one of the peculiarities of his work. And it is this Spirit. Evidently the Holy Spirit. That beareth witness. That is, he is the great witness in the matter, confirming all others. He bears witness to the soul that Jesus came "by water and blood," for that would not be received by us without his agency. In what way he does this, See Barnes "1 Jo 5:8".

Because the Spirit is truth. Is so eminently true that he may be called truth itself, as God is so eminently benevolent that he may be called love itself. See Barnes "1 Jo 4:8".

{a} "came by" Joh 19:34


Verse 7. For there are three that bear record in heaven, etc. There are three that witness, or that bear witness—the same Greek word which, in 1 Jo 5:8, is rendered bear witness —marturountev. There is no passage of the New Testament which has given rise to so much discussion in regard to its genuineness as this. The supposed importance of the verse in its bearing on the doctrine of the Trinity has contributed to this, and has given to the discussion a degree of consequence which has pertained to the examination of the genuineness of no other passage of the New: Testament. On the one hand, the clear testimony which it seems to bear to the doctrine of the Trinity, has made that portion of the Christian church which holds the doctrine reluctant in the highest degree to abandon it; and on the other hand, the same clearness of the testimony to that doctrine, has made those who deny it not less reluctant to admit the genuineness of the passage. It is not consistent with the design of these Notes to go into a full investigation of a question of this sort. And all that can be done is to state, in a brief way, the results which have been reached, in an examination of the question. Those who are disposed to pursue the investigation further, can find all that is to be said in the works referred to at the bottom of the page.* The portion of the passage, in 1 Jo 5:7,8, whose genuineness is disputed, is included in brackets in the following quotation, as it stands in the common editions of the New Testament: "For there are three that bear record [in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one." If the disputed passage, therefore, be omitted as spurious, the whole passage will read, "For there are three that bear record, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one." The reasons which seem to me to prove that the passage included in brackets is spurious, and should not be regarded as a part of the inspired writings, are briefly the following:

I. It is wanting in all the earlier Greek manuscripts, for it is found in no Greek Ms. written before the sixteenth century. Indeed, it is found in only two Greek manuscripts of any age—one the Codex Montfortianus, or Britannicus, written in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the other the Codex Ravianus, which is a mere transcript of the text, taken partly from the third edition of Stephen's New Testament, and partly from the Complutensian Polyglott. But it is incredible that a genuine passage of the New Testament should be wanting in all the early Greek manuscripts. ,/p>

II. It is wanting in the earliest versions, and, indeed, in a large part of the versions of the New Testament which have been made in all former times. It is wanting in both the Syriac versions—one of which was made probably in the first century; in the Coptic, Armenian, Sclavonic, Ehiopic, and Arabic.

III. It is never quoted by the Greek fathers in their controversies on the doctrine of the Trinity—a passage which would be so much in point, and which could not have failed to be quoted if it were genuine; and it is not referred to by the Latin fathers until the time of Vigilius, at the end of the fifth century. If the passage were believed to be genuine—nay, if it were known at all to be in existence, and to have any probability in its favour—it is incredible that in all the controversies which occurred in regard to the Divine nature, and in all the efforts to define the doctrine of the Trinity, this passage should never have been referred to. But it never was; for it must be plain to any one who examines the subject with an unbiased mind, that the passages which are relied on to prove that it was quoted by Athanasius, Cyprian, Augustin, etc., (Wetstein, II., p. 725,) are not taken from this place, and are not such as they would have made if they had been acquainted with this passage, and had designed to quote it.

IV. The argument against the passage from the external proof is confirmed by internal evidence, which makes it morally certain that it cannot be genuine.

(a.) The connexion does not demand it. It does not contribute to advance what the apostle is saying, but breaks the thread of his argument entirely. He is speaking of certain things which bear "witness" to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah; certain things were well known to those to whom he was writing—the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. How does it contribute to strengthen the force of this to say that in heaven there are "three that bear witness"—three not before referred to, and having no connexion with the matter under consideration?

(b.) The language is not such as John would use. He does, indeed, elsewhere use the term Logos, or Word, o logov Joh 1:1,14 1 Jo 1:1, but it is never in this form, "The Father, and the Word;" that is, the terms "Father" and "Word" are never used by him, or by any of the other sacred writers, as correlative. The word Son—o uiov—is the term which is correlative to the Father in every other place as used by John, as well as by the other sacred writers. See 1 Jo 1:3; 2:22-24; 4:14; 1 Jo 3:9; and the Gospel of John, passim. Besides, the correlative of the term Logos, or Word, with John, is not Father, but God. See Joh 1:1. Comp. Re 19:13.

(c) Without this passage, the sense of the argument is clear and appropriate. There are three, says John, which bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah. These are referred to in 1 Jo 5:6; and in immediate connexion with this, in the argument, (1 Jo 5:8,) it is affirmed that their testimony goes to one point, and is harmonious. To say that there are other witnesses elsewhere, to say that they are one, contributes nothing to illustrate the nature of the testimony of these three—the water, and the blood, and the Spirit; and the internal sense of the passage, therefore, furnishes as little evidence of its genuineness as the external proof. It is easy to imagine how the passage found a place in the New Testament. It was at first written, perhaps, in the margin of some Latin manuscript, as expressing the belief of the writer of what was true in heaven, as well as on earth, and with no more intention to deceive than we have when we make a marginal note in a book. Some transcriber copied it into the body of the text, perhaps with a sincere belief that it was a genuine passage, omitted by accident; and then it became too important a passage in the argument for the Trinity, ever to be displaced but by the most clear critical evidence. It was rendered into Greek, and inserted in one Greek manuscript of the 16th century, while it was wanting in all the earlier manuscripts.

