Distinguishing Marks of the Children of God and
the Children of the Devil. Brotherly
Love the Essence of True Righteousness.
1. Behold—calling attention, as to some
wonderful exhibition, little as the world sees to admire. This verse is
connected with the previous 1Jo 2:29,
thus: All our doing of righteousness is a mere sign that God, of
His matchless love, has adopted us as children; it does not save us,
but is a proof that we are saved of His grace.
what manner of—of what surpassing
excellence, how gracious on His part, how precious to us.
love … bestowed—He does not say
that God hath given us some gift, but love itself and the
fountain of all honors, the heart itself, and that not for our works or
efforts, but of His grace [Luther].
that—"what manner of love"; resulting
in, proved by, our being, &c. The immediate effect aimed at
in the bestowal of this love is, "that we should be called
children of God."
should be called—should have received
the privilege of such a glorious title (though seeming so
imaginary to the world), along with the glorious reality. With
God to call is to make really to be. Who so great as God?
What nearer relationship than that of sons? The oldest
manuscripts add, "And we ARE SO"
therefore—"on this account," because
"we are (really) so."
us—the children, like the Father.
it knew him not—namely, the Father.
"If they who regard not God, hold thee in any account, feel alarmed
about thy state" [Bengel]. Contrast
1Jo 5:1. The world's whole course is one
great act of non-recognition of God.
2. Beloved—by the Father, and therefore
now—in contrast to "not yet." We
now already are really sons, though not recognized as such by
the world, and (as the consequence) we look for the visible
manifestation of our sonship, which not yet has taken place.
doth not yet appear—Greek, "it
hath not yet ('at any time,' Greek aorist) been visibly
manifested what we shall be"—what further glory we shall attain
by virtue of this our sonship. The "what" suggests a something
but—omitted in the oldest manuscripts.
Its insertion in English Version gives a wrong antithesis. It is
not, "We do not yet know manifestly what … but we know,"
&c. Believers have some degree of the manifestation already,
though the world has not. The connection is, The manifestation
to the world of what we shall be, has not yet taken place; we
know (in general; as a matter of well-assured knowledge; so
the Greek) that when (literally, "if"; expressing no doubt as to
the fact, but only as to the time; also implying the coming preliminary
fact, on which the consequence follows, Mal 1:6; Joh 14:3) He (not "it," namely, that which is not
yet manifested [Alford]) shall be
manifested (1Jo 3:5; 2:28), we shall be like Him (Christ; all sons
have a substantial resemblance to their father, and Christ, whom we
shall be like, is "the express image of the Father's person," so that
in resembling Christ, we shall resemble the Father). We wait for the
manifestation (literally, the "apocalypse"; the same term as is
applied to Christ's own manifestation) of the sons of God. After
our natural birth, the new birth into the life of grace is needed,
which is to be followed by the new birth into the life of glory; the
two latter alike are termed "the regeneration" (Mt 19:28). The resurrection of our bodies is a
kind of coming out of the womb of the earth, and being born into
another life. Our first temptation was that we should be like God in
knowledge, and by that we fell; but being raised by Christ, we become
truly like Him, by knowing Him as we are known, and by seeing Him as He
is [Pearson, Exposition of the
Creed]. As the first immortality which Adam lost was to be able not
to die, so the last shall be not to be able to die. As man's first free
choice or will was to be able not to sin, so our last shall be not to
be able to sin [Augustine, The City
of God, 22.30]. The devil fell by aspiring to God's power;
man, by aspiring to his knowledge; but aspiring after God's
goodness, we shall ever grow in His likeness. The transition
from God the Father to "He," "Him," referring to Christ (who
alone is ever said in Scripture to be manifested; not the
1:18), implies the entire
unity of the Father and the Son.
for, &c.—Continual beholding
generates likeness (2Co 3:18); as
the face of the moon being always turned towards the sun, reflects its
light and glory.
see him—not in His innermost Godhead,
but as manifested in Christ. None but the pure can see the infinitely
Pure One. In all these passages the Greek is the same verb
opsomai; not denoting the action of seeing, but the state of him
to whose eye or mind the object is presented; hence the Greek
verb is always in the middle or reflexive voice, to perceive and
inwardly appreciate [Tittmann].
Our spiritual bodies will appreciate and recognize spiritual beings
hereafter, as our natural bodies now do natural objects.
