1 John 5:9,10 open_in_new
This is the witness of God, which He hath testified of His Son
Faith, and the witness upon which it is founded
Faith stands, under the covenant of grace, in a leading position amongst the works of the regenerate man and the gifts of the Spirit of God.
The promise no longer stands to the man who doeth these things that he shall live in them, else we were shut out of it, but “the just shall live by faith.” God now biddeth us live by believing in Him.
I. First, then, since our great business is that we believe God, let us see what reason we have for believing Him.
I. The external evidence given is stated in the first verse of the text, as the evidence of God to us, and it is prefaced by the remark that “we receive the witness of men.” We do and must believe the testimony of men as a general rule; and it is only right that we should account witnesses honest till they have proved themselves false. Now, God has been pleased to give us a measure of the witness of men with regard to His Son, Jesus Christ. We have the witness of such men as the four evangelists and the twelve apostles. We have the witness of men as to the facts that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven. Further, we have the testimony of men as to the present power of that same Jesus to forgive men their trespasses, and to save them from the power of sin. From the first day when our Lord was taken up till now men and women have come forward, and have said, “We were once lovers of sin; whatever our neighbours are, such were we, but we are washed, but we are sanctified; and all this by faith in Jesus.” Some years ago there went into a Methodist class meeting a lawyer who was a doubter, but at the same time a man of candid spirit. Sitting down on one of the benches, he listened to a certain number of poor people, his neighbours, whom he knew to be honest people. He heard some thirteen or fourteen of these persons speak about the power of Divine grace in their souls, and about their conversion, and so on. He jotted down the particulars, and went home, and sat down, and said to himself, “Now, these people all bear witness, I will weigh their evidence.” It struck him that if he could get those twelve or thirteen people into the witness box, to testify on his side in any question before a court, he could carry anything. They were persons of different degrees of intellect and education, but they were all of the sort of persons whom he would like to have for witnesses, persons who could bear cross examination, and by their very tone and manner would win the confidence of the jury. “Very well,” he said to himself, “I am as much bound to believe these people about their religious experience as about anything else.” He did so, and that led to his believing on the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart. Thus, you see, the testimony of God to us does in a measure come through men, and we are bound to receive it. But now comes the text: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” God is to be believed if all men contradict Him. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” Now, what is the witness of God with regard to Christ? How does He prove to us that Jesus Christ did really come into the world to save us? God’s witnesses are three: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. God says, “My Son did come into the world: He is My gift to sinful men; He has redeemed you, and He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto Me by Him: and in proof that He is so the Holy Spirit has been given.” Then the water, that is to say, the purifying power of the gospel, is also God’s witness to the truth of the gospel. If it does not change men’s characters when they receive it, it is not true. But as God everywhere, among the most savage tribes, or amongst the most refined of mankind, makes the gospel to be sacred bath of cleansing to the hearts and lives of men, He gives another witness that His Son is really Divine, and that His gospel is true. The blood also witnesses. Does believing in Jesus Christ do what the blood was said to do, namely, give peace with God through the pardon of sin? Hundreds and thousands all over the world affirm that they had no peace of conscience till they looked into the streaming veins of Jesus, and then they saw how God can be just and yet forgive sin.
II. I come now to the internal evidence, or the witness in us. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” When a man is led by the Spirit of God to believe that God cannot lie, he inquires what it is that God says; and he hears that atonement has been made, and that whosoever believeth in Jesus shall have eternal life. He sees the witness to be good, and he believes it. That man is saved. What happens next? Why, this man becomes a new creature. He is radically changed. “Now,” says he to himself, “I am sure of the truth of the gospel, for this wonderful change in me, in my heart, my speech, and my life, must be of Divine origin. I was told that if I believed I should be saved from my former self, and I era. Now, I know, not only by the external witness, nor even because of the witness of God, but I have an inner consciousness of a most marvellous birth, and this is a witness in myself.” The man then goes on to enjoy great peace. Looking alone to Jesus Christ for pardon, he finds his sins taken from him, and his heart is unburdened of a load of fear, and this rest of heart becomes to him another inward witness. As the Christian thus goes on from strength to strength he meets with answers to prayer. He goes to God in trouble. In great perplexity he hastens to the Lord, light comes, and he sees his way. He wants many favours, he asks for them, and they are bestowed. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself”; and there is no witness like it. Except the witness of God, which stands first, and which we are to receive, or perish, there is nothing equal to the witness within yourself. Many a poor man and woman could illuminate their Bibles after the fashion of the tried saint who placed a “T. and P.” in the margin. She was asked what it meant, and she replied, “That means ‘Tried and proved,’ sir.” Yes, we have tried and proved the Word of God, and are sure of its truth.
III. How are we treating the witness of God? For it is written in our text, “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the witness that God witnessed of His Son.” Now, are we believing the witness of God? Do you unconverted people believe that the wrath of God abideth on you? Then you must be insane if you do not seek to escape from that wrath. If you believe that Jesus Christ saves from sin, and gives to the soul a treasure far beyond all price, you will make all speed to obtain the precious boon. Is it not so? He who believes in the value of a gift will hasten to accept it, unless he be out of his mind. Methinks I hear one say, “I would believe if I felt something in my heart.” You will never feel that something. You are required to believe on the witness of God, and will you dare to say that His evidence is not sufficient? If you will believe on the Divine testimony you shall have the witness within by and by, but you cannot have that first. The demand of the gospel is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe upon God’s testimony.” What testimony do you want more? God has given it you in many forms. By His inspired book; by the various works of His Spirit, and by the water and the blood in the Church all around you. Above all, Jesus Himself is the best of witnesses. Believe Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself--
The inward witness of faith
Testimony and experience constitute two separate and independent grounds of faith. That we may have full confidence in the skill of a physician, it is not necessary that we should have seen him, or have personally witnessed any of the cures ejected by him. Our faith may rest simply on the testimony of competent witnesses. But there is also a faith that grounds itself on our own personal experience. The physician whom we first employed, because he was recommended to us by others, may now receive our confidence from what we have ourselves seen and felt of his skill. Our faith in him began with testimony, but now it has become independent of it. The general order of God’s moral government is, first belief, afterwards experience. We must begin by using testimony, not by rejecting it; by cherishing not a proud and sceptical, but a childlike and confiding spirit. The gospel of Christ comes to us in the form of Divine testimony. We may have witnessed its effects upon others. We may have heard them telling with joyful accents what it has done for their souls. But this, too, is testimony; very weighty and valuable when accompanied by such a life as convinces us of its sincerity, but still only human testimony, with its usual alloy of error and imperfection. It cannot convey to us an adequate apprehension of the blessedness and power of faith in Christ, any more than a description of light can be a substitute for seeing the sun shining in his strength. To understand fully how worthy the gospel is of our acceptance, we must feel its efficacy. But this we cannot till we have received it. Our reception of it, then, must rest on God’s testimony. After that, we shall have both the outward and the inward witness of its truth. It is reasonable, therefore, when God calls upon men to repent and believe the gospel, that He should furnish them with clear evidence that it is His gospel, and no invention of man. This He has done from the beginning. Our Saviour did not ask His hearers to receive Him as the Son of God, without first furnishing them with many “infallible proofs” of His Divine mission (John 5:31; John 10:37; John 5:36). This outward evidence which Jesus furnished of His Messiahship left all who rejected Him without excuse. But to those who received Him in faith and love there was a higher testimony (Matthew 16:17). The man who has received the gospel in faith and love knows, from his own experience, that it satisfies all the wants of his spiritual nature, and must therefore be true; since it is inconceivable that the soul should be nurtured by error, and kept by it in a vigorous and healthful condition, as that the body should thrive on poison.
I. The gospel quiets the conscience, and that on reasonable grounds. The moment the soul apprehends the mighty truth that God has manifested Himself in the flesh; that in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ the true God has taken into union with Himself a true human nature, and in this nature has borne the curse of the law in our stead, it cries out with joy--“This it what I need; a propitiation of infinite worth to meet the immeasurable guilt of my sin.”
II. The gospel gives the victory over the inward power of sin. Of the greatness and difficulty of this work the careless and light minded have no conception. But let one who has gained some true knowledge of the Divine law as a spiritual rule for the regulation of the inner man set himself in earnest to the work of obeying it inwardly as well as outwardly, and he will soon make distressing discoveries of his moral impotence; an impotence which lies not in the absence or defect of any of those faculties which are necessary to qualify him to render to God’s law perfect obedience, but only in his free guilty preference of earthly above spiritual good. To emancipate him from this bondage to indwelling sin, and raise him to holiness and communion with God, he needs help from above. Here the gospel, in the fulness of its grace, comes to his relief. It offers him the all-sufficient help of the Holy Spirit to illumine his dark mind, cleanse his polluted soul from the defilement of sin, strengthen his weakness, and give him a victory over the world.
III. The gospel restores the soul to communion with God.
1. Only they who receive the gospel can fully apprehend the evidence Of its truth.
2. It is possible for a man to put himself in such an attitude that he cannot judge rightly of the evidence by which the gospel is supported.
3. Our assurance of the truth of Christianity is intimately connected with the growth of our piety. (E. P. Barrows, D. D.)
The inward witness
I. How come we to be believers? You know how faith arises in the heart from the human point of view. We hear the gospel, we accept it as the message of God, and we trust our selves to it. So far it is our own work; and be it remembered that in every case faith is and must be the act of man. But, having said that, let us remember that the Godward history of our believing is quite another thing, for true faith is always the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings us to perform the act of faith by which we are saved; and the process is after this manner, though varying in different individuals:
1. We are brought attentively to listen to the old, old story of the Cross.
2. Further, the Holy Spirit is also pleased to make us conscious of our sinfulness, our danger, and our inability, and this is a great way towards faith in Christ.
3. Moreover, while attentively hearing, we perceive the suitability of the gospel to our case. We feel ourselves sinful, and rejoice that our great Substitute bore our sin, and suffered on its account, and we say, “That substitution is fall of hope to me; salvation by an atonement is precisely what I desire; here can my conscience rest.”
4. There is but one more step, and that is, we accept Jesus as set forth in the gospel, and place all our trust in Him.
5. When the soul accepts the Lord Jesus as Saviour, she believes in Him as God: for she saith, “How can He have offered so glorious an atonement had He not been Divine?” This is why we believe, then, and the process is a simple and logical one. The mysterious Spirit works us to faith, but the states of mind through which He brings us follow each other in a beautifully simple manner.
II. How know we that believers are saved? for that seems to be a grave question with some. God declares in His Word, even in that sure Word of testimony, whereunto ye do well to take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, that every believer in Jesus Christ is saved. Again, we know on the authority of Scripture that believers are saved, because the privileges which are ascribed to them prove that they are in a saved condition. John goes to the very root of every matter, and in John 1:12 he tells us, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” Once again, the whole tone of Scripture regards the believer as a saved man. “Believers” is a common synonym for saints, for sanctified persons; and truth to say the Epistles are written to believers, for they are written to the Churches, and Churches are but assemblages of believers.
III. How do we know that we are believers? It is clear that if we are believers we are saved, but how do we know that we are believers? First of all, as a general rule, it is a matter of consciousness. How do I know that I breathe? How do I know that I think? I know I do, and that is enough. Faith is to a large extent a matter of consciousness. I believe, and if you ask me how I know it I reply, “I am sure I do.” Still there is other evidence. How do I know that I am a believer? Why, by the very remarkable change which I underwent when I believed; for when a man believes in Jesus Christ there is such a change wrought in him that he must be aware of it. Things we never dreamed of before we have realised now. I remember one who when he was converted said, “Well, either the world is new or else I am.” This change is to us strong evidence that faith is in us, and has exercised its power. We have further evidence that we believe, for our affections are so altered. The believer can say that the things he once loved he now hates, and the things he hated he now loves; that which gave him pleasure now causes him pain, and things which were irksome and unpleasant have now become delightful to him. Especially is there a great change in us with respect to God. We know, also, that we believe because though very far from perfect we love holiness and strive after purity. And we know that we have believed in Jesus Christ because now we have communion with God; we are in the habit of speaking with God in prayer, and hearing the Lord speak with us when we read His Word. We know that we have believed in the Lord Jesus because we have over and above all this a secret something, indescribable to others, but well known by ourselves, which is called in Scripture the witness of the Holy Spirit: for it is written, “The Spirit Himself also beareth witness with our spirit that we are born of God.” There comes stealing over the soul sometimes a peace, a joy, a perfect rest, a heavenly deliciousness, a supreme content, in which, though no voice is heard, yet are we conscious that there is rushing through our souls, like a strain of heaven’s own music, the witness of the Spirit of God. In closing, let me ask, Do you believe in Jesus Christ or no? If thou believest thou art saved; if thou believest not thou art condemned already. Let me next ask, are any of you seeking after any witness beyond the witness of God? If you are, do you not know that virtually you are making God a liar? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The internal witness
I. It includes a consciousness of the existence of faith in our own minds. What is faith? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It draws aside the curtain which hides the eternal world from view. It gives reality, in our apprehensions, to the future condition of rational and immortal beings. It causes us to live under the influence of things unseen by the eye of sense and that are eternal. It is a grace, because it is the gift of God, produced in the soul by the operation of His Spirit. It is a saving grace, because wherever it is produced salvation is its concomitant result. Can it be said that these are exercises which elude our observation? Surely, if we can be conscious of any thing that passes within us, we may and ought to be conscious of the existence and operation of faith.
II. By the exercise of faith the experience of the believer is made to harmonise with the testimony of the divine word, so that the internal witness is confirmed and strengthened. Our Lord has said, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” As we act upon it we find it to be true. This statement admits of a very extensive illustration. Every doctrine of the Divine Word may be included in it.
III. The effects and concomitants of faith are a constant and growing testimony to its reality. It is not too much to say that faith produces a complete revolution in the soul. Our views undergo an entire change. God, and self, and sin, and holiness, and salvation, and time, and eternity, are seen in a new light. Now, is a work such as this to be maintained in the soul without the consciousness of the subject of it? It must be most strange if it be so. Of all mysteries and miracles that is certainly one of the greatest. Surely if it be unobserved we should fear it does not exist. If the sun shines we behold his light. “He that believeth in God hath the witness in himself.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The witness in oneself
A Christian minister should often press upon his hearers the difference between historical and saving faith, and entreat them to take heed lest, to the ruin of the soul, they confound things which are so essentially distinct. The historical faith requires nothing but what are popularly called the evidences of Christianity; and a volume from Paley or Chalmers gathering to a point the scattered testimonies to the Divine origin of our religion, suffices, with every inquiring mind, to produce a conviction that the Bible is no “cunningly devised fable.” But saving faith, whilst it does not discard the evidences which serve as outworks to Christianity, possesses others which are peculiar to itself; and just as historical faith being seated in the head, the proofs on which it rests address themselves to the head, so saving faith being seated in the heart, in the heart dwell the evidences to which it makes its appeal. The character to which the apostle refers here is unquestionably that of a true believer in Christ, one who believes to the saving of the soul, and not merely with the assent of the understanding. The Messiahship of Jesus is a kind of centre whence emanate those various truths through belief in which we become raised from the ruins of the Fall; and no man can have faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed of God, except so far as he has faith in the life-giving doctrines which He was anointed to proclaim. No correct estimate can be formed of sin unless we measure its enormity by the greatness of the satisfaction which was required for its pardon. And only so far as the heinousness of sin is discovered can the fearfulness be felt of our condition by nature; and therefore we may justly maintain that he alone understands rightly the fall of man who understands rightly the evil of transgression. But external testimony will never satisfy us of this evil; whereas he who “believes on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” to the immensity of sin, for he has in himself a vigorous perception of the mysterious and awful things of the atonement. Sin is beheld through the wounds of the Saviour; and, thus beheld, its lightest acting is discerned to be infinitely dishonouring to God and infinitely destructive to man. But it is “in himself” that the believer finds the witness. Faith brings Christ into his heart; and then the mysteries of Calvary are developed; and the man feels his own share in the crucifixion; feels, as we have already described, that his own sins alone were of guilt enough to make his salvation impossible with out that crucifixion. And if such internal feeling be the necessary accompaniment, or rather a constituent part, of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is it not undeniable that “he who believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” to the heinousness of sin; in other words, “hath the witness in himself” to the ruin consequent on transgression? We hasten to the second and perhaps more obvious truth--namely, that “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him self” to the rescue perfected by redemption. We enter not now on any proof of this indissoluble connection between simple faith and active zeal. We refer to believing experience; we appeal to its records. Has it not always been found that the strongest faith is accompanied by the warmest love; and that in the very proportion in which the notion has been discarded of works availing to justification, have works been wrought as evidences and effects of justification? The believer feels and finds the truth of this “in himself.” His whole soul is drawn out towards God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Christian consciousness as a witness
We acquire knowledge by different witnesses. There is--
1. The witness of the senses.
2. The witness of testimony. All history is but a collection of human testimony regarding past events.
3. The witness of logic. There is a class of truths, a species of knowledge which we reach by conclusions drawn from known facts.
4. The witness of consciousness. Consciousness assures us of the reality of all our mental impulses and states. The text brings under our notice the witness of Christian consciousness. I offer three remarks concerning this witness.
I. It is the most important of all witnesses. Why is it the most important? Because it bears witness to the most momentous realities.
1. The truth of the gospel. Fully acknowledging the value of other evidences in favour of Christianity, such as that of history, prophecy, miracle, and success, none are to be compared in value to that of consciousness. The gospel “commends itself to every man’s conscience.” This is the witness that gives to the majority of believers in Christianity their faith.
2. The soul’s interest in the gospel.
II. It is the most incontrovertible of all witnesses. The evidence of the senses, which often deceive; of human testimony, which is fallible; of logic, which often errs, is all controvertible. Doubts may be raised at all the statements of these witnesses. But what consciousness attests is at once placed beyond argument, beyond debate, beyond doubt. It never lies, it never mistakes. What consciousness attests, lives, despite the antagonism of all philosophy and logic. The verities attested by consciousness burn as imperishable stars in the mental hemisphere of the mind. “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.”
III. It is the most available of all witnesses. In some cases, logic, through the natural feebleness of the understanding, and in other cases, through the lack of data, without which, however naturally strong, it cannot speak, is not always available even with its feeble testimony. But the witness of consciousness is always in the court. The availableness of the witness, it must be remembered, depends upon the possession of personal Christianity. If we have it not, consciousness cannot attest it. Have we this witness? It is no transient phenomenon. It is a Paraclete that comes to abide with him forever. (Homilist.)
Evidences of personal piety
I. Conversion. Here we must begin in all our inquiries after religion.
IV. Prayer. Without prayer a man cannot have “the witness in himself” that he is the subject of true piety.
V. Love. The man that would know whether he be a true Christian must search for evidences of supreme love to God and Christ, and love to the people of God for His sake.
VI. Hatred of sin.
VII. Holiness of life. Essential as the evidences of the heart are to prove a man a Christian, none of them can be considered as genuine unless they are corroborated by the outward conduct. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The believer’s “witness in himself”
I. The declaration--“he that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself.” “The witness” of what? I do not understand it to be the same as that which we meet with in the eighth of the Romans, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” I think “the witness” here is to the truth connected with the former verse--“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God, which He hath testified of His Son.” The declaration of the text, then, amounts to this: that he that truly believes on the Son of God hath internal proof that God’s Word is true. If we take it in its most general view, it is so. He reads in that book declarations concerning man, as a guilty, lost, ruined, weak, helpless creature; and he that believeth hath inward witness that it is so. But especially does it refer to the Lord Jesus, as the great sum and substance of the gospel. The believer in Him has internal witness “that Jesus is the Christ.”
II. How is it that he has it? it is a thing altogether spiritual. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. If you ask by what it is that He conveys it, I answer, by faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A man does not really know a truth till he believes it; a man does not really know Christ, till he believes in Him. It is faith that gives body to the truth; it is faith that reveals Christ to the soul of man. But do you ask what it is that confirms it? A man sees what effects it produces, a man observes the consequences of it. He has been working hard for righteousness, and he has the revelation of Christ and His righteousness to pacify his conscience. And if you ask in what school it is that the Lord the Spirit teaches a man and instructs him, I answer, in the school of experience. “In His Word I read it; in the experience of my soul I know it.”
III. The qualifies that mark this inward witness. Beloved, it is a Scriptural witness. The Spirit of God uses His Word as the great medium of all consolation and all sanctification. Not that He is to be limited by us; who shall say what direct communication He may have with us? I dare not deny it. But it must be tested by the Word of God. Bring it to the Word of truth; if it be of God, it will stand the test of truth; for all truth is to be tried by its own test, and whatever comes from God must be that which leads to God. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The true position of the witness within
I. Believing on the son of God comes before the inner witness. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself”; he believes before he has that witness, and it is only as a believer that he obtains it.
1. The basis of faith is the testimony of God concerning His Son--the testimony of God as we find it in Holy Scripture. Dare we ask more? We must not go about to buttress the solid pillar of Divine testimony.