VI. The passage is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament, and regarded as spurious by the ablest critics. See Griesbach and Hahn. On the whole, therefore, the evidence seems to me to be clear that this passage is not a genuine portion of the inspired writings, and should not be appealed to in proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. One or two remarks may be made, in addition, in regard to its use.

(1.) Even on the supposition that it is genuine, as Bengel believed it was, and as he believed that some Greek manuscript would yet be found which would contain it **; yet it is not wise to adduce it as a proof-text. It would be much easier to prove the doctrine of the Trinity from other texts, than to demonstrate the genuineness of this.

(2.) It is not necessary as a proof-text. The doctrine which it contains can be abundantly established from other parts of the New Testament, by passages about which there can be no doubt.

(3.) The removal of this text does nothing to weaken the evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity, or to modify that doctrine. As it was never used to shape the early belief of the Christian world on the subject, so its rejection, and its removal from the New Testament, will do nothing to modify that doctrine. The doctrine was embraced, and held, and successfully defended without it, and it can and will be so still.

* Mill. New Test., pp. 379-386; Wetstein, II. 721—727; Father Simon, Crit. Hist. New Test.; Michaelis, Intro. New Test. iv. 412, seq.; Semler, Histor. und Krit. Sammlungen uber die sogenannten Beweistellen der Dogmatik. Erstes Stuck uber, 1 John v. 7; Griesbach, Diatribe in locum, 1 John 5:7, 8, second edit., New Test., vol. II., appendix 1; and Lucke's Commentary in loc.

** Et tamen etiam atque etiam sperare licet si non autographurn Joanneurn, at alios vetustissimos codices Graecos, qui hanc periocham habeant in occultis providentiae divine forulis adhuc latentes auo tempore productum iri.

{b} "the Father" Joh 8:18

{c} "the Word" Heb 4:12,13; Re 19:13

{d} "Holy Ghost" Joh 10:30


Verse 8. And there are three that bear witness in earth. This is a part of the text, which, if the reasoning above is correct, is to be omitted. The genuine passage reads, (1 Jo 5:7,) "For there are three that bear record, [or witness—marturountev,] the Spirit, and the water, and the blood." There is no reference to the fact that it is done "in earth." The phrase was introduced to correspond with what was said in the interpolated passage, that there are three that bear record "in heaven."

The Spirit. Evidently the Holy Spirit. The assertion here is, that that Spirit bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, 1 Jo 5:5. The testimony of the Holy Ghost to this fact is contained in the following things:

(1.) He did it at the baptism of Jesus. See Barnes "Mt 3:16, See Barnes "Mt 3:17".

(2.) Christ was eminently endowed with the influences of the Holy Spirit; as it was predicted that the Messiah would be, and as it was appropriate he should be, Isa 11:2; 61:1. Compare Lu 4:18; See Barnes "Joh 3:34".

(3.) The Holy Spirit bore witness to his Messiahship, after his ascension, by descending, according to his promise, on his apostles, and by accompanying the message which they delivered with saving power to thousands in Jerusalem, Ac 2.

(4.) He still bears the same testimony on every revival of religion, and in the conversion of every individual who becomes a Christian, convincing them that Jesus is the Son of God. Comp. Joh 16:14,15.

(5.) He does it in the hearts of all true Christians, for "no man can say that Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Ghost," 1 Co 12:3. See Barnes "1 Co 2:3".

The Spirit of God has thus always borne witness to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, and he will continue to do it to the end of time, convincing yet countless millions that he was sent from God to redeem and save lost men.

And the water. See Barnes "1 Jo 5:6".

That is, the baptism of Jesus, and the scenes which occurred when he was baptized, furnished evidence that he was the Messiah. This was done in these ways:

(1.) It was proper that the Messiah should be baptized when he entered on his work, and perhaps it was expected; and the fact that he was baptized showed that he had in fact entered on his work as Redeemer. See Barnes "Mt 3:15".

(2.) An undoubted attestation was then furnished to the fact that he was "the Son of God," by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and by the voice that addressed him from heaven, Mt 3:16,17.

(3.) His baptism with water was an emblem of the purity of his own character, and of the nature of his religion.

(4.) Perhaps it may be implied here, also, that water used in baptism now bears witness to the same thing,

(a.) as it is the ordinance appointed by the Saviour;

(b.) as it keeps up his religion in the world;

(c.) as it is a public symbol of the purity of his religion;

(d.) and as, in every case where it is administered, it is connected with the public expression of a belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

And the blood. There is undoubted allusion here to the blood shed on the cross; and the meaning is, that that blood bore witness also to the fact that he was the Son of God. This it did in the following respects:

(1.) The shedding of the blood showed that he was truly dead—that his work was complete—that he died in reality, and not in appearance only. See Barnes "Joh 19:34, See Barnes "Joh 19:36".

(2.) The remarkable circumstances that attended the shedding of this blood—the darkened sun, the earthquake, the rending of the veil of the temple —showed in a manner that convinced even the Roman centurion that he was the Son of God. See Barnes "Mt 27:54".

(3.) The fact that an atonement was thus made for sin was an important "witness" for the Saviour, showing that he had done that which the Son of God only could do, by disclosing a way by which the sinner may be pardoned, and the polluted soul be made pure.

(4.) Perhaps, also, there may be here an allusion to the Lord's Supper, as designed to set forth the shedding of this blood; and the apostle may mean to have it implied that the representation of the shedding of the blood in this ordinance is intended to keep up the conviction that Jesus is the Son of God. If so, then the general sense is, that that blood—however set before the eyes and the hearts of men—on the cross, or by the representation of its shedding in the Lord's Supper—is a witness in the world to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, and to the nature of his religion. See Barnes "1 Co 11:26".