3. this hope—of being hereafter "like
Him." Faith and love, as well as hope, occur in
in—rather, "(resting) upon
Him"; grounded on His promises.
purifieth himself—by Christ's Spirit
in him (Joh
15:5, end). "Thou purifiest
thyself, not of thyself, but of Him who comes that He may dwell in
thee" [Augustine]. One's justification
through faith is presupposed.
as he is pure—unsullied with any
uncleanness. The Second Person, by whom both the Law and Gospel were
4. Sin is incompatible with birth from God
3:1-3). John often sets forth
the same truth negatively, which he had before set forth
positively. He had shown, birth from God involves
self-purification; he now shows where sin, that is, the want of
self-purification, is, there is no birth from God.
Whosoever—Greek, "Every one
committeth sin—in contrast to 1Jo 3:3, "Every man that hath this hope in
Him purifieth himself"; and 1Jo 3:7, "He
that doeth righteousness."
transgresseth … the
law—Greek, "committeth transgression of law." God's
law of purity; and so shows he has no such hope of being hereafter pure
as God is pure, and, therefore, that he is not born of God.
sin is … transgression of …
law—definition of sin in general. The Greek
having the article to both, implies that they are convertible terms.
The Greek "sin" (hamartia) is literally, "a missing of
the mark." God's will being that mark to be ever aimed at. "By the law
is the knowledge of sin." The crookedness of a line is shown by being
brought into juxtaposition with a straight ruler.
5. Additional proof of the incompatibility of
sin and sonship; the very object of Christ's manifestation in the flesh
was to take away (by one act, and entirely, aorist) all sins, as
the scapegoat did typically.
and—another proof of the same.
in him is no sin—not "was," but "is,"
as in 1Jo
3:7, "He is
righteous," and 1Jo 3:3, "He
is pure." Therefore we are to be so.
6. He reasons from Christ's own entire
separation from sin, that those in him must also be separate from
abideth in him—as the branch in the
vine, by vital union living by His life.
sinneth not—In so far as he abides in
Christ, so far is he free from all sin. The ideal of the Christian. The
life of sin and the life of God mutually exclude one another, just as
darkness and light. In matter of fact, believers do fall into sins
(1Jo 1:8-10; 2:1, 2); but all such sins are alien from the
life of God, and need Christ's cleansing blood, without application to
which the life of God could not be maintained. He sinneth not so long
as he abideth in Christ.
whosoever sinneth hath not seen
him—Greek perfect, "has not seen, and does not see
Him." Again the ideal of Christian intuition and knowledge is
presented (Mt 7:23). All
sin as such is at variance with the notion of one regenerated. Not that
"whosoever is betrayed into sins has never seen nor known God"; but
in so far as sin exists, in that degree the spiritual
intuition and knowledge of God do not exist in him.
neither—"not even." To see
spiritually is a further step than to know; for by
knowing we come to seeing by vivid realization and
7, 8. The same truth stated, with the addition
that he who sins is, so far as he sins, "of the devil."
let no man deceive you—as Antinomians
try to mislead men.
"the righteousness," namely, of Christ or God.
he that doeth … is righteous—Not
his doing makes him righteous, but his being
righteous (justified by the righteousness of God in Christ, Ro 10:3-10) makes him to do
righteousness: an inversion common in familiar language, logical
in reality, though not in form, as in Lu 7:47; Joh 8:47. Works do not justify, but the justified
man works. We infer from his doing righteousness that he is
already righteous (that is, has the true and only principle of
doing righteousness, namely, faith), and is therefore
born of God (1Jo 3:9); just
as we might say, The tree that bears good fruit is a good tree, and has
a living root; not that the fruit makes the tree and its root to
be good, but it shows that they are so.
8. He that committeth sin is of the
devil—in contrast to "He that doeth righteousness," 1Jo 3:7. He is a son of the devil
(1Jo 3:10; Joh 8:44). John does not, however, say, "born of
the devil." as he does "born of God," for "the devil begets none, nor
does he create any; but whoever imitates the devil becomes a child of
the devil by imitating him, not by proper birth" [Augustine, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of
John, Homily 4.10]. From the devil there is not generation, but
sinneth from the beginning—from the
time that any began to sin [Alford]:
from the time that he became what he is, the devil. He seems to have
kept his first estate only a very short time after his creation [Bengel]. Since the fall of man [at the
beginning of our world] the devil is (ever)
sinning (this is the force of "sinneth"; he has sinned from the
beginning, is the cause of all sins, and still goes on sinning;
present). As the author of sin, and prince of this world, he has never
ceased to seduce man to sin [Luecke].
destroy—break up and do away with;
bruising and crushing the serpent's head.
works of the devil—sin, and all its
awful consequences. John argues, Christians cannot do that which Christ
came to destroy.
