Whoever keeps His commandments remains in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He remains in us: by the Spirit He has given us.
I. THAT CONSCIENCE EXERCISES A. JUDICIAL FUNCTION IN MAN. By "our heart" in the text St. John means, as Alford says, "the heart as the seat of the conscience, giving rise there to peace or to terror, according as it is at rest or in disquietude.... The heart here is the inward judge of the man." Many are the definitions of "conscience." "Man's conscience is the oracle of God." "Conscience is God's monitor in the soul of man." "The sense of right." "God's vicegerent in the soul." Dr. Whewell: "Conscience is the reason employed about questions of right and wrong, and accompanied with the sentiments of approbation and condemnation." The function of conscience is not to give the Law unto us, but to pronounce whether we have kept the Law or not. "It is the great business of conscience," says Archbishop Leighton, "to sit, and examine, and judge within; to hold courts in the soul; and it is of continual necessity that it be so." It is most important that we bear in mind that for us conscience is not an infallible guide in the ethics of conduct. Some of the darkest crimes that were ever committed have been sanctioned by conscience. Saul of Tarsus was conscientious in his fierce persecution of the early Christians. "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9-11). And in subsequent ages many a persecutor has resembled him in this respect while perpetrating the most revolting cruelties. That the judgment of conscience may invariably be true and perfect it must needs be regulated by the revealed will of God, and be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We should take the will of God in Christ Jesus for our law; and then let conscience, quickened by the Spirit of God, exercise its judicial function in condemning or approving us in our relation to that law.
II. THAT WHEN, IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS JUDICIAL FUNCTION, CONSCIENCE CONDEMNS US, MUCH MORE ARE WE CONDEMNED BY THE HOLY GOD. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." To my mind these words suggest two important considerations.
1. Our conscience is an imperfect judge, but God is absolutely and infinitely holy. Conscience has undoubtedly suffered by reason of human sin. Its judgments arc not always of the most exalted character. As a judge it is sometimes partial. Sometimes it allows what if it were perfectly pure it must condemn. But "God is greater than our heart." His righteousness is perfect. Sin in every form is utterly abhorrent to him. His holiness is without the slightest spot or the faintest shadow. The greatness of his mercy towards the sinner does not lead him to excuse any sin. If our heart condemn us, how much more does be? If our conscience, which is but a faint and imperfect echo of his voice, condemn us. bow much more does he?
2. Conscience may not take cognizance of every sin, but God "knoweth all things." There are sins which escape the vigilance of conscience. A man's secret sins may be of three classes:
(1) those which are unknown to his fellow-men, but known to himself;
(2) those which are not recognized as sins by himself, but are so viewed by his fellow-men; and
(3) those which are not regarded as sins either by himself or his fellow-men. But no sins whatever are hidden from God. "His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness," etc. (Job 34:21, 22); "He hath set our iniquities before him, our secret sins in the light of his countenance." If, then, our conscience with its imperfect information, condemn us, how much more must he who "knoweth all things"! "If conscience be as a thousand witnesses," says Dr. Arrowsmith, "the all-seeing God is as a thousand consciences."
III. THAT WHEN, IN THE EXERCISE OF ITS JUDICIAL FUNCTION, CONSCIENCE DOES NOT CONDEMN US, WE REGARD GOD WITH INSPIRING CONFIDENCE. "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God." Notice:
1. Confidence in God as to its nature. "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him." It is the firm persuasion, the assurance, of the heart that we are his children, and that we may look to him to be to us and to do for us all that he has promised to be to and to do for his children. Or, if we view it as indicated by the twenty-first verse, it is the confidence that he does not condemn us, but that he accepts us now and will own us in the great day. How precious is this assurance!
2. Confidence in God springing from the exercise of holy love and the approbation of conscience. "Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." The "hereby" refers to what has gone before. He who loves neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth, may know that he is "of the truth," etc. "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren;" "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light." Again, St. John speaks of this assurance towards God as springing from an approving conscience (verse 21). Apart from the approbation of the inward monitor, we cannot look Godward with confidence or with joy.
