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2. Warning Against Antichrists
1My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. 3And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5but whoso keepeth his word, in him verily hath the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in him: 6he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as he walked. 7Beloved, no new commandment write I unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning: the old commandment is the word which ye heard. 8Again, a new commandment write I unto you, which thing is true in him and in you; because the darkness is passing away, and the true light already shineth. 9He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. 10He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him. 11But he that hateth his brother is in the darkness, and walketh in the darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because the darkness hath blinded his eyes. 12I write unto you, my little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. 13I write unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the evil one. I have written unto you, little children, because ye know the Father. 14I have written unto you, fathers, because ye know him who is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the evil one. 15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 18Little children, it is the last hour: and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us. 20And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all the things. 21I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son. 23Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son hath the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which ye heard from the beginning. If that which ye heard from the beginning abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son, and in the Father. 25And this is the promise which he promised us, even the life eternal. 26These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. 27And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him. 28And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. 29If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him.
1. My little children. It is not only the sum and substance of the preceding doctrine, but the meaning of almost the whole gospel, that we are to depart from sin; and yet, though we are always exposed to God’s judgment, we are certain that Christ so intercedes by the sacrifice of his death, that the Father is propitious to us. In the meantime, he also anticipates an objection, lest any one should think that he gave license to sin when he spoke of God’s mercy, and shewed that it is presented to us all. He then joins together two parts of the gospel, which unreasonable men separate, and thus lacerate and mutilate. Besides, the doctrine of grace has always been calumniated by the ungodly. When the expiation of sins by Christ is set forth, they boastingly say that a license is given to sin.
To obviate these calumnies, the Apostle testifies first that the design of his doctrine was to keep men from sinning; for when he says, that ye sin not, his meaning only is, that they, according to the measure of human infirmity, should abstain from sins. And to the same purpose is what I have already said respecting fellowship with God, that we are to be conformable to him. He is not, however, silent as to the gratuitous remission of sins; for though heaven should fall and all things be confounded, yet this part of truth ought never to be omitted; but, on the contrary, what Christ is ought to be preached clearly and distinctly.
So ought we also to do at this day. As the flesh is inclined to wantonness, men ought to be carefully warned, that righteousness and salvation are provided in Christ for this end, that we may become the holy possession of God. Yet whenever it happens that men wantonly abuse the mercy of God, there are many snarlish men who load us with calumny, as though we gave loose reins to vices. We ought still boldly to go on and proclaim the grace of Christ, in which especially shines forth the glory of God, and in which consists the whole salvation of men. These barkings of the ungodly ought, I repeat it, to be wholly disregarded; for we see that the apostles were also by these barkings assailed.
For this reason he immediately adds the second clause, that when we sin we have an advocate By these words he confirms what we have already said, that we are very far from being perfectly righteous, nay, that we contract new guilt daily, and that yet there is a remedy for reconciling us to God, if we flee to Christ; and this is alone that in which consciences call acquiesce, in which is included the righteousness of men, in which is founded the hope of salvation.
The conditional particle, if, ought to be viewed as causal; for it cannot be but that we sin. In short, John means, that we are not only called away from sin by the gospel, because God invites us to himself, and offers to us the Spirit of regeneration, but that a provision is made for miserable sinners, that they may have God always propitious to them, and that the sins by which they are entangled, do not prevent them from becoming just, because they have a Mediator to reconcile them to God. But in order to shew how we return into favor with God, he says that Christ is our advocate; for he appears before God for this end, that he may exercise towards us the power and efficacy of his sacrifice. That this may be better understood, I will speak more homely. The intercession of Christ is a continual application of his death for our salvation. That God then does not impute to us our sins, this comes to us, because he has regard to Christ as intercessor.
But the two names, by which he afterwards signalizes Christ, properly belong to the subject of this passage. He calls him just and a propitiation. It is necessary for him to be both, that he might sustain the office and person of an Advocate; for who that is a sinner could reconcile God to us? For we are excluded from access to him, because no one is pure and free from sin. Hence no one is fit to be a high priest, except he is innocent and separated from sinners, as it is also declared in Hebrews 7:26. Propitiation is added, because no one is fit to be a high priest without a sacrifice. Hence, under the Law, no priest entered the sanctuary without blood; and a sacrifice, as a usual seal, was wont, according to God’s appointment, to accompany prayers. By this symbol it was God’s design to shew, that whosoever obtains favor for us, must be furnished with a sacrifice; for when God is offended, in order to pacify him a satisfaction is required. It hence follows, that all the saints who have ever been and shall be, have need of an advocate, and that no one except Christ is equal to undertake this office. And doubtless John ascribed these two things to Christ, to shew that he is the only true advocate.
Now, as no small consolation comes to us, when we hear that Christ not only died for us to reconcile us to the Father, but that he continually intercedes for us, so that an access in his name is open to us, that our prayers may be heard; so we ought especially to beware, lest this honor, which belongs peculiarly to him, should be transferred to another.
But we know that under the Papacy this office is ascribed indiscriminately to the saints. Thirty years ago, this so remarkable an article of our faith, that Christ is our advocate, was nearly buried; but at this day they allow that he is indeed one of many, but not the only one. They among the Papists who have a little more modesty, do not deny that Christ excels others; but they afterwards join with him a vast number of associates. But the words clearly mean that he cannot be an advocate who is not a priest; and the priesthood belongs to none but to Christ alone. In the meantime we do not take away the mutual intercessions of saints, which they exercise in love towards one another; but this has nothing to do with the dead who have removed from their intercourse with men; and nothing with that patronage which they feign for themselves, that they may not be dependent on Christ alone. For though brethren pray for brethren, yet they all, without exception, look to one advocate. There is, then, no doubt but the Papists set up against Christ so many idols as the patrons or advocates they devise for themselves.
We must also notice by the way, that those err very grossly, who imagine that Christ falls on his knees before the Father to pray for us. Such thoughts ought to be renounced, for they detract from the celestial glory of Christ; and the simple truth ought to be retained, that the fruit of his death is ever new and perpetual, that by his intercession he renders God propitious to us, and that he sanctifies our prayers by the odor of his sacrifice, and also aids us by pleading for us.
2 And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.
Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ 6363 “It seems to me that the Apostle is to be understood as speaking only of all those who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, over the whole world.” — Doddridge. — Ed. suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.
