Who Are the Brethren Especially to Be
Loved (1Jo 4:21);
Obedience, the Test of Love, Easy through Faith, which Overcomes the World.
Last Portion of the Epistle. The Spirit's Witness to the Believer's Spiritual
Life. Truths Repeated at the
Close: Farewell Warning.
1. Reason why our "brother" (1Jo 4:21) is entitled to such love,
namely, because he is "born (begotten) of God": so that if we want to
show our love to God, we must show it to God's visible
that." He could not be our "Jesus" (God-Saviour) unless He were "the
Christ"; for He could not reveal the way of salvation, except He were a
prophet: He could not work out that salvation, except He were a
priest: He could not confer that salvation upon us, except He
were a king: He could not be prophet, priest, and
king, except He were the Christ [Pearson, Exposition of the Creed].
born—Translate, "begotten," as in the
latter part of the verse, the Greek being the same. Christ is
the "only-begotten Son" by generation; we become begotten sons
of God by regeneration and adoption.
every one that loveth him that
begat—sincerely, not in mere profession (1Jo 4:20).
loveth him also that is begotten of
him—namely, "his brethren" (1Jo 4:21).
2. By—Greek, "In." As our love
to the brethren is the sign and test of our love to God, so
(John here says) our love to God (tested by our "keeping his
commandments") is, conversely, the ground and only true basis of
love to our brother.
we know—John means here, not the
outward criteria of genuine brotherly love, but the inward
spiritual criteria of it, consciousness of love to God
manifested in a hearty keeping of His commandments. When we have this
inwardly and outwardly confirmed love to God, we can know
assuredly that we truly love the children of God. "Love to
one's brother is prior, according to the order of nature (see on 1Jo 4:20); love to God is so, according to
the order of grace (1Jo 5:2). At
one time the former is more immediately known, at another time the
latter, according as the mind is more engaged in human relations or in
what concerns the divine honor" [Estius]. John shows what true love is,
namely, that which is referred to God as its first object. As
previously John urged the effect, so now he urges the cause. For he
wishes mutual love to be so cultivated among us, as that God
should always be placed first [Calvin].
3. this is—the love of God
consists in this.
not grievous—as so many think them. It
is "the way of the transgressor" that "is hard." What makes them to the
regenerate "not grievous," is faith which "overcometh the world"
5:4): in proportion as faith
is strong, the grievousness of God's commandments to the rebellious
flesh is overcome. The reason why believers feel any degree of
irksomeness in God's commandments is, they do not realize fully by
faith the privileges of their spiritual life.
4. For—(See on 1Jo
5:3). The reason why "His commandments are not grievous." Though
there is a conflict in keeping them, the sue for the whole body of the
regenerate is victory over every opposing influence; meanwhile there is
a present joy to each believer in keeping them which makes them
that is begotten of God." The neuter expresses the universal
whole, or aggregate of the regenerate, regarded as one
collective body Joh 3:6; 6:37, 39, "where Bengel remarks, that in Jesus' discourses, what the
Father has given Him is called, in the singular number and neuter
gender, all whatsoever; those who come to the Son are
described in the masculine gender and plural number, they all,
or singular, every one. The Father has given, as it were, the
whole mass to the Son, that all whom He gave may be one whole:
that universal whole the Son singly evolves, in the execution of
the divine plan."
the world—all that is opposed to
keeping the commandments of God, or draws us off from God, in this
world, including our corrupt flesh, on which the world's
blandishments or threats act, as also including Satan, the prince of
this world (Joh 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
this is the victory that
overcometh—Greek aorist, "… that hath
(already) overcome the world": the victory (where
faith is) hereby is implied as having been already
obtained (1Jo 2:13; 4:4).
5. Who—"Who" else "but he that
believeth that Jesus is the Son of God:" "the Christ" (1Jo 5:1)? Confirming, by a triumphant question
defying all contradiction, as an undeniable fact, 1Jo 5:4, that the victory which overcomes
the world is faith. For it is by believing: that we are
made one with Jesus the Son of God, so that we partake of His
victory over the world, and have dwelling in us One greater than he
who is in the world (1Jo 4:4).
"Survey the whole world, and show me even one of whom it can be
affirmed with truth that he overcomes the world, who is not a
Christian, and endowed with this faith" [Episcopius in Alford].