3. Confidence in God inspiring the conviction that he will answer our prayers to him. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in his sight." The keeping of his commandments is not meritorious; it does not give us a claim upon him for the blessings which we ask in prayer; but it is an indication of character which shows that the suppliant will ask only what is in accordance with his will. That we "do the things that are pleasing in his sight" is a guarantee that we shall desire only those things which he will be pleased to bestow upon us (cf. 1 John 5:14, 15; Psalm 37:4). Having the assurance that we are his children and endeavouring to please him, we are persuaded that the wise and gracious Father will answer our prayers to him. - W.J.
And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us1. In the keeping of God's commandments there is this great reward, that he that doeth so "dwelleth in God, and God in him." If this mutual indwelling is not to be mere absorption, which some dreamers in John's day held it to be; if it is not to be the swallowing up of our conscious individual personality in the infinite mind or intelligence of God; if it is to conserve the distinct relationship of God to man, the Creator to the creature, the Ruler to the subject, the Father to the child; it must be realised and must develop itself, or act itself out, through the means of authority or law on the one side, and obedience or the keeping of the commandments on the other. It is, in fact, the very consummation and crown of man's old, original relation to God — as that relation is not only restored, but perfected and gloriously fulfilled, in the new economy of grace.
2. The manner of God's abiding in us, or at least the way in which we may know that He abides in us, is specified: — "Hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us." We are to distinguish here between our dwelling in God and His dwelling in us. Our dwelling in God is to be known by our "keeping His commandments"; God's dwelling in us, by "the Spirit which He giveth us." And yet, the two means of knowledge are not far apart. They are not only strictly consistent with one another; they really come together in one point. For the Spirit is here said to be given to us — not in order to our knowing that God abideth in us, in the sense of His opening our spiritual eye and quickening our spiritual apprehension — but rather as the medium of our knowing it, the evidence or proof by which we know it. And how are we to recognise the Spirit as given to us? How otherwise than by recognising the fruit of the gift? The Spirit given to us is, as to His movement or operation, unseen and unfelt. But the fruit of the Spirit is palpable and patent. "It is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." For "against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22, 23).
3. From all this it follows that the counsel or warning, "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God" (1 John 4:1), is as needful for us as it was for those to whom John wrote. We may think that it is the Spirit of God whom we are receiving into our hearts and cherishing there, when it may really be another spirit altogether — one of the many spirits inspiring the "many false prophets that are gone out into the world." Therefore we must "try the spirits."
(R. S. Candlish, D. D.)I. WHAT THE GIVING OF THE SPIRIT IMPORTS AND SIGNIFIES. The Spirit of God is said to come upon men in a transient way, for their present assistance in some particular service, though in themselves they be unsanctified persons. Thus the Spirit of God came upon Balaam (Numbers 24:2), enabling him to prophesy of things to come. But whatever gifts He gives to others, He is said to be given, to dwell, and to abide only in believers (1 Corinthians 3:6). An expression denoting both His special propriety in them, and gracious familiarity with them. There is a great difference betwixt the assisting and the indwelling of the Spirit; the one is transient, the other permanent.
II. HOW THIS GIVING OF THE SPIRIT EVIDENTLY PROVES AND STRONGLY CONCLUDES THAT SOUL'S INTEREST IN CHRIST UNTO WHOM HE IS GIVEN.
1. The Spirit of God in believers is the very bond by which they are united unto Christ. If, therefore, we find in ourselves the bond of union, we may warrantably conclude that we have union with Jesus Christ.
2. The Scripture everywhere makes this giving, or indwelling of the Spirit, the great mark and trial of our interest in Christ; concluding from the presence of it in us, positively, as in the text; and from the absence of it, negatively, as in Romans 8.
3. That which is a certain mark of our freedom from the covenant of works, and our title to the privileges of the covenant or grace, must needs also infer our union with Christ and special interest in Him; but the giving or indwelling of the sanctifying Spirit in us is a certain mark of our freedom from the first covenant, under which all Christless persons still stand, and our title to the special privileges of the second covenant, in which none but the members are interested; and, consequently, it fully proves our union with the Lord Jesus.