2. Note that the words which follow our text assure us very solemnly that the rejection of this basis, namely, God’s own testimony, involves the utmost possible guilt. “He that believeth not God, hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record which God gave of His Son.”
3. Now, this basis of faith is abundantly sufficient. If we were not alienated from God, we should feel this at once.
4. Now, though this basis is sufficient, the Lord, knowing our unbelief, has been pleased not to add to it, but to set it before us in a graciously amplified manner. He says, “There are three which bear witness in earth, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.” There is the witness of the Spirit. Instead of miracles we have the presence of the Holy Ghost: men quickened from death in sin, hearts renewed, eyes enlightened, souls regenerated--these are the standing witnesses of God in the Church to the truth of the gospel. Then, there is the witness of the water. By the water I understand the spiritual life which abides in the Church--the life and the cleansing which God gives to believers. Then there is the blood--a third witness--that blood of atonement which brings peace to the guilty conscience, and ends the strife within. There is no voice like it to believing ears. Beyond this evidence, the hearer of the gospel may expect nothing. What more can he need? What more can he desire? If you refuse Christ upon the witness of God, you must refuse Him outright, for other witness shall never be given unto those who believe not upon the solemn testimony of God.
5. And let me say that this basis which has been so graciously amplified in the triple witness of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, has this to commend it, that it is everlasting and immutable.
6. Now, the faith which will not and cannot rest on this basis is evidently no faith in God at all, but a proud resolve to demand other evidence than His word. “Well,” saith one, “but suppose I were to see a vision, I should then believe.” That is to say, you would believe your vision, but that vision would, in all probability, be the result of a fevered brain, and you would be deceived. “Oh, but if I could hear a voice, then I could believe.” That is to say, you refuse the sure word of testimony in the Bible, and will only believe God if He will condescend to indulge your whims. Voices which you might think you heard are not to be depended upon, for imagination easily creates them.
7. Let me tell those of you who will not believe in God till you get a certain experience, or sign, or wonder to be added to God’s word, that those of His people who have been longest walking by faith have to come back full often to the first foundation of faith in the outer witness of God in His Word. Whether I am saint or sinner, there standeth the word, “He that believeth in Him is not condemned.” I do believe in Him and I am not condemned, nor shall all the devils in hell make me think I am, since God has said I am not. On that rock my faith shall stand unshaken, come what may.
II. The inner witness naturally follows upon faith. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.”
1. It is quite impossible that the inner witness should precede faith. If you refuse to believe God’s word how can you think that the Spirit will bear witness of anything in you except it be to your condemnation? There must be faith going before, and then the witness will follow after.
2. But be it remembered especially that a man may have the witness within him and sometimes he may not perceive it. Now, what is this witness within? Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Saviour of sinners--that is the main point to be witnessed. First the Spirit, after we have believed, bears witness in our soul that it is so, because we perceive that the Spirit has led us to believe in Jesus, and has given us repentance; the Spirit has renewed us, the Spirit has made us different from what we were. Then the water bears witness within us--that is to say, we feel a new life. Thirdly, the precious blood within our souls bears further witness, for then we rejoice before God as cleansed by the blood from all sin. Now we have confirmatory witness within our spirits, given not because we demanded it, but as a sweet reward and gracious privilege. We should never have received it if we had not believed first on the naked word of God, but after that the witness flows naturally into the heart. And what if I were to speak of growing holiness of character, of increased conformity to Christ’s image? Do not these form a good inner witness? What if I were to speak of growing strength, so that the things we dare not once attempt we now accomplish with ease, or of growing patience under tribulation. Either of these would be noble proofs.
III. This inner witness is exceedingly excellent.
1. Because it is very plain and easy to be understood. Numbers of you have never read “Butler’s Analogy,” and if you were set to study it you would go to sleep over it. Never mind, you may have an unanswerable “analogy” in your own souls.
2. That is another point of its excellence--that it is unanswerable. A man is told that a certain medicine is mere quackery, “See here,” says he, “it healed me.” What do you say to such an argument? You had better let the man alone. So when a Christian is told that the gospel is all nonsense he replies, “It saved me. I was a man of strong passions, and it tamed me, and more.” What can you say to such facts? Why, nothing.
3. Such argument as this is very abiding in its results. A man who has been transformed by the gospel cannot be baffled, because every day his argument is renewed, and he finds fresh reasons within himself for knowing that what he believed is true. Such argument is always ready to hand. Sometimes if you are challenged to a controversy you have to reply, “Wait till I run upstairs and consult a few books,” but when the evidence is personal--“I have felt it, I know it, I have tasted it, handled it”--why you have your argument at your fingers’ ends at all times.
4. Such witness as this gives a man great boldness. He does not begin to conceal his opinions, or converse with his neighbour with an apologetic air, but he is positive and certain.
IV. Excellent as this inner witness is, it must never be put in the place of the divine witness in the word. Why not? Because it would insult the Lord, and be contrary to His rule of salvation by faith. Because, moreover, it is not always with us in equal clearness, or rather, we cannot equally discern it. If the brightest Christian begins to base his faith upon his experience and his attainments, he will be in bondage before long. Build on what God hath said, and not upon your inward joys. Accept these precious things not as foundation stones, but as pinnacles of your spiritual temple. Let the main thing be--“I believe because God hath spoken.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The evidential importance of the inner witness
All the objective witness is crowned and perfected when it passes inwardly into the soul, into the heart and life--when the believer on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. The evidential importance of the inner witness is well stated by Baxter. “I am now much mare apprehensive than heretofore of the necessity of well grounding men in their religion, and especially of the witness of the indwelling Spirit; for I more sensibly perceive that the Spirit is the great witness of Christ and Christianity to the world. And though the folly of fanatics tempted me long to overlook the strength of the testimony of the Spirit, whilst they placed it in certain internal affection or enthusiastic inspiration, yet now I see that the Holy Ghost in another manner is the witness of Christ and His agent in the world. The Spirit in the prophets was His first witness; and the Spirit by miracles was the second; and the Spirit by renovation and sanctification, illumination and consolation, assimilating the soul to Christ and heaven, is the continued witness to all true believers. And therefore ungodly persons have a great disadvantage in their resisting temptations to unbelief.” (Abp. W. Alexander.)
Believing and knowing
Two and two make four--that is mathematics; hydrogen and oxygen in certain proportions make water--that is science; Christ and Him crucified is the power and wisdom of God for salvation--that is revelation. But how do you know? Put two and two together and you have four; count and see. Put hydrogen and oxygen together and you have water; taste and prove. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved; believe and thou shalt know. The last is as clear a demonstration as the others. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son--
Rejecting the Divine testimony
I. The sin of rejecting Christ is very aggravated, seeing it is an offence against God. “He that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of His Son.” The language is fearfully strong. “He hath made Him a liar.” Strong, however, as it is, it is only calling the sin by its right name. God has borne witness to His Son in every way that ought to satisfy the most scrupulous mind. It is the testimony of God Himself which they withstand. Therefore are they charged with virtually pronouncing His testimony false. Our Lord presents the subject in the very same light, denouncing the sin of unbelief with equal severity, and exposing its enormity by tracing it up to the deep seated love of sin in the heart (John 3:18-19). “Because their deeds are evil.” There lies the secret of opposition to Christ and His gospel. It is the love of sin. “Everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
II. Such conduct is distinguished as much by folly as by sin, considering the nature and value of that which is rejected. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
1. Eternal life. How are we to describe it? It comprehends all the blessedness which man is capable of enjoying in this life, and in that which is to come. The lowest idea we can attach to it is the remission of all our sins. The sentence of death which on their account has been passed upon us is removed. What an unspeakable blessing! Great, however, as such a blessing is, it is accompanied by another, greater and better. This is “acceptance in the beloved.” Not merely is there deliverance from condemnation, but admission to favour. The two blessings arise out of the same source, and that is union with Christ. On the ground of His atonement we are at once freed from death and crowned with life. Nor is this all. The same prolific source yields another blessing, which is never separated from pardon and acceptance. The dead soul is at the same time quickened and made alive unto God. The eyes are opened to see the vileness of sin and the beauty of holiness. The ears are unstopped to hear the voice of God in His Word and works. The tongue is unloosed to speak with Him in prayer, and for Him to man. The hands are emancipated to engage in His service. And the feet are turned into His ways, and run in the paths of His commandments. The blessings of life are now enjoyed. There is activity with all its healthful exercises. There is purity, with all its peace and prosperity. There is enjoyment, with all its precious treasures. In the measure in which spiritual life is restored, we are made like unto God. To consummate this blessedness, the stamp of eternity is put upon it.
2. The source from which this blessing is represented to proceed is calculated greatly to enhance and recommend it. It is the gift of God.
3. Farther, not only has the apostle described the blessedness, and the source from which it comes, but the very channel through which it is conveyed to us. “This life is in His Son.” The design of this announcement is at once to instruct and encourage us. It seems to contemplate the mind awakened by such a blessedness as was proposed to it, and inquiring where shall I find it? To such a one it is said, go unto Jesus.
III. It is inexcusable, seeing it may be so simply and effectually secured. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” To “have the Son” is identified, in the text itself, with believing on Him. We may have Christ and eternal life in Him simply by believing. This is the constant testimony of the Divine Word. “He that hath the Son hath life.” So soon as we are united to Christ by faith, we are put in possession of life. This is true of all the blessings contained in it. But how solemn is the alternative! “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” He cannot have pardon, for “without the shedding of blood is no remission.” He cannot have favour, for, “if a man shall keep the whole law, and offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” He cannot have holiness, for, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And he cannot be an heir of glory, for Jesus hath said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” (J. Morgan, D. D.)
A solemn impeachment of unbelievers
It is always well for every man to know exactly what he is at. On the sea of life the oftener we take observations as to our longitude and latitude the better. I believe there is such a thing as pitying sinners and comforting them till they consider themselves to be no longer blameworthy, and even regard themselves as unhappy people who deserve sympathy.
I. The sinner’s inability to believe dissected. He pleads that he cannot believe. He often says this, and quiets his conscience with it. Let me take your unbelief to pieces and show why it is that you cannot believe.
1. The inability of many of you lies in the fact that you do not care to think about the matter at all. You give your mind to your business, your pleasure, or your sin: you dream that there is time enough yet to think of heavenly things, and you think them to be of secondary importance. Many, however, say, “Oh, yes, I believe the Bible, I believe it is God’s book, I believe the gospel to be God’s gospel.” Why, then, do you not believe in Jesus? It must be because you do not think the gospel message important enough to be obeyed; and in so doing you are giving God the lie practically, for you tell Him that your soul is not so precious as He says it is, neither is your state so perilous as He declares it to be.
2. A second reason of the sinner’s inability to believe lies in the fact that the gospel is true. “No,” you reply, “that is precisely why we would believe it.” Yes, but what does Jesus say in John 8:45? When religious impostures have arisen, the very men who have heard the gospel from their youth up, and have not received it because it is true, have become dupes of imposition at once. The truth did not suit their nature, which was under the dominion of the father of lies, but no sooner was a transparent lie brought under their notice than they leaped at it at once like a fish at a fly. The monstrous credulity of unbelief amazes me!
3. There are persons who do not receive the gospel because it is despised among men. Sinner, this is no small offence, to be ready to accept the verdict of your fellow men, but not ready to accept the declaration of your God.
4. Many, however, do not receive the gospel because they are much too proud to believe it. The gospel is a very humbling thing.
5. Another reason why men cannot believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus lies in the holiness of the gospel. The gospel proclaims Jesus, who saves men from their sins, but you do not want that.
II. The nature of the sin of unbelief, in that it makes God a liar. Those are guilty of this sin who deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Saviour, the Son of God. When a man says that Jesus is not God, and the Father says He is, the lie direct is given; but, as I believe there are very few of that kind of unbelievers, I will leave such persons and pass on. A poor trembling, weeping sinner comes to me, and amongst other things he says, “My sins are so great that I do not believe they can be pardoned.” I meet him thus. God says, “Though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. “But, sir, my sin is very great indeed.” “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” “But my transgressions have been exceedingly aggravated.” “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. “Sir, I cannot believe it.” Stand up, then, and tell the Lord so in the plainest manner. Another will say, “Oh, but my heart is so hard I cannot believe in the power of God to make a new man of me and deliver me from the love of sin.” Yet God declares in His Word, “A new heart also will I give them,” etc. In many there exists a doubt about the willingness of God to save. They say, “I believe that the blood of Jesus Christ does blot out sin, but is He willing to pardon me?” Now, listen to what Jehovah says: “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that He turn unto Me and live.” “Alas,” cries one, “my ground for doubt is deeper; I hear that God can pardon, regenerate, and all that, and I believe it, but then I cannot see that any of this is for me. I do not see that these things are meant for me.” Listen, then, to what God says, “Ho everyone that thirsteth,” etc. You adroitly reply, “But I do not thirst.” More shame for you, then! Listen again, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give, you rest.” “But I do not labour.” Do not labour? How do you get your living? I am sorry for you if you are such a lazy man that you have no labour. That text includes every labouring man and every heavy laden man under heaven. Listen yet again, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Does not that invite every living man who is willing to come? If you say, “I am not willing,” then I leave you, for you confess that you are unwilling to be saved, and that is exactly what I am trying to prove--you cannot believe because you are unwilling to do so. Yet hear me once again. Jesus has said to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Are you a creature? “Yes, I am a creature.” Well, man, God has put it as plain as it can be put that the gospel is to be preached to you, and, therefore, it has a relation to you. Would God send it to you to tantalise you? When you say, “It is not for me,” you give God the lie. “Well,” says one, “but I cannot see how simply trusting in Christ, and believing God’s witness of Him, would save my soul.” Are you never to believe anything but what you can see, and how are you to see this thing till you have tried it? The faith which is commanded in the gospel is faith in the record which God has given concerning His Son, a faith which takes God at His word. Believe, then, on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have believed God to be true: refuse to trust in Jesus Christ, unless you get some other evidence beyond the witness of God, and you have practically said that God’s testimony is not enough, that is to say, you have made God a liar.
III. The execration of his sin. To disbelieve God is a sin indeed! It was the mother sin of all, the door by which all other evil came into the world. Oh, accursed unbelief! How can the absolutely true submit to be charged with falsehood? This sin of making God a liar I do pray you look at it very solemnly, for it is a stab at God Himself. Then, remember, this unbelief insults God on a very tender point. He comes to the guilty sinner and says, “I am ready to forgive.” The sinner says, “I do not believe Thee.” “Hear Me,” says the Lord. “What proof do you ask? See, I have given My only-begotten Son--He has died upon the tree to save sinners.” “Still I do not believe Thee,” says the unbeliever. Now, what further evidence can be given? Infinite mercy has gone its utmost length in giving the Saviour to bleed and die: God has laid bare His inmost heart in the wounds of His dying Son, and still He is not believed. Surely man has reached the climax of enmity to God in this: nothing proves the utter baseness of man so much as this refusal to believe his God, and nothing proves so much the greatness of almighty grace as that God should after all this condescend to work faith in a heart so depraved.
IV. The fate of the unbeliever. If this man continues to say he cannot believe God, and that Christ is not to be trusted, what will happen to him? I wonder what the angels think must befall a being who calls God a liar? They see His glory, and as they see it they veil their faces, and cry, “Holy, holy, holy”; what horror would they feel at the idea of making God untrue! The saints in heaven when they see the glory of God fall down on their faces and adore Him. Ask them what they think must happen to those who persist in calling God a liar, and a liar in the matter of His mercy to rebels through Jesus Christ. As for me, I cannot conceive any punishment too severe for final unbelief. Nothing on earth or in heaven can save you except you believe in Jesus. Not only will the unbeliever be lost, but he will be lost by his unbelief. Thus saith the Lord, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” Why? “Because he hath not believed on the Sod of God.” Has he not committed a great deal else that will condemn him? Oh, yes, a thousand other sins are upon him, but justice looks for the most flagrant offence, that it may be written as a superscription over his condemned head, and it selects this monster sin and writes “condemned, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The immorality of unbelief
The sources of our knowledge are various. I know that the sun shines because I see it shine. The man who has travelled most widely has seen but a small fragment of God’s illimitable empire. The bulk of my knowledge has been derived from other sources than the observation of my senses. All that I know of other countries or regions than the little spot I call my home I have learned from others. I know that in Kentucky there is a mammoth cave, extending ten miles or more under ground, not because I have actually seen it, but because I have been told of it by those who have seen it. And this knowledge is just as certain as knowledge derived in any other way. I am just as certain that Queen Victoria rules over the British Empire, though I have never seen her, as that I am occupying this pulpit today and that you are seated before me. Now, this principle which holds society together, which is the key to all progress in knowledge, to all achievements in science, which is the spring of all useful activity in the world, and which, in a religious sense, is the source of all piety in the soul, is faith. For faith is but dependence upon the word of another. Now, just as in relation to those countries which lie outside of the limits of our daily experience and observation, we are indebted for our knowledge to the evidence of others, so in relation to those worlds which lie beyond the range of this material universe, and those spiritual truths which transcend the bounds of human experience and reason, we must depend for our knowledge upon the testimony of another. What can we know of heaven or the state beyond the grave from our own observation? For this knowledge we must depend upon the testimony of none other than the Almighty Himself. He alone can disclose to us His purposes and plans. To accept the testimony of God is to exercise true faith.
I. The text teaches, in the first place, that God hath borne witness concerning His Son--that is, concerning the character and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the mere facts connected with the life of Jesus at Nazareth human testimony is a sufficient ground of evidence. But to the fact that He was the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, Divine testimony is necessary to compel our assent. His mission must be authenticated by Him from whom He came and in whose name He professed to act. And Christ’s work was authenticated. God the Father hath set His seal to the fact that Jesus is His Son. None but an Almighty Mind could have conceived a plan of redemption such as is made known in this Book. None but God could have accomplished it. None but God could have made it known. The human imagination has brought forth some grand conceptions, but no human imagination evolved the grand and glorious scheme of salvation contained in the Word of God. The true revelation of God’s will may have many counterfeits.
II. The text implies that some men do not credit the testimony of God. Very many, indeed, reject the evidence which God gives of His Son. It was so when Christ yet dwelt upon the earth.
III. But, finally, the text teaches the rejection of the witness of God with respect to His Son is not simply an error of judgment, a mistake of the intellect, but an insult of the deepest dye offered to the greatest of all beings in the universe. Unbelief says: “There is no coming wrath that we need dread. No hell that we need shun. No heaven to which we need hope to attain. No fellowship with God and Christ and redeemed spirits beyond the grave.” Unbelief declares: “There is no sin that needs an expiation; no justifying righteousness required by man; that he can save himself from all the dangers to which he is exposed.” See what unbelief does. It justifies the greatest of all crimes, the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ. It enters the chamber of sickness, and ridicules the prayers that go up from pallid lips, and derides the faith and confidence of those who fall asleep in Jesus. It enters the sanctuary of God, mocks at the worship of the Most High, and sneers at the preaching of His Word. Unbelief says: “God is untrue. He is endeavouring to deceive His creatures. He is imposing upon the world a false system of doctrines, an untrustworthy scheme of salvation through a crucified Redeemer.” This is the hideous character of unbelief as painted by the inspired apostle. (S. W. Reigart.)
1 John 5:11 open_in_new
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son
The Divine record
It is obvious that the designs of God respecting the work of His hands entirely depend on His own will, and that, unless He please to favour us with an express declaration of those designs, we may, indeed, by debating about the probabilities of the case, bewilder ourselves in all the mazes of metaphysical conjecture; but, as for anything like certainty respecting what so deeply concerns us, that is a point which it is utterly beyond our abilities to attain.
Such a declaration, however, God has been pleased to make. In the record of the Old and New Testaments we have an express revelation of His will.
I. The unmerited grant of our God.
1. The nature of the blessing here said to be granted to us.
(1) It is life, life worthy of the name, a life perfectly exempt from every kind and degree of evil, and accompanied by every conceivable and by every inconceivable good.
(2) This life is eternal, not like our present life, which is but as a vapour that appeareth for a short time and then vanisheth away.
(3) It is a life, too, which includes everything that appertains to it, the pardon of our sins, reconciliation with God, adoption into His family, and all those sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit which constitute the foretaste of this eternal life in the heart of the Christian.
2. The person to whom this grant is here also said to be made. “To us,” the sinful children of sinful parents; “to us,” miserable sinners, who thus were lying in darkness and in the shadow of death, provided only we will accept the boon in His appointed way; “to us” hath God given eternal life.
3. The gratuitous nature of the grant. For in what way but in that of a free gift could eternal life be made over to those who have both forfeited the blessing and incurred the curse?
II. The channel through which this grant is conveyed to us.
1. The obstacles which stood in the way of this grant were of the most formidable description. These were no other than the severer perfections of the Divine nature, and the honour both of God’s law and of His universal government.