3 And hereby, or by this. After having treated of the doctrine respecting the gratuitous remission of sins, he comes to the exhortations which belong to it, and which depend on it. And first indeed he reminds us that the knowledge of God, derived from the gospel, is not ineffectual, but that obedience proceeds from it. He then shews what God especially requires from us, what is the chief thing in life, even love to God. What we read here of the living knowledge of God, the Scripture does not without reason repeat everywhere; for nothing is more common in the world than to draw the doctrine of religion to frigid speculations. In this way theology has been adulterated by the Sorbonian sophists, so that from their whole science not even the least spark of true religion shines forth. And curious men do everywhere learn so much from God’s word, as enables them to prattle for the sake of display. In short, no evil has been more common in all ages than vainly to profess God’s name.
John then takes this principle as granted, that the knowledge of God is efficacious. He hence concludes, that they by no means know God who keep not his precepts or commandments. Plato, though groping in darkness, yet denied that “the beautiful” which he imagined, could be known, without filling man with the admiration of itself; so he says in his Phaedrus and in other places. How then is it possible for thee to know God, and to be moved by no feeling? Nor does it indeed proceed only from God’s nature, that to know him is immediately to love him; but the Spirit also, who illuminates our minds, inspires our hearts with a feeling conformable to our knowledge. At the same time the knowledge of God leads us to fear him and to love him. For we cannot know him as Lord and Father, as he shews himself, without being dutiful children and obedient servants. In short, the doctrine of the gospel is a lively mirror in which we contemplate the image of God, and are transformed into the same, as Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Where, therefore, there is no pure conscience, nothing can be there but an empty phantom of knowledge.
We must notice the order when he says, We do know that we know him; for he intimates that obedience is so connected with knowledge, that the last is yet in order the first, as the cause is necessarily before its effect.
If we keep his commandments But there is no one who in everything keeps them; there would thus be no knowledge of God in the world. To this I answer, that the Apostle is by no means inconsistent with himself; since he has before shewed that all are guilty before God, he does not understand that those who keep his commandments wholly satisfy the law (no such example can be found in the world;) but that they are such as strive, according to the capacity of human infirmity, to form their life in conformity to the will of God. For whenever Scripture speaks of the righteousness of the faithful, it does not exclude the remission of sins, but on the contrary, begins with it.
But we are not hence to conclude that faith recumbs on works; for though every one receives a testimony to his faith from his works, yet it does not follow that it is founded on them, since they are added as an evidence. Then the certainty of faith depends on the grace of Christ alone; but piety and holiness of life distinguish true faith from that knowledge of God which is fictitious and dead; for the truth is, that those who are in Christ, as Paul says, have put off the old man. (Colossians 3:9.)
4 He that saith, I know him How does he prove that they are liars who boast that they have faith without piety? even by the contrary effect; for he has already said, that the knowledge of God is efficacious. For God is not known by a naked imagination, since he reveals himself inwardly to our hearts by the Spirit. Besides, as many hypocrites vainly boast that they have faith, the Apostle charges all such with falsehood; for what he says would be superfluous, were there no false and vain profession of Christianity made by man.
5 But whoso keepeth He now defines what a true keeping of God’s law is, even to love God. This passage is, I think, incorrectly explained by those who understand that they please the true God who keep his word. Rather take this as its meaning, “to love God in sincerity of heart, is to keep his commandments.” For he intended, as I have before reminded you, briefly to shew what God requires from us, and what is the holiness of the faithful. Moses also said the same thing, when he stated the sum of the law.
“Now, O Israel, what does the Lord require of thee, but to fear and love him, and to walk in his precepts?”
And again he says,
“Choose life, even to love the Lord thy God, to serve him and to cleave to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20)
For the law, which is spiritual, does not command only external works, but enjoins this especially, to love God with the whole heart.
That no mention is here made of what is due to men, ought not to be viewed as unreasonable; for brotherly love flows immediately from the love of God, as we shall hereafter see. Whosoever, then, desires that his life should be approved by God, must have all his doings directed to this end. If any one objects and says, that no one has ever been found who loved God thus perfectly; to this I reply, that it is sufficient, provided every one aspired to this perfection according to the measure of grace given unto him. In the meantime, the definition is, that the perfect love of God is the complete keeping of his law. To make progress in this as in knowledge, is what we ought to do.
Hereby know we that we are in him He refers to that fruit of the gospel which he had mentioned, even fellowship with the Father and the Son; and he thus confirms the former sentence, by stating what follows, as a consequence. For if it be the end of the gospel to hold communion with God, and no communion can be without love, then no one makes a real progress in faith except he who cleaves from the heart to God.
6 He that saith he abideth in him As he has before set before us God as light for an example, he now calls us also to Christ, that we may imitate him. Yet he does not simply exhort us to imitate Christ; but from the union we have with him, he proves that we ought to be like him. A likeness in life and deeds, he says, will prove that we abide in Christ. But from these words he passes on to the next clause, which he immediately adds respecting love to the brethren.
7 Brethren, I write no new commandment This is an explanation of the preceding doctrine, that to love God is to keep his commandments. And not without reason did he largely dwell on this point. First, we know that novelty is disliked or suspected. Secondly, we do not easily undertake an unwonted yoke. In addition to these things, when we have embraced any kind of doctrine, we dislike to have anything changed or made new in it. For these reasons John reminds us, that he taught nothing respecting love but what had been heard by the faithful from the beginning, and had by long usage become old.
Some explain oldness differently, even that Christ now prescribes no other rule of life under the Gospel than what God did formerly under the Law. This is indeed most true; nor do I object but that he afterwards calls in this sense the word of the gospel the old commandment But I think that he now means only, that these were the first elements of the gospel, that they had been thus taught from the beginning, that there was no reason why they should refuse that as unusual by which they ought to have been long ago imbued. For the relative seems to be used in a causative sense. He calls it then old, not because it was taught the fathers many ages before, but because it had been taught them on their new entrance into a religious life. And it served much to claim their faith, that it had proceeded from Christ himself from whom they had received the gospel. 6464 That this view is correct, appears evident from the words, “which ye had from the beginning;” he calls it “old,” because they had been taught it from “the beginning,” that is, of the gospel. Then “new” can mean no other thing than what Calvin states, that it continues still in force, it being, as it were, always new. — Ed.
