The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 5:13-21 (1 John 5:13-21)

4. CONCLUSION OF EPISTLE ; without, however, any marked break between this section and the last On the contrary, the prominent thought of eternal life through faith in the Son of God is continued for final development. This topic is the main idea alike of the Gospel ( John 20:31 ) and of the Epistle, with this difference—in the Gospel the purpose is that we may have eternal life; in the Epistle, that we may know that we have eternal life.

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1 John 5:18-21 (1 John 5:18-21)

With three solemn asseverations and one equally solemn charge the Epistle is brought to a close. "Can we be certain of any principles in ethics? St. John declares that we can. He says that he has not been making probable guesses about the grounds of human actions, the relations of man to God, the nature of God himself. These are firings that he knows. Nay, he is not content with claiming this knowledge himself. He uses the plural pronoun; he declares that his disciples, his little children, know that which he knows" (Maurice).

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1 John 5:19 (1 John 5:19)

Omit the "and" before "we know." There is no καί or δέ in the true text; and the asyndeton is impressive. The whole world lieth in the evil one. This is the second great fact of which Christians have certainty. They, as children of God, and preserved from the evil one by his Son, have nothing to do with the world, which still lies in the power of the evil one. That "the evil" τῷ πονηρῷ is here not neuter but masculine is evident from the context, as well as from 1 John 2:13 , 1 John 2:14 ; 1 John 4:4 . "By saying that it lieth in the evil one (in maligno ) he represents it as being under the dominion of Satan. There is, therefore, no reason why we should hesitate to shun the world, which contemns God and delivers up itself into the bondage of Satan; nor is there any reason why we should fear its enmity, because it is alienated from God" (Calvin).

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1 John 5:18-19 (1 John 5:18-19)

The strong foe and the stronger Friend.

Connecting link: It is not without reason that the apostle had just written of life from God as the needed gift to those who are sinning, whether their state be that of sin unto death or no; for the fact is that whosoever is born of God is not sinning. By the fact of the new birth he has been delivered out of that state in which the evil one would fain have held him, as that evil one still holds the world. But now the evil one is powerless, for his power is neutralized by the watchful care of the only begotten Son of God. Note: According to the Authorized Version this verse seems to teach that the believer has and exercises an instinct of self-preservation. The Revised Version and the Revisers' Greek text should be studied. Instead of ἑαυτὸν , we now read αὐτὸν . And further, the ὁ γεννηθεὶς plainly points to another than ὁ γεγεννημένος , even to him that was and is the Begotten One of God. He it is who so watches over the new-born child of God that the evil one has no power to touch him. Topic— The conquering and the conquered ones.

I. THERE IS A GREAT FOE , OF MAN . "The evil one." The personality of the evil one is clearly implied in such passages as these: Matthew 4:1 ; Matthew 13:39 ; Matthew 25:41 ; John 8:44 ; John 13:2 ; Ephesians 4:27 ; 1 Timothy 3:6 ; James 4:7 ; 1 Peter 5:8 ; 1 John 3:8 ; Luke 22:31 ; Romans 16:20 ; 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 2 Corinthians 4:4 . It is not possible fairly to interpret all these passages as indicating only an all-pervasive, impersonal evil. If any demur, let them consider these two points.

1 . It is not possible for moral evil to exist apart from some personal being in whom it exists.

2 . Whatever evil is in man is there whether there be a devil or no. If there be no devil, and all man's evil is self-originated, then man's nature is a great deal worse than the Scriptures declare it to be.

II. THOUGH MAN HAS A GREAT FOE , HE HAS A GREATER FRIEND . This Friend is the "Begotten One of God;" "the only begotten Son." He beheld this world usurped by the destroyer, and came to set it free. His work is fourfold.

1 . He came and worsted the evil one in single combat.

2 . He laid down his life for men, and claims the globe as his.

3 . He has assumed the sovereignty over all, and dethroned the evil one ( John 12:31 , John 12:32 ).

4 . He is now engaged by his Word and Spirit in


1 . Who are these? Those who are born again ( 2 Corinthians 4:18 ). All of them.

2 . How do they escape the evil? Through the watchful care of the Lord Jesus. He guards πηρεῖ them. The word "expresses a watchful regard from without, rather than safe custody" (so Westcott). This guardianship is exercised

3 . What is the effect? The wicked one does not touch them with a contaminating, poisoning hand. lie would, but he cannot. This must be the issue.

The life which is guarded without and sustained within by the Son of God is a perpetual proof that there are some whom evil cannot touch. They move amid the evil, but it harms them not. Let the world get more and more corrupt, they do but become more and more like their Lord.

