(1) The evidence of sonship. Righteousness.
Hate and death contrasted with love and life ( 1 John 3:13-15 ); generous love, which has its pattern in the self-sacrifice of Christ ( 1 John 3:16 , 1 John 3:17 ); sincere love, which is the ground of our boldness toward God, who has commanded us to love ( 1 John 3:18-24 ).
As in 1 John 2:28 , St. John bursts out into personal exhortation (comp. verse 13; John 4:1 , John 4:7 ), based upon the preceding statements. He then restates the motive in a new form both positively and negatively.
Little children ( τεκνία , the μου being spurious). This address, as in 1 John 2:28 , introduces the summing up of the section. It may be doubted whether the absence of ἐν with the first pair λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ and its presence with the second ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ indicates any marked difference, as if λόγῳ expressed the instrument, and ἐν ἔργῳ the element or sphere. This introduces a false antithesis, like "Do not dig with a stick, but dig in the earth." (For the Hebraic ἐν to express the instrument, comp. Revelation 13:10 .) "Nor yet with the tongue" is not a tautological addition. One may love in word only, and yet the affectionate words may be quite sincere; and this is a common case. People say kind things which they mean at the moment, but afterwards they do not take the trouble to act kindly. But to love with the tongue only is far worse. This is to say kind things which one does not mean, and which one knows to be unreal. Deeds are needed to complete the kind word; truth is needed to correct the insincere tongue.
Love others, for God hath loved thee!
Connecting link: The great contrast has been presented between the love abiding in those who have passed from death unto life and the enmity abiding in the world. That hatred has been illustrated by a reference to Cain, and believers are told they must not be surprised if the murderous spirit still survives. The apostle then reverts to his favourite theme—love. He seems to say, "As for us, we have learnt a different lesson. We have come to know ἐγνώκα 'the love' [the words 'of God' are not in the Greek nor the Revised Version] the supreme love in the universe. The lesson it has taught us is that we ought to love as God loves. He [emphatic] laid down his life for us: we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Divine love has not merely been taught us merely in a book, or by teachers, but in the most stupendous act of self-sacrifice that was possible either in heaven or on earth. If, after this, any one can close up his heart against a needy brother, it is too clear that no love, either of God, or like to God's, dwells in him. Be it ours to show, as God has shown, that with us, love is not merely in word, but also in power. Topic— The supreme love: its act and its lessons.
I. LET US STUDY LOVE 'S GREATEST ACT . "He ἐκεῖνος laid down his life for us." We have already had one study in God's love (homily on 1 John 3:2 ). But the theme is exhaustless. The precise point here is that by what God has done for us we have come to learn the supreme love; such a love as outshines all else—a love which is not only unique as a model, but also as a creative power! Nine features thereof may here be suggested.
1 . Love in its highest origin. God (cf. 1 John 4:10 ).
2 . Love's manifestation. Through the Son.
3 . Love's channel. The incarnate Son.
4 . Love's method. "Laid down his life."
5 . Love's meaning in its method. "A propitiation" ( 1 John 2:1 , 1 John 2:2 ; 1 John 4:10 ); "A demonstration of righteousness" ( Romans 3:20 , Romans 3:21 ); "An offering for sin" ( Hebrews 9:26-28 ).
8 . Love's intent. To save from sin. To purify. To remove for ever the one stumbling-block and bar to human progress. To see men perfect (cf. Ephesians 5:25-28 ; Colossians 1:26-28 ; Titus 2:14 ). This—this is love; this is the love; herein is love. This is the supreme lesson taught us in Christ— that the supreme energy is infinite, eternal, boundless, out-gushing love! Mr. Herbert Spencer tells us that "amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are ever in presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed". Where the agnostic ends, acknowledging that there is an Infinite Energy, though he knows not what it is, the gospel messenger begins, and says, "That Energy I declare unto you." The Infinite Energy is a self-existing, self-outpouring love!—a love that makes the greatest possible sacrifice in order to redeem the lost!
II. LET US LEARN LOVE 'S GREATEST LESSON . How much the lesson of love needed to be taught can only be learnt from the study of the period at which the Apostle John wrote. £ The space at our disposal forbids our doing more than to refer the student to works touching thereon. This love of God for man is seen to have a fivefold effect.
1 . It teaches new truth about man.
(a) of removing obstructions to human advancement, whether
( α ) from within or
( β ) from without; and
(b) of creating and sustaining such new forces as will raise him in the scale of being.