2. But by the determination that this free gift of life should be in the Son of God, to be sought for through Him alone, all the obstacles to the grant, which presented themselves from the quarters just referred to, were at once removed.
III. The character of the individuals who will obtain the benefit of this grant and of these who will fail of it. “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”
1. It is clear, then, on the one hand, that we are interested in this grant of eternal life if we have the Son.
2. And it is the undisputed testimony of the record that he that thus hath the Son hath life, and that he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (John Natt, B. D.)
Eternal life a gift
I. The subject of the “record”--“eternal life.” What is it? It is not endless existence. The “record” refers not to this point. The Bible assumes man’s immortality. “Eternal life” consists in the soul’s well-being--its intrinsic, internal blessedness: “the kingdom of God is within you.” This life is “eternal.” It is drawn from the Eternal One; His principles of rectitude imbedded in the heart and “springing up into everlasting life.”
II. The doctrine of the record, “god hath given to us eternal life, and this is in his son.”
1. It is gift. Not something for which men need to toil, but something to be simply received.
2. It is a gift already given. “God hath given,” etc. The believer has its foretaste.
3. It is a gift already given “in His Son.” Not in systems, churches; “grace and truth” come by Jesus Christ.
4. This is for “record.” It is testified that men may know it on God’s authority and live. (Homilist.)
Before opening up the passage there are two preliminary questions that press for answer. In the first place, what is meant by the Scriptural phrase, “eternal life”? The term, eternal life, is hardly at all one of quantity, but of quality. Just as there is wheat life in the wheat plant, bird life in the winged creatures, lion life in the lion, so there is Christ life in the Christian. It is a condition of existence in which the very life of God pulsates through every faculty of the life of man, bringing him into affinity of love and purpose and aspiration with the Eternal Himself. Eternal life is, therefore, the imparting of Christ’s own life to those who accept Him as Saviour and Master. A second preliminary question presses for answer. When and where is this eternal life attained? It seems clear from the Word of God that it is attained in this world and not in the world to come. Men do not go to heaven to get it, but they go to heaven because they have it. If these things are true it surely becomes a pressing interest to every thoughtful man as to how this priceless gift may become his own personal possession, as to how he may grow in eternal life and eternal life grow in him, and as to how he may have the joy, the power, and the prospect of it. These questions are all clearly answered in the text.
I. Eternal life is provided in Christ. “This life is in His Son.” It is of the very last importance to note well the fountain of this eternal life. It is not in man as natural, for as natural he is fallen, and the fall implied the loss of this life of God in the soul of man, the passing away of all conscious affinity with God, and the coming in of a spirit of alienation and hostility. And as it is not in man naturally, neither does man find it in what is called his environment. We think that the power of environment over human life is greatly exaggerated in our day, and is essentially the reversal of a central principle in God’s dealings with the world. It is never the new environment that makes the new man, but it is the new man that creates the new environment. Let us, therefore, face the fact that eternal life is provided only in Jesus Christ our Lord. Those in quest of it have, therefore, not to wander over a wilderness of abstract thought, and not to whip the energies of mind and heart to attain this great end; but, as a person deeply convinced that this gift is not now theirs, to come humbly and trustfully to the feet of the living personality of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has this gift to give, and who is longing to bestow it.
II. Eternal life is published in Christ. “This is the record that God hath given to us eternal life,” and this life is in His Son essentially. The whole Word of God is an apocalypse or unveiling of Christ. The testimony of God Himself, of the Holy Spirit, of inspired historian, poet, prophet, and evangelist, all converges on the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. Eternal life is possessed in Christ. God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son; “he that hath the Son hath life.” The gift has not only been provided and published, but it has in a very real sense actually been given. God has given to us eternal life. We stand firm on the ground that Christ’s part, both in provision and offer, has already been finished; but salvation by gift implies the part of the receiver as well as the part of the giver, and while the gift has been offered there is no salvation, and there can be no salvation till the gift is accepted. This view of the possession of eternal life delivers man from all perplexity as to the ground of his acceptance with God, and as to his humble assurance of the certainty of his salvation. It causes feelings, for example, to fall into due perspective in spiritual experiences. When a man comes to see that he possesses Christ, and on that possession can call eternal life his own, there will come, and must come, those feelings of peace and rest and certainty and enjoyment, and until he is quite sure that he possesses Christ, and with Him all things, the feelings will be fitful and the whole life will be clouded.
IV. Eternal life is perpetuated in Christ. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” The entrance of eternal life into the soul of man is the entrance of Christ Himself to dwell and reign and unfold the nature that He inhabits and permeates. The whole Christ, and only Christ, is needed to save, and the whole Christ in perpetual indwelling is needed to sanctify. There is no possible life for the Christian apart from his abiding in Christ and Christ abiding in him. Out of this flows all the sweetness of sanctity, all the dignity of lowliness, all the enlarging of love, all the practical power of obedience, and all the finished graces of a complete character. (G. Wilson.)
Example and life
It will be admitted, of course, that Christ has given us a perfect example. He has not only told us what to do, He has shown us how to live. He was Himself, by the method which He followed, the great object teacher, and His life was the great object lesson. Example is more powerful than precept; its influence goes deeper and takes hold of us with a stronger grasp; but after all it is of the same nature as precept. You can give a child in words some idea of the rules of polite behaviour; you can give him an example of politeness which will be much more instructive and effective in forming his manner than any verbal rules; but the rules and the example would both operate in the same way; they would reach and influence him through his intellect and his will. In both cases the effect produced would be the result of a voluntary effort. It is easier for him to imitate your actions than it is to remember and obey your rules; but both address the will through the intelligence. Now, while the imitation of an action is easier and pleasanter than the obedience of a precept, there is still a great lack of beauty and of vigour in the conduct that is simply the result of imitation. There is a perceptible hardness and stiffness and unreality about it; it is artificial. So, then, if a perfect example were put before us, and we should set ourselves resolutely and carefully to the copying of that example, we should be sure to fail; our lives, though they might seem outwardly very like the life we were trying to imitate, would resemble it only as the artificial flower resembles the real one. When God gave you being He gave you character and personality of your own. What He meant you to be is indicated in the very constitution of your soul, And although by disobedience and alienation from Him you may have badly injured your own character, though the Divine perfection in which it ought to shine may but dimly appear in it, yet the ground plan, so to speak, is there, and that is the plan on which your character is to be built; the thing for you to do is simply to become what God meant you to be, and this you cannot do by trying to imitate the character and conduct of some one else. What men most need is the healing, the quickening, the replenishing of their spiritual life. It is not a model to live by, it is “new life and fuller that we want.” And this is the want that Christ supplies. “I am come,” He says, “that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” How is it that He imparts to men this life? Ah, I do not know that. How does the sun impart life to the seeds and roots and bulbs that during all this long winter have been waiting for him under ground? I do not know how he does it, but I know that he does it. Some of them have heard his voice already and have come forth from their graves. The subtle might of his regenerating rays is seeking them out; they begin to feel in every fibre the influence of his power; life is quickened within them by his genial influence. And as many as receive Jesus Christ, as many as will accept Him as the Lord of their life, and will let Him instruct them and lead them and inspire them, sweetly yielding to the influences of His grace, will find that He is doing for them something like what the sun does for the germs beneath the soil; that He is imparting spiritual life to them; that He is kindling in their souls the love of all things right and true and good, and increasing in them the power to realise such things in their lives. This is what He does for all who will receive Him. But the text says that this life is eternal life. The witness is that God has given to us eternal life and the life is in His Son. Yea, verily! The life whose organising principles are righteousness and truth and love is a life that takes hold of the aeons to come with a sure grasp. God has so made the universe that these principles are indestructible; in the nature of things virtue is immortal; the life that is incorporate with it has the promise of an everlasting day. (W. Gladden, D. D.)
Life in Christ
Mark the grammatical form. The statement is not part of the record, but “the record” itself, as if God had given none else. “This is the record,” standing out alone in its sublime grandeur. “This is the record” that transcends all others by its brilliancy, upon which every conscience might rest. So in 1 John 2:25 he uses exactly the same emphatic expression--“This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life,” as if not a single star shone in the firmament above except this; as if not one promise had been given except this, standing out distinct, full, alone in hopes and comfort to all. And not only he, but St. Paul, so different in the characteristic order of intellect, uses the same kind of expression--“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23); “the gift,” as if no other boon had been granted--the gift towering out above all, and standing in its holy Alpine grandeur, the noblest blessing God had ever given to His people. Put these three passages together, and then we have brought before us this glorious truth, that He is emphatically the gift, the record to us, the promise of God of life eternal through His Son.
I. The religion which we profess, true practical Christianity, is life. This truth lies at the foundation of this passage; and what type can be more glorious of good conferred? The most despised creature upon earth clings to life. I need not say that the life here spoken of is not physical life, not a life in common with an ungodly man, not a life in common with the beasts that perish, but spiritual life, life in the soul, life in the thinking elements of our nature, life in that part of our nature which links us with God Himself, and which, if lost, consigns us to everlasting ruin. Such then is the boon; the Christian lives. Religion is no dead thing; it is not formalism, it is not mere professionalism, it is not the assent of the understanding to certain dogmas, it is not the experience in the heart even of certain sentimental emotions. Religion, if it be anything at all, is a living, practical reality. I have the conviction that I have spiritual life, because I think with God, I feel the presence of God, I move in the ways of God. The Christian, then, lives; that life may be mysterious, but it is the distinguishing character of the Christian man that he has this spiritual life in him. I add that it is, moreover, a progressive thing. Here religion harmonises with all the phenomena and rules of life.
II. This life is divine in its origin--“God hath given to us eternal life.” All life is of Divine production. Pierce as far as you may into eternity, the deeper and closer our examination of its realities, the more fully and simply are we thrown on our conviction of the Divine origin. All life is the production of the eternal God. The spiritual life of which I speak is, therefore, certainly of His production. The old Greek fable, myth, to use the fashionable expression of modern times, brings out the truth in a simple shape--“You may take a man and set him up by the pillar of the temple, but unless the god who inhabits it touches him he cannot move a step.” Or, according to another Greek fable, you may take clay and form and fashion it into the mould of a man, but unless the celestial fire penetrates the frame and imparts life it has no power of action. “Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but God gives the increase.” All means and appliances are in vain until the power of God Himself shall visit the Church--all in vain until Jesus Christ, who, when His message is proclaimed, shall accompany that message with His own living power and waken up dead spirits into eternal life.
III. This life is in Christ. The source, I say, of that life which is the gift of God, the source of all life, is Christ Himself. Again, for this purpose He is described as having life in Himself. Mark the emphatic expression. It corresponds with that expression of the living God, “I am that I am”--Jehovah. Pray for this gift, but pray for it in union with Christ’s sacrifice, for without His death the Spirit never had come down.
IV. This life is not only through the Son, but is in the Son, and will just be in us as it is in Him. In other words, the character of the life of the Son of God is a model character to all the brotherhood of Christ; every Christian is a Christian just in the degree that he is Christ-like.
V. This life, this divine gift, is eternal. Now the soul is eternal, and as such, therefore, this life must endure forever. That man is a fool who tries to procure something by great labour which will last only till tomorrow. But this eternal life never conies to a close. Moreover it is a life which shall expand. I can set no limits to it.
VI. Who have that life? What man possesses it? Who has a distinct credential that he does possess it? “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” Tell me not of spasmodic enjoyments of spiritual elevation, of occasional paroxysms of spiritual life. I ask, is Christ’s life in you? Is His law in your hearts, and is it exemplified in your lives? If so, you have clear proof of the possession of that gift which is everlasting. (T. Archer, D. D.)
1 John 5:12 open_in_new
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life
To have Christ is to have life
We may be said to have or receive the Son in these three modes--as a teacher, an example, and a Saviour; and in each of these He is life to those who have Him.
I. Christ is life in His instructions. He is so, because His instructions are truth, and truth brings life. In another, and yet a kindred sense, is Christ life by His word. He teaches us how to live, and for what ends. Honour, happiness, respect, love, usefulness, those things without which life is only animal, or worse, are most easily and completely to be secured by adopting the principles and obeying the precepts of the gospel. It is life, by eminence, to live temperately, soberly, justly, kindly, peacefully, doing good actions, exercising good affections, gaining good opinions. It is the only proper life of a moral, intellectual, accountable creature of God. He then lives as his Maker would have him live; lives most acceptably in the sight of heaven, and most profitably to himself and to the world. He lives, answering the best purposes of life; contributing to the means of human advancement; making his actions to be counted in the sum of human felicity. In a moral sense he protracts his life, because he employs it fully and well.
II. He who has or receives Christ as an example has life. The life-giving word is not only taught, but embodied and made incarnate in the teacher; it is not only didactic, but possesses the merit and charm of historical interest. The Son not only points the way to the Father, but He precedes the disciple, and guides him in it and through it. Whoever walks as Christ walked, lives; and in proportion to the exactness of his imitation is the vigour and health of his life. To know that we are, in any degree, sharing the life and spirit of our Master, is enough to give us an increase of vital warmth, to cause the pulse of our spirit to beat firmer and more true, because it beats in happy and honoured union with the heart of Jesus. If His life was true and eternal, then that which is borrowed from His is so too. The seeds of corruption are not in it. The process of dissolution cannot commence in it. It is a sound and pure and heavenly life, for it is the very life of the Son of God.
III. He who hath the Son by faith, he who receives Him as the Christ of God and the Saviour of men, by this faith also, as well as by obedience and imitation, hath life. And why? Because the hope and assurance of eternal life is contained and perfected in such faith. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
Alive or dead--which?
I. Concerning the living. “He that hath the Son hath life.”
1. I shall remark, in the first place, that having the Son is good evidence of eternal life, from the fact that faith by which a man receives Christ is in itself a living act. Furthermore, faith in Jesus is good evidence of life, because of the things which accompany it. No soul asks for pardon or obtains it till he has felt that sin is an evil for which pardon is necessary; that is to say, repentance always conies with faith. Where there is faith, again, there is always prayer. So might I say that the consequences of receiving Christ are also good evidences of heavenly life; for when a man receives the Son of God he obtains a measure of peace and joy; and peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost are not to be found in the sepulchres of dead souls.
2. The possession of the Lord Jesus Christ is the evidence of faith in many ways. It is God’s mark upon a living soul. Whatever else we cannot see, if a simple trust in Jesus is discernible in a convert, we need feel no suspicions, but receive him at once as a brother beloved. Moreover, the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ becomes a clear evidence of life, because, indeed, it is in some sense the source, fountain, and nourishment of life. While the branch is vitally in the stem it will have life; if it is not always bearing fruit, yet it always has life; and thus the fact of having the Son becomes an evidence of life, because it is the source of life. In another aspect of it, having the Son is not only the source of life, but the result of life. Now, when a man receives Jesus into his soul as life from the dead, his faith is the sure indicator of a spiritual and mysterious life within him, in the power of which he is able to receive the Lord. Jesus is freely preached to you, His grace is free as the air, but the dead do not breathe that air--those who breathe it are, beyond all doubt, alive.
3. Let me further remark that the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith is sufficient evidence of eternal life. “I do not know,” says one, “when I was converted.” Have you the Son of God? Do you trust in Jesus Christ? That is quite enough.
4. It is a great mercy that having the Son is abiding evidence. “He that hath the Son hath life.” I know what it is to see every other evidence I ever gloried in go drifting down the stream far out of sight.
5. I may close this first head by saying that having the Son is infallible evidence of life. “He that hath the Son hath life.” It is not said that he may perhaps have it, or that some who have the Son have life, but there is no exception to the rule.
II. Concerning the dead. “He that hath not the Son of God hath not life”--that is, he hath not spiritual life, sentence of death is recorded against him in the book of God. His natural life is spared him in this world, but he is condemned already. Now observe that the not having the Son of God is clear evidence of the absence of spiritual life; for the man who has not trusted in Jesus has made God a liar. Shall pure spiritual life make God a liar? Shall he receive life from God who persists in denying God’s testimony? Let me tell you that for a hearer of the gospel not to believe on the Son of God must be, in the judgment of angels, a very astounding, crime. Recollect, if you have never received Christ, that this is overwhelming evidence that you are dead in sin. I tell thee, moralist, what thou art: thou art a corpse well washed and decently laid out, daintily robed in fair white linen, sprinkled plenteously with sweet perfumes, and wrapped in myrrh and cassia and aloes, with flowers wreathed about thy brow and thy bosom bedecked by the hand of affection with sweetly blushing roses; but thou hast no life, and therefore thy destiny is the grave, corruption is thy heritage.
III. Concerning the living as they dwell among the dead. As the living are constrained to live among the dead, as the children of God are mixed up by Providence with the heirs of wrath, what manner of persons ought they to be?
1. In the first place, let us take care that we do not become contaminated by the corruption of the dead. You who have the Son of God, mind that you are not injured by those who have not the Son.
2. If we must in this life, in a measure, mingle with the dead, let us take care that we never suffer the supremacy of the dead to be acknowledged over the living. It would be a strange thing if the dead were to rule the living. Yet sometimes I have seen the dead have the dominion of this world; that is to say, they have set the fashion and living Christians have followed.
3. What I think we should do towards dead souls is this--we should pity them. “The most of these I meet with are dead in sin.” Ought not this to make us pray for them: “Eternal Spirit, quicken them! They cannot have life unless they have the Son of God. Oh, bring them to receive the Son of God”! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sublimest possession
Deep in the soul of man is a desire to appropriate something outside of itself--the instinct for getting, what phrenologists call the “acquisitive faculty.” But what is the good it really wants, the chief good, that without which it will never be satisfied?
I. The highest possession of man is the possession of Christ.
1. It is something more than to possess an intellectual knowledge of Him.
2. It is something more than to admire His character and to sympathise with His enterprise.
3. It is to possess His ruling disposition, or, in other words, the moral inspiration of His soul. It is to have His spirit.
II. The possession of Christ involves the highest life. Eternal life does not mean eternal existence, but eternal goodness; and eternal goodness is the highest paradise of the soul.
1. The life of supremacy. He will be in the highest sense a king.
2. The life of self-oblivious devotion. “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
3. The life of the highest knowledge. (Homilist.)
The natural man and the spiritual man
The natural man belongs to the present order of things. He is endowed simply with a high quality of the natural animal life. But it is life of so poor a quality that it is not life at all. He that hath not the Son hath not life; but he that hath the Son hath life--a new, distinct, and supernatural endowment. He is not of this world. He is of the timeless state, of eternity. The difference, then, between the spiritual man and the natural man is not a difference of development, but of generation. The distinction is one of quality, not of quantity. The scientific classification of men would be to arrange all natural men, moral or immoral, educated or vulgar, as one family. One higher than another in the family group, yet all marked by the same set of characteristics--they eat, sleep, work, think, live, die. But the spiritual man is removed from this family so utterly by the possession of an additional characteristic that a biologist would not hesitate to classify him elsewhere, not in another family, but in another kingdom. It is an old-fashioned theology which divides men into the living and the dead, lost and saved--a stern phraseology all but fallen into disuse. This difference, so startling as a doctrine, has been ridiculed or denied. Nevertheless the grim distinction must be retained. It is a scientific distinction. “He that hath not the Son hath not life.” (Prof. H. Drummond.)
Christ the life of the soul
He, who has a right to speak, has said that there is a certain thing, the possession of which constitutes “life,” and so constitutes it that he who has it “has life,” and he who has it not “has not life.” There is a “life,” dependent upon the possession of a certain thing, so much worthier than anything else of the name of “life,” that, compared to it, nothing besides is real “life.” Could you at this moment do it by a word, would you immortalise the “life” you are now living? The real Christian would. To him the change which he wishes is not one of kind, but of degree. He has that which he only wants purified and increased a thousand fold. The “life” he lives is what he wishes to be the germ of a “life” which he shall live forever and ever. Now this possession of Christ appears to me to be made up of three things. Properly speaking, the life which Christ lived upon this earth before His Cross was not the “life” which He came to communicate to His people. All that “life” He lived simply that He might purchase the “life” which He was going to give. The “resurrection life” is the “life” which Christ imparts to man. It is a “life” springing out of death. It is a “life” out of which the element of death has been altogether extracted. It is a “life” as essential as the Godhead of the Christ--as the “life” in which that Godhead resides is essential “life.” “Life” is not what we live, but how we live it. To live indeed you must live livingly. To this end, then, if a man would “live” indeed, a man’s soul must be always, in some way, receiving Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Christ in man
Before proceeding to analyse this passage, contemplate for one moment the mysterious grandeur of human nature’s position through the Incarnation; for it is obviously through the Incarnation that we “have the Son.” Think, then, that in all other works of Deity communication is the distinction. When God creates, He communicates being to nothing; in nature, God communicates beauty, form, and harmony to materialism; in providence, God communicates wisdom, truth, power, responsibility, and so forth, to agents and agencies; in legislation God communicates will and law to moral nature; and in revelation God communicates grace and truth to mankind; but in the Incarnation God does not communicate, but He assumes. Observe the words, “He that hath the Son hath life.” There is no man named. God Almighty, when He speaks from the throne of revelation, speaks to human nature. He does not by tits word lay hold on the conventional, the local, the chronological, or the transitory in man. Now mark the decisive grandeur of this; for it intimates a connection between our nature now and our condition hereafter. Christianity now is Christianity forever; every stone which is now laid to your spiritual fabric is to form part of an ascending structure of conscious humanity, which is to rise higher and higher towards perfection throughout the everlasting ages. He, therefore, “that hath the Son hath life,” and the same life that he will have hereafter.