IV. WE HAVE HERE THE SECRET OF VICTORY OR DEFEAT IN LIFE ; i.e., of conquest over evil or conquest by it. All depends on whether we are ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου or ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ (cf. 1 John 4:4 ); i.e., whether we have a life that is inspired by God or a life upon the lower level of this world. £ If our being is still of the earth earthy, we are in that region which lieth wholly in the wicked one, "in all its parts and elements." It is in his domain, in his grasp. He is the "god of this world," blinding men's minds. Its darkness is the realm in which he moves. And if we remain in this sphere, and are never extricated from it by a mightier power, with darkness and sin we must "lie down in sorrow." Who can consent to remain a prey to evil when the great Redeemer stands ready with a mighty hand to pluck us out of it, and to guard us so securely that no evil shall touch us?


1 . Who know it? "We"—we who are born of God. Much is known by us that is hidden from the world.

2 . H ow do they know it?

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1 John 5:18-20 (1 John 5:18-20)

The sublimest knowledge.

"We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not," etc. There are certain things of which St. John writes without even the faintest tone of hesitation or doubt, with the calmest and firmest assurance, and with the accent of deep conviction. And the things of which he writes with so much certainty are of the greatest and most important. So in the paragraph before us he utters his triple "we know" concerning some of the most vital and weighty questions. Let us notice each of these in the order in which they here stand.

I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHARACTER AND CONDITION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD . "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Here are three points for consideration concerning true Christians.

##1 . Their origination from God. They are "begotten of God?' They are "called children of God," and are such. £ f16

2 . Their abstention from sin. "Whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not." He will not commit the "sin unto death;" and in proportion as he participates in the Divine life he will shun sin in any form (cf. 1 John 3:6-9 ; and see our remarks on 1 John 3:6 ).

3 . Their preservation from the evil one. "He that was begotten of God keepeth himself, and the wicked one toucheth him not." Danger is clearly implied here. "Be sober, be vigilant; your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith." "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," etc. ( Ephesians 6:11-18 ). "Satan transformeth himself into an angel of light." Hence the danger. But notice:

II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF PERSONAL FILIAL RELATIONSHIP TO GOD . "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one." The assurance with which the apostle writes is remarkable. Not, "we are probably of God;' not," we hope we are of God," etc.; but "we know that we are of God," etc. We may know this:

1 . By our consciousness of our Christian character. The genuine Christian can say of his spiritual condition, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." He is conscious of his faith in Christ. "I know whom I have believed," etc. ( 2 Timothy 1:12 ). He feels that the Saviour is precious unto him ( 1 Peter 2:7 ). He knows that he loves the Christian brotherhood; and "we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." He is conscious of his sincere desire and endeavour to follow Christ as his great Exemplar, and to obey him as his Divine Lord.

2 . By our consciousness of our filial disposition toward God. We have "received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." Our own hearts assure us that we trust and love and reverence our heavenly Father. Thus "we know that we are of God?

3 . By the contrast between ourselves and the unchristian world. "The whole world lieth in the wicked one." We have already endeavoured to indicate the character of" the world" of which St. John writes. £ "Concerning the world, he says, not merely that it is of the wicked one, or has him for a father, and bears his nature, but also that it 'lies in him,' that is, lies in his bosom,… like an infant on the bosom of a mother or a father, which is absolutely given up to its parent's power" (Ebrard). The true Christian knows that he is not in such a condition, but in a decidedly opposite one—that he "abides in the Son, and in the Father" ( John 2:24 ).

III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF A TRANSCENDENT FACT , AND OF GREAT PERSONAL BENEFITS DERIVED THROUGH THAT FACT . "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true," etc. Here are four points which require our attention.

1 . That the Son of God came into our world. "We know that the Son of God is come." (This great fact has already engaged our attention in our homily on 1 John 4:9-11 , and the apostle's assurance of it in that on 1 John 4:14 .)

2 . That the Son of God hath given to us spiritual discernment that we might know God. "And hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true." This does not mean that he has given to us any new faculty, but that he has brought our spiritual faculties into a right condition for the apprehension of the Divine Being. "As Christ has come (in the sense of 1 John 4:9 )," says Ebrard, "and through this act of love has kindled love in us ( 1 John 4:10 ), thus communicating his nature to us, he has furnished us with the understanding necessary in order that we may know God. For God is, according to 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8 , Light and Love; and only he who is penetrated by his light, and kindled by his love, can know him." God was not the Unknowable to St. John. He knew him through the revelation of Jesus Christ, by the conscious realization of his presence with his Spirit, and by hallowed communion with him.

