Intro

This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. I am slowly blogging through Steele's Answers, posting each Q & A in the order in which they appear (whether I personally agree with the answer or not). But, these posts come from several other sources, as well. I post particularly eloquent passages from Dr. Steele's other writings. Occasionally I post "guest blogs" from other holiness writers.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Commentary on 1 John 5:1-5

"1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.  2 Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments.  3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.  4 For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.  5 And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:1-5 ASV (1901))

In this chapter true faith is described as acknowledging the Messiahship of Jesus, as experiencing the new birth, as aflame with love to God and to all the regenerate, as keeping God's commands, as victorious over the world, as having inward self-attestation and eternal life, and as having boldness and success in prayer. The apostle in 4:12 details the various evidences on which the Christian faith rests, and declares faith and love to be inseparable, that alike worthless is a faith which does not inspire love, and a love not the offspring of faith. The transition from the former chapter lies in the idea of brotherhood, not human, but Christian, arising from a love flowing from a vital apprehension of Christ as both an almighty Saviour and a supreme Lord. On the plane of love inspired by the Holy Spirit, this brotherhood is not an arbitrary command, but a natural outflow from this diffusive principle.

1. "Whosoever believeth." This is more than assent to the facts in the life of Christ and to the truth of His doctrines and His claims; it is such a reliance upon His person for salvation as causes the abandonment of every other hope and plea, and the enthronement of Him as the supreme Lawgiver. True faith embraces assent, consent and trust. It requires the hearty assent of the intellect and the cordial movement of the sensibilities and the perfect submission of the will.

"Has been begotten of God." The perfect tense in the Greek implies the continuous efficacy of this divine change.

"Every one that loveth Him that begat." The divine order is faith in Christ, the giver of the Spirit, the Spirit imparting life, and love attending spiritual life as its chief element. Thus faith and love are inseparable. Says Augustine, "Faith with love is the faith of a Christian; without love it is the faith of a demon." The same sentiment is expressed by James respecting those who profess to have faith without its fruitage in works of love. "The devils also believe and tremble," "and are devils still." (Wesley.)  

"Loveth . . . begotten of him." This is natural. The love of God and the love of the children of God do in fact include each the other. It is equally true if we reverse the order of the subject and predicate and say "he who loves the children of God loves God. Either form of love may be made the ground or the conclusion in the argument." The children are in the image of their father. No one can love his father and hate his photographs, unless they are distortions so monstrous as to dishonor him. True Christians are more or less perfect representations of God's moral character. This verse is called in logic an irregular sorites:
  • Every one who believes the Incarnation is a child of God.
  • Every child of God loves its Father.
  • Every believer in the Incarnation loves God.
  • Every one who loves God loves the children of God.
  • Every believer in the Incarnation loves the children of God.
This verse demonstrates that the love of the Father is the source of love to His children, and not the reverse.

2. "Do His commandments." This phrase occurs nowhere else. Love to God's children is here said to follow from our love to God evinced by obedience. The two loves confirm and prove each other. If either is professed in the absence of the other it is spurious. One may know that his love to his brethren is genuine when he is sure that he loves God. "Whenever we love and obey God we have fresh evidence that our philanthropy is genuine."

3. "His commandments are not grievous" — or burdensome. Love knows no burdens. Christ's yoke is light because he imparts strength to bear it. "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me." (Phil. iv. 13, R. V.)

4. "Whatsoever." The neuter emphasizes the victorious power rather than the victorious person. Beware of that exegesis of this text which analyzes the Christian into two personalities, the old man in full strength and the new man dwelling together until death separates them, the old man never crucified (Gal. ii. 20, v. 24; Col. ii. 11) and the body of sin never destroyed. The result is a lifelong sinning personality justified by the doctrine that entire sanctification is impossible in the present life, the doctrine which encourages believers to continue in depravity, and which dis-crowns the Gospel of Christ by making death the final conqueror of the propensity to sin.

"Is begotten of God." Here and in verses 1 and 18, "in all three cases we have the perfect, not the aorist, participle. It is not the mere fact of having received the Divine birth that is insisted on, but the permanent results of the birth." (Dr. A. Plummer's Cambridge Bible for Colleges.) The same writer notes the fact that in the words, "victory that overcometh," the aorist should be rendered "overcame," the tense denoting "a victory won once for all." Westcott thinks that here "the aorist receives its full force. The victory of Christ was gained upon a narrow field, but it was world-wide in its effects." But we understand from the context that John is describing the victory of regenerate souls. To speak of Jesus Christ as exercising faith is to use a diction foreign to the New Testament. Every Christian may reach a point where faith puts forth its highest possibilities and receives, as a definite second experience of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in his office as the Sanctifier, a victory once for all which will make all future victories easy. Westcott elsewhere concedes that the believer may "pass through the decisive history in which the truth is once for all absolutely realized."

"Overcometh the world." Here is an additional reason why the commands are not burdensome; it is because the new birth gives a new point of view. Christian faith gives a power to grasp spiritual realities by imparting a new unworldly nature and a strength which overcomes the world. Faith makes the invisible world so real and brings the future and eternal life so near as to make them more influential in the formation of character than the influences of the present evil world. (See Chalmers's great sermon on "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.")

"The world." All the limited transitory powers opposed to God. It is an empire whose dominion we cannot escape till through faith in Christ the spiritual and eternal become real and infinitely more valuable than things earthly, sensual and evanescent. Faith gives us the true standard for the estimate of things.

"Even our faith." In the Greek the word "faith" in John's Epistles occurs here only. It is not found in his Gospel. It here signifies the system of Gospel truth summed up in the confession that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, both Saviour and Lord, is so trusted in and enthroned as to constitute that saving faith which works by love, purifies the heart and overcomes the world. He who possesses this faith and perseveringly exhibits its effects in his transformed character will share the victory over the world in which Christ exulted. (John xvi. 33.)

5. "Who is he that overcometh?" Here the abstract "whatsoever" is concreted in the single believer whose victory represents what may actually be realized in every Christian. "Belief in Christ is at once belief in God and in man. It lays a foundation for love and trust toward our fellow-men. Thus the instinctive distrust and selfishness, which reign supreme in the world, are overcome."