And these three agree in one; eiv to en eisi. They agree in one thing; they bear on one and the same point, to wit, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. All are appointed by God as witnesses of this fact; and all harmonize in the testimony which is borne. The apostle does not say that there are no other witnesses to the same thing; nor does he even say that these are the most important or decisive which have been furnished; but he says that these are important witnesses, and are entirely harmonious in their testimony.

{a} "the Spirit" Joh 15:26; Ac 2:2-4; 2 Co 1:22

{b} "water" 1 Pe 3:21

{c} "Blood" Heb 13:12


Verse 9. If we receive the witness of men. As we are accustomed to do, and as we must do in courts of justice, and in the ordinary daily transactions of life. We are constantly acting on the belief that what others say is true; that what the members of our families, and our neighbours say is true; that what is reported by travellers is true; that what we read in books, and what is sworn to in courts of justice, is true. We could not get along a single day if we did not act on this belief; nor are we accustomed to call it in question, unless we have reason to suspect that it is false. The mind is so made that it must credit the testimony borne by others; and if this should cease even for a single day, the affairs of the world would come to a pause.

The witness of God is greater. Is more worthy of belief; as God is more true, and wise, and good than men. Men may be deceived, and may undesignedly bear witness to that when is not true—God never can be; men may, for sinister and base purposes, intend to deceive—God never can; men may act from partial observation, from rumours unworthy of credence—God never can; men may desire to excite admiration by the marvellous—God never can; men have deceived—God never has; and though, from these causes, there are many instances where we are not certain that the testimony borne by men is true, yet we are always certain that that which is borne by God is not false. The only question on which the mind ever hesitates is, whether we actually have his testimony, or certainly know what he bears witness to; when that is ascertained, the human mind is so made that it cannot believe that God would deliberately deceive a world. See Barnes "Heb 6:18".

Comp. Tit 1:2.

For this is the witness of God, etc. The testimony above referred to—that borne by the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. Who that saw his baptism, and heard the voice from heaven, (Mt 3:16,17,) could doubt that he was the Son of God? Who that saw his death on the cross, and that witnessed the amazing scenes which occurred there, could fail to join with the Roman centurion in saying that this was the Son of God? Who that has felt the influences of the Eternal Spirit on his heart, ever doubted that Jesus was the Son of God? Comp. See Barnes "1 Co 12:3".

Any one of these is sufficient to convince the soul of this; all combined bear on the same point, and confirm it from age to age.


Verse 10. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. The evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. See Barnes "Ro 8:16".

This cannot refer to any distinct and immediate revelation of that fact, that Jesus is the Christ, to the soul of the individual, and is not to be understood as independent of the external evidence of that truth, or as superseding the necessity of that evidence; but the "witness" here referred to is the fruit of all the evidence, external and internal, on the heart, producing this result; that is, there is the deepest conviction of the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. There is the evidence derived from the fact that the soul has found peace by believing on him; from the fact that the troubles and anxieties of the mind on account of sin have been removed by faith in Christ; from the new views of God and heaven which have resulted from faith in the Lord Jesus; from the effect of this in disarming death of its terrors; and from the whole influence of the gospel on the intellect and the affections—on the heart and the life, These things constitute a mass of evidence for the truth of the Christian religion, whose force the believer cannot resist, and make the sincere Christian ready to sacrifice anything rather than his religion; ready to go to the stake rather than to renounce his Saviour. See Barnes "1 Pe 3:15".

He that believeth not God hath made him a liar. See Barnes "1 Jo 1:10".

Because he believeth not the record, etc. The idea is, that in various ways—at his baptism, at his death, by the influences of the Holy Spirit, by the miracles of Jesus, etc.— God had become a witness that the Lord Jesus was sent by him as a Saviour, and that to doubt or deny this partook of the same character as doubting or denying any other testimony; that is, it was practically charging him who bore the testimony with falsehood.

{a} "witness in himself" Ro 8:16


Verse 11. And this is the record. This is the sum, or the amount of the testimony (marturia) which God has given respecting him.

That God hath given to us eternal life. Has provided, through the Saviour, the means of obtaining eternal life. See Barnes "Joh 5:24" See Barnes "Joh 17:2, See Barnes "Joh 17:3".

And this life is in his Son. Is treasured up in him, or is to be obtained through him. See Barnes "Joh 1:4" See Barnes "Joh 1:25" See Barnes "Joh 14:6" See Barnes "Col 3:3".

{*} "record" "witness"

{b} "this life" Joh 1:4


Verse 12. He that hath the Son, hath life. See Barnes "Joh 5:24".

John evidently designs to refer to that passage in the verse before us, and to state a principle laid down by the Saviour himself. This is the sense of all the important testimony that had ever been borne by God on the subject of salvation, that he who believes in the Lord Jesus already has the elements of eternal life in his soul, and will certainly obtain salvation. Comp. See Barnes "Joh 17:3".

And he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. He that does not believe on him will not attain to eternal life. See Barnes "Joh 3:36" See Barnes "Mr 16:16".

{c} "He that" Joh 5:24


Verse 13. These things have I written unto you. The things in this epistle respecting the testimony borne to the Lord Jesus.

That believe on the name of the Son of God. To believe on his name, is to believe on himself—the word name often being used to denote the person. See Barnes "Mt 28:19".

That ye may know that ye have eternal life. That you may see the evidence that eternal life has been provided, and that you may be able, by self-examination, to determine whether you possess it. See Barnes "Joh 20:31".