6. This—the Person mentioned in 1Jo 5:5. This Jesus.
he that came by water and blood—"by
water," when His ministry was inaugurated by baptism in the Jordan, and
He received the Father's testimony to His Messiahship and divine
Sonship. Compare 1Jo 5:5,
"believeth that Jesus is the Son of God," with Joh 1:33, 34, "The Spirit … remaining on
Him … I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God";
5:8, below, "there are three
that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the
blood." Corresponding to this is the baptism of water and the
Spirit which He has instituted as a standing seal and mean of
initiatory incorporation with Him.
and blood—He came by "the blood of His
cross" (so "by" is used, Heb 9:12:
"by," that is, with, "His own blood He entered in once into the
holy place"): a fact seen and so solemnly witnessed to by
John. "These two past facts in the Lord's life are this abiding
testimony to us, by virtue of the permanent application to us of
their cleansing and atoning power."
Jesus Christ—not a mere appellation,
but a solemn assertion of the Lord's Person and Messiahship.
not by, &c.—Greek, "not
IN the water only, but IN the water and IN (so oldest manuscripts add) the blood." As
"by" implies the mean through, or with, which He
came: so "in," the element in which He came. "The"
implies that the water and the blood were sacred and
well-known symbols. John Baptist came only baptizing with water, and
therefore was not the Messiah. Jesus came first to undergo
Himself the double baptism of water and blood, and then to baptize us
with the Spirit-cleansing, of which water is the sacramental
seal, and with His atoning blood, the efficacy of which, once
for all shed, is perpetual in the Church; and therefore is the
Messiah. It was His shed blood which first gave water
baptism its spiritual significancy. We are baptized into His
death: the grand point of union between us and Him, and, through
Him, between us and God.
it is the Spirit, &c.—The Holy
Spirit is an additional witness (compare 1Jo 5:7), besides the water and the
blood, to Jesus' Sonship and Messiahship. The
Spirit attested these truths at Jesus' baptism by descending on Him,
and throughout His ministry by enabling Him to speak and do what man
never before or since has spoken or, done; and "it is the Spirit that
beareth witness" of Christ, now permanently in the Church: both in the
inspired New Testament Scriptures, and in the hearts of believers, and
in the spiritual reception of baptism and the Lord's Supper.
because the Spirit is truth—It is His
essential truth which gives His witness such infallible
7. three—Two or three witnesses were
required by law to constitute adequate testimony. The only Greek
manuscripts in any form which support the words, "in heaven, the
Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one; and
there are three that bear witness in earth," are the
Montfortianus of Dublin, copied evidently from the modern
Latin Vulgate; the Ravianus, copied from the
Complutensian Polyglot; a manuscript at Naples, with the words
added in the Margin by a recent hand; Ottobonianus, 298,
of the fifteenth century, the Greek of which is a mere
translation of the accompanying Latin. All the old versions omit
the words. The oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate omit them: the
earliest Vulgate manuscript which has them being
Wizanburgensis, 99, of the eighth century. A scholium quoted in
Matthæi, shows that the words did not arise from fraud; for
in the words, in all Greek manuscripts "there are three
that bear record," as the Scholiast notices, the word "three" is
masculine, because the three things (the Spirit, the
water, and the blood) are SYMBOLS OF
THE Trinity. To this Cyprian,
196, also refers, "Of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it
is written, 'And these three are one' (a unity)." There must be
some mystical truth implied in using "three" (Greek) in
the masculine, though the antecedents, "Spirit, water, and
blood," are neuter. That THE
Trinity was the truth meant is a natural inference: the triad
specified pointing to a still Higher Trinity; as is plain also from
1Jo 5:9, "the witness of God," referring to the Trinity alluded to in
the Spirit, water, and blood. It was therefore first written as a
marginal comment to complete the sense of the text, and
then, as early at least as the eighth century, was introduced into the
text of the Latin Vulgate. The testimony, however, could only be
borne on earth to men, not in heaven. The marginal
comment, therefore, that inserted "in heaven," was inappropriate. It is
on earth that the context evidently requires the witness of the
three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, to be borne:
mystically setting forth the divine triune witnesses, the
Father, the Spirit, and the Son. Luecke
notices as internal evidence against the words, John never uses "the
Father" and "the Word" as correlates, but, like other New Testament
writers, associates "the Son" with "the Father," and always refers "the
Word" to "God" as its correlate, not "the Father." Vigilius, at the end
of the fifth century, is the first who quotes the disputed words as in
the text; but no Greek manuscript earlier than the fifteenth is
extant with them. The term "Trinity" occurs first in the third
century in Tertullian [Against
8. agree in one—"tend unto one result";
their agreeing testimony to Jesus' Sonship and Messiahship they give by
the sacramental grace in the water of baptism, received by the
penitent believer, by the atoning efficacy of His blood, and by
the internal witness of His Spirit (1Jo 5:10): answering to the testimony given to
Jesus' Sonship and Messiahship by His baptism, His crucifixion,
and the Spirit's manifestations in Him (see on 1Jo
5:6). It was by His coming by water (that is, His baptism in
Jordan) that Jesus was solemnly inaugurated in office, and revealed
Himself as Messiah; this must have been peculiarly important in John's
estimation, who was first led to Christ by the testimony of the
Baptist. By the baptism then received by Christ, and by His redeeming
blood-shedding, and by that which the Spirit of God, whose
witness is infallible, has effected, and still effects, by Him, the
Spirit, the water, and the blood, unite, as the
threefold witness, to verify His divine Messiahship [Neander].