I. What is it to “have the Son”? We say, then, in the first place, every human being on God’s earth “hath the Son.” There is not a pulse in your body but proclaims Calvary; there is not a drop in your veins but preaches Christ. You are not to imagine creation proceeding by one principle, providence administered by another, and grace acting by a third; the same God who acts in creation and rules in providence bestows in grace. And therefore I charge it upon every unconverted man, with this truth bound upon his heart, “Verily Christ is in me, and I knew it not.” But more particularly, to take the words spiritually: a man may be said to “have the Son” when He is the sovereign of his intellect. He will ascertain upon clear grounds and through an honest logic whether this book be or be not Divine; but the moment the man has come to the conclusion, “Verily God is in this thing, verily God is in these syllables,” then all that he has to do is to submit his intellect to Christ, then he “has the Son.” Secondly, a man may be said to “have the Son” when he hath Him as the ruler of his desires. If we “have the Son” our desires are submitted to Christ even as our intellect. Thirdly, Jesus Christ may be said to be ours, or we “have the Son,” when He is the pacifier of our conscience. Lastly, a man may be said to “have the Son” when Jesus Christ is the centre of his affections. The worldling’s centre is the world; the sensualist’s centre is the enjoyment of the passions; the rationalist’s is the cultivation of the intellect; the politician’s the progress of his party. But the Christian hath one centre and one circumference--Jesus Christ in the beginning and the middle and without end. His supreme attractor is Christ.
II. The possession of Christ is tantamount to the possession of life. In the first place, then, this connection contains (though not here stated) three marvellous views. First, it is the unfathomable mystery of heaven; secondly, it is the infinite mercy of earth; and, thirdly, it is the unrivalled miracle of all eternity. Lastly, we go on to show you the right connection between “having Christ” and “having life.” It is to be drawn from the contrast to the fall. The fall of man was the death of man through the first Adam; the rise of man is the life of man in the second Adam. (R. Montgomery, M. A.)
1 John 5:13 open_in_new
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.
Helps to full assurance
I. To whom was this written? It is important to observe the direction of a letter; for I may be reading a communication meant for somebody else, and if it should contain good tidings, I may be deceiving myself by appropriating the news.
1. This Epistle, and this particular text in it, were written for all those who believe on the name of the Son of God.
2. To unbelievers this text is not written: it is for all who trust in Jesus; but it is for none beside. If you inquire why it is not addressed to unbelievers, I answer, simply because it would be preposterous to wish men to be assured of that which is not true.
3. We may gather from this address being made to all the people of God and to none beside, that there are some believers in the world, and true believers too, who do not know that they have eternal life. Again, a large number of Christ’s people who may be perfectly sound in the doctrinal view of the nature of this life do not know that they possess it at this present moment if they are believers. We want children of God who believe in Jesus to feel that the holy flame which kindles their lamp today is the same fire which will shine forth before the throne of God forever; they have begun already to exercise those holy emotions of delight and joy which will be their heaven: they already possess in measure those perceptions and faculties which will be theirs in glory. Yet again, there are some Christians who believe all this, and are perfectly right in theory, but yet they each one cry, “I want to know that I have eternal life. I want a fuller assurance of salvation than I have already obtained.” That is also our desire for you.
II. To what end John has written.
1. When he says, “that ye may know that ye have eternal life,” I think his first meaning is that you may know that everybody who believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life. You are not to form an opinion upon it, but to believe it, for the Lord hath said it.
2. I think that John in this passage meant, and we will consider him as meaning, something more--namely, he would have us know that we personally have eternal life by having us know that we do personally believe in Jesus. Rationally a living man should know that he is alive. No man should give sleep to his eyes or slumber to his eyelids while he has a doubt about his eternal state. It is possible, and it is very desirable; for when a man knows that he has eternal life, what a comfort it is to him! What gratitude it produces in his spirit! How it helps him to live above the world! And it is our duty to obtain full assurance. We should not have been commanded to give diligence to make our calling and election sure if it were not right for us to be sure.
III. What has John said in this epistle which conduces to our full assurance? How does he help us to know that we are believers, and consequently to know that we have eternal life?
1. You will find, first, that John mentions as an evidence truthful dealing with God, in faith and confession of sin. Naturally men walk in darkness or falsehood towards God; but when we have believed in Jesus we come to walk in the light of truth. Read in the first chapter of the Epistle from verse 6 to 9.
2. Next, John gives us obedience as a test of the child of God. Look to the second chapter, and begin to read at the third verse.
3. Follow me as I call attention, next, to the evidence of love in the heart. In the second chapter read at the ninth verse. Then go on to the fourteenth verse of the third chapter. This will greatly help you to decide your case. Do you hate anybody? Are you seeking revenge? Then you are not dwelling in the light; you are of Cain and not of Christ.
4. Next to that comes separation from the world. Read in the second chapter at the fifteenth verse. This is backed up by the first verse of the third chapter. Thus slander, abuse, and other forms of persecution may turn to your comfort by showing that you are of that sect which is everywhere spoken against.
5. Next to that, in the second chapter, we have the evidence of continuance in the faith. “And the world passeth away, and the lust,” etc.
6. The next evidence you will find in the third chapter, the third verse, namely, purification. Do you every day endeavour to keep clear of sin; and, when you have sinned, do you at night go with bitter repentance to God, and beg to be delivered from it?
7. Again, in the twenty-first verse of the third chapter, we meet with another blessed evidence, and that is a clear conscience.
8. Furthermore, we find an evidence in answer to prayer: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.”
9. Adherence to the truth is another help to full assurance. Read the whole fourth chapter. If you bear witness to the truth, the truth bears witness to you. Blessed are those who are not removed from the hope of their calling.
10. One of the best evidences of true faith, and one of the best helps to full assurance, is a holy familiarity with God. Read in the fourth chapter the sixteenth verse. When you have no longer that slavish fear which makes you stand back, but that childlike confidence which draws you nearer and yet nearer unto God, then are you His child. He who can call God his exceeding joy is among the living in Zion.
IV. The appendix to John’s design. “That ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” I think he means this--you are never to get into such a state that you say, “I have eternal life, and therefore I need not trust simply in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Years ago I was born again, and so I can now live without the daily exercise of faith.” “No,” says the apostle, “I am writing this to believers, and I tell them that while they may have full assurance, it cannot be a substitute for habitual faith in the Lord Jesus.” Every vessel, whether it be a great flagon or a little cup, must hang upon the one nail which is fastened in a sure place. If you get from Jesus, you wander into a land of darkness and of the shadow of death. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blessing of full assurance
I. John wrote with a special purpose.
1. To begin with, John wrote that we might enjoy the full assurance of our salvation. Full assurance is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to satisfaction. May you get it--may you get it at once; at any rate, may you never be satisfied to live without it. You may have full assurance. You may have it without personal revelations; it is wrought in us by the word of God. He begins thus: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Can anything be more clear than this? The loving spirit of John leads him to say, “Everyone that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him.” Do you love God? Do you love His only-begotten Son? You can answer those two questions surely. John goes on to give another evidence: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.” You can tell whether you love the brethren, as such, for their Master’s sake, and for the truth’s sake that is in them; and if you can truly say that you thus love them, then you may know that you have eternal life. Our apostle gives us this further evidence: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.” Obedience is the grand test of love. By the fruit you can test the root and the sap. But note that this obedience must be cheerful and willing. “His commandments are not grievous.” I said to one who came to join the Church the other day, “I suppose you are not perfect?” and the reply was, “No, sir, I wish I might be.” I said, “And suppose you were?” “Oh, then,” she said, “that would be heaven to me.” So it would be to me. We delight in the law of God after the inward man. Oh, that we could perfectly obey in thought, and word, and deed! John then proceeds to mention three witnesses. Do you know anything about these three witnesses? Do you know “the Spirit”? Has the Spirit of God quickened you, changed you, illuminated you, sanctified you? Next, do you know “the water,” the purifying power of the death of Christ? Do you also know “the blood”? Do you know the power of the blood to take away sin? Then in the mouth of these three witnesses shall the fact of your having eternal life be fully established. One thing more I would notice. Read the ninth verse: the apostle puts our faith and assurance on the ground that we receive “the witness of God.” The inmost heart of Christian faith is that we take God at His Word; and we must accept that Word, not because of the probabilities of its statements, nor because of the confirmatory evidence of science and philosophy, but simply and alone because the Lord has spoken it.
2. Furthermore, John wrote that we might know our spiritual life to be eternal. We are said to be “made partakers of the Divine nature.” Immortality is of the essence of the life of God. If our life is Christ’s life, we shall not die until Christ dies. Let us rest in this.
3. Once more, John desired the increase and confirmation of their faith. “That ye might believe on the name of the Son of God.” Many a Christian man is narrow in the range of his faith from ignorance of the Lord’s mind. Like certain tribes of Israel, they have conquered a scanty territory as yet, though all the land is theirs from Dan to Beersheba. John would have us push out our fences, and increase the enclosure of our faith. Let us believe all that God has revealed, for every truth is precious and practically useful. It will be well for you if your faith also increases intensively. Oh that you may more fully believe what you do believe! We need deeper insight and firmer conviction. This is John’s desire for you, that you believe with all your heart, and soul, and strength. He would have you believe more constantly, so that you may say, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.” He would have us trust courageously. Some can believe in a small way about small things. Oh, for a boundless trust in the infinite God! We need more of a venturesome faith; the faith to do and dare. We need also to have our faith increased in the sense of its becoming more practical. We want an everyday faith, not to look at, but to use. God give to you that you may believe on the name of the Son of God with a sound, common sense faith, which will be found wearable, and washable, and workable throughout life. We need to believe more joyfully. Oh, what a blessed thing it is when you reach the rest and joy of faith! If we would truly believe the promise of God, and rest in the Lord’s certain fulfilment of it, we might be as happy as the angels.
II. The purpose which John had in his mind we ought to follow up. If he wished us to know that we have eternal life, let us try to know it. The Word of God was written for this purpose; let us use it for its proper end. Our conscience tells us that we ought to seek full assurance of salvation. It cannot be right for us to be children of God, and not to know our own Father. Are you not bidden to make your calling and election sure? Are you not a thousand times over exhorted to rejoice in the Lord, and to give thanks continually? But how can you rejoice, if the dark suspicion haunts you, that perhaps, after all, you have not the life of God? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian’s title
Suppose I should come to you some day and call in question your ownership of your house, and demand that you give it up--a homestead bequeathed to you by your father. “Why do you make such a demand upon me?” you ask. “Because,” I reply, “it is not your house; you have no right to it; at least you do not know that it is yours.” “Oh, yes,” you reply, “I am quite sure it is my house.” “How do you know? what is your reason for believing that it is your house”? “Why, because my father lived here before me.” “That is no good reason.” “Well, I have lived here undisturbed for five years myself.” “It does not hence follow that the house is yours.” “But I am very happy in it: I enjoy myself here.” “Well, but, my dear sir, that you may do and still have no right to it.” At last, pushed to the wall, you take me with you down to the courthouse, and show me your father’s will, duly written, signed, sealed and recorded. This may serve to illustrate the point. A great many Christians are at a loss where and how to ground their “title.” It is not in the fact that you are a descendant of a saintly family, a child of believing parents: for as old Matthew Henry says: “Grace does not run in the blood”: nor is it that you have membership in the visible Church of Christ; nor is it to be found in delightful frames and feelings--in a word, not even a genuine Christian experience constitutes your “title deed.” Where then are we to lay the foundation of our hope? Why, just in the naked, bare Word of God (John 5:24). Straight to the record do we appeal for a final test as to our possession in God (1 John 5:11-12). (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Eternal life is not in the Scriptures limited to God as an incommunicable attribute or essence, nor to the angels even as a possession shut up within the walls of heaven; but is spoken of as something that may be conveyed to and shared with men. Eternal life is the life of the spiritual nature, the life of sentiment and affection, of moral and religious principle. Indeed, in the New Testament, many phrases might equally well be translated either eternal or spiritual life; as, for example, “No murderer hath eternal life,” hath spiritual, holy, religious, divine life, “abiding in him.” Moreover, that eternal life is not simply enduring, or literally and only everlasting life, is plain, because we never speak of the devil and his angels as having eternal life, though it is supposed in our theology they have a life that endures through all the future, contemporaneously with that of Divinity and seraph. The bad surely do not live the eternal life, though they have before them the same unbounded prospect of existence with the good. Theirs is a state of eternal or spiritual death. Eternal life in God is the life of absolute goodness, purity, rectitude, and truth. Eternal life in man is the life of justice and love, of fidelity in all his relations. It is a right, holy, and becoming life. When we are elevated above selfish and trifling cares into noble thought and generous feeling, our life, so far from having the character of a life that simply endures or is to endure for a long succession of time, seems no longer concerned with time at all, but to have risen above it. Days and weeks are no longer the terms of our existence; but thoughts, emotions, dictates of conscience, impulses of kindness, and aspirations of worship--these make the eternal life, because we feel there is something really fixed and impregnable in them, which neither time can alter, nor age wrinkle, nor the revolutions of the world waste, nor the grave bury, but the eternity of God alone embrace and preserve. It is true, that in that life, as in the absolute and perfect Spirit of God, is involved also the quality of permanence. The pure, loving, righteous, and devoted heart feels its own imperishableness. Its immortality is secretly whispered to it in a great assurance. The Spirit bears witness with it to its incorruptible nature. Even here, rising above the earth, “nor feeling its idle whirl,” it shall vindicate its superiority to all that is material, as it drops the flesh, and takes the celestial body. But the heavenly and indissoluble life begins in this world. Jesus Christ had it here. For who thinks of Him as any more immortal after His resurrection and ascension than before? Jesus Christ, the only perfect possessor on earth, is accordingly the great and incomparable communicator of this eternal life. To Him, especially and above all, we are to go for it. Shall this spiritual or eternal life become at length universal throughout the intelligent and moral creation? The theme is perhaps too great for the comprehension of the human mind, nor is it even by the light of inspiration so cleared up that we can hope for an entire agreement respecting it among equally wise and good men. Better is it that we should, by all the motives and sanctions, hopes and fears, of the gospel, try to awaken the moral and spiritual nature in our own and in others’ hearts, than that we should exercise the fancy with predicting the fortunes to arise in the coming ages. (C. A. Bartol.)
1 John 5:14,15 open_in_new
And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us
The answer to prayer received by faith
A very considerable amount of error prevails in regard to the answer of prayer.
That answer is by many supposed to be a more tangible and ascertainable result than it really is. To answer prayer God has promised; to make the answer of prayer evident He has not promised. Religion is in all its departments a business of faith. In all that it calls us to do, we “walk by faith and not by sight.” Prayer is no exception. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” In pursuing our subject further, then, let us consider first, that--
I. God in answering our prayers allows Himself great latitude of time. We are impatient creatures, eager for speedy and immediate results. But God is always calm, deliberate, judicious. He waiteth to be gracious, not capriciously but discreetly. A benefit often owes its chief value to its being seasonable, opportune. And the discipline of delay is frequently even a greater profit than the bliss of fruition.
II. Consider that the answer of prayer is without limitation in regard to the mode. God binds Himself to grant our requests, but He limits Himself to no particular method of granting them. God is not wont to bestow His favours, especially spiritual favours, on men directly. He far more commonly employs indirect and circuitous processes for their conveyance. Hence, we do not often perceive the success of our petitions as the fruit of God’s immediate agency. We lose sight of its connection with its true source in the multiplicity of intermediate objects and events, not for the most part evidently relevant or suitable to the end. We pray for a new heart, and we expect our answer in the up springing and operation within us of new desires. Or we ask for the production or increase of some spiritual grace. But the real answer may come in changes of our external state unlooked for and unwelcome, such as will call us to toil and suffering, under the operation of which, by the secret influences of the Divine Spirit, the result we desire may be slowly and painfully developed. We looked for the blessing by immediate and easy communications; it comes under a course of prolonged and afflictive discipline.
III. Consider that God in answering prayer holds Himself at perfect liberty in regard to the shape of its answer. Whether that which we ask for be really or only apparently good for us, or whether it be compatible with higher interests pertaining to ourselves or others must be left to His decision. “Our ignorance in asking,” and especially in reference to temporal things, we ought not to overlook. In all true prayer, “the Spirit helpeth our infirmities.” He will in all such cases hear us according to the Spirit’s meaning, and not according to our own. The removal of a trouble, for instance, may not be so great a blessing to us as grace to bear it; and in that case God will withhold the inferior good which we ask. From all these considerations it must appear to reflecting minds that the answer of prayer must necessarily be a thing of great obscurity and of manifold disguises; and that our confidence in it, and consequent satisfaction from it, must rest far more on the Word of God than upon direct experience, observation, recognition, consciousness. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Praying and waiting
I. Explanation: and let the explanation be taken from instances in Holy Writ. Elijah bowed his knee on the top of Carmel, and prayed to God for rain. He sent his servant till at last he brought back the news, “There is a little cloud the size of a man’s hand.” Quite enough for Elijah’s faith. He acts upon the belief that he has the petition, though not a drop of rain has fallen.
II. Commendation. Expect answers to prayer.
1. By this means you put an honour upon God’s ordinance of prayer.
2. Such a spirit, in the next place, having honoured prayer, also honours God’s attributes. To believe that the Lord will hear my prayer is honour to His truthfulness. He has said that He will, and I believe that He will keep His word. It is honourable to His power. I believe that He can make the word of His mouth stand fast and stedfast. It is honourable to His love. The larger things I ask the more do I honour the liberality, grace, and love of God. It is honourable to His wisdom, for I believe that His word is wise and may safely be kept.
3. Again, to believe that God hears prayer, and to look for an answer, is truly to reverence God Himself. If I stand side by side with a friend, and I ask him a favour, and when he is about to reply to me I turn away and open the door and go to my business, why what an insult is this! Merely to knock at mercy’s door without waiting a reply, is but like the runaway knocks of idle boys in the street: you cannot expect an answer to Such prayers.
4. Furthermore, thus to believe in the result of prayer tries and manifests faith.
5. Such a habit, moreover, helps to bring out our gratitude to God. None sing so sweetly as those who get answers to prayer. Let me add how this would make your faith grow, how it would make your love burn, how every grace would be put in active exercise if, believing in the power of prayer, you watched for the answer, and when the answer came went with a song of praise to the Saviour’s feet.
III. Having thus spoken by way of commendation, we pause awhile, and turn to speak by way of gentle rebuke. I am communing this morning with those persons to whom John wrote; you who believe on the name of the Son of God; you who do believe in the efficacy of prayer. How is it that you do not expect an answer? I think I hear you say, “One reason is my own unworthiness; how can I think that God will hear such prayers as mine?” Let me remind thee that it is not the man who prays that commends the prayer to God, but the fervency of the prayer, and in the virtue of the great Intercessor. Why, think you, did the apostle write these words: “Elias was a, man of like passions with us”? Why, precisely to meet the case of those who say, “My prayer is not heard because I have such and such faults.” Here is a case in point with yours. “Yes,” say you, “but, sir, you do not know the particular state of mind I have been in when I have prayed. I am so fluttered, and worried, and vexed, that I cannot expect my prayer, offered in such a state of mind, to prevail with God.” Did you ever read the thirty-fourth psalm, and care fully consider where David was when his prayer had such good speed with God? Do not, I pray you, get into the ill habit of judging that your prayers are not heard because of your failings in spirit. “Yes,” says a third, “it is not merely that I do not so much doubt the efficacy of prayer on account of myself, but my prayers themselves are such poor things.” This is your sin as well as your infirmity. Be humbled and pray God to make you like the importunate widow, for so only will you prevail. But at the same time let me remind you that if your prayers be sincere it shall often happen that even their weakness shall not destroy them. He may rebuke the unbelief of your prayer, and yet in infinite mercy He may exceed His promise. Further, I have no doubt many of God’s people cannot think their prayers will be heard, because they have had as yet such very few manifest replies. You say you have had no answers! How know you? God may have answered you, though you have not seen the answer. God has not promised to give you the particular mercy in kind, but He will give it you somehow or other. Many do not pray expecting an answer, because they pray in such a sluggish spirit. They called some of the early Christians on the Continent, “Beghards,” because they did pray hard to God; and none can prevail but those who pray hard. Then there are so many, again, who pray in a legal spirit. Why do you pray? Because it is my duty? A child does not cry because the time to cry has come, nor does a sick man groan because it is the hour of groaning, but they cry and groan because they cannot help it. When the newborn nature says, “Let us draw nigh unto God,” then is the time and the place. A legal spirit would prevent our expecting answers to prayer. Inconsistencies after prayer, and a failure to press our suit, will bring us to doubt the power of prayer. If we do not plead with God again and again, we shall not keep up our faith that God hears us.