And that ye may believe, etc. That you may continue to believe, or may persevere in believing. He was assured that they actually did believe on him then; but he was desirous of so setting before them the nature of religion, that they would continue to exercise faith in him. It is often one of the most important duties of ministers of the gospel, to present to real Christians such views of the nature, the claims, the evidences, and the hopes of religion, as shall be adapted to secure their perseverance in the faith. In the human heart, even when converted, there is such a proneness to unbelief; the religious affections so easily become cold; there are so many cares pertaining to the world that are fitted to distract the mind; there are so many allurements of sin to draw the affections away from the Saviour; that there is need of being constantly reminded of the nature of religion, in order that the heart may not be wholly estranged from the Saviour. No small part of preaching, therefore, must consist of the re-statement of arguments with which the mind has been before fully convinced; of motives whose force has been once felt and acknowledged; and of the grounds of hope and peace and joy which have already, on former occasions, diffused comfort through the soul. It is not less important to keep the soul, than it is to convert it; to save it from coldness, and deadness, and formality, than it was to impart to it the elements of spiritual life at first. It may be as important to trim a vine, if one would have grapes, as it is to set it out; to keep a garden from being overrun with weeds in the summer, as it was to plant it in the spring.

{d} "ye may know" Joh 20:31


Verse 14. And this is the confidence that we have in him. Marg., concerning. Greek, "towards him," or in respect to him—prov auton. The confidence referred to here is that which relates to the answer to prayer. The apostle does not say that this is the only thing in respect to which there is to be confidence in him, but that it is one which is worthy of special consideration. The sense is, that one of the effects of believing on the Lord Jesus (1 Jo 5:13) is, that we have the assurance that our prayers will be answered. On the word confidence, See Barnes "1 Jo 3:21" See Barnes "1 Jo 4:17".

That, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. This is the proper and the necessary limitation in all prayer. God has not promised to grant anything that shall be contrary to his will, and it could not be right that he should do it. We ought not to wish to receive anything that should be contrary to what he judges to be best. No man could hope for good who should esteem his own wishes to be a better guide than the will of God; and it is one of the most desirable of all arrangements that the promise of any blessing to be obtained by prayer should be limited and bounded by the will of God. The limitation here, "according to his will," probably implies the following things:

(1.) In accordance with what he has declared that he is willing to grant. Here the range is large, for there are many things which we know to be in accordance with his will, if they are sought in a proper manner as the forgiveness of sins, the sanctification of the soul, (1 Th 4:3,) comfort in trial, the needful supply of our wants, grace that we may do our duty, wisdom to direct and guide us, (Jas 1:5,) deliverance from the evils which beset us, the influences of his Spirit to promote the cause of religion in the world, and our final salvation. Here is a range of subjects of petition that may gratify the largest wishes of prayer.

(2.) The expression, "according to his will," must limit the answer to prayer to what he sees to be best for us. Of that we are not always good judges. We never perceive it as clearly as our Maker does, and in many things we might be wholly mistaken. Certainly we ought not to desire to be permitted to ask anything which God would judge not to be for our good.

(3.) The expression must limit the petition to what it will be consistent for God to bestow upon us. We cannot expect that he will work a miracle in answer to our prayers; we cannot ask him to bestow blessings in violation of any of the laws which he has ordained, or in any other way than that which he has appointed. It is better that the particular blessing should be withheld from us, than that the laws which he has appointed should be disregarded. It is better that an idle man should not have a harvest, though he should pray for it, than that God should violate the laws by which he has determined to bestow such favours as a reward of industry, and work a special miracle in answer to a lazy man's prayers.

(4.) The expression, "according to his will," must limit the promise to what will be for the good of the whole. God presides over the universe; and though in him there is an infinite fulness, and he regards the wants of every individual throughout his immense empire, yet the interests of the whole, as well as of the individual, are to be consulted and regarded. In a family, it is conceivable that a child might ask for some favour whose bestowment would interfere materially with the rights of others, or be inconsistent with the good of the whole, and in such a case a just father would of course withhold it. With these necessary limitation the range of the promise in prayer is ample; and, with these limitations, it is true beyond a question that he does hear and answer prayer.


Verse 15. And if we know that he hear us. That is, if we are assured of this as a true doctrine, then, even though we may not see immediately that the prayer is answered, we may have the utmost confidence that it is not disregarded, and that it will be answered in the way best adapted to promote our good. The specific thing that we may not indeed be granted, (comp. Lu 22:42; 2 Co 12:8,9, ) but the prayer with not be disregarded, and the thing which is most for our good wilt be bestowed upon us. The argument here is derived from the faithfulness of God; from the assurance which we that when he has promised to hear us, there will be, sooner or later a real answer to the prayer.

We know that we have the petitions. That is, evidently, we know that we shall have them, or that the prayer will be answered. It cannot mean that we already have the precise thing for which we prayed, or that will be a real answer to the prayer, for

(a.) the prayer may relate to something future, as protection on a journey, or a harvest, or restoration to health, or the safe return of a son from a voyage at sea, or the salvation of our souls—all of which are future, and which cannot be expected to be granted at once; and

(b.) the answer to prayer is sometimes delayed, though ultimately granted. There may be reasons why the answer should be deferred, and the promise is not that it shall be immediate. The delay may arise from such causes as these:

(1.) To try our faith, and see whether the blessing is earnestly desired.

(2.) Perhaps it could not be at once answered without a miracle.

(3.) It might not be consistent with the Divine arrangements respecting others to grant it to us at once.

(4.) Our own condition may not be such that it would be best to answer it at once. We may need further trial, further chastisement, before the affliction, for example, shall be removed; and the answer to the prayer may be delayed for months or years. Yet, in the meantime, we may have the firmest assurance that the prayer is heard, and that it will be answered in the way and at the period when God shall see it to-be best.