9. If, &c.—We do accept (and
rightly so) the witness of veracious men, fallible though they be; much
more ought we to accept the infallible witness of God (the
Father). "The testimony of the Father is, as it were, the basis of the
testimony of the Word and of the Holy Spirit; just as the testimony of
the Spirit is, as it were, the basis of the testimony of the
water and the blood" [Bengel].
for—This principle applies in the
present case, FOR, &c.
which—in the oldest manuscripts,
"because He hath given testimony concerning His Son." What that
testimony is we find above in 1Jo 5:1, 5, "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God";
and below in 1Jo 5:10, 11.
10. hath the witness—of God, by His
Spirit (1Jo 5:8).
in himself—God's Spirit dwelling in
him and witnessing that "Jesus is the Lord," "the Christ," and
"the Son of God" (1Jo 5:1, 5).
The witness of the Spirit in the believer himself to his
own sonship is not here expressed, but follows as a consequence of
believing the witness of God to Jesus' divine Sonship.
believeth not God—credits not His
made him a liar—a consequence which
many who virtually, or even avowedly, do not believe, may well startle
back from as fearful blasphemy and presumption (1Jo 1:10).
believeth not the record—Greek,
"believeth not IN the record, or
witness." Refusal to credit God's testimony ("believeth
not God") is involved in refusal to believe IN (to rest one's trust in) Jesus Christ, the object
of God's record or testimony. "Divine "faith" is an
assent unto something as credible upon the testimony of God. This is
the highest kind of faith; because the object hath the highest
credibility, because grounded upon the testimony of God, which is
infallible" [Pearson, Exposition of
the Creed]. "The authority on which we believe is divine; the
doctrine which we follow is divine" [Leo].
gave—Greek, "hath testified,
and now testifies."
11. hath given—Greek, aorist:
"gave" once for all. Not only "promised" it.
life is in his Son—essentially (Joh
1:4; 11:25; 14:6); bodily
2:9); operatively (2Ti 1:10) [Lange in Alford]. It
is in the second Adam, the Son of God, that this life is secured
to us, which, if left to depend on us, we should lose, like the first
12. the Son … life—Greek,
"THE life." Bengel remarks, The verse has two clauses: in the
former the Son is mentioned without the addition "of God," for
believers know the Son: in the second clause the addition "of
God" is made, that unbelievers may know thereby what a serious thing it
is not to have Him. In the former clause "has" bears the emphasis; in
the second, life. To have the Son is to be able to say as
the bride, "I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine" [So 6:3]. Faith is the mean whereby the
regenerate HAVE Christ as a
present possession, and in having Him have life in its
germ and reality now, and shall have life in its fully developed
manifestation hereafter. Eternal life here is: (1)
initial, and is an earnest of that which is to follow; in the
intermediate state (2) partial, belonging but to a part of a
man, though that is his nobler part, the soul separated from the body;
at and after the resurrection (3) perfectional. This life is not
only natural, consisting of the union of the soul and the body (as that
of the reprobate in eternal pain, which ought to be termed death
eternal, not life), but also spiritual, the union of the soul to
God, and supremely blessed for ever (for life is another term
for happiness) [Pearson,
Exposition of the Creed].
13. The oldest manuscripts and versions read,
"These things have I written unto you [omitting 'that believe on the
name of the Son of God'] that ye may know that ye have eternal life
(compare 1Jo 5:11),
THOSE (of you I mean) WHO believe (not as English Version reads,
'and that ye may believe') on the name of the Son of God."
English Version, in the latter clause, will mean, "that ye may
continue to believe," &c. (compare 1Jo 5:12).