9. Whosoever is born of God—literally,
"Everyone that is begotten of God."
doth not commit sin—His higher nature,
as one born or begotten of God, doth not sin. To be begotten of
God and to sin, are states mutually excluding one another.
In so far as one sins, he makes it doubtful whether he be born of
his seed—the living word of God, made
by the Holy Spirit the seed in us of a new life and the continual mean
remaineth—abideth in him (compare
Note, see on 1Jo 3:6; Joh 5:38). This does not contradict 1Jo 1:8, 9; the regenerate show the utter
incompatibility of sin with regeneration, by cleansing
away every sin into which they may be betrayed by the old nature, at
once in the blood of Christ.
cannot sin, because he is born of
God—"because it is of God that he is born" (so
the Greek order, as compared with the order of the same words in
the beginning of the verse); not "because he was born of God"
(the Greek is perfect tense, which is present in meaning,
not aorist); it is not said, Because a man was once for all born of God
he never afterwards can sin; but, Because he is born of God, the seed
abiding now in Him, he cannot sin; so long as it energetically abides,
sin can have no place. Compare Ge 39:9, Joseph, "How CAN I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"
The principle within me is at utter variance with it. The regenerate
life is incompatible with sin, and gives the believer a hatred for sin
in every shape, and an unceasing desire to resist it. "The child of God
in this conflict receives indeed wounds daily, but never throws away
his arms or makes peace with his deadly foe" [Luther]. The exceptional sins into which the
regenerate are surprised, are owing to the new life principle being for
a time suffered to lie dormant, and to the sword of the Spirit not
being drawn instantly. Sin is ever active, but no longer reigns. The
normal direction of the believer's energies is against sin; the
law of God after the inward man is the ruling principle of his
true self though the old nature, not yet fully deadened, rebels
and sins. Contrast 1Jo 5:18 with Joh 8:34; compare Ps 18:22, 23; 32:2,
3; 119:113, 176. The magnetic
needle, the nature of which is always to point to the pole, is easily
turned aside, but always reseeks the pole.
10. children of the devil—(See on 1Jo 3:8; Ac 13:10).
There is no middle class between the children of God and the children
of the devil.
doeth not righteousness—Contrast 1Jo 2:29.
he that loveth not his brother—(1Jo 4:8); a particular instance of that
love which is the sum and fulfilment of all righteousness, and
the token (not loud professions, or even seemingly good works) that
distinguishes God's children from the devil's.
11. the message—"announcement," as of
something good; not a mere command, as the law. The Gospel
message of Him who loved us, announced by His servants, is, that
we love the brethren; not here all mankind, but those who are
our brethren in Christ, children of the same family of God, of whom we
have been born anew.
12. who—not in the
of that wicked one—Translate,
"evil one," to accord with "Because his own works were
evil." Compare 1Jo 3:8, "of
the devil," in contrast to "of God," 1Jo 3:10.
slew he him? Because his own works were evil,
and his brother's righteous—through envy and hatred of his
brother's piety, owing to which God accepted Abel's, but rejected
Cain's offering. Enmity from the first existed between the seed of the
woman and the seed of the serpent.
13. Marvel not—The marvel would be if
the world loved you.
the world—of whom Cain is the
representative (1Jo 3:12).
hate you—as Cain hated even his own
brother, and that to the extent of murdering him. The world feels its
bad works tacitly reproved by your good works.
14. We—emphatical; hated though we be by
the world, we know what the world knows not.
know—as an assured fact.
passed—changed our state. Col 1:13, "from the power of darkness
… translated into the kingdom of His dear Son."
from death unto life—literally,
"out of the death (which enthrals the unregenerate) into
the life (of the regenerate)." A palpable coincidence of language
and thought, the beloved disciple adopting his Lord's words.
because we love the brethren—the
ground, not of our passing over out of death into life, but of
our knowing that we have so. Love, on our part, is the
evidence of our justification and regeneration, not the
cause of them. "Let each go to his own heart; if he find there
love to the brethren, let him feel assured that he has passed from
death unto life. Let him not mind that his glory is only hidden; when
the Lord shall come, then shall he appear in glory. For he has vital
energy, but it is still wintertime; the root has vigor, but the
branches are as it were dry; within there is marrow which is vigorous,
within are leaves, within fruits, but they must wait for summer" [Augustine].