{a} "know" Pr 15:29; Jer 29:12,13

{*} "desired" "asked"


Verse 16. If a man see his brother sin a sin, etc. From the general assurance that God hears prayer, the apostle turns to a particular case in which it may be benevolently and effectually employed, in rescuing a brother from death. There has been great diversity of opinion in, regard to the meaning of this passage, and the views of expositors of the New Testament are by no means settled as to its true sense. It does not comport with the design of these Notes to examine the opinions which have been held in detail. A bare reference, however, to some of them will show the difficulty of determining with certainty what the passage means, and the impropriety of any very great confidence in one's own judgment in the case. Among these opinions are the following. Some have supposed that the sin against the Holy Ghost is intended; some that the phrase denotes any great and enormous sin, as murder, idolatry, adultery; some that it denotes some sin that was punishable by death by the laws of Moses; some that it denotes a sin that subjected the offender to excommunication from the synagogue or the church; some that it refers to sins which brought fatal disease upon the offender, as in the case of those who abused the Lord's Supper at Corinth, (See Barnes "1 Co 11:30") some that it refers to crimes committed against the laws, for which the offender was sentenced to death, meaning that when the charge alleged was false, and the condemnation unjust, they ought to pray for the one who was condemned to death, and that he would be spared; but that when the offence was one which had been really committed, and the offender deserved to die, they ought not to pray for him, or, in other words, that by "the sin unto death," offences against the civil law are referred to, which the magistrate had no power to pardon, and the punishment of which he could not commute; and by the "sin not unto death," offences are referred to which might be pardoned, and when the punishment might be commuted; some that it refers to sins before and after baptism, the former of which might be pardoned, but the latter of which might not be; and some, and perhaps this is the common opinion among the Roman Catholics, that it refers to sins that might or might not be pardoned after death, thus referring to the doctrine of purgatory. These various opinions may be seen stated more at length in Rosenmuller, Lucke, Pool, (Synopsis,) and Clarke, in loc. To go into an examination of all these opinions would require a volume by itself, and all that can be done here is to furnish what seems to me to be the fair exposition of the passage. The word brother may refer either to a member of the church, whether of the particular church to which one was attached or to another, or it may be used in the larger sense which is common as denoting a fellow-man, a member of the great family of mankind. There is nothing in the word which necessarily limits it to one in the church; there is nothing in the connexion, or in the reason assigned, why what is said should be limited to such an one. The duty here enjoined would be the same whether the person referred to was in the church or not; for it is our duty to pray for those who sin, and to seek the salvation of those whom we see to be going astray, and to be in danger of ruin, wherever they are, or whoever they may be. At the same time, the correct interpretation of the passage does not depend on determining whether the word brother refers to one who is a professed Christian or not.

A sin which is not unto death. The great question in the interpretation of the whole passage is, what is meant by the "sin unto death." The Greek (amartia prov yanaton) would mean properly a in which tends to death; which would terminate in death; of which death was the penalty, or would be the result, unless it were arrested a sin which, if it had its own course, would terminate thus, am we should speak of a disease "unto death." Comp. Joh 11:4. The word death is used in three significations in the New Testament, and as employed here might, so far as the word is concerned, be applied in any one of those senses. It is used to denote

(a.) literally the death of the body;

(b.) spiritual death, or death "in trespasses and sin," Eph 2:1;

(c.) the "second death," death in the world of woe and despair. If the sin here mentioned refers to temporal death, it means such a sin that temporal death, must inevitably follow, either by the disease which it has produced, or by a judicial sentence where there was no hope of pardon or of a commutation of the punishment; if it refers to death in the future world, the "second death", then it means such a sin as is unpardonable. That this last is the reference here seems to me to be probable, if not clear, from the following considerations:

(1.) There is such a sin referred to in the New Testament, a sin for which there is forgiveness "neither in this life nor the life to come." See Barnes "Mt 12:31,32".

Comp. Mr 3:29. If there is such a sin, there is no impropriety in supposing that John would refer to it here.

(2.) This is the obvious interpretation. It is that which would occur to the mass of the readers of the New Testament, and which it is presumed they do adopt; and this in general, is one of the best means of ascertaining the sons of a passage in the Bible.

(3.) The other significations attached to the word death, would be quite inappropriate here.

(a.) It cannot mean "unto spiritual death," that is, to a continuance in sin, for how could that be known? and if such a case occurred, why would it be improper to pray for it? Besides, the phrase "a sin unto spiritual death," or "unto continuance in sin," is one that is unmeaning.

(b.) It cannot be shown to refer to a disease that should be unto death, miraculously inflicted on account of sin, because, if such cases occurred, they were very rare, and even if a disease came upon a man miraculously in consequence of sin, it could not be certainly known whether it was, or was not, unto death. All who were visited in this way did not certainly die. Comp. 1 Co 5:4,5, with 2 Co 2:6,7. See also 1 Co 11:30.

(c.) It cannot be shown that it refers to the case of those who were condemned by the civil magistrate to death, and for whom there was no hope of reprieve or pardon, for it is not certain that there were such cases; and if there were, and the person condemned were innocent, there was every reason to pray that God would interpose and save them, even when there was no hope from man; and if they were guilty, and deserved to die, there was no reason why they should not pray that the sin might be forgiven, and that they might be prepared to die, unless it were a case where the sin was unpardonable. It seems probable, therefore, to me, that the reference here is to the sin against the Holy Ghost, and that John means here to illustrate the duty and the power of prayer, by showing that for any sin short of that, however aggravated, it was their duty to pray that a brother might be forgiven. Though it might not be easy to determine what was the unpardonable sin, and John does not say that those to whom he wrote could determine that with certainty, yet there were many sins which were manifestly not of that aggravated character, and for those sins it was proper to pray. There was clearly but one sin that was unpardonable—" there is a sin unto death;" there might be many which were not of this description, and in relation to them there was ample scope for the exercise of the prayer of faith. The same thing is true now. It is not easy to define the unpardonable sin, and it is impossible far us to determine in any case with absolute certainty that a man has committed it. But there are multitudes of sins which men commit, which on no proper interpretation of the passages respecting the sin which "hath never forgiveness," can come under the description of that sin, and for which it is proper, therefore, to pray that they may be pardoned. We know of cases enough where sin may be forgiven; and, without allowing the mind to be disturbed about the question respecting the unpardonable sin, it is our duty to bear such cases on our hearts before God, and to plead with him that our erring brethren may be saved.