The old commandment The word old, in this place, probably extends further; for the sentence is fuller, when he says, the word which ye have heard from the beginning is the old commandment And as I, indeed, think, he means that the gospel ought not to be received as a doctrine lately born, but what has proceeded from God, and is his eternal truth; as though he had said, “Ye ought not to measure the antiquity of the gospel which is brought to you, by time; since therein is revealed to you the eternal will of God: not only then has God delivered to you this rule of a holy life, when ye were first called to the faith of Christ, but the same has always been prescribed and approved by him.” And, doubtless, this only ought to be deemed antiquity, and deserves faith and reverence, which has its origin from God. For the fictions of men, whatever long prescription of years they may have, cannot acquire so much authority as to subvert the truth of God.
8 Again, a new commandment Interpreters do not appear to me to have attained the meaning of the Apostle. He says new, because God, as it were, renews it by daily suggesting it, so that the faithful may practice it through their whole life, for nothing more excellent can be sought for by them. The elements which children learn give place in time to what is higher and more solid. On the contrary, John denies that the doctrine respecting brotherly love is of this kind, is one which grows old with time, but that it is perpetually in force, so that it is no less the highest perfection than the very beginning.
It was, however, necessary that this should be added, for as men are more curious than what they ought to be, there are many who always seek something new. Hence there is a weariness as to simple doctrine, which produces innumerable prodigies of errors, when every one gapes continually for new mysteries. Now, when it is known that the Lord proceeds in the same even course, in order to keep us through life in that which we have learnt, a bridle is cast on desires of this kind. Let him, then, who would reach the goal of wisdom, as to the right way of living, make proficiency in love.
Which then is true, or which is truth. He proves by this reason what he had said; for this one command respecting love, as to our conduct in life, constitutes the whole truth of Christ. Besides, what other greater revelation can be expected? for Christ, doubtless, is the end and the completion of all things. Hence the word truth means this, that they stood, as it were at the goal, for it is to be taken for a completion or a perfect state. He joins Christ to them, as the head to the members, as though he had said, that the body of the Church has no other perfection, or, that they would then be really united to Christ, if holy love existed continually among them.
Some give another explanation, “That which is the truth in Christ, is also in you.” But I do not see what the meaning of this is.
Because the darkness is past. The present time is here instead of the past; for he means, that as soon as Christ brings light, we have the full brightness of knowledge: not that every one of the faithful becomes wise the first day as much as he ought to be, (for even Paul testifies that he labored to apprehend what he had not apprehended, (Philippians 3:12,) but that the knowledge of Christ alone is sufficient to dissipate darkness. Hence, daily progress is necessary; and the faith of every one has its dawn before it reaches the noonday. But as God continues the inculcation of the same doctrine, in which he bids us to make advances, the knowledge of the Gospel is justly said to be the true light, when Christ, the Sun of righteousness, shines. Thus the way is shut up against the audacity of those men who try to corrupt the purity of the Gospel by their own fictions; and we may safely denounce an anathema on the whole theology of the Pope, for it wholly obscures the true light.
9 He that saith he is in the light He pursues the same metaphor. He said that love is the only true rule according to which our life is to be formed; he said that this rule or law is presented to us in the Gospel; he said, lastly, that it is there as the meridian light, which ought to be continually looked on. Now, on the other hand, he concludes that all are blind and walk in darkness who are strangers to love. But that he mentioned before the love of God and now the love of the brethren, involves no more contrariety than there is between the effect and its cause. Besides, these are so connected together that they cannot be separated.
John says in the third chapter, that we falsely boast of love to God, except we love our brethren; and this is most true. But he now takes love to the brethren as a testimony by which we prove that we love God. In short, since love so regards God, that in God it embraces men, there is nothing strange in this, that the Apostle, speaking of love, should refer at one time to God, at another to the brethren; and this is what is commonly done in Scripture. The whole perfection of life is often said to consist in the love of God; and again, Paul teaches us, that the whole law is fulfilled by him who loves his neighbor, (Romans 13:8;) and Christ declares that the main points of the law are righteousness, judgment, and truth. (Matthew 23:23.) Both these things are true and agree well together, for the love of God teaches us to love men, and we also in reality prove our love to God by loving men at his command. However this may be, it remains always certain that love is the rule of life. And this ought to be the more carefully noticed, because all choose rather almost anything else than this one commandment of God.
To the same purpose is what follows, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him — that is, in him who acts in love; for, he who thus lives will never stumble. 6565 Literally, “and to him there is not a stumblingblock;” that is, nothing that causes him to stumble or fall. He is not like him mentioned in the next verse, who “walks in darkness and knows not whither he goeth.” The sentence seems to have been taken from Psalm 119:165, with this only difference, that it is “to them,” instead of “to him.” There is in the Sept no preposition, but in Hebrew the preposition “to” is used; and ἐν has sometimes this meaning in the New Testament. See Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:7. — Ed.
11. But he that hateth his brother. He again reminds us, that whatever specious appearance of excellency thou shewest, there is yet nothing but what is sinful if love be absent. This passage may be compared with the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and no long explanation is needed. But this doctrine is not understood by the world, because the greater part are dazzled by all sorts of masks or disguises. Thus, fictitious sanctity dazzles the eyes of almost all men, while love is neglected, or, at least, driven to the farthest corner.
12 Little children This is still a general declaration, for he does not address those only of a tender age, but by little children he means men of all ages, as in the first verse, and also hereafter. I say this, because interpreters have incorrectly applied the term to children. But John, when he speaks of children, calls them παιδία, a word expressive of age; but here, as a spiritual father, he calls the old as well as the young, τεκνία He will, indeed, presently address special words to different ages; yet they are mistaken who think that he begins to do so here. But, on the contrary, lest the preceding exhortation should obscure the free remission of sins, he again inculcates the doctrine which peculiarly belongs to faith, in order that the foundation may with certainty be always retained, that salvation is laid up for us in Christ alone.
Holiness of life ought indeed to be urged, the fear of God ought to be carefully enjoined, men ought to be sharply goaded to repentance, newness of life, together with its fruits, ought to be commended; but still we ought ever to take heed, lest the doctrine of faith be smothered, — that doctrine which teaches that Christ is the only author of salvation and of all blessings; on the contrary, such moderation ought to be presented, that faith may ever retain its own primacy. This is the rule prescribed to us by John: having faithfully spoken of good works, lest he should seem to give them more importance than he ought to have done, he carefully calls us back to contemplate the grace of Christ.