4. If the eternal decree of God's electing love be executed, and the virtues and benefits of the death of Christ applied by the Spirit unto every soul in whom He dwelleth, as a spirit of santification, then such a giving of the Spirit unto us must needs be a certain mark and proof of our special interest in Christ; but the decree of God's electing love is executed, and the benefits of the blood of Christ are applied to every soul in whom He dwelleth, as a spirit sanctification. This is plain from 1 Peter 1:2.
5. The giving of the Spirit to us, or His residing in us, as a sanctifying Spirit, is everywhere in Scripture made the pledge and earnest of eternal salvation, and consequently must abundantly confirm and prove the soul's interest in Christ (Ephesians 1:13, 14). Uses: I shall lay down some general rules for the due information of our minds in this point, upon which so much depends.(1) Though the Spirit of God be given to us, and worketh in us, yet He worketh not as a natural and necessary, but as a free and arbitrary agent: He neither assists nor sanctifies, as the fire burneth, as much as He can assist and sanctify, but as much as He pleaseth; "dividing to every man severally as He will" (1 Corinthians 12:11).(2) There is a great difference in the manner of the Spirit's working before and after the work of regeneration. Whilst we are unregenerate He works upon us as upon dead creatures that work not at all with Him; and what motion there is in our souls is a counter motion to the Spirit; but after regeneration it is not so, He then works upon a complying and willing mind; we work, and He assists (Romans 8:26).(3) Though the Spirit of God be given to believers, and worketh in them yet believers themselves may do or omit such things as may obstruct the working and obscure the very being of the Spirit of God in them.(4) Those things which discover the indwelling of the Spirit in believers are not so much the matter of their duties, or substance of their actions, as the more secret springs, holy aims, and spiritual manner of their doing or performing of them.(5) All the motions and operations of the spirit are always harmonious, and suitable to the written Word. (Isaiah 8:20).(6) Although the works of the Spirit, in all sanctified persons, do substantially agree, both with the written Word and with one another, yet as to the manner of infusion and operation there are found many circumstantial differences.(7) There is a great difference found betwixt the sanctifying and the comforting influences of the Spirit upon believers, in respect of constancy and permanency.Evidence 1. In whomsoever the Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of sanctification, to that man or women He hath been, more or less, a Spirit of conviction and humiliation.Evidence 2. As the Spirit of God hath been a convincing, so He is a quickening Spirit, to all those to whom He is given (Romans 8:2).Evidence 3. These to whom God giveth His Spirit have a tender sympathy with all the interests and concernments of Christ.Evidence 4. Wherever the Spirit of God dwelleth, He doth in some degree mortify and subdue the evils and corruptions of the soul in which He resides.Evidence 5. Wherever the Spirit of God dwelleth in the way of sanctification, in all such He is the Spirit of prayer and supplication (Romans 8:26).Evidence 6. Wherever the Spirit of grace inhabits, there is an heavenly, spiritual frame of mind accompanying and evidencing the indwelling of the Spirit (Romans 8:5, 6).Evidence 7. Those to whom the Spirit of grace is given are led by the Spirit, Sanctified souls give themselves up to the government and conduct of the Spirit; they obey His voice, beg His direction, follow His motions, deny the solicitations of the flesh and blood, in obedience to Him (Galatians 1:16). And they that do so, they are the sons of God.