2 . It creates a new duty, viz. that of laying ourselves out for others. "And we ought," etc. The vastly higher plane to which the revelation of Divine love lifted human nature, ipso facto made the claims of manhood on redeemed and sanctified man enormously greater than before. It warranted and even demanded the "enthusiasm of humanity." The measure of self-devotion to others' weal, indicated in the words, "we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren," is very far greater than the phrase just quoted implies. The Church of God has "left its first love;" a return to it would revolutionize and regenerate society.
3 . It becomes a new inspiration in man. Of this the text, looked at historically, is a proof. Such precepts as it contains were never considered a part of human duty till God so loved the world. The apostles and the early Christians had learnt of God to love one another and to do good unto all men. £
4 . It at once led to the adoption of a new test of character. E.g., take the case of a rich man and a poor one—of Dives and Lazarus. "Whoso hath this world's good βίος , and seeth his brother have need," etc. In such a hard-hearted one it is perfectly clear the love of God does not dwell, i.e., either the love which is like God's, or which he imparts, or which he commands, or of which he is the Object. For love to God is nothing if it be not loyal. He commands us to love our brethren. Therefore, if we do not, we cannot truly love God.
5 . It supplies a new and tender persuasive plea. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." In every case our love is to become a practical power. If a man, out of passionate love for his Lord, spends his strength in defending the doctrines of the gospel, it is so far well. But in doing this, his work is but half-done. He is equally bound to devote himself to insisting on the practice of the gospel, and to inspire men to practical philanthropy as well as to penitence and faith. And while the former ages have been those in which Christian doctrines had
We confess we are jealous for the honour of our glorious faith. We see men by thousands deserting the Christian camp because they think Christianity has nothing to say to the temporal concerns of working men. We see secularists and others taking up such questions, and coming to the front as the working men's benefactors! and all because we Christians have so much more ground yet to occupy in working out and solving the social problems of the age. £ Oh! let us to the fore at once in God's Name, and, inspired by everlasting love, let us show to men of every class and calling that while there is not a sin of man against man which the gospel does not condemn, neither is there a right of man which the gospel does not press on his behalf, when it summons us to be "imitators of him" who laid down his life to save our race.
The exhibition and obligation of true love.
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us," etc. Our subject naturally divides itself into two main branches.
I. THE EXHIBITION OF THE NATURE OF TRUE LOVE . "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us." "The meaning is not," as Ebrard says, "wherein we (subjectively) have perceived love, but in what (objectively) the nature of love consists."
1 . It is of the nature of love to make sacrifices. Love is essentially communicative. It seeks to impart itself and its treasures to others. It does not ask—What shall I receive? but—What shall I give? It takes upon itself the burdens and sorrows of others.
2 . The greatest sacrifice is the surrender of life. The strongest self-love in human nature is that of life. Man will perform any labours, confront any perils, make almost any sacrifice, to save his life. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." Therefore the surrender of life is the costliest sacrifice that even true love can offer. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;" "Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us."
3 . But Christ sacrificed his life for his enemies. "For us." That it was for sinners is not mentioned here; but it is elsewhere. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us," etc. ( 1 John 4:10 ). "Christ died for the ungodly," etc. ( Romans 5:6-8 ). And the manner in which his life was sacrificed was most painful. He was "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." The derision and degradation, the ignominy and anguish, associated with his great self-sacrifice were such that death itself was but a small portion of what he endured for us. Behold, then, in him who laid down his life for us what genuine love is.
II. THE OBLIGATION TO EXERCISE TRUE LOVE . "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods," etc. It is implied that all true love is one in its essential nature; the love in the heart of God and pure love in the heart of man are alike in kind; the love which we ought to exercise should resemble that of our Lord Jesus Christ. It should be like his, not in its degree, but in its character; not in its intensity and force, but in its kind. Like his in extent and degree our love can never be; for his is infinite, ours must ever be finite. "A pearl of dew will not hold the sun, but it may hold a spark of its light. A child, by the sea, trying to catch the waves as they dash in clouds of crystal spray upon the sand, cannot hold the ocean in a tiny shell, but he may hold a drop of the ocean water." So our love, though utterly unlike Christ's in its measure, may be like it in its essential nature—it may be as a spark from the infinite fire. Two forms of expression of genuine affection are here set forth as obligatory.
