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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

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