IV. Exhortation. Let us believe in God’s answering prayer, I mean those of us who have believed in Jesus; and that because we have God’s promise for us. Hear what He says, “Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee.” Again, prayer must be answered, because of the character of God our Father. Will He let His children cry and not hear them? He heareth the young ravens, and will He not hear His own people? Then think of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus. When you pray it is the blood that speaks. Think, again, that Jesus pleads. Shall the Father deny the Son? Besides, the Holy Spirit Himself is the Author of your prayers. Will God indite the desire, and then not hear it? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Confidence in prayer
I. The spirit of prayer is expressed in the words, “This is the confidence that we have in Him.” The nature of this confidence is determined by the connection. It is not the confidence of presumption, but of children in a father. God is dishonoured by distrust. Christ is dishonoured by unbelief.
II. The rule of prayer prescribed in the text--“If we ask anything according to His will.” It is clear this rule is intended to remind us there is to be a limitation in our prayers. It plainly suggests there are many things which we may not ask of God in prayer. We must not suppose we are to follow our own desires in our supplications. We may wish for many things which we ought not to obtain. They may be wrong in themselves. Or, though proper in themselves, they might be hurtful to us. In either of these cases it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of God to grant them. This rule also reminds us there are certain blessings which are right in themselves, and which it may be the will of God to bestow, but which we must ask only in subservience to His pleasure, and service, and glory. For example, I am justified in asking for health within these limitations. So also may I ask a reason able share of temporal prosperity. With all these exceptions, however, the rule before us assumes there are some things clearly declared to be in such full harmony with the will of God, that we may ask them absolutely and confidently, and without any reserve. They contain all that is essential to our real interests, for both time and eternity. We may ask at once for the pardon of our sins. The promise is plain and universal (Isaiah 1:18). The same is true of the renewal of the soul in righteousness. So also may we ask for increasing holiness. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” We need set no limits to our desires after holiness. God has set none. In a word, we may ask for the Holy Spirit, and this is the sum and centre of all blessings. We may go beyond ourselves, too, and ask for others. We may pray for the conversion and godliness of our household; for the advancement of the cause of Christ in earth.
III. The acceptance of our prayers and their gracious answers. “He heareth us.” This is universally true. He is more ready to hear than we are to ask. God then often hears and answers our prayers, although it may not seem to be so at the time of our entreaty. Or He may hear and answer, but not in the way we desire. Besides, we may have answers to our prayers, although we know neither the time nor the manner of them. The very exercise is good. Still, we may have manifest answers to our prayers. If we mark the providence of God we shall discover that He has heard us. But it is in eternity we shall see all the answers to all our prayers. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
I. Prayer is the expression of confidence in God.
1. In general, the language of want, desire, and necessity.
2. Specially, the language of the soul enlightened by the Spirit of God to discover its necessities, and to desire what the Divine bounty has provided for them.
3. It is intelligent, discriminating, definite--embracing the exercise of faith in the Divine purpose and integrity.
II. Our petitions, embodying, the soul’s confidences, are regulated by God’s promise and warrant. His will as revealed. Precepts concerning our progress in holiness to which everything else is subordinate. Promise--revelation of Divine intention in relation to the moral progress of the soul. God hath said--then faith may confide.
III. Faith brings within the range of our experience the blessings we thus desire. Faith, not an opinion, nor a bare persuasion, but an intelligent, active principle.
1. Apprehending the good promised and sought.
2. By its moral influence it prepares and qualifies for the enjoyment of the promised good.
3. The love thus relying on the promise becomes conscious of the blessings bestowed. (John A. Williams, B. A.)
Confidence in Him
Faith towards God in Jesus Christ is the essential activity of the Christian religion. Salvation begins where faith begins. When man opens his hand to receive, God opens His to give. Again, prayer is the essential function of faith--its natural activity. Prayer comes from faith, from the confidence we have in Him. Let us see, then, what is the confidence on which prayer is founded.
I. That if we ask anything, he heareth us--that it is possible to make known our thoughts, feelings, and desires to God. I cannot believe that He who built the cells of hearing is Himself deaf; nor that amid the myriad eyes His hands fashioned, and in the blaze of all the suns kindled by His power, God alone is blind! No, it is infinitely more consonant to right reason to believe with John that He heareth us.
II. Yes, no doubt He can; but will He? Will He pay any attention to the woes and the wants of so insignificant a creature as man is? Well, shifting the emphasis one word on, I say, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that He heareth us”--men and women with nothing special about them except their mere humanity. God Himself, by His love, has proved the greatness and value of man.
III. “That if we ask anything according to his will, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” I said that without faith in God’s being and intellect prayer would be impossible; and now I say that without this saving clause--without the confidence that God only grants petitions which accord with His own will--prayer would be dangerous. What could be more fatal than for the power of God to be at the disposal of human caprice? But, thank God, He will not yield. God is inexorable. Love always is inexorable. The doctor’s child wishes to have the run of the surgery, that he may play with the keen blades and taste of every coloured powder and potion; and the servant may yield to his importunities, simply because her love is weak; but the father is inexorable, deaf, unyielding. Why? Because he loves his child intensely. I can venture to draw near to God; it is safe, because I have this confidence in God that He will not yield to me against His own wisdom and will. He is inexorable for my highest good. But God’s refusal of one thing always means a grant of something better. “According to His will.” Why so? Because nothing that is not on a level with that will is good enough for thee. (J. M. Gibbon.)
I. Regenerate humanity as the subject of continual necessity. Man is a suppliant. There is no moment in his immortality in which he can declare absolute independence of a Superior Power. Our salvation has not lessened our dependence on the Divine bounty. We feel necessities now of which in our natural state we are totally unconscious.
1. There is our want of a world conquering faith. Without faith man is the mere sport of swelling waves or changeful winds--faith gives him majesty by ensuring for all his energies an immovable consolidation!
2. There is our need of infallible wisdom. The realities of life rebuke our self-sufficiency. The countless errors for whose existence we are unhappily responsible are teaching us that our unaided powers are unequal to the right solution of life’s problems.
3. There is our need of renewing and protective grace. All who know the subtlety of sin feel their danger of being undermined by its insidious influence. Without the “daily bread” of heaven we must inevitably perish.
II. Regenerate humanity introduced to the infinite source of blessing.
1. This source is revealed by the highest authority. It is the Son revealing the Father--the Well-beloved who is intimately acquainted with the feelings which characterise the Infinite Being in regard to an apostate race; so that in accepting this testimony we accept it at the lips of a Divine witness.
2. This source is continually accessible. It would indeed have been graciously condescending had God appointed periodical seasons at which He would have listened to human cries; but He has appointed us audience hours--He is ever ready to hear man’s song and to attend man’s suit.
3. This source is inexhaustible. The ages have drunk at this fountain, but it flows as copiously as though no lip had been applied to the living stream.
III. Regenerate humanity engaged in social devotion.
1. Prayer is the mightiest of all forces (Matthew 18:19-20).
2. Special encouragement is given to social worship.
3. Am I surrounded by those who inquire how they can serve their race? I point to the text for answer: you can agree to beseech the enriching blessing of God!
IV. Regenerate humanity causing a distribution of the riches of the universe. While man is a moral alien he has no influence in the distribution of Divine bounty: but when he becomes a child he may affect the diffusion of celestial blessings. If God has given us His Son will He not with Him freely give us all things? If He has given us the ocean we know that He will not withhold the drop! This assurance is solemnly suggestive.
1. It silences all complaints as to the Divine bounty. Do you wail that you feel so little of holy influence? The reason is at hand: “Ye have not because ye asked not, or because ye asked amiss.”
2. It places the Church in a solemn relation to the unsaved world. That world is given us as a vineyard. The fruitful rain and glorious light may be had for asking. Are we clear of the world’s blood in the matter of prayer?
3. It defines the limit of our supplication. “If we ask anything according to His will.” There is a mysterious boundary separating confidence and presumption. We must not interfere in the settled purposes of God.
1. Earth is intended to be a great sanctuary--“if two of you shall agree on earth.”
2. All worship is to be rendered in connection with the name of Christ.
3. The true suppliant retires from the altar in actual possession of the blessings which he besought. “We know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” We have too long acted as though we wished some visible manifestation or audible proof of answered prayer, whereas the scriptural doctrine is--believe and have. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Life and prayer
Very naturally, very opportunely, does the doctrine of prayer follow that of eternal life. For the new life brings with it new needs. Every higher grade of life brings with it a sense of need undreamt of in the lower grades of life. Buddha, for instance, preached a very noble doctrine and lived a very noble life. He preached salvation by self-control and love. He set up in India a sublime ideal of character, and dying, left behind him the memory of a singularly pathetic and beautiful career. And by his life and teaching he raised India to something like a higher life. But he forgot the main thing. He forgot that the soul of man pants for the living God; that it must have God. It cannot live on words however true, nor on an example however noble. It can only rest in God. Mahomet, too, woke in his people the sense of a new life to be lived by them. To a people that had worshipped gods he proclaimed God. “God is one, and God is great. Bow down before Him in all things.” A noble message surely as far as it went. But it did not go far enough. It did not bring God near enough. Man wants something human, something tender, something near and dear in God. And the fierce followers of Mahomet were driven by the love hunger in them to half deify the Prophet, and to invent a system of saint worship, a ladder of sympathetic human souls by which they hoped to come a little nearer to God. The vision of a higher life had awakened new needs within them. “Necessity,” says the proverb, “is the mother of invention,” and man’s religious inventions bear startling witness to the great religious necessity, the imperative God hunger that is in him. “Let us take the precepts of Christ and follow the example of Christ, leaving all the doctrinal and redemptive parts behind.” No! The life without the love will crush you. The law of God without the grace of God will bear you down. Dr. Martineau says that since Christ lived a profound sense of sin has filled the whole air with a plaint of penitence. He who despises the blood of Christ as Saviour has not yet seen the life of Christ as his example. But eternal life, while it brings new seeds, brings also a new boldness in prayer. “We know that He heareth us.” Love does not exhaust itself by what it gives. We kneel securely when we kneel on Calvary. The Cross is the inspiration and justification of prayer. We can ask anything there. There no prayer seems too great, no petition too daring. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The qualifications of prayer, with respect to the subject matter of it
I. The proper qualifications of prayer, with respect to the subject matter of it.
1. What we pray for must be as to the matter of it, innocent and lawful. To pray that God would prosper us in any wicked design is not to present ourselves as humble suppliants to His mercy, but directly to affront His holiness and justice.
2. What we pray for must not only be lawful in itself, but designed for innocent and lawful ends.
3. The subject matter of our prayers must be according to the ordinary course and events of God’s providence, something possible. We must not expect that God will interpose by a miraculous power, to accomplish what we pray for.
4. What we pray for ought to tend chiefly to our spiritual improvement and growth in grace.
II. How far, when we pray according to God’s will, we may, with humble confidence, rely on the success of our prayers.
1. Whatever God has promised absolutely, He will faithfully and to all intents and purposes perform (Numbers 23:19).
2. Where the promises of God are made to us upon certain conditions or reserves, we have no right to the performance of them any further than is agreeable to the reason of such conditions.
(1) God alone perfectly knows what would be the consequence of His granting us our requests.
(2) The heart of a man is very deceitful; it is not easy for him at all times to discover the secret insincerity which lies at the bottom of it.
1. If prayer be a means of giving us access to God, and procuring for us so many and great blessings, it is just matter of reproof to Christians especially that this duty is so generally neglected among them.
2. What has been said affords good men matter of great consolation, even when they do not find the return of their prayers in the blessings they pray for. God intends the very denial of their requests to them for good. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
The power of believing prayer
Some of the natural forces of the universe can only be manifested through the special elements and agencies that are adapted to transmit them. Electricity must have a pathway of susceptible matter over which to travel, even if that pathway be one of indefinitely minute particles of ether only. So with the spiritual forces of the universe. If the power of the mediatorial presence have no conducting lines of faith along which to travel, it must sleep forever, and the world be left to swing on in its old grooves of evil and death. The manifestation of all the energies of that presence can only come through the believing request of the disciples. (T. G. Selby.)
1 John 5:16,17 open_in_new
There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it
The sin unto death
The sin mentioned here is not the same as the “sin against the Holy Ghost.
” The persons spoken of as respectively guilty are very different from each other. In the latter sin it is the Scribes and Pharisees, the malignant enemies of Christ; in the case before us it is a Christian brother that is the offender: “If any man see ‘his brother’ sin.” This clears the way so far, or at least it narrows the ground, and so facilitates our inquiry. Much depends on the meaning of the expression, “a sin unto death.” Death may mean either temporal or eternal death; either the death of the soul or that of the body. In the passage before us it seems to mean such a sin as God would chastise with disease and death, though He would not exclude the doer of it from His kingdom. In the case of Moses, we have this paternal chastisement involving death. The most remarkable instance of the kind is in the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 11:30). Weakness, sickliness, and death were the three forms of chastisement with which the Corinthian Church was visited. These passages show the true meaning of our text. The sin unto death is a sin such as God chastises by the infliction of disease and death. What this sin is we do not know. It was not the same sin in all, but different in each. In the case of the Corinthian Church unworthy communicating was “the sin unto death”; but what it was in others is not recorded. But then the question would arise, How are we to know when a sin is unto death, and when it is not unto death, so that we may pray in faith? The last clause of the 16th verse answers this question. It admits that there is a sin unto death: which admission is thus put in the 17th verse: “All unrighteousness is sin; but all sin is not unto death.” But what does the apostle mean by saying, in the end of the 16th verse, “I do not say that he shall pray for it”? If we cannot know when a sin is unto death, and when not, what is the use of saying, “I do not say that he shall pray for it”? The word translated “pray” means also “inquire,” and is elsewhere translated so (John 1:19). (See also John 1:21; John 1:25; John 5:12; John 9:2; John 19:21) If thus rendered the meaning would be, “I say he is to ask no questions about that.” That is to say, if he sees a brother sick and ready to die, he is not to say, Has he committed a sin unto death, or has he not? He is just to pray, letting alone all such inquiries, and leaving the matter in the hands of God, who, in answer to prayer, will raise him up, if he have not committed the sin unto death. Let us now come to the lessons of our text.
1. Don’t puzzle yourself with hard questions about the particular kind of sins committed. Be satisfied that it is sin, and deal with it as such. It is not the nature or the measure of its punishment that you have to consider, but its own exceeding sinfulness.
2. Be concerned about a brother’s welfare.
3. Don’t trifle with sin. Count no sin trivial, either in yourself or another. Do not extenuate guilt.
4. Take it at once to God. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The sin unto death
Noble men and women have gone mad over this sentence. In the shadows of this mystery the gentle spirit of William Cowper wandered many a weary month, wounding itself with bitterest accusations--the noble intellect distraught, “like sweet bells jangled out of tune,” weaving the phantasies of despair--the burden of its sad song being, “There is a sin unto death.”
I. There are degrees in sin. Guilt has its gradations. There are sins of ignorance and of deliberation--of weakness and of wickedness: sins which show a lack of goodwill, and others that express intense malignity of will. There are the sins of a Peter, and there are the sins of a Judas.
II. Every one sin tends to others more guilty than itself. It gives the will a wrong bias. It breaks the prestige of virtue. Fact tries to become precedent. Acts become habits. Choice hardens into destiny. Sin becomes master and the sinner a slave.
III. This sad development reaches its climax in the sin unto death. Beyond this it cannot go. What then can it be? It is evidently not any one act or word. It .is a condition, a settled state of heart and mind--a state of opposition to and hatred of good as good, and God as God. The sin unto death is unbelief of heart and mind: rejection of the holy as holy.
IV. This is sin unto death. It hath no forgiveness under law or gospel. Why? How so? Because God will not? No. The way of return to God is closed against no one who does not close it against himself. The unholy cannot be saved.
V. Let us look at our relation to the sin unto death. With regard to ourselves let us not yield to morbid fears, nor sleep in over security. The door is never closed till we close it, and yet all sin tends to the sin unto death. Let us then beware of all sin. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The sin unto death
The leading thought which St. John had in his mind was not the distinction between different kinds of sin, but the efficacy of a Christian’s prayers. He shows it to be an immediate consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, that we should offer up our prayers in full confidence that those prayers will be heard, and that they will be answered, provided only that the petition is in accordance with God’s holy will; and then he applies it to the question of intercession one for another; he would have us to remember, that if we have the privilege of coming to God’s mercy seat, we ought not to use the privilege merely on our own behalf, but that we ought to pray for our brethren as well; and we may even pray for the forgiveness of their sins. But does this direction extend to all kinds of sins? Is there no limit to the power of intercession to obtain forgiveness of sin? St. John asserts that there is a limitation; he says that a Christian may obtain forgiveness for his brother by intercession, provided that the sin for which he prays has not been a deadly sin, a sin unto death. And though it may be very difficult to draw an exact line between the two kinds of sin of which the apostle speaks, yet we may sufficiently illustrate his meaning by taking two extreme cases. On the one hand, take the faults and failings which beset the very best amongst Christ’s disciples; or again, taking the great question of steadfastness in the faith, which in St. John’s day was a question of overwhelming importance to every Christian, one Christian might see his “brother sinning a sin not unto death” in this respect; then the faults of a weak brother such as this would be, as I conceive, a proper subject for the intercession of his brethren. But take the other extreme, suppose a man who has known what is right to have turned his back upon his convictions and to have wallowed in the filth of sin, or suppose you knew him to have committed any atrocious sin, would you have any reasonable ground to intercede for such a person at the throne of grace, and to expect to obtain forgiveness for him? Or suppose a person not merely to have shown some faltering and weakness concerning the faith, but to have openly and expressly denied the faith (which may have been the case that St. John had chiefly in his mind), then would a Christian have any right to ask for the forgiveness of this sin? It seems to me that in this case the very nature of the sin cuts off all possibility of intercession; for to intercede for pardon would be to plead those merits of Christ the virtue of which the apostate has himself expressly renounced. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The mortal sin
In very deed there is no sin that is not unto death, in a momentous sense of the words, although the inspired penman, when viewing the subject under another aspect, affirms that “there is a sin which is not unto death.” Alienation from God is the essence of sin; and since God is life, the slightest estrangement from Him is a tendency to death.
1. The sin unto death appears sometimes to be a single deed of extraordinary wickedness. It seems to extinguish conscience at a blast, and to rob the moral sense of all its energy and discernment. It breaks down the barriers which had hitherto restrained the vicious tendencies of nature; and forth they flow in a vast irrepressible torrent. In a moment it produces an impassable gulf between God and the soul. It turns the man into a bravo: it makes him desperate and reckless. He has taken the leap; he has made the plunge; and on he goes, wherever unbridled concupiscence or malignity may urge him, “as a horse rusheth into the battle.”
2. Still more common is that ruin of the soul which grows out of the long indulgence of comparatively small sins. When people go on sipping sin, although abstaining from a large draught; when, in spite of a reproving conscience, they persist in practices to which the lust of gain, or of pleasure, incites them, not pretending that these practices are altogether right, but only that they are not extremely wrong; when the protest of the inward monitor against this or the other misdeed is put aside with the base apology, But, “is it not a little one”; it may well be feared that the Holy Ghost, disgusted with such double dealing, will leave the heart a prey to its own deceitfulness.
3. Habitual carelessness in matters of religion is also a sin against the Holy Ghost, which, after a certain continuance, “bringeth forth death.” If absolute, irretrievable ruin is no rare fruit of careless indolence, in the business of this world, or, I should rather say, is its natural consequence, why should we deem it unlikely that everlasting ruin, in another world, will prove the consequence of having neglected in our lifetime religion and the interests of the soul? To slight the message, and hardly give it a thought, seems to me an outrage even more atrocious than that of rejecting it after examination.
4. Unprofitableness under means of grace, there is reason to suspect, becomes in numerous instances the sin unto death. A dull insensibility steals over the soul that has repeatedly been plied in vain with spiritual incentives, till at length a lethargy possesses it, invincible to human urgency, from which it will not awake till the day of judgment. (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
1 John 5:18 open_in_new
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not
Three views of the truly regenerate man
He “sinneth not.” As regenerate, he has a new nature. The power of sin is broken in his soul, and therefore its influence over his character and conduct is subdued.
2. He “keepeth himself.” The Holy Spirit, indeed, regulates his mind. But still, his own faculties and affections are in exercise; he voluntarily and earnestly endeavours to avoid sin and to practise righteousness; he steadily and energetically sets himself in opposition to the temptations by which he is beset, and, by the grace of God, he is successful.