1 . Willingness to make the great sacrifice for our brethren. "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The principle, as we apprehend it, may be thus stated, that, when a greater good will be accomplished by the sacrifice of our life than by the saving of it, we should be willing to surrender it. We should have such love for the brethren as would inspire us to lay down our life for them, if it were necessary, and we could thereby effectually promote their salvation. Such was the love of St. Paul: "Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all." Love which would enable us to imperil our life if by so doing we may save others from death. Such love for our Lord and Saviour as would lead us to choose death rather than deny him. Such love for his cause as would impel us to sacrifice our comforts, our home, and even life itself, if thereby we may advance its interests and spread its triumphs. So St. Paul: "I hold not my life of any account, as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." And zeal in this cause is surely one of the highest forms of love for our brethren.
2 . Readiness to relieve the needs of our brethren. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need," etc. ( 1 John 3:17 ). True love expresses itself not only in great and heroic acts, but in little deeds of thoughtful kindness, in lowly ministries to the poor and needy. Our Lord not only gave his life for men, but he helped them in other ways. He fed the hungry thousands ( Mark 8:1-9 ). He vindicated the loving woman who, having anointed him with her costly perfume, was blamed for so doing ( Matthew 26:6-13 ). He prepared a meal for his hungry, weary, and discouraged disciples ( John 21:4-13 ). We ought to imitate him in this respect. We shall not fail to do so if true love dwells in our hearts. If we do not help our needy brethren when it is in our power to do so, it is clear that a love like Christ's is not in us. Look at the case stated in the text.
"Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and in truth." Let our love be not merely a profession, but a reality; not an empty sentiment, but a hearty service. Let the beneficence of our hand be joined with the benevolence of our heart. In the spirit of our Lord, let us give to our brethren, not only genuine sympathy, but generous self-sacrifice whenever it is needful so to do - W.J.
The sign of brotherly love.
I. LOVE TO BE TRACED TO A SAVING CHANGE .
1 . Not to be expected in the world. "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you." Cain hated Abel; after the same fashion the world hates Christ's people. Our Lord, whom John here echoes, points to the fact of his being hated before his people, and then adds, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." Abel's tragic end was conclusive evidence that he was not to be classed with Cain; so when the world hates us, there is this consolation, that we have evidence of not being classed with the world.
2 . Its presence the sign of a saving change. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." Here again John echoes our Lord, who describes the saving change in the same language ( John 5:24 ). The passage out of death into life is to be interpreted in accordance with being begotten of God and having his seed in us. It is not simply justification— a passage out of a state of condemnation into a state of acceptance. It is rather regeneration— a passage out of a dead, abnormal state of our thoughts, desires, volitions, into their living, normal state. This is a passage which must take place in the spiritual history of every one of us who would come forth into the light of God's countenance. It is not effected without Divine help, which is offered in the gospel. To every one to whom the gospel offer is made there is granted the assistance of the Spirit, that he may lay hold on Christ as his Saviour. With Christ there is a new principle introduced into our life, which now needs full manifestation for our perfect health and happiness. It is a matter, then, of the very greatest importance for us to know that we have made the passage out of death into life. We are not to take this for granted, but to be guided by evidence. The test given by our Lord is—hearing his Word, and believing him that sent him. John's interpretation of this is loving the brethren. We are to love those who are animated with the same Christian sentiment, not in the same way those who are animated with worldly sentiment. If we have the right feeling within the Christian circle, loving all who love Christ, then we may conclude that a saving change has taken place in us.
3 . Its absence the sign of continuance in an unsaved state. "He that loveth not abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." The apostle singles out him who is not under the influence of love (without any specification of object), and says of him, that he abideth in death, i.e., has not made the passage—remains where he was. In confirming this, he assumes that want of love is equivalent to hatred of a brother. It is only where love is active that hatred is effectually excluded. "Whosoever hateth his brother [there seems to be a limitation to the Christian circle] is a murderer." He has the feeling of the murderer, in so far as he is not sorry to see the happiness of his brother diminished. If he is a murderer to any extent, then—according to the old law—his life is forfeited. It cannot be said of him, as it can be said of him that loves, that he has eternal life abiding in him. His true life, that which has eternal elements in it, has not yet commenced.