Your sins are forgiven you Without this assurance, religion would not be otherwise than fading and shadowy; nay, they who pass by the free remission of sins, and dwell on other things, build without a foundation. John in the meantime intimates, that nothing is more suitable to stimulate men to fear God than when they are rightly taught what blessing Christ has brought to them, as Paul does, when he beseeches by the bowels of God’s mercies. (Philippians 2:1.)
It hence appears how wicked is the calumny of the Papists, who pretend that the desire of doing what is right is frozen, when that is extolled which alone renders us obedient children to God. For the Apostle takes this as the ground of his exhortation, that we know that God is so benevolent to us as not to impute to us our sins.
For his name’s sake The material cause is mentioned, lest we should seek other means to reconcile us to God. For it would not be sufficient to know that God forgives us our sins, except we came directly to Christ, and to that price which he paid on the cross for us. And this ought the more to be observed, because we see that by the craft of Satan, and by the wicked fictions of men, this way is obstructed; for foolish men attempt to pacify God by various satisfactions, and devise innumerable kinds of expiations for the purpose of redeeming themselves. For as many means of deserving pardon we intrude on God, by so many obstacles are we prevented from approaching him. Hence John, not satisfied with stating simply the doctrine, that God remits to us our sins, expressly adds, that he is propitious to us from a regard to Christ, in order that he might exclude all other reasons. We also, that we may enjoy this blessing, must pass by and forget all other names, and rely only on the name of Christ.
13 I write unto you, fathers He comes now to enumerate different ages, that he might shew that what he taught was suitable to every one of them. For a general address sometimes produces less effect; yea, such is our perversity, that few think that what is addressed to all belongs to them. The old for the most part excuse themselves, because they have exceeded the age of learning; children refuse to learn, as they are not yet old enough; men of middle age do not attend, because they are occupied with other pursuits. Lest, then, any should exempt themselves, he accommodates the Gospel to all. And he mentions three ages, the most common division of human life. Hence also, the Lacedemonian chorus had three orders; the first sang, “What ye are we shall be;” the last, “What ye are we have been;” and the middle, “We are what one of you have been and the other will be.” Into these three degrees John divides human life.
He, indeed, begins with the old, and says that the Gospel is suitable to them, because they learnt from it to know the eternal Son of God. Moroseness is the character of the old, but they become especially unteachable, because they measure wisdom by the number of years. Besides, Horace in his Art of Poetry, has justly noticed this fault in them, that they praise the time of their youth and reject whatever is differently done or said. This evil John wisely removes, when he reminds us that the Gospel contains not only a knowledge that is ancient, but what also leads us to the very eternity of God. It hence follows that there is nothing here which they can dislike. He says that Christ was from the beginning; I refer this to his Divine presence, as being co-eternal with the Father, as well as to his power, of which the Apostle speaks in Hebrews, that he was yesterday what he is today; as though he had said,
“If antiquity delights you, ye have Christ, who is superior to all antiquity; therefore his disciples ought not to be ashamed of him who includes all ages in Himself.” (Hebrews 13:8)
We must, at the same time, notice what that religion is which is really ancient, even that which is founded on Christ, for otherwise it will be of no avail, however long it may have existed, if it derives its origin from error.
I write unto you, young men Though it be a diminutive word, νεανίσκοι, 6666 The diminutive termination often expresses affection; hence νεανίσκοι may properly be rendered, “dear youth,” or “dear young men;” and so τεκνία μου, in the first verse, may be rendered, “My dear children.” — Ed yet there is no doubt but that he directs his word to all who were in the flower of their age. We also know that those of that age are so addicted to the vain cares of the world, that they think but little of the kingdom of God; for the rigor of their minds and the strength of their bodies in a manner inebriate them. Hence the Apostle reminds them where true strength is, that they might no more exult as usual in the flesh. Ye are strong, he says, because ye have overcome Satan. The copulative here is to be rendered causatively. And, doubtless, that strength is what we ought to seek, even that which is spiritual. At the same time he intimates that it is not had otherwise than from Christ, for he mentions the blessings which we receive through the Gospel. He says that they had conquered who were as yet engaged in the contest; but our condition is far otherwise than that of those who fight under the banners of men, for war is doubtful to them and the issue is uncertain; but we are conquerors before we engage with the enemy, for our head Christ has once for all conquered for us the whole world.
I write unto you, young children They needed another direction. That the Gospel is well adapted to young children the Apostle concludes, because they find there the Father. We now see how diabolical is the tyranny of the Pope, which drives away by threats all ages from the doctrine of the Gospel, while the Spirit of God so carefully addresses them all.
But these things which the Apostle makes particular, are also general; for we should wholly fall off into vanity, except our infirmity were sustained by the eternal truth of God. There is nothing in us but what is frail and fading, except the power of Christ dwells in us. We are all like orphans until we attain the grace of adoption by the Gospel. Hence, what he declares respecting young children is also true as to the old. But yet his object was to apply to each what was most especially necessary for them, that he might shew that they all without exception stood in need of the doctrine of the Gospel. The particle ὅτι is explained in two ways, but the meaning I have given to it is the best, and agrees better with the context.
14 I have written unto you, fathers These repetitions I deem superfluous; and it is probable that when unskillful readers falsely thought that he spoke twice of little children, they rashly introduced the other two clauses. It might at the same time be that John himself, for the sake of amplifying, inserted the second time the sentence respecting the young men, (for he adds, that they were strong, which he had not said before;) but that the copyists presumptuously filled up the number. 6767 There are no different readings that can justify the supposition of an interpolation. The only reading that Griesbach considers probable is ἔγραψα for γράφω at the end of the 13th verse. If that be adopted, then the three characters are twice mentioned, and in regular order. The objection that τεκνία in ver. 12, is παιδία in ver. 13, is not valid, for he uses the latter in the same sense as the former in ver. 18, as denoting Christians in general; while here, in connection with “fathers” and “young men,” they must mean those young in years or in the profession of the gospel. The repetition is for the sake of emphasis. — Ed
15 Love not He had said before that the only rule for living religiously, is to love God; but as, when we are occupied with the vain love of the world, we turn away all our thoughts and affections another way, this vanity must first be torn away from us, in order that the love of God may reign within us. Until our minds are cleansed, the former doctrine may be iterated a hundred times, but with no effect: it would be like pouring water on a ball; you can gather, no, not a drop, because there is no empty place to retain water. 6868 It is considered by many, such as Macknight and Scott, that the three former verses are connected with this — that the particulars stated with regard to little children, fathers, and young men, are adduced as reasons to enforce this exhortation, “Love not the world,” etc. And this no doubt is the best view of the passage. — Ed.