(John Flavel.)I. THE PRIVILEGE. It is the indwelling of God in the soul — His "abiding in us." The sentiment is not peculiar to John, but the frequency of it is. Let us look at this "abiding." There was a time when the persons here referred to were without God in the world; when another being had possession of them — "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." But God hath delivered them from the power of darkness, and translated them into the kingdom of His dear Son. God has entered, and taken possession of the heart. Perhaps, too, after the parent had pleaded to no purpose; perhaps after the minister had long laboured for nought; perhaps after he had been wooed and awed, blest and chastised, in vain. Then, God says, "I will work, and who shall let it?" His abiding in us supposes not only entrance, but continuance. But how does He abide in them? If I should answer this question negatively, I should say, not personally, as it was in the Redeemer Himself. "In Him," says the apostle, "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." "He that hath seen Me," said He, "hath seen the Father." Nor does He abide in them essentially. Thus indeed He is in them, as to the perfection of His nature, as to His Omnipresence, as to the presence by which He fills heaven and earth; but when His presence is spoken of by the way of providence or privilege, it intends some peculiar regard. "The Lord is nigh unto all those who are of a broken heart; and sayeth such as be of a contrite spirit." But if I am required to answer this question positively, I should say, first, objectively. He dwells in His people by a real union; a gracious union; by a spiritual operative influence in all the powers of their souls. Thus He dwells in them as water in a well, our Saviour's own image. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him, a well of water springing up into everlasting life." He dwells in them as the sap in the tree, sustaining its life and producing fertility. He dwells in them as the soul dwells in the body, enlivening every limb and pervading every part. Can you explain this? Why the doctrine of union is one of the hardest chapters in all natural philosophy? First, explain to me how the soul is in the body; the spirit, without parts, combining with matter and coalescing with substance; explain first, how God is in the highest heavens, and is also about our path, and about our bed, and spying out all our ways, words, and thoughts.
II. HOW IT IS TO BE ASCERTAINED. The apostle says, "We know that He abideth in us by the Spirit which He hath given us." Now, what was the Spirit God had given to them? Not the Spirit of miraculous agency. No, but the Spirit which we call the common influences of the Spirit of God. We call it "common," not because all men have it, but because all Christians have it; and all Christians will experience it to the very end of time. But as the thing exemplified should always be plainer than the thing proved, let us inquire what manner of spirit that is which evinces the privilege of union with God? "We know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us." I am aware the Spirit is said to anoint us; He is said to seal us to the day of redemption; and to bear witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God. But this is not done by the sounds in the air, and by sudden impulses in the mind, but by His residing in us. Our having this Spirit is the anointing; our having this Spirit is the sealing; and our having it is the witness. This Spirit is known by five attributes.
1. It is the Spirit of conviction; and the process is generally this: — He first convinces of the guilt of sin; then of its pollution; and then awakens in us a sense of its abhorrence; causing us to repent before God as in dust and ashes.
2. It is the Spirit of faith. The work of the Spirit puts the man into the position of looking to Christ, and of coming to Christ, and of dealing with Christ, concerning all the affairs of the soul and eternity. "When He is come," says the Saviour, "He shall glorify me."
3. It is the Spirit of grace. It is expressly called the Spirit of grace and of supplication, which was to be poured upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
4. It is a Spirit of sanctification. Hence, He is so often called "the Holy Spirit," and in one place, "the Spirit of holiness,"
5. It is the Spirit of affection. We read therefore of "the Spirit of love." "He that loveth Him that begat," says John, "loveth Him also that is begotten of Him." And, says the Saviour, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."
III. THE USEFULNESS OF THIS SUBJECT.
1. The subject is useful to induce us to adore the condescension of God. David was struck with this; he was astonished that God should "try" man and "visit" him. Solomon was still more struck with His dwelling with man, "Will God in very deed dwell with man upon earth?" But John goes further than this, and speaks of God as not only visiting man, as not only dwelling with man, but of His abiding in him! "Who is a God like unto Thee?"
2. This subject is useful, also, as it reproves those who think there is nothing in religion connected with certainty. There are marks enough, if you are in the way everlasting, to show that you are not in a mistaken direction, but in a right road.
3. This subject is useful also, as it censures those who seek to determine their religious state by any other standard than that which is Divine. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
4. Then this subject is useful to comfort those who are partakers of the Holy Ghost. They should rejoice in the Lord always.
5. Lastly, let us turn the medal, and then we shall see the subject is useful to alarm those who, as the apostle terms it, are sensual, not having the Spirit of God in you. Have you the Spirit? — the spirit of prayer, and the spirit of love, and the spirit of meekness? Rather, have you not a proud spirit? an ungrateful spirit? a careless spirit? a revengeful spirit? or a covetous spirit? "This spirit cometh not from Him that calleth you." And if you have nothing better to actuate you than this, you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.
