"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))
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
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.)
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.")
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,