By the world understand everything connected with the present life, apart from the kingdom of God and the hope of eternal life. So he includes in it corruptions of every kind, and the abyss of all evils. In the world are pleasures, delights, and all those allurements by which man is captivated, so as to withdraw himself from God. 6969 There are two things, the world, and the things that are in the world. The world, thus distinguished from what is in it, means, according to Macknight, the wicked and unbelieving, the men of the world, as when our Savior says, “the world,” that is, the unbelieving Jews, “hateth you,” John 15:19. According to this view, the contrast in verse 17 appears very suitable, “The world (the ungodly men of the world) passeth away, and its lust, (their lust;) but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” Others think that the blessings of the world are meant, the good things necessary for the support of man, and that these are not to be loved, though they may be rightly used. In this case, “in the world” must have a different meaning, a thing not unusual in Scripture; it must mean in the present state of things. But the most consistent view is the first, that is, to take “the world” throughout as signifying the ungodly men of the world. What prevail among them are the lusts here mentioned, — sensual gratification, avarice, and ambition, the three gods who rule and reign in mankind. — Ed.
Moreover, the love of the world is thus severely condemned, because we must necessarily forget God and ourselves when we regard nothing so much as the earth; and when a corrupt lust of this kind rules in man, and so holds him entangled that he thinks not of the heavenly life, he is possessed by a beastly stupidity.
If any man love the world He proves by an argument from what is contrary, how necessary it is to cast away the love of the world, if we wish to please God; and this he afterwards confirms by an argument drawn from what is inconsistent; for what belongs to the world is wholly at variance with God. We must bear in mind what I have already said, that a corrupt mode of life is here mentioned, which has nothing in common with the kingdom of God, that is, when men become so degenerated, that they are satisfied with the present life, and think no more of immortal life than mute animals. Whosoever, then, makes himself thus a slave to earthly lusts, cannot be of God.
16 The lust of the flesh, or, namely, the lust of the flesh. The old interpreter renders the verse otherwise, for from one sentence he makes two. Those Greek authors do better, who read these words together, “Whatever is in the world is not of God;” and then the three kinds of lusts they introduce parenthetically. For John, by way of explanation, inserted these three particulars as examples, that he might briefly shew what are the pursuits and thoughts of men who live for the world; but whether it be a full and complete division, it does not signify much; though you will not find a worldly man in whom these lusts do not prevail, at least one of them. It remains for us to see what he understands by each of these.
The first clause is commonly explained of all sinful lusts in general; for the flesh means the whole corrupt nature of man. Though I am unwilling to contend, yet I am unwilling to dissemble that I approve of another meaning. Paul, when forbidding, in Romans 13:14, to make provision for the flesh as to its lusts, seems to me to be the best interpreter of this place. What, then, is the flesh there? even the body and all that belongs to it. What, then, is the lust or desire of the flesh, but when worldly men, seeking to live softly and delicately, are intent only on their own advantages? Well known from Cicero and others, is the threefold division made by Epicurus; for he made this difference between lusts; he made some natural and necessary, some natural and not necessary, and some neither natural nor necessary. But John, well knowing the insubordination (ἀταξία)of the human heart unhesitantly condemns the lust of the flesh, because it always flows out immoderately, and never observes any due medium. He afterwards comes gradually to grosser vices.
The lust of the eyes He includes, as I think, libidinous looks as well as the vanity which delights in pomps and empty splendor.
In the last place follows pride or haughtiness; with which is connected ambition, boasting, contempt of others, blind love of self, headstrong self-confidence.
The sum of the whole is, that as soon as the world presents itself, our lusts or desires, when our heart is corrupt, are captivated by it, like unbridled wild beasts; so that various lusts, all which are adverse to God, bear rule in us. The Greek word, βὶος rendered life, (vita,) means the way or manner of living.
17 And the world passeth away As there is nothing in the world but what is fading, and as it were for a moment, he hence concludes that they who seek their happiness from it, make a wretched and miserable provision for themselves, especially when God calls us to the ineffable glory of eternal life; as though he had said, “The true happiness which God offers to his children, is eternal; it is then a shameful thing for us to be entangled with the world, which with all its benefits will soon vanish away.” I take lust here metonymically, as signifying what is desired or coveted, or what captivates the desires of men. The meaning is, that what is most precious in the world and deemed especially desirable, is nothing but a shadowy phantom.
By saying that they who do the will of God shall abide for ever, or perpetually, he means that they who seek God shall be perpetually blessed. Were any one to object and say, that no one doeth what God commands, the obvious answer is, that what is spoken of here is not the perfect keeping of the law, but the obedience of faith, which, however imperfect it may be, is yet approved by God. The will of God is first made known to us in the law; but as no one satisfies the law, no happiness can be hoped from it. But Christ comes to meet the despairing with new aid, who not only regenerates us by his Spirit that we may obey God, but makes also that our endeavor, such as it is, should obtain the praise of perfect righteousness.
18 It is the last time, or hour. He confirms the faithful against offenses by which they might have been disturbed. Already many sects had risen up, which rent the unity of faith and caused disorder in the churches. But the Apostle not only fortifies the faithful, lest they should falter, but turns the whole to a contrary purpose; for he reminds them that the last time had already come, and therefore he exhorts them to a greater vigilance, as though he had said, “Whilst various errors arise, it behooves you to be awakened rather than to be overwhelmed; for we ought hence to conclude that Christ is not far distant; let us then attentively look for him, lest he should come upon us suddenly.” In the same way it behooves us to comfort ourselves at this day, and to see by faith the near advent of Christ, while Satan is causing confusion for the sake of disturbing the Church, for these are the signs of the last time.
But so many ages having passed away since the death of John, seem to prove that this prophecy is not true: to this I answer, that the Apostle, according to the common mode adopted in the Scripture, declares to the faithful, that nothing more now remained but that Christ should appear for the redemption of the world. But as he fixes no time, he did not allure the men of that age by a vain hope, nor did he intend to cut short in future the course of the Church and the many successions of years during which the Church has hitherto remained in the world. And doubtless, if the eternity of God’s kingdom be borne in mind, so long a time will appear to us as a moment. We must understand the design of the Apostle, that he calls that the last time, during which all things shall be so completed, that nothing will remain except the last revelation of Christ.