These things—This Epistle. He, towards
the close of his Gospel (Joh 20:30, 31), wrote similarly, stating his purpose
in having written. In 1Jo 1:4 he
states the object of his writing this Epistle to be, "that your joy may
be full." To "know that we have eternal life" is the sure way to
"joy in God."
14. the confidence—boldness
4:17) in prayer, which
results from knowing that we have eternal life (1Jo 5:13;
1Jo 3:19, 22).
according to his will—which is the
believer's will, and which is therefore no restraint to his prayers. In
so far as God's will is not our will, we are not abiding in faith, and
our prayers are not accepted. Alford
well says, If we knew God's will thoroughly, and
submitted to it heartily, it would be impossible for us to ask
anything for the spirit or for the body which He should not perform; it
is this ideal state which the apostle has in view. It is the
Spirit who teaches us inwardly, and Himself in us asks according
to the will of God.
15. hear—Greek, "that He
we have the petitions that we desired of
him—We have, as present possessions, everything
whatsoever we desired (asked) from Him. Not one of
our past prayers offered in faith, according to His will,
is lost. Like Hannah, we can rejoice over them as granted even before
the event; and can recognize the event when it comes to pass, as not
from chance, but obtained by our past prayers. Compare also
Jehoshaphat's believing confidence in the issue of his prayers, so much
so that he appointed singers to praise the Lord beforehand.
16. If any … see—on any particular
occasion; Greek aorist.
his brother—a fellow Christian.
sin a sin—in the act of sinning, and
continuing in the sin: present.
not unto death—provided that it is
not unto death.
he shall give—The asker shall
be the means, by his intercessory prayer, of God giving life to
the sinning brother. Kindly reproof ought to accompany his
intercessions. Life was in process of being forfeited by the
sinning brother when the believer's intercession obtained its
for them—resuming the proviso put
forth in the beginning of the verse. "Provided that the sin is not unto
death." "Shall give life," I say, to, that is, obtain life
"for (in the case of) them that sin not unto death."
I do not say that he shall pray for
it—The Greek for "pray" means a REQUEST as of one on an equality, or at least on
terms of familiarity, with him from whom the favor is sought. "The
Christian intercessor for his brethren, John declares, shall not assume
the authority which would be implied in making request for a sinner who
has sinned the sin unto death (1Sa 15:35; 16:1; Mr
3:29), that it might be
forgiven him" [Trench, Greek Synonyms
of the New Testament]. Compare De 3:26. Greek "ask" implies the humble
petition of an inferior; so that our Lord never uses it, but always
uses (Greek) "request." Martha, from ignorance, once uses "ask"
in His case (Joh 11:22).
"Asking" for a brother sinning not unto death, is a humble petition in
consonance with God's will. To "request" for a sin unto death
[intercede, as it were, authoritatively for it, as though we
were more merciful than God] would savor of presumption; prescribing to
God in a matter which lies out of the bounds of our brotherly yearning
(because one sinning unto death would thereby be demonstrated not to
be, nor ever to have been, truly a brother, 1Jo 2:19), how He shall inflict and withhold His
righteous judgments. Jesus Himself intercedes, not for the world which
hardens itself in unbelief, but for those given to Him out of the
17. "Every unrighteousness (even that of
believers, compare 1Jo 1:9; 3:4. Every coming short of right) is
sin"; (but) not every sin is the sin unto death.
and there is a sin not unto death—in
the case of which, therefore, believers may intercede. Death and
life stand in correlative opposition (1Jo 5:11-13). The sin unto death must
be one tending "towards" (so the Greek), and so resulting in,
death. Alford makes it to be an
appreciable ACT of sin, namely, the denying Jesus to be the Christ,
the Son of God (in contrast to confess this truth, 1Jo 5:1, 5), 1Jo 2:19, 22; 4:2, 3;
5:10. Such wilful deniers of
Christ are not to be received into one's house, or wished "God speed."
Still, I think with Bengel, not merely
the act, but also the state of apostasy accompanying the
act, is included—a "state of soul in which faith, love,
and hope, in short, the new life, is extinguished. The chief
commandment is faith and love. Therefore, the chief sin
is that by which faith and love are destroyed. In the former case is
life; in the latter, death. As long as it is not evident (see on
1Jo 5:16, on 'see') that it is a sin unto death,
it is lawful to pray. But when it is deliberate rejection of grace, and
the man puts from him life thereby, how can others procure for him
life?" Contrast Jas 5:14-18. Compare Mt 12:31, 32 as to the wilful rejection of Christ,
and resistance to the Holy Ghost's plain testimony to Him as the divine
Messiah. Jesus, on the cross, pleaded only for those who KNEW NOT what they were doing in crucifying
Him, not for those wilfully resisting grace and knowledge. If we
pray for the impenitent, it must be with humble reference of the
matter to God's will, not with the intercessory request which we
should offer for a brother when erring.