He that loveth not—Most of the oldest
manuscripts omit "his brother," which makes the statement more
in death—"in the (spiritual)
death" (ending in eternal death) which is the state of all by nature.
His want of love evidences that no saving change has passed over
15. hateth—equivalent to "loveth not"
3:14); there is no medium
between the two. "Love and hatred, like light and darkness, life and
death, necessarily replace, as well as necessarily exclude, one
is a murderer—because indulging in
that passion, which, if followed out to its natural consequences, would
make him one. "Whereas, 1Jo 3:16
desires us to lay down our lives for the brethren; duels require
one (awful to say!) to risk his own life, rather than not
deprive another of life" [Bengel]. God regards the inward disposition as
tantamount to the outward act which would flow from it. Whomsoever one
hates, one wishes to be dead.
hath—Such a one still "abideth in
death." It is not his future state, but his present,
which is referred to. He who hates (that is, loveth not) his brother
3:14), cannot in this his
present state have eternal life abiding in him.
16. What true love to the brethren is,
illustrated by the love of Christ to us.
the love of God—The words "of
God" are not in the original. Translate, "We arrive at the knowledge of
love"; we apprehend what true love is.
and we—on our part, if absolutely
needed for the glory of God, the good of the Church, or the salvation
of a brother.
lives—Christ alone laid down His one
life for us all; we ought to lay down our lives severally
for the lives of the brethren; if not actually, at least virtually, by
giving our time, care, labors, prayers, substance: Non nobis, sed
omnibus. Our life ought not to be dearer to us than God's own Son
was to Him. The apostles and martyrs acted on this principle.
17. this world's good—literally,
"livelihood" or substance. If we ought to lay down our lives for
the brethren (1Jo 3:16),
how much more ought we not to withhold our substance?
seeth—not merely casually, but
deliberately contemplates as a spectator; Greek,
shutteth up his bowels of
compassion—which had been momentarily opened by the
spectacle of his brother's need. The "bowels" mean the
heart, the seat of compassion.
how—How is it possible that
"the love of (that is, 'to') God dwelleth (Greek,
'abideth') in him?" Our superfluities should yield to the necessities;
our comforts, and even our necessaries in some measure, should yield to
the extreme wants of our brethren. "Faith gives Christ to me; love
flowing from faith gives me to my neighbor."
18. When the venerable John could no longer
walk to the meetings of the Church but was borne thither by his
disciples, he always uttered the same address to the Church; he
reminded them of that one commandment which he had received from Christ
Himself, as comprising all the rest, and forming the distinction of the
new covenant, "My little children, love one another." When the brethren
present, wearied of hearing the same thing so often, asked why he
always repeated the same thing, he replied, "Because it is the
commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is
in word—Greek, "with
word … with tongue, but in deed and truth."
19. hereby—Greek, "herein"; in
our loving in deed and in truth (1Jo 3:18).
we know—The oldest manuscripts have
"we shall know," namely, if we fulfil the command (1Jo 3:18).
of the truth—that we are real
disciples of, and belonging to, the truth, as it is in Jesus:
begotten of God with the word of truth. Having herein the truth
radically, we shall be sure not to love merely in word and
tongue. (1Jo 3:18).
assure—literally, "persuade," namely,
so as to cease to condemn us; satisfy the questionings and doubts of
our consciences as to whether we be accepted before God or not
(compare Mt 28:14; Ac 12:20, "having made Blastus their
friend," literally, "persuaded"). The "heart," as the seat of the
feelings, is our inward judge; the conscience, as the
witness, acts either as our justifying advocate, or our condemning
accuser, before God even now. Joh 8:9, has "conscience," but the passage is
omitted in most old manuscripts. John nowhere else uses the term
"conscience." Peter and Paul alone use it.
before him—as in the sight of Him, the
omniscient Searcher of hearts. Assurance is designed to be the
ordinary experience and privilege of the believer.