As ye have heard that antichrist will come He speaks as of a thing well known. We may hence conclude that the faithful had been taught and warned from the beginning respecting the future disorder of the Church, in order that they might, carefully keep themselves in the faith they professed, and also instruct posterity in the duty of watchfulness. For it was God’s will that his Church should be thus tried, lest any one knowingly and willingly should be deceived, and that there might be no excuse for ignorance. But we see that almost the whole world has been miserably deceived, as though not a word had been said about Antichrist.
Moreover, under the Papacy there is nothing more notorious and common than the future coming of Antichrist; and yet they are so stupid, that they perceive not that his tyranny is exercised over them. Indeed, the same thing happens altogether to them as to the Jews; for though they hold the promises respecting the Messiah, they are yet further away from Christ than if they had never heard his name; for the imaginary Messiah, whom they have invented for themselves, turns them wholly aside from the Son of God; and were any one to shew Christ to them from the Law and the Prophets, he would only spend his labor in vain. The Popes have imagined an Antichrist, who for three years and a half is to harass the Church. All the marks by which the Spirit of God has pointed out Antichrist, clearly appear in the Pope; but the triennial Antichrist lays fast hold on the foolish Papists, so that seeing they do not see. Let us then remember, that Antichrist has not only been announced by the Spirit of God, but that also the marks by which he may be distinguished have been mentioned.
Even now are there many antichrists. This may seem to have been added by way of correction, as they falsely thought that it would be some one kingdom; but it is not so. They who suppose that he would be only one man, are indeed greatly mistaken. For Paul, referring to a future defection, plainly shows that it would be a certain body or kingdom. (2 Thessalonians 2:3.) He first predicts a defection that would prevail through the whole Church, as a universal evil; he then makes the head of the apostasy the adversary of Christ, who would sit in the temple of God, claiming for himself divinity and divine honors. Except we desire willfully to err, we may learn from Paul’s description to know Antichrist. That passage I have already explained; it is enough now touch on it by the way.
But how can that passage agree with the words of John, who says that there were already many antichrists? To this I reply, that John meant no other thing than to say, that some particular sects had already risen, which were forerunners of a future Antichrist; for Cerinthus, Basilides, Marcion, Valentinus, Ebion, Arrius, and others, were members of that kingdom which the Devil afterwards raised up in opposition to Christ. Properly speaking, Antichrist was not yet in existence; but the mystery of iniquity was working secretly. But John uses the name, that he might effectually stimulate the care and solicitude of the godly to repel frauds.
But if the Spirit of God even then commanded the faithful to stand on their watch, when they saw at a distance only signs of the coming enemy, much less is it now a time for sleeping, when he holds the Church under his cruel and oppressive tyranny, and openly dishonors Christ.
19 They went out from us He anticipates another objection, that the Church seemed to have produced these pests, and to have cherished them for a time in its bosom. For certainly it serves more to disturb the weak, when any one among us, professing the true faith, falls away, than when a thousand aliens conspire against us. He then confesses that they had gone out from the bosom of the Church; but he denies that they were ever of the Church. But the way of removing this objection is, to say, that the Church is always exposed to this evil, so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who know not Christ, really, however much they may by the mouth profess his name.
By saying, They went out from us, he means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. He, however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, as chaff though mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.
For if they had been of us He plainly declares that those who fell away had never been members of the Church. And doubtless the seal of God, under which he keeps his own, remains sure, as Paul says, (2 Timothy 2:19.) But here arises a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away. To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts. The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed.
He does not speak here of the constancy of men, but of God, whose election must be ratified. He does not then, without reason declare, that where the calling of God is effectual, perseverance would be certain. He, in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.
That they might be made manifest He shews that trial is useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for perturbation. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.
20 But ye have an unction. The Apostle modestly excuses himself for having so earnestly warned them, lest they should think that they were indirectly reproved, as though they were rude and ignorant of those things which they ought to have well known. So Paul conceded wisdom to the Romans, that they were able and fit to admonish others. He at the same time shewed that they stood in need of being reminded, in order that they might rightly perform their duty. (Romans 15:14, 15.) The Apostles did not, however, speak thus in order to flatter them; but they thus wisely took heed lest their doctrine should be rejected by any, for they declared what was suitable and useful, not only to the ignorant, but also to those well instructed in the Lord’s school.
Experience teaches us how fastidious the ears of men are. Such fastidiousness ought indeed to be far away from the godly; it yet behooves a faithful and wise teacher to omit nothing by which he may secure a hearing from all. And it is certain that we receive what is said with less attention and respect, when we think that he who speaks disparages the knowledge which has been given us by the Lord. The Apostle by this praise did at the same time stimulate his readers, because they who were endued with the gift of knowledge, had less excuse if they did not surpass others in their proficiency.
The state of the case is, that the Apostle did not teach them as though they were ignorant, and acquainted only with the first elements of knowledge, but reminded them of things already known, and also exhorted them to rouse up the sparks of the Spirit, that a full brightness might shine forth in them. And in the next words he explained himself, having denied that he wrote to them because they knew not the truth, but because they had been well taught in it; for had they been wholly ignorant and novices, they could not have comprehended his doctrine.
Now, when he says that they knew all things, it is not to be taken in the widest sense, but ought to be confined to the subject treated of here. But when he says that they had an unction from the Holy One, he alludes, no doubt, to the ancient types. The oil by which the priests were anointed was obtained from the sanctuary; and Daniel mentions the coming of Christ as the proper time for anointing the Most Holy. (Daniel 9:24.) For he was anointed by the Father, that he might pour forth on us a manifold abundance from his own fullness. It hence follows that men are not rightly made wise by the acumen of their own minds, but by the illumination of the Spirit; and further, that we are not otherwise made partakers of the Spirit than through Christ, who is the true sanctuary and our only high priest. 7070 “From the Holy One,” from the Father, say some; from the Son, say others; from the Holy Spirit, according to a third party. By comparing this verse with the 27th and the 28th verse, we see reason to conclude that the “Holy One” is Christ, who had promised the Spirit to teach his people. The unction, or the anointing, is the act of the Spirit by which the truth is taught. — Ed.