18. (1Jo 3:9.)
We know—Thrice repeated emphatically,
to enforce the three truths which the words preface, as matters of the
brethren's joint experimental knowledge. This 1Jo 5:18 warns against abusing 1Jo 5:16, 17, as warranting carnal
whosoever—Greek, "every one
who." Not only advanced believers, but every one who is born
again, "sinneth not."
he that is begotten—Greek
aorist, "has been (once for all in past time) begotten of God";
in the beginning of the verse it is perfect. "Is begotten," or "born,"
as a continuing state.
keepeth himself—The Vulgate
translates, "The having been begotten of God keepeth HIM" (so one of the oldest manuscripts reads): so
Alford. Literally, "He having been
begotten of God (nominative pendent), it (the divine generation
implied in the nominative) keepeth him." So 1Jo 3:9, "His seed remaineth in him." Still, in
English Version reading, God's working by His Spirit inwardly,
and man's working under the power of that Spirit as a responsible
agent, is what often occurs elsewhere. That God must keep
us, if we are to keep ourselves from evil, is certain. Compare
17:15 especially with this
that wicked one toucheth him not—so as
to hurt him. In so far as he realizes his regeneration-life, the prince
of this world hath nothing in him to fasten his deadly
temptations on, as in Christ's own case. His divine regeneration has
severed once for all his connection with the prince of this world.
19. world lieth in wickedness—rather,
"lieth in the wicked one," as the Greek is translated in
1Jo 5:18; 1Jo 2:13, 14; compare 1Jo 4:4; Joh 17:14, 15. The world lieth in the
power of, and abiding in, the wicked one, as the resting-place and lord
of his slaves; compare "abideth in death," 1Jo 3:14; contrast 1Jo 5:20, "we are in Him that is true." While the
believer has been delivered out of his power, the whole world
lieth helpless and motionless still in it, just as it was;
including the wise, great, respectable, and all who are not by vital
union in Christ.
20. Summary of our Christian privileges.
is come—is present, having
come. "He is here—all is full
of Him—His incarnation, work, and abiding presence, is to us a
living fact" [Alford].
given us an understanding—Christ's,
office is to give the inner spiritual understanding to discern the
things of God.
that we may know—Some oldest
manuscripts read, "(so) that we know."
him that is true—God, as opposed to
every kind of idol or false god (1Jo 5:21). Jesus, by virtue of His oneness with
God, is also "He that is true" (Re 3:7).
even—"we are in the true" God,
by virtue of being "in His Son Jesus Christ."
This is the true God—"This
Jesus Christ (the last-named Person) is the true God" (identifying Him
thus with the Father in His attribute, "the only true God," Joh 17:3, primarily attributed to the
and eternal life—predicated of the Son
of God; Alford wrongly says, He was
the life, but not eternal life. The Father is indeed
eternal life as its source, but the Son also is that eternal
life manifested, as the very passage (1Jo 1:2) which Alford quotes, proves against him. Compare also
5:11, 13. Plainly it is as
the Mediator of ETERNAL LIFE
to us that Christ is here contemplated. The Greek is,
"The true God and eternal life is this" Jesus Christ, that is, In
believing in Him we believe in the true God, and have eternal life. The
Son is called "He that is TRUE," Re 3:7, as here. This naturally prepares the
way for warning against false gods (1Jo 5:21). Jesus Christ is the only "express
image of God's person" which is sanctioned, the only true visible
manifestation of God. All other representations of God are forbidden as
idols. Thus the Epistle closes as it began (1Jo 1:1, 2).
21. Affectionate parting caution.
from idols—Christians were then
everywhere surrounded by idolaters, with whom it was impossible
to avoid intercourse. Hence the need of being on their guard against
any even indirect compromise or act of communion with idolatry. Some at
Pergamos, in the region whence John wrote, fell into the snare of
eating things sacrificed to idols. The moment we cease to abide "in Him
that is true (by abiding) in Jesus Christ," we become part of "the
world that lieth in the wicked one," given up to spiritual, if
not in all places literal, idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col