1 John 3:17

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. (verse 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.

(1) Here is a brother requiring help - a "brother in need."

(2) Here is another who has power to render the help which is needed. He "hath the world's goods " - the things needful for the sustenance of the bodily life.

(3) The latter is aware of the need of the former. He "beholdeth his brother in need;" he has not only seen, but looked upon, considered, his needy brother.

(4) Yet he does nothing to relieve the need; he bestows nothing out of his store to supply the wants of his brother; he closes his heart against him.

(5) "How doth the love of God abide in him?" Whatever may be his professions, his conduct proves him destitute of Divine love. 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.

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
The lesson here is sincerity. Beware of self-deception. It is easy to imagine what you would do to win or help a brother; and you may please yourselves by carrying the imagination to any length you choose. You will lay down your life for one who is, or who may be, a brother! And yet you cannot lay down for him your love of this world's good; your love of ease and selfish comfort; your fastidious taste; your proud or shy reserve. John brings out into prominence a general principle connecting conscience and faith, with immediate reference to his particular topic of brotherly love. The principle may be briefly stated. There can be no faith where there is not conscience; no more of faith than there is of conscience. In plain terms, I cannot look my God in the face if I cannot look myself in the face. If my heart condemns me, much more must He condemn me who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things. Reserving the special application of this principle to the grace of brotherly kindness, I ask you for the present to consider it more generally with reference to the Divine love; first, as you have to receive it by faith; and, secondly, as you have to retain it and act it out in your loving walk with God and man.

I. I am a receiver of this love. And it concerns me much that my faith, by which I receive it, should be strong and steadfast, which, however, it cannot be unless my conscience, in receiving it, is guileless. The plain question then is, Are you dealing truly with God as He deals truly with you? Are you meeting Him, as He meets you, in good faith? Is all real and downright earnest with you? Or are you toying and playing with spiritual frames as if it were all a mere affair of sentimentalism? Is there a sort of half-consciousness in you that you would really apprehend and welcome the mediation of Christ better than you do if it were meant merely to establish a relation between God and you, so far amicable as to secure your being let alone now and let off at last; and that in consideration of certain specified and ascertainable acts of homage, without its being insisted on that God and you should become so completely one? If your heart misgive you and condemn you on such points as these, it is no wonder that you have not peace with Him "who is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things."

II. Not only as receiving God's love does it concern me to see to it that my heart condemns me not, but as retaining it and acting it out in my walk and conduct. Otherwise, "how dwelleth the love of God in me?" It is a great matter if the eye be single, if your heart do not condemn you. The consciousness of integrity is, of itself, a well spring of peace and power in the guileless soul. The clear look, the erect gait, the firm step, the ringing voice, of an upright man, are as impressive upon others as they are expressive of himself. But that is not all. The assurance or confidence of which John speaks is not self-assurance or self-confidence. No. It is "assurance before God"; it is "confidence toward God." Why does the apostle make "our heart condemning us" so fatal to our "assuring our heart before God"? It is because "God is greater than our hearty and knoweth all things." He assumes that it is with God we have to do, and that we feel this. Our own verdict upon ourselves is comparatively a small affair; we ask the verdict of God.

(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)

Pure and undefiled religion is the imitation of God. Whatever else may characterise the men who have passed from death unto life, this is characteristic of them all. Now, assuming this, look at the immense interrogation which he proposed in our present text. A man is presented to us who professes to be a son of the Lord Almighty, but his profession was unsubstantiated.

I. THE MAN WHOSE RELIGION IS VAIN HAS THIS WORLD'S GOODS; of the things which are necessary for the vigorous maintenance of life he has enough and to spare. Before his wants ever recur there is the supply. God daily loadeth him with His benefits.

II. HE SEETH HIS BROTHER HAVE NEED. It is not with others as it is with him. By treacherous and sore calamity they are afflicted in mind, or body, or estate; perhaps from ascertainable causes, perhaps from causes not ascertainable, they are destitute of daily food. He sees it plainly.