II. LOVE IN ITS MANIFESTATION .
1 . Love in its highest manifestation. "Hereby know we love, because he [that One] laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The apostle has laid down love as the sign of a saving change; how are we to know what love is? He does not give any philosophical definition of it; he reaches his end better by pointing to its highest manifestation, viz. that One laying down his life for us. "I have power to lay it down," he said, "and I have power to take it again ;" but he elected to lay it down. It was laying down that which was dearest to him, that which cost him an infinite pang to lay down. There was not a little truth in what Satan said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." It was only love that could overcome the greatest natural aversion to dying—a love stronger than death, a love burning with a flame that waters and floods could not quench. It was love going out toward us, that sought to be of infinite service to us. He did not grudge his life, that we might have life—the pardon of our sins, and the quickening of his Spirit through our whole nature. To point to this is better than to give any definition of love—it is love meeting a great necessity, solving the problem of sin, triumphing over the greatest difficulty that could arise under the moral government of God. There was rebellion against the Divine authority: how was it triumphed over? Not by a resort to force, which would have been easy, but by drawing upon the resources of love, even by that which was fitted to excite the astonishment of the universe—the Son of God becoming incarnate, and laying down his precious life, that the guilt of rebellion and all its evil consequences might be removed. So John needs not to give any definition of love in abstract terms; he needs only to say, "Hereby know we love." This is its absolute realization—a realization from which we are to derive instruction and inspiration. For what does it say to us? John puts it thus, "And we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." As he represents those who hate as murderers, so he represents those who love as martyrs. If we take "laying down our lives" as actual martyrdom, then there is not an obligation to this raider all circumstances. In the early times Christians had often to face martyrdom—it was a matter of obligation to them from which they could not free themselves, from which they sought not to free themselves, because they were under the spell of Christ's sacrifice for them. It is to the honour of our Christianity that they went forth even joyfully to meet death in whatever form it came to them. If opportunity offered, it would be our duty to do the same. But observe the spirit of our great exemplification of love. It was not self-immolation for its own sake, but rather self-immolation for the sake of being of service to us. He who, like Lacordaire, has himself bound to a literal cross is doing a bold thing, but a mistaken thing, for the reason that there is no proper connection between his act and service done. Carried out, it would turn Christianity into a religion of suicide. What keeps us right, while still preserving the spell of Christ's sacrifice, is that we allow our love to go as far in sacrifice as our doing service to others requires.
2 . An ordinary failure in love. "But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him?" It is very exceptional where our duty is to lay down our lives for the brethren; it is generally a much simpler matter. Here is a Christian who has the means of living for this world beyond what he absolutely requires. He is not rich, let us say, but is in good health, and employed, and has an ordinary living. Here, on the other hand, is a brother in need, who is in bad health, or is unemployed, or is incapacitated by age for work. "The poor ye have always with you." What, then, is the duty of a Christian to a needy brother? Is he not guided to it even by his natural feelings? As he beholds his brother in need, his heart opens in compassion toward him; and he goes and lays down for him, not his life in this case, but a little out of his worldly store, which goes to lighten the burden of his brother's poverty. That is the Christian part. But let us suppose the converse. Here is one who professes to be a Christian. Nature does not refuse him assistance. The spectacle of a brother's poverty opens his heart in compassion. But he selfishly shuts it—goes away, and finds prudential reasons for not making the little sacrifice that his feelings unchecked would lead him to make: have we not grounds, in this case, for doubting his Christianity? Of one who goes and lays down of his living for a needy brother we can think that he has the love of God abiding in him. Even in that little sacrifice he is acting in the same line in which God acted in making infinite sacrifice. But of one who cannot lay down, not his life, which is the highest test, but a little of his living, which is a very low test, what are we to think? What has he in common with that God whom he professes to love, of whose love the cross of Christ is the expression?
3 . The requisite of reality in love. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth." With all affectionateness he would have them to attend to this lesson, calling them his little children, and including himself in what he inculcates. Love may very properly find expression in word. "Kind messages have a grand part to discharge in the system of utterances and acts by which the reign of love is maintained and advanced in so hard a world. As soon as we have passed beyond the limits of school into the real world, we find that it is sweet to be remembered with regard by friends at a distance—to learn that you have not faded out of their memory, like unfixed photographs in the sunshine; that you are sufficiently a distinct object of regard to be found worthy of a direct and affectionate salutation." It is very proper also to use the tongue in conveying love. The kindly feeling must be in the heart; but let the kindly expression also be on the tongue. There is nothing more beautiful in the picture of the virtuous woman drawn by King Lemuel than this touch: "In her tongue is the law of kindness." Let not the tongue be used as the vehicle of disagreeableness, of rancour; let love teach us how to use it. Kindliness of tone, especially when accompanied with the fitting word, does much to take away the hardness of life and the oppressive sense of isolation. But, when proper occasion arises, let us also love in deed. Withhold not from a needy brother when thou canst relieve him. Perform the act to which the kindly feeling prompts. Then only can we love in truth. Love that stops short of doing, that does not go beyond fine phrases, is characterized by unreality. To be true, it must penetrate into what is practical, however unromantic.