3. The “wicked one toucheth him not.” The devil may stand up against him; he may even sometimes gain an advantage over him. But to overpower--to conquer--him, is beyond the utmost of Satan’s arts and efforts. (A. S. Patterson, D. D.)
Whosoever is born of God sinneth not
John closes his letter with a series of triumphant certainties, which he considers as certified to every Christian by his own experience. “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not … we know that we are of God … and we know that the Son of God is come.”
I. Who is the apostle talking about here? “We know that whosoever is born of God”--or, as the Revised Version reads it, “begotten of God”--“sinneth not.” This new birth, and the new Divine life which is its result, co-exists along with the old nature in which it is planted, and which it has to coerce and subdue, sometimes to crucify, and always to govern. This apostle puts great emphasis upon that idea of advancement in the Divine life. So the new life has to grow--grow in its own strength, grow in its own sphere of influence, grow in the power with which it purges and hallows the old nature in the midst of which it is implanted. And growth is not the only word for its development. That new life has to fight for its life. There must be effort, in order that it may rule. Thus we have the necessary foundation laid for that which characterises the Christian life, from the beginning to the end, that it is a working out of that which is implanted, a working out, with ever-widening area of influence, and a working in with ever deeper and more thorough power of transforming the character. There may be indefinite approximation to the entire suppression and sanctification of the old man; and whatsoever is born of God manifests its Divine kindred in this, that sooner or later it overcomes the world. Now if all this is true, I come to a very plain answer to the first question that I raised: Who is it that John is speaking about? “Whosoever is born of God” is the Christian man, in so far as the Divine life which he has from God by fellowship with His Son, through his own personal faith, has attained the supremacy in him. The Divine nature that is in a man is that which is born of God. And that the apostle does not mean the man in whom that nature is implanted, whether he is true to the nature or no, is obvious from the fact that in another pal! of this same chapter he substitutes “whatsoever” for “whosoever,” as if he would have us mark that the thing which he declares to be victorious and sinless is not so much the person as the power that is lodged in the person. That is my answer to the first question.
II. What is asserted about this divine life? “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” That is by no means a unique expression in this letter. For, to say nothing about the general drift of it, we have precisely similar statements in a previous chapter, twice uttered. “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not”; “whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Nothing can be stronger than that. Yes, and nothing can be more obvious. I think, then, that the apostle does not thereby mean to declare that unless a man is absolutely sinless in regard of his individual acts he has not that Divine life in him. For look at what precedes our text. Just before he has said, and it is the saying which leads him to my text, “If any man seeth his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life.” And do you suppose that any man, in the very same breath in which he thus declared that brotherhood was to be manifested by the way in which we help a brother to get rid of his sins, would have stultified himself by a blank, staring contradiction such as has been extracted from the words of my text? I take the text to mean--not that a Christian is, or must be, in order to vindicate his right to be called a Christian, sinless, but that there is a power in him, a life principle in him which is sinless, and whatsoever in him is born of God, overcometh the world and “sinneth not.” Now, then, that seems to me to be the extent of the apostle’s affirmation here; and I desire to draw two plain, practical conclusions. One is, that this notion of a Divine life power, lodged in, and growing through, and fighting with the old nature, makes the hideousness and the criminality of a Christian man’s transgressions more hideous and more criminal. The teaching of my text has sometimes been used in the very opposite direction. There have been people that have said, “It is no more I, but sin, that dwelleth in me; I am not responsible.” The opposite inference is what I urge now. In addition to all the other foulnesses which attach to any man’s lust, or drunkenness, or ambition, or covetousness, this super-eminent brand and stigma is burned in upon yours and mine, Christian men and women, that it is dead against, absolutely inconsistent with, the principle of life that is bedded within us. “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” Another consideration may fairly be urged, as drawn from this text, and that is that the one task of Christians ought to be to deepen and to strengthen the life of God, which is in their souls, by faith. There is no limit, except one of my own making, to the extent to which my whole being may be penetrated through and through and ruled absolutely by that new life which God has given. It is all very well to cultivate specific and sporadic virtues and graces. Get a firmer hold and a fuller possession of the life of Christ in your own souls, and all the graces and virtues will come.
III. What is the ground of John’s assertion about Him “that is born of God”? My text runs on, “But he that is begotten of God keepeth himself.” If any of you are using the Revised Version, you will see a change there, small in extent, but large in significance, It reads, “He that is begotten of God keepeth him.” Let me just say in a sentence that the original has considerable variation in expression in these two clauses, which variation makes it impossible, I think, to adopt the idea contained in the Authorised Version, that the same person is referred to in both clauses. The difference is this. In the first clause, “He that is begotten of God” is the Christian man; in the second, “He that is begotten of God” is Christ the Saviour. There is the guarantee that “Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not,” because round his weakness is cast the strong defence of the Elder Brother’s hand; and the Son of God keeps all the sons who, through Him, have derived into their natures the life of God. If, then, they are kept by the only-begotten Son of the Father, then the one thing for us to do, in order to strengthen our poor natures, is to take care that we do not run away from the keeping hand nor wander far from the only safety. When a little child is sent out for a walk by the parent with an elder brother, if it goes staring into shop windows and gaping at anything that it sees upon the road, and loses hold of the brother’s hand, it is lost, and breaks into tears, and can only be consoled and secured by being brought back. Then the little fingers clasp round the larger hand, and there is a sense of relief and of safety. If we stray away from Christ we lose ourselves in muddy ways. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A lady was leaving home, and was concerned for the safety of a jewel box too precious to be left in an empty house. Asking a friend to undertake the charge, responsible as it was, and receiving a promise that she would do so, she left it with her. But, reflecting that in her absence she might wish to wear some of her trinkets, the lady took three of them with her. On her return home, her first concern was with the box which contained so many precious things. It was safe. Yes, there it was; and one by one the jewels were examined and found all there. The friend had been faithful; she had kept them all in safety. But of the three which had been taken with her, one had been dropped somewhere on the journey and could not be found! Who was to blame? Was it the fault of the friend who took charge of the box? Nay, she could only keep “that which had been committed” to her. She would, no doubt, have kept this other also, had it been left in her care. That which you have not committed to Christ you cannot expect Him to keep. (J. B. Figgis.)
1 John 5:19 open_in_new
We know that we are of God
All true believers are of God, and so separated from the world lying in wickedness
I. How true believers are of God.
1. By creation; and so all things are of God (Romans 11:36). Thus the devils themselves are of God as their Creator, and so is the world. But this is not the being of God here meant.
2. By generation, as a son is of the father.
3. The work of regeneration is held forth under a double notion, showing the regenerate to be of God.
(1) It is a being begotten of God (1 John 5:18). God Himself is the Father of the new creature: it is of no lower original (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 Peter 1:25).
(2) It is a being born of God (1 John 5:18). By His Spirit alone the new creature is formed in all its parts, and brought forth into the new world of grace (John 3:5).
II. How believers, as they are of God, regenerate persons, are separated from the world lying in wickedness.
(1) Not in respect of place (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
(2) Not in respect of gathering them into pure unmixed societies for worship. There are no such visible Church societies in the world (Matthew 13:28-30).
2. But positively, the regenerate as such are separated from the world--
(1) In respect of their being broken off from that corrupt mass, and become a part of a new lump. They are become members of Christ’s mystical body, of the invisible Church, a distinct though invisible society.
(2) Their being delivered from under the power of the god of this world, viz., Satan (Acts 26:18).
(3) Their having a Spirit, even the Spirit of God dwelling in them, which the world have not (Romans 8:9; Jude 1:19).
(4) Their having a disposition, and cast of heart and soul, opposite to that of the world; so that they are as much separated from the world as enemies are one from another (Genesis 3:15). From this doctrine we may learn the following things.
1. This speaks the dignity of believers. They are the truly honourable ones, as being of God; they are the excellent of the earth.
2. It speaks the privilege of believers. Everyone will care and provide for his own: be sure God will then take special concern about believers (Matthew 6:31-32).
3. It speaks the duty of believers. Carry yourselves as becomes your dignity and privilege, as those that are of God.
4. It shows the self-deceit of unbelievers, pretenders to a saving interest in God, while in the meantime they are lying together with the world in wickedness. (T. Boston, D. D.)
People’s being of God may be knower to themselves
I. Men may know themselves to be of God, by giving diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Spiritual discerning, a spiritual sight, taste, or feeling of the things of God, in ourselves or others (1 Corinthians 2:14). Spiritual reasoning on Scripture grounds (1 John 5:13).
1. One may know that others are of God, and separated from the world, discerning the image of God shining forth in them.
2. A true believer may know himself to belong to God, and not to the world. We should not be rash in giving or refusing that judgment, but hold pace with the appearance or non-appearance of the grace of God in them. The love bestowed on hypocrites is not all lost, and therefore it is safest erring on the charitable side. Let us carry our judgment of others no farther than that of charity, and not pretend to a certainty, which is net competent to us in that case, but to God only. In our own case, we may have by rational evidence a judgment of certainty, without extraordinary revelation. What moves ourselves so to walk, we can assuredly know; but what moves others, we cannot know that. A true child of God may assuredly know his relative state in the favour of God.
II. I exhort you to be concerned to know whether ye are of God, separated from the world or not. To press you thereto, consider--
1. We are all of us naturally, and by our first birth, of the world lying in wickedness (Ephesians 2:2-3).
2. The world lying in wickedness is the society appointed to destruction, as in a state and course of enmity against God (Ephesians 2:3). Therefore all that are to be saved are delivered and gathered out of it (Galatians 1:4).
3. Many deceive themselves in this mutter, as the foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-46). Christ’s flock is certainly a little flock (Luke 12:32; Matthew 5:13-14).
4. Death is approaching; and if it were come, there will be no separating more from the world.
5. It is uncertain when death comes to us, and hew (Matthew 24:42). At best it is hardly the fit time of being new born, when a-dying.
6. It is an excellent and useful thing to know our state in this point. For if we find that we are not of God, but of the world, we are awakened to see to it in time. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The triumphant Christian certainties
I. I ask you, then, to look first at the Christian certainty of belonging to God. “We know that we are of God.” Where did John get that form of expression? He got it where he got most of his terminology, from the lips of the Master. For, if you remember, our Lord Himself speaks more than once of men being “of God.” As, for instance, when He says, “He that is of God heareth God’s words.” “Ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.” The first conception in the phrase is that of life derived, communicated from God Himself. Fathers of flesh communicate the life, and it is thenceforth independent. But the life of the Spirit, which we draw from God, is only sustained by the continual repetition of the same gift by which it was originated. The better life in the Christian soul is as certain to fade and die if the supply from heaven is cut off or dammed back, as is the bed of a stream, to become parched and glistering in the fierce sunshine if the headwaters flow into it no more. You can no more have the life of the Spirit in the spirit of a man without continual communication from Him than a sunbeam can subsist if it be cut off from the central source. Divine preservation is as necessary in grace as in nature. If that life is thus derived and dependent, there follows the last idea in our pregnant phrase--viz., that it is correspondent with its source. “Ye are of God,” kindred with Him and developing a life which, in its measure, is cognate with, and assimilated to, His own. Then there is another step to be taken. The man that has that life knows it. “We know,” says the apostle, “that we are of God.” That word “know” has been usurped by certain forms of knowledge. But surely the inward facts of my own consciousness are as much reliable as are facts in other regions which are attested by the senses, or arrived at by reasoning. Christian people have the same right to lay hold of that great word “we know,” and to apply it to the facts of their spiritual experience, as any scientist in the world has to apply it to the facts of his science. How do you know that you are at all? The only answer is, “I feel that I am.” And precisely the same evidence applies in regard to these lofty thoughts of a Divine kindred and a spiritual life. But that is not all. For the condition of being “born of God” is laid plainly down in this very chapter by the apostle as being the simple act of faith in Jesus Christ. So, then, if any man is sure that he believes, he knows that he is born of God, and is of God. Ah! But you say, “Do you not know how men deceive themselves by a profession of being Christians, and how many of us estimate their professions at a very different rate of genuineness from what they estimate them at?” Yes! I know that. And this whole letter of John goes to guard us against the presumption of entertaining inflated thoughts about ourselves. You remember how continually in this Epistle there crops up by the side of the most thoroughgoing mysticism, as people call it, the plainest, homespun, practical morality. “Let no man deceive you; he that doeth not righteousness is not of God; neither he that loveth not his brother.” There is another test which the Master laid down in the words, “He that is of God heareth God’s words. Ye, therefore, hear them not because ye are not of God.” Christian people, take these two plain tests--first, righteousness of life, common practical morality; and, second, an ear attuned and attent to catch God’s voice. It is a shame, and a weakening of any Christian life, that this triumphant confidence should not be clear in it. “We know that we are of God.” Can you and I echo that with calm confidence? “I sometimes half hope that I am.” “I am almost afraid to say it.” “I do not know whether I am or not.” “I trust I may be.” That is the kind of creeping attitude in which hosts of Christian people are contented to live. Why should our skies be as grey and sunless as those of this northern winter’s day when all the while, away down on the sunny seas, to which we may voyage if we will, there is unbroken sunshine, ethereal blue, and a perpetual blaze of light?
II. We have here the Christian view of the surrounding world. I need not, I suppose, remind you that John learned from Jesus to use that phrase “the world,” not as meaning the aggregate of material things, but as meaning the aggregate of godless men. Now, the more a man is conscious that he himself, by faith in Jesus Christ, has passed into the family of God, and possesses the life that comes from Him, the more keen will be his sense of the evil that lies round him. Just as a native of Central Africa brought to England for a while, when he gets back to his kraal, will see its foulnesses as he did not before, the measure of our conscious belonging to God is the measure of our perception of the contrast between us and the ways of the men about us. I am not concerned for a moment to deny, rather, I most thankfully recognise the truth, that a great deal of the world has been ransomed by the Cross, and the Christian way of looking at things has passed into the general atmosphere in which we live. But the world is a world still, and the antagonism is there. The only way by which the antagonism can be ended is for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.
III. Lastly, consider the consequent Christian duty. Let me put two or three plain exhortations. I beseech you, Christian people, cultivate the sense of belonging to a higher order than that in which you dwell. A man in a heathen land loses his sense of home, and of its ways; and it needs a perpetual effort in order that we should not forget our true affinities. So I say, cultivate the sense of belonging to God. Again, I say, be careful to avoid infection. Go as men do in a plague-stricken city. Go as our soldiers in that Ashanti expedition had to go, on your guard against malaria, the “pestilence that walketh in darkness.” Go as these same soldiers did, on the watch for ambuscades and lurking enemies behind the trees. And remember that the only safety is keeping hold of Christ’s hand. Look on the world as Christ looked on it. There must be no contempt; there must be no self-righteousness. There must be sorrow caught from Him, and tenderness of pity. Work for the deliverance of your brethren from the alien tyrant. The solemn alternative opens before everyone of us--Either I am “of God,” or I am “in the wicked one.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
This has been called the Epistle of Love, and it well deserves that title, but it might be almost more appropriately called the Epistle of Certainties; there is the ring of absolute assurance from the opening words to the finish.
I. The strength and prevailing power of the early disciples were in their certainties; they went forth with decision upon their lips, with the fire of intense conviction in their hearts, and it made their testimony irresistible, and gave them their victory over the world. It was the age of the sceptic, a period of almost universal uncertainty. Agnosticism was bringing forth its inevitable fruit of pessimism and despair. Man hungers for the spiritual food which he has cast away. That was the secret sigh and groan of all the world in the days of the apostles. And then these men appeared, declaring in tones to which the world had long been unaccustomed that they had found the Truth, and the Eternal Life. It was the one clear beacon light in a waste of darkness. No wonder that men gathered around them. “This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.”
II. It was the certainties of the Apostolic Church that made it a Missionary Church. Each illumined soul passed on the light to another. Each convert was as good as two, for each one made a second. Prisoners whispered the glad news to their gaolers, soldiers to their comrades, slaves to their masters, women to everyone who would listen. Nor could it be otherwise. They were swayed by the force of a mighty conviction. There was no hesitation because there was no doubt.
III. The measure of our certainty is the measure of our power. We cannot lift others on the rock unless our own feet are there. No man ever wrought conviction in his fellow men until conviction had first swept hesitation out of him like a whirlwind, and cleansed his heart from doubt like a fire. No man believes the witness who only half believes himself. If there be no certainty there will be no fervour, no enthusiasm, no pathos in the voice, no pity in the eyes, no thrill of sympathy. There will only be cold words falling on cold hearts, and returning, as they went out, void. The whole Church is beginning to feel and rejoice in a powerful reaction towards positive beliefs. Those who talk somewhat boastfully of their advanced thought are being left behind, though they do not know it, by advance of a nobler kind. The Church sweeps past them in the impatience of a renewed assurance. Missions can only march to the music of the words “We know.” If the steps are taken with dubious feet and trembling misgivings in the heart there will be perpetual haltings and paralysing weariness. If we are not sure that our Bible is the very Word of God, and our Christ the only possible Saviour of the world, shall we expend treasure and blood and send men out to solitude and danger, and often into the very grip of death, to make them known? There will be an end of all our missionary zeal if we are to believe or be influenced by that talk about the heathen systems which students of comparative religion have recently made current. Many hands have been busy of late whitewashing the darkness and laying gilt upon corruption. It has become fashionable in certain quarters to extol Buddha and Confucius and Mahomet, and by implication to depreciate Christ; to hold up to admiration the light of Asia, and by implication to bedim the Light of the World. And the levelling down of the Bible and the levelling up of the heathen writings have gone on together until the two are made to meet almost on common ground. If we had nothing more to carry to the heathen world than our moral precepts, who would waste the least effort or treasure on that task? Christ did not come so much to teach men what they ought to be and do, not to mock them by a revelation of their own impotence, but to give them that which is more than human, and to enable them to ascend to the heights which He showed.
IV. We come back, then, ever to this confession of the apostle, for to question it is to make missionary enterprise, if not a laughing stock, at least a “much ado about nothing.” “We are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Perhaps in Christian lands we cannot draw the line so clearly as it was drawn of old. The darkness shades into the light where Christian influences are working in all societies, and permeating all thought. And the measure of assurance is the measure of obligation. The more absolutely we know these things the heavier is our burden of responsibility. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The regenerate and the unregenerate
I. The regenerate.
1. Their relation to God.
(1) Of His family.
(2) Of His school.
(3) His willing servants.
2. Their consciousness of this relation.
II. The unregenerate. “Lieth in the wicked one”--in his power, dominion, influence. Some lie there as a sow in the mire; they are satisfied with their filth, they luxuriate in the pollution. Some as sufferers in a hospital; they writhe in agony, and long to get away. What a condition to be in! Better lie on the deck of a vessel about going down, or on the bosom of a volcanic hill about to break into flame. (Homilist.)
The whole world lieth in wickedness--
The unregenerate world described
That world is (as it were two hemispheres) two-fold.
1. The lower world lying in wickedness. That is the region of eternal death; the lake of fire.
2. The upper world lying in wickedness. That is the land of the living, this present evil world.
(1) The lower and upper unregenerate world are indeed one world, one kingdom of Satan, one family of his.
(2) But they are in different circumstances.
(a) The state of the one is alterable, as of those who are upon a trial; of the other unalterable, as those on whom a definite sentence is passed.
(b) So the case of the one is not without hope, but that of the other absolutely hopeless.
(c) Here they lie in wickedness with some ease and pleasure; there they lie in it with none at all. Their pleasurable sins are there at an end (Revelation 18:14).
I. The parts of the unregenerate world.
1. The religious part of it. Wonder not that we speak of the religious part of the world lying in wickedness; for there is some religion, but of the wrong stamp.
(1) A natural conscience, which dictates that there is a God, a difference betwixt good and evil, rewards and punishments after this life (Romans 2:15).
(2) Interest, which sways the men of the world to it several ways. In some times and places religion is fashionable, gains men credit.
2. The moral part of it. Some such there have been among heathens, and some among Christians. Two things, besides natural conscience and interest, bring in morality into the world lying in wickedness.
(1) Civil society, by which means men may live at peace in the world, and be protected from injuries.
(2) Natural modesty and temper, in respect of which there is a great difference among even worldly men.
3. The immoral part of it. This is the far greatest part of that world (1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19-21; Titus 3:3).
(1) The corruption of human nature, the natural bent of which lies to all enormities. This was the spring of the flood of wickedness, and of water, that overflowed the old world (Genesis 6:5).
(2) Occasions of sin and temptations thereto, which offer themselves thick in this evil world; because the multitude is of that sort (Matthew 18:7).
(a) The wealth of the rich makes immorality abound among them. It swells the heart in pride, and fills them with admiration of themselves; it ministers much fuel to their lusts, and affords them occasions of fulfilling them.