I. THE DIGNITY, NOT ONLY OF THE STATE OF THE SAINT, BUT ALSO OF THE EVIDENCE BY WHICH HE IS ASSURED OF IT. This state consists in the abiding presence of God; and this not only above us and around us, but in us. He who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent — the Creator who called this world into being — the Preserver, who maintains it in being — the King who rules and governs us — the Judge before whose tremendous throne we shall hereafter stand to give an account of the things we have done in the body — that God who is Indivisible, but is everywhere at once, the whole Deity with power and wisdom, majesty and truth, with every attribute and glory complete — He, He Himself, dwells within the saints. He dwells — not flashing a ray of His glory now and then, breaking the natural darkness of the soul for a moment, and then leaving it again darker than before, but abiding there, dwelling — like the sun in the heavens, with His beams hidden, it may be, sometimes with earthly clouds and mists, but like the sun behind the clouds filling the soul, as in ancient times He filled the material temple, with the glory of His presence. Yet let us take care not to mistake this matter. The cleansing blood of Christ must be sprinkled upon us, and in that fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness must we be washed from the guilt of sin; the quickening power of the Holy Ghost must have descended upon us, dispelled the darkness, broken down the strength and taken away the love of sin, before this state can be ours. But even when this is done, the motions of sin still remain. Sanctification is so imperfect here below, our strongest faith so feeble, our brightest hope so dim, our most fervent love so cold and selfish, our waywardnesses and inconsistencies so many, that it is wonderful that God should dwell within such hearts. Yet, child of God, it is the sober, literal fact.
II. WITH THIS DIGNITY WE MUST COMBINE THE DEFINITE CLEARNESS OF THE TEST, WHICH PROVES OUR POSSESSION OF IT, FOR WE MIGHT OTHERWISE FIND GREAT DIFFICULTY. "Hereby we know" — by what? The word "hereby" is not to be thrown forward as a mere synonym for the words "by the Spirit whom He hath given us"; but it is to be thrown back to the words, "He that keepeth His commandments." Hereby — namely, by keeping His commandments — we know. We have great cause to bless God for thus resting our hopes on our obedience, which every honest mind can see and recognise. The lesson draws close and indissoluble the connection between faith and holiness, the heart and the life, the religion and the character and conduct. It makes Christianity to be a real practical working power. Step by step, link by link, assurance of faith and hope is inseparably united to practical holiness of life. Yet there are one or two cautions to be borne in mind. The obedience which is the proof of the Spirit's presence is not a holiness finished or perfect; otherwise it would belong to none of us on this side heaven; it would be a hope of the future, not a blessing of the present. It is not a finished holiness, but only a holiness begun. The will is like a river which here and there beneath an overhanging bank may seem to stand still, and here and there in some narrow bay may seem to retrograde, but which in its main current still sets slowly, but surely, towards the ocean. It is, further, a holiness not complete, but progressive. Every day brings its struggle, but brings likewise its victory. Further yet, this Christian obedience is not partial. Christian obedience accepts and follows the whole law.
III. THE INFINITE BLESSEDNESS BOTH OF THE STATE AND OF THE EVIDENCE. If Christian obedience were an outward and compulsory thing, bringing by mere force the unwilling heart into subjection to the letter of a law, it would be painful. But it is not this. It is a willing, loving, generous thing. It is a law working from within the soul itself, not a compulsion from the outside. It is not like a stream of water thrown from without upon us, but like a living fountain springing up within us — "a well of water springing up into everlasting life." And why is it this, but because it is the Spirit's work, and because God abideth in us? Is there not always joy in life? Is there not joy in nature's life, as, bursting the chains of death-like winter, happy creation breaks into beauty, and flowers and fruits and trees and birds sing together? Is there not joy in human life when, fresh and sweet as a spring flower, the buoyant child laughs, and sings, and plays? Is there not joy in the sense of life, and only so far pain in it as the mortality of a fallen nature interrupts it with the seeds of decay, and clouds it with the shadows of death? And is there not joy in the life of the soul, since it is the very life of God fresh from the indwelling Deity, as if He became a part of ourselves and filled us with His glory?
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