III. LOVE IN ITS BENEFICIAL RESULT .
1 . Assurance. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." The link of connection is truth as the sphere in which love moves. Let us go on loving, and we shall know that we are of the truth; i.e., have hold of eternal reality, so as to be steadied by it and wholly charactered by it. Knowing that we are of the truth, we shall assure our heart before him. It is of the utmost importance that we should have our heart assured as to our state and destiny. This can only be "before him;" for it is with him that we have to do—to whom we stand or fall. Does our heart tell us that we stand in a right relationship to him? We may have experience of sin, as we have already been taught, and yet stand in a right relationship to him. God's people are those who are being gradually cleansed from sin in the blood of Christ and in connection with confession of sins. Their titles, then, are not affected by remains of sin, if there is a new life operating in them, showing itself especially in the activity of brotherly love. The following course of thought cannot be ascertained with certainty. The difficulty is caused by the introduction of "for" before "God is greater." For its omission there is one very good authority of the fifth century; but the weight of authority is for its introduction. If we take the more authoritative reading, we have not a clear sense; on the other hand, if we take the less authoritative reading, we have a clear and excellent sense. It seems to be a case (very rare, indeed) in which the authority of manuscripts must yield to the authority of consistent thought. The way of getting over the difficulty in the Revised Version is far from satisfactory. It seems to teach that, if we only love, then, whereinsoever our heart condemn us, we may pacify it by the thought that God is greater than our hearts, especially in his omniscience—which is a latitudinarian sentiment. In the old version there is a distinction drawn between the case of our heart condemning us and the case of our heart not condemning us.
Having started the thought of assurance, John emphasizes it by putting forward the calamitousness of its opposite. If our heart condemn us, i.e., if, from the presence of unloving feelings and from other evidences, we do not have good ground for thinking that we have yet come into a covenant relationship to God, then our case is bad. We have not only self-condemnation—conscience turned against ourselves—but we have something worse. God is greater than our heart in this sense, that he has made it with its power of judgment upon ourselves. Conscience is only his legate; we must think of the great God himself pronouncing judgment upon us, and his judgment is more efficient than ours. We have but a limited knowledge even of ourselves. If with that limited knowledge our judgment is condemnatory, what must the judgment of God be? He has more to proceed upon; for he knoweth all things— things that have faded from our mind, things in the depths of our heart beyond our own power of clear discernment. This clear condemnation of ourselves, involving the weightier and more terrible condemnation of God, is not to be taken as equivalent to want of assurance, which only goes thus far—that the evidences do not warrant a clear judgment in our favour. This want of assurance, which not a few Christians have, is a painful state, which should stimulate to a laying firm hold upon Christ, in whom all our interests are secured.
2 . Privilege of being heard. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." One form which our boldness takes is asking. We are full of wants; and it is natural for us, in the consciousness of our sonship, to express our wants to our Father. We go upon the ground of our covenant relationship in pleading. "Preserve my soul; for I am holy: O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee." "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" We ask not always with the full knowledge of what we really need, but with the reservation that respect may be had by God to our real need. And whatsoever we thus ask, we receive of him. He constantly blesses us out of his boundless stores. There is a ladder of communication between us and heaven, upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. We are heard, not apart from obedience. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." We must be conscious of an honest intention to bring our life into agreement with our prayers. It is only when we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight, that we have that boldness in asking which God rewards. Added explanation. "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment." He would leave no doubt as to what he means. The commandment is one in two parts. The first part of the commandment is that we believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ. This may be said to be his full Name. He was the historical Jesus, who stood in an essential relationship to God as his Son, and was sent forth to do his saving work. That is the blessed import of the Name here given to our Lord. His nature has thus been declared; and what we are commanded to do is to trust in the Name. We are, as sinners, to trust in the Name of him who has gloriously wrought out salvation for us. And what a Name to trust in! Not the name of one who can love a little, and can have no saving merit to transfer; but the Name of him who manifested the infinite desire of God for our salvation, and, in labour and in hiding of the Father's face, acquired infinite merit for transference to us. The second part of the commandment follows on the first. It is loving one another, and the manner is added (as commanded by Christ)—which is loving one another as he has loved us ( John 15:12 ). He in whom we trust commands in accordance with his own nature, commands in accordance with his own example. We cannot trust in him and not love; and thus there is virtually one commandment.
3 . Privilege of communion. "And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him." The apostle here recurs to the key-note of the Epistle. When, trusting in Christ, we love one another, we keep the way clear for communion with God. Transition to a new section. "And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." The pledge of communion is possession of the Spirit, which is unfolded in the following paragraph - R.F.