(b) The poor, those who are in extreme poverty. Their condition deprives them of many advantages others have.
4. If we compare the immoral part of the world lying in wickedness with the other two, though it is true they are all of the same world, and will perish if they be not separated from it; yet the religious and moral have the advantage of the immoral.
(1) In this life, in many respects. They walk more agreeable to the dignity of human nature than the immoral. They are more useful and beneficial to mankind. They have more inward quiet, and are not put on the rack that immorality brings on men. And so they have more outward safety, their regular lives being a fence to them, both from danger without and within.
2. In the life to come. Though the world, the unregenerate world’s religion and morality will not bring them to heaven, yet it will make them a softer hell than the immoral shall have (Revelation 20:12-13).
II. The state of the unregenerate world.
1. I am to confirm and evince the truth of the doctrine in the general.
(1) Satan is the god of the whole unregenerate world; how can it miss then to be wholly lying in wickedness? (2 Corinthians 4:4).
(2) Spiritual darkness, thick darkness, is over the whole of that world (Ephesians 5:8), how can anything but works of darkness be found in it? The sun went down on all mankind in Adam’s transgressing the covenant; the light of God’s countenance was then withdrawn.
(3) They are all lying under the curse (Galatians 3:10). For not being in Christ, they are under the law as a covenant of works (Romans 3:19). The curse always implies wickedness.
(4) They are all destitute of every principle of holiness, and there cannot be an effect without a cause of it; there can be no acts of holiness without a principle to proceed from. They are destitute of the Spirit of God; He dwells not in them (Jude 1:19; comp. 1 Corinthians 2:14).
II. Explain this state of the unregenerate world, there lying in wickedness.
1. What of wickedness they lie in.
(1) In a state of sin and wickedness (Acts 8:23). They are all over sinful and wicked, as over head and ears in the mire (Revelation 3:17).
(a) Their nature is wholly corrupted with sin and wickedness (Matthew 7:18).
(b) Their lives and conversations are wholly corrupted (Psalms 14:3). For the fountain being poisoned, no pure streams can come forth from thence (Matthew 12:34).
(2) The whole unregenerate world lies under the dominion and reigning power of sin and wickedness (Romans 6:17)
(a) Sin is in them in its full strength and vigour, and therefore rules and commands all.
(b) It possesses them alone without an opposite principle.
(3) They lie in the habitual practice of sin and wickedness (Psalms 14:1). The best things they do are sin, unapproved, unaccepted of God (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 66:3).
2. How the unregenerate world lies in wickedness. They lie in it in the most hopeless case; which we may take up in three things.
(1) Bound in it (Acts 8:1-40), bound in it like prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). They are in chains of guilt, which they cannot break off; there are fetters of strong lusts upon them, which hold them fast.
(2) Asleep in it (Ephesians 5:14). They have drunk of the intoxicating cup, and are fast asleep, though within the sea mark of vengeance.
(3) Dead in it (Ephesians 2:1). A natural life, through the union of a soul with their body, they have; but their spiritual life is gone, the union of their souls with God being quite broken (Ephesians 4:18).
Use 1. Of information. See here--
1. The spring and fountain of the abounding sin in our day. The whole world lies in wickedness; and wickedness proceedeth from the wicked (1 Samuel 24:13). Hence--
(1) The apostacy in principles, men departing from the faith.
(2) Apostacy in practice. There is a deluge of profanity gone over the land.
2. The spring of all the miseries that are lying on us, and we are threatened with. The world is lying in wickedness, and therefore lies in misery;” for God is a sin hating and sin revenging God. Men will carry themselves agreeable to their state of regeneracy or irregeneracy; and to find unregenerate men lying in this and the other wickedness, is no more strange than to find fish swimming in the water, and birds flying in the air; it is their element.
4. The world must be an infectious society; it must be a pestilential air that is breathed in it, and wickedness in it must be of a growing and spreading nature.
5. This accounts for the uneasy life that the serious godly have in the world. For unto them--
(1) It is a loathsome world, where their eyes must behold abominations that they cannot help (Habakkuk 1:3).
(2) It is a vexatious world; the temper of the parties is so different, so opposite, that they can never hit it, but must needs be heavy one to another.
(3) It is an ensnaring world, wherein snares of all sorts are going, and they are many times caught in the trap ere they are aware (2 Timothy 3:1-2).
(4) It is a world wherein wickedness thrives apace as in its native soil, but any good has much ado to get up its head (Jeremiah 4:22).
6. This accounts for the frightful end this visible world will make, by the general conflagration (2 Peter 3:10).
7. This shows the dangerous state of the unregenerate world; they lie in wickedness.
(1) They now lie under wrath, hanging in the threatening and curse which is over their heads (Ephesians 2:8).
(2) They will perish under that wrath, whoever continue and come not out from among them (Matthew 25:1-46; Revelation 20:14-15).
Use 2. Of exhortation.
1. To all I would say, Search and try what society ye belong to, whether ye are still of, or separated from, the world lying in wickedness.
2. To saints separated from the world, I would say--
(1) Do not much wonder at the harsh entertainment ye meet with in it.
(2) Watch against it while ye are in it, as being in hazard of sins and snares in a world lying in wickedness.
(3) Look homeward, and long to be with Christ, where you shall be forever out of the reach of all evil, and enjoy such peace and freedom as your enemies can disturb no more.
3. To sinners of the world lying in wickedness, I would say, Come out from among them, and be separated, as ye would not be ruined with them, and perish eternally in their destruction. (T. Boston, D. D.)
1 John 5:20 open_in_new
We know that the Son of God is come
The gospel of the Incarnation
“He is coining” is the word of the Old Testament; “He is come” is the better word of the blew.
John knew Jesus as the Son of God; and in his writings he only tells us what he knows. “We know that the Son of God is come.” Weft, this is a simple fact, simply stated; but if you go down deep enough into it, you will find a whole gospel inside.
I. By His coming He has “given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” Now this does not mean, of course, that Christ gives men any new intellectual power, that He adds to the faculties of the mind any more than to the senses of the body. “Understanding” here signifies rather the means of knowing, the power of understanding. By word and life He has given us ideas about Fatherhood, holiness, pity, kindness, and love, that we had not before. Purity, meekness, patience, and all the graces, mean more now than they did before Christ lived and died. The horizon of language has been widened, and its heaven lifted higher than before.
II. Well, for what purpose has Christ given us these new ideas and opened the eyes of our understandings? In order that we may “know Him that is true,” in order that we may know God. In Christ you will find the truth about God. There are mysteries still? Yes, but they are all mysteries of goodness, holiness, and love. In a recently published book of travel the authoress tells of gigantic camellia trees in Madeira, and says that one man made an excursion to see them, and came back much disappointed, having failed to find them. He was desired to pay a second visit to the spot, and was told by his friends to look upwards this time, and was much surprised and gladdened to see a glorious canopy of scarlet and white blossoms fifty feet overhead! Is not that the story of many more in our days? They grub and moil amid molluscs and ocean slime; “they turn back the strata granite, limestone, coal and clay, concluding coldly with, Here is law! Where is God? I have swept the heavens with my telescope,” said Lalande, “but have nowhere found a God!” Sirs, you are looking in the wrong direction: look higher l Look as Ezekiel looked--above the firmament. In the presence of Christ Jesus you will find what you shall in vain seek elsewhere, God, in all that He is, made manifest in the flesh.
III. “We know that the Son of God is come, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ,” i.e., in Christ we are in God. Dr. Arnold used to say that though the revelation of the splendour of God in the infinite fulness of His nature may be something awaiting him in the world to come, he felt sure that in this world he had only to do with Christ. Yes! it is with Christ we have to do. God Himself is the ultimate, but Christ is the immediate object of our faith. In our penitence we go straight as the Magdalene went, and, sitting at the feet of Jesus, we know that we are confessing our sins to God. Our prayers are as direct as that of Peter, when, beginning to sink in the boiling sea, he cried, saying, “Lord, save me!” and we know that we are crying to God for help.
IV. Lastly, the Son of God is come, and to be in Him is to have eternal life. “This is the true God (the God in Christ) and eternal life.” Victor Hugo said on his deathbed in a fit of great pain, “This is death: this is the battle of the day and the night.” Yes, but for those who are in Christ the day wins, not the night, and death is the gate leading to a larger life. (J. M. Gibbon.)
Three greatest things
In this verse we have three of the greatest things.
I. The greatest fact in human history. That the Son of God has come. There are many great facts in the history of our race. But of all the facts the advent of Christ to our world eighteen centuries ago is the greatest. This fact is the most--
3. Vital to the interests of every man.
II. The greatest capability of the human mind. What is that? “An understanding, that we may know Him that is true.” Men are endowed with many distinguishing faculties--imagination, memory, intellect. But the capacity to know Him who is true is for many reasons greater than all.
1. It is a rare faculty. The mighty millions have not this power, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee.”
2. It is a Christ-imparted faculty--“He hath given us.” What is it? It is love. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” Christ generates this love. Love alone can interpret love, “God is love.”
III. The greatest privilege in human life. “We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” This means, Jesus Christ is the true God. (Homilist.)
Soul evidence of the divinity of Christ
Christ was Divine. As there can be no argument of chemistry in proof of odours like a present perfume itself; as the shining of the stars is a better proof of their existence than the figures of an astronomer; as the restored health of his patients is a better argument of skill in a physician than laboured examinations and certificates; as the testimony of the almanac that summer comes with June is not so convincing as is the coming of summer itself in the sky, in the air, in the fields, on hill and mountain, so the power of Christ upon the human soul is to the soul evidence of His divinity based upon a living experience, and transcending in conclusiveness any convictions of the intellect alone, founded upon a contemplation of mere ideas, however just and sound. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ manifested in the heart the life of His people
I. The character here given of our Lord Jesus Christ--“Him that is true,” “the true God and eternal life,” “the Son of God.”
1. The first object in this glorious description which claims our notice refers to the truth of our Saviour’s character and mission--“Him that is true.” This title is descriptive of our blessed Lord’s faithfulness, and His punctuality in the performance of every engagement; He is true to His word of promise, though “heaven and earth shall pass away, yet His word shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” This title also refers to the validity of His claim to the character of Messiah. He was no pretender to a station which did not of right pertain unto Him--He was the true Messiah. Jesus Christ is also called “true,” to express that all the types and shadows of the Levitical dispensation received a complete fulfilment in Him, “who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.”
2. The next appellation is, “the true God.” This epithet is not conferred upon the Redeemer merely as an honorary distinction--no, it is given to Him as asserting His Divine nature; a declaration, that He is “very God of very God.” If Christ be not truly and properly God, He cannot be the Saviour of sinners.
3. Another epithet here applied to Christ is, “eternal life.” He is so called with reference to His glorious work, as the Saviour of sinners. By the gospel He has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light,”--has “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers”; and by His meritorious death has obtained life for them; hence He is called the Prince of life. By His mighty power spiritual life is revealed in the hearts of His people.
4. The concluding words of the clause now under consideration are, “His Son Jesus Christ,” which confirms His claim to the Divine character. The Father and the Son are one in nature, as well as in affection.
II. The present state of true believers. “We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” To be in Christ is to be united to Him by faith, which worketh by love. The nature and necessity of this union with the Lord Jesus are most beautifully illustrated in His last discourse with His disciples previous to His sufferings: “I am the true vine,” etc. Believers are “cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and are grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree,” the influences of Divine grace flow into their souls, they bring forth fruit unto perfection, and are at length gathered into the garner of God.
III. The knowledge and experience of believers.
1. “We know that the Son of God is come.” The import of these words appears to be this--we are satisfied the promised Christ has actually made His appearance in the flesh; and believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that person. I apprehend that these words refer to the revelation of our Lord Jesus, in the believer’s heart, by the Holy Spirit of God.
2. “He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” We have already observed that Jesus is the truth. Now we are not naturally acquainted with Him; we know not His glorious excellences; hence, when beheld by the eye of carnal reason, the Redeemer seems to have no beauty in Him; there is no form or comeliness, that we should desire Him. This darkness remains upon the mind till dispersed by a light from heaven, and when that light shineth, Jesus is revealed in the soul, and becomes the supreme object of the believer’s affections. Men may, by dint of application, become systematic Christians; they may understand the theory of the gospel; but they cannot thus become wise unto salvation. (S. Ramsey, M. A.)
John’s triumphant certainties
This third of his triumphant certainties is connected closely with the two preceding ones. It is so, as being in one aspect the ground of these, for it is because “the Son of God is come” that men are born of God and are of Him. It is so in another way also, for properly the words of our text ought to read not “And we know,” rather “but we know.” They are suggested, that is to say, by the preceding words, and they present the only thought which makes them tolerable. “The whole world lieth in the wicked one. But we know that the Son of God is come.” Falling back on the certainty of the Incarnation and its present issues, we can look in the face the grave condition of humanity, and still have hope for the world and for ourselves.
I. I would deal with the Christian’s knowledge that the Son of God is come. Now, our apostle is writing to Asiatic Christians of the second generation at the earliest, most of whom had not been born when Jesus Christ was upon earth, and none of whom had any means of acquaintance with Him except that which we possess--the testimony of the witnesses who had companied with Him. “We know; how can you know? You may go on the principle that probability is the guide of life, and you may be morally certain, but the only way by which you know a fact is by having seen it. And even if you have seen Jesus Christ, all that you saw would be the life of a man upon earth whom you believed to be the Son of God. It is trifling with language to talk about knowledge when you have only testimony to build on.” Well I There is a great deal to be said on that side, but there are two or three considerations which, I think, amply warrant the apostle’s declaration here, and our understanding of his words, “We know,” in their fullest and deepest sense. Let me just mention these briefly. Remember that when John says “The Son of God is come” he is not speaking about a past fact only, but about a fact which, beginning in a historical past, is permanent and continuous. And that thought of the permanent abiding with men of the Christ who once was manifest in the flesh for thirty years, runs through the whole of Scripture. So it is a present fact, and not only a past piece of history, which is asserted when the apostle says, “The Son of God is come.” And a man who has a companion knows that he has him, and by many a token, not only of flesh but of spirit, is conscious that he is not alone, but that the dear and strong one is by his side. Such consciousness belongs to all the maturer and deeper forms of the Christian life. Further, we must read on in my text if we are to find all which John declares is a matter of knowledge. “The Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding.” I point out that what is here declared to be known by the Christian soul is a present operation of the present Christ upon his nature. If a man is aware that through his faith in Jesus Christ new perceptions and powers of discerning solid reality where he only saw mist before have been granted to him, the apostle’s triumphant assertion is vindicated. And, still further, the words of my text, in their assurance of possessing something far more solid than an opinion or a creed in Christ Jesus, and our relation to Him, are warranted, on the consideration that the growth of the Christian life largely consists in changing a belief that rests on testimony for knowledge grounded in vital experience. “Now we believe, not because of your saying, but because we have seen Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” That is the advance which Christian men should all make from the infantile, rudimentary days, when they accepted Christ on the witness of others, to the time when they accepted Him because, in the depth of their own experience, they have found Him to be all that they took Him to be. The true test of creed is life. The true way of knowing that a shelter is adequate is to house in it, and be defended from the pelting of every pitiless storm. The medicine we know to be powerful when it has cured us.
II. Note the new power of knowing God given by the Son who is to come. John says that one issue of that Incarnation and permanent presence of the Lord Christ with us is that “He hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” Now, I do not suppose that He means thereby that any absolutely new faculty is conferred upon men, but that new direction is given to old ones, and dormant powers are awakened. That gift of a clarified nature, a pure heart, which is the condition, as the Master Himself said, of seeing God--that gift is bestowed upon all who, trusting in the Incarnate Son, submit themselves to His cleansing hand. In the Incarnation Jesus Christ gave us God to see; by His present work in our souls He gives us the power to see God. The knowledge of which my text speaks is the knowledge of “Him that is true,” by which pregnant word the apostle means, to contrast the Father whom Jesus Christ sets before us with all men’s conceptions of a Divine nature, and to declare that whilst these conceptions, in one way or another, fall beneath or diverge from reality and fact, our God manifested to us by Jesus Christ is the only One whose nature corresponds to the name, and who is essentially that which is included in it. But what I would dwell on especially is that this gift, thus given by the Incarnate and present Christ, is not an intellectual gift only, but something far deeper. Inasmuch as the apostle declares that the object of this knowledge is not a truth about God but God Himself, it necessarily follows that the knowledge is such as we have of a person, and not of a doctrine. Or, to put it into simpler words, to know about God is one thing, and to know God is quite another. To know about God is theology, to know Him is religion. That knowledge, if it is real and living, will be progressive. More and more we shall come to know. As we grow like Him we shall draw closer to Him; as we draw closer to Him we shall grow like Him. So, if we have Christ for our medium both of light and of sight, if He both gives us God to see and the power to see Him, we shall begin a course which eternity itself will not see completed.