III. HE SHUTS UP THE BOWELS OF HIS COMPASSION. There may be the clamorous appeal, he is deaf to that; there may be the eloquent appeal of the silent heart. It is just the same, and lest his bowels, peradventure, should yearn, he locks them up and bids them remain unmoved. Why should he interfere? People should be more careful; there should be a great deal more frugality; the institutions of the country should prevent such calamities. Such applications are nothing to him, and now, at all events, he means to be excused.

IV. HOW DWELLETH THE LOVE OF GOD IN HIM? Does he resemble God? I know your answer. That man an imitator of God, who causeth the sun to shine upon the just and the unjust! That man an imitator of Him who "giveth us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness"! That man an imitator of Him who "dealeth not with us after our sins, who rewardeth us not according to our iniquities"! Impossible! How can he be? God is merciful, he is unmerciful; God is communicative, he is parsimonious; God is compassionate, he is unrelenting; God bindeth up the broken in heart and healeth their wounds, he irritates the broken in heart. There is no similarity whatever. You might call light and darkness one.

(W. Brock.)

I. WHO ARE THEY THAT ARE OBLIGED TO WORKS OF CHARITY? All are obliged to do something towards supplying the wants of others whom God hath blessed with greater abundance than is sufficient for the supply of their own. It is not the value of the gift which God regards, but the honest purpose of the giver.

II. WHO ARE THEY TOWARDS WHOM WORKS OF CHARITY OUGHT TO BE EXERCISED? By the "needy" you are not to understand absolutely every needy man, but everyone who being in need is not able by honest means to provide for himself. Those are before all others the objects of charity, who want food and raiment sufficient for the sustenance of their bodies. The reason of this is that life is the foundation of all other blessings in this world. We are bound, according to our abilities, not only to preserve the life of others, but to secure their happiness too. And in this work sickness and pain are principally to be regarded. When life, health, and liberty are secure, the law of charity grows to be more undermined, yet I think we should not say that it entirely ceases. For the having what is barely necessary for the purposes of life is but the first and lowest degree of happiness.

III. WHENCE THE VALUE OF CHARITY ARISES, or what it is that makes the outward act of giving to become acceptable to God. That which the apostle condemns here is the shutting up our bowels against the cries of the needy. God can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and deliver the prisoner from captivity without drawing anything from our stores. But as He has otherwise ordered things, He hath given us affections suitable to the conditions in which He hath placed us, and made us by nature humane and merciful. When the heart is open, it is impossible that the hands can be shut. There is a pleasure in giving, which a truly compassionate mind is no more able to resist than it can forbear to commiserate.


(H. Stebbing, D. D.)

I. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH THIS GREAT DUTY IS UNALTERABLY FOUNDED. All the goods of nature, the fruits of the earth, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, were given to man for his sustenance and use. But as the necessities of man impel him, no less than his passions lead him, to a state of civilisation and society, so the necessary effect hath been a limitation of this common right of the enjoyment of the goods of nature by the establishment of particular properties. It must be granted that in most of the kingdoms of the earth the inequalities of property are too great, either for the public peace of the whole, or the private happiness of the individuals, whether rich or poor. To prevent therefore, or to remedy these dreadful evils, the great principle of Christian charity comes in. And on this principle it appears that our care of the necessitous is by no means to be considered as a voluntary act of virtue, which we may perform or remit at pleasure.


1. And first, on account of their present satisfaction of mind, and with a view to a rational and true enjoyment of wealth, they ought to attend to the continued practice of this duty. Love, hope, peace, and joy are the constant companions of the compassionate soul.

2. Again, as the rich ought religiously to attend to the great work of charitable distribution as the necessary means of regulating their own desires, so the welfare of their families and children ought to be a farther motive to their exemplary practice of this duty. The noblest and most valuable inheritance that a father can leave his child is that of an honest and generous mind.

3. The last motive I shall urge for the performance of this great duty is the security of your future and eternal welfare in a better world than this. A selfish attention to wealth tends strongly to withdraw our affections from God and virtue.