He shall ask. That is, he shall pray that the offender may be brought to true repentance, and may be saved.

And he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. That is, God shall give life, and he shall be saved from the eternal death to which he was exposed. This, it is said, would be given to "him" who offers the prayer; that is, his prayer would be the means of saving the offending brother. What a motive is this to prayer! How faithful and constant should we be in pleading for our fellow-sinners, that we may be instrumental in saving their souls! What joy will await those in heaven who shall see there many who were rescued from ruin in answer to their prayers! Comp. See Barnes "Jas 5:15, See Barnes "Jas 5:19".

There is a sin unto death. A sin which is of such a character that it throws the offender beyond the reach of mercy, and which is not to be pardoned. See Mr 3:28,29. The apostle does not here say what that sin is; nor how they might know what it is; nor even that in any case they could determine that it had been committed. He merely says that there is such a sin, and that he, does not design that his remark about the efficacy of prayer should be understood as extending to that.

I do not say that he shall pray for it. "I do not intend that my remark shall be extended to all sin, or mean to affirm that all possible forms of guilt are the proper subjects of prayer, for I am aware that there is one sin which is an exception, and my remark is not to be applied to that." He does not say that this sin was of common occurrence: or that they could know when it had been committed; or even that a case could ever occur in which they could determine that; he merely says that in respect to that sin he did not say that prayer should be offered. It is indeed implied in a most delicate way that it would not be proper to pray for the forgiveness of such a sin, but he does not say that a case would ever happen in which they would know certainly that the sin had been committed. There were instances in the times of the prophets in which the sin of the people became so universal and so aggravated, that they were forbidden to pray for them. Isa 14:11, "Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good;" Isa 15:1, "Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth." Comp. See Barnes "Isa 1:15".

But these were cases in which the prophets were directly instructed by God not to pray for a people. We have no such instruction; and it may be said now with truth, that as we can never be certain respecting any one that he has committed the unpardonable sin, there is no one for whom we may not with propriety pray. There may be those who are so far gone in sin that there may seem to be little, or almost no ground of hope. They may have cast off all the restraints of religion, of morality, of decency; they may disregard all the counsels of parents and friends; they may be sceptical, sensual, profane; they may be the companions of infidels and of mockers; they may have forsaken the sanctuary, and learned to despise the sabbath; they may have been professors of religion, and now may have renounced the faith of the gospel altogether, but still, while there is life it is our duty to pray for them, "if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth," 2 Ti 2:26. "All things are possible with God;" and he has reclaimed offenders more hardened, probably, than any that we have known, and has demonstrated that there is no form of depravity which he has not the power to subdue. Let us remember the cases of Manasseh, of Saul of Tarsus, of Augustine, of Bunyan, of Newton, of tens of thousands who have been reclaimed from the vilest forms of iniquity, and then let us never despair of the conversion of any, in answer to prayer, who may have gone astray, as long as they are in this world of probation and of hope. Let no parent despair who has an abandoned son; let no wife cease to pray who has a dissipated husband. How many a prodigal son has come back to fill with happiness an aged parent's heart! How many a dissipated husband has been reformed to give joy again to the wife of his youth, and to make a paradise again of his miserable home!

{a} "unto death" Mt 12:31,32

{b} "not say" Jer 7:16

{*} "it" "that"


Verse 17. All unrighteousness is sin, etc. This seems to be thrown in to guard what he had just said, and there is one great and enormous sin, a sin which could not be forgiven. But he says also that there are many other forms and degrees of sin, sin for which prayer may be made. Everything, he says, which is unrighteous —adikia— everything which does not conform to the holy law of God, and which is not right in the view of that law, is to be regarded as sin; but we are not to suppose that all sin of that kind is of such a character that it cannot possibly be forgiven. There are many who commit sin who we may hope will be recovered, and for them it is proper to pray. Deeply affected as we may be in view of the fact that there is a sin which can never be pardoned, and much as we may pity one who has been guilty of such a sin, yet we should not hastily conclude in any case that it has been committed, and should bear constantly in mind that while there is one such sin, there are multitudes that may be pardoned, and that for them it is our duty unceasingly to pray.

{c} "unrighteousness" 1 Jo 3:4


Verse 18. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not. Is not habitually and characteristically a sinner; does not ultimately and finally sin and perish; cannot, therefore, commit the unpardonable sin, Though he may fall into sin, and grieve his brethren, yet we are never to cease to pray for a true Christian; we are never to feel that he has committed the sin which has never forgiveness, and that he has thrown himself beyond the reach of our prayers. This passage, in its connexion, is a full proof that a true Christian will never commit the unpardonable sin, and, therefore, is a proof that he will never fall from grace. Comp. See Barnes "Heb 6:4, seq. See Barnes "Heb 10:26".

On the meaning of the assertion here made, that "whosoever is born of God sinneth not," See Barnes "1 Jo 3:6, seq.

Keepeth himself. It is not said that he does it by his own strength, but he will put forth his best efforts to keep himself from sin, and by Divine assistance he will be able to accomplish it. Comp. See Barnes "1 Jo 3:3" See Barnes "Jude 1:21".

And that wicked one toucheth him not. The great enemy of all good is repelled in his assaults, and he is kept from falling into his snares.

The word toucheth (aptetai) is used here in the sense of harm or injure.

{+} "begotten" "born"

{d} "keepeth himself" Ro 5:20,21


Verse 19. And we know that we are of God. We who are Christians. The apostle supposed that true Christians might have so clear evidence on that subject as to leave no doubt on their own minds that they were the children of God. Comp. 1 Jo 3:14; 2 Ti 1:12.