21 And that no lie is of the truth. He concedes to them a judgment, by which they could distinguish truth from falsehood; for it is not the dialectic proposition, that falsehood differs from truth, (such as are taught as general rules in the schools;) but what is said is applied to that which is practical and useful; as though he had said, that they did not only hold what was true, but were also so fortified against the impostures and fallacies of the ungodly, that they wisely took heed to themselves. Besides, he speaks not of this or of that kind of falsehood; but he says, that whatever deception Satan might contrive, or in whatever way he might attack them, they would be able readily to distinguish between light and darkness, because they had the Spirit as their guide.
22 Who is a liar He does not assert that they alone were liars who denied that the Son of God appeared in the flesh, lest no one in unloosing the knot should above measure torment himself; but that they surpassed all others, as though he had said, that except this be deemed a lie, no other could be so reckoned; as we are wont commonly to say, “If perfidy towards God and men is not a crime, what else can we call a crime?” 7171 Taking this view of the passage, we may give this rendering, — “Who is a liar, except it be he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” — Ed.
What he had generally said of false prophets, he now applies to the state of his own time; for he points out, as by the finger, those who disturbed the Church. I readily agree with the ancients, who thought that Cerinthus and Carpocrates are here referred to. But the denial of Christ extends much wider; for it is not enough in words to confess that Jesus is the Christ, except he is acknowledged to be such as the Father offers him to us in the gospel. The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God, but imagined him to be man only. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, adorning him with the name of God, robbed him of his eternal divinity. Marcion dreamt that he was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that he differed nothing from the Father. All these denied the Son of God; for not one of them really acknowledged the true Christ; but, adulterating, as far as they could, the truth respecting him, they devised for themselves an idol instead of Christ. Then broke out Pelagius, who, indeed, raised no dispute respecting Christ’s essence, but allowed him to be true man and God; yet he transferred to us almost all the honor that belongs to him. It is, indeed, to reduce Christ to nothing, when his grace and power are set aside.
So the Papists, at this day, setting up freewill in opposition to the grace of the Holy Spirit, ascribing a part of their righteousness and salvation to the merits of works, feigning for themselves innumerable advocates, by whom they render God propitious to them, have a sort of fictitious Christ, I know not what; but the lively and genuine image of God, which shines forth in Christ, they deform by their wicked inventions; they lessen his power, subvert and pervert his office.
We now see that Christ, is denied, whenever those things which peculiarly belong to him, are taken away from him. And as Christ is the end of the law and of the gospel, and has in himself all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, so he is the mark at which all heretics level and direct their arrows. Therefore the Apostle does not, without reason, make those the chief impostors, who fight against Christ, in whom the full truth is exhibited to us.
He is Antichrist He speaks not of that prince of defection who was to occupy the seat of God; but all those who seek to overthrow Christ, he puts them among that impious band. And that he might amplify their crime, he asserts that the Father, no less than the Son, is denied by them; as though he had said, “They have no longer any religion, because they wholly cast away God.” And this he afterwards confirms, by adding this reason, that the Father cannot be separated from the Son.
Now this is a remarkable sentence, and ought to be reckoned among the first axioms of our religion. yea, when we have confessed that there is one true God, this second article ought necessarily to be added, that he is no other but he who is made known in Christ. The Apostle does not here treat distinctly of the unity of essence. It is, indeed, certain, that the Son cannot be disunited from the Father, for he is of the same essence, (ὁμοούσιος;) but another thing is spoken of here, that is, that the Father, who is invisible, has revealed himself only in his Son. Hence he is called the image of the Father, (Hebrews 1:3,) because he sets forth and exhibits to us all that is necessary to be known of the Father. For the naked majesty of God would, by its immense brightness, ever dazzle our eyes; it is therefore necessary for us to look on Christ. This is to come to the light, which is justly said to be otherwise inaccessible.
I say, again, that there is not here a distinct discussion respecting the eternal essence of Christ, which he has in common with the Father. This passage is, indeed, abundantly sufficient to prove it: but John calls us to this practical part of faith, that as God has given himself to us to be enjoyed only in Christ, he is elsewhere sought for in vain; or (if any one prefers what is clearer) that as in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Deity, there is no God apart from him. It hence follows, that Turks, Jews, and such as are like them, have a mere idol and not the true God. For by whatever titles they may honor the God whom they worship, still, as they reject him without whom they cannot come to God, and in whom God has really manifested himself to us, what have they but some creature or fiction of their own? They may flatter themselves as much as they please, with their own speculations, who, without Christ, philosophize on divine things; it is still certain that they do nothing but rave and rant, because, as Paul says, they hold not the Head. (Colossians 2:19.) It is obvious, hence, to conclude how necessary is the knowledge of Christ.
Many copies have the opposite sentence, “He who confesses the Son,” etc. But as I think that a note by some copyist has crept into the text, I hesitated not to omit it. 7272 The words are found in most of the MSS., and in most of the versions, and in many of the Fathers. Besides, they wholly comport with the usual style of the Apostle, whose common practice it was to state things positively and negatively, and vice versa. Sec especially chap. 5:12. — Ed. But if its insertion be approved, the meaning would be, that there is no right confession of God except the Father be acknowledged in the Son.
Were any one to object and say, that many of the ancients thought rightly of God, to whom Christ was not known: I allow that the knowledge of Christ has not been always so explicitly revealed, nevertheless, I contend that it has been always true, that as the light of the sun comes to us by its rays, so the knowledge of God has been communicated through Christ.
24 Let that therefore abide in you He annexes an exhortation to the former doctrine; and that it might have more weight, he points out the fruit they would receive from obedience. He then exhorts them to perseverance in the faith, so that they might retain fixed in their hearts what they had learnt.
But when he says, from the beginning, he does not mean that antiquity alone was sufficient to prove any doctrine true; but as he has already shown that they had been rightly instructed in the pure gospel of Christ, he concludes that they ought of right to continue in it. And this order ought to be especially noticed; for were we unwilling to depart from that doctrine which we have once embraced, whatever it may be, this would not be perseverance, but perverse obstinacy. Hence, discrimination ought to be exercised, so that a reason for our faith may be made evident from God’s word: then let inflexible perseverance follow.
The Papists boast of “a beginning,” because they have imbibed their superstitions from childhood. Under this pretense they allow themselves obstinately to reject the plain truth. Such perverseness shews to us, that we ought always to begin with the certainty of truth.