1. And here it will be necessary, first, to show the invalidity of a plausible pretence, which would destroy the very essence of this duty. It is pretended that the principle of a charitable distribution is superfluous, because, if the rich do but spend or squander the incomes of their estates, the money will distribute itself, and like blood circulating from the heart will fall into all the various channels of the body politic, in that just proportion which their respective situations may demand. The objection is plausible, yet void of truth. For, first, supposing the effects to be such as are here represented with respect to the necessitous, yet they would be bad with regard to the rich themselves. But farther. This kind of distribution by mere expense can never effectually relieve the necessitous. Insolence and oppression are its certain consequences. Again, there fore, this method of distribution can never be effectual, because they who stand most in need can never be succoured by it. For the mere act of expending wealth can never affect any of the lower ranks, but those who labour. But the helpless young, the sick, and aged must languish and die in misery. Nay, what is yet worse, while the helpless innocent are thus left destitute of relief, the associates of wickedness are often fed to the full.

2. A second excuse for an exemption from this duty must likewise here be obviated, which is the pretended sufficiency of poor laws for the maintenance of. the necessitous. But that they can never stand in the place of a true spirit of charity will appear from considering them either in their formation or execution. If they are formed merely on the principles of prudence and policy, void of a charitable zeal, they will always be of a rigid, and often of a cruel complexion. Again, laws for the maintenance of the poor must ever be defective in their execution unless inspirited by true charity, because, on the same principle as already laid down, they must generally be executed in a despotic manner. Also they never can effectually separate the good from the bad, the worthy from the worthless, so as to relieve and reward the one in preference to the other. It now remains that we point out the proper objects of this great Christian duty. First, all they who, through natural infirmity, age, sickness, or accidental disaster, are rendered incapable of self-support by labour. Among this number, more particularly, we are bound to relieve our neighbouring poor. Our neighbour's real wants are better known to us than theirs who are farther removed from our observation. Again, among this number a selection ought to be made of the most worthy, not to the total exclusion of even the worthless, but as an encouragement to virtue. Beyond these common objects of our charity there is still a higher sphere for beneficence to shine in — on those who, by inevitable misfortunes, have been reduced from wealth to a state of necessity. Beyond these objects of our charitable assistance here enumerated, there yet remains one, which deserves a particular consideration. I mean the children of the necessitous.

(John Brown, D. D.)

I. THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE. Many possess a constitutional benevolence of disposition. But nothing short of the love of God can ensure obedience to His will in any department of duty, and no inferior motive can be regarded by Him with acceptance.

II. THE INDISPENSABLE NECESSITY OF BENEFICENCE AS A BRANCH OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. Beneficence is a positive law of the Divine government, and cannot be dispensed with, save by incurring the guilt of disobedience against the supreme authority of God. Christian beneficence is most comprehensive, extending to the entire nature of man.

III. THE PRINCIPLES BY WHICH BENEFICENCE OUGHT TO BE REGULATED DESERVE SERIOUS CONSIDERATION. "To consider the case of the poor" is an obligation as imperative as that of relieving it. Indiscriminate alms giving is a serious evil to both giver and receiver. Let the understanding be Divinely enlightened, and the bowels of compassion not be shut against the brother who hath need, and we may safely commit to your own judgment and feelings the extent of your benefactions.


(John Smyth, D. D.)

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth




(R. Abercrombie, M. A.)

When you see a plan in an architect's office that is very new and very pretty to look at, you say, "Ah! nothing has been done with it," but when you see a plan that is smudgy, and torn, and almost broken through where it has been folded, you know that the man has done something with it. Now, do not fall in love with the plan, and think it very pretty, but never carry it out. When Dr. Guthrie wanted his ragged schools founded, he called on a certain minister, who said, "Well you know, Mr. Guthrie, there is nothing very new in your scheme; I and Mr. So-and-so have been thinking over a similar plan to yours for the last twenty years." "Oh! yes," said Dr. Guthrie, "I dare say; but you have never carried it out." So some people are always thinking over some very fine plan of their own; but while the grass grows the steed starves.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

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