20. Luther and
Bengel take this verse as consoling the
believer whom his heart condemns; and who, therefore, like
Peter, appeals from conscience to Him who is greater than
conscience. "Lord, Thou knowest all things: thou knowest
that I love Thee." Peter's conscience, though condemning him of his sin
in denying the Lord, assured him of his love; but fearing the
possibility, owing to his past fall, of deceiving himself, he appeals
to the all-knowing God: so Paul, 1Co 4:3, 4. So if we be believers, even if our
heart condemns us of sin in general, yet having the one sign of
sonship, love, we may still assure our hearts (some oldest
manuscripts read heart, 1Jo 3:19, as well as 1Jo 3:20), as knowing that God is greater than
our heart, and knoweth all things. But thus the same Greek
is translated "because" in the beginning, and "(we know) that"
in the middle of the verse, and if the verse were consolatory, it
probably would have been, "Because EVEN
if our heart condemn us," &c. Therefore translate, "Because
(rendering the reason why it has been stated in 1Jo 3:19 to be so important to 'assure our hearts
before Him') if our heart condemn (Greek, 'know [aught]
against us'; answering by contrast to 'we shall know that
we are of the truth') us (it is) because God is greater than our
heart and knoweth all things." If our heart judges us unfavorably, we
may be sure that He, knowing more than our heart knows, judges us more
unfavorably still [Alford]. A similar
ellipsis ("it is") occurs in 1Co 14:27; 2Co 1:6;
8:23. The condemning
testimony of our conscience is not alone, but is the echo of the voice
of Him who is greater and knoweth all things. Our hypocrisy in
loving by word and tongue, not in deed and truth, does
not escape even our conscience, though weak and knowing but little, how
much less God who knows all things! Still the consolatory view may be
the right one. For the Greek for "we shall assure our
hearts" (see on 1Jo 3:19), is gain over,
persuade so as to be stilled, implying that there was a previous
state of self-condemnation by the heart (1Jo 3:20), which, however, is got over by
the consolatory thought, "God is greater than my heart" which condemns
me, and "knows all things" (Greek "ginoskei,"
"knows," not "kataginoskei," "condemns"), and
therefore knows my love and desire to serve Him, and knows my
frame so as to pity my weakness of faith. This gaining
over the heart to peace is not so advanced a stage as the
having CONFIDENCE towards God which flows from a heart
condemning us not. The first "because" thus applies to the two
alternate cases, 1Jo 3:20, 21 (giving the ground of saying, that
having love we shall gain over, or assure our minds before
Him, 1Jo 3:19);
the second "because" applies to the first alternate alone, namely, "if
our heart condemn us." When he reaches the second alternate, 1Jo 3:21, he states it independently of the
former "because" which had connected it with 1Jo 3:19, inasmuch as CONFIDENCE toward God is a farther stage than
persuading our hearts, though always preceded by it.
21. Beloved—There is no "But"
contrasting the two cases, 1Jo 3:20, 21, because "Beloved" sufficiently marks
the transition to the case of the brethren walking in the full
confidence of love (1Jo 3:18).
The two results of our being able to "assure our hearts before Him"
3:19), and of "our heart
condemning us not" (of insincerity as to the truth in general,
and as to LOVE in particular) are, (1)
confidence toward God; (2) a sure answer to our prayers. John does not
mean that all whose hearts do not condemn them, are therefore safe
before God; for some have their conscience seared, others are ignorant
of the truth, and it is not only sincerity, but sincerity in
the truth which can save men. Christians are those meant here:
knowing Christ's precepts and testing themselves by them.
22. we receive—as a matter of fact,
according to His promise. Believers, as such, ask only what is in
accordance with God's will; or if they ask what God wills not, they bow
their will to God's will, and so God grants them either their request,
or something better than it.
because we keep his
commandments—Compare Ps 66:18; 34:15; 145:18,
19. Not as though our merits
earned a hearing for our prayers, but when we are believers in Christ,
all our works of faith being the fruit of His Spirit in us, are
"pleasing in God's sight"; and our prayers being the voice of the same
Spirit of God in us, naturally and necessarily are answered by Him.
23. Summing up of God's commandments under the
Gospel dispensation in one commandment.
this is his commandment—singular: for
faith and love are not separate commandments, but
are indissolubly united. We cannot truly love one another
without faith in Christ, nor can we truly believe in Him without
believe—once for all; Greek
on the name of his Son—on all that is
revealed in the Gospel concerning Him, and on Himself in respect to His
person, offices, and atoning work.
as he—as Jesus gave us
24. dwelleth in him—The believer
dwelleth in Christ.
and he in him—Christ in the believer.
Reciprocity. "Thus he returns to the great keynote of the Epistle,
abide in Him, with which the former part concluded" (1Jo 2:28).
hereby—herein we (believers) know that
he abideth in us, namely, from (the presence in us of) the Spirit
"which He hath given us." Thus he prepares, by the mention of the true
Spirit, for the transition to the false "spirit," 1Jo 4:1-6; after which he returns again to the
subject of love.