And the whole world. The term world here evidently means not the material world, but the people that dwell on the earth, including all idolaters, and all sinners of every grade and kind.

Lieth in wickedness. "In the wicked one," or under the power of the wicked one—en tw ponhrw. It is true that the word ponhrw may be used here in the neuter gender, as our translators have rendered it, meaning "in that which is evil," or in "wickedness;" but it may be in the masculine gender, meaning "the wicked one;" and then the sense would be that the whole world is under his control or dominion. That this is the meaning of the apostle seems to be clear, because

(1.) the corresponding phrase, (1 Jo 5:20,) en tw alhyinw, "in him that is true," is evidently to be construed in the masculine, referring to God the Saviour, and meaning "him that is true," and not that we are "in truth."

(2.) It makes better sense to say that the world lies under the control of the wicked one, than to say that it lies "in wickedness."

(3.) This accords better with the other representations in the Bible, and the usage of the word elsewhere. Comp. 1 Jo 2:13, "Ye have overcome the wicked one;" 1 Jo 5:14," ye have overcome the wicked one;" 1 Jo 3:12, "who was of that wicked one." See Barnes "2 Co 4:4, on the expression "the god of this world;" Joh 12:31, where he is called "the prince of world; and Eph 2:2, where he is called "the prince of the power of the air." In all these passages it is supposed that Satan has control over the world, especially the heathen world. Comp. Eph 6:12; 1 Co 10:20. In regard to the fact that the heathen world was pervaded by wickedness, See Barnes "Ro 1:21, seq.

(4.) It may be added, that this interpretation is adopted by the most eminent critics and commentators. It is that of Calvin, Beza, Benson, Blacknight, Bloomfield, Piscator, Lucke, etc. The word lieth here (keitai) means, properly, to lie; to be laid; to recline; to be situated, etc. It seems here to refer to the passive and torpid state of a wicked world under the dominion of the prince of evil, as acquiescing in his reign; making no resistance; not even struggling to be free. It lies thus as a beast that is subdued, a body that is dead, or anything that is wholly passive, quiet, and inert. There is no energy; no effort to throw off the reign; no resistance; no struggling. The dominion is complete, and body and soul, individuals and nations, are entirely subject to his will. This striking expression will not unaptly, now describe the condition of the heathen world, or of sinners in general. There would seem to be no government under which men are so little restive, and against which they have so little disposition to rebel, as that of Satan. Comp. 2 Ti 2:26.


Verse 20. And we know that the Son of God is come. We know this by the evidence that John had referred to in this epistle, 1 Jo 1:1-4; 1 Jo 5:6-8.

And hath given us an understanding. Not an "understanding" considered as a faculty of the mind, for religion gives us no new faculties; but he has so instructed us that we do understand the great truths referred to. See Barnes "Lu 24:45".

All the correct knowledge which we have of God and his government, is to be traced directly or indirectly to the great Prophet whom God has sent into the world, Joh 1:4,18; 8:12; Joh 9:5; Heb 1:1-3; Mt 11:27.

That we may know him that is true. That is, the true God. See Barnes "Joh 17:3".

And we are in him that is true. That is, we are united to him; we belong to him; we are his friends. This idea is often expressed in the Scriptures by being "in him." It denotes a most intimate union, as if we were one with him or were a part of him—as the branch is in the vine, Joh 15:4,6. The Greek construction is the same as that applied to "the wicked one," 1 Jo 5:19, (en tw alhyinw.)

This is the true God.* There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this important passage; whether it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, the immediate antecedent, or to a more remote antecedent—referring to God, as such. The question is of importance in its bearing on the doctrine of the divinity of the Saviour; for if it refers to him, it furnishes an unequivocal declaration that he is Divine. The question is, whether John meant that it should be referred to him? Without going into an extended examination of the passage, the following considerations seem to me to make it morally certain that by the phrase "this is the true God," etc., he did refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

(1.) The grammatical construction favours it. Christ is the immediate antecedent of the pronoun this—outov. This would be regarded as the obvious and certain construction so far as the grammar is concerned, unless there were something in the thing affirmed which led us to seek some more remote and less obvious antecedent. No doubt would have been ever entertained on this point, if it had not been for the reluctance to admit that the Lord Jesus is the true God. If the assertion had been that "this is the true Messiah;" or that "this is the Son of God;" or that "this is he who was born of the Virgin Mary," there would have been no difficulty in the construction. I admit that this argument is not absolutely decisive; for cases do occur where a pronoun refers, not to the immediate antecedent, but to one more remote; but cases of that kind depend on the ground of necessity, and can be applied only when it would be a clear violation of the sense of the author to refer it to the immediate antecedent.

(2.) This construction seems to be demanded by the adjunct which John has assigned to the phrase "the true God"—" ETERNAL LIFE." This is an expression which John would he likely to apply to the Lord Jesus, considered as life, and the source of life, and not to God as such. "How familiar is this language with John, as applied to Christ! 'In him (i.e. Christ) was Life, and the LIFE was the light of men—giving LIFE to the world—the bread of LIFE.—my words are spirit and LIFE —I am the way, and the truth, and the LIFE. This LIFE (Christ) was manifested, and we have seen it, and do testify to you, and declare the ETERNAL LIFE which was with the Father, and was manifested to us,' 1 Jo 1:2."—Prof. Stuart's Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 83. There is no instance in the writings of John, in which the appellation LIFE, and eternal Life, is bestowed upon the Father, to designate him as the author of spiritual and eternal life; and as this occurs so frequently in John's writings as applied to Christ, the laws of exegesis require that both the phrase "the true God," and "eternal life," should be applied to him.