3 . That we are in vital union with God and with his Son Jesus Christ. "We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." (We have already considered what it is to be in God, in our homily on 1 John 2:6 .) The true Christian is in God the Father through being in Christ the Son. He is in the Father through the mediation of the Son.

4 . That the Son of God is truly and properly Divine. "This is the true God, and eternal life" (cf. verses 11-13).

Let us seek to realize the exalted and blessed knowledge which we have been considering. And if it be already ours, let us endeavour to possess it in clearer light and fuller measure. "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord."—W.J.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 John 5:18-21 (1 John 5:18-21)

The three certainties of the Epistle.

I. THE CERTAINTY OF THE POWER OF THE DIVINE BIRTH . "We know that whosoever is begotten of God sinneth not; but he that was begotten of God keepeth him, and the evil one toucheth him not." This is doctrine which has already been laid down. In 1 John 3:6 sinlessness is connected with human action; here it is connected with Divine action. There is sin, as in the context has been admitted, within the Christian circle; but it is according to the norm of the Divine life not to sin. The language that is added here is unusual. Westcott would remove its unusual aspect by thinking of Christ, as the Begotten of God, opposed to the evil one. But it is God that is opposed to the evil one in the following verse; and the mere change of tense does not prepare for the introduction of Christ. In passing from the now begotten of God to the past begotten of God, we naturally think of the same person, only at a different moment, viz. that of the commencement of the Divine life. The new nature then received (ascribing all to God), it keepeth him; and the evil one, having nothing in the new nature to lay hold on, toucheth him not. He is indeed tempted; but he has a defense against temptation in his quickened sensibilities and activities.

II. THE CERTAINTY OF OUR POSSESSING LIFE FROM GOD . "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." There is here the strength of personal assurance. We know that we are of God; we know that we draw our life from the highest source. But there is also the certitude of Christian pessimism— the worst view of the world. In the Christian judgment, the whole world lieth in the evil one. It is not only touched by the evil one ( 1 John 3:18 ), but the evil one is, as it were, the circumambient element in which it passively lies, and by which it is completely moulded in all its systems and customs and institutions. This is not a cheering view to take of the world; but it would be less cheering to think that the world is only as God intended it to be—that it has not suffered from a fall. The counterbalancing truth is that, bad as it is, it is loved by God, and is susceptible of redemption. And the Christian optimism, which we are warranted to entertain, is this—that the world, in all its thinking and fashions, will yet be on the right side, not fraught with peril, but fraught with deliverance to souls.

III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE REVEALING POWER OF THE INCARNATION . "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." This is the third "we know" which the apostle recalls. We know that the Incarnation is a fact. Through the Incarnation our understanding is Christianized, that we know him that is true, which is equivalent to being in him that is true, which again is equivalent to being in his Son Jesus Christ. This God whom Jesus Christ reveals, this is the true God, and eternal life. The proof of the Divinity of Christ here lies in this, that in his incarnation he absolutely reveals God as Father, as infinite Love, which is the highest truth about the nature of God, and also absolutely reveals eternal life, which is the highest happiness of God, he being, according to the thought of 1 John 3:11 , the receptacle of it for us. From the center all things are made capable of ultimate explanation. The world, as it lies in the evil one, may seem to call up gloomy thoughts of God; but the Incarnation, the fact that Christ is come, and come into the midst of the world for its redemption, calls up bright, cheering thoughts of God. Parting word. "My little children, guard yourselves from idols." In parting, he naturally fixes on the word of special affection for his readers. In 1 John 3:18 he put forward Divine keeping—"he that was begotten of God [the Divine birth] keepeth him." Here he puts forward self-keeping—"guard ['keep,' with added emphasis] yourselves," i.e., in the use of means. The idols against which we are to be on our guard are the vain shadows that usurp the place of the true God. In connection with heathen idolatry, there are such false representations of God as these—that he is to be apprehended by sense; that he is confined to temples made with hands; that he has a divided sovereignty; that he takes delight in impurities and in the blood of human victims. In connection with idolatry, in the wide sense here to be thought of, there are such false representations of God as these—that he is pleased with our taking selfish gratification; that he does not extend his interest beyond our home, or some narrow circle with which we are connected; that he is indifferent to our happiness; that he does not notice our actions, and will not bring us into judgment for them. Let us oppose to these false representations of God the representation given in the Incarnation. Let us brood over this great fact till all vain shadows flee away, and God comes forth to us in all the splendour of his love. This is a word suitable for parting. We may think of John, now amid the realities of heaven, still beseeching us, and with greater intensity, to beware of the deceitful shadows that are here as often taken for God - R.F.

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