III. Lastly, note here the Christian indwelling of God which is possible through the son who is come. “We are in Him that is true.” Of old Abraham was called the Friend of God, but an auguster title belongs to us. “Know ye not that ye are the temples of the living God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” But notice the words of my text for a moment, where the apostle goes on to explain and define how “we are in Him that is true,” because we are “in His Son Jesus Christ.” That carries us away back to “Abide in Me, and I in you.” John caught the whole strain of such thoughts from those sacred words in the upper room. And will not a man “know” that? Wilt it not be something deeper and better than intellectual perception by which he is aware of the presence of Christ in his heart? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
That we may know Him that is true--
Ultimates of knowledge and beginnings of faith
How can we now reach such heights of assurance as are marked by these words of St. John? First of all, we need to go straight through our own experiences, thoughts, and questionings, until we find ourselves facing the ultimates of our life and knowledge. Many a young man comes nowadays to church in a state of mental reserve; and this is one of the real practical hindrances to clear, bright discipleship. It hinders the progress of the Church as fogs hinder navigation. Men in this state listen to the great commandments of the gospel--repent, believe, confess Christ before men--and while not intentionally or deliberately rejecting them, they receive them and lose sight of them in this great fog bank of mental uncertainty which lies in their minds all around the horizons of present and near duties. Back, then, let us force ourselves to the ultimates of our life! Back in all honesty and urgency let us go, until we face “the flaming bounds of the universe”! I find four ultimates, then, upon which to stand; four fundamentals of human life and knowledge from which to survey all passing clouds and turmoil. One of these ultimates--the one nearest to the common sense of mankind, and which I only need to mention--is the final fact that there is some all-embracing Power in the universe. This is the last word which the senses, and the science of the senses, have to speak to us--force. But when I look this physical ultimate of things in the face, and ask what it is, or how I have learned to give this name of power to it; then I find myself standing before a second ultimate of knowledge. That is the fact of intelligence. I cannot, in my thought, go before or behind that last fact of mind, and reason compels me to go up to it and admit it; there is mind above matter; there is intelligence running through things. Upon the shores then, of this restless mystery of our life are standing, calm and eternal, these two ultimates of knowledge, Power and Reason, Intelligence and Force; and they stand bound together--an intelligent Power, a Force of Mind in things. But there is another line of facts in our common experience, the end of which is not reached in these ultimates of science and philosophy. You and I had not merely a cause for our existence; I had a mother, and you had before you a fact of love in the mother who gave you birth. Love breathes through life and pervades history. It is the deathless heart of our mortality. Moreover, this fact of love in which our being is cradled, and in which, as in our true element, man finds himself, has in it law and empire. In obedience to this supreme authority men will even dare to die. There are, then, for us such realities as love, devotion, duty. And with this it might seem as though I had gone around the compass of our being and said all that can be said of the last facts of our lives. But I have not. There is another last fact in this world which not only cannot be resolved into anything simpler than itself, and with which, therefore, we must rest, but which, also, is itself the truth abiding as the light of day over these fundamental facts of our knowledge. It is the illumination of man’s whole life. I refer, of course, to the character of Jesus Christ. The Person of the Christ is the ultimate fact of light in the history of man. We cannot resolve the character of Jesus into anything before itself. We cannot explain Him by anything else in history. The more definite we make the comparison between Jesus and men the more striking appears His final unaccountableness upon the ordinary principles and by the common laws of human descent. We can bring all human genius into organic line with its ancestry, or into spiritual unity with its nationality or age. Rome and the Caesar explain each the other. Human nature in Greece, vexed by the sophists, must give birth both to an Aristotle and a Socrates. These two types of mind are constantly reproduced. And the Buddha is the in carnation of the Oriental mind. But Jesus is something more than Judaea incarnate. Jesus is something unknown on earth before incarnated in a most human life. He was in this world but not of it. He was the fulfilment of the history of God in Israel, yet He was not the product of His times. He chose to call Himself, not a Hebrew of the Hebrews, not a Greek of the Gentiles, but simply and solely the Son of Man. And we can find no better name for Him. He is for us an ultimate fact, then, unaccounted for by the lives of other men, unaccountable except by Himself; as much as any element of nature is an original thing not to be explained by any thing else that is made, so is the character of Jesus Christ elemental in history, the ultimate fact of God’s presence with man. Now, then, such being the fundamental facts of our knowledge--the ultimates of bureau experience--it is perfectly legitimate for us to build upon them; and any man who wishes to build his life upon the rock, and not upon the sands, will build upon them. A Power not ourselves upon which we are dependent--a first intelligence and love, source of all our reason and life of our heart--and Jesus Christ the final proof of God with us and for us--such are the elemental realities upon which our souls should rest. He who stands upon these Divine facts in the creation and in history shall not be confounded. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
The Holy Trinity
“The Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true.” That advent lays open God’s judgment on good and evil as it is involved in the Divine nature. That advent gives us the power of an ever-increasing insight into an eternal life and the strength of an eternal fellowship. It teaches us to wait as God waits. To this end, how ever, we must use ungrudging labour. “The Son of God … hath given us an understanding that we may know … ” He does not--we may say, without presumption, He cannot--give us the knowledge, but the power and the opportunity of gaining the knowledge. Revelation is not so much the disclosure of the truth as the presentment of the facts in which the truth can be discerned. It is given through life and to living men. We are required each in some sense to win for ourselves the inheritance which is given to us, if the inheritance is to be a blessing. We learn through the experience of history, and through the experience of life, how God acts, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and by the very necessity of thought we are constrained to gather up these lessons into the simplest possible formula. So we come to recognise a Divine Trinity, which is not sterile, monotonous simplicity; we come to recognise a Divine Trinity which is not the transitory manifestation of separate aspects of One Person or a combination of Three distinct Beings. We come to recognise One in whom is the fulness of all conceivable existence in the richest energy, One absolutely self-sufficient and perfect, One in whom love finds internally absolute consummation, One who is in Himself a living God, the fountain and the end of all life. Our powers of thought and language are indeed very feeble, but we can both see and to some extent point out how this idea of the Father revealed through the Son, of the Son revealed through the Spirit, one God, involves no contradiction, but offers in the simplest completeness of life the union of the “one” and the “many” which thought has always striven to gain: how it preserves what we speak of as “personality” from all associations of finiteness; how it guards us from the opposite errors which are generally summed under the terms Pantheism and Deism, the last issues of Gentile and Jewish philosophy; how it indicates the sovereignty of the Creator and gives support to the trust of the creature. We linger reverently over the conception, and we feel that the whole world is indeed a manifestation of the Triune God, yet so that He is not included in that which reflects the active energy of His love. We feel that the Triune God is Lord over the works of His will, yet so that His Presence is not excluded from any part of His Universe. We ponder that which is made known to us, that when time began “the Word was with God” in the completeness of personal communion; that the life which was manifested to men was already in the beginning with the Father (1 John 1:2) realised absolutely in the Divine essence. We contemplate this archetypal life, self-contained and self-fulfilled in the Divine Being, and we are led to believe with deep thankfulness that the finite life which flows from it by a free act of grace corresponds with the source from which it flows. In this way it will at once appear how the conception of the Triune God illuminates the central religious ideas of the Creation and the Incarnation. It illuminates the idea of Creation. It enables us to gain firm hold of the truth that the “becoming” which we observe under the condition of time answers to “a being” beyond time; that history is the writing out at length of that which we may speak of as a Divine thought. It enables us to take up on our part the words of the four-and-twenty elders, the representatives of the whole Church, when they cast their crowns before the throne and worshipped Him that sits thereon, saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord, and our God, to receive the glory and the honour and the power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they are and were created;” they were absolutely in the ineffable depths of the mind of God, they were created under the limitations of earthly existence. The same conception illuminates also the idea of the Incarnation. It enables us to see that the Incarnation in its essence is the crown of the Creation, and that man being made capable of fellowship with God, has in his very constitution a promise of the fulfil meat of his highest destiny. It enables us to feel that the childly relation in which we stand to God has its ground in the Divine Being; and to understand that not even sin has been able to destroy the sure hope of its consummation, however sadly it may have modified in time the course by which the end is reached. Anyone who believes, however imperfectly, that the universe with all it offers in a slow succession to his gaze is in its very nature the expression of that love which is the Divine Being and the Divine Life; who believes that the whole sum of life defaced and disfigured on the surface to our sight “means intensely and means good”; who believes that the laws which he patiently traces are the expressions of a Father’s will, that the manhood which he shares has been taken into God by the Son, that at every moment, in every trial, a Spirit is with him waiting to sanctify thought, and word, and deed; must in his own character receive something from the Divine glory on which he looks. What calm reserve he will keep in face of the perilous boldness with which controversialists deal in human reasonings with things infinite and eternal. What tender reverence he will cherish towards those who have seen some thing of the King in His beauty. With what enthusiasm he will be kindled while he remembers that, in spite of every failure and every disappointment, his cause is won already. After what holiness he will strain while he sees the light fall about his path, that light which is fire, and knows the inexorable doom of everything which defiles. So we are brought back to the beginning. The revelation of God is given to us that we may be fashioned after His likeness. “God first loved us” that knowing His love we might love Him in our fellow men. Without spiritual sympathy there can be no knowledge. But where sympathy exists there is the transforming power of a Divine affection. (Bp. Westcott.)
This is the true God and eternal life.
The eternal life
These are the strongest words that can be used in reference to any object.
I. The apostle’s knowledge of Christ.
1. John knew that the long expected and earnestly looked for Saviour had made His appearance among men. What mere man could talk of going to and coming from heaven, as though he were speaking of going into and coming out of a room in a house and claim to be sane? He was “Emmanuel, God with us,” who, while here below, remained there always. “And we know that the Son of God is come.”
2. The apostle received a priceless gift from the “Son of God.” And hath given us an “understanding.” The importance of the “understanding” that Christ gives may be seen in the object which it understands. A teacher who succeeds in making a great and difficult subject clear to our minds deserves our profoundest gratitude and highest admiration. The “Son of God” gives mankind an understanding that apprehends the greatest of all objects--“Him that is true.” The Son comprehends God and He gives us understandings to apprehend Him. Such an understanding is truly a great gift, the greatest of its kind possible. When we bear in mind that by it Christ places us in the light in which we may see and know God, we cannot fail to feel that it is indeed such. For, like all objects of the mind, God can only be known in His own light. The only way we can possibly understand a great author is to possess the light in which he wrote his work--we must see with his intellectual eyes as it were--then we shall understand him, not otherwise. The understanding which Christ gives us includes much more than a mere capacity to apprehend an object, it includes a suitable spirit in which to enter upon the study of it. Indeed, unless we are in fullest sympathy with the spirit of the object we are studying we shall fail to understand it. It is something to be able to understand the great works that have been produced by the illustrious men of the different ages; their sublime and inspiring poetry, their wise and informing philosophy, their splendid pictures, their fine statuary, and their grand architecture. But the “understanding” which the “Son of God” gives apprehends God; it knows “Him that is true.” Such a mind must be capacious indeed.
II. The apostle’s relation to Christ and God.
1. “And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” A closer relationship than these words describe cannot be conceived; they imply that the most thorough and vital union subsists between God, Christ, and the Christian. That is a triple union the strong hand of death cannot sever, nor will the damps and chills of the grave impair the golden cord that binds the Christian to God and the Saviour. Eternity will only add to its power and perpetuity. To be in Him that is true is to know Him.
2. They possessed an intelligent assurance of the intimate relation which they sustained to Christ: “And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” They had entered into the close union with God by means of Christ, but they had not severed themselves from Christ in order to keep up the union with God; they were in Him that is true, “even in His Son Jesus Christ.” All who are in “His Son Jesus Christ” see God from the only standpoint from whence it is possible for the soul to see Him really and satisfactorily. A visitor who went to Trafalgar Square to view Landseer’s lions, selected a position on low ground from which he could look up at them, where the stately proportions of the whole column could be seen to the greatest advantage. Quite another effect is produced by looking down upon them from the terrace in the front of the National Gallery; the column seems dwarfed and the lions out of proportion. The standpoint made all the difference in the view. Christ is the only standpoint from which we can see God really: in Christ we “stand on the mount of God, with sunlight in our souls,” and see the Father of our spirits.
III. The apostle’s sublime testimony to Christ. “This is the true God and eternal life.” Jesus Christ was not a Divine man merely: if He were not more than that John would not have said that He was “the true God.” He was the best of men, but He was infinitely more; He was “the true God and eternal life.” As the earth is the source of the life of all the fields and forests--as much the source of the life of the majestic oak as the sweet and fragrant violet--so Christ is the source of the soul’s life. Separated from the earth, the most vital plant or tree would wither, droop, and die; no plant, however vigorous and beautiful, has life in itself. Jesus Christ is, in the fullest sense, the source of the soul’s life; “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” As the fountain of eternal life He imparts it to all who possess it. “I give unto them eternal life.” The source of all the waters of the world must be an immense reservoir. If it were possible for the question to be put to all the waters found on the earth, to all streams, rivers, and lakes, “Where is your source?” do you think that they would answer, “Oh, some spring that takes its rise at the foot of a distant little hill.” No, if anyone hinted that such a spring was their source they would scout the idea at once as the very acme of absurdity. Their united answer would be, “Our source must be an inexhaustible ocean.” Then can a mere man be the author of “eternal life”? Impossible. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
The last words of the last apostle
I. Here we have the sum of all that we need to know about God. “This is the true God.” When he says, “This is the true God” he means to say, “This God of whom I have been affirming that Jesus Christ is His sole Revealer, and of whom I have been declaring that through Jesus Christ We may know Him and dwell abidingly in Him.” “This”--and none else--“is the true God.” What does John mean by “true”? By that expression he means, wherever he uses it, some person or thing whose nature and character correspond to his or its name, and who is essentially and perfectly that which the name expresses. If we take that as the signification of the word, we just come to this, that the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and with whom a man through Jesus Christ may have fellowship of knowledge and friendship, that He and none but He answers to all that men mean when they speak of a God; that He, if I might use such expressions, fully fills the part. If we only think that, however it comes (no matter about that) every man has in him a capacity of conceiving of a perfect being, of righteousness, power, purity, and love, and that all through the ages of the world’s yearnings there has never been presented to it the embodiment of that dim conception, but that all idolatry, all worship, has failed in bodying out a person who would answer to the requirements of a man’s spirit, then we come to the position in which these final words of the old fisherman go down to a deeper depth than all the world’s wisdom, and carry a message of consolation and a true gospel to be found nowhere besides. Whatsoever embodiments men may have tried to give to their dim conception of a God, these have been always limitations, and often corruptions of it. And to limit or to separate is, in this case, to destroy. No Pantheon can ever satisfy the soul of man who yearns for One Person in whom all that he can dream of beauty, truth, goodness shall be ensphered. “This is the true God.” And all others are corruptions, or limitations, or divisions, of the indissoluble unity. Then are men to go forever and ever with the blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realised? For, consider what it is that the world owes to Jesus Christ in its knowledge of God. Remember that to us as orphaned men He has come and said, as none ever said, and showed as none ever showed: “Ye are not fatherless, there is a Father in the heavens.” “God is a Spirit.” “God is love.” And put these four revelations together, the Father; Spirit; unsullied Light; absolute Love; and then let us bow down and say, “Thou hast said the truth, O aged Seer.” This is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. “This”--and none beside--“is the true God.” I know not what the modern world is to do for a God if it drifts away from Jesus Christ and His revelations.
II. Here we have the sum of his gifts to us. “This is the true God, and eternal life.” By “eternal life” He means something a great deal more august than endless existence. He means a life which not only is not ended by time, but which is above time, not subject to its conditions at all. Eternity is not time spun out forever. That seems to part us utterly from God. He is “eternal life”; then, we poor creatures down here, whose being is all “cribbed, cabin’d, and confined” by succession, and duration, and the partitions of time, what can we have in common with Him? John answers for us. For remember that in the earlier part of this Epistle he writes that “the life was manifested, and we show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us, and we declare it unto you; and we declare it unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son.” But we are not left to wander about in regions of mysticism and darkness. For we know this, that however strange and difficult the thought of eternal life, as possessed by a creature, may be, to give it was the very purpose for which Jesus Christ came on earth. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” And we are not left to grope in doubt as to what that eternal life consists in; for He has said: “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Thus, then, there is a life which belongs to God on His throne, a life lifted above the limitations of time, a life communicated by Jesus Christ, as the waters of some land locked lake may flow down through a sparkling river, a life which consists in fellowship with God, a life which may be, and is, ours, on the simple condition of trusting Him who gives it, and a life which, eternal as it is, is destined to a future all undreamed of, in that future beyond the grave, is now the possession of every man that puts forth the faith which is its condition.
III. Lastly, we have here the consequent sum of Christian action. “Little children, keep yourselves from ‘idols’”--seeing that “this is the true God”--the only One that answers to your requirements, and will satisfy your desires. Do not go rushing to these shrines of false deities that crowd every corner of Ephesus--ay! and every corner of Manchester. Is the exhortation not needed? In Ephesus it was hard to have nothing to do with heathenism. In that ancient world their religion, though it was a superficial thing, was intertwined with daily life in a fashion that puts us to shame. Every meal had its libation, and almost every art was knit by some ceremony or other to a god. So that Christian men and women had almost to go out of the world in order to be free from complicity in the all-pervading idol worship. You and I call ourselves Christians. We say we believe that there is nothing else, and nobody else, in the whole sweep of the universe that can satisfy our hearts, or be what our imagination can conceive but God only. Having said that on the Sunday, what about Monday? “They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living water, and hewed to themselves broken cisterns that can hold no water.” “Little children”--for we are scarcely more mature than that--“little children, keep yourselves from idols.” And how is it to be done? “Keep yourselves.” Then you can do it, and you have to make a dead lift of an effort, or be sure of this--that the subtle seduction will slide into your heart, and before you know it you will be out of God’s sanctuary, and grovelling in Diana’s temple. But it is not only our own effort that is needed, for just a sentence or two before, the apostle had said: “He that is born of God”--that is, Christ--“keepeth us.” So our keeping of ourselves is essentially our letting Him keep us. Here is the sum of the whole matter. There is one truth on which we can stay our hearts, on God in whom we can utterly trust, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. If we do not see Him in Christ we shalt not see Him at all, but wander about all our days in a world empty of solid reality. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 John 5:21 open_in_new
Little children, keep yourselves from idols
The sin of idolising
I. What is the right notion of idolatry, as it still prevails even among nominal Christians?” I answer generally; whatever is so desired and loved, so trusted in or honoured, as to displace God from His preeminence is an idol. Accordingly the objects of human idolatry are exceedingly numerous; and one individual is far from being constant to the same. We see the idol of yesterday cast to the moles and bats today; and that which is deified today may probably be trampled in the mire tomorrow. This multiplicity of idols, this unsteadiness of taste and affection appeared among the heathen polytheists. It is the proper curse and punishment of forsaking the Creator that the heart roam from creature to creature with a sickly capriciousness, and never know where to settle. Consider, then, whether or not you are immoderately attached to any earthly object; to any friend or relation; to money, power, learning, reputation, pleasure, popularity.
II. The way of detecting these idolatrous propensities in ourselves.
1. What is their effect in filling your mind, and memory, and imagination? What do your thoughts chiefly run upon? To what do they naturally tend--God or Mammon? Your memory too, what scenes and discourses does it most fondly review? Those of a spiritual and devout, or those of a worldly cast? Tell me, also, which way your fancy flies when it makes excursions. To airy castles of augumented wealth and importance in this world; to higher distinctions, and finer houses, and more abundant comforts; or to scenes of heavenly holiness and bliss? Try yourselves, again, as to the influence of temporal things upon your religious exercises.
2. Is your sensibility to sin as lively as ever? If you have lost ground in this respect, and are less particular than once you were, what has so sadly altered you? Has it not been too warm an attachment to this or that person; too keen a solicitude for this or the other acquisition?
3. Are you greatly elated by gain, and greatly dejected by loss in your worldly affairs and connections? In thought survey your possessions and still more your friends. Now, which of all these is dearest to you? Have you ascertained? Then I ask whether you could bear to part with that possession by the stroke of misfortune; with that friend by the stroke of death? Ah, you exclaim, it would break my heart to be deprived of such a blessing. Would that indeed be the ease? Then tremble lest that blessing turn into a curse by proving your idol.
III. Some of God’s methods of dealing with such idolaters; for He is a jealous God. “The idols He will utterly abolish.” Sometimes He sweeps them away as with a whirlwind. They are smitten to the ground and disappear in a moment. Health, strength, beauty, knowledge, fame, wealth, just now they were flourishing like a flower; and like a flower they have faded away. Sometimes the cup of idolatrous happiness is not dashed from our lips, but wormwood is mingled with it. God embitters to us our darling enjoyments, so that where we looked for peace and comfort we find nothing but misery. Was it the husband you loved more than God? That husband becomes faithless and unkind. Was it the wife? She grows sickly and fretful. The child? He turns out wild; or is lost to you in some other way. Be assured that the over-eager pursuit of any worldly good is full of mischief and peril. And this dreadful consummation occurs when God leaves us to our idols; when he suffers them to take and keep possession of our souls. “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone. Leave him to his fatal infatuation. Let him take his fill of carnal delights till the day of repentance is closed and judgment bursts upon him.” Merciful God, sever us from our idols by whatever visitation thou mayest see fit; only leave us not bound up with them to perish in the day of Thy coming!
IV. The means of keeping ourselves from idols.
1. Exercise a sleepless vigilance, kept awake by a sense of your proneness to fall into this evil; and be much in prayer for Divine help, conscious that you are too weak to preserve yourselves without assistance from above. Understand, however, that what you have mainly to guard against is not any particular object, but the turning of that object into an idol.
2. Do not heedlessly form such connections and acquaintances, whether by marriage or partnership in business or domestic service, as threaten to absorb the heart and alienate the affections from God. Recollect that it is easier to abstain from making idols than afterwards to put them away.
3. Think much of the vanity of human things; what they really are and of what account. Often the dearest idol gives birth to the greatest sorrow. How common the remark upon something of which high expectations were conceived, “It has turned out quite the reverse.” Oh, truly, it is most unwise to set our heart upon a gourd which may wither away at any moment and leave us more painfully sensible than ever of the scorching sunbeams.
4. Never forget that it is the prime end of the gospel to unbind your heart from the creature in order to its being reunited to your Father in heaven. Are you not to be “temples of the Holy Ghost”; to be sanctified into “an habitation of God through the Spirit”? What then have you “to do any more with idols”? (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
The true God and shadows
By the “true God” St. John means the God not only truth speaking, but true in essence, genuine, real; by “shadows” or “idols” he means the false principles which take possession of the senses--the unreal reflections of the only Real. There was in deed plenty of need for this warning in St. John’s day and in the Churches under his care. Perhaps the antithesis of Christianity and the world is not now so sharply apparent. But the contrast still exists. Although the twilight realm may be vast, yet broad and deep are the shadows which men take for realities, and live in them, and worship them, and believe in them. Can there be a more evident example of shadow worship than the devotion of the world to the material--which in reality is the immaterial? In every form of matter there is indeed the hint of God, but it is a hint only, the pledge of the reality, not the great Reality Itself. It is from heedlessness of this great truth that the First Commandment of the Decalogue, which some imagine completely needless for themselves, is perhaps really more necessary than any of the other nine. For all around us is a world worshipping sham gods of its own deification. How then does Christ teach us the eternal distinction between shadows and realities? In His temptation we have exhibited to us the whole matter in a nutshell. Temptation is the battle of alternatives, the choice between the high and the low, the real and the shadowy. Alexander, conqueror of the world, wept for worlds beyond to conquer: Caesar, with his hand grasping Satan’s gift of the world empire, dreamed of something more real when he told the Egyptian priest he would give up all, even Cleopatra herself, to discover the mysterious sources of the Nile. It is this reality, this wider con quest, this source of eternal life, which has been man’s search in all his philosophies and religious systems. Napoleon, beset with quagmires in Egypt, bade his officers ride out in all directions, the first to find firm ground to return and lead the way for the rest. So man’s heart has bidden him ride out in every direction to seek the Real, and St. John comes back from his fellowship with Jesus, and cries, “This is the real God and the life which is eternal. Little children, guard yourselves from the sham gods.” (H. H. Gowen.)
If an idol is a thing which draws the heathen away from the living God, anything which does this for us may be named an idol.
I. Self. Love of self is born in us, and if not early checked will be our master. It feeds upon falsehood, unkindness, greediness, and pride. You must gratify it at whatever cost, and then it demands more and more. Self is a dreadful idol. Beware of it.
II. Dress. You may forget the pearl in anxiety about its setting.
III. Pleasure. Do not children encourage the passion for exciting amusements till they are miserable without them, though so many innocent recreations remain to them? We have known children whose Sundays were a weariness to them, and their studies a punishment. Their pleasures were their idols. (British Weekly Pulpit.)