(3.) If it refers to God as such, or to the word "true"—ton alhyinon [yeon]—it would be mere tautology, or a mere truism. The rendering would then be, "That we may know the true God, and we are in the true God: this is the true God, and eternal life." Can we believe that an inspired man would affirm gravely, and with so much solemnity, and as if it were a truth of so much magnitude, that the true God is the true God?

(4.) This interpretation accords with what we are sure John would affirm respecting the Lord Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that he who said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" that he who said "all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made;" that he who recorded the declaration of the Saviour, "I and my Father are one," and the declaration of Thomas, "my Lord and my God," would apply to him the appellation the true God!

(5.) If John did not mean to affirm this, he has made use of an expression which was liable to be misunderstood, and which, as facts have shown, would be misconstrued by the great portion of those who might read what he had written; and, moreover, an expression that would lead to the very sin against which he endeavours to guard in the next verse—the sin of substituting a creature in the place of God, and rendering to another the honour due to him. The language which he uses is just such as, according to its natural interpretation, would lead men to worship one as the true God who is not the true God, unless the Lord Jesus be Divine. For these reasons, it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this passage demands that it should be understood as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, it is a direct assertion of his divinity, for there could be no higher proof of it than to affirm that he is the true God.

And eternal life. Having "life in himself," (Joh 5:26,) and the source and fountain of life to the soul. No more frequent appellation, perhaps, is given to the Saviour by John, than that he is life, and the source of life. Comp. Joh 1:4; 5:26,40; 10:10; 6:33,35,48,51,53,63; Joh 11:25; 14:6; 20:31; 1 Jo 1:1,2; 5:12.

* Many MSS. here insert the word God—"the true God"—ton alhyinon yeon, this is also found in the Vulgate, Coptic, AEthiopic, and Arabic versions, and in the Complutensian edition of the New Testament. The reading, however, is not so well sustained as to be adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, or Hahn. That it may be a genuine reading is indeed possible, but the evidence is against it. Lucke supposes that it is genuine, and endeavours to account for the manner in which it was omitted in the MSS. —Commentary, p. 349.

{a} "understanding" Lu 24:45

{b} "This" Isa 9:6


Verse 21. Little children. This is a favourite mode of address with John, (See Barnes "1 Jo 2:1,) and it was proper to use it in giving his parting counsel; embracing, in fact, all that he had to say—that they should keep themselves from idols, and suffer nothing to alienate their affections from the true God. His great object had been to lead them to the knowledge and love of God, and all his counsels would be practically followed, if, amidst the temptations of idolatry, and the allurements of sin, nothing were allowed to estrange their hearts from him.

Keep yourselves from idols. From worshipping them; from all that would imply communion with them or their devotees. Compare See Barnes "1 Co 10:14".

The word rendered idols here (eidwlwn) means, properly, an image, spectre, shade—as of the dead; then any image or figure which would represent anything, particularly anything invisible; and hence anything designed to represent God, and that was set up with a view to be acknowledged as representing him, or to bring him, or his perfections, more vividly before the mind. The word is applicable to idol-gods—heathen deities, 1 Co 8:4,7; 10:19; Ro 2:22; 2 Co 6:16; 1 Th 1:9; but it would, also, be applicable to any image designed to represent the true God, and through or by which the true God was to be adored. The essential things in the word seem to be,

(a.) an image or representation of the Deity, and

(b.) the making of that an object of adoration instead of the true God. Since one of these things would be likely to lead to the other, both are forbidden in the prohibitions of idolatry, Ex 20:4,5. This would forbid all attempts to represent God by paintings or statuary; all idol-worship, or worship of heathen gods; all images and pictures that would be substituted in the place of God as objects of devotion, or that might transfer the homage from God to the image; and all giving of those affections to other beings or objects which are due to God. Why the apostle closed this epistle with this injunction he has not stated, and it may not be easy to determine. It may have been for such reasons as these:

(1.) Those to whom he wrote were surrounded by idolaters, and there was danger that they might fall into the prevailing sin, or in some way so act as to be understood to lend their sanction to idolatry.

(2.) In a world full of alluring objects, there was danger then, as there is at all times, that the affections should be fixed on other objects than the supreme God, and that what is due to him should be withheld. It may be added, in the conclusion of the exposition of this epistle, that the same caution is as needfull for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We are not in danger, indeed, of bowing down to idols, or of engaging in the grossest forms of idol-worship. But we may be in no less danger than they to whom John wrote were, of substituting other things in our affections in the place of the true God, and of devoting to them the time and the affection which are due to him. Our children it is possible to love with such an attachment as shall effectually exclude the true God from the heart. The world —its wealth, and pleasures, and honours—we may love with a degree of attachment such as even an idolater would hardly show to his idol-gods; and all the time which he would take in performing his devotions in an idol-temple, we may devote with equal fervour to the service of the world. There is practical idolatry all over the world; in nominally Christian lands as well as among the heathen; in families that acknowledge no God but wealth and fashion; in the hearts of multitudes of individuals who would scorn the thought of worshipping at a pagan altar; and it is even to be found in the heart of many a one who professes to be acquainted with the true God, and to be an heir of heaven. God should have the supreme place in our affections. The love of everything else should be held in strict subordination to the love of him. He should reign in our hearts; be acknowledged in our closets, our families, and in the place of public worship; be submitted to at all times as having a right to command and control us; be obeyed in all the expressions of his will, by his word, by his providence, and by his Spirit; be so loved that we shall be willing to part without a murmur with the dearest object of affection when he takes it from us; and so that, with joy and triumph, we shall welcome his messenger, the angel of death, when he shall come to summon us into his presence. To all who may read these illustrations of the epistle of the "beloved disciple," may God grant this inestimable blessing and honour. AMEN.

{*} "Little children" "My children"

{c} "idols" 1 Co 10:14

Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.