In that which ye have heard Here is the fruit of perseverance, that they in whom God’s truth remains, remain in God. We hence learn what we are to seek in every truth pertaining to religion. He therefore makes the greatest proficiency, who makes such progress as wholly to cleave to God. But he in whom the Father dwells not through his Son, is altogether vain and empty, whatever knowledge he may possess. Moreover, this is the highest commendation of sound doctrine, that it unites us to God, and that in it is found whatever pertains to the real fruition of God.
In the last place, he reminds us that it is real happiness when God dwells in us. The words he uses are ambiguous. They may be rendered, “This is the promise which he has promised to us, even eternal life.” 7373 This, which is our version, is, no doubt, the best construction. “Promise” is a metonymy for what is promised: “This is the promise, which he hath promised to us, even eternal life.” “Eternal life” is in apposition with “which.” — Ed. You may, however, adopt either of these renderings, for the meaning is still the same. The sum of what is said is, that we cannot live otherwise than by nourishing to the end the seed of life sown in our hearts. John insists much on this point, that not only the beginning of a blessed life is to be found in the knowledge of Christ, but also its perfection. But no repetition of it can be too much, since it is well known that it has ever been a cause of ruin to men, that being not content with Christ, they have had a hankering to wander beyond the simple doctrine of the gospel.
26 These things have I written unto you The apostle excuses himself again for having admonished them who were well endued with knowledge and judgment. But he did this, that they might apply for the guidance of the Spirit, lest his admonition should be in vain; as though he had said, “I indeed do my part, but still it is necessary that the Spirit of God should direct you in all things; for in vain shall I, by the sound of my voice, beat your ears, or rather the air, unless he speaks within you.”
When we hear that he wrote concerning seducers, we ought always to bear in mind, that it is the duty of a good and diligent pastor not only to gather a flock, but also to drive away wolves’ for what will it avail to proclaim the pure gospel, if we connive at the impostures of Satan? No one, then, can faithfully teach the Church, except he is diligent in banishing errors whenever he finds them spread by seducers. What he says of the unction having been received from him, I refer to Christ.
27 And ye need not Strange must have been the purpose of John, as I have already said, if he intended to represent teaching as useless. He did not ascribe to them so much wisdom, as to deny that they were the scholars of Christ. He only meant that they were by no means so ignorant as to need things as it were unknown to be taught them, and that he did not set before them anything which the Spirit of God might not of himself suggest to them. Absurdly, then, do fanatical men lay hold on this passage, in order to exclude from the Church the use of the outward ministry. He says that the faithful, taught by the Spirit, already understood what he delivered to them, so that they had no need to learn things unknown to them. He said this, that he might add more authority to his doctrine, while every one repeated in his heart an assent to it, engraven as it were by the finger of God. But as every one had knowledge according to the measure of his faith, and as faith in some was small, in others stronger, and in none perfect, it hence follows, that no one knew so much, that there was no room for progress.
There is also another use to be made of this doctrine, — that when men really understand what is needful for them, we are yet to warn and rouse them, that they may be more confirmed. For what John says, that they were taught all things by the Spirit, ought not to be taken generally, but to be confined to what is contained in this passage. He had, in short, no other thing in view than to strengthen their faith, while he recalled them to the examination of the Spirit, who is the only fit corrector and approver of doctrine, who seals it on our hearts, so that we may certainly know that God speaks. For while faith ought to look to God, he alone can be a witness to himself, so as to convince our hearts that what our ears receive has come from him.
And the same is the meaning of these words, As the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth; that is, the Spirit is like a seal, by which the truth of God is testified to you. When he adds, and is no lie, he points out another office of the Spirit, even that he endues us with judgment and discernment, lest we should be deceived by lies, lest we should hesitate and be perplexed, lest we should vacillate as in doubtful things.
As it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him, or, abide in him. He had said, that the Spirit abode in them; he now exhorts them to abide in the revelation made by him, and he specifies what revelation it was, “Abide,” he says, “in Christ, as the Spirit hath taught you.” Another explanation, I know, is commonly given, “Abide in it,” that is, the unction. But as the repetition which immediately follows, cannot apply to any but to Christ, I have no doubt but that he speaks here also of Christ; and this is required by the context; for the Apostle dwells much on this point, that the faithful should retain the true knowledge of Christ, and that they should not go to God in any other way.
He at the same time shews, that the children of God are for no other end illuminated by the Spirit, but that they may know Christ. Provided they turned not aside from him, he promised them the fruit of perseverance, even confidence, so as not to be ashamed at his presence. For faith is not a naked and a frigid apprehension of Christ, but a lively and real sense of his power, which produces confidence. Indeed, faith cannot stand, while tossed daily by so many waves, except it looks to the coming of Christ, and, supported by his power, brings tranquillity to the conscience. But the nature of confidence is well expressed, when he says that it can boldly sustain the presence of Christ. For they who indulge securely in their vices, turn their backs as it were on God; nor can they otherwise obtain peace than by forgetting him. This is the security of the flesh, which stupefies men; so that turning away from God, they neither dread sin nor fear death; and in the meantime they shun the tribunal of Christ. But a godly confidence delights to look on God. Hence it is, that the godly calmly wait for Christ, nor do they dread his coming.
29. If ye know that he is righteous He again passes on to exhortations, so that he mingles these continually with doctrine throughout the Epistle; but he proves by many arguments that faith is necessarily connected with a holy and pure life. The first argument is, that we are spiritually begotten after the likeness of Christ; it hence follows, that no one is born of Christ but he who lives righteously. It is at the same time uncertain whether he means Christ or God, when he says that they who are born of him do righteousness. It is a mode of speaking certainly used in Scripture, that we are born of God in Christ; but there is nothing inconsistent in the other, that they are born of Christ, who are renewed by his Spirit. 7474 It is the character of John’s style that he often passes as it were abruptly from the Son to the Father, and from the Father to the Son; and often the antecedent is not the next preceding word, but one at some distance: we find this to be the case by what the sentence contains, as in the present instance; the new birth is never ascribed to the Son, referred to in the foregoing verse, but to the Father or to the Spirit. Hence we must conclude that the righteous one spoken of here, who together with the Son is mentioned in the 22d verse, is the Father. As the intervening verses, with the exception of the 23d, which is only explanatory of the previous verse, apply to the Son, so this verse seems to refer to the Father, consistently with a mode of writing common in Scripture. — Ed.